Department of State Human Rights Reports in ICE Detention Center Law Libraries

A question that came up at the December 9th 2018 volunteer meeting is, are detention centers required to supply documents relevant to country conditions and Department of State (DOS) Human Rights (HR) reports specifically? The short answer is a clear and unambiguous “Yes”. For those unfamiliar with these documents, they are briefly described. In addition, specific ICE detention standards detailing the fact that the documents must be supplied are cited, and finally a case is made that this is yet another issue that needs close monitoring.

As visitor-volunteers, we frequently visit with or write to detained asylum seekers who are pro se respondents (they have no attorney and are representing themselves). From the pro se asylum seekers we visit or write to, one of the more common requests that we receive is to supply DOS HR reports detailing country conditions. According to the DOS, these HR documents are created in part to help immigration judges (IJ) make well informed decisions.

“..when our immigration officers or our immigration judges are assessing asylum claims or refugee claims, they’re matching the person’s story against what they know of country conditions, and they use these reports as a factual baseline for that. “

Ambassador Kozak, April 20, 2018

The detained pro se respondents we visit often ask volunteers to print out and mail in these documents which can run 30-60 pages. Over the course of a couple of months, some volunteers have printed out and mailed half a dozen reports to detained pro se asylum seekers. These reports are important and valuable sources of credible information that an immigration judge (IJ) can (and should) use to assess the totality of circumstances when deciding a case. Sadly, local immigration attorneys report that IJ’s are not compelled to evaluate country conditions.  Some volunteers have observed and had immigration attorneys tell them that IJ’s often seem to ignore country conditions even though these details are central to an asylum seekers fear of return. In at least one case we’ve seen the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) chide one of our local IJ’s for not more carefully considering country conditions when making a negative asylum decision. The Department of Justice (DOJ) Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) recognizes that country conditions are critical to asylum cases, and it has a portion of its website dedicated specifically to country condition research. The featured resource listed by DOJ EOIR are the DOS HR reports, the very reports we are so frequently asked to print out and mail in.

ICE PDNDS (2011 rev 2016: 423)Standard 6.3.V.E.1 Materials for Law Libraries states that “Each law library shall contain the materials listed in ‘Appendix 6.3.A: List of Legal Reference Materials for Detention Facilities” (unless any are found to be out of print).” There is also a list of optional materials. Importantly, Appendix 6.3.A Item 12 is the “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” which are the “Department of State annual reports to Congress on human rights practices in individual countries” (PBNDS 2016: 430). Yes, detention facilities are explicitly required by PBNDS 20011 to supply DOS HR reports. If someone you are visiting requests such a report, ask very clearly if the report is in the law library? If it is not, then the facility is in violation of PDNDS Standard 6.3.V.E.1 and we want to know about it. Please note that facilities are also required to supply Appendix 6.3.A Item 13 the “Human Rights Watch: World Report.” Again, if these materials a not available in the law library, we need to know about this and make an effort to correct it.

Please note that PBNDS (2016: 425) Standard 6.3.H Photocopying Legal Documents states very clearly that, “[t]he facility shall ensure that detainees can obtain at no cost to the detainee photocopies of legal material and special correspondence when such copies are reasonable and necessary for a legal proceeding involving a detainee.” DOS HR reports are both reasonable and necessary documents for the preparation of a defensive asylum case. The facilities: 1) must supply the documents, and 2) allow detained persons to copy these documents at no charge. 

In closing, to be very clear, it is the responsibility of ICE (EPPC) and any private contractor managing the facility to supply DOS HR reports and permit detained individuals to copy these documents for the preparation of their case materials. If the rules are followed, we should never have to print out and mail DOS HR reports to help support our friends. Being freed of this particular responsibility, that ICE rules dictate is really the responsibility of the detention facilities, we can direct efforts to printing out and mailing in supporting materials like Amnesty International reports that facilities are not required to supply. If, however, ICE or private contractors don’t follow the rules we may need to supply the HR reports so that our friends can make timely submissions. If this is an issue, which given the frequency of requests, one might have reasonable suspicion that it is, then gathering accounts of the problem will help make a case that the problem needs swift resolution to bring the facilities to ICE standards. Thanks to whoever raised this question of DOS HR reports last evening.

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