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The Detention Debacle: Toward Reform with Civility

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Anyone currently subject to an immigration detainer or who still has a loved one ensconced in detention at some far away location, most likely waited with bated breath for President Obama's report on proposed reforms for immigration detention. No discussion of detention reform can be complete without addressing the establishment of a uniform standard of accountability.

Across the nation detention facilities are run by private companies that are not held accountable for what transpires within the confines of their facilities. As a result, former detainees recount tales of horror and abuse. Just ask Marlene Jaggernauth, an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago who spent eleven months in detention before being deported to the country of her birth. In a statement provided to the Women's Refugee Commission, Marlene said,

Had I not personally experienced detention, I would never have believed such inhumane conditions existed in the United States. I was trapped in a cruel unjust system, and I could only watch, powerless, as lives unraveled around me ... While in detention, I got to know many other women who were also being held by ICE, often for many months. They included mothers like myself, many of whom were separated from their children, and their families were destroyed. This effect was driven by the fact that women could not always locate their children because they did not have access to resources, including phone calls, legal materials. consulates and legal counsel. Additionally, parents are not always allowed contact visits with their children ... In addition to the trauma of separation and deportation women face inhumane conditions while they are detained, especially in the areas of medical and mental health care. Often, our requests for care were ignored by guards and medical staff ... I also repeatedly witnessed the inhumane treatment of the elderly and mentally ill.

President Obama's 35-page report addresses some of these concerns. According to the report, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will provide 'sound medical care'. Additionally, ICE will detain immigrants 'in settings commensurate with the risk of flight and danger they present'. Let's hope that implementation and enforcement of proposed reform policies translate into tangible benefits for individuals in detention.

Arlene M. Roberts is the author of 'The Faces of Detention and Deportation: A Report on the Forced Repatriation of Immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean'.