ACLU: Arizona Jail Does Not Meet ‘Basic Human Rights’

ACLU: Arizona Jail Does Not Meet ‘Basic Human Rights’

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PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Human rights groups are calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop a yearly $13 million contract with the Pinal County Jail for the incarceration of immigrant detainees facing deportation.

In a letter sent to ICE director John Morton, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the PUENTE movement describe conditions in the jail as “punitive” and denounce what they say is a systemic violation of detainees’ civil rights.

ICE did not return calls for comment.

“Our families and communities are being devastated by ICE detention, which places people in far-off jails with few resources and minimal human contact,” said Carlos Garcia with the PUENTE Movement. “This kind of treatment is inhumane and unacceptable.”

The jail is run by Sheriff Paul Babeu, who is known as a hardliner on immigration enforcement. The sheriff didn’t return a request for an interview.

ICE has used the Pinal County Jail since 2005. The jail has a capacity of 1,540 beds, of which 625 are used to detain immigrants. The jail receives about $13 million a year from its contract with ICE.

There have been several hunger strikes in the facility to demand better conditions. In 2009, one of the hunger strikes led to the transfer of several women to other facilities, with the help of ACLU and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Last year a report issued by the ACLU, highlighted alleged abuses toward immigrant in Arizona’s detention centers, two years after the Department of Homeland Security announced a five-year plan to reform the detention system nationwide.

At the time DHS signaled its intention to move away from using jail facilities to detain immigrants.

The ACLU report, “In Their Own Words: Enduring Abuse in Arizona Immigration Detention,” singled out the Pinal County Jail for its “inhumane conditions” and high number of complaints by detainees. The report stated, “While ICE officials and the agency’s detention standards describe immigration detention as nonpunitive, conditions at PCJ can only be described as extreme and abusive.”

Unlike other private detention facilities, the Pinal County Jail doesn’t have an outdoor recreation area for immigrants where they can be exposed to daylight. The report also found that detainees’ contact with family members is limited through TV monitors and that they experience discrimination by facility personnel.

Immigrants make up 10 percent of the incarcerated population in Arizona. About 3,000 of them are held in detention centers on any given day in the state -- a 58 percent increase since 2005.

The state’s growing immigrant detainee population stems from the reliance of federal authorities on local law enforcement to identify and detain suspected non-citizens. The policy is funneling more people who are considered nonviolent or low-risk to detention centers, according to the report.

Two other federal programs boost cooperation between federal agents and local law enforcement: The 287(g) program allows local officers to act as immigration agents and the Secure Communities program requires police to share fingerprints of arrestees with federal immigration authorities. Both of those programs were suspended recently at the Maricopa County Jail after the Department of Justice (DOJ) found evidence of civil rights violations toward Latinos. But cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities at the Pinal County Jail is still in full effect.

DHS typically argues that all detainees are subject to mandatory detention because of past convictions, but that’s not always the case. According to ACLU attorneys, the majority of detainees in removal proceedings have been convicted of only minor offenses or have no criminal record at all.

“No amount of cosmetic fixes will take care of the fact that immigration detention presents major fiscal and human costs for immigrants and citizens alike,” said Victoria Lopez, program director at the ACLU of Arizona. “ICE should take immediate steps to end its contract with Pinal County Jail officials who aren’t being held accountable and operate a facility that fails to meet basic human rights and needs."