An unacceptable answer

The detention system for undocumented immigrants remains outside any public scrutiny because federal authorities are refusing to turn over documents about the status of tens of thousands of detainees. Having a prison system that is beyond this scrutiny is unacceptable.

Five years ago, under the Freedom of Information Act, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sought details about people detained in immigration jails.

The ACLU and federal Judge Richard Berman are expecting the release of documents regarding more than 22,000 detainees. However, federal authorities said that this was “not feasible” and proposed to submit a reliable sample of 385 files within a 15-month period.

This answer is outrageous and lacks any credibility. The same judge recently expressed his frustration when he complained that the government has not produced any documents since he issued a court order in September, and that the same authorities said it would take up to seven years to produce 100 files.

The way that detained undocumented immigrants get treated, outside the normal legal protection of the U.S. court system, is unacceptable. The secretiveness with which transfers are handled and the situation in general violate detainees’ human rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that undocumented immigrants could not be detained longer than six months. But an Associated Press analysis in 2009 found that hundreds of people had been detained for more than a year despite having no criminal records.

There are reasons to believe, between the private prison network and jam-packed immigration courts, that a number of people without criminal records have been detained for much longer than six months without any justification.

The answer the authorities gave to Judge Berman is a mockery. It demonstrates a system that is more interested in providing customers to private prisons than in what is fair, reasonable and lawful, both for detainees and for their families.