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A convoy of three white buses cruises down Concord Road in York County, Pa., heading toward York County Prison. The buses have no overt signs of ownership. Their windows � covered so the world cannot see in nor the riders see out, protected by thick steel grating � suggest something out of the ordinary. The buses slow, and one by one they make a right turn into the prison grounds. The engines growl as the buses once again accelerate, each emitting a grey cloud into the clear morning air. The buses stop in front of one of the entrances to prison. The doors of the buses open, and one handcuffed and shackled man after another is led out of the bus. The men share little in common. Their cultures are dissimilar. They come from countries all over the world, speak different languages and eat different food. Some have arrived in the United States within the last few days; others have lived here for decades. But on this day they are all united by fear and confusion, wondering where they are and what will happen to them. Some worry about children left behind; others think about the hope of the American dream, slipping, inexorably, through their fingers. The men are taken into the prison to be processed. When the last man has passed into the prison, a heavy steel door slams shut behind him. The men have just entered the world of immigration detention. The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement accuses immigration detainees of being deportable from the United States. Any person who is not a U.S. citizen can be rendered deportable if he or she violates civil immigration law. Common examples of violations resulting in deportability include entering the United States without authorization, staying in the United States longer than is permitted by a visa, working without authorization and engaging in criminal conduct. If the ICE believes that a person is in the United States in violation of immigration laws, it can initiate processes called removal proceedings to expel that person from U.S. territory. Removal proceedings are adversarial hearings presided over by an administrative judge who is an employee of the U.S. Justice Department. The judge makes factual and legal findings and decides if an alien is permitted to remain in the United States. Removal proceedings can take a matter of weeks, if the alien agrees to leave the United States, or years if a case proceeds through the entire appeal process. To the dismay of many legal advocates, the ICE is increasingly detaining people it places in removal proceedings, including arriving aliens who have come to the United States to seek asylum. Detention of individuals the ICE accuses of being removable from the United States has increased dramatically over the last decade and has become a core component of ICE’s enforcement strategy. The increased use of detention is attributable to a significant change in the immigration law made in 1996 that now requires the mandatory detention of all immigrants in removal proceedings who are accused of having been convicted of certain crimes. Many of the crimes are very minor, like shoplifting or jumping a turnstile at a subway station. The increase in detention is also a consequence of a more generalized toughened enforcement posture in the wake of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the current political debates regarding immigration reform. Since 1994, the average daily number of immigration detainees nationwide has increased from 5,532 to almost 30,000 today. This trend will apparently continue, since Congress has authorized 40,000 additional bed spaces by 2010 and given the ICE a $250 million budget for bed spaces in 2008. This national trend is reflected in statistics regarding Pennsylvania detention facilities. As this article goes to press, there are more than 2,000immigration detainees in county and federal facilities throughout Pennsylvania, including Lackawanna, Berks, Pike, Snyder, Clinton and York counties. There are almost 700 detainees at the York County Prison alone. In addition, in Berks County, just one hour outside of Philadelphia, there is a facility where immigrant families are detained. It is one of only two such facilities in the nation. Almost all immigration detainees held in Pennsylvania prisons have their cases adjudicated by immigration judges who hear cases in courtrooms built in the York County Prison. The court’s workload has increased dramatically over the last three years, further reflecting the increase in immigration detainees in Pennsylvania. The number of new cases opened by the York court increased from 2,671 in 2005 to 3,365 in 2006 to 4,765 in 2007. In addition, a number of detainees are also held at York County Prison for days or weeks prior to being transferred to other facilities throughout the United States. The increased use of detention causes concern among advocates. Detention has a deleterious effect on the ability of immigrants to manifest defenses against removal. Detention limits access to legal counsel. Because removal hearings are civil proceedings, courts have held that there is no right to appointed counsel. The immigration judges’ statement to all respondents that they have a “right to an attorney at no expense to the government” is cold comfort to the vast majority of detainees who cannot afford to hire an attorney. Moreover, the detention centers and prisons are usually built in rural areas where there are few private attorneys and even fewer non-profit organizations. Detention also presents other obstacles. The mere reality of being imprisoned in a jail is more than many people can bear. Many people who have a legitimate claim to remain in the United States simply give up and leave the country in order to get out of jail. Moreover, it is difficult for detainees to gather evidence to support their cases. Since no interpreters are provided outside of court, it can be difficult or impossible for a detainee to fill out required forms if he or she does not read and write in English. In the near term, immigration detention is likely to continue to increase, creating a concomitant increase in the need for volunteers and pro bono representation. Benjamin D. Yerger is the managing attorney for Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center. PIRC is a nonprofit organization that endeavors to provide free legal orientation presentations to all detainees at the York County Prison and direct representation to detained survivors of torture and detainees with a severe mental or physical disability. Please contact PIRC via [email protected] for more information about PIRC’s programs or opportunities to get involved.

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