Hormone treatments for transgendered detainees, abortion services and extensive outlets for complaints — these are just a few of the reasons Texas Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith is not pleased with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) recently released Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS).
In the spirit of detention reform, in 2011, for the first time since 2008, ICE finished its revision of detention standards for those being held for being in the country illegally. Those new standards were released this month. ICE has already started to implement the changes.
“PBNDS 2011 is crafted to improve medical and mental health services, increase access to legal services and religious opportunities, improve communication with detainees with limited English proficiency, improve the process for reporting and responding to complaints, reinforce protections against sexual abuse and assault, and increase recreation and visitation,” an ICE representative explained in its PBNDS fact sheet.
According to Smith, however, the revisions amount to a vast and expensive expansion of privileges.
“The Obama administration’s new detention manual is more like a hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants,” Smith wrote in a statement. “The administration goes beyond common sense to accommodate illegal immigrants and treats them better than citizens in federal custody.”
The standards chronicle a wide range of amenities and rights accorded to each detainee during their stay, including extensive regulations on things such as body searches, room space, recreational time, visitation, the interaction ICE officials can have with them and food expectations — including adherence to detainee dietary restrictions. (RELATED: Full coverage of illegal immigration)
The standards also outline a wide range of medical procedures available to those in detention facilities, including services such as abortion access, hormone treatments for transgendered people, dental work and a 15-day supply of medications upon release, deportation or transfer.
An ICE representative said that the new procedures are fiscally sound.
“It is important to note that one of the main goals of the agency, in addition to prioritizing the health and safety of detainees in our custody and improving conditions of confinement, is to increase fiscal prudence and efficiencies within the system,” the ICE representative explained to The Daily Caller.
While the official said these changes are geared toward fiscal prudence, Smith is not buying it.
“Illegal immigration already costs American taxpayers billions each year, and these increased regulations force them to keep an open tab for illegal immigrants,” Smith said.
According to ICE, average agency cost to remove an alien is about $10,043, but that figure does not include the average costs to other agencies that are involved in the immigration enforcement process. Total removal costs taxpayers between $23,000 and $30,000 per alien.
“[P]art of ICE’s detention reform efforts are also aimed at putting detention centers in strategic locations that reduce detainee transfers within the detention system and increase overall operational efficiencies, allowing for a reduction in detainees’ average length of stay in ICE custody (by an average of 14 days) and subsequent cost savings for the federal government,” an ICE representative explained. “Overall, ICE’s detention reform efforts, including the implementation of PBNDS 2011, are designed to improve medical care, custodial conditions, fiscal prudence and oversight of the immigration detention system, and reinforce protections against sexual abuse and assault.”
Chris Crane, president of the National ICE Council — which represents 7,600 officers, agents and employees who work for ICE — told TheDC that ICE had shut his union out of the decision-making process on the procedures.
“ICE refuses to put anything in any of its policies to protect its officers. They refuse.” Crane said, adding that ICE has decided that they wanted the changes “regardless of the impact to our officers. … That is our impression of the overall problem. This is being put out there to be publicly pleasing to immigrant advocacy groups and that is the only purpose it serves.”
An ICE representative, however claims that it did give the Council an opportunity to provide input and said it used some of their recommendations, along with recommendations from a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGO).
The biggest worry to Crane, however, is that the new standards will put the officers and detained illegals at greater risk as the red tape surrounding the interaction between officer and detainee does not fully take into account the fact that true criminals will be among the undocumented detainees in facilities.
“Most of our detainees are criminals — convicted criminals — or they came out of jails and prisons where they treated them based on the charges that they were either convicted of or arrested for,” Crane said. “The second they come to ICE, we have to treat them with a completely different standard. We throw law enforcement and security protocol — used nationwide — out the window.”
According to the ICE representative, there are important differences between criminal and immigration detention facilities. The key is an appropriate balance.
“One of the principal differences between criminal detention and immigration detention is that, unlike the criminal justice system, by law ICE is prohibited from detaining individuals for punitive reasons,” the ICE official explained. “ICE is only authorized to detain individuals in order to more efficiently effect their removal from the country. In that vein, detention reform is aimed at placing detainees in appropriate environments, based on their criminal or immigration history.”
While ICE has made their detention reforms, Smith believes the reform should be an increase in detention space.
“We should increase detention space, but the president’s budget makes substantial cuts to it and instead leaves illegal and criminal immigrants free to roam our communities,” Smith said. “The Obama administration consistently puts illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of American citizens and taxpayers.”
On the flip side, Human Rights First, a human rights advocacy organization, acknowledged the revisions but noted that more needs to be done to fully recognize the rights of detainees.
“The release of revised detention standards is an important step forward for ICE,” said Human Rights First’s Ruthie Epstein. “Unfortunately, the revised standards are still based on correctional standards that do not prescribe conditions appropriate for the majority of detained asylum seekers or other immigration detainees held under ICE’s civil authority. To transform conditions in the detention system, ICE will need to develop and implement truly civil detention standards.”
Human Rights First believes ICE should end the use of all jail-like facilities and instead house detainees in a more “normalized” setting.
An Immigration Subcommittee hearing on detention oversight is expected at the end of March.