ACLU Still Waiting for Pinal County Jail to Get It Together on Immigrant Detention

It's been a year since the American Civil Liberties Union demanded immigration officials fix the conditions in which immigrants are detained at the Pinal County Jail, and if you ask the ACLU, it's no better today.

The ACLU's now asking that Department of Homeland Security officials remove immigrants from the jail, or actually fix the problems.

Many of these issues were covered in Gregory Pratt's New Times cover story last year ("Immigrants Who Fight Deportation Are Packed Into Federal Gulags for Months or Years Before Their Cases Are Heard"), explaining how civil immigration detainees in the jail's detention units are treated the same way as inmates facing criminal charges.

As Pratt pointed out in his story, a 2009 internal ICE report described that corrections are "punitive," and that detention is "civil."

The detainees -- some of whom are held there for years -- don't get outdoor exercise, face-to-face visits with family, or proper medical care, among other unacceptable conditions, the ACLU contends. They do, however, get subjected to excessive use of force and verbal abuse by guards, unusually high phone rates to call family, problems with the grievance system, and other perks, the ACLU alleges.

It's such stuff that led dozens of detainees to go on a hunger strike.

The immigration detainees are just supposed to be detained, not punished.

Or, as Pinal County detention chief James Kimble told Pratt last year, "Corrections, detention -- it's all the same thing."

The ACLU has alleged that this treatment of immigration detainees violates a standards, laws, and promises, like when the Obama administration announced immigration detention would be overhauled to a "truly civil detention system."

"[Conditions at the Pinal County Jail] violate the U.S. Constitution, as well as ICE's own National Detention Standards, and continue in spite of the Obama administration's pledge - honored mostly in the breach - to establish a truly civil system of immigration detention," the ACLU's letter to immigration-enforcement officials says. "The confinement of immigration detainees at PCJ, at least under current conditions, has no place in any system that aspires to civility."

The ACLU letter notes that the organization hopes everything can get fixed "without resort to legal action."

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley