Critics worry that not incarcerating those who face deportation would allow them to abscond, which could encourage more people to come here illegally.
Jan Ting, who served as an assistant commissioner with the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, criticized the Senate bill and predicted it won’t pass.
“Not only is there an amnesty, not only is there a lifting of all the limits on immigration, but we are making the immigration enforcement system weaker by taking away the detention tool,” said Ting, a professor of immigration law at Temple University and a board member of the Center for Immigration Studies. The center advocates admitting fewer immigrants.
Supporters say the Senate bill would provide more humane alternatives for people whose primary offenses are immigration violations, which are not criminal offenses. They say the changes would also save a lot of taxpayer money.
The federal government now spends $2 billion annually detaining illegal immigrants, more than double what it spent eight years ago. A report by the National Immigration Forum found the average daily cost to detain an illegal immigrant is $164, compared with between 30 cents and $14 a day for alternatives to detention.
Those alternatives “are obviously very cost-effective programs, and they are far more humane than detaining someone in a prison — and far more appropriate, too,” said Donald Kerwin, who directs the New York-based Center for Migration Studies. Kerwin is the former executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.
Fredi Alcazar Dominguez, who was illegally brought to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 8, has experienced both sides of the system. In 2009 after being stopped on a traffic offense, the Mableton resident spent two months in the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, more than 140 miles south of Atlanta.
He was 19 at the time, had never been behind bars before and was scared. He called it the worst experience of his life.