Last week we pointed to a report that blamed the US for violations of human rights in immigration detention. The report was picked up by several outlets including Reuters and The New York Times:
“Immigration enforcement in the United States is plagued by unjust treatment of detainees, including inadequate access to lawyers and insufficient medical care, and by the excessive use of prison-style detention, the human rights arm of the Organization of American States said Thursday.”
LIRS was involved in the preparation of this report by providing briefing materials to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) back in July of 2008. Most of the recommendations we made in our briefing were echoed in the final report submitted last week.
Why were we involved? It is deeply troubling to our constituents that the federal government detains people without demonstrating a need to do so and puts the burden of proof on them. There is a presumption of guilt, a preference for detention, and a disregard for the complexity of each individual case. When compared to the criminal justice system, immigration detention (which is an administrative violation and not a criminal one), is harsher and provides fewer automatic protections. Criminals are often allowed to await trial in freedom by posting bail or are provided alternatives to detention, while immigrants are locked up automatically and indefinitely without a right to counsel.
It comes down to this: there is no oversight that requires ICE to provide a compelling case as to why an individual needs to be detained. Detention is only justified when other less restrictive solutions to ensure appearance at hearings are not an option, or when the detainee presents a threat to others.
What is equally disturbing is the complete lack of information we have on the population in detention. How many of those currently detained are victims of violence? We don’t know. Survivors of torture? No clue. HIV positive? With mental health needs?
In today’s information saturated environment it is unacceptable to be willfully ignorant. The lack of an automated system to identify the needs of the people we are forcefully detaining leads to a system that just warehouses immigrants as if they were all just a homogenous mass of ‘illegals’.
So that’s why we are so adamant about this Standardized Risk Assessment Tool.
Think of it as a form, a checklist that allows immigration authorities to do two very important things. First, it gives them INFORMATION on the population they are detaining. Second, it allows, through a series of questions and a corresponding points system, for authorities to determine and prove a NEED TO DETAIN. If there is no obvious need to detain than the government must allow the person to await their hearings in freedom.
Did we mention that saves a whole lot of money? Immigration detention is very expensive, and with for-profit prisons lining up to take our hard earned money, we think it’s a great idea to lock up only those who actually need to be detained.
The good news is it seems the Standardized Risk Assessment Tool we have been advocating for seems to be in the pipeline. If implemented it could be the greatest change to immigration detention in over a decade and address several of the systemic issues that plague immigration detention in the United States.
Please join us in keeping a close eye on what ICE does in the next 18 months. Although the administration has promised sweeping reforms, it is only through the oversight and pressure of concerned citizens that we can ensure these promises become a reality.
So if you want to help hundreds of thousands of people locked up for no good reason, and stop spending almost $2 billion a year to do so, memorize this complicated term, and then shout it from the rooftops, whisper it at dinner parties, and post it online: