Reading George Fox

A Response To Dave Winer’s Claim of Small Justification

Today Dave Winer linked to his earlier post claiming there was a small justification for the internment camps at the border. I’m going to leave aside the argument that there can be a moral justification for imprisoning these children. If a law is fundamentally unjust and immoral, the duty of the law-abiding is civil disobedience, not acquiescence.

So, for sake of argument, it is moral1 to imprison refugee children, either by separating them from their parents or with their parents for an indefinite length of time. To justify such a law, for legal asylum seekers who have committed a misdemeanor2, the policy would have to be both by far the most effective and least punitive.

Oddly enough, Winer himself has linked to the evidence that interning asylum seekers and their children does not meet these standards. ICE used to have two less punitive and restrictive methods: the Intensive Supervision Alternative Program (ISAP) and the Family Case Management Program (FCMP). In the former, electronic ankle bracelets were used to track asylum seekers and 99.6% showed up for their court dates.3 Regular phone check-ins and unannounced visits were also part of the program. This is hardly “catch-and-release”.

In the FCMP, social workers were assigned to monitor asylum seekers and their families and make sure they attended their hearings. The government provided lawyers, housing, and transportation.

The contractor that ran the program said that 99 percent of participants “successfully attended their court appearances and ICE check-ins.” That included the 15 families who were ultimately deported. -Vox

Now, even if one rejected the moral argument for these programs and claimed deterrence to a misdemeanor committed by asylum seekers exercising their legal rights under US and International law is the preeminent goal, the alternatives to detainer are also significantly most cost effective.

In its budget request for fiscal year 2018, DHS said that it cost about $133.99 per day to hold an adult immigrant in detention and $319.37 for an individual in family detention. Meanwhile, the agency said the average cost of placing someone in an alternative program is $4.50 per day.4 -Vox

Moreover, the deterrence against misdemeanors argument has a more serious defect. We are partly responsible for creating the crimes. We have made it nigh impossible to cross the at the official entrances, removing the legal option. If asylum seekers were allowed to cross the border legally, there would be no justification to indefinitely detain people who has committed no crime. The solution to ending the misdemeanors is for our government to obey the law and open the border crossings. Punishing people for crimes that we have illegally pushed them into is perverse.5

Another argument the government has offered is that these programs are not as effective at guaranteeing removals. However, this can hold no weight. If providing asylum seekers lawyers advocating for their legal rights convinces judges that more refugees have legal claims to stay in our country, the law requires us to let them stay. To argue for their deportation despite this is to reject the rule of law, which the law-abiding citizen should not stand for.

Weighing more cost effective, more humane, and effective programs against child and refugee imprisonment is not a hard moral or practical calculus. There is no justification, even a small one for our government’s policy.

  1. I am also going to ignore the atrocities that are happening to some of these children, including forcibly injecting them with potent antipsychotics. Basically, let’s give the government every benefit of the doubt and see if there’s any merit to their position. 
  2. We rarely throw people into jail upon their first misdemeanor. Otherwise most of our population would be interned for speeding. 
  3. Granted only 79% complied with removal orders, but I think there is a very strong argument for improving an effective but imperfect humane system than choosing the most punitive one. 
  4. I’ve also seen estimates of $24 and $36. Both still an order of magnitude cheaper. 
  5. If police officers blocked every crosswalk for no legal reason and then arrested and imprisoned jaywalkers, we’d think they went insane, not try to find a justification for that policy.