Immigration Detention and the Rural

From the Legal Ruralism blog.
Many immigrants who have been placed in removal proceedings in the U.S. the past few years have been asking themselves the same question: why was I sent to a detention facility in the middle of nowhere?

In California, for example, immigrants who live all over the state, including large, metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, have been increasingly sent to a detention center in Eloy, Arizona, population 10,855, where they are unlikely to have any family members or contacts. Immigration attorneys and other experts have wondered whether this is merely a problem of overcrowding in urban detention facilities, or whether it is a tactic by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to isolate immigrants pending their removal proceedings, perhaps in hopes they will choose to return to their countries of origin instead of fighting deportation.

In 2009, Human Rights Watch released a report entitled “Locked Up Far Away: The Transfer of Immigrants to Remote Detention Centers in the United States,” which found that immigrants all over the country were often taken, without notice, from detention centers in the cities they lived in and transported to detention centers in remote areas of states such as Texas, California, and Louisiana. The report also found that immigrants in these rural facilities were less likely to fight their deportation cases and, when they did proceed in immigration court, they were so far away from their lawyers, evidence, and witnesses that “their ability to defend themselves in deportation proceedings [was] severely curtailed.”

Furthermore, according to a recent Constitution Project report, there have been many complaints about ICE’s oversight of these facilities, including its “failure to ensure adequate medical care, provide safe living conditions, address overcrowding, and provide education and recreation to detained children.” The report suggests that because of the relative lack of oversight of detention conditions in rural areas, the living conditions in remote facilities are sub-standard, and often deplorable.

In light of these findings, and the fact that on any given day there are typically over 300,000 people in detention for immigration-related issues, over 6,000 of whom are children, the continued use of remote facilities to detain immigrants is cause for concern. Whether or not detaining immigrants in rural detention centers was an intentional tactic by ICE to decrease its caseload and increase deportations, reports show that rural detention centers lead to poorer access to counsel for immigrants, and increase the physical and psychological stresses of detention in general.

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