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Previously confidential reports from the American Bar Association on conditions at immigrant detention centers across the U.S. were analyzed as part of a scathing new study faulting the government for failing to meet its own standards at those facilities. The report released Tuesday, called “A Broken System,” was a collaboration between the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU of Southern California and law firm Holland & Knight. Attorneys and advocates scoured confidential reports on detention center site visits from the ABA, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The report concludes that the government has not complied with the immigrant detention standards adopted in 2000 on issues ranging from visitation rights and telephone access to detainee transfers and attorneys. It also concludes that the lack of compliance with stated standards carry no penalties. “There is no question that the nation’s immigrant detention system is broken to its core,” the report reads. “The findings in this report, as well as those recently documented by various government and independent agencies, reveal pervasive and extreme violations of the government’s own detention standards as well as fundamental violations of basic human rights and notions of dignity.” Dora Schriro, a special adviser to the homeland security secretary, told the Associated Press that the study was thorough but outdated. She said that the government has since revamped its inspection procedures and detention standards. Ranjana Natarajan, a co-author of the report and an attorney formerly with the ACLU of Southern California, acknowledged that several years have passed since the 2005 site visits were conducted. But she said that ICE has not modified its policies and practices since that time, and that recent evidence shows that immigration detainees are still subject to harsh conditions. “If (ICE) is so proud of the changes they have made, the reports would show that, so why not make those reports available to the public?” Natarajan said. “They should put them on their Web site.” She said that accessibility to information about conditions at immigrant detention centers has long been a problem. “Very little information is available to the public,” she said. “Transparency promotes accountability and oversight. We really would like the Department of Homeland Security to come clean and open up the books to the public.” Natarajan noted that ICE has started to make information on detention facilities available on its Web site as a result of litigation and requests through the Freedom of Information Act, but said more is needed. The ABA has been sending teams of volunteer attorneys to detention facilities since 2001 as part of its Detention Standards Implementation Initiative. The visits are intended to ensure the consistent implementation of detention standards, which the ABA helped develop in 2000. However, the ABA and the UNHCR have been granted access to the detention centers on the condition that their findings not be made public, and are released only to ICE. The documents analyzed for recent report were obtained through court-ordered discovery in the case of Orantes-Hernandez v. Holder — a case that successfully stopped the government from ending immigration procedures meant to protect Salvadoran asylum seekers. A group of pro bono attorneys from Holland & Knight became involved in the effort through their work on Orantes-Hernandez v. Holder, said Christopher Nugent, pro bono senior counsel at the firm. “It’s been a labor of love for several years,” Nugent said of the firm’s work to review the various standards compliance reports. “We had a team of over 20 attorneys and paralegals who donated 21,000 hours to go through 18,000 pages of reports to identify deficiencies in the facilities. It was a pro bono project that morphed from litigation into an advocacy project.” After reviewing the documents, the Holland & Knight team turned its findings over to the National Immigration Law Center and the ACLU of Southern California. Both Nugent and Natarajan said the ABA and UNHCR standards compliance reports were more thorough than those conducted by ICE, and often included interviews with detainee — something the ICE evaluation did not have. “The ABA reports were 50-plus pages each. They were the lengthiest,” Nugent said. “With ICE, their reports were like checking off boxes. They may find violations, but there would be no sanctions.” Those involved with the “A Broken System” report said they hope its finding will help spur movement on proposed legislation to boost oversight and enforceable standards for immigrant detention. But that goal ran into a hurdle this week when the Department of Homeland Security rejected a federal court petition by advocates and former detainees to adopt enforceable immigration detention rules. The agency concluded that developing new rules would be too time consuming and would not provide the flexibility the current system offers.

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