Coloradoans Mark First Anniversary of Obama Administration’s Detention Reform Announcement

By Jennifer Piper, Immigration Interfaith Organizing Director, AFSC Colorado

On October 4, 2010, ASFC and Politically Active Ztudents (PAZ) brought together people of faith and community members in a vigil and protest at the immigration detention center in Aurora. Joining groups and individuals around the country in a National Week of Action organized by the Detention Watch Network, these actions mark the anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s (ICE) 2009 detention reform announcement, which they have yet to implement. “Dignity, Not Detention: Preserving Human Rights and Restoring Justice,” calls for an end to the human rights abuses in detention centers, the restoration of due process in the enforcement of immigration laws, and the implementation of humane alternatives.

Last year, in response to sharp criticism from media reports, government officials and human rights organizations, ICE announced a series of changes to the immigration detention system. As part of its reform efforts, ICE promised to move away from the sprawling network of jails and prisons it uses to detain immigrants toward a less punitive model in accordance with its civil detention authority and take concrete steps to improve conditions of confinement for the nearly 400,000 people detained each year. AFSC and hundreds of partner organizations call on ICE to fulfill its promises.

The agency’s reform agenda has yet to be implemented as evidenced by a growing detention population and reports indicate that many of those detained still suffer egregious human rights violations while in custody. Immigrants continue to be jailed for months or even years under substandard conditions. Mistreatment by guards, grossly deficient medical care and limited access to family and legal counsel remain persistent problems. 

Here in Colorado, ICE recently expanded from 400 to 500 beds at the GEO detention facility in Aurora and is considering expanding their contract to 1,100 beds. Even though the facility is currently not full, visitors often wait hours to see their loved ones, only to be turned away. Once admitted inside, visitors are forced to yell in order to speak with their family members, as the visits happen through plate glass without working phone. Many detainees report chronic depression as well as a lack of access to psychological care.

In addition, ICE continues to hold hundreds more people in a network of county jails across the state of Colorado where many mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, who have never been charged with a crime, are strip and cavity searched. Also, advocates, counsel and family members have a difficult time keeping track of the detained as they are moved from one facility to another.

“While ICE has been saying for over a year now that their enforcement efforts are targeted to make our communities safer, it is time we see ICE’s policies backed up by action, transparency and community input and accountability. ICE continues to systematically detain and deport any immigrants they come in contact with, regardless of good moral character or family ties. The vast majority of people detained at GEO have long, crime free histories in the United States. They are integral members of our communities and their families,” said Jennifer Piper, Immigration Interfaith Organizing Director, AFSC. “Tonight we heard testimony from members of PAZ and RAP who have been impacted by this broken, indiscriminate system.”

“While the Obama Administration has taken some steps toward reform, the agency’s efforts have done little to address the mounting  human rights crisis that has emerged as a result of the U.S. government’s harsh approach to immigration detention and deportation,” said Jacki Esposito, Policy Director  at Detention Watch Network. “To achieve real reform, ICE must use detention as a last resort and only in those cases where a credible showing has been made that detention is necessary to ensure public safety.”

This year, ICE detained a record number of people – including lawful permanent residents and asylum seekers, without a bond hearing. This unprecedented growth of the detained population is due in large part to the increasing overlap between the immigration and criminal justice systems.  ICE’s arsenal of enforcement programs like 287(g), Secure Communities, and the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) indiscriminately funnel immigrants into the detention and deportation system, including long-time lawful permanent residents with convictions that are several years old, and undocumented workers for offenses as minor as traffic violations.

ICE’s current enforcement practices not only overburden an already crippled detention system, they also misuse scarce resources that should be spent shortening the years-long backlog of VISA applications. As long as the Administration continues to implement these draconian and misguided enforcement programs, its attempts at reform will never result in meaningful change.    

Participants in the National Day of Action are calling for the restoration of human rights within the detention system and an end to programs that indiscriminately channel non-citizens into the detention and deportation system. For more information visit www.dignitynotdetention.org