Immigration Detention Is a Necessary Function of Immigration Control

By Dan Cadman on October 15, 2015

CQ Researcher, October 16, 2015

Few Americans believe in open borders. They disagree about the proper level of legal immigration, and how to deal with the existing population of aliens residing illegally in the United States, but most understand the importance of immigration controls as an exercise of sovereignty, public safety and job security.

To function properly, the immigration system must have the tools needed to discourage illegal immigration.

Opponents advocate alternatives to detention like supervised release for humanitarian and fiscal reasons. This is superficially attractive, but although release is cheaper on a daily basis, nondetained cases take longer to resolve. Backlogs are massive: it can take nearly three years to begin court hearings. Detention alternatives are also ineffective; in 2014 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that data are inadequate to determine what happens to those who leave detention.

There are significant reasons to continue detention:

  • Deterrence — Without detention, there is no border control. Absent credible deterrence, we will face a global tsunami of the hopeful. Half the world's population lives on $2.50 daily or less. Why would they not come, if left footloose to disappear among the 11.3 million aliens already here illegally?
  • Public Safety — Hundreds of thousands of aliens are arrested each year near land borders. They come with no identification, or sometimes forged documents. Agents often have only their word for who they are. Delving into identity is laborious when verifying foreign records of birth, nationality and criminal history, and the results not always certain. Do we really want cartel members or potential terrorists walking the streets?
  • System Integrity — Opponents say because immigration is a civil, rather than criminal, offense detention is inappropriate. That argument holds no weight. Every legal system must have the means to enforce its rulings. Detention inhibits aliens from fleeing and protects the public. Aliens have repeatedly shown that when released on a promise to appear in court, or for removal if ordered by a judge, they break that promise. Why not? The worst that happens if absconders get caught is they will be deported—but that's what they face if they stick around. Presently, more than 900,000 undetained aliens who absconded from immigration proceedings are roaming our cities. That figure reflects the current official disinclination to use detention. It's a national disgrace no other legal system would tolerate.