The Migrant Rights and Justice Program has been instrumental in shaping major detention reform policy. Our observations and recommendations informed Dr. Dora Schriroâ€™s report, which provided an unprecedented evaluation of the U.S. immigration detention system. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has used this report as the basis for each critical step forward in achieving detention reform.
Recently implemented policies based on our recommendations include establishing a detainee locator system so that family and friends can determine where loved ones are being detained; ending detention of immigrant families at the infamous T. Don Hutto detention facility in Texas; and developing a risk assessment tool that will help ICE officials make smarter decisions about whom they choose to detain.
ICE created the Detention Service Manager position for each facility in an effort to improve and expand compliance monitoring for some of the countryâ€™s largest immigration detention facilities. The Office of Policy and Planning undertook further changes and improvements to the standards based on the recommendations made by Dr. Schriro in her 2009 report.
ICE facilities today operate according to the unenforceable National Detention Standards established in 2000. There is no legal requirement that these guidelines be followed and no accountability for any harm that may result in a failure to comply with these standards.
In 2008, ICE solicited input from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and released an expanded and revised version of its detention standards, which they called the 2008 Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS). The new standards are an improvement, and include provisions for sexual abuse and assault, detainee searches and staff training. However, while facilities are encouraged to meet the 2008 Standards, their full implementation was postponed for further revisions.
Many detention facilities have not yet implemented the 2008 PBNDS, and not all types of detention facilities are covered by these standards.
The administration has solicited further input and made additional improvements to create what are known as the 2010 Performance Based National Detention Standards (2010 PBNDS). These improved standards are currently being held up in union negotiations, but are expected to be implemented in 2010.
The Womenâ€™s Refugee Commission made several further recommendations for the 2010 PBNDS, including provisions ensuring that transfers and searches be conducted by officers of the same gender, that womenâ€™s health standards be added and provisions for access to family courts be included. The Womenâ€™s Refugee Commission will continue to advocate for the full implementation of the improved standards as well as the application and enforcement of the Prison Rape Elimination Standards for all immigration detention.
Historically, ICE has had no clear guidelines or policies in place for determining whether detention is necessary. Decisions to detain are made at the local field office level and are often dictated by the availability of detention space rather than an actual need to detain.
In 2010, ICE committed to issuing a risk assessment tool for detention officers to use when determining a potential detaineeâ€™s unique vulnerabilities and risk of flight. The tool creates a category of â€śvulnerableâ€ť migrants for whom detention should be avoided.
The Risk Assessment tool is an excellent step to securing the release of those who do not need to be detained. But because it is used only at the time of transfer to ICE custody, it does not serve the many immigrants who are detained through ICE surrogates (e.g. local police officers who have contractual agreements with ICE) and held for days while waiting to be picked up by ICE officials. We are advocating for a screening to be done by all officers at the time of apprehension, and preferably by a neutral third party.
In addition to its commitment to reforming immigration detention standards, the Womenâ€™s Refugee Commission advocates against the detention of vulnerable populations - for example, asylum-seekers, women, children and parents or caregivers - unless absolutely necessary.
Today, approximately 33,000 immigrants are detained at any given time. Detention space costs well over $100 per day per detainee. There are both more cost effective and humane ways to treat immigrants while ensuring that they also meet court appearances and other requirements.
Appropriate case management and assistance in obtaining housing and legal services can ensure that immigrants who are waiting for their immigration case to be resolved appear for their hearings and for deportation if their cases are rejected.
ICE currently operates an official Alternative to Detention Program known as the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program, or ISAP. While ISAP is an improvement over traditional prison-like detention, it is generally not used as an alternative to detention. Instead, ISAP is often used for individuals who have already been released from ICE custody.
In addition, this model relies heavily on electronic monitoring devices and includes very little case management. While releasing some people with electronic ankle bracelets that monitor their movement, this alternative to detention, while vastly more cost-effective than detaining an immigrant, still treats people like detainees.
Several studies show that more humane and cost-effective community-based alternatives to detention can work if given the chance. Pilot studies and case examples demonstrate that, with community support, immigrants whose caseâ€™s outcome require deportation will still appear for court dates and meet other requirements at rates similar to ICEâ€™s ISAP program.