April 01, 2012

House panel looks at new immigration detention standards

Maximizing access to counsel and legal resources is among the priorities of new detention standards issued in February by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The standards, explained by an ICE official during a March 28 hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, will be implemented at ICE facilities during 2012 on a rolling basis and eventually extended to other facilities, including county jails, that house ICE detainees.

In addition to legal access, the standards seek to improve medical and mental health care services, reinforce protections against sexual abuse and assault, expand access to religious services and opportunities, improve communication assistance services for detainees with limited English proficiency or disabilities, and enhance procedures for reviewing and responding to detainee grievances.

The ABA, which has assisted in the development of detention standards for many years, has established a Detention Standards Implementation Initiative in its Commission on Immigration. The association, which is preparing comments on the new standards, supports regulations for detention standards to ensure consistent implementation. The ABA also opposes mandatory detention and supports increasing programs to provide alternatives to detention for those in the civil immigration system.

Kevin Landy, assistant director of the ICE Office of Detention Policy and Planning in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), testified that reforming the ICE detention system is a top priority for the agency. Recent changes include creating his office in ICE, launching an online detainee locator system available in multiple languages, and establishing an Office of Detention Oversight to conduct targeted inspections at detention facilities where complaints or deficiencies have been reported. He said that, in addition to implementing reforms and new standards, ICE is opening new civil detention facilities that for the first time incorporate civil detention principles and the needs and characteristics of ICE’s diverse detainee population.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) complained that the new detention manual “reads more like a hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants” and maintained that ICE consulted with those “who appear to consist primarily of pro-illegal-immigrant groups when it drafted the new detention standards.”

Michelle Brané, director of the Detention and Asylum Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, countered in her testimony that the new standards set the minimum standards necessary to prevent abuse, neglect, injury or death. She emphasized that the reforms are a response to the public outcry and litigation over conditions of confinement for the hundreds of thousands of individuals who are detained by ICE each year that were and continue to be inappropriate, inefficient and unsafe.

The ABA will be submitting its comments on the new detention standards to DHS shortly.

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