By William Fisher
You’ve entered the US illegally or you have overstayed your visa. You have a job and a family in America. But you are undocumented and subject to deportation after a hearing before an Immigration Judge.
Now you’ve been arrested by ICE – the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Here’s what you can expect:
Roberto Medina-Martinez, a 39-year-old immigrant, died at Stewart detention center in Lumpkin Georgia in March 2009 of a treatable heart infection. An investigation conducted following his death revealed that the nursing staff failed to refer Mr. Medina for timely medical treatment and the facility physician failed to follow internal oversight procedures.
Other avoidable deaths occurred in other facilities, where staff attempted to cover them up.
A man with serious emotional health problems in the Houston Processing Center in Texas was placed in solitary confinement for months at a time, a practice which the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has deemed torture.
At Baker, Etowah and Pinal County Detention Centers and Jails, in Beverly Hills, California, families are only able to visit with their loved ones in detention through video monitors after having driven hundreds of miles to see them.
In 2011, a 55-year-old Honduran, Jose Aguilar-Espinoza, suffered a heart attack inside Theo Lacy, in Orange County, California.
At the Pinal County Jail complaints regarding sanitation include receiving food on dirty trays, worms found in food, bugs and worms found in the faucets, receiving dirty laundry, and being overcrowded with ten other men in one cell and only one toilet.
You can also expect that you will be shipped to an ICE center far from the place of your arrest, and that the files needed to adjudicate your case will have been sent nowhere or to another erroneous destination. This will delay any court hearing – sometimes for years. In many cases, there is no written record for an Immigration Judge to review. That review suffers from lack of facts plus the frequent difficulty of working in two languages.
Back in 2009, President Obama promised to reform this inhumane system. In his first term, the Obama Administration deported over a million people. Toward the end of that term, the numbers began to decrease some, as ICE followed Obama’s orders to show more compassion.
But the reality on the ground has not changed.
Pedro Guzman, formerly detained at the Stewart Detention Center, shared his firsthand experience: “We were treated like animals-- held in pod with 64 people, no privacy, eating food that was inedible and constant yelling and disrespect from the officers. We rarely had court dates even after they were already scheduled, and they made it impossible to adjust your status in a legal and efficient way. There is absolutely no justice in the detention system.”
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, recently joined the call for justice: “It needn’t take the passage of comprehensive immigration reform for us to work together to reform the immigration detention system and close the most egregious centers
highlighted in these reports. Taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to continue to support this waste of money and resources.”
Conditions at 10 of the worst jails and prisons that house immigrants have gotten so bad, the only option is to begin shutting them down, he said.
Azadeh N. Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project Director and American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Georgia and President of National Lawyers Guild, said, “The human rights abuses at the Irwin County Detention Center and the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia in many ways exemplify the problems with using remote, highly restrictive facilities to hold immigrants.”
He added: “The immigration detention system in the United States has grown drastically over the last 15 years and the appalling conditions in the detention centers that house immigrants have reached a tipping point. Today, national and local leaders responded by saying, enough is enough!“
According to Andrea Black, the Executive Director of the Detention Watch Network, “We hope that the Administration will act. ICE claims it has taken steps to reform the detention system, but the people actually in detention are suffering as much as ever. In his second term, the president has the power to bring about change that will uplift immigrants instead of lock them up.”
Among the report’s findings:
“While immigrants suffer under prolonged detention at Polk County and the Houston Processing Center, private prison corporations are getting rich,” said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership. “It doesn’t have to be this way. ICE should prioritize release of immigrants in community support programs that are far more humane, less costly, and are effective at ensuring immigrants are able to appear at their hearings.”
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, Resident Bishop of the Los Angeles Area of the United Methodist Church, said, “The detention of hundreds of thousands of immigrants in this country for profit and political gain is a moral outrage. Detention centers are not the answer to our broken immigration policies.”
The immigration detention system in the United States has grown drastically over the last 15 years and the appalling conditions in the detention centers that house immigrants have reached a tipping point. Today, national and local leaders responded by saying, “enough is enough!”
The Detention Watch Network has released a series of reports titled, “Expose and Close,” to reveal the widespread pattern of mistreatment at ten of the worst immigrant prisons across the country.
Adcovates are calling on President Obama to do what’s right and close these detention centers as well as issued a list of reforms to ensure the safety, dignity and well-being of immigrants held in detention.
According to Andrea Black, Executive Director of the Detention Watch Network, “We hope that the Administration will act. ICE claims it has taken steps to reform the detention system, but the people actually in detention are suffering as much as ever. In his second term, the president has the power to bring about change that will uplift immigrants instead of lock them up.”
The group is demanding the closure of ten jails and prisons across the nation that exemplify some of the most appalling conditions of immigrant detention. These facilities include Etowah County Detention Center (AL), Pinal County Jail (AZ), Houston Processing Center (TX), Polk County Detention Facility (TX), Stewart Detention Center (GA), Irwin County Jail (GA), Hudson County Jail (NJ), Theo Lacy Detention Center (CA), Tri-County Detention Center (IL), and Baker County Jail (FL).
In a related development, a group of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents is going to court, saying new Obama administration directives on removing illegal immigrants could put them in violation of federal law.
Ten ICE agents have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Dallas against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE Director John Morton.
The organization NumbersUSA, with it's self-proclaimed stance of "for lower immigration," quickly claimed a stake in the suit, saying on its website that it was "financing the effort" of the agents' suit.
NumbersUSA also emphasized on its site that Kris Kobach, the Republican Kansas secretary of state who worked on Arizona's controversial immigration law and is an informal adviser to presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, is representing the suing agents.
The suit cites Obama administration decisions to allow young people brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 who meet certain criteria to apply for a two-year relief period under the so-called Dream Act in which they couldn't be deported.
The complaint also objects to the policy of "prosecutorial discretion," in which ICE agents are supposed to focus their attention on dangerous criminals who are illegal immigrants. In a nutshell, the agents do not want to obey the new policies and do not want to face any disciplinary actions or lawsuits if they continue to arrest any type of immigrant who is in the United States illegally.
"We are federal law enforcement officers who are being ordered to break the law. This directive puts ICE agents and officers in a horrible position," Chris Crane, one of the agents filing suit and the president of the ICE agents and officers union, said, according to a news release posted on the NumbersUSA web site.
Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, responded, "DHS uses prosecutorial discretion to assist in focusing vigorously on the removal of individuals who are convicted criminals, repeat immigration law violators, and recent border-crossers."
Chandler said the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals decision is a temporary measure until Congress takes action on reforming immigration policies and that it "ensures that responsible young people, who are Americans in every way but on paper, have an opportunity to remain in the country and make their fullest contribution."
We Americans are fond of telling each other and the world how zealously we guard the civil rights of people who live in our country peacefully. We are also quick to draw a distinction between immigration detention and imprisonment at Guantanamo.
But in reality, the difference is marginal. The main difference is that, if you’re imprisoned in an immigration detention facility, you might one day get released – back to where you came from.
You rarely read about this dilemma in our newspapers or see it on television. You can’t care about something you know nothing about. And that’s what most of us know. Nothing. ICE has dropped a heavy shroud of secrecy over the issue. In their so-called debates, our presidential candidates rolled their eyes at the ceiling and pretended the subject was not on anyone’s agenda.
We can only hope that in Obama’s second term he will find the courage to put it on his agenda – to stand up to the know-nothings we keep sending to the Congress of the United States.