Polls Show Voters Support Family Detention Over Catch-and-Release

In 2015, Congress and the Obama administration abdicated their responsibilities to control the immigration chaos that is now gripping the border and the nation’s attention. They handed that authority to a single Federal District Court Judge, who ruled that under existing law, minors and families with children can be detained for a maximum of 20 days.

Congress could have fixed the problem at any time by amending the law. They could fix it today if they wanted to. Obviously, there are enough members of Congress who would rather have a political issue to grandstand about, rather than a solution.

These members of Congress (most with D’s appearing after their names) want there to be only two options available to deal with the surge of families with children: releasing the entire family within three weeks of their arrival, or detaining the adults separately and placing the children in the custody of family members in the U.S. or in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Clearly, what these members of Congress want is Option A: catch-and release. Everyone walks after 20 days, even though we know most will never appear for their scheduled hearings.

That may be their goal and the goal of the illegal alien advocacy network. But it’s not what the American people want. The American people want Option C or D, which are not currently on the menu because Congress refuses to put them there.

Option C (not currently offered) is “Hold families together in detention centers until an immigration hearing at a later date.” In a comprehensive The Economist/YouGov poll (see page 108), that was the policy option favored by 41 percent of voters. Only 19 percent favor the catch-and-release option. Twelve percent favor the now discontinued policy of holding the adults and placing children in the care of relatives or HHS, and another 8 percent favor separate, extended detention for adults and minors. Combined, 61 percent of voters support one of the three options that do not entail catch-and-release.

Perhaps even more significantly, these views are shared across ethnic and political lines. Forty-five percent of white and black respondents support the detain-families-together option, as do 48 percent of Hispanic respondents. Likewise, the Democratic Party’s position isn’t even popular among Democrats. Forty-nine percent of identified Democrats want families to be detained as a unit (higher even than self-identified Republicans!), compared to just 30 percent of Democratic voters who support catch-and-release.

The Economist poll is not an aberration. A CBS poll (see Question 31) offered Option D (also not currently on the policy menu) – “Release the entire family back in their home country together” (emphasis added). That choice is favored by 48 percent of voter, compared to 11 percent who want to detain them together in this country. That policy option also far exceeds the popularity of catch-and-release, which was favored by just 21 percent of voters in the CBS poll.

Those who are exploiting the two bad options now available should be forced to explain why they continue to block the policy options that voters broadly support from even appearing on the menu.

About Author


Ira joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 1986 with experience as a journalist, professor of journalism, special assistant to Gov. Richard Lamm (Colorado), and press secretary of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. His columns have appeared in National Review, LA Times, NY Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, and more. He is an experienced TV and radio commentator.


  1. avatar

    What’s the penalty for absconding after receiving an NTA [Notice to Appear]? NADA! For the Dem’s, even Fifty Lashes with a Wet Noodle would be decried as cruel and unusual punishment! It’s only ‘unusual’ because we don’t enforce our laws!

    • avatar

      Is there a limit on that? Doesn’t sound like it when you say “help them to all come here legally”. You do realize that will bring a bigger never ending flood of immigrants. That’s the kind of hold the door open for them that ignores all the obvious side effects and expenses that would accompany that.

      Who is going to pay for all the schools that would require. It costs 8 to 10 thousand dollars a year just to educate the average student, much less the cost of building the schools, and teaching in 2 languages is even more expensive. It also holds back the American students who are expected to wait for their undereducated classmates to catch up to them. We always complain that American kids rank so far behind other countries, but if you took out immigrants achievement levels from that, native born Americans scores are higher.

      You do realize that a large percentage of immigrants, especially illegals but even a large percentage of legals, use welfare programs of some type at higher rates than native born Americans? How about the fact that California is essentially out of fresh water and is building expensive desalinization plants along the coast? A lot of cities have gridlock traffic 15 hours a day. More people is going to help that? Or should we pay the billions to build evermore roads so “all” can come here? We’re 20 trillion in debt and we are supposed to allow in people who take far more money out of the system than the little or no taxes they will pay.

      How about the environment? Immigration has been the main driver of our population increases of 25 to 30 million per decade for the last 30 years. Or does that have no effect on the environment? Urban sprawl? Ever heard of it? Population growth only makes it worse.

  2. avatar

    The voters I know do not support family detention–Who in their Christian mind would?! This is not how the Bible tells us to treat families.

    • avatar

      OK, the family can just go back home. The only reason they’re ‘detained’ in the first place is that they INSIST that they have some kind of ‘right’ to enter our country without permission. If they simply agreed to voluntary repatriation, the whole family would be together in their homeland.