US immigration to soften detention facilities

The agreement will begin a change that could end confinement in prison-like facilities for immigrants, who are held in centres with razor wire and armed guards, and allow some asylum-seekers and immigrants awaiting deportation proceedings to wear their own clothes, and participate in movie and bingo nights.

The US immigration agreement will see softening at nine immigrant facilities, or more than 7,100 beds.

Other changes to be made over the next six months will give greater access to legal resources, an improved diet, a softening of the facility with new paint colours, bedding and furniture, and the allowance for lengthy visits from friends and family.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton announced last year that the agency would make detention facilities less prison-like because immigrant detainees are being held on civil immigration charges and not criminal offenses.

The agency has maintained that detention is not a punishment and that it ensures the immigrants show up for hearings.

Immigrant advocates say the changes are minimal, especially when many of the low-risk detainees who might get softened facilities should not be detained at all when there is less expensive electronic monitoring available.

Many immigrants are also held in detention for years and the changes to little respond to that issue, immigrant advocates say.

The American Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people make US visa applications to the US Embassy.