The US’s system for deporting illegal immigrants has become chaotic and unpredictable, and is denying people accused of being in the United States illegally the right to defend themselves, even as the immigrant detainee population has exploded over the past decade, according to a series of new reports on the state of US immigration.
Moreover, at least one of the reports concludes that the practice of transferring immigration detainees between facilities results in wrongful deportations.
An investigation by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security has found that transfers of detainees by Immigration and Customs Enforcement “were so haphazard that some detainees arrived at a new detention center without having been served a notice of why they were being held, or despite a high probability of being granted bond, or with pending criminal prosecutions or arrest warrants in the previous jurisdiction,” the New York Times reported Wednesday.
“ICE is increasingly subjecting detainees to a chaotic game of musical chairs, and it’s a game with dire consequences,” the Times quoted Alison Parker, author of a Human Rights Watch report on immigration.
Another report, from a data-analysis center at Syracuse University, shows that the number of people in immigration detention in the US has doubled since 1999. In the most recent year for which there is data, there were some 370,000 people being held at 654 different facilities across the country. And the report finds that detainees are being transferred more often to facilities that are far away from where they had been living in the United States.
Daphne Eviatar at the Washington Independent writes that the policy of transferring detainees amounts to “disrupting contact with family members and attorneys attempting to represent [accused illegal immigrants] in their deportation cases.”
The Human Rights Watch report found that some 1.4 million transfers of detainees took place between 1999 and 2008.
“Transfers erect often insurmountable obstacles to detainees’ access to counsel, the merits of their cases notwithstanding,” the report states. “Transfers impede their rights to challenge their detention, lead to unfair midstream changes in the interpretation of laws applied to their cases, and can ultimately lead to wrongful deportations.”
“Transfers also take a huge personal toll on detainees and their families, often including children,” the report adds.
Yet another report (PDF), this one from the Constitution Project, calls for broad reforms of the US immigration system, including securing legal representation for most, if not all, persons accused of being in the US illegally.
“Few of these immigration detainees have access to attorneys to help them navigate the US immigration system and ensure that they secure the protections provided under our immigration laws,” the Constitution Project report states. “The important and legitimate role of immigration enforcement is undermined when we fail to provide these fundamental protections.”
The report states:
We … are deeply concerned about the increasing reliance on and excessive length of immigration detention and about the limited attorney resources available for these cases. While we recognize that immigration detention under certain circumstances serves legitimate public purposes, the Committee believes that too many non-citizens are being held unnecessarily in immigration detention. A proper and effective enforcement strategy must demonstrate a true commitment to the rule of law and respect for fundamental constitutional rights.
Unlike criminal defendants, non-citizens in removal proceedings have no general right to government-funded counsel, despite the magnitude of the deprivation at stake. Nearly two-thirds of non-citizens in removal proceedings are unrepresented. Appointed counsel for detainees would benefit both non-citizens and the government.
The report notes that there have been 83 deaths in immigration detention centers over the past five years.