To our shock and surprise, more than forty survivors who came to TASSC in the past two years from Africa, most of them from Ethiopia and Eritrea, reached the United States by traveling through Latin America and crossing the U.S. – Mexico border to ask for political asylum. They were subsequently detained in immigration detention centers in Texas, Arizona and California for weeks, months, and sometimes years before being released on bond to apply for asylum.
TASSC traveled to the U.S. – Mexico border in February to visit survivors in immigration detention, and to meet with communities providing alternatives to detention in San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, Tucson, Phoenix, and San Diego. We also had access to survivors who either had been released from or were currently in detention facilities in Texas, Arizona and California.
Many of these immigrant detention centers are run by private corporations – the Geo Corporation or the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) – and by the federal government (ICE). We heard first-hand from survivors about the treatment to which they are subjected, including weeks and months in solitary confinement, as well as lack of access to their families or to legal representation.
We also met with immigration lawyers, torture treatment centers, and community-based alternatives to detention supported by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the Presbyterian Church USA, or local Catholic dioceses.
The following article was written by the Detention Watch Network, of which TASSC is a member.
Detention Watch Network Deplores Latest Anti-Immigrant Hearing in Congress
Washington, D.C. While nearly 400,000 immigrants are incarcerated each year in an expanding archipelago of punitive and life-threatening detention centers, Congress continues to deny the moral and human rights crisis caused by mass detention. On March 28, Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) convened a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement to continue his callous assault on immigrants and immigrant communities.
The pretext for the hearing is the recent announcement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that it will implement a revised version of its internal guidelines on the treatment of immigrants detained in ICE facilities. Detention Watch Network (DWN) condemns this latest round of anti-immigrant showboating by the Republicans and calls upon Congress to repeal mandatory detention, which is the root cause of mass immigrant incarceration.
ICEs new guidelines are intended to help address well-documented civil and human rights abuses that continue to occur daily in immigration detention, abuses that Smith apparently finds laughable, said Andrea Black, Executive Director of DWN. The very title of Wednesday’s hearing, Holiday on ICE, mocks the seriousness of the suffering that immigrants in detention experience and mischaracterizes ICEs new guidelines as mandating cushy resort-like conditions for those in detention.
Far from being hospitality guidelines, as Congressmen Smith has called them, the 2011 Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS) fall short of providing the necessary protection for immigrants held by ICE. In 2009, after a scathing government report outlined the inhumane conditions and rampant fiscal waste in detention, the Obama Administration promised to address these problems in the only way possible: by moving away from locking up immigrants and towards new models of custody and supervision that reflect the civil nature of immigration proceedings. So far that has not happened. If anything, ICEs latest standards represent the abandonment of that goal.
In the 2011 PBNDS, like the 2000 and 2008 versions, ICE continues to rely on penal standards rather than re-envision a truly civil system. As a result, immigrants will continue to be held behind bars, often hundreds of miles from their families, with minimal if any access to legal services, vulnerable to the same substandard medical care and abuses that have prevailed in detention to date. Most important, the PBNDS are not enforceable or even legally binding, and there is no independent oversight of facilities to ensure compliance.
But Congressman Smith and the Republicans have chosen to grandstand and lambast the new guidelines as coddling immigrants and increasing detention costs, rather than looking for real solutions to address the detention crisis head-on.
If Lamar Smith is concerned about taxpayers footing the bill for detention, he should consider dedicating his energies to the repeal of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), the legislation he helped pass 16 years ago, which has been almost single-handedly responsible for the tripling of the number of people in detention, said Black. As a result of IIRIRAs draconian mandatory detention provisions, the government needlessly incarcerates thousands of immigrants every year to the tune of $122 per person per day.
Detention Watch Network calls on Congress to pass legislation to reduce the unnecessary, inhumane, and wasteful detention of immigrants. Until Congress acts, the Obama Administration must renew its commitment to urgent reform of the detention system by closing the most egregious detention facilities, by aggressively working with non-governmental organizations to promote community-based supervision programs for those in proceedings, and by pushing for legal regulation and third party oversight of the remaining detention centers.
The Detention Watch Network is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to educate the public and policy makers about the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for humane reform. For more information visit: www.detentionwatchnetwork.org