Skip to main content

By Sarnata Reynolds, Refugee Program Director

Over the last twelve months, I have met with dozens of people detained in local jails, privately contracted centers, and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facilities across the United States. Their arbitrary, prolonged and in some cases, indefinite, detention is shameful. Just a few weeks ago in Minnesota, I met two immigrants who had gone an entire year without ever being outside. Twelve months. The county jails they are held in are not designed for long-term detainees, and they have no outdoor facilities. One of the men stated, "deportation is supposed to be a civil procedure, but there's nothing civil about it."

Sarnata Reynolds, AIUSA’s policy and campaign director for refugee and migrant rights, spoke at a press teleconference on Thursday July 30th, 2009, set to discuss the bills presented by Senators Menendez and Gillibrand: "Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Detention Act" and "Strong STANDARDS Act." These new bills stand to drastically improve plight of detained US citizens and immigrants. The bills also require immigration authorities to ensure that U.S. citizens and other vulnerable populations such as children are informed of their rights when arrested, are considered for release and are treated humanely while detained.

Over the last twelve months, I have met with dozens of people detained in local jails, privately contracted centers, and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facilities across the United States. Their arbitrary, prolonged and in some cases, indefinite, detention is shameful. Just a few weeks ago in Minnesota, I met two immigrants who had gone an entire year without ever being outside. Twelve months. The county jails they are held in are not designed for long-term detainees, and they have no outdoor facilities. One of the men stated, "deportation is supposed to be a civil procedure, but there's nothing civil about it."

In June, I went to Texas and met a man from Maryland who had been granted a $5000 bond by an immigration judge. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorney appealed the decision and invoked what is called the "automatic stay" – a procedure that gives ICE the authority to ignore an immigration judge's decision while it pursues an appeal. For eight months the man languished in jail. Finally, in early July the administrative appellate body agreed with the immigration judge and ordered his release on a $5000 bond. During the eight months this breadwinner was detained, his family became destitute and now they don't have the necessary $5000 to bond him out.

These stories are not anomalies. They represent the experiences of thousands of immigrants who are locked up right now across the U.S. They are mothers and fathers, breadwinners and caretakers, community leaders, human rights defenders and scholars. They build houses and raise other people's children, only to be ripped away from their own.

Immigration detention is a crutch that props up a broken, clumsy and inhumane enforcement policy. It is a poor substitution for smart immigration law, and reform of the entire system is desperately needed.

ICE will say that the average detention stay is 37 days, but this statistic is skewed. It includes the people who agree to be deported almost immediately after being arrested, and this accounts for tens of thousands of people every year. The reality is that if an individual chooses to fight deportation: because he/she is a US citizen, fears persecution, or is not in fact deportable, the person faces months and years of detention.

In our report, Jailed Without Justice, Amnesty International documented over 100 cases in which individuals were detained for years, until they were ultimately found not deportable. These individuals don't get those years back, and the US taxpayer will not recoup the massive cost of these needless detentions.

While Congress has funded alternatives to detention because they have been shown to be effective and significantly less expensive than detaining people, there is concern that ICE is using these funds for programs such as electronic monitoring to supervise individuals who are eligible for release rather than for individuals who would otherwise be detained.

Secure alternatives to detention should be considered in all cases, and if some form of custody is deemed necessary, they should be the norm for pregnant women, sick seniors, and nursing mothers. This is not the currently the case. In fact, in the summer of 2008, a nine months pregnant woman was detained and forced to undergo labor while shackled to a hospital bed. An officer remained in the room during the entire labor. There was no reason to believe that this heavily pregnant woman posed a flight risk or a danger. At most, she should have been placed in a secure alternative program. She was locked up.

Although the Department of Homeland Security has enacted standards for the treatment of people subject to immigration detention, these standards are not legally enforceable – and as was reported by Amnesty International, and reinforced this week in two more reports, transgressions of the standards occur frequently and with impunity. Despite this reality, just a few days ago the Obama administration declined to independently enact enforceable standards, stating that the current system is functioning well. As anyone who has been detained will tell you, the standards are not working.

Legislation that provides a framework for safe, humane and thoughtful detention policy is desperately needed, and the two bills introduced by Senator Menendez and his colleagues today meet these requirements. Amnesty International USA applauds Senators Menendez, Kennedy and Gillibrand for sponsoring these vital pieces of legislation, and Rep. Roybal Allard for her bill, introduced earlier this year. As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in an immigration detention case it decided in 2001, "Freedom from imprisonment— from government custody, detention, or other forms of physical restraint – lies at the heart of the liberty [the due process] clause protects." This truth is not reflected in current U.S. law and policy. It is time to reform them.

Originally posted to Amnesty International USA on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 02:34 PM PDT.

Poll

Does U.S. immigration policy need to be reformed?

66%2 votes
33%1 votes

| 3 votes | Vote | Results

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  you do such amazing work (7+ / 0-)

    I'm an attorney who is getting laid off, so I'm going to have a lot of free time on my hands. Is there anything I can do to help your efforts?

    Of course we will have Fascism in America, but we will call it Democracy. - Senator Huey Long

    by Marcion on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 02:45:03 PM PDT

  •  Then there are the people detained (7+ / 0-)

    with no bond or with bonds they cannot afford who give up and beg to just leave when they have asylum cases or other forms of relief available and leave behind family that desperately needs them because they cannot tolerate the indefinite detention.

    Thank you for the work you are doing.

    They tortured people to get false confessions to fraudulently justify our invading Iraq.

    by MufsMom on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 02:47:06 PM PDT

  •  This is totally out of control. (7+ / 0-)

    Some reports even have ICE detaining American citizens without resort to attorneys of due process:

    Such was the nightmare of Hector Veloz, a citizen by birth whose father, an American-born citizen, served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Veloz spent 14 months in an Arizona prison because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials refused to believe their own eyes.

    Veloz served eight months in prison for having bought a stolen car. He was about to be released, but was turned over to ICE instead.

    While waiting for a hearing, Veloz managed to gather, with help from a relative, his birth certificate, his parents’ marriage certificate, his father’s birth certificate, and his own school, military and Social Security records. After sitting in jail for nine months, a judge determined Veloz was a citizen—and yet ICE officials appealed the decision, delaying Veloz’s release another five months.

    "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex" Dwight D. Eisenhower

    by bobdevo on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 02:51:34 PM PDT

  •  Good job. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dancewater, Nightprowlkitty

    There's so much to do.

    U.S. prisons are terrible for everybody.  The United States has 5 percent of the world's population but incarcerates 25 percent of the people in the world who are incarcerated.  Increasingly prisons are privatized, with Republicans making profits while inmates are horribly abused.

    And it's much worse for immigration detainees.  Some of the worst cases involve savage denials of rudimentary medical care, leading to many deaths.

    A big part of the problem is the cowboy style winning is everything attitude of the ICE lawyers and cops. There needs to be real leadership at DHS and DOJ that will reassert the fundamental American ideal that courts are supposed to DO JUSTICE, not just screw as many people as badly as possible. But I don't have much hope. I think American politics has become too degenerate.

    Best I can do as an immigration lawyer is to try my best on individual cases, trying not to have a stroke every day based on the institutionalized cruelty and incompetence of the immigration authorities.

  •  Who are we kidding here? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dancewater

    These policies and these agencies are an absolute disgrace to the country. Absolutely disgraceful-unconstitutional and illegal-as well.

    "The all-white American Media-where the REAL questions of guilt or innocence are decided."

    by lyvwyr101 on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 04:36:57 PM PDT

Click here for the mobile view of the site