Has Obama’s Immigrant Detention Reform been Derailed Already?

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Immigrant rights activists rejoiced last month when the Obama Administration announced August 6 that it was ready to start fixing the nation’s ailing immigration detention system. Right now we have a crazy quilt of county and privately run prisons. The government very desperately needs to centralize its management and oversight of these far flung detention centers so that immigrants don’t languish in jail for years, or die from maltreatment or lack of medical care in poorly run facilities.The nonprofit Migration Policy Institute released a very interesting report today questioning whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement which oversees the detention facilities is up to the task of overhauling the system. The number of  detainees has nearly doubled since 2001 from 209,000 detainees per year to 378,582 in 2008. Their findings indicate that ICE doesn’t  even have enough information about its own day to day operations to put its house in order.ICE’s startling revelation last month that 10 people had died in its detention facilities between 2004 and 2007 which the agency was not aware of illustrates the Institute’s point. The unaccounted for deaths only became apparent to ICE after agency officials combed through their files in response to an open records request made by the American Civil Liberties Union.Now the announcement this week that Dr. Dora Schriro, who had been tasked with overseeing the overhaul for the Department of Homeland Security, is leaving the Obama Administration seems like another warning sign that a remedy won’t come anytime soon. According to a New York Times story she will be taking a job as the Commissioner of Corrections for New York City to be closer to a sick family member.Schriro, 59, who formerly ran the Arizona Department of Corrections under then Governor Janet Napolitano (now Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano) was appointed just 8 months ago as Special Advisor on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Detention & Removal.  On August 6, Schriro was picked by Napolitano to become the director of the Office of Detention Policy and Planning. Her task  was a 6-month review of the nation’s immigrant detention facilities and recommendations on how to fix the  burgeoning immigrant detention crisis.At the moment there doesn’t seem to be anyone at hand to take Schriro’s place. Matt Chandler, spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said in an email that DHS and ICE will “begin a national search to identify Dr. Schriro’s permanent replacement as head of the ICE Office of Detention Policy and Planning immediately.”At least before Schriro heads to New York she will deliver her 6-month review to Napolitano and ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton. My guess is they’ll have to double the salary of whoever takes Schriro’s place, because it’s going to take a Herculean effort to overhaul this system.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.