As the Obama Administration enters its second year, and as comprehensive immigration reform struggles to remain a viable policy initiative for 2010, Assistant Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security and head of ICE, John Morton spoke recently at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington DC.
In his remarks, Morton emphasized his commitment to reform immigrant detention, which remains a laudable if overdue goal. The Administration has been advocating detention reform for most of 2009 (in August and October) and most of its initiatives remain unimplemented. According to Morton, ICE detains about 32,000 immigrants on any given day. Immigrants are held in a vast network of over 300 most penal detention facilities (private, county, state and federal) around the country.
This is the nut of the problem: the federal government has lost control over an immigrant detention system that incarcerates a father of five whose visa expired along with a violent felon who happens to be an immigrant. Violent criminals sit alongside nonviolent offenders, and felons sit along side persons who merely violated civil (administrative) law provisions.
In violation of its own bail standards, ICE continues to detain immigrants whose record shows they are neither a flight risk nor a risk to their community. These immigrants should not be detained.
Thousands of detained immigrants should not be detained, and thousands more who are detained are being held under abusive conditions that imperil their safety and violate due process in conditions that are cruel and unusual.
A big part of the problem has to due with private prisons and the neo-liberal logic that informs detention practices even in public facilities. The logic encourages detention of immigrants for the purpose of keeping beds filled, even for immigrants who pose no risk. The logic condones secrecy and discourages public accountability.
According to John Morton, ICE endeavors to change this logic; it has plans to render a more transparent and accountable detention system; it plans greater oversight and monitoring of private detention practices and more vigilant review of contracts. But, and this is a big but, Morton suggests no concrete effort to terminate contracts with private facilities nor turn away from this underlying action opriented system of ideas that has rendered the system so unaccountable and secretive.
In other words, as extensive as John Morton’s plans for reforming immigration detention sound, they remain glued to a logic that is bound to socially reproduce these same shortcomings down the road.
Immigrants deserve better.