UN HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERTS ON ARBITRARY DETENTION CONCLUDE VISIT, HIGHLIGHT ABUSES IN DETENTION

For Immediate Release: October 24, 2016

Contact: Jess St. Louis, jstlouis@ushrnetwork.org, 404-588-9761 x104

Vickie Casanova Willis politicalparticipationwg@ushrnetwork.org

UN HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERTS CONCLUDE VISIT, HIGHLIGHT ABUSES IN DETENTION

ATLANTA, GA – Today, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ends their official visit to the United States. After visiting three states and Washington D.C., meeting with government officials as well as civil society, they shared their remarks and preliminary findings at a press conference today. They also met with about 280 people who are currently detained in facilities across the country – and while they requested and attempted to visit the San Ysidro point of entry in California and Homan Square in Chicago, they were denied entry and access to those facilities.

"It was gratifying to see so many immigrant rights advocates, who are doing a wide range of important work, present to the working group about the state of immigrant detention in Texas. The visit came at an important time, with reports out that immigrant detention is at record numbers, with more than 40,000 in detention per day. Most impactful at the Texas meeting was the participation of Elena*, who testified to her experience in being criminally prosecuted at the border, followed by detention at the Hutto and Laredo detention centers. Her testimony illustrated perfectly the abuse and profit-motive that makes the U.S. immigrant detention system a national shame,” said Cristina Parker, Grassroots Leadership’s Immigration Programs Director (*Name changed to protect identity)

In a wide ranging report, the Working Group’s preliminary findings includes calls for the abolition of mandatory detention in the context of immigration, ending the use of private companies for immigrant detention, joined calls to end the practices of family detention, the end of life-without-parole sentences for youth, the creation of specific pre-trial and pre-arrest programs to prevent the incarceration of people who need mental health support, and to close the Guantanamo Bay facility.

"Thousands of immigrants are arbitrarily detained and denied bond each year in the US. This visit came at a time when conversations about immigrant detention, private prison corporations, and the role of Immigration and Customs Enforcement are emerging as a priority for the next Presidential administration,” said Carl Lipscombe, Programs Manager at Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

The Working Group also raised concerns that included the issues of on racial and economic disparities in detention and sentencing, finding that many people are held  detention due to their inability to pay bond and court fines and fees, the detention of pregnant women suspected of substance abuse, and the criminalization of mental illness.

“We welcomed the opportunity for civil society in Chicago, IL to meet with Working Group members and provide input to their report. They were able to hear directly from returning citizens, activists, family members, investigative journalists, and progressive lawyers from impacted communities who are fighting to expose and end the arbitrary detention and punishment of U.S. political prisoners, trans people of color, children, people with mental illness, among many others. As the USHRN continues to build a people-centered human rights movement, it is imperative that civil society be given equal time to brief UN Working Group members on direct experiences with government officials,” said Vickie Casanova Willis, President of the National Conference of Black Lawyers and Co-chair of the USHRN Working Group on Political Participation and State Repression/Violence.

“The Working Group’s preliminary findings support the grounded human rights demands of grassroots communities who have been tirelessly working to end the abuses within prisons, jails, detention centers, and all places across this country where liberty is deprived,” said Amanda Chavez Barnes, Member Organizing Director at the US Human Rights Network. “It is long past time for Department of Homeland Security to end mandatory detention for migrants, to permanently end the use of privately-run detention facilities, to abolish family detention by immediately shutting down Dilley and Berks, to end life-without-parole sentences for youth, to end the criminalization of mental health and substance abuse, and to stop incarcerating people for being unable to pay bonds, court fines, and fees. We urge the relevant agencies to implement the Working Group’s recommendations as swiftly as possible as a first step toward complying with internationally recognized human rights standards.”

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