The New York Times reports that the Obama administration will announce an overhaul to immigration detention centers across the country. Details are sketchy, but the plan will include a review of over 350 detention centers currently run by private companies and municipalities. It will also shutter Texas' T. Don Hutto Residential Center, which has been the subject of an ACLU civil rights suit. The Huffington Post adds that 23 federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials will be stationed at detention facilities across the country to monitor how illegal immigrants are housed and treated.
One can only hope that the plan will standardize what is a patchwork system and prevent abuses like those committed by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has detained illegal immigrants in tents in 100-plus-degree weather; reinstituted chain gangs; forced detainees to wear pink underwear; separated mothers from children; and created a task force charged solely with ferreting out illegal immigrants in broad "sweeps" at businesses and traffic stops. Most recently, he has defied the federal government by refusing to cease the detention of immigrants who have committed no crime other than entering the country without documentation. He has also failed to consult with federal officials when he conducts raids.
But thus far, the Obama administration has largely toed to Bush's anti-immigrant line. It is stepping up enforcement by conducting audits of employers' paperwork, encouraging local officials to act as immigration regulators, and helping identify illegal workers who apply for jobs via an electronic system called E-Verify.
Most important, the Obama administration has refused to create legally binding standards for immigrant detention centers; any of its guidelines are merely suggestive. With immigration officials able to violate federal detention center guidelines with impunity, legal groups like the ACLU will have to score piecemeal victories for immigrant detainees' basic rights. The move today is an important toward centralizing federal power over a fractured system, but it does little to take power away from rogue local enforcers like Arpaio.