Advocates warn ICE's move lowering detention standards could have 'disastrous consequences'

A top civil rights organization is condemning the Trump administration’s decision to weaken some immigrant detention standards. “ICE describes its revisions to the [National Detention Standards] as a set of ‘streamlined,’ ‘updated, modernized standards,’’ Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, writes. “In reality, the new NDS weakens critical protections and lowers oversight requirements, which could have disastrous consequences for the health and safety of thousands of people in immigration detention.”

The weakened standards—which the administration quietly rolled out just a few days before Christmas as many folks are tuned out from the news—no longer block detention facility officers from the use of “hog-tying” and “tights restraints” against detained people, Cho said, and medical staff will now be allowed to put detainees who are refusing medical examination or treatment into solitary confinement.

“ICE has also eliminated standards that help to preserve detainees’ basic dignity,” Cho continued. Facilities that contract with the government to jail immigrants won’t have to bother setting up outdoor recreation facilities anymore, “meaning that more detainees could be held for months or even years without time outdoors as they wait for their cases to be heard.” Even affected are how detainees are able to go to the bathroom. “For example, ICE no longer requires that hold rooms have toilets with modesty panels, and removes the ratios for the number of toilets per detainee,” Cho said.

ICE’s atrocious human rights record stretches back years: “an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Detention Watch Network, and National Immigrant Justice Center report found that violations of medical standards played a prominent role in eight deaths in immigration detention facilities from 2010 to 2012,” the American Immigration Lawyers Association said, while a 2019 USA Today investigation found that at least 29 immigrants have died in ICE custody since 2017. 

Community rights groups and congressional Democrats have called for the release of particularly vulnerable populations from harmful ICE detention, including transgender people and people living with HIV. “First: Release is required by congressional directive,” tweeted Heidi Altman, National Immigrant Justice Center policy director. “The report accompanying the 2020 spending bill tells ICE it can only detain trans immigrants if it complies [with] its own 2015 directive. ICE is not in compliance.”

In their statement, the community rights groups say that the appropriations package for the 2020 fiscal year “states that ICE must limit the detention of transgender people to facilities subject to a contract formally modified in accordance to a 2015 ICE memo which sets out basic minimums of care for transgender people.” ICE’s failure to ensure these standards continues to leave trans people in prolonged detention and ongoing risk, when many could be released to sponsors because asylum-seekers don’t have to be locked up to begin with. “The detention of immigrants is a cruel and harmful practice, which has only grown worse under the Trump administration,” Cho wrote. 

“We cannot allow this administration to lock up more immigrants in a system that is already so broken,” she concluded. “We must demand Congress call for a moratorium on detention, reduce the number of detention beds, cut funding for Trump’s massive deportation force, and reject all funding and proposals for any new plans to jail immigrants and families. Instead, Congress should shift funding and resources away from detention and toward community-based alternatives to detention and access to counsel.”

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