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Philip S. Anderson, Immediate Past President
American Bar Association

When allegations of mistreatment of Immigration and Naturalization Service detainees makes news, the INS quickly promises a thorough investigation. But when public attention fades, so does INS resolve.

Last year Jackson County, Fla., jailers electrically wired a body-sized police shield, used in riot protection, to punish naked immigrant prisoners tied to a concrete slab. After being reported in the news, the 34 immigrants there were transferred out.

The INS promised an investigation and punishment. The investigation fell apart after eyewitnesses were deported without being interviewed. Those who allegedly tortured detainees were neither charged nor punished.

A hollow INS promise.

For the past two years the American Bar Association has met with INS, Department of Justice and White House officials asking that 17,000 immigrant detainees have access to justice.

While the INS agreed to standards in its own facilities, it steadfastly has refused to extend those standards to local facilities, where 60 percent of all detainees are warehoused.

The ABA wants the bare minimum that anyone, citizen or non-citizen, should expect in our system of justice:

  • Access to a lawyer
  • The ability of detainees to make calls to their counsel
  • Access to a legal library, which is important because many detainees are in isolated areas without immigration lawyers.

The INS has proposed watered-down local standards, which lack specificity and provide no enforceability, and ensure that the national patchwork of policies continues, where the happenstance of location determines protections and rights for individual detainees.

Every day detainees are denied access to lawyers, telephones and legal rights information. They are routinely transferred far from their families or lawyers. If they have been lucky enough to find an immigration lawyer, detainees often are unable to place make or receive calls from their lawyer, so critical for their legal representation. We have a promise in this country. We are a country of laws, of justice, of fair treatment and of constitutional guarantees.

The INS promised the same standards for detainees in local facilities as in INS facilities. The failure to implement standards for local jails, means the INS has broken yet another promise.

The INS must extend these standards. Without them, we become like the brutal countries we so often criticize.

Editors Note: For verification, please contact Lori Boguslawski in the ABA Division for Media Relations and Communication Services, at 312/988-6147.