Immigrants face lengthy detention with few rights

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America's immigrant detention system has mushroomed in the last decade.

The costly building boom was supposed to sweep up criminals and ensure that undocumented immigrants were quickly shown the door.

Instead, an Associated Press computer analysis of every person held on a recent Sunday night shows most didn't have a criminal record and many weren't about to leave the country -- voluntarily or by deportation.

An official Immigration and Customs Enforcement database obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows a U.S. detainee population of exactly 32,000 on the evening of Jan. 25.

The data show 18,690 immigrants had no criminal conviction, not even for illegal entry or low-level crimes like trespassing. More than 400 of those with no criminal record had been incarcerated for at least a year.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)