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12 Mar, 2010 10:04

Illegal US immigrant detention practices questioned. Part 1

Barack Obama has vowed this week to overhaul the American immigration system, and with half a million people entering the US illegally every year, the number being deported is growing.

There is criticism that officials dealing with the issue often resort to questionable detention methods.

Back in October 1994, the US started “Operation Gatekeeper” by building a wall to prevent people crossing from Mexico to the United States as they had previously done.

By some estimates, half a million people cross into the United States through Mexico illegally every year, and when some are caught they come to a “best in the nation” Otay, San Diego, detention facility before they are kicked out of America.

“If they're a citizen of Mexico, they're going to get a bus to the border,” outlined Field Office Director Robin Baker. “Or if they're from say, Europe, we're going to get them a plane ticket, and they're going to go back home.”

Run partially by the US federal agency known as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the detention facility for illegal immigrants holds nearly 700 foreign detainees at any given time. ICE publicly calls it a "field office", but there are also facilities that ICE may not want you to know about.

“Such facilities are like every other building. They look like offices, strip malls, federal buildings, anywhere – except inside, the immigration services imprison people,” revealed Ahilan Arulanantham from the American Civil Liberties Union.

They are called “subfield offices” and nearly 200 of them are believed to be stashed in plain sight throughout the country.

Even government officials that work for immigration services learn this information only in due course.

"It's a set of holding facilities, basically prison tanks, to hold people, immigration detainees in there,” Arulanantham explained.

“Even though it was meant to keep people there about 12 hours, in fact, the government was keeping people there for weeks, sometimes even for months. As a result, people were going without showers, without brushing their teeth, without access to talk to their lawyers, without being able to talk to their families, sometimes months at a time stuck in limbo,” exposed Ahilan Arulanantham.

For obvious reasons, those subfield offices are essentially “secret”, particularly in relation to how detainees even get there.

Illegal US immigrant detention practices questioned. Part 2