Posts tagged with 'Detention'

Weekly Diaspora: Why Detention Reform is Desperately Needed

Posted Oct 21, 2010 @ 10:48 am by
Filed under: Immigration     Bookmark and Share

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Last October, the Obama administration’s announced their intention to reform the detention system—to improve the management, medical care and accountability within detention centers, and make better use of low-cost alternatives to detention.

But one year later, a new report by the Detention Watch Network reveals that the “truly civil” detention system once promised by the administration has truly failed to materialize. And while the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been crowing over its record number of deportations, it’s suspiciously mum when it comes to the record number of detainees that still languish in woefully mismanaged detention facilities.

DHS gets an “F”

Elise Foley at the Washington Independent notes that, despite DHS’s assurances that “visible changes have been made” to the system, immigrant rights advocates are critical of the purported reforms.

The Detention Watch Network, which graded DHS on each of its proposed reform initiatives, concluded that the agency has achieved minimal progress and has not substantively improved conditions for the nearly 400,000 immigrants detained every year under “cruel and unusual,” prison-like conditions. DHS received particularly low marks on its promise to utilize low-cost and humane alternatives to detention, such as ankle bracelets or bond release.

Underscoring the case for alternatives to detention, Foley details the story of Pedro Perez Guzman, a 30-year-old undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. at the age of eight. Guzman, who is married to an American citizen and has a young son, has been in detention since last year, when he was picked up on a deportation order. As a father, breadwinner, and long-time (albeit undocumented) resident, Guzman should be a good candidate for bond release or some other alternative to detention. But because DHS has failed to broadly implement such alternatives, he’s spending his last months in the U.S. behind bars instead of with his family.

Reform hasn’t curbed sexual abuse in detention

The administration’s failure to meaningfully reform the broken detention system has particularly pernicious consequences for women detainees. As I detailed in a special report for Campus Progress, women in detention are routinely subject to a variety of mistreatment that ranges from gender discrimination to rape.

The T. Don Hutto detention facility in Texas stands out as a prime example of how failed reforms have disproportionately impacted women. Four years ago, the facility came under fire after a guard was caught having sexual relations with a woman detainee—an act which, thanks to a loophole in federal law, wasn’t technically a crime in privately-operated ICE facilities.

Last year, DHS overhauled the Hutto detention center, publicly touting it as model facility that embodied the administration’s vision for “truly civil” detention reform. Then, this August, a Hutto guard was arrested for sexually assaulting several detainees while transporting them for deportation. To date, no one knows how many women he assaulted, or whether other guards have done the same.

Clearly, a DHS facelift wasn’t enough to correct a long-standing pattern of mismanagement, poor oversight, and discrimination that ultimately resulted in the victimization of an unknown number of immigrant women.

Traffic violations = mandatory detention

The ills plaguing the immigration detention system are further exacerbated by the growing number of detainees, which has reached a record of 33,000 per day and nearly 400,000 per year.

As Monica Fabian points out at Feet in Two Worlds, a significant proportion of these detainees have been pulled into the system by Secure Communities, a program which targets undocumented immigrants by allowing law enforcement to share fingerprints with federal authorities. Though Secure Communities is purported to target dangerous criminals, it has actually resulted in the detentions and deportations of a number of immigrants who had no criminal record or who were guilty of minor violations:

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) records obtained by the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network through a Freedom of Information Act request, 79% of individuals deported through the Secure Communities program from October 2008 through June 2010 had no criminal record or were arrested for minor offenses like traffic violations.

Consequently, the detention system is swollen with scores of non-dangerous, non-criminal immigrants whose mandatory detention is not only expensive but excessively punitive.

Maricopa County steps forward

Some of the worst detention conditions documented by immigrant rights advocates have been in Maricopa County, AZ—under the purview of the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio. While Arpaio is notorious for treating his prisoners inhumanely, his deputies’ treatment of pretrial immigrant detainees has ranged from racial discrimination and harassment to physical abuse and death.

Needless to say, federal reforms have not trickled down to Arpaio’s jails, and they likely never will. A lack of legally enforceable baseline detention standards, as well as varying contracts between ICE and municipal jails, virtually ensure that reforms won’t be comprehensively enacted or enforced.

Fortunately, the ACLU and other civil rights groups are stepping in where the government has failed to act.

Julianne Hing at Colorlines reports that the ACLU has received a favorable ruling in a lawsuit filed against Arpaio:

On Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by a lower court that charged Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio with mistreatment of detainees in his jails for serving them spoiled food and neglecting their health.

Yesterday’s ruling will set legal precedent, and help protect prisoners’ rights who are in Arpaio’s jails today. The order only applies to pre-trial detainees—those who cannot afford bail or are being held without bond, but have not been convicted of anything. According to the East Valley Tribune, that population is about 75 percent of the 8,000 people being held in Maricopa County jails.

While the ruling may be a step forward for detainee rights in Maricopa County jails, it’s hardly progress for Arizona as a whole. Like most others states which house immigrant detainees, Arizona boasts a number of variously owned and operated detention facilities whose standards of care and confinement range widely (often to the detriment of detainees). Immediate and comprehensive detention reform is critical.

As Victoria Lopez, an immigration attorney for the ACLU of Arizona, explained to me: “Frankly, when you’re dealing with the number of people that go through detention facilities in the U.S. and some of the life or death issues in these cases…I don’t know how much longer folks can wait for reforms to trickle down from Washington, D.C., to Eloy, AZ.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: Immigrants Abused, Denied Social Services in Broken Immigration System

Posted Aug 26, 2010 @ 10:57 am by
Filed under: Immigration     Bookmark and Share

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

After decades of misguided policies and patchwork practices, the high human costs of our disordered immigration system are only starting to emerge. Stricter immigration policies and overcrowded detention centers aren’t making our streets safer or our social services more accessible.

Instead, mounting evidence shows that our immigration policies are just creating a space for immigrants to be brutalized—socially, financially and physically. From reports of sexual abuse inside of detention centers to news of legal residents being denied social services, the ineffectiveness of the prevailing system has never been more apparent, nor the need for reform so great.

Women and children sexually assaulted in detention centers

As Michelle Chen writes at Colorlines, allegations of sexual abuse within a Texas detention center have sparked investigations by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch. According to reports, a guard at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center sexually assaulted several women while transporting them prior to their release. (more…)

Weekly Diaspora: Rallying the Grassroots

Posted Mar 4, 2010 @ 11:29 am by
Filed under: Immigration     Bookmark and Share

By Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

Ed. Note: After a brief hiatus, the Diaspora is back! We’re very excited to have Erin Rosa on board for this project. Please stay tuned for the latest developments around immigration reform every Thursday morning.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Korean Resource Center 민족학교, under Creative Commons LicenseFed up with Congress and frustrated with President Barack Obama’s brief mention of immigration reform in the State of the Union address, immigrant rights supporters are now organizing around the clock to push legislators to move on reform in 2010. It will not be an easy feat.

Congress is already bogged down with health care reform and a lingering economic crisis. While Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) has proposed a bill in the House of Representatives to provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, immigration reform could be doomed for 2010 if it’s not introduced in the Senate by this Spring. Otherwise, it’s very unlikely that Congress will get around to debating the issue by the end of the year. (more…)

Weekly Diaspora: Protecting Haitian Refugees Through Immigration Reform

Posted Jan 14, 2010 @ 12:47 pm by
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By Nezua, Media Consortium Blogger

On Tuesday, the worst earthquake in 200 years struck just off the coast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as The Nation reports. Bringing “catastrophic destruction” to the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, the disaster has spurred relief efforts worldwide. Crises like this are important reminders of how the treatment and protection of refugees must be a part of immigration reform.

Temporary protected status for Haitian refugees

In September of 2009—just one year after Haiti was decimated by four successive hurricanes and tropical storms that affected at least 3 million people—New America Media (NAM) made a prescient call to halt all deportation to Haiti, and grant Haitians temporary protected status (TPS) status in the U.S. “before more Haitians die or are impacted by natural disasters.” (more…)

Weekly Diaspora: Immigration Impacts Everything

Posted Nov 5, 2009 @ 11:39 am by
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By Nezua, Media Consortium Blogger

While many pundits and political analysts are musing about what Tuesday’s mixed bag election results mean for Obama administration, New America Media reports that “there’s another trend to watch; the surprising prominence of immigration politics.”

Even in states where other concerns “like small farms and forestry management” are far more immediate, “immigration has become a litmus test issue for the conservative movement,” and the expectation is, oddly, a “lockstep” goal toward opposing legalization. One has to wonder how the self-destructive choice to oppose immigration at any cost came about.

ColorLines‘ Leticia Miranda asks “What’s next?” now that the infamous Hutto immigration detention center, notorious for myriad human rights violations such as keeping children in prison-like conditions, is closing. Detainees are simply being moved to another detention center in Pennsylvania. So how will we know that substandard conditions and alleged sexual abuse will not be repeated? The problem is not location. The problem is that a class of people have been isolated and assigned lesser worth. making it easy to exploit them. Still, the closing of Hutto is an accomplishment for the ACLU and other activists that worked so hard to make it happen. It’s also a sign that our nation will not tolerate such conditions.

Another positive sign of progress is the reversal of what the Washington Monthly dubbed “a senseless ban” that prohibited HIV-positive individuals from migrating or traveling to the US. Author Steve Benen notes that progress in overturning the ban, which was imposed by the Reagan administration 22 years ago, began with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and then-Sen. Gordon H. Smith (R-OR) in 2008.

In negative news, the anti-immigration group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC) have released a bizarrely antagonistic press release calling Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) a “traitor,” as The Washington Independent reports. The full press release is here. In it, William Gheen, President of ALIPAC, happily warns that ALIPAC is “ready to organize and channel the backlash wave of anger that is coming into peaceful civic action” and for no apparent reason, employing a Dirty Harry quote beseeching an unnamed person to “Make my day, punk!” People like Gheen and Lou Dobbs are forever talking about a culture war and are obviously not interested in human beings.

It is far too easy to get the same impression about the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Reporting on an Associated Press analysis of previously undisclosed documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Wiretap declares ICE to be “critically flawed, replete with agents who have badly bungled ongoing cases.” This includes “covering up crimes and even interfering in a police investigation into whether one informant killed another.” The list of ICE’s violations of the public trust include “soliciting sex from witnesses, letting informants smuggle undocumented folks, sexual relationships with informants” and using their position improperly to accrue “personal gain.”

As author M. Junaid Levesque-Alam makes clear, any agency will develop some degree of corruption that must be rooted out. But the dangers increase when you empower an agency “specifically created to target the vulnerable” with federal authority and weapons, all the while calling this population “illegal aliens.”

Also in Wiretap, Jamila King reports on San Francisco’s ongoing battle with Mayor Gavin Newsom regarding when deportation proceedings should be initiated against youth that have bee arrested but not tried for a crime. The city recently voted that juveniles accused of crimes must actually be convicted before they are deported.

Oddly, even in the face of “crowds of people gathered at city hall to celebrate the board’s decision to overturn” the “draconian mandate,” Newsom vetoed the change last Wednesday. Supervisor David Campos responded to the veto by saying it was a “sad day for San Francisco” and that Newsom had “chosen to be on the wrong side of history on this issue.” King reminds us, however, that Newsom’s move is toothless. The Board of Supervisors had enough votes to override his veto.

Deportation is a serious issue. Last week the Diaspora featured “Torn ApartColorLines‘ web-only series on deportation’s effects on families of color. Free Speech TV has posted an alert to protect families from deportation. It includes a link with actions you can take to help.

Finally, as The Real News reports, Mexico is offering amnesty to all undocumented immigrants within its borders, be they from the US or other nations (video below). Juan Ignacio Pedroza, Migratory Regulations Official for Mexico, makes clear why the country is making such a move. The government of Mexico sees immigrants as an economic boon, and wants to offer them a path to citizenship so that they can contribute and be part of the social fabric.

Mexico is an older nation and surely imperfect. But this decision demonstrates wisdom about how a people can come together that we might learn from here in the US.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: Moving Immigration Reform Forward

Posted Oct 15, 2009 @ 10:57 am by
Filed under: Immigration     Bookmark and Share

By Nezua, Media Consortium Blogger

A crowd of thousands gathered on Capitol Hill Tuesday, to lobby for and support immigration reform, as Debayani Kar writes for RaceWire. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus “presented his key principles for comprehensive immigration reform” at the rally. (more…)

Weekly Immigration Wire: Obama Can’t Play Centrist on Immigration Crisis

Posted Feb 26, 2009 @ 11:33 am by
Filed under: Immigration     Bookmark and Share

by Nezua
TMC MediaWire Blogger

The Obama Administration seems quite capable of centrist positioning on many issues, including immigration reform. While some argue centrist position allows Obama to effectively reach consensus, immigration reform is an issue that he cannot play sides with.

While immigration reform advocates cheered the passage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program bill (SCHIP), there is also considerable upset concerning Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano’s “finessing” of crackdown tactics begun under President Bush. And more trouble is brewing.

While President Obama speaks of improving our approach to immigration, he has yet to call for a moratorium on the ICE raids that are devastating the communities and economies where they take place. And he has yet to address the detention crisis specifically. The first raid of the new administration occured in Bellingham, WA on Feb. 24.  As Hatty Lee writes for RaceWire, “In these times of economic hardship, detaining hardworking men and women and dividing families is just perpetuating more fear in our communities. We need to bring the people together not push them further apart.”

One wonders how much supervision ICE is actually operating under, as Secretary Napolitano was surprised to hear about the raid:

Napolitano told lawmakers during a hearing in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday that she did not know about the raid before it happened and was briefed on it early Wednesday morning. She has asked U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which conducted the raid, for answers.

“I want to get to the bottom of this as well,” she said.

Statements like this do not gel with recent actions that indicate Napolitano’s desire to overhaul U.S. detention practices, such as creating a new advisory position to focus on these issues.

Through a more cynical lens, the gap between statement and action can be seen as typical political maneuvering, and specifically, Democratic doublespeak. There are factions on the left that disagree on many issues. Even among immigration advocates there is a rift regarding how to present the issue to the voting public. This conflict may be what we see playing out before our eyes.

The division among liberal advocates of immigration reform came into focus after 2006 and 2007‘s failures to pass immigration reform. Democratic party leaders have adopted Right wing stances on the issue, just as they have regarding National Security. Party leaders are  using words that imply harsh and punitive action, and eschewing morality or heart in the name of strategy.

These stances are based on the advice of a number of immigration advocacy groups such as the National Immigration Forum (NIF), and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), who felt that the focus must come away from what was best for migrating human beings and onto what was in the national interest. This stance was outlined in a confidential report called Winning The Immigration Debate, which was given to Democratic party leaders in 2007.

The report calls for tougher language, but 2007’s McCain/Kennedy bill contained more punitive wording and it failed. Are we now to repeat this error, even while the Democrats hold such power in Washington?

It will not do to simply “require” immigrants to “come out of the shadows,” to borrow lingo from 2007, and let the Department of “Homeland Security” continue its traumatizing actions on the community. ICE has not lived up to its promises, and worse, resorted to unethical means to justify its continued operations. Already, we’ve read many heartbreaking stories about those who suffer greatly or die in ICE’s custody. As AlterNet reports, we can now add those suffering from mental illness to the list of those impacted.

The number of mentally and developmentally disabled detainees in South Texas federal immigration detention centers has surged during the past year, according to area attorneys who call the trend “alarming.”

The AlterNet report details the Kafkaesque case of Pierre Bernard, a Haitian immigrant ordered to undergo six months of psychiatric treatment but who ended up, instead, in an ICE detention center.

Women migrants are also subject to exploitation, rape, and other abuse. But now, as Kevin Sieff writes in the Texas Observer, women in U.S. dentention centers are now being denied basic reproductive rights. “For pregnant women in immigration detention facilities, it is virtually impossible to obtain an abortion,” Sieff writes. In 2008, nearly 10% of detained women were pregnant.

Yesterday, Janet Marguía, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, responded to the Bellingham raids, and the challenges now facing the Obama administration.

Escalating immigration raids and local police crackdowns over the past eight years have spread indiscriminate terror among millions of people who pose no threat to the United States and who have lived peacefully and productively within our borders for years. Most have worked hard, paid taxes, lived productive lives, and been good neighbors. Many have children and spouses who are U.S. citizens. Many have served in our nation’s defense. Yet over the past eight years, U.S. policies have sought to criminalize this population, raid their homes and workplaces, suspend their civil liberties, put them in chains, and ultimately deport them.

And while Hilda Solis, the daughter of immigrants, has been confirmed as Secretary of Labor, and Obama has given another straightforward speech to congress and the nation (critiqued here by The Real News), DHS appears to be still mucking through the Bush agenda.

The so-called “Enforcement first” or ICE-centric approach to immigration is not a solution. It asks too much of ICE, it is not practical, and it is not going well. Such an approach is egregiously incongruent with the nation Obama asks us to envision under his administration. We truly are a “nation of immigrants,” and we must rethink our current treatment of migrants. To continue this destructive approach while speaking eloquently and carefully to the Press is a line the President cannot successfully straddle.

The administration is now faced with a confluence of reality and ideals. Some things you cannot split down the middle.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration. Visit for a complete list of articles on immigration, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy and health issues, check out and This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.