9-18-2012By Eleanor Acer
Refugee Protection Program
Human Rights First – UC Irvine School of Law Dialogue Next Week Focuses on Way Forward
As highlighted in an editorial in Saturday’s Los Angeles times, a federal court in Los Angeles ruled last week in the case of Rodriguez v. Hayes that hundreds of detained asylum seekers and immigrants in the Los Angeles area must be provided with immigration court bond hearings to assess whether they should be released from immigration detention. These immigration detainees include asylum seekers who requested protection at U.S. airports or borders but have been detained for six months or longer without access to immigration court bond hearings. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice refused to provide arriving asylum seekers with access to these hearings.
The U.S. immigration detention system is out of step with American ideals of justice and fairness as well as U.S. commitments under international human rights conventions – as detailed by Human Rights First in its reports and international human rights submissions. In the last fiscal year alone, the United States detained about 430,000 asylum seekers and immigrants – an all-time high – in jails and jail-like facilities, often without even an immigration court review of whether that detention was necessary. Over the last few years, international human rights authorities have repeatedly made clear that key elements of the U.S. immigration detention system – including mandatory detention, lack of prompt court review of detention, the use of jails and jail-like facilities – fall far short of human rights law and standards.
On Monday September 24, Human Rights First will host a public dialogue at the University of California Irvine School of Law that will focus on immigration detention reform and the lessons that can be learned from criminal justice reform. Each year, thousands of asylum seekers and immigrants are held in immigration detention in the state of California alone – typically in jails or jail-like facilities where they wear prison uniforms and have little outdoor access. The event at UC Irvine will examine a range of issues from alternatives to detention to the conditions of detention, and should help inform efforts to reform the immigration detention system. Speakers will include James Austin, nationally renowned correctional planning and research expert; Michael Bien, partner, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, and co-counsel in Brown v. Plata; Jakada Imani, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights; and Judge M. Margaret McKeown, U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit; as well as senior ICE officials. Ahilan T. Arulanantham, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, one of the lawyers litigating the Rodriguez v. Hayes case, will also speak.
Reforming the system will take real and sustained commitment. Three years ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced their commitments to overhaul the immigration detention system. While some important steps have been taken, as Human Rights First outlined in its report Jails and Jumpsuits and most recently in a statement last month, there is much more that remains to be done. In order to truly reform the immigration detention system, the United States should take a number of steps including:
- Provide prompt access to immigration court bond hearings for all immigration detainees;
- Use cost-effective alternatives to detention in place of detention for individuals who require additional supervision but can otherwise be safely released from immigration detention; and
- When asylum seekers and immigrants are held in civil immigration detention, only use facilities with conditions appropriate for civil immigration detainees – including contact visits with family, extended outdoor access, and civilian clothing rather than prison uniforms as recently outlined by the American Bar Association in their proposed civil detention standards – rather than relying on jails and jail-like facilities.