In recent years, a sharp rise in the number of non-citizens held in immigration detention has been accompanied by their increased transfer between facilities, creating barriers they face in accessing counsel and receiving fair treatment in immigration proceedings. These are the findings by TRAC (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse) and Human Rights Watch from data obtained by the Freedom of Information Act to be released today.
The number of individuals held in custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2009 is now estimated to have reached 369,483 detainees, more than twice the amount in 1999. As a result of this overcrowding, the past decade has witnessed an escalated increase in the “free-wheeling” transfers of detainees, often to less-crowded centers in remote areas, taking detainees miles away from their families and attorneys.
Based on data obtained from various sources by TRAC and 3.4 million records obtained by Human Rights Watch from ICE, TRAC has found:
An increasing proportion of all detainees are being transferred. In 1999, one out of every five (19.6%) detainees was moved from one detention facility to another. Compare that to the first six months of 2008 (the latest data available), where more than half of all detainees (52.4%) were transferred.
-There has been a vast growth in multiple transfers of individuals from one detention facility to another, where one starts at one detention facility, is transferred to a second, and then a third (and sometimes again and again). Ten years ago only one out of 20 detainees experienced multiple transfers (5.6%). But in 2008, that increased to one out of every four detainees (24%).
-The number of times that detainees are transferred now actually exceeds the total number of individual detainees. This surprising tipping point – more transfers than detainees – was reached for the first time during the first six months of 2008.
Similarly, Human Rights Watch reports that an astounding 1.4 million detainee transfers have occurred between 1999 and 2008. Most transfers are costly and chaotic, usually occurring without prior notice to family members of detainees. During these transfers, detainees are often taken miles away from their families and lawyers, breaking contact between them and their lawyers and delaying their proceedings. Immigration attorneys say that due to the transfers, they are constantly “losing their clients.” Besides the costs of these delays, ICE has spent more than 10 million dollars to transfer nearly 19,400 detainees in 2007 alone.
Speaking about their new report, “Locked Up Far Away: The Transfer of Immigrants to Remote Detention Centers in the United States”, Human Rights Watch says:
Human Rights Watch found that ICE is increasingly transferring detainees to remote detention centers as a response to overcrowding. Many immigrants are initially detained close to their attorneys and witnesses, in locations such as New York or Los Angeles, but are then transferred to detention centers in rural Texas or Louisiana…The transfers interfere with detainees’ rights to counsel, to defend against deportation, to present witnesses and other evidence, and to be free from arbitrary and prolonged detention.
TRAC has also released 1,393 individual facility-by-facility reports that analyze each detention facility’s transfer records over the last decade, and a free online tool where users can make a focused query about a specific detention facility. All of this is available as of noon today.
Photo courtesy www.ice.gov