February 20, 2013 – Washington, D.C. – The Office of the Public Advocate at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in commemoration of its one-year anniversary, released its agency-wide newsletter supporting the expansion of low-cost community visitation services to people in immigration detention.
The letter highlights the work of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), the national network of immigration detention visitation programs, explaining that “ICE is committed to working with community visitation programs affiliated with CIVIC.”
“Although we are concerned that immigration enforcement continues to be a central aspect of the comprehensive immigration reform debate, we are pleased to see that the Office of the Public Advocate is willing to work with us to ensure that people are at least given access to family and community visitation while they are in immigration detention,” said Christina Fialho, co-founder/executive director of CIVIC.
The agency newsletter explains that community visitation programs are important and beneficial to men and women in immigration detention, facility staff, and ICE as a whole: “Community volunteers such as those with CIVIC are often the only consistent community connection for men and women in ICE custody because many people in immigration detention do not have family members nearby.” In line with the agency’s budgetary constraints, the letter specifically underscored that visitation programs “provide the government with a cost-effective solution to expanding services to persons held in immigration detention.”
According to Fialho, who also is a California-based attorney, there is no legally protected right to receive visits while in immigration detention. People in immigration detention are given minimal access to family and community visitation, and the degree of access is dependent upon the rules of the particular jail or for-profit prison. For example, at the West County Detention Facility in California, immigrants who are detained have to request a visit with a loved one by filling out a form with the jail lieutenant on duty and then placing a phone call that costs $3.55 for the first minute and .55¢ for each additional minute to inform their loved one of the scheduled visit. Many cannot afford to place phone calls, and as a result, cannot receive visits either.
“We commend ICE for taking this first step to help end the isolation of men and women in their custody,” said Fialho.
To learn more about the right to visitation, download CIVIC’s Right to Visitation: Fact Sheet.
To read ICE’s newsletter, click here.