Changes Announced for Immigration Detention System, But Are They Enough?

After years of criticism by immigrant advocates and numerous scathing reports from national and international organizations, the Obama administration is making some changes to the immigration detention system.  The changes were announced on Thursday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on its website.

Amnesty International criticizes immigration detention in the U.S. - Photo: Amnesty International/Steven Rubin

Immigrant detainees. (Photo: Amnesty International/Steven Rubin)

One measure getting a positive reaction from advocates is the discontinuation of  the practice of keeping families at the T. Don Hutto detention facility in Texas. But other changes to the system that houses more than 30,000 people on any given day are seen by some as more of a reorganization than an actual overhaul.  They include the creation of a new supervisory office to “design and plan” the detention system; the appointment of detention managers to supervise the 23 biggest facilities in the country; and the establishment of an Office of Detention Oversight.

In addition, ICE says it will create two “advisory groups” with advocacy organizations, which will deal with “general policies and practices,” on the one hand, and detainee health care, on the other.

Advocates already expressed some misgivings about the changes, announced as “major reforms” by ICE.

“…(W)ithout independently enforceable standards, a reduction in beds, or basic due process before people are locked up, it is hard to see how the government’s proposed overhaul of the immigration detention system is anything other than a reorganization or renaming of what was in place before,” Vanita Gupta, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, told The New York Times.

Gupta did call the decision to stop using the Hutto center “welcome and long overdue.” (The center will continue to house female immigrant detainees.)

Latino-issues blog Vivir Latino responded to the news with irony:

The Department of Homeland Security is known far and wide for their excellent human rights record, especially ICE. So it makes perfect sense that President Obama would put 23 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials inside large immigrant detention centers to monitor management in light of growing complaints of abuse in the privately run institutions.

According to ICE, the steps announced by Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security John Morton “will address the vast majority of complaints about ICE’s immigration detention system while allowing ICE to maintain a significant, robust detention capacity to carry out serious immigration enforcement.”

The agency provide few details in its announcement:

  • “The agency is creating an Office of Detention Policy and Planning (ODPP). The role of this office is to design and plan a civil detention system tailored to address ICE’s needs. Dr. (Dora) Schriro, who will report directly to the assistant secretary, will lead the ODPP with support from detention and health care experts.
  • “Discontinued use of family detention at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Texas. In place of housing families, we will propose that the Texas facility will be used solely as a female detention center. Presently, Hutto is used to detain families and low custody female detainees.  Detained families will now be housed at Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania.
  • “Formation of two advisory groups of local and national organizations interested in ICE’s detention system.  These groups will provide feedback and input to the Assistant Secretary.  One will focus on general policies and practices, while the other will focus on detainee health care.
  • “Appointment of 23 detention managers to work in 23 significant facilities – facilities which collectively house more than 40 percent of our detainees. These 23 federal employees will directly monitor the facilities and ensure appropriate conditions.
  • “Establishment of an Office of Detention Oversight (ODO) whose agents will inspect facilities and investigate detainee grievances in a neutral manner. The ODO will be part of ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility, an independent office which reports directly to the Assistant Secretary.”
AboutDiego Graglia
Diego Graglia is a bilingual multimedia journalist who has worked at major media outlets in the U.S. and Latin America. He is currently the editor-in-chief at Expansion, Meixco’s leading business magazine.