The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) continues to refuse to disclose basic information about people detained after September 11, Human Rights Watch said today. Although the INS permitted Human Rights Watch and other groups to visit two New Jersey jails on Wednesday, February 6, agency officials refused to answer fundamental questions about the detainees and in one of the jails would not allow Human Rights Watch to see where the detainees were living.
"The INS has finally allowed Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups into these jails to see conditions under which September 11 detainees are held," said Allyson Collins, Associate Director of the U.S. program, who visited the jails. "This is a welcome first step towards more openness about the treatment of these detainees. Unfortunately, during the visits it became obvious that the agency still wants to keep basic information about the detainees secret."
Human Rights Watch visited two jails, which reportedly hold a large percentage of the nation's September 11 detainees: the Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny and the Passaic County Jail in Paterson. During the visits, the INS refused to provide the number of INS detainees held at the facilities.
At Hudson County jail, INS and jail officials gave a thorough tour of the modern facility, including an occupied housing unit. The tour of Passaic County Jail, however, was rushed and incomplete. In contrast to the Hudson County visit, few questions were answered. During a tour of the jail, officials refused a Human Rights Watch request to view an occupied housing unit, citing privacy and security concerns - although they had permitted the group to view an occupied housing unit at Hudson County jail. Detainees held at the Passaic County Jail have told Human Rights Watch that housing cells are cramped and that the detainees are confined with accused and convicted criminals.
Human Rights Watch was able to interview detainees at both jails after the tours.
Beginning in October, Human Rights Watch made a series of requests to the INS to visit facilities holding September 11 detainees. The INS originally refused access to Hudson County and Passaic County jails, but reversed its decision last week. Human Rights Watch's requests to visit the Metropolitan Correctional Center and Metropolitan Detention Center, both in New York City, were denied; requests at several other jails and immigration detention centers around the United States are now pending.
The New Jersey jail visits are part of a Human Rights Watch effort to examine the treatment of immigrants detained in relation to the investigation of the September 11 attacks. Findings will be released in a forthcoming report.