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Weekly Diaspora: Why Detention Reform is Desperately Needed

by: The Media Consortium

Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 10:29:49 AM EST

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.

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How many more hate crimes against immigrants will it take?

by: Restore Fairness

Mon Apr 12, 2010 at 17:12:52 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Quintessentially ‘New York,’ Port Richmond is a diverse and vibrant neighborhood that has been home to most of Staten Island’s Latino community for many years. In incidents that often go unreported, in the past few years this neighborhood has seen more hate crimes against Latino immigrants than one can bear to count. The latest one took place early morning on April 5th when 26 year-old Mexican immigrant Rodulfo Olmedo was attacked by four young men outside his apartment. In this horrifyingly vicious assault, the attackers yelled racial slurs at him, beat him with wooden planks, metal chains and a baseball bat, and took his money, leaving him with a fractured skull.

Although Olmedo is home from the hospital and recovering from his injuries, the entire community is reeling from the psychological and emotional trauma caused by yet another episode of race-based violence in their midst. Last night, there was a combination of sadness and outrage as 150 community members gathered for a candlelight vigil outside the bakery where Olmedo was employed. Led by a local priest, they prayed for an end to the violence that has plagued the immigrant community for years. Speaking about the frequency of hate crimes in the area, Gonzalo Mercado, the director of the Center for Immigrant Families in Port Richmond, said that “the community is living in fear, because these types of situations are not new to this area.”

Rodulfo’s mother, Margarita Olmedo, said that the family is traumatized by the violent attack and is determined to make sure that it does not go unnoticed. She spoke to local press on Rodulfo’s behalf-

He’s under a lot of medication, so he’s resting sleeping…He just wants to make sure that everybody says something about it, that nobody should keep quiet. He does not want this to happen to anybody else.

The attack was captured by two surveillance cameras, and was broadcast on the local television channel (NY1). Following the broadcast the police received a tip, and, after searching their “stop-and-frisk” database, they arrested four suspects on Friday, the 9th of April.  The arrested youth face assault and hate crime charges, and if convicted, could received up to 25 years in prison. The arrest of the suspected perpetrators has given rise to a controversy around the NYPD database that contains information of all the people they stop, question or frisk on grounds of “reasonable suspicion,” as a part of their “stop-and-frisk” policy.

Begun in 2001, the database was started as a safeguard that recorded information of all police stops, thereby ensuring against racially disproportionate action on the part of the police. This case has brought to light the fact that a database that was initiated to prevent against racial profiling, is being used by the police to track down suspects, raising concerns amongst civil liberties advocates like the New York Civil Liberties Union. Speaking about the potential of the database to allow for racial profiling, Chris Dunn, associate legal director of the ACLU said-

The prospect of occasionally finding additional information about suspects already known to the police does not come close to justifying a police database of millions of innocent black and Latino New Yorkers.

While this case received coverage in the press, most of these cases go unreported. On Friday, community leaders in Staten Island gathered to tell people that the only way for concrete action towards putting an end to such violence is if people who are victims or witnesses of hate crimes come forward and report them. The “April 5 bias crime,”as the press has named it, drives home the fact that race-based violence against immigrants has seen a dangerous surge in the past few years.

As the momentum is growing towards just and humane immigration reform, it is important to keep in mind the horrific reality of individual stories like Rodulfo’s, unfolding in our own neighborhoods, right before our eyes.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org
Discuss :: (0 Comments)

How many more hate crimes against immigrants will it take?

by: Restore Fairness

Mon Apr 12, 2010 at 17:12:26 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Quintessentially ‘New York,’ Port Richmond is a  diverse and vibrant  neighborhood that has been home to most of Staten  Island’s Latino  community for many years. In incidents that often go  unreported, in the  past few years this neighborhood has seen more hate crimes against Latino immigrants than one can   bear to count. The latest one took place early morning on April 5th   when 26 year-old Mexican immigrant Rodulfo Olmedo was attacked by four   young men outside his apartment. In this horrifyingly vicious assault,   the attackers yelled racial slurs at him, beat him with wooden planks,   metal chains and a baseball bat, and took his money, leaving him with a   fractured skull.

Although Olmedo is home from the hospital and  recovering from his  injuries, the entire community is reeling from the  psychological and  emotional trauma caused by yet another episode of  race-based violence in  their midst. Last night, there was a combination  of sadness and outrage  as 150 community members gathered for a candlelight vigil outside the bakery where Olmedo   was employed. Led by a local priest, they prayed for an end to the   violence that has plagued the immigrant community for years. Speaking   about the frequency of hate crimes in the area, Gonzalo Mercado, the   director of the Center  for Immigrant  Families in Port Richmond, said that “the community is living in fear, because   these types of situations are  not new to this area.”

Rodulfo’s  mother, Margarita Olmedo, said that the family is  traumatized by the  violent attack and is determined to make sure that it  does not go  unnoticed. She spoke to local press on Rodulfo’s behalf-

He’s under a  lot of medication, so he’s  resting sleeping…He just wants to make sure  that everybody says  something about it, that nobody should keep quiet.  He does not want this  to happen to anybody else.

The attack was  captured by two surveillance cameras, and was broadcast on the local television channel (NY1).   Following the broadcast the police received a tip, and, after searching their “stop-and-frisk”   database, they arrested four suspects on Friday, the 9th of April.  The   arrested youth face assault and hate crime charges, and if convicted,   could received up to 25 years in prison. The arrest of the suspected   perpetrators has given rise to a controversy around the NYPD database that contains   information of all the people they stop, question or frisk on grounds    of “reasonable suspicion,” as a part of their “stop-and-frisk” policy.

 

Begun in 2001, the database was started as a   safeguard that recorded information of all police stops, thereby   ensuring against racially disproportionate action on the part of the   police. This case has brought to light the fact that a database that was   initiated to prevent against racial profiling, is being used by the   police to track down suspects, raising concerns amongst civil liberties   advocates like the New  York Civil  Liberties Union. Speaking about the potential of the  database to  allow for racial profiling, Chris Dunn, associate legal   director of the ACLU said-

The prospect of occasionally finding   additional information about suspects already known to the police does   not come close to justifying a police database of millions of innocent   black and Latino New Yorkers.

While this case received coverage  in the press, most of these cases  go unreported. On Friday, community  leaders in Staten Island gathered   to tell people that the only way for concrete action towards   putting an end to such violence is if people who are victims or   witnesses of hate crimes come forward and report them. The “April 5 bias crime,”as the press has named it,    drives home the fact that race-based violence against immigrants has    seen a dangerous surge in the past few years.

As  the momentum is growing towards just and humane   immigration reform, it is important to keep in mind the horrific reality   of individual stories like Rodulfo’s, unfolding in our own   neighborhoods, right before our eyes.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org
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End it. Not mend it. Message to the administration over failed immigration program.

by: Restore Fairness

Mon Apr 05, 2010 at 15:41:00 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for detention and deportations of immigrants, is on a roll. Haitian earthquake survivors and mentally ill detainees are amongst those locked up in inhumane detention centers. Memos leaked last week confirmed a desire for growing deportations of immigrants. And now, the government’s own agency, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General delivers a scathing critique of ICE’s 287(g) program that gives local police the power to enforce immigration law.

60 police forces across the country have signed agreements with ICE that allow their local officers to detain suspected immigrants for deportation. Various reports have documented racial profiling concerns, but the government has failed to listen. Even Members of Congress and police foundations have spoken out against the program, which diverts scarce resources from the police and endangers community safety as people are afraid to report crimes.

The OIG points out serious flaws in ICE’s 287(g) program for its lack of training, oversight and transparency, and its failure to protect against racial profiling and civil rights abuses. In one example, a victim of a traffic accident who was also an immigrant was taken straight to the local jail until federal officers arrived to check his legal status. And although the program is supposed to focus on “Level 1″ offenders or those who have committed serious crimes, almost half of those reviewed had no involvement in such crimes, revealing a misdirection of resources.

The issue around a lack of supervision is grave. “In the absence of consistent supervision over immigration enforcement activities, there is no assurance that the program is achieving its goals.”This has led to severe violations, with Sheriff Arpaio type neighborhood sweeps to locate undocumented immigrants. Other horrific examples – Juana Villegas, 9 months pregnant, was detained on a minor traffic stop and remained shackled while giving birth, while Pedro Guzman, a mentally ill U.S. citizen was mistakenly deported to Mexico.

And finally, the 287(g) training of police officers is very inadequate. In one example, two officers who were enrolled in the program had been defendants in past racial profiling lawsuits, indicating a flawed selection process. The performance records of local officers are not examined properly while many officers are given only a cursory training in immigration law.

While ICE claims that the report was researched before it has made radical changes to the program, the changes that have been made are largely superficial and problems continue unchecked. Many groups consider this report a wake up call and have demanded the 287(g) program be “ended, not mended.” Take action to “Reign in the Cowboys at ICE.”

Photo courtesy of thenation.com

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org
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Is the Tea Party's racist rhetoric going to save broken families?

by: Restore Fairness

Mon Feb 08, 2010 at 17:52:54 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog. 

While it is difficult to find much coherence within the fractured and fast-changing Tea Party Movement, a look at their convention in Nashville last week shows that the issue of immigration seems to have gained greater popularity, emerging largely from the links made between immigration and the healthcare debate at their town hall meetings held last summer. Spearheading this issue for the Tea party agenda was Tom Tancredo, a former Colorado Congressman who kicked off the Nashville Tea Party Convention with a slew of racist comments meant to further the argument against immigration reform.

And then because we don’t have a civics literacy test to vote, people who couldn’t even spell vote, or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House named Barack Hussein Obama.

The Nashville Convention sought to unite the movement against the path to legalization. Tancredo’s opening speech included the argument that while Obama’s plans for immigration reform needed to be halted, it was a good thing that McCain had not been elected or he would already have ensured that Rep. Gutierrez’s bill for immigration reform was passed and “amnesty” given to the country’s undocumented immigrants. He incited the audience to protect the country’s culture saying “our culture is based on Judeo-Christian values whether people like it or not!”

While some, such as a Tea Party blogger Keli Carender said that immigration was not a part of the official agenda, Tancredo’s opening remarks, the prominent presence of the anti-immigrant group NumbersUSA, as well as a number of signs against “amnesty” from their individual supporters at the convention indicated that immigration issues could become a prominent feature on the movement’s agenda.

So what would Tom Tancredo have to say about the latest report by the Urban Institute that holds that immigration enforcement has a large-scale, detrimental effect on children? The truth is that the immigration system is in dire need of reform and racist rhetoric is not going to solve the complex problems caused as a result of a broken immigration system.

The report is based on research conducted amongst over 100 children of undocumented immigrants that were targeted by raids and arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in six U.S. states. Of the 190 children interviewed for this study, two-thirds were U.S. born citizens. The study says,

Children whose parents were detained for longer than a month experienced more changes in eating, sleeping, frequent crying, fear, anxiety, regression, clinginess, and aggressive behavior.  68% of parents or caretakers questioned said they noticed at least three behavioral changes in the short-term, or three months after a parent was arrested. In the long-term, or nine months after an arrest, 56 percent of children ages 6 to 11 and 12 to 17 showed angry or aggressive behavior. The most typical changes were an increase or decrease in eating among all age groups.

Long-term separation of children from their parents is “exceptionally harmful” to the development and growth of children. The report recommends immigration reform must include alternatives to detention such as electronic monitoring and supervised released, as well as a priority quota for immigrants with children to be considered for legal residency.

It’s groups like Tancredo’s that have gone on about the connections between immigrants and crime. An ACLU brief finds that the increasing criminalization of undocumented immigrants has led to a diversion of attention and resources away from more serious criminal offenses such as organized crime, gun trafficking and white collar crimes. For starters unlawful presence in the United States is NOT a “crime”. And secondly only the Federal Government can regulate immigration. So when states and localities use criminal laws to go after undocumented immigrants, they are not only adding to the misinformed rhetoric around “criminal” immigrants but actually diverting resources from where they should be applied. Moreover, studies have shown that increased immigration does not lead to increased crime and that immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated for violating criminal laws than non-immigrants.

Once again, we urge the leaders and citizens of this country to step away from their petty vendettas and take a look at the bigger picture, both in terms of what already exists and in terms of what would be best for all.

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The Weekly Diaspora: We Can Prosper Together

by: The Media Consortium

Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 12:36:02 PM EST

By Nezua, Media Consortium Blogger

For the most part, it's been a good week for immigration reform. The Senate approved a measure that will end the "Widow Penalty," which rescinded applications for U.S. residency if one's spouse of two years or less years dies, and on Tuesday, as RaceWire reports, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed legislation that restores the right of due process to immigrant youth.

There's More... :: (0 Comments, 825 words in story)
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