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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Respecting the confidentiality of the detained immigrant’s background and legal case must be a high priority. Detained immigrants are in sensitive legal proceedings. Many (especially asylum seekers) may fear for their own lives and the lives of family members with them or in another country if word gets out that they are in a U.S. detention center. Many individuals in detention even refuse to speak about their immigration cases with other detained immigrants. A high level of confidentiality is a sign of respect for the individual in detention. Strict confidentiality protects both the detained immigrant and the visitor. With this in mind, visitors should follow the following guidelines:

1. Do not discuss or communicate information regarding an individual in detention's case with other volunteers, detention facility employees, other detained immigrants or deportation officers at the facility or when you leave the detention center.

2. If you want to tell other people about the experience of visiting, ask the detained immigrant's permission before sharing any part of his/her story. Use a pseudonym and a regional identification only (e.g. say Africa instead of Guinea).

3. Visitors need to find ways to work out their emotions following a stressful visit (e.g. you've heard disturbing details of your detained immigrant’s personal story) without violating their confidentiality. (WRONG: “A detained immigrant was raped repeatedly ...” RIGHT: “A detained immigrant told me disturbing details about what he/she went through and I'm feeling very upset.”)

4. Do NOT contact the detained immigrant's embassy or consulate! For example, asylum seekers by definition are fleeing a country where their government persecuted them or where the government could not or would not protect them. The LAST thing the individual in detention needs is for someone to inform his/her government that he/she is in U.S. detention.

5. Similarly, do not contact local expatriates from the detained immigrant's home country without checking with them first; there often are political and ethnic considerations and conflicts.

This document has been adapted from the Detention Watch Network’s Visiting Immigrants in U.S. Detention Facilities.