Immigrant advocates issue report card on ICE reform efforts

Human rights groups today issued a one-year report card on efforts by Immigration Customs and Enforcement to reform the detention system for aliens facing removal.

Immigrant advocates Detention Watch Network, the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights praised agency leaders for their year-old commitment to reform, but say human rights abuses remain widespread.

Last year, ICE detained about 380,000 people, holding them for weeks or months in a network of 270 jails or other facilities while their removal proceedings were pending. Some are felons, who go straight to ICE custody after serving their jail sentences, others are legal residents who have previously been convicted of a crime, while others are undocumented aliens or those who overstayed their visas.

A year ago, ICE pledged to create "a civil detention system that reduces transfers, maximizes access to counsel, visitation, and recreation, improves conditions of confinement, and ensures quality medical, mental health, and dental care."

The report praised ICE leadership for demonstrating "a strong commitment to reforming the immigration detention system, engaging with NGOs and other relevant stakeholders to advance ICE's reform agenda."

Nonetheless, those detained continue to suffer "widespread due process and human rights violations, including the overreliance on incarceration, mistreatment by guards, denial of access to legal service providers, inadequate medical care, misuse of solitary confinement, and discrimination against sexual minorities," according to the 30-page report. "These violations demonstrate that the commitment to reform made by ICE leadership has yet to have any substantive impact on the ground."

ICE head John Morton has faced pressure on both sides in dealing with the detention system. In June, the union that represents immigration officers took the unprecedented step of issuing a vote of no confidence in him.

In a lengthy interview with The National Law Journal earlier this year, Morton described his vision for the system: "To reduce the number of facilities that we have, to have those facilities be designed and run solely from the immigration enforcement perspective, and to have strong, direct federal oversight."

(Published by BLT - October 06, 2010)

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