June 21, 2019

Gillibrand, Senate Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Require Alternatives to Detention for Asylum Seekers, Migrant Children, and Families Entering the Country

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), along with U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), announced the Alternatives to Detention Act of 2019, legislation that would take important first steps toward reforming the nation’s detention-based immigration system. With unprecedented levels of immigrants being detained around the country and alarming reports of mistreatment at immigrant detention centers, this legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish a presumption to place members of vulnerable immigrant groups, such as asylum seekers, migrant children, and families, in alternatives to detention (ATD) programs as they await the outcome of their immigration cases. ATD programs would include the Family Case Management Program and other community-based supervision and support programs carried out by nonprofit organizations with demonstrated expertise in providing such services that keep families together, ensure compliance with immigration court proceedings, and help the nation move toward a more humane and effective immigration system.

“Many people entering our country along the border are families, asylum seekers, and children fleeing dangerous, often life-threatening, conditions. The Trump Administration’s policy of holding them in dangerously overcrowded mass detention centers is inhumane and has been proven to be inefficient and ineffective,” said Senator Gillibrand. “These policies do not reflect our nation’s values and we must fix our broken immigration system. The Alternatives to Detention Act would ensure that immigrants are treated with dignity as they wait for their asylum claims to be processed, and I urge my colleagues to support this bill.”

Recent increases in families and unaccompanied minors seeking asylum have strained immigration resources and exposed intolerable conditions in detention facilities. This May, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported a record-breaking 52,000 immigrants in detention, and since the beginning of the Trump Administration, 24 immigrants have died in ICE custody. In less than a year, six children have died in or shortly after being released from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General recently found 900 immigrants housed in a CBP facility with a maximum capacity of 150 people.

The Alternatives to Detention Act of 2019 would prohibit the detention of vulnerable populations (defined to include asylum seekers, pregnant women, children and the elderly, LGBTQ individuals, and people with disabilities), parents of children under 18, and other caregivers, requiring instead that these individuals be placed in an alternative to detention (ATD) program.

In addition, this legislation would do the following:

•                   Require that DHS establish ATD programs with a range of supervision options, including the Family Case Management Program that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) previously operated;

•                   Require DHS to create the position of Coordinator of Alternatives to Detention who is tasked with managing and reporting on the use of alternative to detention programs; and

•                   Require a GAO study and report two years after the legislation’s enactment on the use and effectiveness of ATD programs.

The Alternatives to Detention Act of 2019 is endorsed by UnidosUS and Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services (LIRS).