LatinaLista — The trouble with a broken immigration system is that it's easy for people to fall through the cracks. And the trouble with so many stories about this broken immigration system flooding mainstream media is that it's too easy for the important stories to get lost in the flood.
Camp Delta Guantanamo Bay
That's why when the AP story that was filed a week ago was finally brought to my attention, via my Mexico City-based friend Jesus Chairez, I couldn't help but think how could anyone miss the importance of this story.
It obviously got attention in Mexico but why not here?
Maybe because it's a little uncomfortable to know that the U.S. has not only one Guantanamo Bay facility but 260 â€” and they are literally in our own backyards.
The AP story, Immigrants face detention, few rights held several startling revelations, courtesy of data from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement database (which was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act):
- As of January 25, 2009, the U.S. detainee population numbered 32,000.
- Of the total (32,000), 18,690 had no criminal conviction â€” not even for illegal entry or trespassing.
- More than 400 detainees with no criminal record had been locked up for at least a year. A dozen had been held for three years or more and a man from China had been locked up for more than five years.
- Nearly 10,000 had been in custody longer than 31 days.
Yet, this gross miscarriage of justice doesn't stop with the length of time these immigrants are subjected to prison-like conditions but who all gets caught up in this madness:
But the dragnet has come to include not only terrorism suspects and cop killers, but an honors student who was raised in Orlando, Fla.; a convenience store clerk who begged to go back to Canada; and a Pentecostal minister who was forcibly drugged by ICE agents after he asked to contact his wife, according to court records.
Immigration lawyers note that substantial numbers of detainees, from 177 countries in the data provided, are not illegal immigrants at all. Many of the longest-term non-criminal detainees are asylum seekers fighting to stay here because they fear being killed in their home country. Others are longtime residents who may be eligible to stay under other criteria, or whose applications for permanent residency were lost or mishandled, the lawyers say.
The article also reports that 58 percent of the people detained have no one advocating on their behalf.
That's why the nonprofit KIND: Kids in Need of Defense, and other lawyer groups around the country, have realized that unaccompanied children are also caught up in this system and have reached out to help these children by providing pro bono representation in immigration courts. But obviously, the need is much greater.
An ironic element revealed by the AP analysis of ICE's detention facilities shows that incarcerating these individuals costs taxpayers much more than just allowing them to return to their families monitored by an ankle bracelet.
The use of detention to ensure immigrants show up for immigration court comes at a high cost compared to alternatives like electronic ankle monitoring, which can track people for considerably less money per day.
Based on the amount budgeted for this fiscal year, U.S. taxpayers will pay about $141 a night â€” the equivalent of a decent hotel room â€” for each immigrant detained, even though paroling them on ankle monitors â€” at a budgeted average daily cost of $13 â€” has an almost perfect compliance rate, according to ICE's own stats.
Yet, to hear former heads of the Department of Homeland Security describe it, undocumented immigrants with ankle monitors is a system that just doesn't work.
How many more distortions of facts and outright lies have the American public been subjected to just so an administration could carry out the wishes of an extreme sect?
Given the blatant disregard for these people in the detention facilities and knowing what we now know about the effectiveness of the ankle bracelets, there are several points that seem pretty clear:
Shut down all detention facilities. Those undocumented immigrants who are guilty of true crimes like murder, robbery, assault, etc. should be transferred to a regular high-security prison and not mixed with those people whose only crimes are they lack the proper paperwork or are waiting for their asylum hearings.
And why are we imprisoning people who are afraid to return to their home countries and can't help the fact that the U.S. judicial system refuses to get its act together to expedite their requests? Release them.
Outfit all released individuals with an ankle bracelet.
Expedite all hearings and proceedings so people aren't left in limbo or give them the necessary documentation so that they can at least find a job to support themselves and their families while they await a verdict.
Give each released individual an ID card of some kind to help know who they are and they can present some form of ID when asked.
And finally, redirect the money allotted to ICE for detention purposes and channel it towards something more constructive, like appointing more judges in immigration and asylum courts.
It would be a far better use of the money than holding people just to give the illusion that a failed immigration policy is actually working.