Over half of all immigrant detainees are being transferred to different detention facilities, often in locations far away from their families and lawyers. Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing the extent and ramifications of such transfers.
More non-citizens than ever before are currently being held in detention facilities. Some of these facilities are run by ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and some are state or local facilities that have contracted a portion of their space to ICE. Approximately 370,000 non-citizens are currently estimated to be held in detention, more than double the number from ten (10) years ago. As a result of increased detentions and overcrowding, a growing number of detainees are being transferred to remote areas without notice to their lawyers or families. According to the Human Rights Watch report, the states most likely to receive detainee transfers are Texas, California, and Louisiana.
Immigrants in detention have the right to be represented by an attorney of their choosing and to present evidence in their favor at deportation hearings. This becomes increasingly difficult when a detainee is in a remote location, far away from his or her lawyer and witnesses that could testify in the case. Detainees charged with crimes under the US criminal justice system have a right to stand trial in the jurisdiction where the crime was allegedly committed. Immigrant detainees have no such right. Hardly any protections exist to prevent ICE from transferring detainees. Transferring detainees may also affect the substantive law that applies to their case. Federal jurisdictions differ on what specifically makes someone eligible for relief from removal or asylum, for example. The location detainees are transferred to and eventually tried in can make a huge difference in their cases.
The amount of multiple transfers is also on the rise. Many detainees are transferred to three or four different locations during the course of detention. With no notice to counsel or family members, it is increasingly easy for detainees to get lost in the system with no resources to help them. The report cites immigration attorneys who are constantly “losing their clients” as they are transferred without anyone’s knowledge. The transfers result in increased costs, delays for immigration proceedings, and prolonged detention for the detainees.