Rights group criticizes US immigrant detention system

[JURIST] US immigration enforcement agencies are overly reliant on a flawed detention system, according to a report [PDF] released Thursday by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACH) [official website]. The IACH investigated six immigrant detention centers based throughout Arizona and Texas. The report expresses concern over increased use of detention by the US government, citing a doubling in detention of non-citizens by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It criticizes the US government for viewing detention as a necessity and not as an exception in its enforcement. IACH also found the average 30 day detentions troubling, arguing that it is likely to increase as backlogs of immigration cases increase. The report also criticizes the lack of a genuine civil detention system and use of disproportionately restrictive penal and punitive measures during the detention. IACH also disapproved of contractors handling the management and personal care of immigration detainees and the lack of oversight from the ICE over the private contractors. The lack of representation for the immigrant detainees was particularly troubling for the IACH:

The IACHR observes the significant disparity in access to legal representation for detained immigrants. According to government statistics, in FY2008 approximately 40% of non-detained immigrants were represented in their immigration proceedings, whereas just 16% of detained immigrants were represented by counsel. The lack of legal counsel, the Inter-American Commission observes, has a profound impact on the chances of relief. The Constitution Project reports that just 3% of detained, unrepresented asylum seekers were granted relief.
IACHR identified the lack of access to pro-bono representation in the rural immigration detention locations, lack of interest from private attorneys and difficulty in gathering evidence needed for legal proceedings as factors that contributed to the lack of legal representation for immigrant detainees. The report advocates the reduction of the use of expedited removal, earlier access to counsel and prohibitions against moving detainees to where it would be easier obtain orders of removal.

Absent comprehensive reform at the federal level, illegal immigration continues to be a concern for local governments as well. On Wednesday, the Oklahoma State Senate approved a bill [JURIST report] similar to the controversial Arizona immigration law. Also this week, Utah Governor Gary Herbert [official website] signed into law [press release] a package of bills [JURIST report] aimed at both reforming the state's immigration laws and challenging the federal government to take action for reform nationally. One of the four bills, H.B. 497 [materials], is an enforcement law similar to the controversial Arizona immigration law, and requires police to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for an alleged felony or serious misdemeanor. The US Department of Justice [official website] in July filed suit [JURIST report] against Arizona Governor Jan Brewer [official website] seeking to permanently enjoin the state's immigration law. The complaint states that the law is preempted by federal law and therefore violates the Supremacy Clause [text] of the US Constitution. The Arizona law criminalizes illegal immigration and requires police officers to question an individual's immigration status if the officer has a "reasonable suspicion" to believe an individual is in the country illegally. It has been widely criticized in regard to the law's constitutionality and alleged "legalization" of racial profiling.

 

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