Voices from the Border: Detention and the Need for Humane Alternatives

November 17, 2020

The United States has the world’s largest detention system for asylum seekers and immigrants. The system is unnecessary and expensive, and conditions are punitive—even though immigration detention is civil, not criminal.

Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, DHS has expanded the detention of families and limited the parole of asylum seekers in the name of deterrence. Under the Trump administration, immigrants have been increasingly detained with limited access to counsel and subjected to mistreatment. Several children have died in CBP custody. COVID-19 has spread dangerously in ICE facilities because of medical neglect, transfers, and crowding. Meanwhile, the U.S. government claims its detention practices justify barring asylum seekers at the border. But safe alternatives are available, including release to family and case management.

Refugees International hosted fifth in its series of “Voices from the Border” events exploring U.S. immigration detention and the need for humane alternatives. The panel addresses how to implement better policies and assess what we might learn from Canada’s approach to detention and social services for asylum seekers.


Yael Schacher, Senior U.S. Advocate at Refugees International


Heidi Altman is the director of policy at the National Immigration Justice Center and an expert on detention. 

Christina Fialho is the co-founder of Freedom for Immigrants, which runs visitation and alternative accompaniment programs.

Jenny Jeanes is the Detention Program Coordinator at Action Réfugiés Montréal.

Katharina Obser is the Associate Director in the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. She authored a report on case management. 

Sylvester Owino is an asylum seeker and activist who spent time in immigration detention. He is on the Freedom for Immigrants leadership council.

Francisco Rico-Martinez co-directs Toronto’s FCJ Refugee Centre, which provides temporary housing for released women and children asylum seekers.

About Voices from the Border

Refugees International’s “Voices from the Border” event series is designed to humanize, inform, and deepen policy discussions relating to migration and protection along the U.S. southern border.