Petition Closed
Petitioning Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano

Make Detention Standards Enforceable and Use Alternatives to Detention


After being sworn into office, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued a series of Action Directives designed to review and evaluate the five primary missions of the Department. Please write or call Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and urge her to address the current state of immigration detention by making meaningful use of alternatives to detention and by ensuring that conditions in detention are humane and meet international standards.

Amnesty International is calling on the Department of Homeland Security to make U.S. immigration detention standards enforceable, and to use alternatives to detention in a meaningful way. If the government chooses to detain an immigrant, that person must be held in conditions that meet both domestic and international standards, and before a person is detained, all available alternatives to detention must be considered in each individual case.

Letter to
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano
I am writing to you today because I am outraged about the state of immigration detention in this country. International human rights standards require that detention only be used in exceptional circumstances and that conditions of detention be humane and not compromise detainees' physical and mental well-being.

Alternatives to detention such as reporting requirements or an affordable bond should always be explicitly considered before resorting to detention. Formal programs that offer alternatives to detention have been shown to be effective and significantly less expensive than holding people in immigration detention in the United States. While the average cost of detaining an immigrant is $95 per person/per day, a study of supervised release conducted by the Vera Institute in New York yielded a 91 per cent appearance rate at an estimated cost of just $12 per person per day. ICE's own reporting on its Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) indicates a 99 percent appearance rate at immigration hearings, and a 95 percent appearance rate at final removal hearings. Despite the effectiveness of these alternatives to detention programs in ensuring compliance with immigration procedures, the use of immigration detention continues to rise at the expense of the United States' human rights obligations.

In addition, conditions in detention for those who must be held do not meet the U.S.'s own standards of treatment. As you know, the standards that govern the conditions in detention centers are not enforceable. As a result, it is difficult for people in detention or their advocates to seek remedy of violations of those standards. The failure to provide adequate health care -- including mental health services -- has resulted in over eighty deaths in the past decade. Many people in immigration detention do not have a lawyer, but also lack adequate access to information on their rights and how to make their own legal claims. Amnesty International discovered that DHS uses excessive shackling when not justified, and even working telephones can be hard to come by for people in detention.

These conditions not only fail to comply with international standards and ICE guidelines for the conditions of detention, they also strip the individual of their fundamental human right to be treated with dignity. And these problems are not confined to one or two poorly-run centers, but instead signal a fundamental flaw in the entire detention system.

I urge you to ensure that alternative non-custodial measures, such as reporting requirements or an affordable bond, are always explicitly considered before resorting to detention. Reporting requirements should not be unduly onerous, invasive or difficult to comply with, especially for families with children and those of limited financial means.

For those who must remain in detention, the conditions in which they are held must be humane, dignified, and safe. There is an urgent need to ensure that all facilities housing immigration detainees comply with international human rights law and standards. Ensuring that detention standards are legally binding and creating a mechanism for independent oversight of their implementation would better protect the human rights of immigrants in detention in the United States.

Thank you for your attention to these important issues.