EDITORIAL: Better means available for handling immigrants

As the Trump administration continues to try to meet court orders to reunite immigrant families, it is increasingly clear that the decision to criminalize entry without documents and separate children from their parents and warehouse both in separate places was not well thought out.

From the outset, the administration has struggled to find places to house the immigrants; in some cases parents and their children have been sent to different states, making it difficult for officials to meet court-imposed deadlines for bringing them back together.

And now they must find places that can house families rather than individuals.

Some people have suggested utilizing military bases; the Pentagon reports the Department of Homeland Security, which handles immigration, has asked that military bases be able to take 2,000 people by the end of August, with eventual placement of 12,000.

With some 300 immigration judges handling a cumulative caseload that already numbers 800,000, these immigrant families could sit in the detention camps for years awaiting their hearings, all at taxpayer’s expense.

Moreover, it seems that detention, and the public cost, isn’t necessary.

The Obama administration took steps to address the problem of immigrants failing to show up to their detention hearings, and they seem to have worked.

Our border control agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in 2013 began computer analysis of every immigrant to determine whether they are a danger to the community or a flight risk. Based on the results, they released many immigrants under different programs.

One was a Family Case Management Program, in which social advocacy groups agreed to supervise the released immigrants and help them find attorneys, housing and jobs. The groups also pledged to make sure the people showed up for their hearings in immigration court, and 99 percent of them did.

Another tactic was a semi-criminal procedure in which the immigrant posted a bond and agreed to wear an ankle bracelet with a GPS tracking device. This system produced a 79 percent compliance rate.

According to the DHS, the cost of these alternative programs was about $4.50 a day. Housing and feeding adult detainees costs about $134 a day; the special needs of families detained together raises the cost to $319 per person, per day.

Trump ended these programs when he took office. Chances are that given time to refine and improve the system, the agency should be able to improve compliance using the ankle bracelets. The savings to the government — and taxpayers who fund them — would be significant.

It’s no secret that immigration has always enriched our nation and the lives of its people. National security requires procedures to screen immigrants to ensure that new residents don’t place us in danger. Those procedures, however, must humane, effective and efficient, showing respect to both the immigrants and taxpayers.

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