Advocacy organizations generally employ a three-prongapproach to ensure that human rights are protected: we work with governments toadvise them of what they’re doing right and wrong, we expose problems and abusesthrough investigations and reporting, and we support government agents as theywork to implement stronger human rightsprotections.
PHR’s Asylum Program has been actively engaged in all ofthese activities over the past few years as we’ve worked with Immigration andCustoms Enforcement (ICE) to improve the immigration detention system, throughwhich about 400,000 immigrants pass each year. While we still have a long wayto go to ensure that immigrants are detained in the best and least-restrictiveconditions possible – and we maintain that the use of immigration detentionneeds to be drastically reduced – we have been impressed by the commitment andresponsiveness of some ICE staff who have worked to resolve our concerns, bothat a system-wide level and on individual cases.
Just yesterday, one of our volunteer psychologists was toldby officials at a New Jersey detention center that she would have to provideher social security number in order to gain entrance to the facility to performa forensic psychological evaluation for an asylum seeker. Forensicpsychological evaluations are often vital to proving that an asylum applicanthas suffered persecution and torture in his home country, and is genuinelyafraid of more harm if he or she does not receive asylum. The psychologist hadalready submitted personal information and subsequently been cleared to enterby ICE, so this additional requirement by the local officials was burdensomeand inappropriate. Needless to say, non-detained asylum applicants do not facethis additional hurdle in preparing their cases.
The ICE Public Advocateresponded within minutes to our request for his assistance, and he looped inother ICE staff to help resolve this issue. By the end of the day, we receivedconfirmation that our psychologist would be allowed entrance without anyfurther obstacles or requests for information.
PHR provided almost 500 forensic medical evaluations lastyear for victims of human rights abuses, and many of them were conducted indetention facilities. Historically, our volunteer clinicians have frequentlyencountered obstacles at the local facilities, so we are thrilled at ICE’sclear demonstration of its commitment to facilitate these examinations, whichare critically important to asylum seekers.