Published: October 5, 2009
New York Times
The Obama administration is looking to convert hotels and nursing homes
detention centers and to build two model detention centers from scratch as it
tries to transform the way the government holds people it is seeking to
These and other initiatives, described in an interview on Monday by Janet
Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, are part of the
administration’s effort to revamp the much-criticized detention system, even as
it expands the enforcement programs that send most people accused of immigration
violations to jails and private prisons. The cost, she said, would be covered by
greater efficiencies in the detention and removal system, which costs $2.4
billion annually to operate and holds about 380,000 people a year.
paradigm was wrong,” Ms. Napolitano said of the nation’s patchwork of rented
jail space, which has more than tripled in size since 1995, largely through Immigration
and Customs Enforcement contracts for cells more restrictive, and expensive,
than required for a population that is largely not dangerous. Among those in
detention on Sept. 1, 51 percent were considered felons, and of those, 11
percent had committed violent crimes.
“Serious felons deserve to be in the
prison model,” Ms. Napolitano said, “but there are others. There are women.
There are children.”
These and other nonviolent people should be sorted and
detained or supervised in ways appropriate to their level of danger or flight
risk, she said. Her goal, she said, is “to make immigration detention more
cohesive, accountable and relevant to the entire spectrum of detainees we are
Several of the initiatives Ms. Napolitano described, to be
formally announced on Tuesday afternoon, are steps on a road
outlined in August, when John Morton, the assistant secretary for
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, announced an ambitious plan to transform
the penal network into a “truly civil detention system.”
But the corrections
expert he had put in charge of the overhaul, Dora B. Schriro, quit last
month to become the corrections commissioner in New York City, after
delivering a report on her eight-month top-to-bottom review of the system. The
report had remained under wraps until now.
Dr. Schriro’s departure, and the
delay in making her report public, dismayed many of the dozens of immigrant
advocacy groups she consulted. Her 35-page report, provided to The New York
Times after the interview on the condition that it not be posted on its Web site
until Tuesday afternoon, calls for prompt attention to individual complaints
about a lack of medical care, and “a credible grievance process, sustained in an
environment free from intimidation and retaliation.”
In her interview, Ms.
Napolitano said little about medical care but promised that within six months
of Homeland Security would “devise and implement” a classification system to
better place people with medical or mental health needs in the right detention
That vow puzzled some immigrant advocacy groups that deal with
seriously ill detainees, including some who have died in federal custody after
not getting proper treatment. The groups said they were concerned about the gap
between announced plans to improve medical care and the actions of immigration
Cheryl Little, the director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy
Center, pointed to the case of a woman she called Rosemarie, who, while being
detained at the Glades County Detention Center, has suffered severe daily
bleeding as a result of a fibroid tumor in her uterus.
“This has gone on for
more than the five months she has been in ICE custody,” Ms. Little said. “Since
June, we have tried everything to get her proper treatment. We started the
requests at the local level and escalated up to D.H.S. headquarters. Ultimately
we’ve had to file a lawsuit, and Rosemarie still hasn’t had the surgery she
Ms. Napolitano noted repeatedly that some of the initiatives she was
announcing were “easier said than done.” Plans to speed the implementation of an
online system for families and lawyers to locate detainees, for example, have
been complicated by privacy issues and by the fact that many detainees share
names and some stay in the system for only a couple of days, she said.
Likewise, though alternatives to detention are much cheaper than the jails
under contract — $14 a day at most per person, compared with more than $100 a
day — the overall cost is more complicated to calculate, she said.
19,000 noncitizens are supervised daily using alternatives like electronic
bracelets, but their immigration cases are moved to the back of the line for
adjudication. Homeland Security is working with the Justice Department, which
oversees immigration courts, to modify that practice, she said, and this fall
will submit a proposal to Congress to expand detention alternatives.
request for proposals to build two model detention centers, one in California,
will be issued within a year, said Mr. Morton, the ICE official. On Oct. 30, he
said, he will solicit proposals and market research about converted hotels,
nursing homes and other residential facilities that could serve as less
expensive and less restrictive detention centers.
Mr. Morton said that on
Sept. 18 the agency began housing nonviolent detainees, including new asylum
seekers, at the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, Fla., near free
legal help. But Charu al-Sahli, the statewide director of the Florida Immigrant
Advocacy Center, said the Broward center, run for profit by GEO, a large prison
company formerly known as Wackenhut, had been housing asylum seekers since 2003.
A former work-release center now surrounded by barbed wire, it is being
expanded to house 700, up from 530.
“Even though it’s a nicer environment
than a jail,” Ms. al-Sahli said, “these are still the people we would hold up
for release, not just nicer detention.”
Read article @ New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/us/politics/06detain.html