An alternative to detention

By August 1, 2018

USA (MNN) – Families and separated children have started being reunified at the United States’ southern border. But that doesn’t mean they’re free from detention.

“Some families have been identified as those who would go into family detention centers. So, when they are reunified with their children, those families will be detained,” Bethany Christian Services’ Dona Abbott says.

Abbott says it’s unclear which families will go into family detention centers and which will be released back to their country.

However, Bethany does not believe detaining families is the appropriate response to refugees and asylum-seekers who are fleeing dangerous situations and requesting the United States’ help.

“No matter how nice the detention center or the services provided, they’re still detained and it’s still regimented. It does not feel like family life and children need that. They need an assurance of safety and continuity. They need a happy, relaxed family to embrace them and to be released [from] a detention center into a community that does that for a family regardless of whether their stay in the United States is short term or long term.”

Bethany helped in creating an alternative to detention centers that focuses on doing just that.

Family Case Management Program

From September 2015 to June 2017, Bethany ran their Family Case Management Program, a pilot program that sought to serve families and release them into communities as they waited for their asylum court case to be heard, which can take up to three years.

Abbott explains the program “allowed families to be released from detention and cared and supported for in communities with a case manager assigned to them to ensure that they got services that they needed, as well as being referred to additional services… but most importantly, it was an ICE program that assured families were showing up for their immigration interviews and for their immigration court hearings.”

750 people were admitted into the program, and Abbott says ninety-nine percent of those in the program showed up for their interviews and hearings, even if it was for hearings necessary for deportation.

If it was an order of deportation, Bethany’s case managers worked with families to create a plan for a safe return to their home country.

Yet whether families were deported or allowed to stay in the United States, Bethany ensured that they would have access to necessary resources and services, including counseling.

Cost-Effective Alternative

Abbott says the Family Case Management Program is a healthier alternative to being detained and it’s far more cost effective. It costs only $35 a day to support someone in the program. CNBC reports it can cost up to $775 per person per night to hold them in a detention center.

“Strengthening and supporting families in their own community, whether it’s domestic or refugee families is much more cost-effective. You’re not housing a family, feeding, clothing, caring for their physical needs,” Abbott says.

(Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services via Facebook)

Furthermore, the program offers such a cost-effective alternative because “of volunteers and other services that are often made available to families at a very low cost or a free cost in a community that surround families in need.”

Restarting for the Sake of Families

The pilot program, though successful, has ended.

Abbott shares that this is partly because of  “the change in administration, a different direction in how to deter families from entering into the United States, requesting asylum and determined that it would be a better direction to go in to detain families and return them quickly to country of origin.”

However, Bethany and many others are concerned for the families and say they should not be detained, deserve a chance to be heard in court, and treated respectfully in transitioning.

“These families are refugee families fleeing extreme violence in their home country seeking asylum. They need an opportunity to be heard in asylum court to adjudicate their asylum request… and if not, they don’t meet our criteria for asylum, according to a[n] immigration judge, then to help them ease their transition back into their country of origin, particularly when they have young children attached to that family.”

If possible, Bethany hopes to restart the Family Case Management Program to continue impacting lives and giving refugees the help they need to be heard.

Pray the Lord would open ways for Bethany to restart this program. You can also click here to support Bethany Christian Services directly.


Header photo courtesy of Unsplash.

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