Is This a Jail or an Immigration Detention Center?

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The current standards for immigration detention centers are so low a judge ordered the government to improve detention center standards, especially centers which would be housing families and children.  This case was settled in 1997, and the deadline is not being taken seriously.  This means, in the meantime, there have been immigrants who have been detained and forced to live in harsh conditions with little healthcare and other necessities a family would require.  The detained immigrants are forced to wear jumpsuits and confined to cells, very similar to prison.  Large numbers of “prisoners” are forced into small quarters, resulting in minimal privacy and no set date or sign of when they will be released. Kids who are detained with their families end up in these centers, that are basically jails, and some of the children are young enough to be breast feeding.  This is not a healthy environment for a child of any age. 

The unfortunate truth is a large number of children are relocated to immigration detention centers.  Kids in these centers have been documented as being depressed and confused due to the conditions they are confined to.  There are few areas for exercise or play, and most children seem to lack the energy or will to engage in child-like activities that are so crucial to the development of a child’s mental, social and physical development.  The recent influx of detainees near the Texas detention centers has led to overpopulation of the facilities, making them even more inhumane and depressing for the families.  It is a humanitarian crisis, and these unsanitary and inhumane centers need to be improved to provide suitable conditions to house children.  The families are forced to live in these horrible conditions with no real idea of when they will be released.  Even when they are released, most are uninformed as to what will happen to them next, or what they should be doing to prepare for trial since that is what their release will lead to.  A removal proceeding will most likely be filed within a month, sometimes as soon as 10 days, of the immigrants release date.      

Many immigrants forced into detention centers have a sense of hopelessness.  Often, they are abused in the centers, with little chance to win an asylum case.  Some suggest that the immigrants should just try to get through the harsh living conditions, and focus on building a case for asylum.  But most immigrants have no idea what they will be required to prove in an asylum case and have no one to counsel them or guide them through the legal process.  It is ridiculous to expect anyone without legal experience to navigate through any part of the judicial system without help.  The immigrants in these centers also do not have the resources or freedoms necessary to truly prepare an asylum case.  The staff in immigration detention centers have also been known to be abusive, and often disregard the requests and needs of the detainees.  This makes it harder for detainees to get outside information, and makes staying in these centers horrible and even dangerous.  The detainees are told to take note of the abuse and neglect, but the also are informed that this abuse will not help them in their case for asylum.    

ACLU has developed a guideline for pro se immigrants who have been released from immigration detention.  This guide has steps to follow to navigate the court system, which include a requirement to for a court appearance10-28 days after release. The guide provides information on related information such as how to call into a hotline daily to ensure their court date has not been changed.  The guide also includes information on filing motions to change venue. This can be overwhelming and confusing for someone who has just gone through the hardship of detention and is now being forced to battle the legal system, without counsel to assist them through the process.  This lack of representation often leads to unfortunate results in the these cases.

This post originally appeared on Law Professor Blogs. © Copyright 2004-2016 by Law Professor Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

About The Author

Lance Wainwright is a first-year law student at the University of San Francisco.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.