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What is Mandatory Detention?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2016
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Mandatory detention is the practice of automatically placing all people suspected of immigration violations into detention while officers investigate and process their cases. Nations with tough stances on immigration are more likely to use mandatory detention and think it is a useful enforcement tool. Critics of the process believe it consumes substantial resources and can potentially expose people to risks, such as being confined in unhealthy or dangerous environments. In some countries, certain types of violations merit mandatory detention, while others do not.

Examples of people who might be subject to mandatory detention include people without a visa or other documentation verifying their legal presence in a particular nation, people who have overstayed their legal permission to be in a country, and individuals like asylum seekers. These people will be held in a facility with other immigrants to give the government time to investigate and decide what to do. It may decide to grant a visa or asylum status, allowing a person to leave the facility and enter the country. In other cases, the government may issue a deportation order, transporting the person directly from detention to an airport for a flight home.

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Advocates for mandatory detention believe it sends a clear, strong message to people considering immigration violations that their activities will have consequences. Rather than being allowed to go free while their cases move through the courts, they must stay in the detention facility. This will also reduce the flight risk, making it harder for someone to disappear while awaiting immigration proceedings. This is a common concern in some nations, where legislators worry that people accused of immigration violations will simply ignore their court dates and move on to another location.

Some critics feel mandatory detention is a harsh punishment, especially when someone presents a low flight risk. People with disabilities, parents with young children, and mentally ill individuals are unlikely to flee before their court dates. In the case of asylum seekers, who enter a country without a visa because they are trying to find refuge, mandatory detention can potentially be dangerous, as people could be detained with the very people they are trying to avoid, such as members of a rival political party.

Immigration policy is a hot and contested topic in a number of nations. Nations using strict detention policies may agree to special consideration in certain cases, usually as a result of pressure from foreign allies concerned about a specific case. People may avoid mandatory detention by agreeing to immediate deportation and pledging not to return.

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