ICE’s Public Advocate Releases Agency Newsletter, Supports Expanded Immigration Detention Visitation

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.

Three Days of Action to Stop Operation Streamline and the Criminalization of Migration

Tuesday-Thursday, February 19th-21st

As debate over a proposed “comprehensive immigration reform” bill intensifies, a bill that would regularize the status of some undocumented immigrants may also include increased funding for harsh border enforcement policies.  This debate overlooks the astounding fact that federal spending on immigration enforcement now surpasses all other federal law enforcement activities combined. 

Operation Streamline, a little-known enforcement program, is part of broader trend funneling immigrants into the criminal justice system and charging them with felony or misdemeanor crimes for crossing the border.  These prosecutions channel billions of dollars to private prison corporations and are fueling the explosive growth in numbers of Latinos in federal prison.  Senate and House negotiators are reportedly considering expanding funding of Operation Streamline and criminal prosecutions of immigrants.

Communities across the country, including border communities, will be joining days of action from February 19th to February 21st to demand that immigration reform ends, rather than expands, the criminalization of migration.  Actions will include public protests, press conferences, op-eds, and meeting with legislators.   Actions will include:
 
1) Tucson, AZ: February 19th, Joint AFSC/No More Deaths Press conference announcing the launch of the End Streamline Campaign; and op-ed targeting McCain, specifically campaign contributions he accepted from GEO and CCA.
 
2) Austin, TX: February 20th, Grassroots Leadership and allies will hold a press Conference and letter delivery at Congressman Lamar Smith’s office calling for end to Operation Streamline and draconian immigration policies.   
 
3) Online: The National Private Prison Divestment Campaign will be organizing a petition to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray and other members of the  Congressional budget committees to shut down Operation Streamline by advocating for removal of funding for immigrant detention and incarceration in private prisons.  
 
For more information, please contact CIVIC Leadership Council Member Bob Libal with Grassroots Leadership at blibal@grassrootsleadership.org or (512) 971-0487 or Caroline Isaacs with AFSC Tucson at cisaacs@afsc.org.
 

JAIL POSTCARD-ONLY POLICIES SHOULD BE ‘RETURNED TO SENDER,’ SAYS NEW REPORT

Check out this press release and report by the Prison Policy Initiative called Return to Sender: Postcard-Only Mail Policies in Jail.  The report documents a new and disturbing trend in the incarceration industry – postcard-only mailing policies.  This trend came to CIVIC’s attention recently when we learned the Sacramento County Jail plans to limit mail communication to postcards beginning in a couple of days on February 10, 2013.  The Sacramento County Jail contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold immigrants in ICE custody whose immigration cases are pending.  The Sacramento County Jail or any other facility that contracts with ICE and implements a postcard-only mailing policy is in violation of ICE’s own 2011 Performance Based National Detention Standards which state that “[f]acilities shall not limit detainees to postcards and shall allow envelope mailings.”  The effect of isolation and disenfranchisment the postcard-only policy will have on immigrants and inmates who are detained will be detrimental.  See an excerpt of the report below the press release which explains in detail the many negative effects this policy will have and the untold suffering it will cause.  

JAIL POSTCARD-ONLY POLICIES SHOULD BE ‘RETURNED TO SENDER,’ SAYS NEW REPORT

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 7, 2013
Contact: Leah Sakala, (413) 527-0845, lsakala@prisonpolicy.org

Local jails should think twice before cutting off letters from home, says the research think tank Prison Policy Initiative in a new report, “Return to Sender: Postcard-only Mail Policies in Jail.”

The report argues that the growing jail trend to ban letters and restrict mail to only postcards deters communication that is essential for keeping people from reoffending after release. “Letters are one of the three main ways that people in jails maintain family ties. Phone calls are outrageously expensive, and limited visiting hours often make letters the only viable way to stay in touch,” said Leah Sakala, the report’s author and a policy analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “The social science research is clear — people in jail need to maintain strong outside ties to keep from coming right back after they’re released.”

Sheriffs often claim that restricting incoming and outgoing mail to postcards will reduce the time it takes to screen for contraband, but, Sakala said, “the public must insist that sheriffs balance vague claims of cost savings against the very expensive risk that individuals whose community ties have been jeopardized by the postcard-only policies will return to jail.”

The report demonstrates, often with examples from successful lawsuits, why postcards are inadequate substitutes for letters. Not only does communication via postcard cost 34 times as much as via letter, but banning envelopes forces people to choose between exposing personal information to anyone who sees the postcard or not communicating at all. “Requiring family members who want to stay in touch to pay extra and expose private information ensures that they are punished, too,” Sakala explained. “The security practices of all state and federal prisons show that correctional facilities can effectively screen mail without resorting to postcard-only policies.”

The report also finds that postcard-only mail rules contradict the best practices outlined by major professional organizations, including the American Correctional Association and the American Jail Association.

The postcard-only policy trend began five years ago with controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, and caught on at first among administrators of small county jails. Today, dozens of jails in at least 13 states have instituted postcard-only policies. Most recently, the San Diego County Jail embraced the policy in September, and the Sacramento County Jail is set to enforce its own version on February 10. Also last fall, a prison in New Mexico was poised to be the first state prison to implement a postcard-only restriction, but at the last minute the state Department of Corrections intervened and indefinitely postponed the policy.

A federal trial is currently underway in Oregon to determine if the Columbia County Jail’s postcard-only policy violates the free speech rights of incarcerated people and those who correspond with them. While the trial is ongoing, the judge has already issued a preliminary injunction against the jail’s postcard-only policy.

The report calls for jails with postcard-only policies to rescind them, and calls on state and federal agencies to refuse to contract with facilities that have postcard-only policies.

The report is available at http://www.prisonpolicy.org/postcards.

Excerpt from Report concerning Immigrants who are detained,

POSTCARD-ONLY POLICIES ARE OVERBROAD AND HAVE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Sweeping postcard policies are particularly inappropriate for jails because of the diversity of functions jails serve and populations they contain. As the National Research Council of the National Academies observed, “The breadth of custodial arrangements accommodated by local jails and the dynamics of the jailed population make jails a critical feature of the justice system—albeit one that defies neat definition and measurement.”[55] For example, jails contain both juveniles and adults, people who have just been arrested and those who have been convicted, people from the surrounding area and those transferred from far away, people facing misdemeanor, criminal, and civil immigration charges, and people being held under local authority and under contract with the state or federal government. Unilateral postcard-only mail policies preemptively chill all correspondence that jail officials decide is not explicitly of a legal, or in some cases “official,” nature, regardless of how legitimately critical a letter may be for either the sender or the recipient. Crafting a postcard-only restriction that anticipates and makes exceptions for all essential communication to and from the diverse jail population is impossible. Even if such a policy were feasible, the administrative challenge and expense of implementing complex mail screening rules would surely be more of a burden for jail administrators than the process of opening envelopes.

Immigration detainees facing civil charges are one example of a population that is uniquely vulnerable in the face of postcard-only jail mail policies, as more than half of detainees are held in local jail facilities.[56] Unlike defendants in criminal cases, people facing civil immigration charges do not enjoy a right to counsel and most people facing deportation do not have access to a lawyer.[57] Individuals without a lawyer, who appearpro se in court, must navigate the entire process, from the period of detention to the aftermath of the outcome, as their own advocates. Postcard-only policies can dramatically hinder civil immigration detainees from advocating on their own behalf and arranging their affairs, and have the potential to exert a devastating impact on both the process and the outcome of immigration cases.

Because pro se immigration case advocacy requires extensive communication with family members, employers, and other community members that postcard-only policies can impede or prevent,[58] Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s standards specifically decree that immigration detainees should not be subject to postcard-only mail restrictions.[78] Detained individuals must assemble a significant amount of written information from individuals on the outside, such as letters of support from a doctor or employer, testimony from family members, legal documents such as birth certificates or green cards, and educational documents such as diplomas, degrees, or GED certificates. Even in situations where family and community members are able to travel to the jail facility during visiting hours to assist with pro se defense, many facilities do not allow exchanges of paper or documents during in-person visits. In such situations, non-postcard mail is the only way that detained individuals can coordinate their own defense to deportation.

Additionally, detained individuals are responsible for arranging the logistics of their cases, such as securing witnesses to appear in court, submitting motions, and filling out and submitting any necessary forms and applications, some of which may need input from family members. All of these tasks are impossible to perform from any jail that prohibits people from sending or receiving full sheets of paper in envelopes to or from family and other community members. Although jail postcard policies generally include an allowance “legal” mail, and a handful of others also provide for other kinds “official” mail, jail officials have complete discretion to decide what is considered to be a legal or official matter and what is not. Even when letters to and from family members, friends, or colleagues are of the utmost legal importance, they are automatically in jeopardy of being rejected from any jail with a postcard-only policy.

Unobstructed written contact during the period of detention is particularly crucial for parents, grandparents, children, siblings, extended family members or close friends who are facing the possibility of being permanently deported from the United States. Immigration detainees in local jails are frequently involuntarily transferred away from their own communities to remote facilities that contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.[59] When individuals are detained far from home in a jail facility with exorbitant phone calling rates, mail is often only feasible method of communication with family and friends at home.

Sweeping postcard-only policies cannot be crafted to accommodate all of the essential uses for non-postcard mail to or from a jail facility.

Impeding immigration case proceedings is just one example of the potential for harm caused by extreme and sweeping restrictions on written correspondence between people in jail and those on the outside. But while policy experts and jail officials can perhaps anticipate many of the mail needs of immigration detainees—and should ensure that facility mail policies accommodate those needs—letters to and from jail serve myriad other unforeseen legitimate purposes, which are as varied as the populations that jails contain. Simply put, sweeping postcard-only policies cannot be crafted to accommodate all of the essential uses for non-postcard mail to or from a jail facility.