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Homeland Security Dept. Begins Immigration Overhaul With New Detention Standards

by Kris Alingod
WASHINGTON - The United States will be implementing new policies in detaining immigrants that will cut costs, improve security and oversight, and provide detainees with better access to medical treatment, the Homeland Security Department said on Tuesday.

"These new initiatives will improve accountability and safety in our detention facilities as we continue to engage in smart and effective enforcement of our nation's immigration laws," said Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano.

Officials are also hoping to cut the costs of detaining immigrants The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will immediately be in charge of managing all contracts for detention facilities. The agency currently manages only 80 of the more than 300 contracts, with the remaining contracts under the oversight of different ICE field offices and the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee.

As part of its strengthened role, ICE will monitor the performance of contractors, and will take all measures necessary, including terminating contracts, if there is repeated failure to comply with conditions of confinement and other terms.

ICE is developing a plan for an Alternatives to Detention Program, and will submit a proposal to Congress this fall. The program aims to reduce costs of detention from a maximum of $100 a day to $14. Later this month, ICE will begin market research and consult private sector leaders about converting hotels and nursing homes into detention facilities for non-violent and non-criminal immigrants.

The number of federal employees managing facilities will be doubled from 23 to more than 50. The increase will be supported by a training courses and new procedures to ensure that new personnel are equipped to oversee detainees.

Immigrants will be detained in groups according to the risk they pose and how they are assessed in a "custody classification." But all detainees will receive better medical care through a system that will ensure that their physical and mental health are known and recorded from the first time they are detained.

Benchmarks have been established for the implementation of the immigration overhaul by the next fiscal year, including the issuance of two competitive bids for the construction of facilities.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the reforms "encouraging" but said the government still failed to address crucial issues such as due process and harassment.

"Meaningful reform of the system must focus not only on the conditions under which immigrants are being detained, but on why they are being detained in the first place, often for prolonged periods of time, when other forms of supervised release would be sufficient to address the government's concerns, as well as the need for basic due process, " ACLU Deputy Director Judy Rabinovitz said in a statement.

"Thousands of immigrants are locked up unnecessarily without access to counsel or bond hearings while they undergo immigration proceedings, which can take years to resolve," Rabinovitz added. "Many of them are lawful permanent residents with criminal convictions for which they already served their sentences."

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