Readers React: Detaining immigrants shouldn’t be the default

The article (“Push for cheaper alternatives to immigrant detention grows,” May 31) says, “Under current law, the vast majority of those in ICE custody are subject to mandatory detention to ensure that they show up for their immigration hearings and are deported if a removal order is issued.”

Under current immigration laws, there is a distinction between discretionary detention and “mandatory detention.” Under discretionary detention, an immigration officer or judge has the discretion to determine whether an individual is a flight risk or a threat to public safety and warrants detention. Under mandatory detention, an individual must be placed in detention.

Mandatory detention, generally, is reserved for individuals who have been convicted of certain crimes. That is not the vast majority of immigrants in custody.

Because of the immigration detention quota and the resulting pressure on Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to detain individuals, lawful permanent residents, U.S. citizens and others who may be eligible to remain lawfully in the U.S. have been detained.


Immigration detention is civil detention, not punitive incarceration, and thus should not be the “default setting.” In the case of discretionary detention, where less costly and effective alternatives exist, they should be used.

Evangeline M. Chan

New York

The writer is an immigration attorney and an adjunct assistant professor of immigration law at City University of New York.


Get our weekly Opinion newsletter