In November 2010, the United States will undergo its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) with the United Nations Human Right Council. This human rights mechanism, established in 2006, periodically reviews all member states regarding their compliance with their human rights obligations and commitments. The UPR offers an opportunity to pressure the U.S. government to comply with those obligations.
In preparation for the review, a number of U.S. NGOs have prepared a report about detention of immigrants in the United States. From the report:
The U. S. immigrant detention system lacks due process and subjects noncitizens to arbitrary detention and inhumane treatment, in violation of U. S. obligations under international human rights law. To comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the United States must:
(1) Provide individual custody determinations, assessing if a noncitizen’s particular circumstances require detention;
(2) Provide judicial review over custody decisions; and
(3) Ensure that conditions in immigrant detention facilities reflect the civil nature of the government’s detention authority.
While we are thinking about improvements to the detention system, here are some items on my wish list:
(1) Better access to counsel. It’s bad enough that detention centers are in remote locations, but worse than that is the lack of communication with detained aliens. Immigration detention is civil. Therefore, aliens in detention should have access to phones (and why not cell phones?), computers, and faxes. The problems caused by distance when preparing a case are multiplied exponentially by the inability to communicate with clients by phone and email. This problem is particularly bad for asylum seekers, who often need to gather information from overseas, and who may not have family or friends in the United States to help prepare an asylum case.
(2) More procedural protections. ICE personnel routinely convince detained aliens to “sign papers” agreeing to removal. I have received many calls (as recently as last Friday) where family members relate how their detained relative was tricked or coerced into agreeing to removal. Such aliens are rarely informed of their rights or questioned about any fear of return.
(3) Better trained guards. Poor training leads to many problems at the detention centers. For example, several years ago, I represented a few immigrants detained at a facility in Virginia. One guard at the facility routinely punched the detainees in the groin whenever he performed a pat down. One man was injured so badly that he had to be hospitalized. Despite repeated complaints, nothing was done about the guard. Finally, I contacted an acquaintance on the House Oversight Committee for ICE Detention (one of the benefits of living in DC) and began cc’ing him on all my emails to the detention center. The abuse promptly stopped, though as far as I heard, the guard was never punished. Better training and oversight of detention center personnel would help to reduce abuse at the detention centers.
Nothing will make detention pleasant, but these suggestions would help to improve conditions and ensure the procedural protections that are integral to our system of justice.