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UN working group condemns US for excessive immigrant detentions

The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has just issued a highly critical report condemning widespread detention of asylum seekers and other immigrants by the U.S. The group described immigrant detention in the U.S. as having "grown exponentially" despite the fact that it is often in violation of international law.

The group of independent experts drafted the 23-page report for the UN Human Rights Council after completing a survey in the U.S. last October. After visiting nine prisons in California, Texas and Illinois and interviewing some 280 detainees, the group concluded that detention is too often "punitive, unreasonably long, unnecessary and costly" and ought to be considered only as a last resort, according to Reuters.

Each year, the group estimates, 352,850 people, including asylum and refugee seekers, are detained in the U.S. awaiting immigration proceedings. This costs the nation approximately $2 billion annually.

The detention is harsh. The group reported seeing immigrants, including asylum seekers, held in prisons or prison-like conditions that were comparable to the conditions in which convicted criminals are held. Moreover, many had awaited their immigration proceedings for between six months to over a year. The report found this to be unreasonable.

UN group voices concern over Trump executive order

Like many immigrant rights groups, the working group questioned the purpose and legality of a Jan. 25 executive order signed by President Trump. The order in question allows immigrants to be detained merely on suspicion that they have violated state or federal law, including suspicion of unauthorized entry into the U.S.

The order could allow bias or racial profiling into decisions about detention. The working group also fears that the order laid the groundwork for "expanding the existing detention system by increasing the number of individuals subject to immigration detention."

The report also notes that, in March, the Department of Homeland Security considered adopting a policy of separating parents and children who are caught crossing the border "in an attempt to deter illegal immigration from Mexico." Such a policy would be especially pernicious in view of the number of refuge and asylum seekers fleeing violence in Central America.

"All administrative detention, in particular of immigrants in an irregular situation, should be in accordance with international human rights law; and that such detention is to be a measure of last resort, necessary and proportionate and be not punitive in nature, and that alternatives to detention are to be sought whenever possible," the report concluded.

When asked for a comment, a White House spokesperson said unhelpfully, "That's a question for the U.N." The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

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