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Detention Centers Fill Up; 1K Border Detainees Sent To California Prison

Eduardo Olmos, a Border Patrol public affairs officer, peers through a section of primary fencing between the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry in San Diego on Aug. 16, 2017.
Brandon Quester / inewsource
Eduardo Olmos, a Border Patrol public affairs officer, peers through a section of primary fencing between the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry in San Diego on Aug. 16, 2017.
Detention Centers Fill Up; 1K Border Detainees Sent To California Prison
Detention Centers Fill Up; 1K Border Detainees Sent To California Prison GUEST: Kate Morrissey, immigration reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Immigration and customs enforcement is moving 1000 detainees who are currently in ice custody into a medium security prison in Victorville. The first busload of detainees was scheduled to arrive this morning from Texas. This is a big departure from the current policy of housing detainees in immigration detention facilities like the one at the border. Federal prisons are not the same as detention facilities. With us to talk about this is Kate Morrissey, immigration reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune. Thank you for joining us. >> Thank you for having me. >> Ice is saying that they're collaborating with the U.S. marshals service and the Bureau of prisons to meet the demand for additional space. Why is this? Is there really a surge in illegal immigration? >> There are more people who have been caught crossing the border or who have come to a port of entry to ask for asylum and that group of people is larger than what we saw when you're ago. But if you look back further than that, it is actually last. So, it depends a little bit on what timeframe you're looking at. Whether you want to say that it is more that it is not more. >> Does the new zero tolerance policy have anything to do with the need for more space? >> The zero tolerance policy sends people into the federal criminal court system. They would actually be in the custody of U.S. marshals and they would go to U.S. marshals facilities which are often part of the Bureau of prison framework. They would not actually be an ice custody until they are completely done with those proceedings and serving sentences that they have and then they would go through what would've happened prior to the zero tolerance policy when they would go to ice custody and handle whatever immigration port proceedings they may have there. >> Does ice have authority to hold people as punishment? >> No, ice can only hold people if they think that they won't show up for their court proceedings. Or if they think that they are dangerous to society. So otherwise, ice can't punish people. When you look at the protocols for someone being held in ice custody it is more similar to a pre-tire -- pretrial detainee. For someone who has not been convicted of something but who is being held until they figure out whether or not they're going to be found guilty. >> The national president called the situation a nightmare. How prepared are the prisons for this influx? >> If you take the unions perspective on it, they feel completely unprepared. They don't know how they are supposed to treat detainees or whether they are allowed to do Scriptures is and pat downs and things that they would normally do every day with someone who is a prisoner who has been convicted and sentenced to something a medium to high security facility. There are several facilities in this complex that they are going to. They will be in the medium security one. They are used to dealing with people who have committed something that is serious enough to end up in a medium security space. Have a lot of questions about how they are supposed to treat the people coming in. They are very worried about language barriers and they are not really prepared to deal with people who don't understand the commands that they are giving. I understand from talking to other advocates that when in the past ice detainees have been held in local jails, we's to see more of it but not so much now anymore, sometimes there would be reports coming out of that of mistreatment of detainees because the people supervising them didn't understand how to deal with somebody who didn't speak English. They couldn't respond to commands. There's a lot of concerns for how last-minute this seems to be and the lack of instruction given. >> Will this include pregnant women, children? >> It will not include children. It is not clear what the gender of the detainees will be. Some facilities only hold man and some areas have both men and women. That information has not been given. There are pregnant women in ice detention facilities they used to have a policy where they would generally release pregnant women but they have since gotten rid of the policy in the last six months or so. >> You quote ICE as saying that they will continue to do this until they can get additional long-term contracts for new detention facilities or until the surge has subsided. Does it look like more detention facilities are going to be built? >> There have been money request for more detention facilities and more detention space around the country, that is part of the Trump administration request to Congress as far as funding does. It is not clear there Congress is willing to give on that front. There is a new California law which precipitate -- for habits making contracts with ICE. ICE is going to have a hard time finding places to make those new contracts. >> Is very little limits -- is there a legal limit as to how long they can detain them? >> That is a very quick and tricky question. >> It has been debated in different court cases around the country. There was a Supreme Court decision in what is called the Rodriguez case that had to do with the bond hearings. Even if someone is being held in immigration detention has the right to go before a judge, asking if they have the right to be let out while they are waiting. That is up for debate and the Ninth Circuit is trying to re-decide that based on constitutional discussion as opposed to what they have previously done. We are waiting to see what comes out of that at this point. >> Isn't there a backlog of court facilities to process cases right now? >> There is a huge backlog of immigration court cases and that is something that has been going on for years. We see it climbing and climbing as the on this progress because so many more people are being added to the system. We do see fewer cases being closed quickly and there was a mechanism that was previously used to get some cases out of the way. If someone had an application for some kind of green card or some kind of way to change the status pending, the court used to say we would not worry about the case right now but now those cases are staying in the system. We are seeing the backlog grow. >> The detainees could end up staying in the prisons for a while? >> Yes, we do see asylum-seekers who are waiting for their initial hearings, they often wait for one year, sometimes more depending on the court system. Here in San Diego, less than a year before they have there -- their first hearing. Sometimes it takes multiple hearings. Sometimes they might have months between the pieces of the hearing. It ends up taking a really long time. >> Thank you so much. >> Thank you for having me. >> That is Kate Morrissey of the San Diego Union Tribune.

More than 1,600 people arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border, including parents who have been separated from their children, are being transferred to federal prisons, U.S. immigration authorities confirmed Thursday. They said they're running out of room at their own facilities amid President Donald Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration.

The move drew condemnation from activists who said the detainees may have legitimate claims to asylum and don't deserve to be held in federal prisons.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a letter Thursday night seeking more information from the Justice Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after learning that ICE had transferred dozens of mothers who had been separated from their children to the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac.

"The Trump Administration's new family separation policy is inflicting intentional, gratuitous, and permanent trauma on young children who have done nothing wrong and on parents who often have valid claims for refugee or asylum status," they wrote.

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Historically, immigrants without serious criminal records were released from custody while they pursued asylum or refugee status. The Trump administration has ended that policy.

In an emailed statement, ICE spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell said that due to a surge in illegal border crossings and the Justice Department's "zero-tolerance" policy — designed to discourage illegal border crossings — the agency needed to acquire access to more than 1,600 beds in Bureau of Prisons Facilities. The agency said those include 1,000 beds in Victorville, California; 209 beds in SeaTac; 230 beds in La Tuna, Texas; 230 beds in Sheridan, Oregon; and 102 beds in Phoenix.

"The use of BOP facilities is intended to be a temporary measure until ICE can obtain additional long-term contracts for new detention facilities or until the surge in illegal border crossings subsides," the statement said.

The letter from Inslee and Ferguson followed a report from the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project earlier Thursday that as many as 120 asylum seekers had been transferred to the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac.

The organization said that on Wednesday it spoke with two of the women, who arrived at the southern border with their young daughters in mid-May seeking asylum. Both were separated from their children shortly after they were apprehended by Border Patrol. Instead of being returned to their children after being sentenced to time served for the misdemeanor of unlawful entry, they were transferred to Washington state while they seek asylum, the organization said.

"There is simply no moral or legal justification for separating children from their parents in this draconian effort seeking to deter other immigrants," Matt Adams, legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said in a written statement. "This is not only unlawful, but also contrary to basic human decency."

Inslee and Ferguson said they wanted more information about when the women would be released and when they can expect to see their children again, as well as where the children are and who is caring for them.

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The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking a court injunction to stop immigration authorities from separating parents from their young children.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in California ruled that a case involving two mothers could go forward, saying that if the policy was being carried out as described in the lawsuit, it is "brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency." The judge said he would issue a separate ruling on whether to expand the lawsuit to apply to all parents and children who are split up by border authorities.

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