14 March 2012

US immigration unveils model detention centre

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A 608 bed detention facility in Texas is being hailed by US immigration officials as the centrepiece in President Obama's pledge to overhaul the American immigration system.

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The new facility in Karnes, Texas is intended to provide an alternative to holding detainees in jails and prisons.

US immigration officials say that the facility, unveiled on Tuesday in Karnes City, Texas, will allow asylum seekers to be held securely without being treated like prisoners.

Officials explained that while the new facility has heavy security with reinforced windows and doors and centralised, electronic locks, the facility is not a prison; guards do not carry handcuffs and the facility is not enclosed by a wall.

A report by the non-governmental organisation Human Rights First published in 2011 recommended several changes to the US immigration system which were mainly concerned with the perceived treatment of detainees as almost identical to that of convicted offenders, and it would appear as though the new facility has implemented many of these recommendations.

Detainees are allowed to wear whatever they choose, each room has four bunk beds and includes a private bathroom, a television and a phone; there is no lights out policy at night and detainees are free to wander the facility at night.

The facility also includes outdoor recreational areas for sports, a courtroom, videoconferencing facilities, a library and a fully equipped 24 hour medical and dental facility.

Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director John Morton hailed the centre as "a first in the entire history of immigration detention" which would allow detainees "greater unescorted movement, enhanced recreational opportunities and contact visitation while also maintaining a safe and secure atmosphere for detainees and staff."

Critics of the facility have criticised the reported $122 a day it costs to detain each person and questioned why the low risk detainees it will hold need to be held at all.

"We live in a world of limited resources and even detention beds have to be prioritised," said Muzaffar Chisti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York University.

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