For Immediate Release
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agencywithin the Department of Homeland Security charged with enforcing immigrationlaws and running immigration detention centers, announced on Thursday that itis creating a Public Advocate post to address complaints regarding immigrationenforcement. The Public Advocate will act as a liaison between immigrants,stakeholders, and ICE on issues related to immigration enforcement operations,including the immigration detention system, and will report directly toEnforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Director Gary Mead.
According to a press release from ICE, the Public Advocate’sportfolio will include:
- Assisting individuals and community stakeholdersin addressing and resolving complaints and concerns in accordance with agencypolicies and operations, particularly concerns related to ICE enforcementactions involving US citizens;
- Informing stakeholders on ERO policies,programs, and initiatives and enhancing understanding of ERO’s mission and corevalues;
- Engaging stakeholders and building partnershipsto facilitate communication, foster collaboration, and solicit input onimmigration enforcement initiatives and operations; and
- Advising ICE leadership on stakeholder findings,concerns, recommendations, and priorities as they relate to improvingimmigration enforcement efforts and activities.
Christy Fujio, PHR’s Asylum Program Director, applauded thenew post. “We’ve been pushing ICE to strengthen its oversight of immigrationenforcement, and particularly the immigration detention system, for a long timenow,” Fujio said, “so it’s gratifying to see that ICE is responding to theconcerns of immigration advocates.”
The Public Advocate’s office will join other departments inDHS including the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and theOffice of Detention Oversight (ODO) in providing supervision of the sprawlingnetwork of over 250 immigration detention centers spread across the country.
Opponents of immigration reform in Congress and elsewherewere quick to react negatively to the announcement. Representative Lamar Smith,Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called the creation of a PublicAdvocate position “outrageous” and said that it demonstrates that the Obama administrationwants to “[put] illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of Americans.”
While ICE does detain and remove many undocumentedimmigrants, it also enforces immigration laws regarding Lawful PermanentResidents and those who arrive at the US border and ask for asylum. Theseimmigrants, who are in the US legally, make up a large portion of the nearly34,000 immigrants detained in ICE-run facilities every night.
“The Public Advocate does nothing to hinder ICE’simmigration enforcement, so why criticize it? Every detainedimmigrant, and every immigrant who comes into contact with ICE, has a right tohumane and fair treatment of the sort that the Public Advocate will hopefullyhelp to guarantee,” said Fujio.
But while PHR welcomes ICE’s attempts to push forwardefforts to reform the way it enforces immigration laws, PHR urges ICE to gofurther by creating a system in which immigrants can submit complaints abouttheir treatment directly to ICE and receive timely responses.
“The need for an ombudsman within ICE is particularly acutefor the tens of thousands of immigrants held in detention facilities, many ofwhom do not receive adequate medical care despite repeated requests to localICE authorities,” Fujio said. “We hope that the Public Advocate position is thefirst step toward creating a fully-staffed ombudsman’s office that can receiveand quickly respond to complaints directly from immigrants.”
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.