Austin Detention Dialogue to Tackle Tough Challenges Facing U.S. Immigration Detention System
Austin, Texas: Tomorrow in Austin, Human Rights First will launch a first-of-its-kind series of four national dialogues designed to tackle tough challenges facing the U.S. immigration detention system. The day-long public event – part of Human Rights First’s “Dialogues on Detention: Applying Lessons from Criminal Justice Reform to the Immigration Detention System” – will convene Texas and national experts in immigration detention and criminal justice/corrections, including academics, elected leaders, government officials, attorneys, advocates, and those who have experienced first-hand life within the U.S. immigration detention system. Focusing on lessons learned in Texas, the experts will discuss ways to improve U.S. immigration detention practices, bring them in line with basic human rights principles and established best practices, and save taxpayer dollars. Human Rights First notes that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) holds the overwhelming majority of the over 400,000 asylum seekers and other immigrants it detains annually – under civil immigration law authority – in jails and jail-like facilities across the country. That costs taxpayers approximately $2 billion each year. Texas is home to 26 facilities housing almost 8,000 immigration detainees – nearly a quarter of the population detained nationally by ICE. In March, ICE opened its first new model “civil” detention facility in Karnes County, Texas, two hours from Austin. Human Rights First’s Ruthie Epstein will tour Karnes and Rolling Plains Detention Facility, in Haskell, Texas, following the Austin Dialogues. ICE opened the Karnes facility as part of a wide-reaching overhaul of the nation’s sprawling and mismanaged immigration detention system that the agency promised in 2009. While ICE has taken significant steps forward, including the establishment of an online detainee locator, an improved parole policy for detained asylum seekers, the development of a risk assessment tool, and stronger internal oversight mechanisms, these changes are a far cry from the transformation contemplated three years ago. This Dialogues series kicks off in Austin and will include future events in California, Arizona, and Louisiana. It is designed to culminate with a set of recommendations – based in best practices and lessons learned from across the country. The Dialogues also seek to help re-shape the national conversation on immigration detention, build alliances among stakeholders, and lay the groundwork for future improvements in policy and practice. The Austin event – drawing from a wealth of Texas expertise – will focus on alternatives to detention, conditions of confinement, oversight and accountability, and access to legal counsel for detained individuals in Texas. It will take place at The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and The Center for Health and Social Policy (CHASP) at The University of Texas at Austin. The Dialogues are open to members of the press and experts are available for interview.