Thursday, December 3, 2009

New Reports on Detainee Transfers Outline Chaotic System and Due Process Challenges

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has just released a new report, "Locked Up Far Away: The Transfer of Immigrants to Remote Detention Centers in the United States." This report details the plight of immigrant detainees whose basic rights, including access to legal representation, are compromised due to frequent transfers to detention facilities in remote parts of the country. In HRW's press release, Alison Parker (the report's author and the organization's deputy U.S. director) says, "ICE is increasingly subjecting detainees to a chaotic game of musical chairs... And it's a game with dire consequences since it may keep them from finding an attorney or presenting evidence in their defense."

According to the report:
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has so far rejected efforts to place enforceable standards on detainee transfers.
  • Detainee transfers are becoming increasingly common, more than doubling from 2003 (122,783) to 2007 (261,941). Transfers have significant adverse effects on detainees' access to legal counsel and families, ultimately leading to wrongful deportations.
  • HRW recommends that ICE should: centralize control of its facilities, instead of continuing to rely on subcontracted facilities such as local jails; turn to alternatives to detention as often as possible; work with the Executive Office for Immigration Review to improve detainees' access to attorneys; and revise current guidelines to prohibit transfers except when necessary under specific conditions.
Research for this report was conducted in collaboration with Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University, which has released its own report as well. TRAC also has made public a new and highly useful resource that can generate reports on transfer records for specific immigration detention facilities.

In addition, the Constitution Project has released its own report detailing immigration detention conditions and the need to improve access to legal counsel, called "Recommendations for Reforming Our Immigration Detention System and Promoting Access to Counsel in Immigration Proceedings". This document offers an overview of and recommendations regarding certain aspects of detention reform.

All of these reports come at an important time: The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security has also just released a report on detainee transfers. "Immigration and Customs Enforcement Policies and Procedures Related to Detainee Transfers" seeks to determine whether ICE detention officers properly justify detainee transfers according to ICE's standards. The report finds that ICE needs to create a national standard on detainee transfers because the current process is inconsistent causing errors, delays, and confusion.

Ultimately, detainee transfers cause hardship for immigrants caught up in the broken immigration system. Transfered to remote facilities away from their families and lawyers, with few ways to communicate with their loved ones and gather materials to argue their case, immigrant detainees face tremendous odds. Moreover, the majority of immigrant detainees are non-criminal yet they are held in jail-like settings and do not have the right to a government-paid lawyer. Comprehensive immigration reform, including detention reform, is desperately needed to restore justice to the U.S. immigration system.

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