Oct. 5, 2009
The Obama administration is unveiling on Tuesday an ambitious plan to
repair the immigration detention system, a scandal-plagued mix of federal, state
and local lockups that grew vastly and rotted under the enforcement crusade led
by former President George W. Bush.
The homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, and John Morton, the
director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, deserve credit for
proposing to clean up a system notorious for shabby and abusive conditions, poor
or nonexistent medical treatment and a trail of preventable injuries and deaths.
The reforms, if they work and are maintained, would be a necessary corrective to
years of willful neglect.
Ms. Napolitano and Mr. Morton say that they want to
make the system more efficient, more accountable and less costly. The whole
point of detaining immigrants, after all, is to quickly figure out which ones
should be deported and to deport them, not to let them languish and certainly
not to inflict punishment or undue suffering.
But immigration detention has
strayed far from that basic mission. Tuesday’s
announcement includes statements of “core principles” so fundamental that
you have to wonder what they are replacing. Consider these:
• “ICE will
detain aliens in settings commensurate with the risk of flight and danger they
present.” That means the government has finally come to understand that
detainees are not all violent criminals. They include young mothers and their
children, asylum seekers, upright members of communities who, but for a lapsed
visa or bureaucratic snafu, would not be in trouble with the law. Those who can
make no case for staying here should be deported. But it’s gratifying to hear
Ms. Napolitano and Mr. Morton acknowledge that nonviolent noncriminals —
particularly those seeking refuge — should not be warehoused behind bars. They
have promised to increase alternatives to detention, and we expect them to do
that — even if it means a vast effort nationwide.
• “ICE will provide sound
medical care.” This fundamental government responsibility has been shamefully
neglected in centers around the country. The reform plan refers vaguely to a new
“medical classification system” for detainees that should improve treatment and
reduce unnecessary and disruptive medical transfers. ICE should make clear what
that means and how that will help those who become sick or injured only after
they are admitted and classified.
Perhaps the most important principle
behind these reforms is the reassertion of central control over the sprawling,
subcontracted system. The new plan asserts that central control is not only
smarter and more efficient but also cheaper. “Each of these reforms,” the agency
says, “are expected to be budget-neutral or result in cost savings through
reduced reliance on contractors to perform key federal duties.”
detention is a prime example of things going bad when the government
subcontracts a vital mission to poorly supervised outsiders. The Obama
administration, like its predecessor, is under ferocious political pressure to
be seen as tough on people who have been unfairly depicted as a fundamentally
criminal, dangerous crowd. It is pushing back with an effort to be sane and
proportionate. If the reforms announced on Tuesday work half as well as
promised, the country will be closer to a detention system it does not have to
be ashamed of.
Read @ New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/opinion/06tue1.html