[JURIST] The US plans to implement large-scale changes to its immigration detention system, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] announced [press release] Thursday. According to ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton [official profile], the goal is to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in jails and jail-like facilities, to improve the living conditions of detainees, and to make sure the detainees' rights are not violated. To this end, Morton announced the creation of an Office of Detention Policy and Planning (ODPP), which will be charged with overseeing the location and operation of detention facilities, ensuring that detainees have access to health care, and taking steps to prevent the persecution of detainees. Morton also announced that the controversial T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center [ICE fact sheet] would cease to hold families, and proposed turning it into a center for women only. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] called the closure of the family detention facility "extremely welcome and long overdue," but claimed [press release] that the measures announced Thursday "failed to address a number of holes in the system." Similarly, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) [advocacy website], which last month issued a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] criticizing ICE, said [press release] Thursday's announced measures "are indicative of movement toward better protecting due process rights of detainees." However, the same statement said the measures "closely resemble policies already in place, and are insufficient." The plan is expected to be implemented over several years [WSJ report].
Since its creation in 2003, ICE has been criticized for many of the methods it uses to capture and detain illegal immigrants. Last month, the Immigration Justice Clinic [academic website] at the Cardozo School of Law released a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] saying that immigration agents have committed numerous constitutional violations during raids on immigrants' homes. In February, the clinic reported that ICE documents [text, PDF] obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [5 USC § 552 text; JURIST news archive] show that Bush administration immigration enforcement tactics were both overly-aggressive and ineffective [JURIST report]. Earlier this month, the US Department of Homeland Security [official website] announced changes to immigration policies [press release; JURIST report] for state and local agencies. The new policies create uniform standards for local agencies that will require them to pursue all criminal charges leading to an immigrant's arrest prior to initiating removal proceedings.