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30,000 immigrants detained in US

The detention of hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year in the United States represents a violation of human rights, Amnesty International USA said in a report on Wednesday, Deborah Charles reports.

world Updated: Mar 26, 2009 01:09 IST
Deborah Charles

The detention of hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year in the United States represents a violation of human rights, Amnesty International USA said in a report on Wednesday.

On an average day, the rights group said, more than 30,000 immigrants are in detention facilities. That’s triple the number that were in custody a decade ago, according to Amnesty’s report “Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA.”

“America should be outraged by the scale of human rights abuses occurring within its own borders,” said Larry Cox, director of Amnesty International USA.

“The United States has long been a country of immigrants, and whether they have been here five years or five generations, their human rights are to be respected.”

Amnesty said more than 300,000 people are detained by US immigration officials each year. They include asylum seekers, torture survivors, victims of human trafficking, longtime legal permanent residents and parents of US citizen children.

“The use of detention as a tool to combat unauthorised migration falls short of international human rights law,” the report said.

According to Amnesty, tens of thousands of people languish in American immigration detention facilities every year — including a number of US citizens — without receiving a hearing to determine whether their detention is warranted.

Amnesty called on the US government to ensure that all immigrants and people seeking asylum in the United States who have been detained receive a hearing to determine whether their detention is necessary.

Sernata Reynolds, Amnesty USA’s policy director for Refugee and Migrant Rights, said U.S. officials stepped up detentions after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Long wait for detention hearings

“Although the law permitted it, it hadn’t been used in the way that it was,” she said in an interview. “Then, in the climate of fear, it was exponentially growing, and continues to grow. This year ... they expect to detain 400,000 people.”

“No one comes close to detaining the amount of people that the United States does,” she said. “I don’t know of another country that detains hundreds of thousands of people as a normal policy every year.”

According to the report, there were about 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States as of January 2007. The top five countries of origin were Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, the Philippines and China.

The Department of Homeland Security can detain people at the border or during raids if it suspects them of an immigration violation.

People detained at the border are not entitled to a review of their detention by an immigration judge, Amnesty said. Those apprehended inside the United States have the right to appear before a judge, but the wait can be long. “US citizens and lawful permanent residents have been incorrectly subject to mandatory detention and have spent months or years behind bars before being able to prove they are not deportable from the US,” it said.

Under international law, detention should only be used in exceptional circumstances, must be justified in each individual case and must be subject to judicial review.

Amnesty said many of the immigrants who are arrested are unable to be freed on bond because the amount is set too high for them to pay.

The report said US citizens and lawful permanent residents have been incorrectly subject to mandatory detention with no right to a bond hearing before a judge and spent months or years behind bars before proving they are not deportable.