Newspaper Deep-Dives  Into Asylum-Seeker Jailings

 
A guard escorts an immigrant detainee through the Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, California, where around 2,000 detainees of Immigration and Customs Enforcement await hearings on their immigration status. John Moore/Getty Images

A guard escorts an immigrant detainee through the Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, California, where around 2,000 detainees of Immigration and Customs Enforcement await hearings on their immigration status.
John Moore/Getty Images

The Colorado-based High Country News has published a deep-dive into how some asylum seekers looking for refuge in the United States are ending up being held in jail for longer times than might be necessary, and hinting that there might be financial incentives to do so. Shadowing once such seeker, the HCN says that “…he, like many of the other asylum-seekers held in the detention center, had passed a ‘credible fear’ interview and had no criminal record. Back in Ghana, [he]  had always imagined America as a country of freedom; a country where basic human rights were protected. Why keep us locked up? he thought. If you don’t want ustell us to go back.”
 
The HCN backgrounds that “… under government policies, asylum seekers who pass their “credible fear” interview should be released from detention if their “identity is sufficiently established, the person poses neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, and no additional factors weigh against release.”
 
But the HCN report details an array of incentives, including financial motives both public and private, for keeping people in jail longer. For example, the paper says, “… in 2012, 80 percent of asylum seekers who passed their credible fear interview were granted parole. By 2015, the number had dropped to 47 percent. The sharp drop coincided with an influx of migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, many of them asylum-seekers. On June 20, 2014, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced a plan to significantly expand detention capacity to detain and quickly deport Central Americans, in an attempt to ‘send a message’ to those seeking asylum or attempting to cross the border illegally.
 

NYT Shines Light On Civil Detainee Labor

The New York Times has published a detailed report on how civil immigration detainees are being used for cheap or free labor in the facilities where they are being held, benefiting not only government agencies but for-profit companies that operate in the facilities. California is one of the states with multiple detention centers, and the report notes that “… near San Francisco, at the Contra Costa West County Detention Facility, immigrants work alongside criminal inmates to cook about 900 meals a day that are packaged and trucked to a county homeless shelter and nearby jails.”
 

The NYT notes that the federal government has become the largest employer of potentially illegal immigrants: “Last year, at least 60,000 immigrants worked in the federal government’s nationwide patchwork of detention centers — more than worked for any other single employer in the country, according to data from United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The cheap labor, 13 cents an hour, saves the government and the private companies $40 million or more a year by allowing them to avoid paying outside contractors the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Some immigrants held at county jails work for free, or are paid with sodas or candy bars, while also providing services like meal preparation for other government institutions.”

The report includes the government response of “… the federal authorities say the program is voluntary, legal and a cost-saver for taxpayers. But immigrant advocates question whether it is truly voluntary or lawful, and argue that the government and the private prison companies that run many of the detention centers are bending the rules to convert a captive population into a self-contained labor force.”
 
This is the kind of story that might illustrate the difference in rights people have in criminal vs. civil cases – it is hard to imagine people being held in de facto labor camps if they faced criminal charges, because a different set of rights kicks in. Read the NYT game-changing story here: Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor