ICYMI: The number of detainees held in Canada’s immigration holding centres is declining amid COVID-19 fears

Of note, and addressing some of the concerns:

Dozens of people who were held in Canada’s immigration detention facilities have been released over the last week as advocates and lawyers have called for their release amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to data obtained from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) by Global News, the total number of immigration detainees held in all three of Canada’s immigration holding centres dropped to 64 as of April 1 from 98 on March 25.

There are three immigration holding centres in Canada: one in Laval, Que., one in Toronto, and one in Surrey, B.C. However, hundreds of immigration detainees are held in provincial jails across the country — sometimes indefinitely.

The Toronto immigration holding centre, which has 198 beds, had the biggest drop in detainees, dropping to 21 detainees on April 1 from 41 on March 25. The Laval centre, which has 109 beds, went from 48 detainees to 35. And the Surrey centre went from having nine to eight in that timespan. CBSA said that no minors were in the facilities on those dates.

Earlier this week, TVO reported that an employee at the Toronto centre tested positive for COVID-19 and has been in isolation since March 18. So far, no detainees are confirmed to have contracted COVID-19.

A number of legal and advocacy groups have been calling for the release of people in immigration detention “unless they pose a danger to the public.” Canada’s immigration law allows CBSA officers to detain foreign nationals if they believe the person is unlikely to appear for an immigration proceeding like a hearing, if the person is deemed a threat to public safety, or if the person’s identity is under question.

Jenny Jeanes, the detention coordinator with Action Refugies, an NGO that works with people detained in the Laval immigration holding centre, said that she’s pleased that people are being released, and that the COVID-19 pandemic makes the situation even more urgent. She said that even more detainees at Laval have been released since April 1.

“Releases are picking up. And we were so relieved that after asking for a few weeks, finally some of the [detained] fathers who were separated from their families were released this week on an expedited basis,” Jeanes said in a phone interview.

“If people are released, it’s either because whatever issues there were that were leading them to be detained are resolved. So that’s been the case for some people. Some people were released in the past days because their identity was confirmed, (and) they were able to get the information that the CBSA needed to confirm their identity.”

Last month, detainees at the Laval centre started a hunger strike after sending a petition to the federal ministers of public safety and immigration, asking to be released from the centre over fears of contracting the virus in the facility.

Jeanes said that the hunger strike there was suspended earlier this week “but the distress of those inside has not ended.” Though her group previously conducted visits and work inside the centre multiple times a week, she and her colleagues recently moved to conducting their work remotely because of COVID-19, and have been communicating with Laval detainees over the phone.

“I’ve had people hang up in tears, sobbing with me on the phone this week because they see other people getting released. But they know that that doesn’t mean that they’re going to be released and they’re scared,” Jeanes said.

“At the best of times, detention can create anxiety, depression and other negative mental health effects. And I think right now, everybody, we’re all under strain. And so imagine that you’re in detention. It’s that much worse.”

“As this situation is fluid and evolving rapidly, the CBSA is continuing to closely monitor and assess the state of those in detention. All options are being considered at this time,” a CBSA spokesperson said in an email. “As always, should a detainee in CBSA care be seriously ill and in need of immediate medical attention, they would be referred to the appropriate local or emergency health authority for medical assessment without delay.”

Last week, Legal Aid Ontario said on its website that it was expanding its detention review hearing representation services for immigration detainees.

“We are pleased that in many cases CBSA is cooperating with detainees and their counsel to develop viable safe release plans; we think all involved recognize the personal and public health issues raised by detention during a pandemic,” Alyssa Manning, manager of Legal Aid Ontario’s immigration detention duty counsel project, said in a statement to Global News.

According to CBSA data, around 7,706 people were held in immigration holding centres in Canada last year, and around 2,249 people were detained by CBSA and held in provincial jails. The average time spent in detention was around 12 days.

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On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked why civil servants are still going into work at places like immigration detention facilities when that could increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 to those held in the facilities and among employees and their families.

“We’re going to continue to ensure that essential services get done. Wherever possible, civil servants are encouraged to work remotely from home. We know there are significant things that need to be worked on to deliver for Canadians, to keep Canadians safe at this particular time,” Trudeau said.

When asked whether the federal government would be releasing non-violent offenders in general, Trudeau said that “action has been taken” and that the government has been working with Corrections Canada and “detention facilities of all types” to reduce the vulnerability to the spread of COVID-19.

“We continue to look at other measures that can be taken and we will take those measures in due course.”

Source: The number of detainees held in Canada’s immigration holding centres is declining amid COVID-19 fears

Britain’s immigration detention: how many people are locked up?

Some interesting background and numbers:

Immigrants can be detained at any time. The Home Office casts its net widely: anyone deemed not to have the right to reside in the UK can be detained and deported. Those who do not have legal representation, who do not speak English and who are newly arrived in the UK are least able to challenge a Home Office decision to detain them.

More than 27,000 people were detained in 2017, according to the most recent figures. Detention is now a significant part of the UK’s immigration enforcement efforts, but locking up immigrants without a time limit is a relatively recent phenomenon.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/oct/2018-10-08T13:55:19/embed.html

The power to detain was created in the 1971 Immigration Act – however, it was not until the Labour government under Tony Blair that the detention estate expanded to become what it is today.

In 2000, detention centres could hold 475 people, with another 200 or so held under immigration powers in prisons. Capacity has now expanded to about 3,500 spaces.

How does it happen?

Some people are detained as soon as they arrive by Home Office officials stationed at airports and ports. Others can be detained after living in Britain for many years when they try to renew work, family or study visas.

The Guardian survey found 15% were detained at a Home Office reporting centre, where immigrants must attend regular appointments while their applications are processed. They can find themselves starting the day queuing to see a bureaucrat and ending the day in a small cell with a stranger.

Others were apprehended during dawn raids at their home addresses, after rough sleeping, found working illegally or while making applications for leave to remain.

The 2007 UK Borders Act introduced “automatic deportation” for some ex-offenders, which has been an important factor in the expansion of the detention population. Guardian research found more than half of respondents were detained at the end of a prison sentence.

Where does this happen?

Detainees are held in eight detention centres and two ‘short-term holding facilities’, where they can stay for up to a week. One is run by Her Majesty’s Prison service, but the rest are contracted out to outsourcing firms G4S, Mitie, Serco and US-owned GEO Group.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2018/09/deportation_centres/giv-3902kLLugVLHtE4f/

Most are exclusively for men, while Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire is the only centre designed to hold women.

Foreign national offenders can also be detained in mainstream prisons, typically after serving their criminal sentence. In 2017, 1,691 people were held under immigration powers in prisons.

Less than a quarter of those held in prison have access to legal representation, according to research by Bail for Immigration Detainees, a charity which assists with detainees’ bail applications.

A spokesperson from BiD said: “If any British citizen, anywhere in the world, was kept – without warning – in prison after they had finished serving a criminal sentence there would, rightly, be uproar. Yet the British government routinely holds foreign nationals in exactly that manner.”

Who are the detainees?

The nationality of those held in detention changes over time, depending on global migration flows. The Guardian survey found Nigeria and Algeria were most commonly represented among our responses, while Home Office open data for the second quarter of 2018 showed that South Asian countries made up the largest proportion of detainees.

Detainees are overwhelmingly male – women made up just 15% of the total detention population in 2017.

The government announced it would end indefinite detention of immigrant families with children in 2010, while detaining unaccompanied children for more than a day was banned in 2014. As a result, the number of children in the system fell from 240 at the start of 2010 to just 22 in the most recent Home Office figures.

However, unaccompanied children may still be detained during criminal cases and escorted during returns. Families are still detained together in “exceptional circumstances”. The Guardian survey uncovered multiple examples of children being detained in adult facilities.

How long do they stay locked up?

The UK is the only country in Europe with no statutory time limit on detention. While most are held for days or weeks, the Guardian survey uncovered several cases where a detainee was held in excess of two years.

Indefinite detention has been a key criticism of UK immigration policy. In 2015, the first ever parliamentary inquiry called for a 28-day time limit on detention. The Guardian survey found the vast majority of detainees are not told how long they will be held for or when they will be deported.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/oct/2018-10-08T13:44:49/embed.html

The Shaw report found that more than half of detainees were ultimately released back into the community, posing questions about the use of taxpayers’ money to pursue lengthy periods of detention.

How much does it all cost?

The Home Office has paid a handful of private contractors hundreds of millions of pounds to run the UK’s immigration removal centres, but no one knows for certain just how profitable the industry is.

The Home Office’s annual report and accounts for 2017-18 states detention costs of £108 million in the year ending 31 March 2018, while the Shaw report says it costs £85.92 per day to hold someone in detention.

Commercial confidentiality agreements mean the Home Office and outsourcing companies are not obliged to publish detailed financial information about immigration detention centres in the UK.

Earlier this year Mitie won what is believed to be the largest immigration detention contract ever awarded, valued at more than half a billion pounds. The contract will cover a range of services and it is not known how much of this is for management of removal centres.

The profitability of detention facilities has proved to be a contentious issue for the contractors.

A Guardian investigation last year pointed to a 20.7% profit margin at G4S-owned Brook House in 2016, while at Tinsley House, the margin was 41.5%.

Source: Britain’s immigration detention: how many people are locked up?

Home Office separating scores of children from parents as part of immigration detention regime

The bad stories keep on coming:

The Home Office is separating scores of children from their parents as part of its immigration detention regime – in some cases forcing them into care in breach of government policy.

Schools, the NHS and social services have written letters to the department begging them to release parents from detention because of the damaging impact it is having on their children.

Bail for Immigration Detainees (Bid), a charity that supports people in detention, said they have seen 170 children separated from their parents by the Home Office in the past year – and believes there are likely to be many more.

While usually the youngsters remain in the care of their other parent, the charity has seen a number of cases where children are taken into local authority care as a result of the detention.

Case workers highlight that this is in breach of Home Office guidelines, which state that a child “must not be separated from both adults if the consequence of that decision is that the child is taken into care”.

In one case, three young children were taken into care for several days after their dad was detained earlier this year – an experience that left them traumatised and fearful that he will be “taken away” again.

Kenneth Oranyendu, 46, was detained in March while his wife was abroad for her father’s funeral. Despite the Home Office being aware of this, they kept him in detention and his four young children were forced to go into care.

The Independent has seen letters to the Home Office from public bodies in which teachers, social workers and medical workers inform officials of the detrimental impact the detention of parents is having on their children.

One letter to the Home Office from a head teacher states that the detention of the father of two of the “most delightful and brightest” pupils in the school would impact “significantly” on their emotional wellbeing.

“It is incredibly upsetting for the girls to suddenly have their father removed from their life. This distress, to what was a happy life for these girls, will no doubt impact significantly on their emotional wellbeing,” the letter states.

“It is deeply saddening that a member of our school community who is very much liked and respected by both staff and parents has been treated in this manner, and whilst he may just be a number to you he is a friend to all of us.”

Another letter to the Home Office, from a social worker in Southwark, warns that if a man in detention is not released in time for the birth of his unborn child in three weeks’ time then the baby would have to go into care.

“If [name of detainee] is not released in time for the baby’s birth, the child will be accommodated in local authority care and care proceedings will be initiated to secure the long-term care planning arrangements for the child,” it states.

“This is understandably a situation Southwark Children’s Services wish to avoid to prevent family breakdown.”

A third letter, from an NHS trust in London, urges the Home Office to release the father of a one-year-old girl who is suffering a bleed in her brain, saying: “He has accompanied [her] to all health and therapy appointments.

“He has received training and has undertaken daily therapy activities with [her] which have been key to her development. Being deported would place the immediate family in a vulnerable situation.”

Nick Beales, a legal case worker at Bid, told The Independent he had seen three cases in the past 18 months where children were placed in care because their parent was detained.

“The Home Office knew how much damage is going to be done. We get letters from schools, and social services are pleading with them to release people,” he said.

“We regularly get reports from schools of children’s behaviour deteriorating, their school work suffering. We get reports from parents of children wetting the bed, letters from social services raising concerns about children’s conduct.

“The initial decision to detain someone is usually made with very little assessment of what’s actually going on. It’s ‘detain first, ask questions later’. Any new evidence submitted falls on deaf ears. All rationality goes out of the window.”

Maddy Evans of SOAS Detainee Support, a campaign group supporting immigration detainees, told The Independent the Home Office had been “tearing parents away from their children for years”.

“These families do not know if they will be reunited or separated forever. Needless to say, this causes unbearable distress to many detainees and their families,” she said.

“This punitive and heartless policy of family separation not only has a devastating impact on parents who are separated from their children, or left to parent alone, it has lifelong ramifications for the children involved.

“It is absolutely unconscionable to put political point scoring on immigration above a child’s right to the care and love of their parents.”

The Home Office did not provide a formal comment but said it did not separate children from both adults for immigration purposes if it means the child would be taken into care, unless there are “exceptional circumstances”.

Source: Home Office separating scores of children from parents as part of immigration detention regime

Canada border agent detentions of Mexicans surge to highest levels in a decade

While the removal of the visa requirement for Mexicans is the largest factor, the high number of detentions and asylum determination refusals suggest ongoing enforcement of entry regulations:

Detentions of Mexican nationals by Canadian border agents have surged dramatically this year to levels not seen in a decade, new figures obtained by The Canadian Press show.

According to Canada Border Services Agency, the total number of detentions from Jan. 1 into the first week of September hit 2,391 — roughly six times the 411 in all of last year — and equal to the previous five years combined.

“CBSA cannot speculate why the number has increased,” spokesman Barre Campbell said in an email Thursday. “The agency’s role is to apply Canadian law at the border.”

The sharp increase has contributed to a rise in the rate of detentions of all foreign nationals this year. Figures show agents detained 1,032 people each month this year, compared to 877 a month last year and 993 in 2015.

Experts point to two main factors as the most likely cause of the upswing in Mexicans running afoul of border agents in Canada.

Last December, the Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lifted a visa requirement for Mexicans coming to this country, making it easier to do so. The result was an immediate jump in detentions.

Additionally, the crackdown on undocumented migrants under U.S. President Donald Trump and his threat to remove deportation protections from those foreigners who entered the States illegally as children — the vast majority Mexicans — may also have prompted many of those affected to look north to Canada.

Scott Bardsley, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said on Thursday that Canada was working with Mexican officials to monitor migration trends and address any risks.

“Canadian officials have co-operated closely with Mexican counterparts to lay the ground work for the visa lift and ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place,” Bardsley said in an email. “These efforts include measures to identify and deter irregular migration, including bolstering co-operation on travel-document integrity and traveller screening.”

The last time the Mexican detention numbers were anywhere near current levels was in 2008, at 3,301, border agency numbers show. That year also saw the number of Mexicans seeking refugee status in Canada reach record levels.

In response to what they characterized as phoney refugee claims, the former government under then-Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper imposed an onerous visa requirement in 2009 that meant all would-be Mexican visitors had to provide numerous supporting documents.

“We are spending an enormous amount of money on bogus refugee claims,” Harper said at the time. “This is a problem with Canadian refugee law, which encourages bogus claims.”

Harper’s visa decision resulted in an immediate plunge in detentions and asylum claims that lasted until 2015, with a slight uptick happening last year. However, the requirement angered the Mexican government and civil-rights groups in Canada among others, ultimately leading to Trudeau’s reversal of that decision late last year.

Bardsley defended dropping the visa requirement as a boon to bilateral relations, trade, investment and tourism that he said will result in lasting economic benefits for Canada.

Recent Immigration and Refugee Board statistics also show a dramatic increase in asylum requests from Mexicans this year, although the vast majority of such applications are rejected as unfounded.

In 2016, for example, 242 Mexicans applied for refugee status. Almost three times as many — 660 — were recorded in the first seven months of this year alone. The board does not keep statistics of how many people came via the U.S. rather than from Mexico itself.

The law allows the border agents to detain foreign nationals or permanent residents on reasonable suspicion they pose a danger to the public, may go underground, or where identity is in doubt. The CBSA data relates to detentions not detainees and may include a person detained more than once.

Source: Canada border agent detentions of Mexicans surge to highest levels in a decade | Toronto Star