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House Questioning Even Most Basic Standards for Humane Treatment of Immigrant Detainees

However, even with these changes, the new standards are still based on a correctional model of confinement and are inappropriate for ICE, which has a civil, rather than criminal, detention mandate.

“These standards constitute the bare minimum of what is appropriate treatment and care of immigration detainees,” Brané will testify. “In addition, as long as the detention facilities ICE uses to detain immigrants are either actual jails or jail-like facilities, the impact of even these new standards will be limited in scope. Four hours of outdoor recreation is not very meaningful when that recreation takes place in an enclosed cement room with two small windows near the top of one wall.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) is using the hearing as an opportunity to frame the standards as a “hospitality guideline” for illegal immigrants, accusing ICE and the Obama administration of treating detained immigrants better than imprisoned U.S. citizens. In fact, detained immigrants are accorded almost none of the protections and due process rights of the criminal population.

“I have met immigrants who were sexually assaulted in immigration detention only to continue being detained for months with no reprieve or relief in sight while continuously being denied access to proper medical care and mental health counseling,” says Brané. “I have met detained pregnant asylum seekers who receive completely inadequate medical care, inedible food and who cannot sleep due to pain and discomfort and fear of their surroundings.”

ICE’s 2011 PBNDS, if meaningfully implemented, would give detainees like these a better chance to access basic care and treatment. Still, there are challenges. The standards lack external oversight and enforceability. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security has adamantly resisted application of forthcoming Justice Department Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards. Passed unanimously by Congress in 2003, PREA seeks to eliminate rape and sexual assault and institute protections for victims of assault in all U.S. confinement. Although the 2011 PBNDS address sexual assault and rape, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) insists on maintaining standards separate from PREA to govern its ICE facilities, creating inconsistencies and confusion.

Brané’s testimony will reinforce the Women’s Refugee Commission’s ongoing advocacy to reduce and reform the immigration detention system, which DHS itself called for in its October 2009 review of ICE detention.

“The immigration detention system continues to be broken,” says Brané. “We appreciate the measures ICE is undertaking to improve it, especially in such a difficult climate. But much more remains to be done.”

The hearing will be held March 28, at 1:30 p.m. in 2141 Rayburn House Office Building.