A coalition of immigration detainee advocates on Friday filed a federal administrative complaint claiming Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers in Louisiana and Mississippi released immigrants against agency policy in areas remote and dangerous conditions with no resources to contact their families or organize transport.
Defenders say the practice “seriously undermines the well-being and safety of those released.”
“We have had several cases – at least three cases – where an inmate was not allowed to call his family. In one case, [a released individual] disappeared for 3 days without being able to contact his family or his lawyer, ”said Frances Kelley, a volunteer with one of the 17 organizations that lodged the complaint.
The complaint came after the release Thursday of about 80 Haitian immigrants from Jackson Correctional Facility, who were dropped off in downtown Shreveport. KTBS reported two buses dropped off groups of men and women at the SporTran intermodal terminal. SporTran sources were told 17 more buses would arrive, but an ICE spokesperson did not provide more information on specific dates or times.
It is not clear at what stage of the immigration process those released are, although it appears that some may be asylum seekers. Several women who spoke to The Lens on Friday said they were afraid to return to Haiti for fear of violence. It is also not immediately obvious why this wave of exits is happening now.
The complaint was filed with the Oversight Bureau of the US Department of Homeland Security, Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL). This office opens the complaint, then sends it to the Office of the Inspector General, which has the option of either keeping and investigating it, or returning it to the CRCL.
The complaint states that detention centers are required to provide immigrants with “free and safe transportation to the nearest public transport center for each person released from detention, before the last transport from that transport center is scheduled for. the day “.
But advocates say these policies are not followed in violation of the ICE’s National Performance-Based Detention Standards (PBNDS), established in 2011.
The PBNDS governs all detention centers in Louisiana except the River Correctional Center. It is governed by the National Detention Standards (NDS) 2019, which has similar language regarding post-release responsibilities to PBNDS 2011.
the PBNDS standards state that facilities more than a mile from public transport “transport detainees to local bus / train / metro stations before the time the last bus / train leaves those stations for the day.”
They also demand that “before his release, the detainee be informed of the upcoming release and be given the opportunity to make a free phone call to facilitate release arrangements.”
However, “not a single one of the nine ICE detention centers in Louisiana or Mississippi is within walking distance of public transportation,” advocates say. And often, individuals have little or no information about their upcoming release, and are unable to contact their loved ones.
“If you don’t get on this bus, you will stay here forever”
Frances Kelley, a volunteer with the Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention, a grassroots organization formed in the fall of 2019, says these dangerous releases have been happening for over a year and a half.
“The main focus of the complaint is how ICE handles post-release in general. They are legally required to transport people to the nearest transport center if the detention center is located more than one kilometer and a half … They are supposed to provide information to people about the resources available in the area, and they are supposed to allow them to talk to their families when they are released so that they can help them organize their trip . In many cases, they don’t, ”she said.
Kelley said sometimes even a phone call isn’t offered.
“We have had immigrants who said they were rushed onto a bus,” she said. “We said to one of them, ‘If you don’t get on that bus, you’ll stay here forever.’
She said that even in cases where those released have the option of contacting a relative, a single phone call is often not enough to reliably arrange a trip.
“When [detainees] have been treated and are sitting in the lobby [of the detention center] at night, they are not allowed to make phone calls to see if their family is on their way, so they can be stranded for hours. The staff do not speak their language so there is no way for them to get help.
The PBNDS standards also have additional requirements to manage the release of persons with disabilities – “the facilities must provide transportation to any detainee who is not reasonably able to walk to public transport due to their age, disability, illness, mental health or other vulnerability “.
These requirements were not always met either.
“In one of these cases, a [disabled] the man was dropped off at the Monroe bus station. . . without money and without phone. Kelley said. “Fortunately, someone was released with him from the facility who was able to help him contact his family.”
“They just dropped us off and they left”
The Lens spoke to a group of immigrants from Haiti who were released from the Jackson Parish Correctional Center in Jonesboro on Friday. Thursday afternoon they were dropped off in downtown Shreveport.
“I thought they were going to take us to a place where they would facilitate contact with our family members so that they could have us. . . When we got to the terminal we thought we were going to be somewhere with wifi access or a hotel to contact our family. But we had no minutes to call [them]. . . They just dropped us off and left. a woman described by a translator.
None of the women in the group speak English or Spanish. “We used signs with people,” she said.
Fortunately, a station worker who seemed to know about these drops helped the women get in touch with Louisiana advocates for detained immigrants. “[He] told us that there was an organization that could help us.
“If Frances hadn’t shown up,” she continued, “I have no idea what I would have done because we didn’t know anyone here. . . We were hungry and had nothing to eat, and Frances came and gave us food and a hotel – I didn’t have any money, personally, so I couldn’t have done all of that. . . . I thank God for this organization which has helped us a lot.
“People must be released safely and reunited with their families, relatives or sponsors. But ICE intends to make this process as difficult as possible, putting people in dangerous situations, ”Layla Razavi, deputy legal director of Freedom for Immigrants, told The Lens in an email Saturday.
“ICE should enable people to communicate their travel plans with their families and provide safe transportation to airports and bus stations. The government must also get to the root of this problem and stop subjecting immigrants to the dehumanizing immigration detention system in the first place. “
Asked about these releases, an ICE spokesperson told The Lens: “In line with DHS-led Civil Immigration Enforcement Priorities, ICE is focusing its limited resources on national security, safety and security. borders and public safety. ICE will continue to meet its obligations to enforce the laws of the United States to enhance the safety and security of our communities. “