Thursday, March 29, 2012

Immigrant Detention in the United States: Hope and Change, or More of the Same? | North American Congress on Latin America

Immigrant Detention in the United States: Hope and Change, or More of the Same? | North American Congress on Latin America

Immigrant Detention in the United States: Hope and Change, or More of the Same?

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On Tuesday, March 13, the Obama administration showed off the federal government’s new immigrant detention facility in Karnes County, Texas to journalists and immigrant rights advocates. According to John Morton, the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency within the Department of Homeland Security that oversees the jailing of immigrants, the Karnes County Civil Detention Center “represents a first in the entire history of immigration detention. Karnes and others like it,” he says, are one part of an ICE detention reform program that is sensible, sustainable and attentive to the unique needs of the individuals in our custody.”870ICE-led tour of Karnes County facility. Credit: Ben Sklar, New York Times
As a piece in The Texas Observerexplains, Karnes will be the holding center for “people seeking political asylum—fleeing torture and persecution—legal immigrants who overstayed visas, and lawful permanent residents, with non-violent criminal charges, in some cases committed decades earlier.” Nonetheless, nativist, lock-em-up-and-throw away-the key types like Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) complain that ICE is too nice to immigrant detainees. (He goes so far as to compare the detention experience to a holiday.)
871report released last week by the Immigrant Rights Clinic at New York University School of Law, in cooperation with New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, provides a useful antidote to Smith’s reality-challenged commentary and to the “kinder, gentler” image of detention that Morton and ICE are now promoting. Even if Karnes, slated to open in a week or so, lives up to the official hype, the report—and some of thecommentary surrounding the new detention guidelines—highlights the fundamental injustice and abuse that immigrant detention embodies.
Karnes is a 608-bed facility for male detainees who are deemed as low flight and safety risks,reports The New York Times. Unlike the situations in which the vast majority of immigration detainees find themselves, those at Karnes County “will be free to move through much of the center 24 hours a day.” And instead of armed guards, the site is policed by “resident advisers” who are to be “dressed in blue polo shirts and khaki trousers.”
ICE presents the new facility as part and parcel of immigrant detention reforms announced by the Obama administration in August 2009. These involve, state ICE’s press release, “putting detention centers in strategic locations that maximize detainee access to local consulates and pro-bono legal services, reduce detainee transfers within the detention system and increase overall operational efficiencies, allowing for a reduction in detainees' average length of stay in ICE custody.” In this regard, says The New York Times, the facility “represents a shift from the federal government’s longtime reliance on jails and jail-like buildings that immigrant advocates have long argued are inappropriate and unduly harsh for people being held on civil violations.”
But as the NYU law clinic report makes clear, the construction and opening of a new facility hasn’t changed the longer term trends of growing reliance on incarcerating immigrants on the basis of non-citizen status. As the report states, “[t]he promise of reform has not meant that the expansion of detention has halted. In fact, a record number of immigrants are detained across the country.”872Credit:
Focusing on two detention facilities in Essex County, New Jersey—one privately owned and operated (Delaney Hall), the other a county jail that leases bed space to ICE and holds more than half of the 2,300+ detainees in the state—the report finds a significant gap between ICE’s official standards and the rhetoric of reform, and what actually transpires in the facilities. Among the problems highlighted: inadequate access to lawyers, and insufficient lawyer-client confidentiality and due process rights; unacceptable food quality; cold temperatures and insufficient blankets during the winters; poor response to requests for medical attention; numerous reported incidents of verbal abuse and mistreatment; and prohibitively expensive charges for the use of public phones.
While there is hope that Karnes will prove different, the fact that the GEO Group, a for-profit prison corporation with a history of lawsuits and allegations of abuse, will manage and operate the facility is cause for serious concern. But even if things turn out to be different in this instance, many, like Detention Watch Network’s Andrea Black, worry that Karnes will be a Potemkin village of sorts, something used by authorities to obscure the larger and ugly reality embodied by a system that holds more than 34,000 immigrants on any given day.874Credit: ICE
It is for such reasons that the NYU report calls for not only reforms, but an end to the utilization of state and county jails by ICE, and the employment of alternatives to detention, such as supervised release. As an article on the Karnes facility in the San Antonio Currentasks, “Why do lowest-risk detainees need to be detained at all?”
Pushing that question is a small step, and an important one, toward a larger process that calls into question the immigrant detention system as a whole.

For more from the Border Wars blog, visit And now you can follow it on twitter@NACLABorderWars. See also "Undocumented, Not Illegal: Beyond the Rhetoric of Immigration Coverage,by Angelica Rubio in the November/December 2011 NACLA Report; "The Border: Funneling Migrants to Their Doom," by Óscar Martínez, in the September/October 2011 NACLA Report; and the May/June 2007 NACLA ReportOf Migrants & Minutemen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Physicians for Human Rights - Holiday on ICE: Time for Congress to Stop Joking about Immigration Detention

Physicians for Human Rights - Holiday on ICE: Time for Congre

Holiday on ICE: Time for Congress to Stop Joking about Immigration Detention

by Mike Corradini, JD on March 27, 2012
 2 200
On Wednesday, March 28, the House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement will hold a hearing on the 2011 Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS), a set of rules intended to govern conditions in immigration detention facilities run by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
These standards have been in the works for several years, and while they are by no means perfect, their publication last month marks an important step away from the use of prison-based detention for immigrants.
But rather than holding a substantive hearing on the improvements and imperfections in PBNDS, the Immigration Subcommittee has chosen to treat them as a joke.
Echoing the ill-informed and juvenile comments by Lamar Smith, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who labeled the standards “hospitality guidelines for illegal immigrants,” the hearing is entitled “Holiday on ICE.
Like past detention hearings, this one promises to be yet another opportunity for the Subcommittee’s Republican members to demonstrate their ignorance of immigration law and attack the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement policies. Indeed, two of the majority witnesses – Chris Crane of the National ICE Council and Jessica Vaughn of the Center for Immigration Studies – have provided reliably pro-detention and anti-reform testimony in every detention-related hearing held during this Congress.
But instead of replaying this broken record, the Subcommittee would do well to ask any of the 1.2 million people who have passed through the immigration detention system over the past three years – many of whom are not illegal immigrants – how they enjoyed their “holiday” in immigration detention.
Despite the administration’s stated commitment to embracing civil detention for immigrants, the majority of the country’s 250 immigration detention facilities are either jails or jail-like facilities. Even ICE’s new Karnes County Civil Detention Facility, which will open soon as a model for civil immigration detention, is largely based on a prison model.
While the asylum seekers who will ultimately be detained there may be grateful that they can move around freely and make cheap phone calls, nobody who has visited Karnes (or any other detention facility, for that matter) would mistake it for a hotel.
Our country’s immigration system is broken, and Congress has shirked its duty to fix it. Instead of enacting reforms that would decrease the use of immigration detention (which costs over $2 billion each year [pdf]), lawmakers vilify the Obama administration’s meek attempts to improve detention conditions, while accepting contributions from the private prison corporations that receive government contracts to run detention facilities.
Hearings like this should be a chance for our Representatives to learn more about immigration detention and solicit ideas about how to move away from this expensive and destructive system. Instead, House Republicans turn it into a punch line. It’s time for them to realize that nobody is laughing.
Issues: Asylum
Places: United Statesss to Stop Joking about Immigration Detention

@AILANational Denounces House Hearing; Immigration Detention is No “Holiday” « Detention Watch Network: Monitoring & Challenging Immigration Detention, Immigration Enforcement & Deportation

@AILANational Denounces House Hearing; Immigration Detention is No “Holiday” « Detention Watch Network: Monitoring & Challenging Immigration Detention, Immigration Enforcement & Deportation

@AILANational Denounces House Hearing; Immigration Detention is No “Holiday”

MARCH 28, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                    CONTACTS:
Wednesday, March 28, 2012                                      George Tzamaras or Amanda Walkins                                                                                                                 202-507-7649                            202-507-7618                                                                                                                                                                                                     
 WASHINGTON, DC – Today the House Subcommittee on Immigration will hold a hearing entitled “Holiday on ICE,” attempting to depict the government’s detention of hundreds of thousands of people in jail-like conditions as a vacation. AILA is deeply troubled by the premise of this hearing, which disregards the dark history of America’s immigration detention system that is marked by poor treatment, neglect, and abuse.
“Immigrants have died while in detention because of neglect and lack of medical care. The name of this hearing, in and of itself, is highly offensive and betrays both a clear lack of regard for the humanity of immigrant detainees, as well as a sense of contempt for basic human rights. To compare being kept in jail to a holiday is preposterous. There is something deeply wrong when a title like this is officially bestowed upon a congressional proceeding,” AILA President Eleanor Pelta commented.
There can be no doubt that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) needs scrupulously enforced detention standards. Over the past several years, there have been countless news reports, investigative studies and congressional hearings—including one in the Immigration Subcommittee—exposing severe deficiencies in the system. More recent stories, such as an October 2011 Frontline exposé, have revealed chilling cases of sexual assaults and abuse perpetrated by local guards and ICE agents.
“It is imperative that ICE roll out the new standards as quickly as possible in every facility where immigration detainees are held. These standards must be fully implemented and rigorously monitored,” said Pelta, referring to the new standards ICE issued last month called the Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS) 2011.
“But this is just the first step toward ensuring that the treatment of immigrants in detention is safe and humane,” continued Pelta. “It is not enough to have internal guidelines that can be changed with limited oversight. Standards must be codified and made enforceable.” AILA supports enactment of H.R. 933, the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act [Roybal-Allard (D-CA)] which establishes minimum detention standards.
In addition, AILA urges President Obama to ensure that protections of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) cover those held in immigration detention facilities. Enacted in 2003, PREA protects all individuals in local, state, or federal custody from rape and sexual assault.
“Immigrants are one of the most vulnerable populations in detention. It makes no sense to exclude them from such vital protections. Congress passed PREA in 2003. We can’t wait any longer for the protections Congress envisioned to take effect,” Pelta concluded.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.