WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union said that significant reforms are still needed if the Obama administration's pledge to fix the failures of the immigration detention system and to transform it into a "truly civil" immigration detention system are to ever become reality.
The ACLU's statement is part of a Day of Action today in which advocacy groups around the country are calling for an end to human rights abuses in immigration detention centers. According to the ACLU, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has made some progress under the recently-established Office for Detention Policy and Planning, ICE detention remains a penal system that lacks oversight, accountability and transparency. In particular, major improvements in four vital detention areas – mental disability, health care, sexual abuse and prolonged detention – still need to be undertaken.
An ACLU analysis of the administration's progress released in August said that there continues to be an over-reliance on prolonged detention practices which deny detainees their most basic element of due process. Immigrants who pose no flight risk or danger to society continue to be jailed, sometimes for years, without ever getting a bond hearing before an immigration judge. The ACLU analysis also said that the level of medical and mental health care provided to detainees continues to be substandard. Recently exposed incidents of sexual abuse of detainees by ICE employees or contractors illustrate an urgent need for external independent oversight as well as compliance with the standards put forth by the Prison Rape Elimination Commission that still await approval by Attorney General Eric Holder. And people with mental disabilities, many without the mental competency to represent themselves, languish in ICE detention for years – lost in a system lacking due process protections.
The following can be attributed to Joanne Lin, Legislative Counsel for the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:
"While ICE has made some strides over the past year, detention reform remains in its infancy and needs to be pursued vigorously without delay. ICE's approach of self-policing has failed, at a systemic level, to prevent sexual abuse of detainees by ICE contractors or employees. Sexual abuse in the ICE detention system remains a hidden, underreported problem that can only be addressed properly by subjecting the system to independent oversight by outside experts. ICE detainees around the country continue to be victimized by constitutionally inadequate medical and mental health care, and many detainees continue to be jailed for years without ever getting a bond hearing. None of these systemic failures will ever be solved in the absence of independent external oversight."