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DHS expert panels urge an end to detention of immigrant families

On Behalf of | Jan 9, 2017 | Immigration Detention

When the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. immigrantion and Customs Enforcement were confronted with allegations of inhumane conditions and due process violations in immigrant detention centers, they did what any government agency would do: They commissioned reports from independent experts.

Those reports were released earlier this year. Both groups strongly recommended immediate changes — including an end to the detention of immigrant families, which was described as “neither appropriate nor necessary.” The panels also urged immigrantion officials to begin drawing down the number of immigrants in privately run detention facilities and county jails — and to shut down the four private detention centers with the worst conditions right away.

The panels’ recommendations were quite positive, but it does not appear that DHS or ICE have any plans to implement them. According to a letter by the ACLU and signed by 153 human rights and immigrantion groups, ICE has ignored the recommendations completely.

ICE advised to stop detaining immigrant families, doesn’t listen

The unanimous recommendation provided by the Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers, the independent panel hired by ICE, was stark.

The panel told ICE it needed to begin with “the presumption that detention is generally neither appropriate nor necessary for families — and that the detention or the separation of families for purposes of immigrantion enforcement or management are never in the best interest of children.”

Nevertheless, ICE immediately renewed its contract with a for-profit prison corporation to detain Central American families in Texas. Furthermore, it actually expanded detention by a for-profit prison corporation in Ohio.

Yet, as the ACLU points out, ICE has a better model available right now — a safer, more humane, and much less costly one. The agency tested its Family Case Management Program in a pilot last year and found it successful at achieving the government’s goals while protecting immigrant families, all without detention. This program should be expanded and administered by non-profit, community service providers who have a demonstrated record of protecting and supporting immigrants.

With the policies of the upcoming administration still fluid, the ACLU urged the agencies to implement these sound recommendations before the end of January. Let’s hope the effort is successful.