While New York immigration advocates demonstrated Wednesday against Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, evidence kept piling up that the U.S. government is violating the rights of immigrants in detention.
Immigrants in some detentions centers in Texas and Arizona are held in “unacceptable conditions,” with their rights to due process “compromised,” concluded a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which visited the centers just last week.
A separate report released Tuesday by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), said that “information not available to the public until now reveals substantial and pervasive violations of the government’s own minimum standards for conditions at facilities holding detained immigrants.”
Between July 20th and 24th, a delegation of the IACHR visited “two unaccompanied minor shelters, a family detention facility, three adult detention facilities, and met with various representatives from civil society organizations focused on U.S. immigration issues,” the commission said in a press release.
Headed by former Spanish President Felipe González, the group visited facilities in Florence and Phoenix, Arizona, and Raymondville, Taylor and Los Fresnos, Texas.
Controversial Phoenix-area Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who’s been accused of racial profiling against Latinos and inhumane treatment of detainees, did not cooperate. “While the Commission had ample access to all detention facilities, unfortunately, the delegation could not visit the Maricopa County Jail because the County Sheriff denied access,” the release said.
The commission acknowledged “important progress” has been made in areas like the detention of unaccompanied minors and entire families. But it found many other areas of concern.
Locked up in rural areas, with no access to public attorneys or pro-bono assistance, many of the children who are alone in detention, ranging in age from newborns to 18 years old, “are left to defend their own interest,” the release said.
Improvements have been made at the much-criticized T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, but the commission noted “it required a lawsuit” to achieve that. Asylum seekers continue to be held there, against international law: they are actually over 90 percent of the detainees.
At one of the adult detention centers, detainees complained that they were underfed and that they don’t have adequate access to counsel. In other places, immigrants were being held under the same conditions as criminal detainees, although they were detained on civil charges.
The commission also “was distressed at the use of solitary confinement to ostensibly provide personal protection for vulnerable immigrant detainees, including homosexuals, transgender detainees, detainees with mental illnesses, and other minority populations.”
The IAHCR said it was concerned about an expansion of the 287 (g) program which allows immigration enforcement by local authorities, since it fears these programs “divert scarce resources away from protecting the community and invite racial profiling.”
The NILC report is based on 18,000 pages of reviews of detention centers by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the American Bar Association and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Though the detainees are accused of civil immigration charges, there is nothing civil about our detention centers,” said co-author Karen Tumlin, a NILC staff attorney, in a press release.
“These centers, where people are detained for months and often years at a time, often fail to provide people with their fundamental rights: access to loved ones, the basic materials needed to research and prepare their cases, or even a simple explanation of their rights while within the immigrant detention system.”
Linton Joaquin, general counsel at NILC, added: “The government’s own standards for immigration detention are routinely violated. Such a flagrant disregard for this country’s values for fairness and justice on behalf of the United States government is appalling.”
The report found that ICE reviews are ineffective in rectifying problems at the detention centers, and that the independent reviews by ABA and UNHCR found “a greater number and more severe violations” than government studies. ICE reviewers, for example “overlooked” retaliation against detainees and the use of excessive punishment.
Some of the report’s recommendations, said the press release, are “that ICE revise its standards for immigration detention to make them judicially enforceable. The report also determines that, given the gross abuses, further expansion of the immigrant detention system should be stopped, and more use should be made of humane alternatives to detention.”