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@HumanRights1st welcomes revised UNHCR Guidance on Use of Immigration Detention

September 22, 2012

via Brenda Bowser Soder, bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org202-370-3323

Calls on United States and others to comply with refugee protection and human rights standards

New York City – Today, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) issued new guidelines on the detention of asylum seekers and alternatives to detention and stressed its concern over the growing use of immigration detention in a number of countries. Human Rights First notes that, as a leader in the protection of refugees around the world, the United States should take steps to bring its detention laws, policies and practices into line with the UNHCR guidelines, as well as U.S. human rights commitments and U.S. values.

“In the face of escalating immigration detention, both in the United States and around the world, the updated UNHCR guidelines are an important reminder that governments must adhere to their refugee protection and human rights commitments when they resort to the use of detention,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer.

The new UNHCR guidelines, which are intended as advice for governments and judges that make decisions on immigration detention, make clear that:

  • The fundamental right to liberty and protections against arbitrary detention apply to all persons regardless of their immigration or other status;
  • Detention of asylum-seekers should in principle be avoided;
  • Alternatives to detention need to be considered first, with detention used only as a measure of last resort;
  • Those detained should “be brought promptly before a judicial or other independent authority to have the detention decision reviewed” within 24 to 48 hours;
  • The “use of prison, jails, and facilities designed or operated as prison or jails, should be avoided,” and “criminal standards (such as wearing prisoner uniforms or shackling) are not appropriate.”

“The U.S. immigration detention system should be reformed to use cost-effective alternatives in place of detention that is unnecessary, require individual assessments before resorting to detention and provide prompt immigration court review of detention,” noted Acer.  “When asylum seekers are detained they should only be held in facilities with appropriate conditions instead of jails and jail-like facilities where they are required to wear prison uniforms.”

As detailed by Human Rights First in several reports, the United States detains arriving asylum seekers automatically, and while it had previously  issued a revised parole policy for asylum seekers, earlier this year it denied a petition requesting reform of regulations to provide arriving asylum seekers with immigration court custody hearings.

With the exception of a few facilities with improved conditions – including a recently opened facility in Karnes County, Texas – asylum seekers and other immigration detainees are overwhelmingly detained in jails, prisons and jail-like facilities with conditions that are not appropriate for civil immigration detention. For more information on U.S. detention policies and recommendations for reform, read Human Rights First’s report Jails and Jumpsuits and its August 2012 updated statement.

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