DHS and ICE Announce New Detention Initiatives

Early October, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced "new initiatives as part of the Department's ongoing immigration detention reform efforts—enhancing the security and efficiency of ICE's nationwide detention system while prioritizing the health and safety of detainees."

Their hopes are to improve accountability and safety, strengthen oversight, and establish consistent standards in the detention centers - all of which have been key elements community organizations and advocacy groups have targeted as needs for reform. The DHS reports that the reforms are expected to be "budget neutral or result in cost savings through reduced reliance on contractors [i.e. private corporations] to perform key federal duties and additional oversight of all contracts." This takes shape in DHS/ICE's plans to centralize all contracts under ICE's supervision, "more than [doubling] the number of federal personnel providing onsite oversight at the facilities where the majority of detainees are housed" - many of the detention centers are run by private corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

Regarding alternatives to detention (ATD), DHS and ICE announced plans to submit a plan to congress to implement an ATD program nationwide. For immigrants who show less risk, as determined by ICE, the enforcement agency is pursuing options which make use of converted buildings such as hotels and nursing homes rather than detention centers, of which many are converted warehouses.

Further, in an effort to meet the medical needs of detainees, ICE announced plans to implement a "medical classification system" to improve awareness of detainees health.

The Detention Watch Network (DWN) responded, praising the inititative, seeing it as a "commitment to move the immigration detention system away from the penal model." though cautions that DHS must still "reexamine its reliance on detention as a cornerstone of immigration enforcement."

Seeing the reform initiative as stemming from advocacy groups, community organizations, and political officials' criticism over the years, DWN fears the initiatives to improve oversight are not feasible if the hope is to expand an already large system, as well as exclude independent oversight initiatives.

Andrea Black, network coordinator of the Detention Watch Network, explains: “We welcome the government's first steps toward reform to the detention model and are committed to engaging in the reform process going forward... but we are concerned that the agency, under Secretary Napolitano's leadership, is continuing down the wrong path in its pursuit of heightened enforcement tactics. Absent a fundamental reexamination of who is being targeted for enforcement and how those laws are being enforced, the reforms DHS seeks are not feasible. Expanding an already sprawling detention system through the building of still more facilities will only further worsen the government's management and oversight crisis."

For a more detailed plan of the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement's initiative as well as the Detention Watch Network's response, see below.
Press Release: New Immigration Detention Reform Initiatives (Oct 6, 2009)
Detention Watch Network's Response (Oct 7, 2009)
Fact Sheet: ICE Detention Reform: Principles and Next Steps (PDF, 3 pages - 65 KB)