Every year the United States government detains hundreds of thousands of noncitizens. The government arrests and imprisons people seeking protection at the border, as well as people with longstanding ties to the US, in costly and harmful immigration detention centers. People must navigate the complexities of the US immigration process while incarcerated, usually without legal counsel.
In late 2020, the American Immigration Council and Women’s Refugee Commission conducted a voluntary survey of community support services, which we defined broadly to include legal, medical, mental health, social, transportation, housing, educational, repatriation, and other services. Over 300 offices from 244 organizations responded, ranging from affiliates of major national immigration service providers to smaller, regional organizations. Many provide numerous types of community services to immigrant and protection-seeking individuals and families with a wide variety of legal cases or other needs. The survey was followed by a convening in the third week of January 2021, in which over 220 individuals participated.
The survey results point the way toward a fundamentally new approach to supporting those in the immigration process—one that rejects detention and deterrence and instead leverages the deep experience within the non-governmental organization community to institute a truly protection-centered system.