May 22, 2012

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has fully implemented its new directive, announced in January, on immigration detainee transfers. The directive limits ICE’s ability to transfer detainees with nearby immediate family or attorneys of record to other detention facilities.  The directive also discourages transfers of detainees who are pending removal proceedings, have a pending bond hearing, or have already been granted bond. Many of these factors were cited by Human Rights Watch as concerns in our 2009 report “Locked Up Far Away” and our 2011 report “A Costly Move.”

The 2012 directive came after years of advocacy by Human Rights Watch and others. On February 22, 2010, following publication of our report “Locked Up Far Away,” ICE wrote to Human Rights Watch, announcing the agency’s intention to “minimize the number of detainee transfers to the greatest extent possible.”

Human Rights Watch has long expressed serious concerns about ICE’s policy of transferring large numbers of immigrant detainees to facilities far from where they lived. Some 1.6 million immigrant detainees were transferred between 1997 and 2006, and of those transferred in 2008, a majority were transferred two or more times.

The transfers impede or even effectively prevent detainees from accessing an attorney; interfere with detainees’ ability to present key witnesses and evidence in immigration court; and at times completely alter the law applicable to their removal or asylum case.

Human Rights Watch considers ICE’s new policy directive a positive step toward protecting the basic rights of immigrants and urges the agency to implement it efficiently and rigorously.