LatinaLista — Round II of the immigration debate has begun in the Senate.
Already the National Council of La Raza is emailing alerts out detailing the amendments that the Senate will vote on, and which ones we should encourage our Senators to either support or oppose.
But one thing is clear â€” any new immigration reform bill must include a provision on making the detention procedure as transparent as possible.
According to a New York Times article, immigrant detention is the fastest growing form of incarceration in the United States.
Under any new immigration bill, detention capacity is expected to grow by 73 percent. As it stands now, over 27,000 immigrants are detained on any given day in almost 200 prison-like facilities across the country.
â€¢ Facilities known to detain immigrants in ICE removal proceedings (red dots on map)
â€¢ Immigration and Customs Enforcement district offices (black dots)
â€¢ Legal service organizations who provide representation or referrals to immigrants detained (green dots)
(Source: Detention Watch Network)
What makes immigrant detention such a cloudy issue is that people can be held indefinitely.
Immigrant detention is called â€œdetentionâ€ because detainees are not being held for criminal charges. Immigrants are the only group of people in the United States that are routinely held in jail for civil offenses. Paradoxically, while immigrant detainees are held for lesser offenses, they can be held indefinitely, and they do not have the same legal protections, such as the right to free legal counsel, as people who have been charged with crimes.
People detained by the INS (Immigration & Naturalization Service) fall into three different major categories.
1. People seeking asylum in the United States that have suffered persecution in other countries who arrived in the US without proper documents.
2. People who have overstayed a visa, or committed other immigration violations;
3. Any non-citizens (including people that have a green card) who have been convicted of a crime at any time in the past. In other words, immigrants who have already paid their debt to society get punished a second time, and can actually been detained indefinitely for a crime they have already done time for.
Activists who have been fighting for the release of non-Mexican families held at immigrant detention facilities around the country have long contended that the system is nothing more than a for-profit venture with no accountability for the treatment of these detainees.
The accountability has been so pathetic that no government body will take responsibility for any deaths of immigrants being held, let alone acknowledge that anyone had died because of sub-standard care.
Finally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has revealed that 62 people have died since 2004 while under their responsibility. Many of the deaths are being described as preventable if the people had only gotten the basic medical attention they needed in the first place.
The level of incompetence is so great within these facilities when it comes to meeting the basic health needs of the detainees that the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a "class action lawsuit on behalf of immigrant detainees at San Diego Correctional Facility (SDCF), charging that inadequate medical and mental health care have caused unnecessary suffering and, in several cases, avoidable death."
Because of the growing outcry over the abuses happening at these detention facilities (At the Hutto facility in Taylor, Texas, an immigrant mother was raped by one of the guards), the Senate "unanimously passed an amendment to the proposed immigration bill that would establish an office of detention oversight within the Department of Homeland Security. "
Yet, Department of Homeland Security already oversees ICE who is responsible for immigrant detention, and that doesn't seem to make a difference in preventing these deaths and abuses.
Why would an official department within Homeland Security make any more of a difference?
As it stands now, Homeland Security allows ICE to be secretive, evasive with the media, deny United Nations inspectors access to their facilities and the detainees and supports an atmosphere of intimidation in these facilities.
What needs to happen is to have these facilities not under the domain of Homeland Security but the state governments where they are housed. A committee of people from across the state should serve on these watchdog committees and provide the oversight that they so badly need.
Also, special provisions should be made to not keep children in detention facilities. It has been documented that these children suffer traumatic stress, fall behind in their studies and are subjected to implorable intimidation at the hands of prison guards who are not schooled in early childhood/adolescent psychology.
These detention facilities are nothing more than for-profit concentration camps, no matter how they are justified.
And there can be no justification to hold people whose only crime was to cross the border looking for work.