In the wake of the Families Belong Together rallies around the country, much of the national and local conversation has focused on the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, stories of family separation and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Pennsylvania has four facilities that have contracts to hold ICE detainees, including the nearby Clinton County Correctional Facility. So what exactly does the facility do with its detainees?
Immigration detainers can be issued when ICE identifies potentially deportable individuals who are booked into a jail following an arrest for suspected criminal activity, despite whether or not they will be deported or convicted of a crime. American citizens have been so identified. “Even a person simply arrested for a misdemeanor or traffic violation can be subject to a detainer,” the American Immigration Council stated on their website.
When adults are detained, they are held in local facilities pending immigration proceedings until federal officials, such as ICE or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, come to obtain custody.
On average per month, acting warden Angela Hoover said the facility holds 55 detainees who are both male and female. Detainees are held at the facility, on average, for about 12 days.
“They don’t hold a huge population of ICE detainees, but they have historically had a fraction,” said Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, a professor at Penn State Law and founder of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. “I would separate the general criminal population in any county jail, from the civil immigration detention population for which the county is being paid per bed to hold that individual.”
Children of detained families, however, are not held at the facility.
“Unaccompanied minors are not held in county jails, they are under the care and custody of the office of refugee resettlement in the Health and Human Services Department,” Wadhia said, “and they are supposed to be held in a less restrictive setting.”
Hoover stated there are no ICE officials based in Clinton County, however they visit the facility and detainees on a weekly basis to identify any needs they may have. Clinton County Commissioner Paul Conklin said the facility’s location right off of route 80 makes it easy for ICE officials to house and transfer people with detainers when traveling through Pennsylvania.
Although the topic of ICE recently reached news headlines, the agency has been around for 15 years after the Homeland Security Act was set into motion in 2003. Clinton County’s facility has been holding ICE detainees since the start, according to Hoover.
“The idea of using county facilities to house immigrants is not new to the Trump administration,” Wadhia said. “It’s long been a staple in immigration enforcement.”
Standards of care
ICE has created detention standards that state the basics of care needed at every facility housing detainees. Some of the standards include access to medical care, telephones, language translation services, and a law library.
According to Wadhia, access to a law library is important for non-citizens to prepare their cases, as they often have to navigate their cases alone.
“Eighty-four percent of all detained immigrants navigate the removal process without a lawyer,” Wadhia said. “It is a lot harder to get legal assistance and help when you are incarcerated.” In Pennsylvania, reports by Trac immigration have shown a history of an overwhelming majority of people who are detained proceed to immigration court without representation.
Clinton County’s facility goes through inspections every 2 years by both ICE and the State Department of Corrections to see if they comply with detention standards. “We always meet their expectations or exceed their expectations,” said Clinton County Commissioner Pete Smeltz said.
Holding detainees can cost taxpayers money, according to Wadhia. “That cost only goes up when dealing with an unaccompanied minor or with a family in detention,” Wadhia said.
According to Hoover, the facility is paid $75 per day to hold detainees. The money goes towards “everything that the detainee would need,” according to Clinton County Commissioner Paul Conklin.
In response to some claims nationwide calling for the government to abolish ICE, Wadhia does not see that happening.
“The whole abolish ICE soundbite, you know, I don’t really see that as a very good solution or is helpful,” Wadhia said. “It’s a sound bite without any substance, really.”