DHS Wants To Make It Easier For Local Jails To House Illegal Immigrants

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intends to eliminate certain rules for jails that house illegal immigrants awaiting deportation, a move immigration authorities hope will entice more local authorities to provide detention space to the federal government.

New contracts between DHS and local detention facilities will contain fewer requirements than in the past, two Homeland Security officials told The New York Times. The changes are designed to make it easier for local jails to meet federal standards, opening up more bed space as the administration increases the tempo and scope of immigration-related arrests. (RELATED: Homeland Security Drafts Plan To Ramp Up Deportation Force)

Among several special requirements currently in place, jails operators must provide inmates with translation services and information about obtaining medical care, notify federal authorities about of the use of solitary confinement, and supply a staff member to speak on a detainee’s behalf during disciplinary proceedings.

New detention contracts will not include the translation requirement, TheNYT reported. A current rule that a medical professional must respond to a detainee’s treatment request within 24 hours will also be changed to a requirement that jails simply have a standard procedure on providing medical care.

In the past, both municipal jails and privately-run detention centers have had to implement policies to ensure that immigrant detainees are afforded stronger protections than regular convicts. The rationale for the stricter requirements, known collectively as the ICE national detention standards, is that illegal immigrants who haven’t been convicted of other crimes are considered to be “civil” detainees and thus deserving of better treatment than criminal inmates.

New detention contracts won’t employ the ICE national detention standards, TheNYT reported. Instead, standards for detention facilities will come from an 18-page checklist the U.S. Marshals Service uses to inspect jails where federal criminal defendants are held.

DHS officials say Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has already approved the changes and are awaiting senior department leadership approval. Sarah Rodriguez, ICE’s acting deputy press secretary, declined to comment on specific contract modifications but said the agency was “examining a variety of detention models.”

“ICE takes very seriously the health and welfare of those in our care,” she told TheNYT. “As new options are explored, ICE’s commitment to maintaining excellent facilities and providing first-class medical care to those in our custody remains unchanged.”

An internal DHS assessment obtained by The Washington Post this week outlined the department’s preparation for a surge in deportations. According to the document, DHS has identified 33,000 additional beds to house illegal immigrants detained under the administration’s stepped-up border and interior immigration enforcement.

Kevin Landy, who headed ICE’s now-closing Office of Detention and Policy Planning under former President Barack Obama, told the Times that DHS is running the risk of dismantling protections for immigration detainees the previous two administrations built.

“A decision to simultaneously abandon detention standards could have disastrous consequences for the health and safety of these individuals,” he said.

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