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For Immediate Release

PHR Welcomes Creation of ICE Public Advocate

Urges ICE to Do More to Protect Detained Immigrants

Cambridge, Mass. - 02/08/2012

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with enforcing immigration laws and running immigration detention centers, announced on Thursday that it is creating a Public Advocate post to address complaints regarding immigration enforcement. 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 to Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Director Gary Mead.

According to a press release from ICE, the Public Advocate’s portfolio will include:

  • Assisting individuals and community stakeholders in addressing and resolving complaints and concerns in accordance with agency policies and operations, particularly concerns related to ICE enforcement actions involving US citizens;
  • Informing stakeholders on ERO policies, programs, and initiatives and enhancing understanding of ERO’s mission and core values;
  • Engaging stakeholders and building partnerships to facilitate communication, foster collaboration, and solicit input on immigration enforcement initiatives and operations; and
  • Advising ICE leadership on stakeholder findings, concerns, recommendations, and priorities as they relate to improving immigration enforcement efforts and activities.

Christy Fujio, PHR’s Asylum Program Director, applauded the new post. “We’ve been pushing ICE to strengthen its oversight of immigration enforcement, and particularly the immigration detention system, for a long time now,” Fujio said, “so it’s gratifying to see that ICE is responding to the concerns of immigration advocates.”

The Public Advocate’s office will join other departments in DHS including the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the Office of Detention Oversight (ODO) in providing supervision of the sprawling network of over 250 immigration detention centers spread across the country.

Opponents of immigration reform in Congress and elsewhere were quick to react negatively to the announcement. Representative Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called the creation of a Public Advocate position “outrageous” and said that it demonstrates that the Obama administration wants to “[put] illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of Americans.”

While ICE does detain and remove many undocumented immigrants, it also enforces immigration laws regarding Lawful Permanent Residents and those who arrive at the US border and ask for asylum. These immigrants, who are in the US legally, make up a large portion of the nearly 34,000 immigrants detained in ICE-run facilities every night.

“The Public Advocate does nothing to hinder ICE’s immigration enforcement, so why criticize it? Every detained immigrant, and every immigrant who comes into contact with ICE, has a right to humane and fair treatment of the sort that the Public Advocate will hopefully help to guarantee,” said Fujio.

But while PHR welcomes ICE’s attempts to push forward efforts to reform the way it enforces immigration laws, PHR urges ICE to go further by creating a system in which immigrants can submit complaints about their treatment directly to ICE and receive timely responses.

“The need for an ombudsman within ICE is particularly acute for the tens of thousands of immigrants held in detention facilities, many of whom do not receive adequate medical care despite repeated requests to local ICE authorities,” Fujio said. “We hope that the Public Advocate position is the first step toward creating a fully-staffed ombudsman’s office that can receive and 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 stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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