Press Release

IACHR Publishes Report on Immigration in the United States

March 17, 2011

Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today is publishing its Report on Immigration in the United States: Detention and Due Process. The report contains the conclusions of an investigation the IACHR carried out to ascertain whether policies and practices on immigrant-related detention in the United States were compatible with the country's international obligations in the area of human rights. The report also includes recommendations for ensuring that detention policies fulfill those obligations.

One of the Inter-American Commission's main concerns is the increasing use of detention based on a presumption of its necessity, when in fact detention should be the exception. The IACHR is convinced that detention is a disproportionate measure in many if not most cases, and that programs that provide for alternatives to detention would be a more balanced means to serve the State's legitimate interest in ensuring compliance with immigration laws.

For those cases in which detention is strictly necessary, the Inter-American Commission is troubled by the lack of a genuinely civil detention system with general conditions that are commensurate with human dignity and humane treatment, as well as special conditions called for in cases of non-punitive detention. The IACHR is also disturbed by the fact that the management and personal care of immigration detainees is frequently outsourced to private contractors, yet insufficient information is available concerning the mechanisms in place to supervise the contractors.

The Inter-American Commission is also concerned by the impact that detention has on due process, mainly with respect to the right to an attorney which, in turn, affects a person's right to seek release. To better guarantee the right to legal representation and, ultimately, to due process, stronger programs offering alternatives to detention are needed and the Legal Orientation Program must be expanded nationwide. The Inter-American Commission is particularly troubled by the lack of legal representation provided or facilitated ex officio by the State for cases of unaccompanied children, immigrants with mental disabilities, and other persons unable to represent themselves.

The IACHR is also disturbed by the rapid increase in the number of partnerships with local and state law enforcement for purposes of enforcing civil immigration laws. The Inter-American Commission finds that the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has failed to develop an oversight and accountability system to ensure that these local partners do not enforce immigration law in a discriminatory manner by resorting to racial profiling, and that their practices do not use the supposed investigation of crimes as a pretext to prosecute and detain undocumented migrants.

For the investigation on which this report is based, the IACHR visited six immigrant detention centers: Southwest Key Unaccompanied Minor Shelter (Phoenix, Arizona); Florence Service Processing Center (Florence, Arizona); Pinal County Jail (Florence, Arizona); T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center (Taylor, Texas); Willacy Detention Facility (Raymondville, Texas); and International Education Services Unaccompanied Minor Shelter (Los Fresnos, Texas). The Commission also held thematic hearings, took testimony from immigrants in detention and their family members, and consulted immigration experts in the United States, nongovernmental and international organizations that work on these issues, and attorneys and defenders of the rights of migrant persons. The IACHR also sent out a questionnaire for the State, as well as individuals and civil society organizations, to answer.

The IACHR thanks the government of the United States for the cooperation it provided for the Commission to be able to visit the detention centers and for its willingness to cooperate with this investigation. The observations presented by the federal government in October 2010 to the draft version of this report have been very valuable in assessing those areas in which advances have already been made and where immigration reform is producing concrete results toward compliance with international human rights obligations. The IACHR encourages the State to continue such reforms and to broaden them with a view to enhancing the protection of all persons under its jurisdiction.

The IACHR thanks the government of Spain for the financial contribution that made the preparation and publication of this report possible.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 21/11