ICE Begins Immigration Detention System Overhaul

detentionThursday, the Department of Homeland Security announced some much-needed changes to the immigration detention system. The ICE detention system, which has grown dramatically over the last several years, currently has 32,000 detention beds available at any given time, which are spread over 350 facilities across the country. ICE owns and operates their own facilities, and also rents bed space from county and city prisons and jails. These prisons and jails house serious criminals, yet immigration detainees—including asylum seekers, legal immigrants, victims of human trafficking, and immigrants with no criminal records—are mixed in with the local prison population.

Assistant Secretary John Morton of ICE announced that, effective immediately, ICE would create an Office of Detention Policy and Planning (ODPP), hire experts in healthcare administration and detention management as well as medical experts, hire detention managers to work in 23 of their most significant facilities, establish an Office of Detention Oversight (ODO), and create advisory groups to provide input and feedback. Finally, Morton announced that the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Texas would no longer be used to detain families. All of these changes are meant to design a new civil detention system that does not rely on the criminal detention system, and to provide better mechanisms to monitor and oversee civil rights, health care, detention conditions, and other aspects of the system.

Thursday’s announcement is a welcome departure from past detention practices which have led to an ever-expanding detained immigrant population. Over the course of a year, approximately 400,000 immigrants are detained. An Associated Press report found that on January 25, 2009 the immigration detainee population was exactly 32,000. More than 18,000 of these detainees had no criminal conviction, and more than 400 detainees with no criminal record had been incarcerated for at least a year. Nearly 10,000 detainees had been in custody longer than 31 days. According to Detention Watch Network, the average cost of detaining an immigrant is $99 per person/per day.

Numerous reports have harshly criticized immigration detention conditions. Several focused on increasing numbers of preventable deaths in immigration detention. Others have reported that U.S. citizens have been wrongly detained. Most recently, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called detention conditions “unacceptable,” and the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU of Southern California, and Holland & Knight law firm published a system-wide report that found that “fundamental violations of basic human rights and notions of dignity” and calling for a halt to any further expansion of the current detention system.

Thursday’s DHS report follows the introduction of legislation by Senators Menendez, Gillibrand, and Kennedy that would reform the detention system, increase oversight, and protect vulnerable populations.

While improvements to the detention system are necessary and welcomed, it is important to recognize that detaining immigrants is not a long-term solution to a broken immigration system. The U.S. cannot continue to use detention as an answer to any question. The U.S. already has the largest incarcerated population in the world. Locking up large numbers of people for violations of civil immigration laws is certainly no substitute for a functional legal immigration system, the advent of which would go a long way in preventing further human rights and detention violations.

Michele Waslin

Republished with permission from Immigration Impact.

LA Progressive


  1. Carl McGinnis says

    I keep seeing this post but Idon’t seeany changes???
    The Immigration System Is Broken; What Are You Doing To Fix It?
    [This post comes from Carl McGinnis, a citizen of the United States, who has seen the horrors of immigrant detention after ICE detained his legal immigrant friend, Noureddine Feddane. He tells us that it is not just about undocumented immigrants but even people who follow the rules get burned in our archaic and inhumane immigration system].
    I am a citizen of the United States and I have a friend that is from Paris, France here on a student visa with a double Masters Degree and working on his PhD in International Finance. Noureddine Feddane has been here since 2005. His visa is valid until March of 2010, his passport is valid until 2014, and his I-20 is current. He is not what people call an ‘illegal immigrant.’ In 2007, he fell in love and in Dec. 2008 married a U.S. citizen that just happens to be addicted to prescription medications. He knew nothing about this. But he was arrested due to her mistakes. The reality is that his American wife was taking advantage of him and when his money was gone so was she. Janet Napolitano just wants to deport him rather than correct the problem, and make the American accountable. This is wrong. We should have some sort of protection built into the system. Judge Rex Ford would not listen to reason without the wife in court and all witnesses were not given time to testify. This is not what I thought American Justice was all about. I was wrong. It is all a game our Government plays with our lives.
    Noureddine was placed in detention and scheduled for deportation. He has been in the detention center in Pompano Beach Florida for 5 months now. This couple has lost all there savings on lawyers, she lost her job, and they are in the process of losing their home. All this was caused because ICE has the wrong person in jail.
    I have written many letters to Janet Napolitano, Senator Bill Nelson, Representative Ginny Brown-Waite and even President Obama. But no one will listen. What is illegal in this case is the way DHS is treating this guy, who is 51 and has never had a traffic violation. While in the detention center, He has been beaten by another inmate and suffered cracked ribs and bruised body, denied him food and proper medical treatment. Noureddine is diabetic and they will not give him the proper food or medical attention. The phone system is very poor and hardly works. I suspect that they plan it that way so the detainees cannot contact their lawyers and family. I fear he will be next on the long list of persons that have died while in detention. I beg for someone to go and listen to his story. They do not allow any form of media in because they don’t want anyone to know what they are doing.
    Until you go to one of these detention centers and see with your own eyes, you will not believe what America is doing. I was shocked, on my first visit and after almost 6 months of seeing what happens and how they have to live, I am still in shock. It is all about the money. My friend has never cost America anything until they locked him up. He is in a private prison owned by a company called GEO based near Miami, Florida. They are paid very well by our tax dollars, but the treatment is unbelievable. I wonder how many politicians have stock in this company. They are doing quite well even in a bad economy.
    Six months ago I had no idea that we treated immigrants in this way, especially when they are here legally and have done nothing wrong. I knew nothing about ICE and how they operate illegally. I was under the impression that DHS was here only to protect us from terrorists. And I had no idea of the millions of our tax dollars were being wasted to imprison people that could be out of detention and have their family support them until a decision is made in immigration court. I do not understand why we have to pay our hard earned tax dollars to house and feed persons that are not dangerous.
    When they have to lock up a man who has done nothing wrong, make him spend thousands in fees, ICE is giving way too much importance to them selves. How can we turn such educated people away simply to boost the ego of ICE officers and add another number to the Janet Napolitano deportation list, so that the Obama Administration can look like it is doing its job of ‘cracking down on criminals?’
    Something has to change soon. I feel it is my duty as an American to let as many people as possible know the truth. I visit the detention center every Saturday and spend the rest of the week writing letters. This New Year, lets do something worthwhile. Let’s go back to protecting the country rather than making up stories to justify the expansion of a national security complex. Let’s end businesses profiting from immigrant detention and restore our image as a nation of immigrants.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *