Report Indicates Problems with Immigration Jails

Most of my clients who have been in immigration jails have told me that they were treated in a professional way by the prison guards at the major immigration jails, including the one in York, Pennsylvania. Most of my clients have had no complaints, and while they certainly were very unhappy that they had temporarily lost their freedom, there are no stories of prisoners being beaten, or of prisoners not being provided medical care, or decent food. However, a recent report by immigration rights groups and New York University’s law school focused on conditions at an immigration detention facility in Essex County, New Jersey that is reported to have problems and the report suggests that there may be other immigration detention facilities around the country that do not meet government standards. After many complaints about living standards at immigration jails, in 2008 and 2011 the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency issued orders which cover everything from access to attorneys to recreation and health care. The recent report says that despite the President Barack Obama’s attempts to improve the detention system, facilities like the one in Essex County fail to meet several national detention standards for immigrants. The report states that more than 200 detainee complaints were filed by immigrants at the recently expanded detention facility at the Essex County Correctional Facility and another privately operated detention center called Delaney Hall. Arguing that the facilities do not fully comply with ICE standards, the report documents problems with everything from access to legal assistance and worship services to adequate health care, food and other basic services for detainees.  The Immigration Service released statements saying that the report suggested that it was not providing good care for detained immigrants, but that the report was not fair. The Government spokesperson said that the agency has made “tremendous progress” toward improving the immigration jails. The Government said that it had hired more than 40 detention services managers to increase oversight at detention facilities and conduct inspections and regular visits.

Further, the agency has also reduced the overall number of detention facilities from 370 to 255, and that it was easier to oversee a smaller number of jails today than the larger number of jails that were used previously. Because many immigrants are not eligible for bond hearings, they are detained until their cases are decided by an immigration judge. Many immigrants who would have been released from jail or given a bond many years ago are held for many months when they are arrested at the border or at an airport attempting to enter the U.S. illegally. For this reason, it is extremely important that immigration detention centers provide adequate housing, medical care, and access to lawyers who are attempting to assist immigrants with their immigration court cases. While I believe that jail conditions are better in the U.S. on average than in most other countries, I think it is unfair and harmful to our country to detain immigrants with no criminal record. It is certainly very costly to taxpayers to detain immigrants, and hopefully our country will someday change its laws back to what they were when my grandfather entered the U.S. from Italy about a hundred years ago when immigrants were welcomed and encouraged to learn English and pursue their dreams in this country.

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