ACLU of Arizona Sends Letter to ICE Opposing Expansion of Immigration Detention Facility on the Tohono O'odham Nation

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
June 10, 2009 12:00 am

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PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security expressing its strong opposition to the proposed plan to place a large-scale detention center in Southern Arizona possibly within the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation. This follows recent media reports that plans are underway for the construction of a facility that would detain up to 1500 immigrants in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In the three-page letter mailed to ICE officials on Tuesday, the ACLU of Arizona called on DHS to issue a moratorium on the construction of new immigration detention facilities, citing the well-documented human and civil rights violations as the primary reason to end plans to expand the detention population. The ACLU also pointed to DHS’ failure to adequately manage existing bed space across Arizona, where roughly 10% of the nation’s detained immigrants are housed.

“The failure of the immigration detention system in addressing basic human rights is further compounded by systemic inadequacies and due process violations, including no appointed counsel, failure by ICE to comply with applicable court decisions and detention standards, and the consistent failure of Arizona immigration officials to consider humanitarian parole and other alternatives to detention. Objective observers recognize that many persons presently detained could be released during these proceedings at no risk,” wrote ACLU of Arizona Legal Director, Dan Pochoda, together with Victoria Lopez, who is heading the ACLU’s Immigrant Detention Advocacy Project.

The letter cites the rapid growth in detention in Arizona as one of the major problems contributing to the lack of adequate oversight and accountability measures within the immigration detention centers in Arizona and across the country. According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review 2008 Statistical Yearbook, the Eloy and Florence immigration courts, which conduct only detained court proceedings, ranked first and ninth, respectively, in number of proceedings completed during 2008. The Florence Immigration Court had one of the most significant increases in number of total cases received and completed of any immigration court in the country. In 2008, the Florence Immigration Court received 8,569 cases, up 65% from 2007.

Often described in national and local news articles as “ground zero in the immigration fight,” the state of Arizona has over the past several years served as a testing ground for policies that violate the constitutional and human rights of immigrants and migrants. Arizona – with 319 – has the country’s largest number of “deputized” police officers enforcing immigration laws. These “interior enforcement” efforts, combined with increased Border Patrol apprehensions along the 262-mile Arizona/Mexico border, have led to a dramatic increase in the number of immigrants who are jailed for longer periods in ICE detention facilities throughout the state.

In March, the ACLU of Arizona – under Lopez’s direction – launched a new initiative to survey and document civil and human rights abuses at ICE detention facilities and take steps to meet the legal needs of immigrants subjected to abuse, negligence or mistreatment while detained.

A copy of the DHS letter is attached in .pdf format and available on-line at:

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