According to the Global Detention Project, the United States now has the largest immigrant detention system in the world.
Unfortunately, this fact is not surprising considering the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world.
What is quite surprising, however, and rather tragic, is how quickly the U.S. has become the world’s leader in immigrant detention… a trend that does not look to ebb any time soon.
Mandatory detention of undocumented immigrants did not exist until the Clinton administration.
But, according to Human Rights Watch, when President Clinton signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), in April 1996, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), in September 1996, he ultimately “eliminated key defenses against deportation and subjected many more immigrants, including legal permanent residents, to detention and deportation.”
From Detention Center to Deportation
It was a defining moment in the history of U.S. immigration law, and its ramifications were immediate – From 1996 to 1998 the number of people in detention increased from 8,500 to 16,000. Today, that figure is about 34,000.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, the last three administrations have deported approximately 27.9 million people, with the Obama administration outpacing both the Clinton and G.W. Bush administrations in terms of strict “Removals” or full-blown deportations (versus voluntary “Returns” across the border), 3,094,208 to 2,882,159.
President Trump’s promise has already resulted in enormous growth and profits for the private prison companies, which currently operate more than 60% of all immigration detention centers in the country.
The two largest private prison companies in the U.S., are CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group, and needless to say, they welcome this administration’s recent crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
These two companies run eight of the country’s 10 largest detention centers, and control more than 70% of the private immigration detention industry.
GEO Group, in particular, contributed big money to the Trump inauguration, and has given many millions of dollars to lobbyists, senators, and special PACs, in return for exceptionally lucrative government contracts to build additional detention centers.
GEO Group has also pushed legislation at the state and federal levels to increase the legal capacity of people, which may be kept in their prisons.
With the increasing number of detainees comes a spate of reports of horrible treatment of detainees, including human rights and due process violations, and preventable deaths.
In 2007, the ACLU won a landmark settlement, after filing a lawsuit alleging “prison like conditions” for children and families, who were held in detention.
Not to be deterred, GEO Group, which last week held its annual meeting at Trump’s golf resort in Miami, recently lobbied Republicans to submit a law that could lead to immigrant children being taken into custody and detained, indefinitely.
Adding to the mind-boggling and horrific behavior is the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which, according to the ACLU, may soon grant permission to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to begin routinely destroying records of claims by detainees, of sexual assault, as well as “substandard medical care, excessive solitary confinement, threats, and physical assault by custody staff, and even deaths while in custody.”
Our government is literally and willfully turning a blind eye to the potentiality of the most heinous of human rights violations and criminal actions.
NARA added that in cases of sexual assault, the “information is highly sensitive and does not warrant retention.”
In direct contradiction to NARA, the ACLU argued, “Keeping these documents available is necessary for the public to understand and fully evaluate the operation of a system that is notorious for inhumane and unconstitutional conditions affecting hundreds of thousands of people every year.”
Clearly, this is a blatant attempt by ICE to erase its abuses and gain impunity, making it harder for us to hold the agency accountable in the future.
The regulations governing release bond eligibility in immigration court are unforgiving, at best.
In criminal court, a person will usually be granted a bond for almost any crime.
But if a person has more than one misdemeanor conviction, the immigration courts in many instances may not grant a bond.
In fact, the general rule for immigration court is that a felony conviction negates any eligibility for a bond.
There are few exceptions.
Convictions for any of the following offenses disqualifies someone from receiving a bond in immigration court:
Arriving into the U.S. as an undocumented alien and being arrested after coming across the border;
A felony conviction, or more than one misdemeanor conviction involving a crime of moral turpitude;
Any type of controlled substance conviction no matter how minor;
Additionally, criminal courts have a schedule for how much a bond should be for a particular type of crime. There is no such schedule for immigration court.
The immigration court’s minimum bond is $1,500, but I have witnessed certain judges set a $50,000 bond for minor traffic-related convictions.
So, even if a judge grants a bond, the amount is often too high for the detainee’s family to pay.
When the main wage earner is in immigration custody, indefinitely, the financial consequences are often catastrophic; leading to destitute poverty and homelessness for the detainee’s family.
Release Bonds and Adelanto Detention Center
A bond hearing occurs at the beginning of the case, usually within the first two weeks in custody, and there is only one bond hearing unless the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, has jurisdiction over the case.
In that instance, per the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling in Rodriguez v. Robbins, in October 2015, “non-citizens detained pending their removal cases are entitled to an automatic bond hearing (for a Rodriguez Bond) before an immigration judge, at six months of detention, where the government bears the burden of justifying their continued imprisonment.”
The rules governing a Rodriguez Bond are still very stringent, but a bit more tolerant of a detainee’s hardships.
That said, I have a mentally ill client, who was convicted of threatening passengers on an MTA bus when she went off her medication, to treat her schizophrenia, and bi-polar disorder.
Unswayed, the immigration judge denied our Rodriguez Bond motion.
Based on the criminal court’s ruling, and despite my client being a green card holder for more than 30 years, with no history of violence, the immigration court deemed her to be a danger to society.
During my client’s criminal case, she was actually placed into a psychiatric hospital on multiple occasions, because she was mentally unfit.
Yet, after she was back on her medication, the criminal court judge ruled her to be competent, and responsible for her behavior; and subsequently, found her guilty.
From there, she was processed into immigrant detention.
At present, my client is detained at the detention facility in Adelanto, California, which is owned and operated by GEO Group.
Obviously, continuing to incarcerate my client only causes her mental state to further deteriorate.
Sadly, however, as I was unable to secure a bond for her release, all I can do is wait for the immigration court to set a date for her deportation hearing.
I don’t know when that will happen, but my client will remain in custody at Adelanto until that time.
In the face of these unyielding challenges, I am proud to be a member of the ACLU’s West Los Angeles Chapter, where we are creating a fund to pay the bonds for people, who are detained at Adelanto.
My ACLU brethren and I are committed to protecting the human rights of all people, and I’ll continue to provide updates about the development of this fund, and details about where to find important immigration facts and services.
If you have an immigration law crisis, time is of the essence. Please contact me at davidacalinlaw.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. I have spent my career working to keep families together, and my team and I have the knowledge, experience, and compassion to help you when you need it most.