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Detention Watch Network Demands Fair Day in Court for Refugees & Asylum Seekers on #WorldRefugeeDay

June 20, 2011

PRESS RELEASE:  For Immediate Release
Contact: Carlos Perez de Alejo, carlos@detentionwatchnetwork.org, 321-948-3423

Washington, D.C. – In honor of World Refugee Day, Detention Watch Network (DWN) calls on President Obama to strengthen the United States’ commitment to protecting and respecting the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants held in the U.S. detention system.

Since the late 1990s, the number of people in the U.S. held in immigration detention has expanded dramatically.  On any given day, the U.S. detains over 33,000 immigrants – including thousands of refugees and asylum seekers – which is more than triple the number of people detained in 1996.  Those detained involuntarily become part of a secretive web of more than 270 private, federal, state prisons and local jails, at an annual cost of more than $1.7 billion to taxpayers.

“The government has a responsibility to treat all people in its custody, regardless of race or country of origin, fairly and humanely,” said Andrea Black, Executive Director of DWN.  “Yet we’ve seen countless refugees and asylum seekers held in detention for months or years without any meaningful judicial review.”

Refugees and asylum seekers leave their country out of fear for their own life and safety and that of their family. Yet upon arrival to the U.S., they are often held in prisons and jails in remote locations far from their families. They must wear prison uniforms, are regularly shackled during transport and in their hearings, and are held behind barbed wire. While detained, immigrants often face horrific prison conditions, including mistreatment by guards, solitary confinement, the denial of medical attention and limited or no contact visitation with their families. In many cases, these conditions have proven fatal: since 2003, 120 people have died in immigration custody.

In recent weeks, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced the closing of the Willacy Detention Center in Raymondville, Texas, where thousands of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers were held under notoriously bad conditions.  “The announced closing of Willacy is a welcome change,” said Black, “yet in order to create a more humane system, detention should be used as a last resort and all immigrants and asylum seekers should be given a fair day in court.”

Under international law, the US must enforce immigration law in a manner that ensures the right to due process, fair deportation procedures, freedom from arbitrary and inhumane detention, and other fundamental human rights. In violation of these basic human rights obligations, the U.S. subjects asylum seekers to mandatory detention with no access to a hearing to challenge their detention until they can establish a credible fear of persecution, while others are routinely denied release on parole pending their asylum hearings. The single most important factor affecting the outcome of an asylum seeker’s case is whether he or she is represented by counsel. Yet immigrants in detention have no right to government-appointed counsel and may be held for a long time without legal representation.

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The  Detention Watch Network is a national coalition of organizations and  individuals working to educate the public and policy makers about the  U.S. immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for  humane reform so that all who come to our shores receive fair and humane  treatment. For more information visit http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/

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