Thursday, February 17, 2011

Immigration detention and the rural

Many immigrants who have been placed in removal proceedings in the U.S. the past few years have been asking themselves the same question: why was I sent to a detention facility in the middle of nowhere?

In California, for example, immigrants who live all over the state, including large, metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, have been increasingly sent to a detention center in Eloy, Arizona, population 10,855, where they are unlikely to have any family members or contacts. Immigration attorneys and other experts have wondered whether this is merely a problem of overcrowding in urban detention facilities, or whether it is a tactic by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to isolate immigrants pending their removal proceedings, perhaps in hopes they will choose to return to their countries of origin instead of fighting deportation.

In 2009, Human Rights Watch released a report entitled "Locked Up Far Away: The Transfer of Immigrants to Remote Detention Centers in the United States," which found that immigrants all over the country were often taken, without notice, from detention centers in the cities they lived in and transported to detention centers in remote areas of states such as Texas, California, and Louisiana. The report also found that immigrants in these rural facilities were less likely to fight their deportation cases and, when they did proceed in immigration court, they were so far away from their lawyers, evidence, and witnesses that "their ability to defend themselves in deportation proceedings [was] severely curtailed."

Furthermore, according to a recent Constitution Project report, there have been many complaints about ICE’s oversight of these facilities, including its "failure to ensure adequate medical care, provide safe living conditions, address overcrowding, and provide education and recreation to detained children." The report suggests that because of the relative lack of oversight of detention conditions in rural areas, the living conditions in remote facilities are sub-standard, and often deplorable.

In light of these findings, and the fact that on any given day there are typically over 300,000 people in detention for immigration-related issues, over 6,000 of whom are children, the continued use of remote facilities to detain immigrants is cause for concern. Whether or not detaining immigrants in rural detention centers was an intentional tactic by ICE to decrease its caseload and increase deportations, reports show that rural detention centers lead to poorer access to counsel for immigrants, and increase the physical and psychological stresses of detention in general.


RH said...

Thank you for writing about this topic; I had no idea this was happening and I have not seen the issue discussed in the mainstream media. Given the current political climate, the situation is even more troubling. Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin and pundits on Fox News think it is absurd that school teachers get paid $50,000 a year and want the right to be in a union. Even if you're an American citizen, if you can't afford health care, we say too bad. If that's the case, how much political will could there be to protect the rights of immigrants?

Chez Marta said...

But, R.H., there is a difference between health care, which has not (yet) been held to be a fundamental right, and procedural due process, which has. Since the Japanese Immigrant Case, 189 U.S. 86 (1903), procedural due process must be accorded to all persons under U.S. jurisdiction, regardless of immigration status. Depriving detained aliens of their attorneys and witnesses amounts to deprivation of due process, which the ICE, a Federal Agency, must provide to them under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

lauren said...

Thanks for this post. Segregation camps and prisons have been discussed in relation to rural locations, but not immigration detention specifically and it is important to see how location is being used as a tool to deter immigrants from seeking counsel to fight their deportation. I think this movement not only to a rural location, but also to an isolated location in another state, is significant. Creating a barrier between a client and their attorney, not to mention the immigrant and his or her support system, has not only a mental impact on the client, but also a financial impact on the attorney representing. Both of these create a significant disadvantage.

Jen Wickens said...

While the Constitution requires public defenders, immigrants are not awarded any right to an attorney in their immigration proceedings. Non-profit organizations like the Florence Project in Arizona are doing incredible work in detention facilities and they tend to attract the best legal minds, but legal jobs at such organizations are incredibly competitive because groups like the Florence Project are rare and most definitely under-funded.

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