By Erika Lee, Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies, IHRC Affiliate,

The public's focus on immigration for much of the past year has been on
reforming national laws targeting foreigners as they enter – or try to enter
– the United States. Little attention has been paid to how the United States
deals with immigrant detainees who are already in the United States. And
since the federal government changed its illegal immigrant policy in the
summer of 2006 from "catch-and-release" to "catch-and-remove," immigrant
detention has grown exponentially.

In 2005, U.S. authorities released more than 100,000 arrested immigrants after
they were scheduled for a court hearing. Because most failed to show up at court,
the policy was changed and now requires detention until after the actual the court
hearing. Every year, hundreds of thousands of non-citizens, including asylum
seekers and those charged with violating civil immigration laws, are now detained
in county jails and federal prisons. There are more than 300 facilities across the
country. According to Pat Reilly, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement [ICE], 65 percent of detained illegal immigrants are in
state or local jails and prisons, 2 percent are in federal prisons, 14
percent in ICE-owned facilities and 19 percent in contractors’ facilities.
ICE detention centers hold 28,000 illegal immigrants in an average day, up
from 18,000 in July 2006. It is clear that immigrant detention will only
increase in the future, with a national plan to triple detention space to
60,000 beds to accommodate growing numbers of immigrants caught in workplace
raids and border crackdowns.
'Immigrants Held in U.S. Often Kept in Squalor,'

‘U.S. sued over detention of immigrants’ (Chicago Tribune, 4-9-07),1,7753901.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed
‘ICE Official Wants to Expand ‘Alternatives to Detention’ Programs’
(Congress Quarterly, 3-16-07)

The United States has detained immigrants since the 19th century. The
immigrant barracks at the immigration station on Angel Island in the San
Francisco Bay (in operation from 1910-1940) was perhaps the most notorious
for its squalid, depressing, and prison-like conditions. But the scale to
which the United States is now engaged in "warehousing" immigrants and
asylum seekers is unparalleled. And a January, 2007 Department of Homeland
Security report has recently confirmed what most immigrant rights advocates
have been charging for years: many of the centers are cramped, unsanitary,
and infested with vermin. Guards at one facility in New Jersey used attack
dogs and beatings to terrorize immigrants. Asylee children at the Don Hutto
Residential Center in Taylor, Texas were forced to wear urine-stained
clothes, and families were threatened with separation if children misbehaved
or cried. Some critics have likened the facility to an "internment camp."
Detainees seem to have have little recourse. According to one immigrant
rights advocate, immigrant detainees are "the only group in America who do
not have a constitutional right to a free, government-appointed lawyer."

‘U.S. sued over detention of immigrants’ (Chicago Tribune, 4-9-07),1,7753901
'Immigrants Held in U.S. Often Kept in Squalor,'

‘Detained immigrants 'treated very badly'’ (Chicago Sun Times, 3-13-07),CST-NWS-IMMIG13.article

Negative media attention and federal lawsuits, including a Texas case filed
on behalf of ten children detainees at the Hutto facility and their
attorneys, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have put pressure
on the government. In testimony to congress last month, John Torres,
director of the Office of Detention and Removal Operations of the U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, claimed that detainee families were not
mistreated and that conditions had been improved. The razor wire that had
been in place around the facility has been removed, and children are no
longer required to wear uniforms.

‘U.S. sued over detention of immigrants’ (Chicago Tribune, 4-9-07),1,7753901.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed
‘ICE Official Wants to Expand ‘Alternatives to Detention’ Programs’
(Congress Quarterly, 3-16-07)

Closer to home, Tim Counts, an ICE spokesman based in Bloomington,
Minnesota, explained how many immigrants arrested in recent workplace raids
in the Midwest and elsewhere were being "conditionally released for
humanitarian reasons, mostly for child-care purposes" and were not being
‘Agency defends handling of families after raids’ (Des Moines Register,

The ICE is now considering alternatives to detention, including the use of
electronic monitoring devices and requirements that illegal immigrants
regularly report their location to the federal government. Another
non-detention program known as the "Intensive Supervision Appearance
program" would involve ankle bracelets, as well as curfews, and home and
office visits.
‘ICE Official Wants to Expand ‘Alternatives to Detention’ Programs’
(Congress Quarterly, 3-16-07)

These "improvements," however, fail to address the fundamental issue of
ongoing human rights abuses endemic to the whole question of immigrant
detention and immigrant surveillance. With our current obsession with our
borders, we are turning a blind eye to the egregious attack on immigrant
rights all around us.


Erika Lee is an Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies at the University of Minnesota and an IHRC affiliate.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Ott published on April 14, 2007 1:08 AM.

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