US Continues Mass Deportation of Caribbean Immigrants, Says Rights Group

Human Rights Watch says it has discovered evidence suggesting that the United States federal immigration officials continue to impede Caribbean and other immigrants from accessing lawyers and also extending their time in custody.

In a report released here, Human Rights Watch said this is done despite assurances from immigration authorities that they would curb the practice of transferring detained immigrants to distant detention centres around the country.

The report, which analysed 12 years of federal data, acknowledged that after years in which detainee transfers sharply increased, the numbers started dropping in 2009 when the Obama administration announced a comprehensive overhaul of the detention system.

Immigration officials have said that changing the sprawling detention system will take time.

But Human Rights Watch contended that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that oversees the detention system, was not moving fast enough.

In 2009 immigration officials “began making promises to reduce transfers, and they’ve made those promises repeatedly in a variety of contexts while continuing to drag their feet,” said Alison Parker, director of the United States programme of Human Rights Watch.

She said the immigration agency “seemingly acknowledges it has a problem, while in actuality continues to operate a dysfunctional detention system that cannot operate without multiple transfers.”

The report said that from 1998 through 2010, some 1.1 million immigrants, or about 40 per cent of all detainees, were transferred at least once, and 46 per cent of those were transferred at least twice.

It said about 3,400 were transferred at least 10 times, with one person being moved 66 times during a 13-month period between 2008 and 2009.

Gillian M Christensen, an ICE spokeswoman, said the agency had drafted — but not yet issued — a new policy intended to reduce the transfer of detainees who have ties to a particular city or community.

“By keeping detainees, as often as possible, near the place of apprehension, ICE hopes to minimise disruptions to families, legal services and immigration proceedings,” she said, adding that a reduction in transfers would help cut detention costs and reduce delays in immigration cases.

Human Rights Watch acknowledged that some transfers are “inevitable”, sometimes to avoid overcrowding.

But the group insisted that transfers could be better regulated.

United States immigration officials last week announced that they were teaming up with federal and state prosecutors, the Federal Trade Commission, lawyers’ groups and immigrant advocate organisations in a new nationwide effort to combat what they describe as “an epidemic of schemes by people posing as immigration lawyers.”

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