From Persecution to Prison

The Health Consequences of Detention for Asylum Seekers

From Persecution to Prison

The practice of imprisoning asylum seekers who flee to America to escape torture, abuse, and persecution in their own countries has damaging effects on the well-being of these individuals. Detention can induce fear, isolation, and hopelessness, and exacerbate the severe psychological distress frequently exhibited by asylum seekers who are already traumatized.

Historically, the United States has opened its doors and provided refuge to those fleeing persecution, as echoed in the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 1

Since the enactment of a restrictive 1996 immigration law and new restrictions after September 11, 2001, asylum seekers arriving without proper documentation are imprisoned without any opportunity for judicial review and with increased frequency, some remaining in detention for months or even years.

1. Emma Lazarus, New York City, 1883. The New Colossus. Available at:

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