(Reuters) - Republican and Democratic U.S. police chiefs and sheriffs on Wednesday urged U.S. congressional leaders to find alternatives to detention of immigrant families because of the risks it poses to children and its huge cost.
In a joint letter, 48 law enforcement heads appealed to lawmakers to consider possibilities other than incarceration, such as allowing families to live in the community and require heads of households to wear ankle bracelets or receive telephone checks while awaiting court or immigration hearings.
Police chiefs from across the geographic and political spectrum voiced apprehension at locking up migrant families at a time when U.S. law enforcement is trying to gain the trust of immigrant communities.
U.S. President Donald Trump issued an order last week to end separation of children from parents, which had occurred because of his administration’s policy of prosecuting all adults caught entering the United States illegally. The police chiefs praised the order.
But the zero tolerance policy remains in place and under the order, which is likely to be challenged in court, families would instead be detained together for the duration of immigration proceedings, which can take months or years.
Family detention centers could radicalize young people, pushing them toward street gangs or hate groups, said Houston police chief Art Acevedo.
“The last thing we need to do is marginalize and disenfranchise young people,” said Acevedo, who emigrated to the United States from Cuba as a child. “You can accomplish the safety aspect and monitoring aspect at a fraction of the cost without having the negative impact on kids.”
Vetting of families would show most do not need to be incarcerated as they pose no threat to the community, the group said.
Confinement would endanger their children’s physical and emotional development, according to the active and retired officials who included the heads of major law enforcement groups such as Montgomery County, Maryland, police chief Tom Manger, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.
Taxpayers could save millions of dollars each year through incarceration alternatives, given the average cost of holding a person in family detention is above $300 a day, according to the group.
Past alternatives to immigrant detention were more than 99 percent successful in getting family members to immigration hearings, it said.
“Local governments have been using alternatives to incarceration for a long time,” said Fresno, California, Sheriff Margaret Mims, a Republican who runs a local jail.
Reporting By Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Michael Perry and Bill Trott