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Thursday, July 11, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

O.A.S. Slams U.S.|Immigration Prisons

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has sharply criticized conditions in U.S. immigration prisons. The commission, a branch of the Organization of American States, criticized the increasing use of imprisonment without bond, private contract prisons, and denials of legal and human rights.

The IACHR visited immigration prisons in Phoenix and Florence, Az., Los Fresnos, Taylor and Raymondville, Texas. It noted the increased use of contract prisons, and "shelters" for unaccompanied minors who are arrested for immigration violations.

"One of the IACHR's main concerns is the increasing use of detention based on a presumption of its necessity, when in fact detention should be the exception," according to the 162-page report. "The United States Supreme Court itself has upheld the constitutionality of mandatory detention in immigration cases that have not been decided, even though the violations being alleged are civil in nature and despite the loss of liberty that detention presupposes.

"As will be explained, the Inter American Commission is convinced that in many if not the majority of cases, detention is a disproportionate measure and the alternatives to detention programs would be a more balanced means of serving the State's legitimate interest in ensuring compliance with immigration laws. The IACHR is disturbed by the rapid increase in the number of partnerships with local and state law enforcement for purposes of enforcing civil immigration laws. The Inter-American Commission finds that ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] has failed to develop an oversight and accountability system to ensure that these local partners do not enforce immigration law in a discriminatory manner by resorting to racial profiling and that their practices do not use the supposed investigation of crimes as a pretext to prosecute and detain undocumented migrants.

"For those cases in which detention is strictly necessary, the IACHR is troubled by the lack of a genuinely civil detention system, where the general conditions are

commensurate with human dignity and humane treatment, and featuring those special conditions called for in cases of non punitive detention. The Inter-American Commission is also disturbed by the fact that the management and personal care of immigration detainees is frequently outsourced to private contractors, yet insufficient information is available concerning the mechanisms in place to supervise the private contractors.

"The IACHR is also disturbed by the impact that detention has on due process, mainly with respect to the right to an attorney which, in turn, affects one's right to

seek release. To better guarantee the right to legal representation and, ultimately, to due process, stronger programs offering alternatives to detention are needed and the Legal Orientation Program must be expanded nationwide. The Inter-American Commission is particularly troubled by the lack of legal representation provided or facilitated ex officio by the State for cases of unaccompanied children, immigrants with mental disabilities and other persons unable to represent themselves."

It one of the first, if not the first, official investigation of conditions in U.S. immigration prisons since the widespread abuses of the Regan administration, which included illegal deportations, and drugging, torture and sexual abuse of immigration prisoners led to the class-action settlements Orantes-Hernandez v. Thornburgh and American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh, which putatively, but not actually, put a stop to the abuses.

In fact, immigration attorneys say, widespread abuses of legal and human rights continue in U.S. immigrations and so-called "homes" for detained children.

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