Yesterday, the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee held a meeting called "Holiday on ICE." Contrary to how it might sound, it had nothing to do with dancing elves or figure skating. In this case, ICE refers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal law enforcement agency under the department of Homeland Security that enforces immigration laws.
The hearing focused on the new guidelines for immigration detention that were issued last month, and are now beginning to go into effect. These guidelines are designed treat undocumented immigrants more humanely. Here to tell us about detention, past, present and future, is Doris Meissner. Meissner served as Commissioner of the INS under President Clinton and Acting Commissioner under President Reagan. She is currently director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute.
This is a formal statement from ICE, regarding yesterday's hearing:
On the difference between criminal detention and immigration detention, especially as it pertains to Chairman Smith's critique of the new detention standards.
"¢ One of the principal differences between criminal detention and immigration detention is that, unlike the criminal justice system, by law ICE is prohibited from detaining individuals for punitive reasons. ICE is only authorized to detain individuals in order to more efficiently effect their removal from the country. In that vein, detention reform is aimed at placing detainees in appropriate environments, based on their criminal or immigration history.
"¢ It is important to note that one of the main goals of the agency, in addition to prioritizing the health and safety of detainees in our custody and improving conditions of confinement, is to increase fiscal prudence and efficiencies within the system.
"¢ To that end, part of ICE's detention reform efforts are also aimed at putting detention centers in strategic locations that reduce detainee transfers within the detention system and increase overall operational efficiencies, allowing for a reduction in detainees' average length of stay in ICE custody (by an average of 14 days) and subsequent cost savings for the federal government.
"¢ Overall, ICE's detention reform efforts, including the implementation of PBNDS 2011, are designed to improve medical care, custodial conditions, fiscal prudence and oversight of the immigration detention system, and reinforce protections against sexual abuse and assault.