DHS Plan To Improve Immigration Detention An Encouraging Step

October 6, 2009 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano today announced plans to improve the nation's immigration detention system. According to today's announcement, DHS would consolidate many detainees in facilities with conditions that reflect their status as non-criminals, provide sound medical care in the facilities and establish more centralized oversight of detention centers.

The government's announcement, however, failed to address a number of critical holes in the current system, including a lack of enforceable basic conditions standards; due process to ensure people are not unnecessarily detained, especially for prolonged periods of time; oversight of local police enforcement of immigration laws in the "Criminal Alien" and 287(g) programs resulting in the harassment of innocent people; and a commitment to alternatives to detention, especially for families.

The following can be attributed to Judy Rabinovitz, Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project:

"It's encouraging that DHS is calling for improved immigration detention conditions that reflect the nature of the detained population. However, meaningful reform of the system must focus not only on the conditions under which immigrants are being detained, but on why they are being detained in the first place – often for prolonged periods of time – when other forms of supervised release would be sufficient to address the government's concerns, as well as the need for basic due process.

"Thousands of immigrants are locked up unnecessarily without access to counsel or bond hearings while they undergo immigration proceedings, which can take years to resolve. Many of them are lawful permanent residents with criminal convictions for which they already served their sentences – often relatively minor and from years past. Yet they are imprisoned for years without the most basic element of due process – a bond hearing to determine if their detention is even necessary."

The following can be attributed to Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel:

"The new DHS detention initiatives fail to examine the pipeline that channels hundreds of thousands of people into ICE detention in the first place. A large segment of people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have not been convicted of any crime. According to the DHS's own report, the majority of people apprehended under the state and local immigration enforcement programs, including the Criminal Alien Program, 287(g) and Secure Communities, are 'non-criminals.' Yet they are referred to ICE for detention and removal. In order to truly reform and improve its immigration detention system, DHS must reform the ICE enforcement programs that are herding masses of people into ICE detention every day."

The following can be attributed to Elizabeth Alexander, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project:

"It is a hopeful sign that the Obama administration has expressed a commitment to improving the level of medical care provided to immigration detainees in U.S. custody. But the number of needless deaths in detention across the country will not be curbed until Immigration and Customs Enforcement is stripped of its discretionary ability to deny detainees 'non-emergency' care – including cancer biopsies and heart surgery.

"Because the government's overuse of immigration detention has forced large numbers of people into detention for years at a time, providing only emergency care is simply unacceptable."

The ICE Immigration Detention Overview and Recommendations Report by Dr. Dora Schriro can be found at: www.ice.gov/doclib/091005_ice_detention_report-final.pdf

The ICE fact sheet on the detention reforms can be found at: www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/2009_immigration_detention_reforms.htm

A short video about restoring fairness and due process to the immigration system by Breakthrough and coproduced by the ACLU and other organizations can be found at: restorefairness.org/

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