New Orleans Dialogue on Detention: Highlights

By Ruthie Epstein
Refugee Protection Program

Last Sunday the New York Times laid out the legislative prospects for comprehensive immigration reform in the 113th Congress. Nowhere was detention mentioned, despite the fact that it’s integral to the government’s immigration enforcement strategies. Like other elements of the broken immigration system, immigration detention is in need of a massive overhaul.

In a 1987 Supreme Court opinion, then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist said, “In our society, liberty is the norm and detention prior to trial is the carefully limited exception.” His words were often cited by the panelists at Human Rights First’s final regional Dialogue on Detention with Loyola University New Orleans College of Law on November 30. At this event, along with other across the country in 2012, we sought to identify recommendations for change, both legislative and administrative, of the U.S. immigration detention system, in part by looking to lessons learned by criminal justice reformers.

Louisiana is home to 2,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds – 6 percent of the nation’s total. These beds are located in four facilities, all of which are almost 200 miles from the city of New Orleans. Two law school clinics and one LOP provider in Baton Rouge give legal presentations weekly or monthly at three of the four facilities. Between the remote locations and the limited resources, access to counsel for the thousands of immigrants who move through immigration detention each year in Louisiana is virtually nonexistent. The challenge is exacerbated at Oakdale Detention Center, the only facility in the country holding ICE detainees that is actually operated by the federal Bureau of Prisons. With 600 to 800 ICE detainees daily, Oakdale does not consider itself subject to ICE’s detention standards, which require facilities to allow local legal service providers to give legal information presentations to detainees. According to the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, just 13 percent of the detained immigrants with cases at the Oakdale Immigration Court (who include immigrants held at Jena’s LaSalle Detention Facility as well as Oakdale) have attorneys.

During our Detention Dialogue, Ken Mayeaux, who runs the clinic at Louisiana State University, said, “It feels like you’re throwing life preservers to people as they float down the Mississippi – that’s access to counsel in Louisiana.”

To see more highlights from the day’s discussions, click here.

The full day’s lineup of the New Orleans “Dialogue on Detention: Applying Lessons from Criminal Justice Reform to Immigration Detention” is here.

Many thanks to the incredible advocates and attorneys in Louisiana – especially our Loyola hosts, Hiroko Kusuda and Bill Quigley – who joined us for a day of important conversation on issues of shared concern in the immigration detention and criminal justice systems.

Stay tuned for the announcement of our DC Dialogue on Detention, where we’ll bring the lessons learned from across the country to DC policymakers.

Till then, check out our December 2012 blueprint to the administration, How to Repair the Immigration Detention System, and follow us @HR1stRefugees and #HRFDetention.


Published on January 15, 2013


Related Posts

Seeking asylum?

If you do not already have legal representation, cannot afford an attorney, and need help with a claim for asylum or other protection-based form of immigration status, we can help.