Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Some welcome modifications to the US system of immigration detention:

The Obama administration is looking to convert hotels and nursing homes into immigration detention centers and to build two model detention centers from scratch as it tries to transform the way the government holds people it is seeking to deport.

These and other initiatives, described in an interview on Monday by Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, are part of the administration’s effort to revamp the much-criticized detention system, even as it expands the enforcement programs that send most people accused of immigration violations to jails and private prisons. The cost, she said, would be covered by greater efficiencies in the detention and removal system, which costs $2.4 billion annually to operate and holds about 380,000 people a year.

“The paradigm was wrong,” Ms. Napolitano said of the nation’s patchwork of rented jail space, which has more than tripled in size since 1995, largely through Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts for cells more restrictive, and expensive, than required for a population that is largely not dangerous. Among those in detention on Sept. 1, 51 percent were considered felons, and of those, 11 percent had committed violent crimes.

“Serious felons deserve to be in the prison model,” Ms. Napolitano said, “but there are others. There are women. There are children.”

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