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A first round of immigration detention reforms announced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today includes potentially positive changes to a system in which human rights and due process violations have become routine. But, the effectiveness of these reforms on the more than 400,000 immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers detained by DHS each year will depend heavily on their implementation and oversight.

 

DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY DETENTION REFORM:
A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION, BUT DOES NOT GO FAR ENOUGH
TO ADDRESS HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS

Statement by Mary Meg McCarthy, Director,
Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center

CHICAGO (August 6, 2009) - A first round of immigration detention reforms announced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today includes potentially positive changes to a system in which human rights and due process violations have become routine. But, the effectiveness of these reforms on the more than 400,000 immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers detained by DHS each year will depend heavily on their implementation and oversight.

During a conference call announcing the changes, Dr. Dora Schriro, special adviser to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, acknowledged that the current detention system relies on hundreds of detention centers and county jails which were not intended for the long-term detention of individuals facing only civil, not criminal, charges. Schriro said that within three to five years, that system will be redesigned to address human rights concerns, improve oversight, and integrate expanded use of alternatives to detention.

In many ways, it appears that DHS understands the concerns and recommendations of non-governmental organizations and other experts who have advocated for years for basic human rights protections in an increasingly unwieldy detention system.

But increased government bureaucracy will not solve the detention system’s problems alone. Furthermore, Secretary Napolitano’s prediction that the detention system actually may expand as the result of these reforms is alarming.

Without legally binding detention standards, DHS will be able to continue to expand an already bloated detention system and avoid accountability for its treatment of detainees. Enforceable detention standards are necessary to ensure that the immigration agency respects detainees’ basic human rights, including access to legal counsel and medical care.

DHS must explore and assess alternatives to detention that are more humane, effective, and less expensive. Most immigration detainees are not dangers to our communities or flight risks. Taxpayer dollars should not be spent to detain them, and their ongoing detention should be subject to review by a judge outside of DHS. None of DHS’s announced changes address these critical issues.

If the U.S. government is to make real changes in the detention system, we must consider a variety of options – including the very existence of detention centers.

More information:

More information on immigration detention in the U.S.

 

Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center is a Chicago-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. For more information visit http://www.immigrantjustice.org