A NY Times Editorial
After reports of chronic abuses — of detainees beaten and sometimes left to die of untreated injuries and illness — the Obama administration in 2009 vowed an overhaul of the nation’s immigration detention system, the sprawling patchwork of prisons and prison-like institutions that confines nearly 400,000 people a year as they await deportation or asylum.
“The paradigm was wrong,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said then, acknowledging that detention centers operated too much like correctional institutions and that the majority of detainees are not being held as criminals and pose no threat. She promised to make the system less penal, with greater freedom and dignity for those in it.
Despite that vow, the last two years have seen only meager progress toward reform. Detainees are not being punished for crimes, but according to a recent report by Human Rights First, half of them are still being held in jails, the same proportion as in 2009. And while Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun to develop some less-restrictive facilities, those will house fewer than 15 percent of detainees. The rest will remain in a world of prison uniforms and barbed wire. New standards to guide officials in making reforms have not yet been developed.
Many critics have also noted the woeful absence of legal protections and transparency in the system, which railroads detainees through overloaded immigration courts, often without representation.
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