Report Urges Better Record-Keeping on Detention of Illegal Aliens
September 10, 2009 - 6:10 AMBetter record-keeping could ensure U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement keeps dangerous immigrants in custody while operating its sprawling detention system safely and lawfully, according to a new report from a nonpartisan think tank.
The report, to be released Thursday by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, notes gaps in the information ICE uses to track the more than 33,000 people in its nationwide system of jails and detention centers that hold immigrants awaiting court hearings or deportation.
The gaps include whether a detainee is dangerous or might have a claim to U.S. citizenship, making it hard for the agency to ensure the system operates legally and efficiently, said Donald Kerwin, one of the report's authors.
"This analysis places these criticisms in a new light by asking whether ICE can fully comply with the law, effectively manage its sprawling detention system and create a system better suited to civil detainees," with its current record-keeping, the authors wrote.
MPI's report is based on data in records obtained by The Associated Press through Freedom of Information Act requests. The AP reported in March that more than half of jailed immigrants held by ICE on a single January night had not been convicted of a crime and nearly a third had been held longer than the 31-day average stay reported by the agency.
ICE director John Morton, who assumed the post in May, announced last month that the agency would re-evaluate the system. He said it would seek to treat nonviolent people who aren't a flight risk differently from those with felony convictions facing mandatory detention and deportation.
The agency's database does not currently list whether an immigrant must be detained, as is the case for felons who have served their sentences and been released to ICE custody, or whether the immigrant is believed to be dangerous. It also doesn't list whether an immigrant has a special medical condition or mental health issues.
The database also does not provide answers to some procedural questions that would help determine whether the federal government is complying with a Supreme Court ruling that immigrants can't be held indefinitely, Kerwin said.
"What it seemed to be missing was information that would allow them to make important decisions that they're required to make as part of their responsibility," he said.
ICE spokeswoman Gillian Brigham said the agency recognizes there's room for improvement, but officials are confident the plans announced by Morton "will go a long way in addressing many of the current concerns."
She noted the agency plans more oversight in addition to better medical care and fiscal prudence for the $1.72 billion detention system.
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