The Cruelty of Immigrant Detention Must Be Stopped Now

Jairee Torres, Contributing Writer

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For the past several years, the use of detention as an immigration enforcement strategy has increased drastically. Immigrants, asylum seekers, and lawful permanent residents are being detained for long amounts of time despite the fact that there is no reason to think that they are dangerous to society. Detainees are treated like convicted criminals, and are often placed in solitary confinement regardless of their age or health.

Reports of abusive guards at detention facilities are common, as are reports of unsanitary conditions, spoiled food, and lack of medical staff. The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with several child-welfare experts, has warned that jailing children and parents can severely damage their physical and mental health—often irreversibly. According to The Intercept, about 1,224 cases have been reported revealing a startling pattern of sexual abuse in immigration detention.

Cases range from physical abuse to threats of deportation if detainees refuse to participate in sexual acts with the guards. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has assured the public that it investigates every complaint of sexual abuse, but it claims that only 12% of the 1,224 cases have been “substantiated.”

Hundreds of children separated from their parents after being detained are subjected to abuse, such as being kicked in the feet by the guards. There have even been images showing children lying in kennel-wire cages with Mylar blankets, low-weight blankets that are made of a heat-reflective material, and audio obtained by ProPublica that captures children crying after being separated from their parents.

The government has spent millions of dollars to lock up people whose detention serves no valid purpose.”

Many of these young children in detention facilities experienced trauma before being separated from their parents. Parents are essential in helping children cope with the effects of trauma and in helping their children feel safe. Separating children from their parents removes their most important protectors, inflicting more trauma.

These children are completely deprived of a consistent, caring relationship just when they need parents the most. Any delay in reunifying these children with their parents is beyond unacceptable. A detention center is no place for a child.

Some people believe that if people want to enter the country, they should enter it legally. Although it is true that people shouldn’t break the law, the process of getting into the country is complex and hard to do, in addition to being expensive. Some immigrants just can’t enter the country legally. Even if a person meets the formal requirements to immigrate, either through employment, family reunification, or humanitarian protection, they can be forced to wait weeks and even months to actually enter the country.

The government has spent millions of dollars to lock up people whose detention serves no valid purpose. According to ICE’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget, it costs $133.99 a day on average to maintain one adult detention bed. The cost of a family bed, which keeps mothers and children together, costs approximately $319 a day, according to the Department of Human Services. Beds for children who have been separated from their parents cost $775 per person per night. It shouldn’t cost so much to detain one person.

Instead of wasting millions on something as pointless as detaining immigrants, the government should use the money for something useful, like planting more trees, increasing teachers’ salaries, and building new schools across the country.


This piece also appears in our January 2019 print edition.