As Detention Rates Skyrocket, Rights Groups Urge Administration to End Prolonged Detention of Asylum Seekers
New York City—Human Rights First, along with 230 organizations, today wrote to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson expressing serious concerns over recent reports that the number of individuals held in immigration detention facilities has reached an all-time high. The letter urges the Obama Administration to immediately end its policy of detaining families as well as the prolonged detention of asylum seekers by implementing rights-respecting release policies.
“Mass detention of immigrants is costly to American taxpayers, devastating to immigrants and their families, and profitable to private prison corporations. In these final months of the Obama Administration we urge you to immediately take measures to reduce unnecessary and prolonged detention and to move toward more rights-respecting and cost-effective policies,” wrote the organizations in a letter.
The letter also reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) renewed a contract with Corrections Corporation of America (“CCA”) —one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison companies — to continue detaining asylum-seeking families in Dilley, Texas. The 5-year contract extension comes at a time when the Homeland Security Advisory Council is evaluating whether DHS should end the use of private prisons, and only weeks after the DHS Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers recommended that DHS end family detention and stop placing families in expedited removal.
Human Rights First notes that much of the increase in detention is due to the administration’s policy of detaining—and often not releasing—asylum seekers. Human Rights First recently released an analysis finding that asylum seekers and immigrants detained in Georgia are often held for long periods of time and face a near-moratorium on parole, despite a national directive from ICE setting out clear criteria for release. Human Rights First also issued a report this summer finding that other ICE field offices similarly disregard a 2009 asylum parole directive, which was issued by the Obama Administration, and have taken the position that asylum seekers are a top enforcement priority under Secretary Johnson’s November 2014 memorandum, extending detention for many months even when asylum seekers meet the relevant parole or release criteria.
Human Rights First has urged the Obama Administration to:
- End the detention of families and stop placing families in expedited and reinstatement of removal proceedings.
- Provide all individuals detained by ICE prompt access to individualized custody redetermination hearings before an immigration judge, and implement automatic court custody redetermination hearings for every individual detained for more than six months, as numerous federal circuit courts of appeal have found the constitution to require.
- Issue written guidance reminding ICE field offices that the 2009 asylum parole directive is in full force and must be followed.
- Require that ICE consider a person’s ability to pay when setting bond.
“Eight years ago this administration began with a commitment to overhaul our immigration detention system thoughtfully and humanely. This administration is ending its tenure with skyrocketing detention rates that have shattered all prior records… On behalf of the men, women and children who remain needlessly behind bars, we urge you to take immediate action,” wrote the organizations.