[JURIST] Current US immigration detention and transfer policies unnecessarily interfere with individual detainees' rights to counsel and procedural fairness, according to two reports released Wednesday urging reforms to the system. According to a report [text, PDF; press release] by the Constitution Project [advocacy website], the government should:
improv[e] access to counsel for immigration detainees and, more generally, for all non-citizens in removal proceedings, including individuals who are not detained. … Appointed counsel for detainees would benefit both non-citizens and the government. By focusing on the crucial issues in each case, attorneys could make the removal process more efficient and, as a result, less costly. Most importantly, the process would be more just.
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] report [text; press release] emphasizes that detainee transfers in the immigration system are "doubly troubling because immigration detainees, unlike prisoners, are technically not being punished" and:
erect often insurmountable obstacles to detainees' access to counsel, the merits of their cases notwithstanding. Transfers impede their rights to challenge their detention, lead to unfair midstream changes in the interpretation of laws applied to their cases, and can ultimately lead to wrongful deportations.
The HRW report was based on information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a Syracuse University research organization that also released detailed findings [press release] about the US immigration detention system's reliance on transfers to cope with an increase in detainees.
In November, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] announced [JURIST report] that the Obama administration will push for immigration reform [press release] legislation early next year. DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] announced [JURIST report] in October a plan for improving immigration detention policies and facilities in response to allegations of poor conditions and abuse. In August, ICE acknowledged that 11 deaths in immigration detention facilities had gone unreported [JURIST report], and directed a review of all detainee deaths to make sure there were no other omissions. Also in the same month, ICE announced plans to implement large-scale changes [JURIST report] to its immigration detention system, including the creation of an Office of Detention Policy and Planning, to ensure that detainees have health care access and are free from persecution.