Today, The New Orleans Advocate featured a story that investigates the financial incentives that have prompted sheriffs’ offices in Louisiana to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to take asylum seekers and detained immigrants into custody in prisons throughout the state.The story by Bryn Stole shines some important light on the realities of the detention business that few people know about.
The number of detention centers and immigration beds in Louisiana can be surprising for those not working in the field. The fact that Alexandria, Louisiana has an international airport is also surprising. We're not throwing shade on Alexandria, but there are few cities with a population or roughly 47,000 that host an international airport. The only international flights out of Alexandria are the ones operated by ICE Air Operations (IAO), the air transportation arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In many ways the detention centers and the number of people moving through the centers are hidden in our own backyard. People are moved to and from the centers on planes and busses without ever being seen. Rural locations make contact with families and finding representation difficult. Louisiana has few pro bono resources, and pro bono resources for detainees are even more scarce. Individuals in immigration proceedings are not provided attorneys—not even the kids.
Studies consistently show that detainees with access to legal representation are far more likely to succeed in immigration court. “Depending on custody status, representation was associated with a nineteen to forty-three percentage point boost in rate of case success,” a University of Pennsylvania Law Review study found in 2015. “These findings suggest that having an attorney to help navigate the complex removal process enhances the chance of success in removal.”
Detainees in rural Louisiana and the remote parts of other states have a hard time securing representation, and such organizations as Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy (ISLA) and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) are doing what they can to help. Still, they are moving a mountain one grain of sand at a time at a time when the Trump Administration keeps rebuilding the mountain.
The article provides a good snapshot of the scope of immigration detention in Louisiana and the incentives outside of a pursuit of justice that can affect justice-related decisions. It is great to see light casting out shadows.
Read our coverage of the efforts to convince the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office not to hold detainees for ICE.