Immigrant Detention to Be Revamped

By Zapor, Patricia | National Catholic Reporter, August 21, 2009 | Go to article overview

Immigrant Detention to Be Revamped


Zapor, Patricia, National Catholic Reporter


Immigration and Customs Enforcement will no longer detain families at a much-criticized former medium-security prison in Texas and will take other steps to make immigrant detention more appropriate for the noncriminals the agency currently holds in jails and prisons.

John Morton, assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security in charge of ICE, said in an Aug. 6 teleconference that families awaiting deportation or other resolution of their immigration cases would either be held at a much smaller, less jail-like Pennsylvania detention center or released with a system of remote monitoring.

Morton also announced other changes, including the creation of an office to design a new system for civil detention--as opposed to the current one based upon the penal system--and another office for detention oversight. He also will hire an expert in health care administration and 23 new federal managers for a detention system that is currently operated largely by nongovernment contractors.

He said the process would begin immediately to move families out of the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas, and into another, more homelike detention center or into another type of monitoring. Hutto, which is about 30 miles from Austin, will continue to be used to house women detainees, he added.

Morton emphasized that ICE would continue to detain "on a large scale" people who "are here unlawfully and who pose a serious risk of flight or danger to others or to themselves."

Conditions at Hutto prompted a 2007 lawsuit and ongoing complaints that it is an unsuitable environment in which to house children. Hutto houses families in cells, with provisions for children to attend school on-site year-round.

With more than 33,000 people in immigration detention on any given day, up from 10,000 a little more than a decade ago, the federal office of ICE oversees a range of types of detention.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Conditions in the facilities vary widely, from stark prisonlike ceils to relatively unstructured community living at a second family detention center in a former nursing home in Pennsylvania.

In July, separate reports were released by a court-appointed monitor for Hutto and by a Louisiana civil rights group about conditions at a privately run immigration lockup in Basile, La. A third report by the National Immigration Law Center contained extensive criticism about conditions at detention centers around the country, including what it called violations of civil rights.

The reports fueled already active campaigns for changes in detention policies and better monitoring to ensure that the often privately run detention centers follow ICE--and humanitarian--standards.

Morton's announcement of changes was welcomed by those who have been monitoring ICE detention conditions.

"We are overjoyed that years of advocacy and litigation finally resulted in the federal government acknowledging that housing young immigrant children in a medium-security prison like Hutto is not only inhumane, it is un-American," said a statement from Lisa Graybill, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which sued ICE over Hutto conditions in 2007. …

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