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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy

ICE Blacklisting Volunteer Community Visiting Groups

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One of the most frustrating aspects of the country's immigration detention system is how Immigration and Customs Enforcement deliberately tries to isolate detained individuals by making it difficult for them to have contact with friends, family and legal counsel. The way this has been accomplished is to move detainees to facilities far from their homes - often to completely different parts of the country.

Community groups in the areas near detention facilities have tried to help by setting up visitation programs where volunteers go to detention facilities to spend time with individuals who often are only guilty of immigration violations. Now after some of the groups have criticized ICE's management of its detention facilities, the agency is retaliating by barring visitors. According to Sarah Shourd of Solitary Watch, who writes on Huffington Post:

Victoria Mena, coordinator of the Friends of Adelanto Detainees visitation program, arrived on Friday, July 26th, at the Adelanto Detention Center in the Mojave Desert. For weeks she'd been visiting and checking in on Mr. S*, an immigrant father of two U.S. citizens, on days when his family was unable to make the trip to the desert. Without an explanation, ICE informed Mena that day that her name was on a no access list, and that she was forbidden to visit anyone at the facility.

"The purpose of the Friends of Adelanto Detainees program is to end the isolation that the men at this immigration detention facility are going through. The guys at this center are far away from their family and friends, and have no real connection to the outside world. Some are in really dark places, and it means a lot to have someone to talk to, to share an hour with. We saw the impact it had on the faces of those we visited with," Mena said.

Mena's visitation program is part of a national visitation movement, and her program is similar to the 27 other immigration detention visitation programs in 14 states. The movement to end isolation has grown from just a handful of visitor volunteers with four programs in 2009 to over 700 volunteers across the country today. This rapid growth has been in large part due to the support of a national organization, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).

Recognizing the visitation movement's growing power, ICE began to crack down on three Southern California visitation programs, Friends of Adelanto Detainees and two Orange County programs. CIVIC's co-executive director, Christina Fialho, recently wrote a blog post on the Huffington Post criticizing the lack of leadership and independent oversight at ICE. Less than 48-hours after the Huffington Post published Fialho's blog, ICE suspended the three visitation programs operating at the Adelanto Detention Center, the James Musick Facility, and the Santa Ana City Jail.

I'll be interested in hearing how ICE defends its conduct here. But I suspect now that this has gotten exposure in the media, we'll see a quick reversal. Which is, sadly, how things often work at DHS.

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Updated 08-15-2013 at 08:39 PM by GSiskind

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