By Sue Weisher, Ph.D., Migration Specialist
While I was the director of immigration and refugee services at Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans (CCANO), my department ran one of the few community-based Alternatives to Detention Programs for immigrants ever operated in the U.S. The program served two groups of immigrants being held in detention in Louisiana—asylum seekers without family members in the U.S. and “indefinite detainees” without family sponsors. The indefinite detainees were immigrants deemed inadmissible or deportable based on criminal charges but whom the government was unable to remove because no country would accept them. Instead of releasing these individuals, the government chose to detain them—many for years longer than the criminal sentences that made them deportable.We met with much success in assisting both asylum seekers and indefinite detainees. I will describe here the Alternative to Detention (ATD) program at CCANO in the hope that other social service providers will consider what role they might play in providing community-based alternatives to the immigration detention paradigm that has been dominant, should the opportunity to do so become available as a consequence of the Obama administration’s detention reform agenda, outlined in my last Just South Quarterly article.
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