U.S. sending 1,600 immigration detainees to federal prisons

Blanche Robertson
June 9, 2018

Approximately 1,600 immigrant detainees are being taken to federal prisons this weekend. Until now, he said, civil detainees had been held by ICE in county jails or by contract in privately run facilities.

Kevin Landy, a former ICE assistant director responsible for the Office of Detention Policy and Planning under the Obama administration, said the move to house so many detainees at once in federal prisons was "highly unusual" and raises oversight concerns. "They're saying they're going to keep more and more people locked up, even if there isn't a reason to do so, while they go through the immigration process".

The detainees were believed to have come from Texas, specifically San Antonio, according to an official with the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents workers at the prison.

"The use of BOP facilities is meant to be a temporary measure until ICE can obtain additional long-term contracts for new detention facilities or until the surge in illegal border crossings subsides". On Friday, buses with the detainees arrived at a Victorville prison.

Kostelnik said the prison has been told that some civilian staffers will be filling in for guards, a practice known as augmentation.

The move has been criticized by immigration rights advocates, who say it's tantamount to treating a vulnerable population like criminals, and Kostelnik agreed that the coordination between ICE and BOP in Victorville appears unprecedented.

"To meet this need, ICE is collaborating with the US Marshals Service, the Bureau of Prisons, private detention facility operators and local government agencies", she said in a statement to Reuters.

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Sources said the federal detention facilities where the detainees are being transferred include the Victorville Correctional Institution in California; the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, Washington; and the Correctional Institution in La Tuna, Texas.

"Everyone is running around like a chicken without their head", a local union president said. In that year, 1.68 million people were apprehended, a number that was on a steady decline until 2017, when 310,000 were arrested.

A new agreement between ICE and the Justice Department makes about 1,600 prison beds available and is expected to last 120 days, giving ICE time to secure more space for detainees. The decision to transfer immigrant detainees to federal prisons has drawn strong disapproval from immigration rights activists.

ICE has attracted heavy criticism amid a crackdown on both illegal border crossings and people seeking asylum in the US. He also said it was unclear who was among the detainee population, leaving workers to speculate between the extremes of potentially risky criminals to political asylum seekers.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, argued that federal prisons, "are for hardened criminals".

Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson have since sent a letter to US immigration and Justice Department officials demanding answers about the women detainees.

Immigrant advocates said federal penitentiaries are a place for criminals, not people awaiting their turn in immigration court. "They are not physically set up for immigrant landscapers looking for a job or fleeing violence", Mr Noorani said.

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