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  • An immigrant watches as a U.S. Border Patrol agent records family information.

    An immigrant watches as a U.S. Border Patrol agent records family information. | Photo: AFP

Published 27 January 2017

Private detention facilities often hold immigrants in poor conditions with limited access to legal counsel.

U.S. President Donald Trump's new immigration plans will likely lead to increased detention of immigrants, which human rights organizations have called inhumane and potentially unconstitutional.

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Despite controversy surrounding privately owned detention centers and prisons under the Obama administration, Trump’s plans will continue full force with the practice of detention, with the potential to lead to massive human rights abuses while fattening the pockets of private companies that run these detention centers.  

Trump’s executive order requires the detention of all migrants that cross the southern border, including minors and women with children. In 2016, more than 400,000 migrants were apprehended when crossing the border.

John Kelly, Trump's pick for Department of Homeland Security secretary, will lead the crackdown by tripling the number of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to have more manpower to deport and detain any migrant who tries to cross, including families, minors and asylum seekers regardless of their rights under U.S. and international laws.

The Trump administration will also "create more detention space" to hold immigrants awaiting deportation, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced on Wednesday.

Previously, the Border Patrol could decide to detain or release migrants while they are waiting for their case to be heard.

Even migrants who are released cannot easily “run amok” while waiting for a decision from an immigration judge. Immigrants waiting for their cases to be heard are in limbo without legal residency or a temporary work visa. They often have to wear ankle bracelets and ICE agents check up on them regularly. Given the high volume of cases, it can take up to two years for a case to be decided in immigration court.

Detention centers near the southern border have been overcrowded since the summer of 2014 when a surge of unaccompanied minors and women with children entered the U.S. from Central America’s Northern Triangle – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvado r– in numbers not seen since the 1980s when Central Americans fled brutal civil wars. The unprecedented number of detainees led to a humanitarian crisis and put extra stress on the immigration system.

President Obama’s policy of detaining women and children after the 2014 Central American migrant crisis was highly criticized. The most notable case was Artesia detention center in New Mexico, a 2,400-bed facility. 

In addition to terrible living conditions, women at the Artesia detention facility were granted asylum at much lower rates than the general population, likely because they were restricted access to legal counsel. In November 2014 the detention center was closed, but no substantial changes were made to the Obama Administration’s policy of detention.

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Back in August, Trump claimed his immigration plan would not include detaining immigrants in an interview with Bill O’Reilly. However, he also said that he would not let immigrants stay in their homes, raising doubts about whether he understood how his proposals could be carried out logistically.

In September 2016, the call to end private immigration detention centers was renewed by immigrants rights groups. At that time, Mother Jones exposed the widespread abuse within the private prison industry, leading the Department of Justice to announce it would stop contracting with private prisons. However, private immigration detention centers remain open. 

There are more than 180 migrant detention centers across the United States, where an estimated 33,000 people are housed per day. An estimated 65 percent of immigrant detainees are held in centers that are privately-owned or work with private contractors.

"Private detention facilities often hold immigrants in well-documented appalling and inhumane conditions where abuse and neglect are rampant," said U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, in a statement in September 2016.

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