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Tracking Immigrants in Detention

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Today the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched its Online Detainee Locator System (ODLS) designed to provide current status on the location of a detainee. Long overdue, the service can eliminate the confusion that typically accompanies the arbitrary transfer of immigrants in detention and the anxiety experienced by family members left to wonder about their whereabouts.

The Online Detainee Locator System can be used to track a detainee who is currently in ICE custody or who has been released from custody in the past 60 days, whatever the reason. A family member can conduct a search using a combination of the detainee's Alien Registration number and country of birth or biographical data and country of birth. According to Phyllis Coven, acting director of ICE's Office of Detention Policy and Planning, "ICE is making great strides in our effort to translate the principles of reform into innovative, practical and timely solutions."

The spike in the transfer of immigrants by ICE has risen in tandem with the spike in immigrants taken into ICE custody, as the demand for beds has grown. ICE has addressed the imbalance by transferring immigrants to facilities located far from the point at which they were apprehended. In an analysis by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), in FY 1999, one out of every five (19.6%) of the detainees was moved from one detention facility to another. During the first six months of FY 2008, the latest period for which complete data are available, the majority (52.4%) of detainees were transferred.

Arbitrary transfer of immigrants in detention has become an all too familiar story. This past January, Jean Montrevil was detained by ICE when he presented himself for routine check-in as part of the Intense Supervisory Appearance Program (ISAP). Initially Mr. Montrevil was held at the Varick Street Detention Facility in lower Manhattan, but was later transferred to a detention facility in York, Pennsylvania pending deportation to Haiti, the country of his birth.

When Ravi Ragbir was taken into immigration custody, he was moved from the Manhattan Detention Center (MDC) and held at a detention facility in Bergen County, New Jersey before being transferred to another facility in Alabama. Mr. Ragbir pointed out that he was allowed contact visits with his daughter while he was serving his sentence at MDC, but was denied contact visits during while in immigration detention.

After Marlene Jaggernauth was taken into ICE custody, she was transferred to four different county jails over a period of eleven months before being deported to Trinidad and Tobago, the country of her birth. Ms. Jaggernauth noted, " Had I not personally experienced detention, I would never have believed that 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."

The Obama administration acknowledges that ODLS is part of its commitment to detention reform. In the meantime, advocates look forward to the day when detention is altogether a thing of the past.

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.

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