Room for Improvement in New DHS, ICE Detention Standards

New York City – Human Rights First welcomes the release of revised detention standards from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to ICE, the newly released 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards “reflect ICE’s ongoing effort to tailor the conditions of immigration detention to its unique purpose while maintaining a safe and secure detention environment for staff and detainees, and represent an important step in detention reform.” “The release of revised detention standards is an important step forward for ICE,” says Human Rights First’s Ruthie Epstein. “Unfortunately, the revised standards are still based on correctional standards that do not prescribe conditions appropriate for the majority of detained asylum seekers or other immigration detainees held under ICE’s civil authority. To transform conditions in the detention system, ICE will need to develop and implement truly civil detention standards.” In its October 2011 report “Jails and Jumpsuits: Transforming the US Immigration Detention System – A Two-Year Review,” Human Rights First found that, despite the 2009 commitment by both DHS and ICE to develop new standards to reflect the environment and conditions appropriate for civil immigration detention, immigration detention facilities are still inspected – as they were in 2009 – under standards that are modeled on those used in jails. These standards impose more restrictions and costs than are necessary to effectively manage the majority of the immigration detention population. ICE maintains that immigration detention has the limited purpose of ensuring appearance at removal hearings and compliance with removal orders when necessary. “Even corrections-based standards are only as effective as the facilities they apply to,” adds Epstein. “ICE will need to ensure that improved standards are actually implemented in its detention facilities. Facilities that do not comply with detention standards should be meaningfully sanctioned or have their contracts with ICE terminated.” Human Rights First’s “Jails and Jumpsuits” revealed that despite a 2009 commitment today to overhaul the immigration detention system, the United States continues to hold the overwhelming majority of civil immigration law detainees – nearly 400,000 each year – in jails and jail-like facilities across the country. The facilities are expected to cost American taxpayers more than $2 billion in 2012. The report’s recommendations included:

  • ICE should end the use of prisons, jails, and jail-like facilities to hold detainees.
  • After an individualized assessment of the need to detain, ICE should use facilities that provide a more appropriate normalized environment. Detainees should be permitted to wear their own clothing, move freely among various areas within a secure facility, access true outdoor recreation for extended periods of time, access programming and email, have some privacy in toilets and showers, and have contact visits with family and friends. Corrections experts have confirmed that a normalized environment – one that replicates as much as possible life on the outside – helps to ensure the safety and security of any detention facility.
  • ICE should develop and implement new standards not modeled on corrections standards to specify conditions appropriate for civil immigration detention. To ensure compliance, these standards should be incorporated into contracts and promulgated into regulations.

On March 13, Epstein will travel to Texas to tour the new Karnes County Detention Center, which ICE touts as its first “civil” detention center. For more information about DHS-ICE’s new detention standards, the upcoming tour of the Karnes County facility or to speak with Epstein about immigration detention reform, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at [email protected] or 202-370-3323


Published on February 28, 2012


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