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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Immigration Detainees Get a 'Better' Prison

New York Times (Editorial): Federal officials this week unveiled a new immigration detention center in rural Karnes County, Tex., the first designed and built to reflect the Obama administration’s effort to stop treating all detainees like criminals. The center is brightly painted and looks more like a school than a prison, with dormitory-style rooms, a gym, library, medical office and soccer field. Detainees can move around freely, exercise, watch TV and use computers. They can also attend their hearings in rooms hooked up for video conferencing with judges in Houston and San Antonio.

Cue the Republican outrage. “The administration goes beyond common sense to accommodate illegal immigrants and treats them better than citizens in federal custody,” said the statement from Representative Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. For Mr. Smith and his fellow immigration hard-liners, the only acceptable approach to the undocumented is more aggressive pursuit, harsher punishment and swifter exile.

We give credit to the Obama administration for recognizing what Mr. Smith and his allies refuse to: that immigration detainees are far from a monolithic class of dangerous criminals. They are people being held on violations of civil law, or refugees and asylum seekers awaiting hearings. Most pose no threat, many have no criminal records, many have children who are American citizens.

For too long, the challenge of making sure accused immigration violators appear in court has had a one-size-fits-all answer: a jail cell, often far from family and lawyers, in a sprawling system of private and public lockups. All too often, inmates in shoddy, poorly monitored detention centers have been abused and neglected. Some have died for lack of medical treatment.

The Karnes center is an encouraging first step toward building a better immigration jail. But it’s still a jail. The administration would do well to pour at least as much effort into expanding alternatives to prison for low-risk detainees. Many can be released on bond or in the care of sponsors or monitored at home. It will cost the government far less and be far more humane and still ensure that accused violators show up for their day in court.

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