[JURIST] A substantial increase in the number of immigrants detained by the US over the last decade and the length of their detentions "falls short of international human rights law," according to a report [text, PDF; AI executive summary] released Wednesday by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. AI reported that the number of immigrants detained by US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] officials has tripled since 1996 to reach a daily detention capacity of 30,000. Those in custody include not just suspected immigration violators but also asylum seekers, survivors of torture and human trafficking, children, legal permanent residents, and parents of US citizens. The report found that immigrant detainees are commonly held for months or years without individualized hearings reviewing the legitimacy of detention, in violation of the ban on arbitrary detention established by Article 9 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text]. AI found that the vast majority of immigrant detainees are unable to secure legal assistance, and that approximately 67 percent of immigrant detainees are currently being held in state and county jails alongside criminals. Many of these facilities have been criticized for human rights violations such as excessive use of restraints and inadequate medical attention. AI presented several key recommendations [text] to restore human rights protection:
1. The US Congress should pass legislation creating a presumption against the detention of immigrants and asylum seekers and ensuring that it be used as a measure of last resort.The ICE's border control efforts have come under fire in recent months. Last week, an AP report [text; JURIST report] highlighted the increased number of detainees and the extended period of time that individuals have faced detention, noting that though the average detention period is 31 days, nearly 10,000 detainees have been in custody for longer. Last month, the ICE's tactics during the Bush administration were criticized [JURIST report] by the Cardozo School of Law's Immigration Justice Clinic [official website] for being overly-aggressive and ineffective. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano [official profile] issued a directive [text] in January calling for review and assessment of the ICE fugitive operation teams.
2. The US government should ensure that alternative non-custodial measures, such as reporting requirements or an affordable bond, are always explicitly considered before resorting to detention. Reporting requirements should not be unduly onerous, invasive or difficult to comply with, especially for families with children and those of limited financial means. Conditions of release should be subject to judicial review.
3. The US Congress should pass legislation to ensure that all immigrants and asylum seekers have access to individualized hearings on the lawfulness, necessity, and appropriateness of detention.
4. The US government should ensure the adoption of enforceable human rights detention standards in all detention facilities that house immigration detainees, either through legislation or through the adoption of enforceable policies and procedures by the Department of Homeland Security. There should be effective independent oversight to ensure compliance with detention standards and accountability for any violations.