By Zara Lockshin
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced new rules on Thursday that will make it easier for the government to imprison thousands of immigrants – including lawful permanent residents, asylum seekers and military veterans – who wish to live in their community with their families as they challenge deportation proceedings.
This policy is not only misguided but costly. The U.S. spends approximately $2 billion a year on immigration detention when alternatives such as supervised release are equally effective at making sure individuals show up to hearings and at protecting public safety.
And for individuals with serious medical and mental health conditions, immigration detention can be life threatening.
For example, the government’s detention of Giovanni Taylor, a former lawful permanent resident and U.S. Marine, who is suffering from a severe form of sickle cell anemia. The government had previously granted Taylor humanitarian relief so that he could receive life-saving treatment in the U.S. and reside with his wife, a U.S. citizen, and children in Los Angeles.
However, without warning in January, the government reversed course and sent Taylor, 39, to an immigration jail in Adelanto while they attempt to deport him to Belize, a country that lacks the specialized medical care Taylor desperately needs. The government claims that Taylor can be detained and deported based his 2009 conviction after a domestic dispute with his first wife. However, he has no other arrests or convictions in the decades he has lived in this country. Moreover, he has dutifully complied with his conditions of supervision before the government suddenly decided to detain him.
ICE officials are aware that Taylor suffers from sickle cell anemia, a life-threatening condition that has severely worsened in detention. Since he was detained in January, he has been admitted to the hospital twice for blood transfusions and other treatments.
Yet the agency refuses to release him even though ICE’s own policies discourage detention of individuals known to be suffering from serious physical or mental illness, who have served in the U.S. military and have close family ties to the community.
The ACLU is deeply concerned that Taylor’s detention places his life in undue risk and has called on ICE to exercise its discretion to release Taylor so that he can regain his health under the care of his physicians and family. Unfortunately, the new rules will add extra layers of bureaucracy that will erode the ability of ICE officials to exercise discretion and release military veterans and others like Taylor who pose no risk to public safety.
The ACLU has long fought ICE’s inhumane detention policies, including its unconstitutional practice of holding immigrants in prolonged and often indefinite detention without any opportunity to make the case that they should be released on bond.
ICE’s new rules are a continuation of its draconian detention policies and a disheartening step in the wrong direction.
Zara Lockshin is communications intern at the ACLU of Southern California. Follow ACLU_SoCal.