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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, November 24, 2001

Jailing immigrants not good use of prison

There's no question that Hawai'i desperately needed its own federal lockup rather than spending $1 million a year on shuttling federal prisoners between Mainland prisons and Hawai'i for court appearances.

But do we really want to fill our spanking-new $63 million federal detention center near the Honolulu International Airport with immigrants who are being imprisoned because they can't afford to post bail?

Well, that's what appears to be happening as the Immigration and Naturalization Service uses its discretion to impose higher bonds of around $5,000. Those who can't make bail can now find themselves in federal lockup.

Previously, suspects who were not considered a threat to the public or a flight risk would have been released on their own recognizance or faced a $1,500 bond.

Not surprisingly, the sudden and mysterious change in policy has local immigration lawyers wondering whether their clients' rights are being trampled in the wake of the Justice Department's investigation into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Under Attorney General John Ashcroft's direction, the INS has detained hundreds of immigrants on the Mainland on suspicion of minor offenses. Some have been denied access to lawyers.

Do we want such policies to set the tone on how we treat immigrants in Hawai'i?

The federal facility was built to house federal defendants awaiting trial in U.S. District Court in Hawai'i, those detained by the INS, as well as 125 sentenced inmates from Hawai'i who have almost completed their prison terms in federal facilities on the Mainland.

Hawai'i prison officials also plan to lease cell space from the federal government for 100 state inmates who are awaiting trial in state court.

Hawai'i welcomes and is proud of its immigrants. It's clear the new federal detention center can be put to good use without leaning harder on them.