Thursday, August 6, 2009

Improvements in Immigrant Detention?

As reported in the N.Y. Times, the Department of Homeland Security today announced changes to the way they conduct oversight and accountability in immigration detention and changes to policies regarding the T. Don Hutto immigrant detention facility in Texas. The following is a statement by Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a non-partisan, non-profit pro-immigrant advocacy organization in Washington:

The Department of Homeland Security is taking important steps to address immigration detention conditions that are currently a national embarrassment. After years of advocacy with this agency and its predecessors, the National Immigration Forum and other pro-immigrant watchdogs are pleased to see some movement by the Obama administration in a very helpful direction. No modern, developed nation should tolerate the conditions under which we have jailed hundreds of thousands of families and individuals - conditions that have proven life-threatening and fatal in far too many cases.

The network of for-profit and government-run facilities that detain deportees needs to be tightly scrutinized and this is a tremendously positive step in that direction. The Hutto facility alone has stood out as a worst-case example - among many other egregious sites - and we are pleased that press attention, lawsuits, and public outcry have sparked definitive action. Expanding the use of cost-saving alternatives to detention will take some of the pressure off of the overburdened system and make immigration enforcement more in tune with the nature of the civil violations immigrant detainees are accused of.

The announcement from the Obama administration comes as a welcome shift in tone and substance. While the President's team has been working to prepare for a congressional legislative debate on immigration in the fall, many of the recent actions by the Department of Homeland Security have expanded and intensified enforcement of the failed rules and programs we have now.

Today's announcement makes progress on one of the most glaring emergencies, but it is just one among a broad range of outdated laws, unenforceable programs, inflexible rules, and ineffective or non-existent monitoring and accountability that need immediate attention. The single most important thing we can do with regard to immigrant detention is to reduce the need for its use for millions of non-criminals, families, and workers in the first place. By having a functioning legal immigration system so that people come with visas and within the law and by establishing a system for processing the millions of immigrants living here illegally into legal status, we can put our immigration system back on a legal footing and move away from the fantasy that we can simply enforce our way out of our current situation.

We hope and expect Secretary Napolitano and the President's team to continue working with Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform quickly so that we gain more control over immigration. In the meantime, we are very supportive of the changes announced to the detention system and hope this signals more oversight and accountability throughout DHS and our immigration enforcement system.

UPDATE  For a more critical appraisal of the Obama administration's overtures on immigrant detention from Robero Lovato, click hereAnna Gorman for the LA Times offers some details about what ICE has in mind.


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