Posts Tagged ‘Immigration and Customs Enforcement’

Immigration Detention Reform Moves to Front Burner

February 2, 2009

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New America Media, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Feb 02, 2009

Guantanamo Bay isn’t the only prison crisis that President Barack Obama will have to deal with. There’s another crisis growing – in the many immigration detention centers carpeting the interior of the country. Long ignored by policymakers because they make up the politically lethal combination of immigration and prison reform, calls for major restructuring of the immigration detention system may soon become unavoidable. The death of German immigrant Guido Newbrough in a Virginia detention center has pushed the issue to the front burner, helped along by incessant calls for change from advocates like Gil Velazquez.

“I went through that system. I was there. I could have died too,” says Velazquez upon hearing of Newbrough’s death. Velazquez, a recently released immigrant detainee from Oaxaca, Mexico who now lives in Richmond, Virginia, is looking for action from Washington. “I wish I could speak to Mr. Obama. I would tell him ‘They (immigration authorities) jail so many people and they don’t know what they’re doing. They have no right to let people die,'” said Velazquez.

His mobility and work possibilities are limited by the big black ankle bracelet that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is forcing him to wear until his hearing in June. He cannot leave his sister’s apartment in the evenings. But Velazquez does not let his undocumented status limit his freedom.

“I want him (Obama) to know that we should be building schools and hospitals, things that help people, not these prisons,” the very soft-spoken Velazquez declared in his most strident cadence as he took a break from folding flyers for a protest to halt the construction of another immigrant detention center in Farmville, where Newborough died.

Velazquez’s indefatigable efforts form part of a large and growing movement to put immigration detention issues front and center of any upcoming reform of the larger immigration system from the Obama administration. He and other critics of the system see the root of Newbrough’s death and a host of other problems –death from medical neglect, denial of habeas corpus and other basic legal rights, lack of sanitation, food and other basic necessities, violent and abusive guards, to name a few- in the exponential growth of the immigrant detainee population. It has tripled since 1996, according to ICE records.

Demands for a radical restructuring of the detention and deportation system have become the main message on the placards, press statements and posters of a growing galaxy of older and new advocacy groups outside the Beltway. Groups like the Detention Watch Network, an umbrella organization made up of immigrant detention advocates from across the country, report rapid growth in membership and actions since the failure of immigration reform unleashed an unprecedented regime of raids and incarceration targeting immigrants.

Fueled by what groups like Virginia’s People United, a multi-issue activist organization, are calling the “humanitarian crisis” in immigrant detention, Velazquez and others’ increasingly vociferous calls for changes to the detention system have also created a political crisis for supporters of the more legalization-centered approach to immigration reform favored by supporters of some version of the McCain-Kennedy bill of 2006-2007 which was also supported by then Senator Barack Obama. The failure of McCain-Kennedy, gave rise not just to exponential increases in the numbers of ICE raids (an average of 11 per day); it also gave long-ignored detention reform flank of the immigrant rights movement more motivated troops and unprecedented resources – more than a dozen reports on detention issues are expected in coming months.

Many new detention reform groups have arisen and established groups like People United have placed immigrant detention near the center of their agenda in the last two years thanks to the constant stream of sad and often bizarre detention stories. “I just spoke with a man being held in the jail where Mr. Newbrough died,” said Jeff Winder, a regional organizer with People United. “The man told me that they’re cutting even more services to save money. Less than two months after the second death in that prison they’re cutting heat, toilet paper, food and other basic services. He even told me that there are 30 lights on the ceiling but that only 5 are turned on. People are crowding under lights just to read.”

Winder also pointed to several recent events – a hostage situation in Texas, hunger strikes across the country, legal victories for detainees claiming they were physically and psychologically abused, other deaths in detention – as examples of the “scandal in immigrant detention we see every week.” The steady stream of bad detention news is forcing Winder and other activists to find balance in the optimism mirrored by the Obama moment. “There’s a real mood of hope in the country. The end of the horrible abuses of Bush is very important and historic. I celebrate that, he said, adding, “But I’m waiting to see what President Obama will do about creating really viable alternatives to detention.”

Asked about the alternatives, Winder cited a 1998 government-funded study by the Vera Institute of Justice. The study found that, with a battery of community services costing less than $12 per person per day (versus the national average of $120 per day for people in immigration detention centers) the government could drastically reduce the numbers of people in immigrant detention facilities. “Reducing the number of people is important,” said Winder. “But the more important question President Obama will have to answer why we have so many people rotting in immigrant prisons in the first place.”

NPR-Latino USA Commentary: On the Need to Destroy Juan Crow

May 24, 2008

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Latino USA Globe

Thanks to Maria Hinojosa, Mincho Jacob and the folks at NPR’s Latino USA for letting me record this call to action disguised as a commentary:

NPR Latino USA Commentary

Al Ataque: Todos Contra ICE! (Attack: All Against ICE!)

May 19, 2008

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This just in from the Daily News (DN), one of the largest dailies in the U.S. DN Columinst Albor Ruiz’s article reminds us to put our attention where it belongs: on the biggest scandal in ICE’s history. As as he says,

“Shockingly, between January 2004 and November 2007, more detainees have perished while in custody of ICE than in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo combined.”

Just this should be enough to put the forces of the immigrant rights movement on moral and political alert lest they let this largest, most high visibility crisis ICE has faced since its inception pass without a response. But there is more, much more at stake: nothing less than the moral fabric of the entire country. Coming on the same continuum of detention and militarism as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the immigration detention scandal brings the U.S. government’s disrespect for human life within the borders of the country itself. In the words of Ruiz,

“What goes on inside immigration detention centers points to a moral crisis that threatens to shred the nation’s basic values.”

Viewed from this vantage point, It’s pretty clear that last week’s “biggest”, “largest” (according to ICE press releases) raid in Iowa was a diversionary tactic designed to take attention-and pressure- away from the political vulnerability ICE’s violence and neglect in detention centers have opened up, a vulnerability that must exploited if their impunity and corruption are to end. Raids before, during and after marches illustrate how very political ICE is-and acts.

The number of ICE scandal actions -vigils, videos, social networking sites, posts, op-eds, public educational events a, letters, protests and other direct action -will define how truly political-and effective- we are. Responses – and non-responses-to this crisis will tell us, the immigrant community and our powerful adversaries whether we really want to pull out of the defensive, reactive (as in only reacting to raids and other ICE initiatives) politic that we seem all-to-comfortable with.

The great danger right now is that we allow the Democrats and their allies to frame the ICE crisis in a reformist manner, as something simply requiring better management and health care. We must, to the best of our abilities make clear that the crisis is not solely nor primarily about the health conditions that need to be reformed; its about the policies and the institutionalized verbal, visual and physical violence against human beings who happen to be migrants, policies that need to be destroyed. The Democrats have done nothing to stem the tide of institutional intolerance and hate. Nothing. So, they should follow, not lead. Some other local national detention rights groups are planning press events, actions etc in coming weeks.

This crisis at ICE has given us what no violent raid or series of violent raids can give us;the crisis has given us the kind media coverage that started the ball rolling on detention scandals in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo: in-depth, front page reporting in the NYT, Washington Post and 60 minutes. The media did its part in this case. Democrats and other politicos will align along whatever vectors of political -and moral-pressure they are placed in. And ICE and its subcontractors have done their part with their corruption, unconstitutional practices and relentless violence.

So, ICE’s fate really is up to those of us in the fight for migrant rights now. Let us seize the moment.

Al Ataque: Todos Contra ICE! (Attack: All Against ICE!)

Immigrant Detainees Killed by Neglect and by Juan Crow

May 12, 2008

(Guinean immigrant Boubacar Bah in ICE custody before dying in that same bed)

Immigrants held in immigration detention facilities are not just suffering and dying because of the bad management documented so thoroughly in recent stories by the New York Times, the Washington Post and on 60 Minutes; they’re suffering and dying because the situation of undocumented in the U.S. bears more than a passing resemblance to that of African-Americans dehumanized and killed by Jim Crow. Call it Juan Crow: the matrix of laws, social customs, economic institutions and symbolic systems enabling the physical and psychic isolation needed to control and exploit undocumented immigrants.

The death, violence and neglect suffered by immigrants would not be possible without the increasingly radical dehumanization seen daily on television, heard on radio and felt in the almost daily raids on homes and workplaces. And, as reported last week, even schools and childcare facilities are no longer free from the looming presence of heavily armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Given the extremes to which our government is going in its war on immigrants, it should come as no surprise that, since 9-11, more detainees have died in immigration detention than have died in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib combined.

Nowhere is the increasingly tragic plight of immigrants more obvious than in the Georgia. The toll this increasingly oppressive climate has taken on citizen, non-citizen and, especially, undocumented, immigrants is felt powerfully by children. The younger children of the mostly immigrant Latinos in Georgia are learning and internalizing that they are different from white–and black–children not just because they have the wrong skin color but also because many of their parents lack the right papers.

To read more about Juan Crow, go here.

66 Deaths in Immigrant Prisons Signal Need to Shut Down ICE

May 6, 2008

The New York Times

This hugely important story by the New York Time’s Nina Bernstein, hands-down best immigration reporter in the U.S., is a must read. It tells the story of Boubacar Bah, a 52-year-old tailor from Guinea who overstayed his tourist visa. According to Bernstein, who secured documents about Bah and 65 other imimgrants who died under questionable circumstances in immigrant prisons run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and its subcontractors, Bah’s family did not know what was happening to until his

“… frantic relatives located him at University Hospital in Newark on Feb. 5, 2007, he was in a coma after emergency surgery for a skull fracture and multiple brain hemorrhages. He died there four months later without ever waking up, leaving family members on two continents trying to find out why.

Bah’s is but one of the 66 stories of individuals who died in immigration custody between January 2004 to November 2007.

66, more than the number of those who died while in custody at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo -combined.

In addition to the tragedy gripping the families of these victims, this report sends an unmistakable signal to the immigrant rights community: the dehumanization of immigrants has reached deadly institutional levels. Such high levels of death among detained migrants prove that the “Stop the raids!” slogans and calls for reform are of limited value.

Some of us need to raise the ante beyond the important but ultimately reformist calls to improve conditions in the jails; Some of us need to call for Congress to shut down the factory of death and dehumanization: the ICE. This latest proof of the damage wrought by the exponential growth of official and extra-official dehumanization of migrants joins the destruction already wrought by the most militarized branch of the federal government besides the Pentagon, ICE: thousands of raids, militarization of immigration policy, hyper-profits wrought by its military-prison industrial subcontractors, thousands of DEAD in the desert (many more than the 1000 conservative estimate reported in the article)

Thousands of dead.

Thousands of dead.

Yes, I said thousands of dead.

Rather than simply allow ICE to continue its big money PR campaigns to “humanize” its image, some might also consider the tactic of starting the ball rolling by temporarily closing ICE offices themselves. As I’ve suggested here and here, you don’t need 400,000 to 1 million marchers to close down an ICE office; As Salvadorans and their supporters proved when they used to close federal buildings and other facilities with a few hundred people in the 1980’s, all you need are enough citizens (no need to put the undocumented at risk and, those are, after all, our tax dollars paying for ICE and its subcontractor’s death factory running.) concerned about death and (tax) dollars. As the campaign to shut down the nefarious Hutto prison shows, taking the political offensive against ICE does have an effect.

The main point is to take the onus off of immigrants and put it where it belongs-on ICE, the agency that divides families, terrorizes entire communities and kills immigrants. Such an dangerous agency doesn’t need reform; It needs to be closed down. In the face of such catastrophic results wrought since the birth of ICE, closing them down marks the beginning of any “immigration reform” agenda.