Obama Administration Unveils Immigration Detention System Reforms
Thursday, August 06, 2009 at 2:42 pm
From The Washington Post:
The Obama administration announced plans Thursday to overhaul the nation’s much-criticized immigration detention system by strengthening federal oversight and centralizing a 32,000-bed system now scattered throughout 350 local jails, state prisons and contract facilities, officials said.
The goal in three to five years is to redesign and begin rebuilding a system that houses immigration violators in fewer locations, closer to major cities with access to courts, attorneys and medical care, and under conditions that more consistently meet federal detention standards, said John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. [...]
The moves mark a repudiation of the immigration policies of President George W. Bush. Beginning after the 2001 terrorist attacks and accelerating as Washington took a “get-tough” approach to illegal immigration, ICE’s detention system exploded in a multibillion-dollar build-up, more than tripling in size over the past decade as the federal government geared up deportations.
Some of the specifics:
Morton will assign a federal manager to each of 23 of ICE’s largest detention centers. He is creating a new Office of Detention Policy and Planning, headed by Dora Schriro, a former state corrections official in Arizona and aide to Napolitano, to lead the overhaul. The office will work with two advisory boards including immigrant advocates focused on detention policies and health care, the official said.
ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility will set up a detention oversight office that will report directly to Morton.
ICE also announced that it will stop sending families to the T. Don Hutto Residential Center near Austin, Tex., a 512-bed former state prison. The Bush administration highlighted the family detention facility as a symbol of its immigration crackdown efforts, but it became a lightning rod for litigation over the government’s treatment of children.
ICE will instead begin moving families to an 84-bed former nursing home in Pennsylvania, the Berks Family Shelter Care facility, and explore detention alternatives, Morton said.
Amnesty International has issued a statement praising the overhaul, but cautioned that it did not go far enough:
The 2009 detention reforms are a much-needed first step to address the myriad problems that have plagued the U.S. detention system for years.
Still, every day ICE attorneys make arbitrary decisions to detain immigrants who pose no flight risk, pose no threat to this country, and who should not be detained in the first place. Just this week Amnesty International researchers met a refugee who remained in detention for more than two years, even though an immigration judge had twice decided that he cannot be deported. These scenarios are not anomalies, and ICE must address them as they continue to examine an immigration system that is broken, dysfunctional and needlessly tears apart families.
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