Securing asylum status in the U.S. has never been easy, but over the last year, the Administration has sought to systematically dismantle protections for asylum seekers. The result of this is evident in the overpopulated detention facilities housing tens of thousands of immigrants, including children and families.
Just last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions referred an immigration case to himself for review, and his ruling on immigration bond hearings may set the precedence of mandatory detention for all asylum-seekers caught crossing the border between ports of entry — even if they’ve proven that they fled to the U.S. fearing for their lives during their “credible fear” interview.
This September, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service led a mission to Tucson, Arizona. On the trip, a group of community leaders and LIRS partners visited the Eloy Detention Center to visit with people caught up in immigration detention. In Eloy alone, there are more than 1,500 people separated from their families and held indefinitely, many without information on when they might be released.
Rosa* is one of the people we visited. She has been detained for nearly two years now—and every morning she hopes and prays to be free and protected in the United States. Her only infraction: seeking asylum in the United States.
Imprisoning Asylum Seekers
When a family faces persecution in their native country, parents will often go to extraordinary lengths to get their children out of harm’s way. In many cases the road to safety is risky and dangerous; but for some families, seeking protection in the United States is their only hope.
When families reach the United States to seek asylum, they are met by the harsh reality that our current immigration system is driven by dispassionate enforcement rather than humanitarian principles. At a minimum, these families should have the opportunity to explain why they came in search of safety. Instead, officials will often keep immigrants locked in a box in prison-like facilities where their access to legal counsel is limited, perpetuating a cycle of confusion and fear, and minimizing their chance at securing legal asylum status.
A Pattern of Attack
The U.S. asylum process has never been easy, but the Administration continues to systematically dismantle protections for asylum seekers. Recent policy decisions have taken aim at deterring migration, even for those who have a credible fear of returning to their home countries, through prolonged detention and isolation.
In July 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions strengthened the credible fear standard, limiting the ability of foreign nationals to claim asylum because of domestic or gang violence. Then in September 2018, the Administration issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to amend regulations that would terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement established in 1997 to protect the rights and wellbeing of children and families in detention. In the same month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions limited the ability of U.S. judges to dismiss deportation cases; he also referred a Board of Immigration Appeals case that grants asylum-seekers the right to a bond hearing to himself for review, signaling that he may reverse this right.
At The Cost of American Taxpayers
Currently, individuals and families awaiting their immigration cases have the right to a hearing to determine if they are eligible to be released from detention while they await the decision. If Sessions revokes this right, even those who have established a “credible fear” of returning to their home countries will not be eligible to receive bond. If Sessions revokes this right, more asylum seekers will remain behind bars, unnecessarily, while they await the conclusion of their case. This is nothing more than a punitive gesture targeting individuals and families for seeking asylum – at great cost to the United States government.
While the average daily cost of detention is approximately $126 per person per day for individuals and $161 per person per day for families, effective alternatives to detention (ATDs) cost between $0.17 and $17.78 per person per day. ATDs are also highly effective, with community sponsorship models boasting compliance rates of 99% with court appearances.
Ultimately, the facts beg this question: why is Sessions seeking to expand the practice of detaining asylum seekers, when there are less expensive, equally effective, and more humane alternatives to detention?
People fleeing persecution and violence have a legal right to seek asylum. The law is clear. LIRS encourages U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to respect this right and allow women like Rosa due process and the opportunity to await her court proceedings in the least-restrictive setting.
*Name changed for privacy.