U.S. News

U.S. immigrant detentions violate human rights: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The detention of hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year in the United States represents a violation of human rights, Amnesty International USA said in a report on Wednesday.

Mexican immigrant Antonio Lemus waits at a processing center in Santa Ana, California, September 13, 2007. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

On an average day, the rights group said, more than 30,000 immigrants are in detention facilities. That’s triple the number that were in custody a decade ago, according to Amnesty’s report “Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA.”

“America should be outraged by the scale of human rights abuses occurring within its own borders,” said Larry Cox, director of Amnesty International USA.

“The United States has long been a country of immigrants, and whether they have been here five years or five generations, their human rights are to be respected.”

Amnesty said more than 300,000 people are detained by U.S. immigration officials each year. They include asylum seekers, torture survivors, victims of human trafficking, longtime legal permanent residents and parents of U.S. citizen children.

“The use of detention as a tool to combat unauthorized migration falls short of international human rights law,” the report said.

According to Amnesty, tens of thousands of people languish in American immigration detention facilities every year -- including a number of U.S. citizens -- without receiving a hearing to determine whether their detention is warranted.

Amnesty called on the U.S. government to ensure that all immigrants and people seeking asylum in the United States who have been detained receive a hearing to determine whether their detention is necessary.

Sernata Reynolds, Amnesty USA’s policy director for Refugee and Migrant Rights, said U.S. officials stepped up detentions after the September 11 attacks.


“Although the law permitted it, it hadn’t been used in the way that it was,” she said in an interview. “Then, in the climate of fear, it was exponentially growing, and continues to grow. This year ... they expect to detain 400,000 people.”

“No one comes close to detaining the amount of people that the United States does,” she said. “I don’t know of another country that detains hundreds of thousands of people as a normal policy every year.”

According to the report, there were about 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States as of January 2007. The top five countries of origin were Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, the Philippines and China.

The Department of Homeland Security can detain people at the border or during raids if it suspects them of an immigration violation.

People detained at the border are not entitled to a review of their detention by an immigration judge, Amnesty said. Those apprehended inside the United States have the right to appear before a judge, but the wait can be long.

“U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents have been incorrectly subject to mandatory detention and have spent months or years behind bars before being able to prove they are not deportable from the United States,” the report said.

Under international law, detention should only be used in exceptional circumstances, must be justified in each individual case and must be subject to judicial review.

Amnesty said many of the immigrants who are arrested are unable to be freed on bond because the amount is set too high for them to pay.

The report said U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents have been incorrectly subject to mandatory detention with no right to a bond hearing before a judge and spent months or years behind bars before proving they are not deportable.

Amnesty cited the case of a man who was born in Minnesota and placed in immigration detention in Arizona. He was unable to access his birth certificate because he was in detention and ended up working for $1 a day in the prison kitchen to earn the $30 necessary to order a copy of his birth certificate.

The report said detention facilities for immigrants violate international standards. Amnesty said detainees have reported receiving poor medical care, some complained of being put in excessive restraints and others were held with people imprisoned for criminal offenses.