USA: Jailed Without Justice

March 25, 2009

USA: Jailed Without Justice

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Jailed Without Justice:

Immigration Detention in the USA

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1. Introduction

"Whether I'm documented or not, I'm a human being. I used to think birds in a cage were so pretty but no one should be deprived of freedom - no one should be caged."
-Amnesty International interview with former immigration detainee (identity withheld), June 2008


After suffering torture and five years imprisonment in an Albanian concentration camp due to anti-communist activities, Mr. M was granted asylum and had been living in the United States for over 12 years when he was detained by immigration authorities and placed in mandatory detention. At the time of his detention in 2004, Mr. M had been a lawful permanent resident since 1992 and he was married with three US citizen children. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) charged Mr. M with being deportable from the US due to convictions related to purchasing a stolen vehicle and filing false information in a home loan application. He spent more than four years in detention fighting deportation by seeking protection under the Convention Against Torture, fearing that he would be tortured if returned.[1] Mr. M's wife and children lived in San Diego, California, hundreds of miles from where he was detained, so over four years they saw each other only four or five times. His wife told Amnesty International she was struggling to raise their children alone. Having lost the lease to their small business, she said she didn't know how they would survive, yet she could not bring herself to tell her husband because she did not want to further erode his spirit. At the time Amnesty International interviewed the family, Mr. M was considering giving up his case because he did not know if or when he would be released from detention. According to his attorney, Mr. M was finally released on bond in September 2008 and is extremely happy to be back with his family awaiting final determination of his case. [2]
-Amnesty International interviews with Mr. M's wife and attorney (identities withheld), June 2008 [3]


Migration is a fact of life. Some people move to new countries to improve their economic situation or to pursue their education. Others leave their countries to escape armed conflict or violations of their human rights, such as torture, persecution, or extreme poverty. Many move for a combination of reasons. Governments have the right to exercise authority over their borders; however, they also have obligations under international law to protect the human rights of migrants, no matter what prompted an individual to leave his or her home country.

This report focuses on the human rights violations associated with the dramatic increase in the use of detention by the United States as an immigration enforcement mechanism. In just over a decade, immigration detention has tripled. In 1996, immigration authorities had a daily detention capacity of less than 10,000.[4] Today more than 30,000 immigrants are detained each day,[5] and this number is likely to increase even further in 2009.[6]