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US Immigration Detention Reforms Announced


 (New York, October, 6, 2009) – Today, US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Secretary John Morton announced plans to reform the US immigration detention system.

Immigration detention, the fastest-growing form of incarceration in the United States, has come under extensive criticism for the conditions in which detainees are held pending the outcome of their civil immigration cases. More than 100 detainees have died since ICE was created in 2003. Reports have documented
 gross failures in the medical care provided to detainees and raised numerous concerns regarding their due process rights.

Human Rights Watch has conducted research on multiple facets of US immigration detention and will be available to comment after the administration’s news conference.

Medical Care

Human Rights Watch research in  Florida, Arizona, and Texas documented dozens of cases in which ICE either did not respond to health problems of women in detention or responded only after considerable delays. Women reported struggling to obtain pap smears, mammograms, pre-natal care, counseling for survivors of violence and even basic supplies such as sanitary pads or breast pumps for nursing mothers.

Human Rights Watch’s March 2009 report, Detained and Dismissed: Women’s Struggles to Obtain Health Care in United States Immigration Detention is available at

HIV/AIDS Services

Human Rights Watch research found that the Department of Homeland Security does not collect basic information to monitor immigrant detainees with HIV/AIDS, has sub-standard policies and procedures for ensuring appropriate care and services, and inadequately supervises the care that is provided. The consequence is poor care, untreated infection, increased risk of resistance to HIV medications, and even death.

Human Rights Watch’s December 2007 report, Chronic Indifference: HIV/AIDS Services for Immigrants Detained by the United States is available at

Transfers to Remote Locations

In a soon-to-be released report, Human Rights Watch found that ICE is increasingly transferring detainees to remote detention centers as a response to overcrowding. Immigrants are initially detained close to their attorneys and witnesses, in locations such as New York or Los Angeles, only to be transferred to detention centers in rural Texas or Louisiana.

Between 1999 and 2008, according to ICE data analyzed by Human Rights Watch, 1.4 million detainee transfers occurred. The transfers interfere with detainees’ rights to counsel, to defend against deportation, to present witnesses and other evidence, and to be free from arbitrary and prolonged detention.

For more information, please contact:

In San Francisco, Alison Parker (English): +1-415-817-1171 or +1-917-535-9796 (mobile); or
In New York, Meghan Rhoad (English): +1-212-216-1224; or +1-703-307-0359 (mobile); or
In New York, Marianne Mollmann (English, Spanish): +1-212-216-1285; or +1-347-244-0090 (mobile); or 

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