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Penn Law Delegation Testifies Before Human Rights Commission

March 25, 2009

Immigrants detained in the United States increasingly are denied due process, abused by local law enforcement and held in poor detention conditions, a delegation led by the University of Pennsylvania Law School told a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

“As more power is delegated to different arms of the law, government control and supervision of the detention process dwindles, leaving immigrant detainees with fewer rights and even fewer recourses to correct the injustice,” said Jasmine Zacharias, a third-year Penn Law student from Valley Stream, N.Y.
Zacharias was joined at the hearing by Penn Law lecturer Sarah Paoletti, who provides students with practical experience in matters related to international, human rights and immigration law as director of the Law School’s Transnational Legal Clinic. Zacharias and her clinic partner, second-year student Joshua Schlenger, from Flushing, N.Y., helped conduct the research upon which the testimony was based. The delegation also included Aarti Shahani, a researcher with Justice Strategies, and Brittney Nystrom, senior legal adviser at the National Immigration Forum.
IACHR is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States.   In January, Penn Law hosted a site visit with the commission and Pennsylvania immigration advocates.
Zacharias told the Commission that immigrant detainees frequently lack access to effective counsel and are often deported without being granted a full and fair opportunity to assert their right to stay in the country through the rising use of stipulated and expedited removals.  Shahani testified that the empowering of local law enforcement on immigration matters – including the power to arrest individuals during routine traffic stops based on suspicion of their immigration status through the use of Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act – has led to racial profiling, increased arrests and prolonged detentions for minor infractions. Better federal oversight, including training and systems to monitor abuse, is needed, the delegation said.
Finally, the coalition of advocates led by Penn Law raised concerns about the treatment of immigrant detainees. Many of those detained on suspicion of immigration violations, including young children, are unnecessarily separated from their families, even within the detention system, Paoletti said. “Generally, the conditions in detention facilities are substandard, there is inadequate medical treatment, and it is not uncommon for people to remain in prolonged detention while the government files appeals, or even to be confined for up to four months even when no appeals pending,” she said. 
In highlighting these human rights violations of immigrant detainees, the coalition called for increased transparency, accountability, and the preservation of due process in U.S. immigration policies and practices.