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Ignoring Alternatives & Increasing Detention of Families

Although the number of families being detained on the U.S.-Mexico border has dropped, the government is moving forward with plans to increase its capacity to detain families, with plans to open a new facility to house 2,400 women and children in Dilley, Texas, next month. Many of the women and children who would be housed in this facility are fleeing domestic abuse or gang violence. While Immigration and Customs Enforcement has the option of releasing individuals on bond or providing an ankle monitor, detention is clearly the preferred solution. Detention is not only an expense that falls on the shoulders of tax-payers; it also exposes detainees to the risk of sexual abuse. In fact, a complaint from earlier this month alleges recent sexual abuse in the Karnes City, Texas, facility, and other centers were previously closed after numerous allegations of abuse. Meanwhile, an alternative program from 2004 known as ISAP (Intensive Supervision Appearance Program) has proven to be widely successful, with 93% of participants showing up to their scheduled hearings on their own accord.

Bond determinations are made based on an assessment of an immigrant’s potential danger to the community and the risk that they will not attend their removal proceedings, but instead going into hiding. In many of these cases, women and children have come to this country seeking protection and have turned themselves in at the border. They have very few resources. The chance that they will post a bond and not attend future court hearings is highly unlikely. A denial of bond, or a very high bond, should be reserved for individuals with a criminal history who have already proven that they pose a danger to society, or that they are likely to not show up for a scheduled hearing.

Expense and risk are not the only issues that cause concern to many; detention in these remote facilities means less access to paid or pro bono legal services. Although detainees at the Artesia center are provided a list of pro bono services, the services listed are hours away and the detainees often have no means of contacting them. If they elect to hire private counsel, they will have to look elsewhere as well, as the nearest immigration attorney is approximately an hour away from the facility. Volunteer attorneys who have traveled to Artesia to offer pro bono services note that there is not even a business center in the town of Artesia where an attorney can make photocopies or send faxes.

In response to the proposed development of the Dilley facility, several prominent Democratic senators recently wrote a letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security. In that letter, found at http://www.leahy.senate.gov/download/101614-to-johnson-re-dilley-detention-center, the senators wrote:

“The administration’s practice of opposing bond in all of these cases, even those cases in which credible fear has been established and where there is no evidence of danger to the community or risk of flight, furthers the injustice for those families detained and unnecessarily increases the demand for bed space. Concerns over flight risk can be ameliorated through Alternatives to Detention (ATD), which help ensure the appearance of asylum seekers in immigration proceedings and are more cost effective.”

From the outside, it certainly seems that inexpensive and humane alternatives are low on the administration’s priority list, and one can’t help but wonder why – or wonder what priorities are more important. Several Democratic senators, at least, are left wondering.

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