On February 13th, the American Immigration Council (AIC) hosted a webinar titled “The Other Walls for Immigrants: Understanding the United States’ Overreliance on Immigration Detention.” The online panel featured members of AIC sharing their research on immigration detention in the U.S.
Tory Johnson, the Research Projects Manager at AIC, began the panel by presenting her findings on reports developed by AIC on immigrant detention from 2001 – 2016, as well as an analysis of ICE detention in FY 2015. Some of the findings are below:
- The amount of beds for families has skyrocketed over the last few years; the cost of housing a family in ICE custody has increased to over $600 per day
ICE relied on over 600 detention facilities in 2015, though ICE only publicly acknowledges the existence of about 200 of these.
Though only 10% of facilities are privately owned, 67 percent of individuals in ICE custody have been detained at least once in private facilities.
64% of all individuals in ICE custody are detained outside of major urban areas. In addition, all family detention facilities are located in small or rural cities. This has made it increasingly difficult for defendants to access attorneys and other resources during their detainment.
More than 47,000 grievances have been submitted by community members and detained individuals in FY 2015. The most common grievances involved access to legal counsel and basic immigration case information. There was a noticeable disparity between number of grievances filed at privately-owned facilities and publicly-owned facilities.
At the end of her talk, Johnson concluded with a few takeaways: that detention is essential to the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement; that detention is overused and poses serious hurdles to fair court processes; and that private detention facilities are worthy of extra scrutiny.
Kathryn Shepherd, the National Advocacy Counsel at AIC, spoke next on the state of ICE’s budget, describing how ICE systematically overspends their budget in order to draw funds from other DHS accounts such as FEMA. Shepherd went on to note how ICE continually fails to comply with congress with regard to procuring lists of its facilities and weekly population reports. These facilities also rely heavily on Video Teleconferencing (VTC) for court cases, which has been proven, according to AIC’s research, to negatively impact the outcome of a client’s hearing – nevertheless, VTC is continually pushed by ICE and its facilities.
Anna Byers, the Pro Bono Coordinator at AIC, closed out the panel with a report on ICE detention facilities in the state of New Jersey. According to Byers, the Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility in Elizabeth, NJ gives insight into the conditions that detainees face: dozens of cots with no windows or walls lined up in a row, few chances to go outside and minimal access to interpreters have made the already-traumatized detainees even more anxious leading up to their hearing. Some detainees, Byers mentioned, have become so despondent that they no longer wish to pursue what might otherwise be strong cases for their freedom.
Managing Director of Programs at AIC and panel leader Royce Murray concluded the webinar with a call to action for immigration lawyers: as of now, there is an urgent need to place asylum cases in Louisiana and Georgia. Any lawyers wishing to take on these cases should contact the AIC through the Immigration Justice Campaign as soon as possible.