Friday, August 6, 2010
One Year after ICE Announced Detention Reform: Little Has Changed
Reports show that for the nearly 400,000 immigrants ICE has detained this year, little has changed despite last year’s promised overhaul of the U.S. immigration detention system. One year ago, on August 6, 2009, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton promised sweeping changes to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, the enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)) that would improve detention conditions.
According to Morton, the agency intended to take substantial steps to transform the sprawling patchwork of approximately 350 jails and prisons into a non-penal, “civil” detention system. It was a promise in response to sharp criticism from advocacy groups, community organizations, and government officials.
Since then the agency has taken unprecedented steps to address some of its failed policies; however, significant challenges remain.
“Under ODPP Acting Director Phyllis Coven’s leadership, we have seen a number of positive developments in the past year. However, we are concerned that they have yet to achieve meaningful impact in the lives of those detained. The reality is, under President Obama’s Administration, more people are being detained and deported than under the Bush Administration, in a manner that fails to meet the United States’ human rights obligations under international law. These practices are inconsistent with our nation’s values and are not making our communities safer,” said Andrea Black, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network. [BE: emphasis mine]
Last month’s launch of an Online Detainee Locator System took one step toward the promised reform. This tool allows families and attorneys to find loved ones and clients in ICE custody.
ICE took another such step in May by piloting a risk assessment and custody classification tool. That will allow the agency to screen individuals to determine whether or not they should be released. Immigrant’s rights proponents say that historically ICE has routinely detained people who should have been released.
And ICE has discontinued the detention of families and children at the T. Don Hutto Facility in Taylor, Texas, which received national attention when the facility’s substandard conditions became the subject of lawsuits. Today, ICE uses the Hutto facility, which is privately owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), to detain only women. However, In May, Hutto came under scrutiny once again when allegations surfaced of a series of sexual assaults by a CCA guard against females detained there.
Rocío Villalobos of Texans United for Families explains the impact: “Today, the majority of women at Hutto are seeking refuge from violence in their home countries. This spring’s sexual assault incidents show how detention subjects people to more violence, which deepens their trauma, rather than protects them from it.” [BE: emphasis mine]
In another positive change, ICE has appointed “detention managers” to work in 42 facilities and hired experts in detention management and health care. However, their presence has facilitated very little change for detained immigrants. A detention manager was working at the Hutto facility when the sexual assaults occurred, for instance. Thus the detention managers’ ability to adequately oversee detention operations comes under question.
Immigrants’ rights groups plan to release a report evaluating ICE’s progress in October 2010, compiling recent data from groups across the country to illustrate how ICE’s reforms have affected detained immigrants. A snapshot of the reports, the groups say, reveals that human rights violations persist.
They provide examples of deficiencies in the provision of medical care, unnecessary detention of individuals who have serious medical conditions, inappropriate treatment of detained immigrants with mental health issues, inadequate health and hygiene provisions in detention facilities and individuals subjected to indefinite detention.
The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center reported that gross deficiencies in the provision of medical care continue, as well as the unnecessary detention of individuals with serious medical conditions. For example, a woman at the Baker County Detention Center who had been detained for five years remained in custody despite her deteriorating health, which involved a heart catheter, ulcers, and lung and orthopedic problems.
The Detention Watch Network launched a campaign, “Dignity, Not Detention: Preserving Human Rights and Restoring Justice,” to call for an end to detention expansion, the use of cost-saving alternatives, and the restoration of due process in the government’s enforcement of immigration laws.
Photo credit: AP (8/3/2010) on Daylife.com
Caption: From left, Richard F Vigna, Director of Field operations at Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) DirectorJohn Morton, and United States Attorney Joseph P. Russoniello stand beside a counterfeit Dooney & Burke ladies handbag which was seized as evidence in San Francisco. Federal authorities say they've seized counterfeit goods and arrested 10 people in raids of shops at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, thereby conscientiously protecting the nation from fake designer handbags.