The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) manages the largest immigration detention system in the world and spends more on immigration enforcement than on all other federal enforcement agencies combined. On the southern border, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents are poorly trained to respond to the humanitarian crisis produced by rampant violence throughout Central America, resulting in the return of many bona fide refugees to harm and the placement of many asylum seekers in summary removal processes that lack basic due process protections. Enforcement operations in the interior of the country, undertaken by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), rely on cooperation with state and local law enforcement agencies, creating fertile ground for racial profiling and mistrust of local police among immigrant communities. ICE issues documents known as detainers to request such cooperation, frequently violating federal immigration law and constitutional protections when doing so.
Men, women, and children apprehended by CBP or ICE are normally placed in removal proceedings and may be detained in one of the more than 200 jails and detention centers that make up ICE’s detention system. ICE’s custody decisions are largely driven by pressures to meet a bed quota established in congressional appropriations. Many of the immigrants detained in ICE’s nominally civil system are held in county and local jails that contract with ICE to detain immigrants. The rest are held in dedicated immigration detention facilities run by ICE or contracted to private prison corporations, including family detention centers that hold mothers and children. ICE’s detention system is built and operated on a correctional model, in direct conflict with the civil nature of immigration detention.
ICE routinely fails to provide adequate oversight and exercise meaningful consequences for facility failures to meet ICE’s minimal detention standards. Meanwhile, ICE has failed to invest in far more humane, effective, and cost-efficient community-based alternatives to detention that could reduce the government’s immigration detention spending by 80 percent.
- Provide appointed counsel for immigrants. The immigration legal system is extremely complex. Access to legal representation is critical for individuals to be able to understand potential legal protections and immigration benefits.
- Disentangle federal immigration enforcement from state and local law enforcement. State and local law enforcement participation in immigration enforcement destroys trust with immigrant communities and makes our communities less safe by discouraging immigrants from reporting criminal activity, or cooperating in the investigation and prosecution of crimes.
- Eliminate the 287(g) program, which deputizes law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration laws and inevitably leads to racial profiling and abuses.
- Implement oversight mechanisms for the detention system, with meaningful accountability. Many of NIJC’s clients report harsh treatment in detention, such as inappropriate use of solitary confinement, assault, limited access to medical care, and inadequate food. Immigrants face unique barriers to reporting abuses in detention since some may be deported before they can speak with someone and many face language barriers. Third-party inspections, as well as penalties for poor conditions, are imperative to holding facilities accountable.
- Eliminate the bed quota to ensure that ICE makes custody determinations based on need rather than an arbitrary quota.
- Expand use of alternatives to detention (ATDs) that are community based and appropriately designed for vulnerable populations.