GAO Report Cites Violations of Guidelines for Dealing With Immigrants
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
The number of immigrants detained by the United States has grown from
90,000 to 283,000 over the past five years, and many were improperly
barred from making even a single phone call to a lawyer, congressional
investigators reported this week.
Detainees' calls were completed 35 to 74 percent of the time each
month between November 2005 and November 2006, according to the
Government Accountability Office, Congress's audit arm.
The United States uses a criminal-detention model to hold immigrants,
although most are charged with administrative violations of
immigration laws. The detainees are not guaranteed the protections
routinely provided to U.S. citizens or criminal defendants, including
access to public defenders. As a result, federal authorities have
agreed to 38 nonbinding detention guidelines with the American Bar
Association as a form of due process, including providing telephone
access to legal counsel.
"Without sufficient internal control policies and procedures in place,
ICE is unable to offer assurance that detainees can access legal
services, file external grievances and obtain assistance from their
consulates," the July 6 GAO report said, referring to the Immigration
and Customs Enforcement agency.
Concern about potential mistreatment has grown in Congress and among
civil liberties groups as a national enforcement crackdown has sent
the detention population soaring. "The importance of meaningful access
to legal representation and materials for individuals in immigration
detention cannot be overstated," said Karen J. Mathis, president of
the American Bar Association, whose staff praised the GAO's
work. "When the detention standards are not implemented properly
... immigrants in detention are denied due process."
ICE spokeswoman Jamie Zuieback said her agency has agreed to improve
its telephone service and contractor oversight. "We are encouraged by
the finding in the GAO's most recent report, which notes that
detention facilities generally complied" with ICE's standards, even
though the size of the detainee population had tripled, she said.
The GAO said that its investigation of 23 detention sites was not
scientific and that the results cannot be projected to all 352
sites. It reported pervasive telephone system failings and isolated
violations of at least one of eight standards audited -- including
those on food, medical care and use of force -- at nine sites studied.
For example, four facilities did not fully comply with grievance
standards. The same number reported overcrowding of as much as double
their rated capacity and "triple-bunking" in detainee cells built for
two. The overcrowding is the subject of pending litigation by the
American Civil Liberties Union.
The GAO report said ICE's Detention and Removal Operations unit also
did not reliably track the number of complaints received or their
outcome. "Standards for internal control in the federal government
call for clear documentation of transactions and events" to ensure
that "potential systemic problems throughout the detention system" can
be detected, the investigators wrote.
The increase in detentions is a result of the stepped-up enforcement
campaign that was meant to underpin the Bush administration's
immigration overhaul effort, which failed. The daily detention
population increased from 19,718 in 2005 to about 26,500 in February,
even as officials sped up or denied additional hearings for detainees
and deported virtually all the non-Mexican ones.
Illegal immigrants spent an average of 37.6 days in custody as of
April, although a fourth of them, about 70,000, were held for more
than 44 days, and 5 percent, about 14,000, were detained for more than
four months. Federal law provides illegal immigrants 30 days to go to
an appeals board and the courts before the rulings against them become
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: This sounds a lot like Cook County Jail
in Chicago. The only communication with the outside world possible
for inmates is via _collect call only_ style payphones, and finding
one of those in working order is a miracle. I had _thought_ police
were supposed to give prospective inmates ONE FREE PHONE CALL at the
time of arrest, _NOT_ one phone call on a collect basis that you may
or may not be allowed to make at some later point. But I guess that
shows how little I know about anything. PAT]