Concertina wire and a security camera line the perimeter of the York County Dentention Center, Sept. 15, 2015 in York, Penn.
Photo by John Moore/Getty

Immigration report finds systemic detention failures

Updated

Inspections at immigrant detention centers across the country lack legitimacy and are carried out with little oversight or transparency, a new report by two pro-immigrant advocacy groups charges.

The report, released Wednesday by the organizations National Immigration Justice Center and Detention Watch Network, is based on documents obtained through years of litigation and Freedom of Information Act requests examining 105 immigrant detention facilities nationwide.

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The groups find critical faults in how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) maintains facilities that detain as many as 34,000 immigrants on a given night. All levels of ICE inspections are conducted in-house – not only does the agency self-regulate by creating its own standards, it self-audits conditions at each facility without any external oversight. Instead site inspections are carried out by the newly-created Office of Detention Oversight, independent of the immediate operators of each facility. 

The core of the report speaks to the culture of secrecy surrounding the numerous layers of enforcement on immigration, one of the most persistently hot-button issues in American politics.

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Rep. Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat who has introduced legislation in Congress aimed at banning immigrant detention, said he was troubled by the lack of transparency and ICE’s reliance on private, for-profit prison companies to handle the day-to-day operations at immigrant detention centers. 

“Basically they determine what the conditions should be and then they audit their own standards,” Smith told reporters in a conference call Wednesday. “That’s obviously a conflict of interest.” 

ICE spokesperson Dani Bennett said the agency will review the report. ”ICE remains committed to ensuring that all individuals in our custody are held and treated in a safe, secure and humane manner, and that they have access to legal counsel, visitation, recreation, and quality medical, mental health and dental care,” ICE said in a statement. 

One of the Obama administration’s first actions on immigration during the president’s first term was to unveil plans for new reforms at the more than 300 facilities detaining immigrants across the country. Top policy experts spent months assessing the chain reaction to ICE’s rapidly expanding detention capacity, ultimately concluding that the agency needed to establish consistent standards and oversight across the board.

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But in the waning days of the Obama presidency, advocacy groups have found that little has changed even as the nation’s detention capacity has more than doubled, leaving promises of reform still unfulfilled.

Claudia Valenzuela, director of detention at the National Immigrant Justice Center, said the documents that the groups obtained confirmed their suspicions that there was little consistent rhyme or reason determining how facilities earned positive inspection ratings. 

“The Obama administration has failed to improve the oversight or really gain control of the sprawling detainment system,” Valenzuela said. “We believe the failure of the inspection system, the failure of the oversight, really makes ICE complicit on human rights violations.”

Immigration Reform

Immigration report finds systemic detention failures

Updated