Moving to Find More Humane Immigration Detention Policies

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In early March, the White House announced that President Obama has ordered Jeh Johnson, his Homeland Security Secretary, to look for ways to conduct the current deportation system “more humanely within the confines of the law.”[1] The announcement was made immediately after the President’s Oval Office meeting with three Latino members of the Congress.[2] On the following day, the President gathered more than a dozen labor and immigration leaders for a discussion of current deportation policies and the declining prospects of the comprehensive immigration reform.[3]

Since the beginning of his presidency, President Obama has promised immigration reform to provide a path to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants.[4] Although a comprehensive immigration reform bill was passed by the Senate last year, the Republican-controlled House has delayed any action by refusing to take up the bill.[5] In the meantime, President Obama has presided over the greatest mass deportation in the history of this country.[6] Those in deportation proceedings are kept in detention until a decision is made by authorities regarding their immigration status.[7]

While international treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Refugee Convention allows states to enforce deportation measures, it does not permit them to violate basic human rights in carrying out the procedures.[8] However, the detention system as it exists now has raised serious concerns about violating the rights of detainees.[9] A number of sources have reported that detainees face poor confinement conditions, sexual assault, inadequate medical treatment, and physical abuse.[10] Dr. Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist who studies detention confinement, has indicated that the force used by the immigration officials is unnecessary to enforce civil detentions and that is “a human rights abuse.”[11] These concerns have led to a public outcry from immigration rights activists who have put increasing pressure on the President to take unilateral steps to reverse the rate of deportation.[12]

Time and again, the President has insisted that nothing can be done until legislation is passed by Congress.[13] However, after Thursday’s announcement, the President has indicated that he “still intends to pressure Republicans to pass an immigration overhaul,” but he “would take another look at deportation policies in the meantime.”[14] Democratic Illinois Representative Luis Gutierrez has indicated that, “[i]t is clear that the pleas from the community got through to the president.”[15] While no further details are given as to what steps the Obama administration would take, it marks a shift in the President’s approach to reforming the current deportation system.

[1] James S. Brady, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Mar. 14, 2014,

[2] Arden Dier, Obama to Look Into ‘More Humane’ Deportation, Newser, Mar. 14, 2014,

[3] Alan Gomez, Obama Discusses Deportations with Hispanic Groups, USA Today, Mar. 14, 2014,

[4] R.G. and A.M., Obama and Aliens, The Economist blog, Feb. 7, 2014,

[5] Jim Acosta and Kevin Liptak, Obama Hunting for Deportation Alternatives, CNN Political Ticker, (last visited Mar. 16, 2014).

[6] Michael C. Bender, Obama Pressured to Slow Deportations as Bill Talks Fade, Bloomberg, Feb. 24, 2014,

[7] Stephen Dinan, Obama Calls for ‘More Humane’ Deportation Policy, The Washington Times, Mar. 13, 2014,

[8] The Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR), ACLU, (last visited Mar. 16, 2014).

[9] ACLU-GA Releases Report on Immigration Detention, ACLU of Georgia, May 16, 2012,

[10] Detention and Deportation in the Age of ICE, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, (PDF) (last visited Mar. 8, 2014).

[11] Ian Urbina and Catherine Rentz, Immigrants Held in Solitary Cells, Often for Weeks, The New York Times, Mar. 23, 2013,

[12] Michael C. Bender, Obama Pressured to Slow Deportations as Bill Talks Fade, Bloomberg, Feb. 24, 2014,

[13] Dier, supra note 2.

[14] Josh Lederman, Under Pressure, Obama Vows to Examine Deportations, Associated Press, Mar. 13, 2014, (no longer available).

[15] Emma Margolin, White House to Look for More Humane Deportation Practices, MSNBC, Mar. 14, 2014,

Posted by Jee-Eun Ahn (Julie) on Fri. April 4, 2014 8:00 AM
Categories: Immigration, Latin America

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