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Nearly 400,000 people are currently being held in immigration custody -- more than triple the number held just a decade ago. Many are locked up in private, for-profit prisons, which get their money from the government's $1.7 billion immigration custody operations budget.
Immigrants suffer poor conditions and abuse in detention facilities, according to Human Rights First. A growing number of detainees have died behind bars, sometimes due to inadequate or nonexistent medical treatment, leaving their families with no idea of what has happened to them. At least 107 deaths have been reported since 2003, according to Jacqueline Esposito, policy coordinator for Detention Watch Network, in Washington, D.C. -- a figure that she says even U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently acknowledged was low.
Last October Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security John Morton released plans for a detention overhaul. However, a major reform of ICE and immigration laws could take years. Visit Amnesty International to find out how you can help with reform efforts and make your voice heard.
Originally published on LHJ.com, February 2010.