Where Should We House Secure Communities Detainees?

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Monday, July 19, 2010 at 1:12 pm

One of the major problems with Secure Communities, an information-sharing program between federal and local law enforcement to catch illegal immigrants, is that it creates a surge in the number of people to be detained by federal authorities — and the feds don’t always have the facilities to house them.

In Virginia, a $21 million center will soon house up to 584 detainees, with possible plans to expand to 1,000 detainees in its first year. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Director Robert Helwig said the new facility is needed to deal with the “surge in detainees” that will come from Secure Communities’ recent expansion in the state. Virginia and Washington, D.C., have already seen a huge increase in the number of illegal immigrants detained:

With three months left in the fiscal year, the number of illegal immigrants with criminal convictions detained in Virginia and the District has increased by 50 percent from last year’s total, to 2,414. Those numbers are expected to increase now that the program is being implemented statewide. …

There’s one point on which experts across the spectrum agree: Without additional detention space, the program cannot function. ICE has detained fewer than one-quarter of the immigrants identified by Secure Communities, a range of suspected criminals facing charges as varied as misdemeanors and murder.

In Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a different approach to dealing with the influx of detainees: tents. Arpaio said he has room for at least 1,000 new prisoners in tents in the desert, a “Tent City” in triple-digit temperatures he has operated since 1993. His motives may be less pure than simply finding a place to put detainees:

“I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant,” Arpaio once said of his tactics, which have also included chain gangs (for men and women), public parades in pink underwear (for men only), and massive illegal immigration sweeps. Arpaio’s tactics have earned him the nickname “Hitler” among Tent City inmates, according to The New Yorker. They’ve also have prompted thousands of lawsuits against “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” as well as a federal investigation into his immigration sweeps. “Sheriff Arpaio has absolute contempt for the dignity of the people in his custody and demonstrates this by treating people like circus animals,” the ACLU wrote on its blog.

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