Immigration News Today: Advocates Obtain Thousands of FOIA Papers on 'Unprecedented' ICE Detention Practice
Following four years of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) struggles, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) obtained thousands of documents disclosing the information of immigrant detention centers.
Based on the initial review, NIJC received contracts from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and inspection reports from approximately 100 detention centers. NIJC stated the thousands of pages of documents provided "an unprecedented look" into a failed system the organization also said lacked accountability. NIJC also claimed ICE was shielded from public criticism, while local governments and private prisons profited "at the expense of basic human rights."
NIJC released the information as part of a series of transparency and human rights in the immigration detention system. Ninety contracts between ICE and local government or private prison companies, which detained 92 percent of the 33,400 detention population during the 2012 fiscal year, were released.
Deposition testimony from a former ICE contracting officer was also released, allegedly revealing the government's insufficient protocol and quality control in detention contracting.
Through the review, the immigrant rights advocates discovered the significant lack of uniformity in how immigration detention contracts were created and implemented. The FOIA documents also revealed 45 detention facilities operated with "indefinite" contracts with mostly outdated standards, and nearly 12 contracts are set to expire in the next three years -- providing an opportunity for advocates to improve conditions for detainees.
NIJC, represented by pro bono lawyers from Denton's U.S. LLP, noted the attempt of tracking taxpayer dollars ICE pays to local and private contractors is "daunting" and "nearly impossible" for some facilities.
"When President Obama took office, he promised to make the federal government more transparent and make the immigration detention system more civil, but six years later we seem further from those ideals than ever," said NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy in a statement. "ICE remains incredibly secretive about its contracting and auditing processes and how billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent to lock up immigrants and refugees."
NIJC issued recommendations for Congress and ICE to consider.
For Congress, NIJC urged increased government transparency and oversight on ICE. The increased transparency and oversight can be done, according to NIJC, by passing the "Accountability in Immigration Detention Act" and "Protecting Taxpayers and Communities from Local Detention Quotas Act," both were introduced in the 114th Congress. Both bills deal with how ICE operates detention facilities, including setting "minimum" detention standers and prohibiting ICE from entering contracts with "prepaid, guaranteed" numbers of beds filled each day.
"By making these contracts publicly available, we hope to enable families and advocates to have a better understanding of the relationships between local governments, private corporations, and the federal immigration apparatus that incarcerates their loved ones and community members -- and be better equipped to challenge unjust detention practices at both the local and systemic level," said NIJC Director of Detention Services Claudia Valenzuela.
Specifically for ICE, NIJC wants the federal immigration agency to provide public access to the detention center contracting process, end "indefinite" contracts, and refrain contracts with minimum bed quotas. The group also encouraged ICE to engage with legal service providers, faith groups and local and non-governmental organizations that visit detention facilities with the aim to address human rights and due process issues during contract negotiations.
NIJC stated a second report will be released later this year that analyzed and published ICE inspection reports for over 100 detention facilities.
Valenzuela added, "We invite the public to examine the contracts themselves and help us ask the right questions about how our taxes are being spent to warehouse immigrants."
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