CAIR Coalition Welcomes Announcement of Major Overhaul of Immigration Detention System

by Kathryn M. Doan, Esq.

Today, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Secretary John Morton, announced plans to institute a set of reforms designed to replace its current decentralized, jail-oriented approach to detention with a system of federally run facilities that will be used solely to house immigrants being held pursuant to violations of civil immigration laws.  According to Secretary Morton, these reforms are also meant to address the myriad of concerns raised by CAIR Coalition and a host of other immigrant advocacy organizations over the years about the treatment of detained immigrants, including the lack of access to basic medical care.

As a first step towards implementing detention reforms, ICE is creating an Office of Detention Policy and Planning which will be tasked with undertaking a comprehensive review of the current detention system and moving it toward a series of benchmarks in seven areas, including ensuring the timely provision of medical, dental and mental heath assessments and services and developing a national strategy for the effective use of alternatives to detention.

Unfortunately, many of the proposed reforms are still a number of years off, although ICE will be taking some immediate steps to address concerns about detention conditions, including discontinuing the incarceration of immigrant families at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Texas, which was the subject of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union for its inhumane treatment of children.  ICE will also appoint 23 detention managers to work at the 23 facilities nationwide that collectively hold 40 percent of the country's detained immigrants.

While these efforts to improve conditions for detained immigrants are needed and welcome, the ultimate goal must be to reduce the number of immigrants who are being arrested in the first place.  In FY 2010, the U.S. government will spend over $1.7 billion to detain an estimated 33,400 people in over 300 facilities on any given day.  Surely, we have better uses for this money.  Instead of continuing to incarcerate hardworking, non-criminal immigrants and tearing apart families, we need to institute a comprehensive overhaul not only of our detention system, but of our immigration laws as well.  We need to provide a pathway to citizenship for the millions of immigrants who work hard to support their families and contribute to their communities, but who can never become fully contributing members of society without legal status.  Therefore, we hope that the administration's support for detention reform will be matched by their support for comprehensive immigration reform come the fall.


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