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February 08, 2012

Broken System: A Look at U.S. Immigration Detention

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In this special edition of Firstcast, we feature the voices of a recently detained asylum seeker, whom we can call Michael, and Human Rights First's Ruthie Epstein to discuss the broken system of U.S. immigration detention. Drawn by the promise of the Statue of Liberty, refugees flee to the United States seeking freedom.  But too often, the U.S. government welcomes them with handcuffs and jail.

For many years, Human Rights First has worked to correct this injustice.  We achieved an important victory in 2009 when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) publicly announced that it would shift away from a penal model of detention to one more appropriate for immigration detainees. But two years later–as we found in our recent report, “Jails and Jumpsuits”, the overwhelming majority of the nearly 400,000 detainees ICE holds annually are still held in jails or jail-like facilities—at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of more than $2 billion a year. A full 50 percent of ICE’s beds are in actual jails.

Our report notes that former prison officials and other corrections experts have found that less penal conditions in detention can actually help improve safety inside a facility, a finding echoed in multiple studies. It outlines steps that the administration should take to end its reliance on facilities with conditions that are inappropriate for asylum seekers and other civil immigration law detainees, and to bring U.S. detention practices into compliance with international human rights standards. Read our latest report: Jails and Jumpsuits: Transforming the U.S. Immigration Detention System – A Two-Year Review.