June 20, 2019

Cortez Masto, Gillibrand, Markey, Blumenthal Introduce Legislation to Require Alternatives to Immigrant Detention

Washington, D.C. – In response to unprecedented levels of immigrants being detained around the country and startling reports of neglect and mistreatment at immigrant detention centers, U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today introduced legislation to create a presumption in favor of the use of alternatives to detention for asylum seekers, migrant children and families, and other vulnerable groups. The Alternatives to Detention Act of 2019 would direct these individuals toward alternatives to detention (ATD) programs, including community-based supervision and community support, as they await the outcome of their immigration cases.

“Every day we learn more about the inhumane conditions in our nation’s immigrant detention centers and the deadly consequences of this Administration’s mass detention system,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “We must take immediate action to safeguard immigrant and refugee families and other vulnerable individuals. This bill is an important first step toward a fairer, more humane immigration system.” 

“Many people entering our country along the border are families, asylum seekers, and children fleeing dangerous, often life-threatening, conditions. The Trump Administration’s policy of holding them in dangerously overcrowded mass detention centers is inhumane and has been proven to be inefficient and ineffective,” said Senator Gillibrand. “These policies do not reflect our nation’s values and we must fix our broken immigration system. The Alternatives to Detention Act would ensure that immigrants are treated with dignity as they wait for their asylum claims to be processed, and I urge my colleagues to support this bill.”

“The mass detention policies instituted by the Trump administration have chipped away at protections for the most vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women and young children seeking asylum. Mass detention is little more than a callous and ineffective deterrence mechanism,” said Senator Markey. “We should focus on alternatives to detention. The Alternatives to Detention Act provides a better, more humane alternative to the inhumane  practice of mass detention.”

“The Trump’s administration’s indiscriminate detention of immigrant families in deplorable conditions is inhumane and intolerable in a democratic society,” said Senator Blumenthal. “There are much more humane, effective alternatives to indefinitely imprisoning children, families, and pregnant women – and we should use them.”

A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Anthony Brown (D-Md.).

“The Trump administration believes mass detention and deportation are the only tools available in our immigration system but that is simply not the case,” said Congressman Anthony G. Brown. “Women, children, families, asylum-seekers, and other vulnerable migrants should not be held in our over-crowded immigration detention system. The Alternatives to Detention Act is an effective, humane, and immediate solution to drastically reduce the number of people in detention, save immigrant lives, keep families together, and ensure migrants get due process and attend their judicial proceedings. I’m looking forward to working with Senator Cortez Masto to push the House and the Senate to support an effective, affordable fix to an increasingly drastic humanitarian crisis."

The Alternatives to Detention Act is endorsed by UnidosUS and Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services (LIRS).


Specifically, the Alternatives to Detention Act would:

  • Create a presumption for the use of alternatives to detention for vulnerable populations – including asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, the elderly, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, and others – as well as parents of children under 18 and other caregivers;
  • Require that DHS establish ATD programs with a range of supervision options including the Family Case Management Program that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) previously operated;
  • Require DHS to create the position of Coordinator of Alternatives to Detention who is tasked with managing and reporting on the use of alternative to detention programs;
  • Require a GAO study and report two years after enactment on the use and effectiveness of ATD programs.

ATD programs can cost as little as $4.50 per day, a fraction of the cost of traditional detention facilities, which in comparison cost taxpayers more than $133 per day for adult detention and $319 per day for family detention.