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The Homeland Security Department intends to put federal employees in charge of monitoring the treatment of detainees in the country's largest immigration detention facilities, two years after the government turned that job over to a private company.
The Obama administration plans to place 23 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials at the largest detention facilities to supervise how the detention centers are managed, according to people briefed on the plan. Private contractors have been used since 2007, when they were hired to ensure impartial inspections. Before that, federal employees did the job.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement planned to announce details of the detention policy changes in a conference call with reporters Thursday.
While ICE is calling the switch to federal monitors and other changes to the detention system "major reforms," this, like the Obama administration's plan to enforce immigration law at the workplace, is not an overhaul. The new detention center plan includes a tweaking of past policies and some new positions.
The government has been criticized for its treatment of immigration detainees, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has made detention policies a top priority for her department.
ICE, which is part of Homeland Security, intends to hire a medical expert to review the health care protocols for the detention centers and give an independent review of medical complaints, according to the people briefed on the plan. They spoke only on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement explained some of the plan to immigration advocates in a conference call Wednesday evening. ICE said it plans to turn a detention center in Texas for parents and their children into a women's facility and no longer place families there, said a person who was on the call. A separate facility in Pennsylvania will continue housing families.
Shortly after Napolitano became secretary, she named Dora Schriro to advise her on detentions and arrests. Schriro headed Arizona's corrections department when Napolitano was governor of the state.
As part of its plan, the department will create another new position to be filled by Schriro: director of the Office of Detention Policy and Planning.
Detention has grown in recent years, with the federal government holding more than 32,000 detainees each day. Over the last four years, the budget for keeping immigrants in custody has nearly doubled to $1.7 billion, according to ICE.
Several bills were filed last week by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to revamp the immigration detention system. The bills call for setting minimum detention standards and for the homeland security secretary to enforce laws on treatment of detainees.
This program aired on August 6, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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