In a series of charged emails to the Colorado Independent prompted by a report on the existence of unlisted immigrant-detention “subfield offices” in the state, Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, wrote to clarify that the offices were used only for processing suspects. He said immigrants suspected of violations were held at the agency’s subfield offices for up to approximately two hours before being transferred to long-term holding facilities. He conceded that contact information for the facilities was unavailable and that detainees being processed at the offices were not allowed to contact relatives or attorneys before being transferred to the larger facilities. The nature of the processing done in the offices, however, was merely transitional, he wrote, and the offices were not “secret.”
“Does ICE have ‘secret’ detention facilities? NO! ” Rusnok wrote. “ICE suboffices around the country have temporary holding cells where the arrested or transferred detainees can remain secure while they are processed for transfer to a longer-term detention facility.”
He asserted that the amounts of time individuals are held at the subfield offices must be taken into account in any assessment of ICE procedures.
“For an alien being processed for two hours, why would it be important for the public to have access to the address or phone number? The agents should not be burdened with after-the-fact calls (or harassment calls) when the alien will be able to call his relatives/friends when he arrives at the longer-term detention facility?” Rusnok wrote.
Critics of the system reiterated that this kind of defense missed the point of their concerns.
State Sen. Morgan Carroll, a civil rights attorney, speaking at a vigil earlier this month said that any and all locations where individuals are being held should be listed as detention facilities and that facility contact information should be public and readily available. She encouraged the state’s delegation in Washington to work to bring greater transparency to the immigration detention system.
Dean Toda, spokesperson for former House Speaker and U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff, told the Colorado Independent that the amount of time people are being held at the facilities is not the primary concern. The time clearly may vary. The fact is, if facilities exist where individuals are being detained in Colorado or across the U.S., those facilities should be listed, said Toda. He underlined that Romanoff would be committed as a U.S. Senator to working for reform.
In his emails, Rusnok did not detail how long processing took on average for suspects who moved through the subfield offices– that is, the time that passes from initial arrest, through subfield detention and booking and transfer to larger facilities before suspects could place phone calls. He didn’t say whether records were kept of these processes, whether there were specific rules governing them and, if there were, whether specific officials were responsible for making certain the rules were followed.
Rusnok wanted to be clear that immigration law specifically addressed detention time limits. He said the law clearly guarded against indefinite detention, a concern voiced by immigration rights advocates tracing detentions in Colorado. He pointed to the Supreme Court case Zadvydas v. Davis, which sets limits on the amount of time immigrants can be held. Yet it is clear from the ruling that the limits can be vague and depend on the varying circumstances of cases.
The law is further complicated by the fact that many relevant protections are provided for criminal offenders but that the vast majority of immigrant detainees are being held not for committing criminal offenses but for alleged civil violations of the U.S. immigration and naturalization statutes.
Sen. Carroll and interfaith organizing director for immigrant rights for the American Friends Service Committee Jennifer Piper told the Colorado Independent that the right to an attorney, for example, does not apply in these cases. Immigrants charged with civil violations must pay for their own legal representation or find attorneys who will work for free.