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Immigration detention reforms a distant promise as deportations rise dramatically

An astounding 387,790 immigrants have been deported in 2009, indicating an all time high. And for those who justify the record in the name of security, two-thirds of these deportations are of people who have committed non-violent offenses. So it’s not surprising when a little girl asks Michelle Obama why the President is deporting more immigrants than ever, even as the immigration system remains irreparably broken.

But all hope is not lost. Senator Al Franken’s is slated to introduce the HELP Separated Children’s Act which will give special protections to those apprehended by immigration who are parents of a minor in the U.S., aimed at stopping the continuing separation of families that has vast implications on childrens’ emotional and physical well-being. A similar bill was introduced last year but did not pass.

Increasing deportations are accompanied by a deteriorating detention system, even as the administration announced plans for its reform in October 2009. The proposed reforms were to address chronic problems in the system such as overcrowding, inhumane conditions, unchecked detainee transfers and a lack of alternatives to detention. But seven months and many detainees later, it is difficult to be optimistic about the state of immigrant detention.

Such as the recent ruling from the Supreme Court exempting government doctors from personal liability for inadequate medical care of detainees. So what about an immigrant like Francisco Castaneda who was made to wait ten months in detention before getting a biopsy, despite having advanced penile cancer. Just before the results came in Francisco was released from custody so the government would not have to take responsibility for his treatment. Francisco’s case is indicative of-

…exactly what is at stake when detention standards are not only inadequate but unenforceable, and when there is broad immunity enjoyed by the persons responsible for the treatment of immigrants in their charge. With minimal accountability for how they treat people in their own custody, DHS continually fails to provide dignified or tolerable treatment of immigrant detainees.

The lack of adequate medical care and accountability is compounded by the rapid increase of numbers of detainees, resulting in the overburdening of the immigration court system that already has a huge backlog of untried cases. An analysis by TRAC shows the number of immigration cases awaiting resolution by the courts has reached all time record high of 242, 776, with a wait time of 443 days.

Translated into real terms, a recent lawsuit filed by the ACLU in Southern California yielded a list from the administration of 350 immigrant detainees in the Los Angeles area who have been held for periods longer than six months while waiting for their cases to be heard. Many are neither flight risks, nor a danger to their community, but continue to be locked up because of harsh laws and a lack of alternatives to detention. This includes people like Damdin Borjgin, a Mongolian man seeking asylum in the United States who has been in custody since November 2007 and has never had a hearing to decide if his is eligible for release. Detention reforms were supposed to address alternatives to detention for people like Borjgin, but have so far not kicked into effect.

The infinite problems with the immigration detention and deportation system are part of a broken immigration system that continues to deny people basic human rights, due process and justice.

Photo courtesy of immigrationforum.org

One Response to “Immigration detention reforms a distant promise as deportations rise dramatically”

    Excellent – just one thing missing: A lot of these people are guilty of no crime at all. Here in Boston I’ve come in contact with cases of a refugee here since he was two, an African Methodist Minister who was the victim of identity theft, and hero of the struggle to throw the Soviets out of Eastern Europe with letters of praise from the likes of Mandela and Tutu – all here totally legal and none having committed any crime at all – all held for over a year. The Cold War hero is has been held for over three years now. There are a huge number of such people. All it takes is a suspicion to be raised – it does not take guilt at all. If you are an immigrant in this country you are guilty till proven innocent. No immigrant is safe right now.