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August 29, 2016

Homeland Security Orders Review of Privatized Immigration Detention Facilities

Washington, D.C. ‑ Following today’s announcement from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson directing the Homeland Security Advisory Council to evaluate whether immigration detention operations conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should phase out private management of immigration detention facilities, Human Rights First is urging for a clean break from private companies. This announcement follows the recent Department of Justice decision to phase out the use of private prisons.

“Private immigration detention facilities are inconsistent with international human rights standards and are largely unnecessary,” said Human Rights First’s Jennifer Quigley. “Secretary Johnson is right to look at this important issue and we look forward to the committee’s recommendation, which we hope will mirror the Department of Justice’s decision to abandon private prisons.”

Human Rights First notes that the use of immigration detention has risen sharply under the Obama Administration, with more asylum seekers sent to immigration detention, often being held there for months. Not only is the use of detention exceedingly expensive, it is also not necessary in most cases.  For cases where additional support is needed to assure appearance for immigration appointments, immigration authorities can use alternative measures that rely on case management and community support. 

Last month Human Rights First released a new report detailing the increase in asylum seekers held in U.S. immigration detention facilities and the failure of the Obama Administration, specifically the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice (DOJ), to effectively implement existing parole guidance for asylum seekers and reasonable bond levels for indigent individuals held in immigration detention.

The report, “Lifeline on Lockdown: Increased U.S. Detention of Asylum Seekers,” is based on months of in-depth research on detention practices and policies relating to adult asylum seekers. It shows that some Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and field offices disregard the 2009 asylum parole directive, which was issued by the Obama Administration. As detailed in the report, some local ICE offices have taken the position that asylum seekers are a top enforcement priority under DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s November 2014 memorandum, extending detention for many months even when asylum seekers meet the relevant parole or release criteria. Moreover, immigration judges, who often review ICE custody decisions and have the authority to release asylum seekers on conditional parole or bond, often fail to consider an individual’s ability to pay by setting prohibitively high bonds. 

The data analyzed in Human Rights First’s report shows that the number of asylum seekers held in detention has increased nearly threefold from 2010 to 2014 and parole grants for arriving asylum seekers have decreased from 80 percent to 47 percent from 2012 to 2015. In some cases, ICE has refused to release asylum seekers who sought protection at a U.S. border or port of entry by claiming that they are considered enforcement priorities and those asylum seekers who are sent to detention after requesting protection at U.S. airports or other formal ports of entry are not provided access to prompt immigration court custody hearings.

Lifeline on Lockdown” also finds that when asylum seekers meet the criteria for release they often languish in detention for months due to an inability to pay the required bond. ICE and immigration courts have set bond rates—which range from $1,500 to $40,000 and above—that indigent individuals and families cannot afford. Some individuals resort to commercial bondsman and surety companies, which sometimes charge exorbitant rates or place their own GPS monitors on asylum seekers. 

For more information or to speak with Quigley, contact Christopher Plummer at plummerc@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3310.