Monday, September 27, 2010

A Billion Dollars Here ...

If people really wanted to trim dollars from the federal budget, they might want to take a look at what it costs to hold illegal immigrants in detention centers around the country. These are people who are not guilty of any crime beyond being in the country without the requisite papers, yet they are housed for months, even years, while the federal immigration authorities decide what to do with them. What's worse is that these people are held without any actual access to legal counsel or even to their own families, as this brief editorial in the Los Angeles Times points out.

A 2005 Migration Policy Institute study found that the odds of success double when detainees seeking to become lawful permanent citizens have attorneys. For those seeking asylum, the odds of success increase sixfold. Also, in many cases attorneys succeed not by helping detainees remain in the United States but by assisting efforts to speed deportation proceedings, freeing them to return home.

Yet a recent report by the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center found that 80% of detainees are held in facilities whose location makes it difficult to find and retain an attorney. The detention center in El Centro, for example, has more detainees than any other in the country, but because of its location, they have the least access to attorneys. At more than a quarter of the nation's 300 facilities, there is no access at all to legal aid from the nongovernmental organizations that provide low-cost and pro bono attorneys for detainees, and the federal government's legal orientation programs— which are not an adequate substitute for an attorney but are nevertheless of much assistance — are available in only 17% of facilities. Lastly, rules regulating telephone access to attorneys are cumbersome to the point of hindering access.
[Emphasis added]

Why we are imprisoning people who have committed no crime is hard to understand. That we are doing so without giving them practical access to due process is unconscionable. Those arguments don't apparently hold water anymore, so perhaps an appeal to the frugal might work.

It costs the federal taxpayer over $2 billion a year to feed and house the immigrants. Why not place them in "house arrest" type programs? Why not give them real legal assistance so that hearings on their cases can be handled expeditiously and if there are no justifiable reasons for their being here they can be returned to their nations quickly? Why have them locked up in federal detention centers for so long?

That's something real immigration reform should address. Of course, that item isn't on the table right now. We have more important problems to address, like how to justify making permanent the tax cuts to the wealthy.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do we do it? Practice, for the time the unwashed masses dare look about and not like what they see.

12:04 PM  

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