Rights Groups Call for Dignity, Not Detention on One-Year Anniversary of Obama Administration’s Detention Reform Announcement

October 6, 2010, New York, NY – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) joined Detention Watch Network (DWN) and other rights groups in a National Day of Action marking the one-year anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s (ICE) detention reform announcement. The Day of Action is part of a national DWN campaign called “Dignity, Not Detention: Preserving Human Rights and Restoring Justice,” which 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 cost saving alternatives.

“The unprecedented over-reliance on local and private detention facilities to keep non-citizens behind bars while they fight to stay in their communities with their families flies in the face of cornerstone human rights principles. Preserving human dignity, family unity and freedom is an essential part of this nation’s fabric.” said CCR attorney Sunita Patel. “We join our partners to say that enough is enough. The Obama administration must re-think its detention-only and enforcement-first approach. We demand a immigration policies that are fair and just instead of harsh and unfair.”

As a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed in April 2010, CCR, the National Day Laborer Organization Network (NDLON) and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law recently received internal government documents regarding ICE’s Secure Communities (S-Comm) program, which automatically runs fingerprints through immigration databases for all people arrested, targeting them for detention and deportation even if the criminal charges are minor, eventually dismissed or the result of an unlawful arrest. While ICE officials have declared their intention to expand S-Comm into every jurisdiction in the country by 2013, information about the nascent program has been scarce, and the development of operational details has been shrouded in secrecy. See www.ccrjustice.org/secure-communities for more information on the lawsuit.

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. Groups say that the agency’s reform agenda, however, has been compromised by a growing detention population, which has exacerbated existing problems in detention facilities and created management and oversight challenges. 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 counsel remain persistent problems. 

“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 Detention Watch Network Policy Director Jacki Esposito. “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—in many cases pursuant to mandatory detention laws that allow the government to detain people, including lawful permanent residents and asylum seekers—without a bond hearing. Rights groups say this unprecedented growth of the detained population is due in large part to the increasing overlap between the immigration and criminal justice systems and ICE’s arsenal of enforcement programs like 287(g), Secure Communities, and the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) which indiscriminately funnel immigrants into the detention and deportation system. These immigrants include long-time lawful permanent residents with convictions that are several years old, and undocumented workers with offenses as minor as traffic violations.

For more information on the campaign and coordinated actions, visit www.dignitynotdetention.org.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.


Last modified 

October 6, 2010