• Immigration-Detention issues

    Author : The Blanch Law Firm July 17, 2018

    Immigration policies frequently make headlines. The number of arrests and detentions has risen in recent months, which means that the system is actually struggling to maintain the influx of individuals who are being collared by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Recently, ICE officials announced that they planned to move around 1,600 immigrant detainees to various federal prisons across the United States, which has outraged and alarmed both immigrant-rights advocates, AND correctional facility staff members.

    Advocates for immigrant rights state that these federal penitentiaries should be reserved for convicted criminals – not individuals who are waiting to have their cases heard in immigration court. The staff, meanwhile, expressed concern that such a large influx of prisoners – 1,000 in one wave to one prison – would put the officers and other prisoners at risk. There was little planning and there are currently not enough officers to handle such an increase in population at the prison.

    Victorville, the prison slated to receive 1,000 new detainees, is currently understaffed as it is. Staffing levels are below the minimum Mission Critical requirement, with no new hiring schedule to occur. Prison officials have stated that staff at the prison who are not trained correctional officers, like accountants and teachers, will be ‘augmented,’ and made to work as officers who will oversee detainees and prisoners. Correctional workers will also be required to deal with a large, non-English speaking population without consistent access to translators.

    An ICE spokeswoman has stated that the use of federal prisons to house detainees is intended to be a temporary measure until either ICE can get new detention facilities, or until the surge in arrests subsides. The latter seems unlikely under Attorney General Jeff Sessions new ‘zero-tolerance' policy, whereby the government will be prosecuting anyone attempting to enter the country illegally. To put things into perspective, in May 2017, there were around 20,000 arrests of border-crossers – in May 2018, that number increased to 52,000.

    The detainees are currently scheduled to remain in the federal prisons for around 120 days, but there is no guarantee that it will not be extended beyond that time. And there are other concerns too. Extra medical staff will be sent to help process the new population for the first 96 hours, but after that, they will leave. Medical facilities will be made to care for 1,000 new people, many of whom have communicable or chronic diseases, like tuberculosis.

    This is a significant departure from the government’s treatment of immigrants who are awaiting a hearing in the past. Immigrants without significant criminal records were released from custody and could remain at home while they pursued their case. The current administration has put a stop to that policy. Many immigrants have already been sentenced to ‘time served’ for the offense of unlawful entry, but are not allowed to return home – even if they have children who are in need of their care.

    At a minimum, it seems that the current policy of continuing to detain immigrants is poorly executed, subjecting both immigrants and prison staff to unnecessary danger and uncertainty. Hopefully, new detention centers are built to adequately serve this administration’s growing needs in immigration crackdowns.