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ICE Public Advocate Steps in to Right a Wrong in Detention Facility

Christy Carnegie Fujio, JD, MA on February 17, 2012

Advocacy organizations generally employ a three-prong approach to ensure that human rights are protected: we work with governments to advise them of what they’re doing right and wrong, we expose problems and abuses through investigations and reporting, and we support government agents as they work to implement stronger  human rights protections.

PHR’s Asylum Program has been actively engaged in all of these activities over the past few years as we’ve worked with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to improve the immigration detention system, through which about 400,000 immigrants pass each year. While we still have a long way to go to ensure that immigrants are detained in the best and least-restrictive conditions possible - and we maintain that the use of immigration detention needs to be drastically reduced - we have been impressed by the commitment and responsiveness of some ICE staff who have worked to resolve our concerns, both at a system-wide level and on individual cases.

Just yesterday, one of our volunteer psychologists was told by officials at a New Jersey detention center that she would have to provide her social security number in order to gain entrance to the facility to perform a forensic psychological evaluation for an asylum seeker. Forensic psychological evaluations are often vital to proving that an asylum applicant has suffered persecution and torture in his home country, and is genuinely afraid of more harm if he or she does not receive asylum. The psychologist had already submitted personal information and subsequently been cleared to enter by ICE, so this additional requirement by the local officials was burdensome and inappropriate. Needless to say, non-detained asylum applicants do not face this additional hurdle in preparing their cases.

The ICE Public Advocate responded within minutes to our request for his assistance, and he looped in other ICE staff to help resolve this issue. By the end of the day, we received confirmation that our psychologist would be allowed entrance without any further obstacles or requests for information.

PHR provided almost 500 forensic medical evaluations last year for victims of human rights abuses, and many of them were conducted in detention facilities. Historically, our volunteer clinicians have frequently encountered obstacles at the local facilities, so we are thrilled at ICE’s clear demonstration of its commitment to facilitate these examinations, which are critically important to asylum seekers.


Places: United States