Bill Ushers in Humane Standards for Immigration Detention Facilities

October 3, 2008 12:00 am

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Long-awaited legislation ensures access to medical care, including protections from forcible drugging and deportation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, October 3, 2008


Washington, DC – Today Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) introduced legislation to adopt humane standards for immigration detention facilities that are legally enforceable. The ACLU applauds Rep. Roybal-Allard for her leadership in ensuring that all immigration detainees receive basic minimum protections including access to medical care, phones, legal materials, and law libraries. The bill, H.R. 7255, the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act, also provides special protections for unaccompanied children, sexual abuse victims, survivors of torture, families with children and other vulnerable populations.

In 2000, the federal government established immigration detention standards, but these standards are not legally enforceable and thus not consistently implemented. Consequently, thousands of immigration detainees have been subjected to inhumane conditions that violate basic minimum standards of due process and decency. The ACLU and other NGOs have received countless complaints from immigration detainees regarding deplorable medical care, no working phones and abuse while in detention. Many of these accounts have been documented by 60 Minutes, the New York Times, the Washington Post and other news outlets.

According to Joanne Lin, ACLU legislative counsel, in recent years immigration detention rates have skyrocketed, rising to over 300,000 people being deported in 2007 and over 30,000 detained on any given day. According to Lin, “The absence of legally enforceable detention condition standards has meant that no one really knows what is happening inside immigration detention facilities – the family members of detainees don’t know, Congress doesn’t know, the American public doesn’t know. This legislation is necessary to introduce transparency and oversight into an unregulated and unaccountable immigration detention system.”

In June 2007, the ACLU of Southern California filed a lawsuit on behalf of two detainees, Raymond Soeoth and Amadou Diouf, who were forcibly injected with a combination of antipsychotic drugs even though neither had a history of mental illness. Soeoth, a Christian minister from Indonesia, sought political asylum based on religious persecution. Diouf, a native of Senegal married to a U.S. citizen, had a stay of deportation at the time he was drugged. After the ACLU filed the suit, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a directive ending its policy of forcibly drugging deportees, but stopped short of issuing regulations to ensure that the policy has the force of law.

“This bill would create important protections for the health and welfare of those who are incarcerated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, director of immigrants’ rights and national security for the ACLU of Southern California and the lawyer who represented the immigration detainees subject to forcible drugging. “In particular, it would definitively put an end to the inhumane treatment that hundreds of immigrants have been subjected to over the past four years when ICE agents injected them with anti-psychotic drugs prior to deporting them.”

These ACLU lawsuits underscore the need for Congress to pass legislation that brings transparency and oversight to ICE’s unconstitutional detention and deportation practices. With this goal in the mind, the Roybal-Allard bill would do the following:

          • Establish legally enforceable detention condition standards such as access to phones and medical care;
          • Ensure that detainees receive appropriate medical care, and creates safeguards against forcible drugging;
          • Promote community-based “alternatives to detention” programs that are cost-effective and successful;
          • Mandate DHS implement regulations that guarantee immigration detainees are treated fairly and humanely.

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