For Immediate Release
US: Remote Detainee Lockups Hinder Justice
Transfers of Detained Immigrants Interfere with Lawyer Access and Right to Challenge Deportation
WASHINGTON - The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's increasing practice
of transferring immigrants facing deportation to detention centers far
away from their homes severely curtails their ability to challenge
their deportation, Human Rights Watch says in a report released today.
The agency made 1.4 million detainee transfers in the decade from 1999
through 2008, the report says.
The 88-page report, "Locked Up Far Away: The Transfer of Immigrants to Remote Detention Centers in the United States,"
presents new data analyzed for Human Rights Watch by the Transactional
Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University. The data
show that 53 percent of the 1.4 million transfers have taken place
since 2006, and most occur between state and local jails that contract
with the agency, known as ICE, to provide detention bed space. The
report's findings are based on the new data and interviews with
officials, immigration lawyers, detainees, and their family members.
"ICE is increasingly subjecting detainees to a chaotic game of
musical chairs," said Alison Parker, deputy US director for Human
Rights Watch and author of the report. "And it's a game with dire
consequences since it may keep them from finding an attorney or
presenting evidence in their defense."
Many immigrants are first arrested and detained in major cities like
Los Angeles or Philadelphia, places where immigrants have lived for
decades and where their family members, employers, and attorneys also
live. Days or months later, with no notice, many of these immigrants
are loaded onto planes for transport to detention centers in remote
corners of states such as Texas, California, and Louisiana (the three
states most likely to receive transfers), the report found.
The detained immigrants have the right, under both US and
international human rights law, to be represented in deportation
hearings by an attorney of their choice and to present evidence in
their defense. But once they are transferred, immigrants are often so
far away from their lawyers, evidence, and witnesses that their ability
to defend themselves in deportation proceedings is severely curtailed,
the report found.
"Immigrant detainees should not be treated like so many boxes of
goods - shipped to the most convenient place for ICE to store them,"
Parker said. "We are especially concerned that the transferred
detainees may find that their chances of successfully fighting
deportation or gaining asylum from persecution have just evaporated."
The federal Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (which covers
Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) has jurisdiction over the largest
number of the transferred detainees. Those transfers are of particular
concern, Human Rights Watch said, because that court is widely known
for decisions that are hostile to non-citizens and because the states
within its jurisdiction collectively have the lowest ratio of
immigration attorneys to immigration detainees in the country.
Human Rights Watch acknowledged that some detainee transfers are
inevitable, but said that ICE and Congress should use reasonable and
rights-protective checks on detainee transfers as the best state
criminal justice systems do. The report recommends concrete steps to
help create such a system.
Although ICE has recently announced plans to revamp its detention
system, which may provide an opening for reforms, the agency previously
has rejected recommendations to place enforceable constraints on its
Human Rights Watch's report is being released on the same day (December 2) as the Constitution Project's
"Recommendations for Reforming our Immigration Detention System and
Promoting Access to Counsel in Immigration Proceedings," finding that
immigration detention is overused and immigrant detainees experience
problems in accessing counsel and providing recommendations for reform.
Also on December 2, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse will
release detailed facility level data on detainee transfers.
Testimony from detainees, family members, and attorneys about transfers:
"The transfers are devastating, absolutely devastating. [Detainees]
are loaded onto a plane in the middle of the night. They have no idea
where they are, no idea what [US] state they are in. I cannot
overemphasize the psychological trauma to these people. What it does to
their family members cannot be fully captured either. I have taken
calls from seriously hysterical family members - incredibly traumatized
people - sobbing on the phone, crying out, ‘I don't know where my son
or husband is!'" - Rebecca Schreve, immigration attorney, El Paso, Texas, January 29, 2009.
"In New York when I was detained, I was about to get an attorney
through one of the churches, but that went away once they sent me here
to New Mexico.... All my evidence and stuff that I need is right there
in New York. I've been trying to get all my case information from New
York ... writing to ICE to get my records. But they won't give me my
records; they haven't given me nothing. I'm just representing myself
with no evidence to present." - Kevin H. (pseudonym), Otero County Processing Center, Chaparral, New Mexico, February 11, 2009.
"I have never represented someone who has not been in more than
three detention facilities. Could be El Paso, Texas, a facility in
Arizona, or they send people to Hawaii .... I have been practicing
immigration law for more than a decade. Never once have I been notified
of [my client's] transfer. Never." - Holly Cooper, immigration
attorney and clinical professor of law, University of California Davis
School of Law, Davis, California, January 27, 2009.
"Ever since they sent him there [to New Mexico], it's been a
nightmare. My mother has blood pressure problems, and her pressure goes
up and down like crazy now because of worrying about him and stuff.
[His wife] has been terrified. She cries every night. And his baby asks
for him, asks for "Papa." He kisses his photo. He starts crying as soon
as he hears his father's voice on the phone even though he is only
one.... Last week [my brother] called to say he can't do it anymore.
He's going to sign the paper agreeing to his deportation." - Georgina V. (pseudonym), sister of detainee, Brooklyn, New York, January 23, 2008.
A detainee who was transferred 1,400 miles away to a detention
facility in Texas after a few weeks in a detention center in southern
California said that the difference for him was "like the difference
between heaven and earth. At least in California I had a better chance.
I could hire a[n] attorney to represent me. Now, here, I have no chance
other than what the grace of God gives me." - Michael M. (pseudonym), Pearsall Detention Center, Pearsall, Texas, April 25, 2008.
A legal permanent resident originally from the Dominican Republic,
who had been living in Philadelphia but was transferred to Texas said,
"I had to call to try to get the police records myself. It took a lot
of time. The judge got mad that I kept asking for more time. But
eventually they arrived. I tried to put on the case myself. I lost." - Miguel A. (pseudonym), Port Isabel Service Processing Center, Los Fresnos, Texas, April 23, 2008.
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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.