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Groups Criticize ICE for Slow Movement on Detention Reform « The Washington Independent

I missed this last week, but three immigrant rights groups came out with a report last Wednesday grading Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s progress on its promised reform of the immigrant detention system. The main problem, according to critics of the system, is that detention centers are too much like prisons: Illegal immigrants caught up in civil deportation proceedings are often treated like criminals, imposing high costs to the government for little added safety value. ICE acknowledged that changes needed to be made in a October 2009 report exposing many of the problems with the detention system. But a year later, many of the changes have yet to appear — and may be slowed further by stepped-up enforcement that puts more illegal immigrants into the deportation process.

The report card by Detention Watch Network, the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights gives grades for a number of different reforms promised by ICE. Perhaps most interesting, though, is the report’s criticism is of ICE’s failure to create alternatives to detention. The agency promised these alternatives would be implemented by this fall, but according to the report they have not yet been developed. (ICE officials did not immediately return requests for comment.)

These alternatives would create non-detention options for illegal immigrants determined not to be dangerous and unlikely to pose a flight risk. It’s unclear how many illegal immigrants would fit into this category, but it could be a big cost-saving measure given the high cost of immigrant detention.

Of course, cost isn’t the only factor: The groups behind the report argue ICE wrongly treats immigrant detainees like criminals. Alternatives to detention would be a way to differentiate more clearly between illegal immigrants who are convicted of a crime and those in civil deportation proceedings.

Other groups have also criticized ICE for slow implementation of its reform measures. In response to continued reports of sexual abuse at detention facilities, Human Rights Watch released a series of recommended detention reform steps in August. ICE has made a few notable changes, including a detainee locator tool to help families and legal counsel track where detainees were being housed. But while ICE officials have promised more progress to come, the agency is missing its own deadlines for many of its reform objectives.

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