Commentary: Immigrant detention policies need revisions

This editorial appeared in The Lexington Herald-Leader.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is wisely revisiting immigration detention policies, but too late for Ana Romero Rivera.

Rivera, 44, whose only crime was using fake identification documents to clean houses in this country, hanged herself with a bed sheet last August after spending more than seven months at local jails in Shelby and Franklin counties.

She was not fighting deportation. She was eager to return to El Salvador, where she had an ailing mother and two sons in college.

Rivera's tragic death illustrates much of what's wrong with a burgeoning detention system that, at great cost to taxpayers, locks up immigrants who pose no threat, for open-ended periods of time.

Romero's incarceration was short compared with some who stay for years behind bars, where they have limited access to lawyers and the courts and are guaranteed fewer rights than accused criminals.

There are cheaper alternatives that are more humane and just as effective. The Associated Press reported earlier this year that paroling detainees on electronic ankle monitoring costs about $13 a day and has almost a perfect compliance record, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Taxpayers spend about $141 a day on detention.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Lexington Herald-Leader.