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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) hold tens of thousands of people in detention every day. Using taxpayer dollars, these agencies have militarized U.S. border communities, criminalized immigration, and made mass incarceration and surveillance the centerpiece of civil immigration enforcement. It is a system increasingly marked by dehumanization, racism, and abuse.

The seeds to heighten the nation’s reliance on militarized enforcement and widespread detention practices were planted during the 1980s. Today, legislators designate more than $23 billion for ICE and CBP’s enforcement machine.

These detention practices reflect a culture that criminalizes the right to migrate.

For too long, immigrant and border communities have suffered the traumatic and dangerous consequences of Congress overfunding ICE and CBP. This deference to oppression must end. Rather than excessively channeling money into harmful and restrictive practices, lawmakers must push for structures that increase accountability and invest in humane, community-based alternatives to detention that operate outside these agencies’ confines.

COVID-19 Made Dangerous Detention Practices Worse

The U.S. immigrant detention system is dangerous and cruel. The conditions in detention centers were exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. People in ICE custody have endured many harmful practices, including noncompliance with coronavirus mitigation protocols, medical neglect, lack of food and basic necessities, physical and mental abuse—even death. These risks are heightened for Black, Indigenous, and immigrants of color who are detained at disproportionate rates in the United States, particularly Black immigrants

These detention practices reflect a culture that criminalizes the right to migrate. Rather than incarcerating migrants, the government should embrace safe alternatives that protect people from harm as they work through the immigration system.

“Alternatives” to Detention Continue Oppression  

Recently, the Biden administration announced a plan to expand home confinement and curfew pilot programs as alternatives to detention (ATDs). These programs are meant to decrease detention numbers. Yet, numbers remain high, and these alternative responses still restrict, surveil, and cause harm to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are enrolled in ICE’s ATD programs. Congress must instead reduce detention by supporting and investing in community-based alternatives that are not led by ICE.

We urge lawmakers to make bold decisions that reject dehumanizing tactics and reflect a commitment to welcoming and caring for all regardless of their citizenship status.

The Department of Homeland Security has built a massive border surveillance infrastructure used by ICE and CBP that strictly monitors and further fuels mass enforcement and deportation while violating the rights of immigrants. The Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) is the most extensive supervision program of any U.S. law enforcement agency. It is billed as a “humane” alternative to detention. Yet, the program relies on punitive measures, including ankle monitors, facial recognition tools, and tracking monitors, to restrict the liberty of the 182,000 immigrants currently enrolled in the program.

Reports show the extreme physical and mental harm experienced by individuals and their families subjected to surveillance programs. This expanded surveillance technology specifically impacts Black and Brown immigrant communities at high rates, reinforcing patterns of racial oppression.

ISAP operates as an extension of ICE’s detention and surveillance programs, not as an alternative to detention. Congress must end these harmful programs and practices.

Smart Alternatives: Community-Based Approaches

Lawmakers must significantly reduce DHS funding for harmful immigration enforcement, including surveillance technology used for restrictive and custodial enforcement. Rather than criminalizing immigration, the U.S government should invest in community-based approaches that serve the human needs of immigrants, strengthen communities, and provide pathways for those seeking citizenship.

True to our Quaker values, we urge lawmakers to make bold decisions that reject dehumanizing tactics and reflect a commitment to welcoming and caring for all regardless of their citizenship status. Congress must end these anti-immigrant policies and practices by significantly cutting funding to reduce detention numbers and investing in community-based alternatives not led by ICE.

Dayana Maldonado

Dayana Maldonado

Program Assistant, Migration Policy (2021-2022)
Dayana is the 2021-2022 Program Assistant for migration policy.