In a letter sent today to the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, the ACLU of Michigan and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) called on the agency to require the Calhoun County Jail to allow in-person visits for immigration detainees.

At issue are the civil rights of immigration detainees being held in anticipation of deportation, and who may never see their families again. The detainees are currently being held at Calhoun County Jail in Battle Creek, under a contract with DHS.

“Looking at a screen is not the same as touching your wife or child,” said Abril Valdes, immigrant rights attorney at the ACLU of Michigan. “For families who have been separated – and who may never see each other again if deported – there is no substitute for an in-person visit.”

“There is no security justification for preventing detainees from seeing their loved ones,” said Susan Reed, managing attorney for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. “In fact, just the opposite is the case. A Department of Justice study shows that allowing in-person visits actually reduce behavioral infractions inside detention facilities.”

According to the Calhoun County Jail website, video calls are the only option for a loved one to contact someone held at the jail, including immigration detainees. This policy “does not comport with National Detention Standards,” write ACLU and MIRC in their letter to DHS.

The National Detention Standards, released in 2008 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in cooperation with the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, specifies an “increase in recreation and visitation” as one of its objectives. 

“DHS has encouraged visitation to maintain detainee morale and family relationships,” states the ACLU and MIRC letter:

“The benefits associated with contact visits—as described in the Department of Justice report—suggests that eliminating contact visits will do more harm than good. … Detainees often have strong relationships with loved ones and weakening these relationships is likely to lead to greater danger within the jail… [T]he Department of Justice report found that providing contact visits will lead to reduced behavioral infractions and violent behavior, in part, because the detainee is able to maintain pre-existing relationships with loved ones.

“…Video calls are not visits. A video-only policy is overly restrictive and conflicts with the [National Detention Standards] NDS.”

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The ACLU and MIRC are requesting that DHS and Calhoun County Jail officials allow in-person contact visits for family members that travel to the jail; provide clear information about schedules and procedures for in person-contact visits on the jail’s website; and allow video call options for immigration detainees on the same basis as offered to other inmates.