National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Statement for the Record on Immigration Detention Reform

March 28, 2012 - Posted by Brittney Nystrom

See our related press release here.


Read an April 2 letter to White House Domestic Policy Counsel Director Cecilia Muñoz about covering immigrant detention facilities under the Prison Rape Elimination Act here.



House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement
“Holiday on ICE: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s New Immigration Detention Standards”

Introduction:

The National Immigration Forum works to uphold America’s tradition as a nation of immigrants. The Forum advocates and builds support for public policies that reunite families, recognize the importance of immigration to our economy and our communities, protect refugees, encourage newcomers to become new Americans and promote equal protection under the law.

ICE Detention- Positive First Steps Taken Toward Needed Reform:

The National Immigration Forum welcomes this hearing on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immigration detention system and the administration’s new detention standards. In light of the growing costs of immigration detention, the sprawling size of the detention system, and the numerous concerns and critiques about immigration detention over the years, this conversation has been needed for some time.

Not only are the 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS) not 'hospitality guidelines,' they're no more than a good first step toward addressing the safety and human rights deficiencies that leave immigrant detainees vulnerable to abuse and medical emergencies—and that's if they're actually implemented, which remains to be seen.

We begin with why reform, including improved detention standards, is necessary. First, the costs of immigration detention are enormous, and often unnecessary. Given the high expense and humanitarian concerns surrounding the use of immigration detention, more humane and cost-effective alternatives should be pursued. Many immigrants who are currently detained can be effectively monitored with alternative methods, such as
telephonic and in-person reporting, curfews, and home visits. Alternatives can range in cost from as low as 30 cents to 14 dollars a day per individual. By comparison, it costs ICE an average of $122 per day of detention for each detainee. Alternative methods also have proven effective; in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, alternatives to detention had a compliance rate of 93.8 percent. Thus, maximizing the use of alternatives to detention
has the potential to save taxpayers millions of dollars annually as is chronicled in the National Immigration Forum’s paper, The Math of Immigration Detention.

Second, the conditions of detention for those in ICE custody are not appropriate, consistent, or sufficient. We applaud ICE for issuing improved detention standards. Despite being characterized as “hospitality guidelines” by the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the 2011 PBNDS provide common sense guidance on the treatment of those in immigration detention. Many of these standards have been drafted in response to unacceptable conditions of detention or mistreatment of detainees. The National Immigration Forum has chronicled a parade of critical assessments and scathing reports that have been published by non-governmental organizations, advocates, and academics about immigration detention over the last 4 years in a Detention Digest.

Medical care for detainees illustrates one aspect of immigration detention that has received notoriety. Under pressure to address incidents of substandard and even fatal medical care at facilities ICE uses to hold immigrants—more than 120 immigrants have died in ICE custody since 2003—ICE’s latest detention standards require that medical service requests be received and triaged by medical personnel within 24 hours.

In addition to improved medical standards, the 2011 detention standards also institute a sexual assault response team to help victims of sexual abuse access proper medical, crisis intervention and mental health services. These teams come not a moment too soon. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), since 2007, more than 180 sexual abuse complaints were reported in immigration detention centers. But this number may barely scratch the surface; experts believe that the real incidence of sexual abuse is much greater because of unreported cases. Immigrants in detention are extremely vulnerable to abuse, due to language barriers and fear that if they report the abuse, they will be deported in retaliation.

These revised detention standards are an important step for ICE to make good on its promise of bringing accountability and safety to our nation’s sprawling immigration detention system.

Despite the PBNDS 2011, Concerns About Detention Facilities Remain:

As positive as the 2011 PBNDS may be, major concerns remain. First, these standards are not yet in effect in any detention facilities. As long as detention facilities fail to implement these upgraded standards, there will be no improvement in the detention conditions that approximately 33,000 immigration detainees experience each day. Director Morton stated recently that when negotiating future contracts with detention facilities it will be non-negotiable that these new standards be included as part of any deal. However, this remains to be seen and does not affect the scores of facilities currently holding ICE detainees. In fact, many facilities currently in use by ICE have not even implemented the 2008 detention standards and are operating under the 2000 standards. Violations of the standards often occur without consequences.

Besides the fact that these new and improved standards have not been implemented, there are areas where even if they were implemented they would still fall short. For example, in 2003 a unanimous Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). This was the first civil law that focused on eliminating sexual abuse in detention. However, the Department of Justice proposed rule in January of 2011 would exempt DHS, and therefore all immigration detention, from PREA requirements. While the 2011 PBNDS, as they relate to sexual abuse, are an improvement from earlier versions, they still fail to meet standards set by PREA in areas such as provisions for confidential reporting and protection from retaliation, requirements for proper criminal investigations of assaults and specialized post-assault training for investigators and medical staff, and the appropriate use of detainee screening, background checks for employees and applicants, and use of incident reviews, outside audits, and unannounced rounds to ensure proper policy implementation.

Furthermore, the latest PBNDS don’t address the fundamental contradiction of immigration detention centers operating like, if not identical to, correctional institutions. Our immigration detention system is supposed to serve a limited purpose — to ensure that individuals comply with deportation proceedings, separate from the punitive function of the criminal justice system. In 2009, the Obama Administration promised to make immigration detention “a truly civil” system, with appropriate conditions for asylum seekers and immigrant detainees, many of whom pose no threat
to public safety and are not a flight risk. Yet despite the administration’s good intentions, there is often no tangible difference between immigration detention and criminal custody.

In sum, we applaud DHS for introducing the 2011 PBNDS. However, concerns remain around their implementation, their ability to prevent sexual abuse, and the financial burden of our enormous immigration detention system. Specifically, the PBNDS must be implemented at immigration detention facilities nationwide and not just posted on the ICE website. The administration also needs to keep its promise of a creating a “truly
civil system,” by expanding the use of alternatives to detention that are equally effective but save taxpayers millions. These steps would go a long way toward meaningful reform of our chronically troubled immigration detention system.

Syrians to Get Temporary Protected Status

March 23, 2012 - Posted by Dan Gordon

Good news this afternoon from the Department of Homeland Security: It will extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Syrian nationals living in the U.S. Temporary Protected Status will last for 18 months, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

TPS grants temporary refuge when conditions in a home country “pose a danger to personal safety due to ongoing armed conflict or an environmental disaster,” according to DHS.

The violence in Syria fits “ongoing armed conflict” to a T, and everyday citizens’ personal safety is most certainly in danger. Even as I type this, a headline flashes on TV: “At least 36 dead in Syria.” Sadly, this is far from the first day we have seen such headlines, nor will it be the last.

The United States is right to allow foreigners to stay here when removal would result in great peril, and we applaud the Obama Administration for taking this action. We can only hope that conditions in Syria will improve in the coming months.

Registration for TPS status is not yet open, but USCIS plans to post a notice in the Federal Register next week. The agency also will provide information on who is eligible, how to register and when registration will open. More information is available at www.uscis.gov/tps.

Immigration Policy Update for March 12, 2012

March 12, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Two More Provisions of Alabama Law Enjoined


On March 1, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, heard arguments against the anti-immigrant laws passed in Alabama and Georgia. A three-judge panel heard arguments against the Alabama law brought by the government and by advocates, and another lawsuit brought by advocates against the Georgia law.

Regarding the Alabama law, HB 56, the judges focused much of their questioning on the provisions relating to entering into contracts with undocumented immigrants. Although the judges said they would not issue a ruling until after the Supreme Court rules on Arizona’s SB 1070 (oral arguments are scheduled for April 25 in that case), on March 8, the Court issued a temporary injunction on two provisions of the Alabama law: a provision that forbids the state from enforcing a business contract between any party and an undocumented immigrant, and a provision which prohibits any “business transaction” between a state or local agency and an undocumented immigrant. (This last provision has been interpreted to include such transactions as, for example, purchase of municipally-supplied water.) This latest court action brings the number of provisions of the Alabama law that have been blocked to 11.


G92 Summit Focuses on Christianity and Immigration


On February 23, a group of evangelical students and pastors came together at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, to discuss a Christian response to immigration. The G92 Immigration Conference derived its name from the number of times the word “ger” (Hebrew for stranger) appears in the Old Testament.

Immigration is responsible for much of the growth in evangelical churches, and the problems associated with our broken immigration system are increasingly becoming problems for those who minister to the faithful.

The one-day conference brought together evangelical pastors and students, and included key evangelical leaders such as Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. It was the second in a series of conferences to be held in evangelical communities around the country.

More information on the G92 conference at Samford University can be found here.


Head of ICE Testifies on Funding


On March 8, Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement John Morton appeared before the House Appropriations Homeland Security Committee to discuss the Administration’s budget for ICE.

Some testimony highlights:



  • Secure Communities: Mr. Morton said that ICE will be releasing within a month a response to the recommendations of the DHS Task Force on Secure Communities. He also said that the program will be implemented nationwide by March 2013, and there will be no option to opt out of the program.

  • Prosecutorial Discretion: ICE has reviewed 150,000 of the 300,000 backlogged immigration court cases and administratively closed approximately 1,500 of them (1%). [Subsequently, Morton told La Opinión that an additional 11,500 are being considered for administrative closure, for a total of 9%. He said that he “expects” review of the 300,000 cases will be completed by sometime this summer.]

  • 287(g): The “task force models” (in which local enforcement officers in the field are deputized to determine a person’s immigration status) are being phased out, but the “jail models” (in which officers in local jails are trained to determine immigration status) will continue. Mr. Morton stated that two new jail model 287(g) agreements have been preliminarily approved.

  • Detention: ICE will soon be issuing nationwide risk assessment guidance, and is asking for more funding for alternatives to detention.


A video recording of the hearing can be found here.


House Hearing on Visa Overstays


On March 6, the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, held a hearing, “From the 9/11 Hijackers to Amine el-Khalifi: Terrorists and the Visa Overstay Problem.” The hearing focused on persons who overstay their visas, with Republicans on the Committee wanting to connect this problem with terrorism (thus the title of the hearing).

The major theme from the hearing witnesses (from the Departments of Homeland Security and State) was that, in the intervening two decades since Amine el-Khalifi (referenced in the hearing title) tried to blow up the World Trade Center, government officials across agencies now have quick access to several government databases that store records about non-citizens. These databases include information about visa violators, persons on terrorist watch lists, persons who have committed crimes, etc. It is much more difficult for such a person to get a visa and gain entry into the U.S. in the first place. These systems were not in operation in 1991.

Witness testimony can be accessed from the Homeland Security Committee Web site here.


Tax Cheating Now an Aggravated Felony


Last month, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that upheld a decision by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport a Japanese couple who had under-reported income from their restaurant in 1991. Although they fully paid the $245,000 they owed, including penalties assessed by IRS, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (ICE’s predecessor agency) decided to deport the couple on the grounds they had committed an “aggravated felony.”

A 1996 immigration law gave “aggravated felony” a much more expansive meaning than it has in criminal law. The law made legal permanent resident immigrants deportable under the expanded definition, and the definition applied to offenses committed in the past—thus, the couple found themselves deportable for an offense committed in 1991.

With this decision, cheating on taxes is now ranked with other crimes considered aggravated felonies, such as murder, assault, shoplifting, and many, many others. For more on this case, see this Los Angeles Times article.


ICE Releases Revised Detention Standards


Last month, ICE posted on its Web site updated standards for immigration detention. Eventually, facilities holding immigrants in detention for immigration violations will have to meet these standards. The Forum recently commented on those detention standards on our Web site. Among other things, the new detention standards address concerns about medical care and sexual assault. However, the standards are not yet being implemented. To implement these standards will take renegotiating agreements ICE has with the detention facilities ICE uses. Some of these facilities are still operating on standards set prior to 2008, the last time the standards were revised. Even if the standards are eventually implemented, the problem remains that facilities that were built for the criminal justice system are being used for detaining civil immigration violators.

Nevertheless, the new standards were criticized as being too generous by House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX). In a statement, Mr. Smith said that the new standards are “like a hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants,” and complains that the Administration treats detained immigrants “better than citizens in federal custody.” (Of course, citizens in federal custody are usually there for reasons more serious than an immigration violation or working without permission.) For Smith, the problem is that the Administration doesn’t want to spend even more taxpayer money to hold even more immigrants in detention. (The American Immigration Lawyers Association penned this reply to Smith’s statement, asserting that “immigration detention is no hospitality suite.” Smith announced his intention to hold a detention oversight hearing later this month.


Hearing on Bill to Make DWI’s an ICE Priority


On March 7, the House Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing, “H.R. 3808, the ‘Scott Gardner Act’.” The bill is sponsored by Rep. Sue Myrick (R), of North Carolina. The bill would require local law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of anyone arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) if the officer had reasonable grounds to suspect the individual was in the country illegally. It would authorize the local officer to bring the individual to a location where the individual can be transferred to federal custody, and would require the federal government to reimburse the local jurisdiction for the cost of transporting the individual. It would also require ICE to prioritize these cases.

The person would merely have to be arrested, not convicted. Ms. Myrick has proposed variations of this legislation in previous Congresses. No schedule for considering the bill for amendment has been announced. Several members raised concerns about the Constitutionality of a law that would require local officers to carry out federal information checks.



Interior Enforcement States Detention Smart Enforcement Priorities State&Local Enforcement

Blog: Promise of Better Detention Conditions Must Be Followed by Action

March 01, 2012 - Posted by Brittney Nystrom

In America, we believe that all people should be treated fairly and with dignity. We believe the government is accountable for the wellness of anyone who is under its watch. This week, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released upgraded immigration detention standards that would hopefully move the government closer to fulfilling its obligation and its promise to provide safety, dignity and fairness in the immigration detention system.

The most recent set of detention standards provide common-sense fixes to some of the most serious problems of immigrant detention. For example, under pressure to address incidents of substandard medical care at detention facilities ICE uses to hold immigrants—more than 100 immigrants have died in ICE custody since 2003—the new standards require that medical service requests be received and triaged by medical personnel within 24 hours.

Timely medical assistance may have saved the life of Hiu Liu Ng, a Chinese immigrant who complained of severe back pain to guards in a Central Falls, R.I., detention facility but was denied access to medical care. He died four months later while in ICE’s custody. At the time of his death, he had a fractured spine and his body was riddled with a cancer that had gone undiagnosed and untreated for several months.

In addition to improved medical standards, the new detention standards also institute a sexual assault response team to help victims of sexual abuse access proper medical, crisis intervention and mental health services. These teams come not a moment too soon. According to the ACLU, since 2007, more than 180 sexual abuse complaints were reported in immigration detention centers. But this number may barely scratch the surface; experts believe that the real incidence of sexual abuse is much greater because of unreported cases. Immigrants in detention are extremely vulnerable to abuse, thanks to language barriers and because they often fear that if they report the abuse, they will be deported in retaliation.

The revised detention standards are an important step for ICE to make good on its promise of bringing accountability and safety to our nation’s immigration detention system. However, as positive as these standards may be, they are not yet in effect in any detention facilities. As long as detention facilities fail to implement these upgraded standards, there will be no improvement in the detention conditions that our approximately 33,000 immigration detainees experience each day.

Furthermore, the new changes won’t address the fundamental contradiction of immigration detention centers operating like correctional institutions. Our immigration detention system is supposed to serve a limited purpose — to ensure that individuals comply with deportation proceedings, separate from the punitive function of the criminal justice system.

In 2009, the Obama Administration promised to make detention “a truly civil” system, with appropriate conditions for asylum seekers and immigrant detainees who pose no threat to public safety and are not a flight risk. Yet despite the administration’s good intentions, facilities that contract with ICE are not legally bound to comply with ICE’s detention standards, and violations of the standards often occur without consequences. In fact, many facilities have not even implemented the 2008 detention standards. Let’s hope that this time around, ICE’s good plans are followed by real action.

Interior Enforcement Detention

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