Tuesday, December 1, 2009

UNHCR Sees 'Positive Development' in U.S. Pursuit of Alternatives to Detention

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, commends the United States government for developing alternatives to detention for immigrants and asylum-seekers, most of whom are currently detained in jail-like settings as their cases are processed. Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller, who was briefed by ICE during her visit to the States, called the newest phase of the administration's alternatives to detention program a "positive development."

Although the current immigration enforcement system favors detention as a default, ICE has developed an alternative program known by its acronym ISAP. Earlier iterations of the program were very restrictive, requiring most participants to wear ankle bracelets with GPS tracking. The current version, known as ISAP II, is less restrictive and permits participants to remain at home while meeting regularly with staff for check-ins.

Erika Feller's visit is one piece of the early phase of efforts, on the part of UNHCR, to determine which alternative to detention program is most favorable for asylum-seekers. ICE, for its part, is in the process of working toward expanding its alternative to detention program on the national level. At FCNL, we see this as a positive step toward the ultimate goal of reducing the number of people held in immigration detention centers in the United States.

Most immigrants held in detention centers, including asylum-seekers, are non-criminal and do not present a security or flight risk. Detention is an overly restrictive measure for these populations. At FCNL, we say that there's a better way: alternatives to detention.

FCNL supports alternatives to detention, binding detention standards, and due process protections for detained immigrants. We encourage the administration to establish a presumption against detention by creating real nation-wide community-based alternatives to detention. For more information on alternatives to detention, read our blog series "Stories from Detention."

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