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11/11: Detainee Relocation Leaves Unanswered Questions

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    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 13, 2008
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      Detainee Relocation Leaves Unanswered Questions
      By Caitlin Webber, CQ Staff
      Dec. 11, 2008
      All immigrant detainees are being moved out of a Rhode Island detention facility where a Chinese man in custody for overstaying his visa died in August, the latest in a series of relocations of illegal immigrants.
      The American Civil Liberties Union says Immigration and Customs Enforcement has developed a pattern of moving detainee populations out of detention facilities where high-profile deaths have occurred, and that such moves can interrupt legal proceedings and prolong periods in custody.
      But these mass transfers can worsen conditions for detainees by interfering with court procedures and prolonging detention, ACLU legislative counsel Joanne Lin said in an interview.
      "This is the third time over the last year that ICE has closed down a facility and removed all detainees after a high-profile death has focused press and public attention on how bad things are," Lin said.
      ICE hasn't offered any full explanation of the move or others like it — three in the past year and a half.
      A message that all immigrant detainees were being moved out of a Central Falls, R.I., detention facility appeared without explanation on the ICE Web site Tuesday, and family members were directed to call a toll-free number for information on where detainees had been relocated.
      The Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility is where Hiu Lui Ng, a 34-year-old Chinese man in custody for overstaying his visa, died in August from complications of cancer and a fractured spine. The New York Times reported that Ng's death occurred after pleas for medical care were ignored for months.
      In October 2007 ICE shuttered a California detention center where a 23-year-old Mexican national with AIDS had died the previous August. The Los Angeles Times had reported the death and family claims that the detainee was denied mediation, but the newspaper was later told by ICE that the San Pedro Processing Center had been closed for maintenance.
      In July 2007 ICE pulled detainees out of a privately run Albuquerque facility where a 60-year-old Korean woman had died of metastasized pancreatic cancer. That death, in which it is again alleged that requests for treatment were denied, led the Homeland Security Department Inspector General to issue recommendations for improving detainee safety.
      ICE hasn't officially explained why detainees were moved from the Rhode Island, California or New Mexico facilities.
      When contacted Wednesday, ICE spokesmen Richard Rocha, said that all 153 detainees at Wyatt facility were transferred so "a full review of the facility can be conducted." Rocha said two weeks ago ICE had stopped placing detainees at the facility.
      A Wyatt official declined to comment on the transfers Wednesday.
      Shifting the Problem
      Detainee transfers, particularly out-of-state transfers, are "potentially a tremendous due process problem," Lin said. "Once transferred, typically, any detainee who had access to local immigration counsel will lose that counsel, or at best can only appear telephonically. . . . It also means that their cases are preceding in a new immigration court, with a new trial attorney, a different judge."
      Lin also said that the interpretation of immigration law differs across immigration courts.
      "The substantive law of any particular immigration issue could vary and could be determinative of whether a particular detainee ultimately gets immigration relief," in cases where hearings have already been held in different courts, Lin said.
      Rocha said that most Wyatt detainees had already been transferred to other facilities in the Northeast. And ICE is "taking steps to facilitate ongoing removal cases scheduled with the immigration court and attorneys and court officials are being notified about the transfer," he said.
      Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU Rhode Island affiliate, says ICE is being mum about where the detainees are relocated, but he has heard from immigrant attorneys that they are going to Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. Others, though, have been moved as far as Louisiana, he said.
      Some relocated immigrants' cases could stay in Hartford, Conn., where Wyatt detainees' cases were previously heard, but some would likely be required to change courts.
      Lin and other immigrant advocates have long complained that detention practices have grown increasingly punitive under the Bush administration.
      On Wednesday, the ACLU released a report detailing a familiar lists of grievances against an ICE immigrant detention in Massachusetts.
      Similar media and advocate group reports of abuse, poor detention conditions and denial of medical care have ratcheted up scrutiny of detention practices over the past year, culminating in congressional hearings with ICE leadership.
      In September, ICE announced new detention standards that all facilities will be held to by January 2010.
      But even with the stricter standards, Lin predicts detention conditions will continue to vary because they will not be legally enforceable.
      She said that advocates hope that under the Obama administration detention would be contingent on an immigrant being considered a flight risk or danger to the community and that vulnerable immigrants, like children or the ill, would be kept out of custody.
      Caitlin Webber can be reached at cwebber@....
      Source: CQ Homeland Security
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