Expedited removal can ease burden of immigrant detention facilities

Expedited removal can ease burden of immigrant detention facilities
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Earlier this month, the DHS Office of Inspector General (IG) released a report on “Concerns about ICE Detainee Treatment and Care at Detention Facilities.” According to the ACLU, the way to address the violations described in this “damning new report” is to “release people from immigration detention and prohibit ICE from using dangerous and inhumane jails.”

The IG found problems at four of the five detention centers it inspected, but it is a stretch to call the report “damning” or to claim that ICE is “using dangerous and inhumane jails.” Many of the problems were relatively minor, and, apparently, all of them are going to be corrected.

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In addition to federal service centers, ICE uses facilities owned and operated by private companies and state and local government facilities. The contracts of facilities that hold ICE detainees require them to adhere to the 2000 National Detention Standards, the 2008 Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS), or the 2011 PBNDS.

Findings.

Intake Issues That Could Affect Safety and Privacy. Centers are required to classify detainees according to their crimes to ensure that high-and low-risk detainees can be separated. Violent felonies are high-risk crimes. Criminal background information was not always available when detainees arrived. This resulted in housing some high-risk detainees with low-risk detainees.

At another center, staff strip searched all detainees upon admission. This is prohibited unless there is a “reasonable suspicion” based on “specific and articulable facts that would lead a reasonable officer to believe that a specific detainee is in possession of contraband.” ICE is no longer housing detainees at this center.

Language Barriers Hamper Communication. The centers are required to provide language assistance to detainees, but this requirement was not always met. Although detainees were given handbooks with information about essential services upon arrival, they were not always in a language they could understand.

Difficulties Resolving Issues through the Grievance System. Detainees complained that staff delayed their grievances or intimidated them to prevent them from filing a grievance. Detainees reported that ICE personnel were not available to address concerns; they rarely visited their centers. Although detainees are supposed to have access to telephones, the phones at one of the centers were not working.

Improper Treatment of Detainees by Facility Staff. Detainees claimed poor treatment, such as guards yelling at them and using disrespectful language; and detainees were locked down in their cells for violating minor rules.

Potential Misuse of Segregation. The centers may place detainees in disciplinary or administrative segregation for a number of reasons, such as facility rule violations, risk of violence, or to protect them from other detainees. Staff did not always tell detainees why they were being segregated, or inform them of their right to appeal a segregation.

Medical Care May Have Been Delayed. Detainees with painful conditions, such as infected teeth and a knee injury, had to wait days for medical intervention; and two detainees waited several months for eyeglasses following a vision exam that confirmed a need for them.

Lack of Cleanliness and Limited Hygienic Supplies. Some bathrooms had mold and peeling paint on walls, floors, and showers. At one center, the bathrooms had no hot water and some showers lacked cold water. Detainees complained that basic hygienic supplies, such as toilet paper, shampoo, soap, lotion, and toothpaste, were not provided promptly or at all when detainees ran out of them.  

Potentially Unsafe Food Handling. The IG found spoiled, wilted, and moldy produce in kitchen refrigerators. The IG also found frozen foods past their expiration date and meat thawing without labels to indicate when the thawing had started. And food service workers at one facility were not wearing nets over their facial hair.

The IG’s recommendation.

The IG recommended ICE oversight of the detention facilities covered in this report with reviews of “detainee classification, use of language services, use of segregation and disciplinary actions, compliance with grievance procedures, and detainee care including facility conditions.”

ICE concurred and is taking corrective action.

Detainee treatment is not the only problem.  

The immigration court backlog is so long that, as of October 2017, the average wait for a hearing was 691 days, and Trump’s backlog reduction plan isn’t going to bring it under control.

ICE cannot release detainees because wait-times are too long. Many of them will not return for their hearings. During FY2015, 23.4 percent of the aliens who were released from custody did not return for their hearings, and releases were limited to cases in which there was reason to expect the aliens to return.

I see only two solutions, reduce the backlog by removing aliens from the immigration court and disposing of their cases in expedited removal proceedings, which do not require a hearing before an immigration judge, or have a large legalization program.

Which alternative do you expect the Republicans to choose?

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years; he subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years.