US to improve immigration detention facilities

[JURIST] The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official websites] on Tuesday announced [press release; fact sheet, PDF] a plan for improving immigration detention policies and facilities in response to recent widespread allegations of poor conditions and abuse. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano [official profile] explained that the emphasis is to move detained illegal immigrants [BBC report] awaiting deportation or processing out of the jails and criminal settings where they currently reside and into residential centers. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] called the announcement "encouraging," saying that the measures are expected to provide better access [ACLU press release] to immigration and social services for detainees and also prove less expensive than current housing situations. However, the ACLU also said that the announcement failed to address certain key problems such as providing due process to avoid unnecessary detentions:


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.

ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton [official profile] is to begin seeking out converted hotels, nursing homes, and other residential facilities by the end of the month.

In August, ICE acknowledged that 11 deaths in immigration detention facilities had gone unreported [JURIST report]. The revelation of the additional deaths came in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] lawsuit seeking documents pertaining to detainee deaths. In response Morton directed a review of all detainee deaths to make sure there were no other omissions. Also in August, ICE announced plans to implement large-scale changes [JURIST report] to its immigration detention system. Morton announced the creation of an Office of Detention Policy and Planning (ODPP), which will be charged with overseeing the location and operation of detention facilities, ensuring that detainees have access to health care, and taking steps to prevent the persecution of detainees. Morton also announced that the controversial T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center [ICE fact sheet] would cease to hold families, and proposed turning it into a center for women only. In July, a report [text, PDF] by the National Immigration Law Center [advocacy website] and two other groups found that US detention centers for illegal immigrants have failed to meet basic standards [JURIST report] for the treatment of those held at the facilities.

 

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