LatinaLista -- On the heels of the public learning about the stepped-up immigration enforcement ICE is planning against employers, comes word that the agency is making good on its promise to stop treating undocumented immigrants as criminals.
ICE Director John Morton announced last year that the agency would make detention facilities less prison-like because immigrant detainees are being held on civil immigration charges, not criminal offenses, though it was unclear at the time what changes would be made. The agency has long maintained that detention is not a punishment and that it ensures the immigrants show up for hearings. Nonetheless, it has relied heavily on contract facilities built to house criminals.
Some of the changes will be hanging baskets of flowers, fewer pat-downs, the opportunity to wear their own clothes rather than jumpsuits and have greater access to legal resources. They would even get face time with their families.
Aside from the flowers, the rest of the changes are long overdue.
As to be expected, some workers in the facilities are objecting to the modifications saying that the changes could expose both workers and detainees to harm, especially if some of the detainees are drug dealers or gang members who just haven't been convicted.
Unlikely! (The more likely reason is if the surroundings are that relaxed it's harder to justify the manpower to guard a non-threatening population.)
Those immigrants who had committed real crimes were meant to be put into a criminal population while undocumented immigrants guilty of nothing more than not having the proper paperwork should have been in separate facilities all along for their own safety.
A 2009 review by The Associated Press of everyone in custody nationwide on a single night found that nearly three-fifths of detainees had no criminal convictions, even for minor offenses such as trespassing. Many are held only a few nights before being deported, while others - particularly those seeking asylum from persecution in their home countries - can stay in custody for months or years while their cases are decided by an overburdened immigration court system.
Of course, the better option rather than building new facilities or hiring new workers is to let those undocumented who pose no crime-risk to stay home with their families until their cases come up in court. Chances are the vast majority of them have families that they would be separated from and their families need them as much as they need their families.
If their only crime is not having papers, then an ankle monitoring device can work just as well as keeping them locked up where the state must pay for their food, lodging and the maintenance of the building.
In this day and age, there are enough technological advances that can be implemented to track people and make sure they show up for their hearings without having to separate them from their families in the interim.
With immigration/asylum courts so backlogged, there's no telling how long they would spend in detention.
Though these changes are a good start, it doesn't address the fact that these immigrants have families who are American citizens and they themselves have lived their lives as American citizens -- they just didn't have the paperwork to make it official.