“Personal liberty must become the rule,” asserted Commissioner Enrique Gil Botero, Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Liberty was the main message in the Commissioner’s keynote address at the Washington D.C. launch of IDC’s publication There Are Alternatives, which provides guidance to successfully avoid unnecessary immigration detention and to ensure community options are as effective as possible. The event, co-hosted by the International Migrants Bill of Rights Initiative, marked the Commissioner’s first public address as Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants.
Pointing to the multiple human rights violations that often result from the use of immigration detention, including the harmful of effects of detention on people’s physical and mental health, and the increasing criminalization of irregular migration across the region, Commissioner Gil Botero highlighted the urgency with which States should act in order to guarantee the right to liberty for every person within their jurisdiction, regardless of their migration status. He recognized, as a first step, the need for States to enact immigration laws, policies, and practices that operate from a presumption of liberty.
“We see that there really are alternatives..One of the primary challenges for States is to establish laws from a presumption of freedom…Strengthening alternatives to detention is an urgent priority.” – Commissioner Gil Botero, Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants
Immediately following the address, experts from the Women’s Refugee Commission and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service echoed the Commissioner’s words, describing how the U.S. immigration system ‘works backwards’, directly conflicting with international and regional human rights standards by operating from a presumption of detaining first. Alternatives are often no more than options for release for persons who have been arbitrarily detained, rather than preventive steps taken to avoid unnecessary detention in the first instance. Panelists mentioned various efforts led by civil society organizations to change this presumption, including the development and implementation of alternatives to detention in the US, which have had positive results and offer important lessons.
“We’ve advocated for many years, with different ways and different models for implementing alternatives to detention, which have showed very clearly that alternatives work.” – Michelle Brané, Women’s Refugee Commission
Such experiences have proven that case management and support in the community are fundamental in order for alternatives to detention to be effective.
“Three things that are essential in order for community-based alternatives to be successful are: 1) A relationship of trust between the case manager and the client; 2) Community relationships; and 3) The need to actually understand client needs.” – Annie Wilson, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Although several governments in the Americas region continue to detain first, in violation of well-established international and regional human rights standards, numerous positive practices that protect and fulfill migrants’ right to liberty have also been identified. The IDC has identified more than 250 such positive practice examples, and have detailed many of these examples in There Are Alternatives. This comprehensive global study of alternatives to detention also outlines a framework for governments, civil society, and other stakeholders to ensure that detention is only ever used as an exceptional measure of last resort. Entitled the “Community Assessment and Placement (CAP)” model, this framework is a practical tool and guide for States looking to develop and implement effective alternatives to detention. The IDC, along with its members and partners, encourage governments and civil society to work together to share positive practices and to use the CAP model as a framework for positive change.
The IDC would like to thank Commissioner Enrique Gil Botero for his inspiring address and support in promoting the right to liberty and encouraging the exploration and development of rights-based alternatives to immigration detention. We also thank our expert panelists for sharing their knowledge and experience; and we are grateful to the members of the International Migrants Rights Initiative for co-hosting the event.