Posts Tagged ‘Obama and immigrant detention’

Obama’s Vision of “Truly Civil” Immigrant Prison Reform: More Prisoners, More Prisons

August 6, 2009

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An article in today’s New York Times provides an outline of the Obama Administration’s vision of immigrant detention reform: more prisoners, more prisons-but a “truly civil system” . That there will be no fundamental changes to the massively corrupt and widely criticized detention system can be seen in these statements from the story:

– John Morton,head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): “Detention on a large scale must continue, he said, “but it needs to be done thoughtfully and humanely.”

– “So far, the new administration has embraced many of those policies, expanding a program to verify worker immigration status that has been widely criticized, bolstering partnerships between federal immigration agents and local police departments, and rejecting a petition for legally binding rules on conditions in immigration detention.”

“Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, said last week that she expected the number of detainees to stay the same or grow slightly.”

– “Asked if his vision could include building new civil detention centers, he (Morton) said yes.

As can be seen from these statements coming from Administration officials, President Obama appears willing to maintain and even expand a system of immigrant prisons that civil and human rights organizations across the country and around the world have criticized for the subhuman conditions and deaths found in that system.

The Obama Administration’s talk of “truly civil” immigrant prisons and of imprisoning immigrants more “thoughtfully and humanely” are reminiscent of similar talk by the Bush Administration. After civil and human rights groups criticized the Bush Administration for the the terror fostered by and the illegality of its raids, Bush’s Homeland Security officials began talking about how they would “humanize” immigration raids. A recent report by the Cardozo School of Law documented how the widespread racial profiling and other violations have continued even after the announcement to “humanize” the raids, raids -and violations-that continue under the Obama Administration.

Many immigrant prison reform advocates believe that failure to fundamentally alter the “crimmigration” laws that have caused the immigrant prison population to mushroom over the past several years, means that such announcements by the Obama Administration will ring as hollow as President Obama’s talk of “racial profiling” did after his administration quietly announced an expansion of 287(G),one of the largest racial profiling programs in the history of federal government.

It is doubtful that any but those desperate to either secure favor from or provide political cover to the Obama Administration will lend their public approval to what many consider an insulting attempt to put a cosmetic cover on the beaten, bruised and sometimes dead body of the rotting detention system. It is also doubtful that pronouncements of a “truly civil”immigrant prison system will do anything to stop the increased attacks on Janet Napolitano -and Obama- from their allies in the immigrant rights community. If anything, the pronouncements may intensify that anger by virtue of the insult to their intelligence and moral sensibilities many advocates may feel such a cosmetic politic of prison reform represents.

Homeland Security Chief Napolitano Outlines Top Immigration Priorities: Militarism & Militarism

February 16, 2009

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Looks like Napolitano’s -and Obama’s- version of “hope” and “change” on immigration means pressing down on the undocumented with even more boots and guns, according to this interview on NPR.

Given the spikes in anti-immigrant hate crimes that continue spilling blood on our streets and given the colossal humanitarian crisis festering in detention centers throughout the country , such a militaristic approach to immigration policy is nothing less than immoral and inhumane. Such an approach begs the questions, “Where is the hope?” and “Is this what you meant by “change?”

If the Obama Administration continues along this deadly path, I predict that the immigrant rights movement and growing numbers of Latinos will start politically attacking Obama and his backers in DC in anticipation their support for policies that will worsen further the growing humanitarian crisis in detention. I also predict the Dems and their allies will counter with a modified version of the PR strategy used to promote McCain-Kennedy: focus media on legalization while avoiding or simply paying minimal lip service to detention, raids enforcement and other issues involving the most vulnerable. By adding more jaded chants of “Si Se Puede” to such grotesque policies, Obama and Napolitano will only make even more of us hear even more clearly the echoes of “Si Se Pedo” politics: sounds similar to something good until you get close to the smell that’s toxically bad.

In a such a dangerous climate, a climate in which economic decline worsens the undocumented condition -death in jail, hate crimes, death in deserts, daily doses of dehumanizing media-, it is our duty to reject as extremely dangerous and in the most forceful terms any of the “smart enforcement” and other militaristic language and policy used by Napolitano, GOP & Dems and some “immigrant rights advocates.” Without a powerful pushback against these powerful interests who claim to be “liberal” and “progressive” on immigration reform, their institutional advantages – government bully pulpit & policy leadership, massive foundation funding for polls, media work and even blogging, media predisposition to be DC-centric- will again push non-legalization issues into the gulag of neglect, the further normalization of the nefarious things we’re seeing in the treatment of the undocumented.

So, beware: the workings of “hope” and “change” lurketh on the horizon.

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.”