Congress Should Increase Funding for Crisis at the Border Consistent with American Ideals
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today expressed concern about the fundamental strategy reflected in the administration’s emergency supplemental request sent to Congress today to address the unprecedented influx of children and families at the U.S.-Mexico border. While the organization supports increased resources to conduct timely immigration court proceedings, facilitate access to legal information and counsel, and care for unaccompanied children, Human Rights First is deeply concerned that some of the strategy reflected in the request would undermine the integrity of the U.S. asylum system. The organization cautions that proposals to increase family detention or rush cases through the process would be out of step with the United States’ legacy of protecting those fleeing persecution, trafficking, and other serious human rights violations.
“As President Obama and Congress try to address this crisis, they should do so in ways that strengthen the integrity of the immigration and asylum systems, reflect American ideals, and uphold our nation’s obligation to protect refugees,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “This proposal gets only some of that right. While it includes provisions to increase resources for agencies handling the influx, the proposal could do serious damage by increasing detention for children, families, and asylum seekers. There are far better and less expensive alternatives that address the multiple needs of these families and our nation’s security. Decisions to detain should be based on case by case determinations rather than blanket policies designed to deter others from seeking this country’s protection.”
While today’s request includes emergency funds to alleviate the pressure on the agencies managing the influx and staffing immigration courts, it also includes substantial resources sought by the administration to detain children and adults. President Obama is requesting $879 million for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to cover costs that include immigration removal, as well as expanding available detention facilities and pursuing alternatives to detention. In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security rightly ceased using its primary detention facility for families after multiple reports of inappropriate conditions and treatment of children and families. Human Rights First has advocated for increased funding for alternatives to detention that cost a fraction of the $160-per-day it takes to maintain an adult detention bed. That approach has proven successful as the government’s current contract for alternatives results in a 97.4 percent compliance rate with final immigration hearings.
While Human Rights First welcomes the administration’s decision to not include in its appropriations request changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act that would weaken legal safeguards for unaccompanied children, it notes that the president has reaffirmed his intent to continue to seek authority to limit the safeguards in processing cases of unaccompanied children. Human Rights First urges the administration and Congress to maintain the law’s crucial protections for unaccompanied children who face particular risks from trafficking.
Human Rights First notes that unless the delays in the immigration court system are addressed nationally, and not only at the border, the integrity of the system will continue to be at risk. By directing increased resources toward those recently apprehended at the border, asylum seekers around the country will be left waiting for years for their cases to be resolved. It recommends that money requested for immigration courts and judges be increased and distributed across the nation, rather than only to adjudicate detained cases at the border. Congress should fund at minimum the 35 additional immigration judge teams called for in the president’s Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations request, but in the long term should add substantially more, and match the 225 new immigration judge teams that were called for in the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform proposals last year.
“Rather than spending billions on more immigration detention, Congress should support fiscally prudent and effective alternative appearance measures and timely immigration court hearings nationally – including for individuals who are not held in immigration detention. In order to address the longstanding delays in immigration court hearings and strengthen the integrity of the system, the administration must look at the big picture,” said Acer.
Human Rights First recently visited key border points, border patrol stations, and immigration detention facilities in Texas, Arizona, and California, including the Rio Grande Valley to inform recommendations on dealing with families and children crossing the border. Based on our research, we believe that as Congress considers the president’s emergency supplemental request, it should appropriate funds to:
- Maximize the use of alternatives to detention for cases determined to need additional measures to assure appearance rather than putting families with children into immigration detention;
- Increase access to legal information presentations nationwide and access to counsel, above the level of the president’s request;
- Strengthen, rather than weaken, protection safeguards; and,
- Reduce the delays in immigration court and asylum cases by increased appropriations without rushing them forward, which undermines fairness, effectiveness and access to justice.
To speak with Acer contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.
Blueprint: How to Protect Refugees and Prevent Abuse at the Border
Fact Sheet: Key Statistics and Findings on Asylum Protection Requests at the U.S.–Mexico Border
Fact Sheet: How to Manage the Increase in Families at the Border.
Letter: Coalition Letter Urging President Obama to Protect the Children at the Border
Fact Sheet: Recommendations for an Emergency Supplemental Fund to Protect Families and Asylum Seekers at the U.S.-Mexico Border