All of the facilities are remote and their location reinforces the lack of access to justice for those detained in a situation where legal support is not provided and detainees often rely on pro-bono lawyers who are thin on the ground. Isolation from attorneys, social service providers and immigrant communities means that at-risk people are often deported before they are able to contact their families or seek legal counsel. Compounding this, detainees at one facility, Tri-County Detention Center, report being blocked from access to a law library.
NIJC says that many of those they deal with are able to remain legally in the US and should not have been detained.
Around half of those detained have committed no offense and according to government policy are supposed to be a low priority.
In a typical example, ‘Alexander’ (NIJC client whose name has been changed) was stopped by police for driving over the 30 miles-per-hour speed limit. His family was also in the car and became distressed, particularly his eldest son who suffers from a medical condition. Alexander was taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody and his family was left alone on the sidewalk with no way home.
Promised changes not available
Two years ago, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE committed to shift the immigration detention system away from its longtime reliance on jails and jail-like facilities, to facilities with conditions more appropriate for civil immigration law detainees. A 2009 report by National Immigration Law Center warned that the swiftly expanding system was “woefully unregulated.”
The government’s commitment followed years of findings from bipartisan groups including the Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Council on Foreign Relations task force on immigration policy, and the Constitution Project’s Liberty and Security Committee – as well as the DHS Special Advisor charged by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano with reviewing the immigration detention system – that jails and jail-like facilities are inappropriate and unnecessarily costly to hold asylum seekers and other civil immigration detainees. Nationally, around half of detainees are held in such facilities.
For profit detention
The new report criticized the planned construction under an ICE contract of a detention facility in Crete, Illinois by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private company that has a record of “egregious human rights violations,” including the death of an immigrant detainee and incidents of sexual abuse, even as its profits have grown in past years. Rather than rely on more costly jails or private contractors, the report’s authors urged the use of alternatives to detention programs for immigrants who do not pose a flight risk.
American taxpayers will spend more than $2 billion to maintain this system in 2012 – more than 28 times ICE’s budget for more cost-effective Alternatives to Detention, which save more than $110 per detainee per day.
CCA aggressively lobbies Congress and DHS in favor of immigration detention. Between 1999-2009, the major private prison contractors, including CCA, spent more than $20 million on lobbying.
“Instead of pursuing contractual relationships with repeat-offender correctional partners,” says the report, “DHS should initiate a movement toward the ’case management’ model. In this model, case workers who have the expertise to address the needs of a civil detention population and have the capacity to foster a non-correctional culture would refer individuals who pose no threat to the community into alternative to detention (ATD) programs, at significant cost-savings to the federal government.
“The administration has plans to create more appropriate conditions for about 14 percent of their immigration detention beds, but the transformation away from the jail model still has a long way to go,” said Human Rights First’s Ruthie Epstein in October.
Picture by Carrie Sloan
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