Non-Deportable Immigrants Languish in Alabama Detention Center at Taxpayers’ Expense

Immigration violations are civil, not criminal infractions. But for many non-criminal immigrant detainees living alongside criminal inmates at the Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama, that distinction carries little meaning. Far removed from families and legal orientation programs, many of the 350 immigrant detainees housed at the Etowah Detention Center have received deportation orders, but for various reasons cannot be deported. Many are serving the maximum allowable time in detention, and are doing so under poor living conditions at a great cost to American taxpayers. In fact, a recent report by the Women’s Refugee Commission reveals that ICE continues to operate facilities like Etowah that fail to meet even its own detention standards.

The Commission’s new report, “Politicized Neglect: A Report from Etowah County Detention Center,” found that Etowah detainees “have final orders of removal but cannot or will not ultimately be removed, often due to the lack of diplomatic relations between the United States and their home country or because an individual is stateless.” Some reported being told by ICE that even though they could not ultimately be deported, they would still have to spend either 90 or 180 days at Etowah before being released. And some reported being detained for even longer.

“Everyone we interviewed, as well as those who wrote to us after our visit, had been at Etowah for several months, and in some cases had been detained there for over one year,” the report states.

Federal law entitles immigration detainees to a legal review of their detention after 90 days, and again after a second 90-day period. After six months, it is only under exceptional circumstances, and with continuous judicial review, that detainees may remain locked up. A 2009 analysis of ICE data, however, showed that of the 32,000 detainees in the United States at that time, 4,170 had been detained for six months or longer, and 1,334 for one year or more.

Ordinarily, such long periods of detainment are often the result of protracted legal proceedings. But according to the report, many of the Etowah detainees had either already received final orders of deportation, or languished in the remote prison with no way to navigate the legal intricacies of their case or ensure their timely release. “Those who are trying to handle their immigration cases without a lawyer often struggle,” the report says.

Furthermore, the report found that Etowah Detention Center is rife with abuse and poor living conditions. Detainees reported lack of basic medical care, uninvestigated violence, and inadequate and insufficient food. According to the report:

One detainee, after having reported an assault, told us he was given only ibuprofen to help alleviate pain. Another detainee, despite having been the victim of a rape that he reported at a previous facility and to a psychiatrist, received no further counseling and said he had repeatedly been denied an HIV test.

And then there’s the cost. To detain a single immigrant costs $166 daily, or $60,590 annually. That means American taxpayers spend approximately $5.5 million to detain an average of 33,330 immigrants every single day, and over $2 billion annually. Clearly, detaining non-criminal, non-deportable immigrants for as long as legally allowable is a waste of tax dollars and does nothing to make communities safer.

And although the Etowah Detention Center has made a series of reforms to better comply with ICE detention standards as of March 2012, the Women’s Refugee Committee’s report ultimately finds that “no amount of reform at Etowah can justify its continued use for ICE detainees,” many of whom ICE knows are not deportable. Given DHS’s promise of a detention system overhaul, one would think that alternatives to detention for many of these inmates would be a no-brainer.

Photo by trekandshoot.

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  • Victoria Sethunya

    Too bad to hear that there are human beings held hostage because they are not “deportable”. Perhaps they have a right to be human and live productive lives.

    There is something to be said about “detainees” and being “held hostage” and about human beings who become victims of the systems that ought to protect them.

    What is the rationale behind keeping behind bars those who are not criminals and are not deportable? Are they waiting for the government to create laws in order to process their cases? But why would these people been held up to start?

    As a matter of fact it makes sense for those in ICE custody to suffer all kinds of injustices and cruelty because they can always dab ICE on the woulds or ICE would have no place in the system.

    I guess when you call something ICE it has to abide by its chilling effects because to be otherwise would take those in ICE in a warm place where they are not intended to be.

    Hold people in custody who are not deportable. Impose them to harm. Keep them out of humanity. That is how someone makes a living. So, let us keep it going!

  • Pingback: Immigration News Stories – April 24

  • jenny martino

    my husband is in etowah county jail and they are holding past his 6 moths he has been for 9 months now.i have not seen him in one year we have children together and they don’t know their daddy.these people don’t care if they are breaking family’s apart.

  • J.T. Hargis

    I know a detainee from Nigeria. He fled from Nigeria because Muslims attacked and threatened his life because he is a Christian. Nigeria has much violence by
    Muslims against Christians.
    The detainee I know is a good Christian man with many talents and abilities that
    could be fruitfully used here in the U.S. If released here and given a Green Card,
    he could be a productive taxpayer instead of a burden on taxpayers who are having
    to pay to keep him in ICE. He is NOT a drug runner!
    Unfortunately, he does not have the money to hire an attorney who could
    probably gain his right to stay in the U.S.
    How sad for him and for many others like him! How unfair is our treatment of\
    immigrants. Those who flee to the U.S. should be given asylum and not treated
    like they are drug runners!

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