Press Contact: Jon Pattee, LIRS Assistant Director for Media Relations
BALTIMORE, March 14, 2012 – The new Karnes County Civil Detention Center is a step forward in terms of the treatment of immigrant detainees, but alternatives to detention would be more humane and save taxpayers more money, say representatives of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) who toured the new facility on Tuesday.
“We welcome efforts by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to improve detention conditions, but their plan to use the Karnes facility to lock up asylum seekers and low-risk detainees is not the solution,” said Eric B. Sigmon, LIRS Director for Advocacy. “We need alternatives to more taxpayer-funded jails for vulnerable migrants.”
ICE bills the new 608-bed, $32 million Karnes detention center in southern Texas as a model civil facility for features such as its medical facilities, opportunities for unescorted detainee movement, and additional outside recreation space. ICE plans to start placing immigrant detainees in the facility in two to three weeks. Sigmon and Michael Mitchell, LIRS Vice President for Programs and Protection, visited the center with other non-governmental organizations on an ICE-arranged tour.
On any given day, ICE imprisons 34,000 immigrants—many of whom are refugees, asylum seekers, and survivors of torture or human trafficking. Detainees are held in a national network of 260 federal, private, state, and local jails, costing U.S. taxpayers over $2 billion per year.
“To cut costs to U.S. taxpayers, Congress and the Administration should reduce the use of immigration detention and expand alternatives to detention programs,” said Sigmon. “Alternative programs cost a fraction of the daily price of $122 per detention bed.”
The LIRS report “Unlocking Liberty: A Way Forward for U.S. Immigration Detention Policy” maps out how the U.S. government can decrease its reliance on immigration detention by increasing its partnerships with non-profit organizations to implement cost-effective and humane alternatives to detention programs. The report documents successful programs run by non-profit organizations in collaboration with the federal government that provided legal and social services to asylum seekers and other immigrant populations.
“International human rights laws require that immigration detention be a last resort. And we know there are viable alternatives to detention,” said Sigmon. “We have a moral obligation not to lock up vulnerable immigrants who pose no risk.”
About Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
LIRS welcomes refugees and migrants on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States.