Amnesty Says Thousands of Immigrants Locked Up in U.S.

New research
shows immigrants, including asylum seekers fleeing torture and
long-time lawful permanent residents, are being unjustly detained in
the U.S. Tens of thousands of people sit locked up in a broken and
cruel system of detention with no right to even a hearing to determine
if their detention is warranted.

Many languish separated from their families, commingled with people
serving criminal sentences, and sometimes denied access to attorneys,
family members and adequate medical care. The Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) could issue new regulations that would quickly solve
many of these problems. But instead, just three weeks ago, the office
in charge of these policies testified before Congress that it plans to detain almost a hundred thousand more immigrants this year than last.

The new research outlined in the Amnesty International report released today, Jailed without Justice, shows that:

Lawful permanent residents, asylum seekers, and survivors of torture are being detained while they fight for protection
• US citizens and lawful permanent residents can be detained for years without any review of their custody
• Meaningful oversight and accountability for abuse or neglect in detention is almost nonexistent
• Individuals in detention often lack treatment for their medical needs and 74 people have died while in immigration detention over the past five years

Our findings
are similar to what I’ve seen working in the immigration system for a
decade. Before I joined Amnesty International’s staff, I represented
immigrants and asylum seekers in San Francisco. I never met the first
detained person whom I represented. He was a nineteen-year-old from
Sierra Leone who had witnessed the murder of his father and neighbors.
I will call him Joseph. The night of the massacre, he slipped into a
cargo ship not knowing where he was going or how long he would be at
sea. Joseph was discovered by the ship’s captain and turned over to
immigration authorities upon arrival in the U.S. He was detained in
Texas and applied for asylum without the help of an attorney. His case
was denied. To be granted asylum, a person must show that he fears
persecution on account of a protected ground: race, religion,
nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political
opinion. Joseph belonged to a particular tribe and his village was
targeted for this reason. Under immigration law, a tribe is often
considered either a race or nationality for purposes of asylum

In detention, Joseph was unable to secure documents to support his
claim and in representing himself, he did not know what was important
to share with the immigration judge and government attorney. I learned
of Joseph’s case through a pro bono program and agreed to write his
appeal. In the appeal I asked that the case be reopened so that Joseph
could submit documents supporting his claim. Joseph’s appeal was
denied. The Board of Immigration Appeals thought Joseph had not
provided evidence that he was persecuted on account of a protected
ground. I believed this decision was wrong and advised Joseph to
appeal, but he couldn’t face months or years more in detention with an
uncertain outcome. He was deported.

In San Francisco I could meet my clients in jail, but communication
was very difficult. Oftentimes they were despondent and we spent a lot
of time talking about why it was worth it to continue fighting.
Preparing a detained client for court was extremely difficult because
often the client’s wrist was shackled to the table, there was very
little privacy, and we had limited amount of time together. Securing
documents could take an exceptionally long time.

When I joined Amnesty International, immigrants in detention were
never far from my mind. As part of the research team assigned to look
at immigrant detention, I went back to San Francisco to document
detention practices in the Bay Area. It was disturbing to see that
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policies on detention had not
improved, and in many instances, seemed more draconian. Detained
immigrants still faced an indefinite number of months and years behind
bars; securing affordable counsel was exceptionally hard; and
immigrants were forced to wear prison jumpsuits, shackled to each other
or a table when they were outside their cells, and their time was
limited when spouses and children came to visit. It was heartbreaking
and unnecessary.

Depriving people of their liberty without any right to a hearing is contrary to the constitution and American values.
As the Supreme Court found in the Guantanamo cases, the constitution
does not permit the U.S. to lock people up and throw away the key. Yet,
that is exactly what is happening to tens of thousands of immigrants
(and some US citizens) as they go through deportation proceedings in
the U.S. The law must change to reflect international human rights standards and U.S. values.

-- by Sarnata Reynolds


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