GOP House Judiciary Committee members shame themselves by making light of ICE abuses against detained undocumented immigrants

LatinaLista — Yesterday on Capitol Hill, a hearing was held on the abuses that have surfaced regarding the treatment of undocumented immigrants while in custody by the U.S. Border Patrol.

TX Republican Rep. Lamar Smith

The hearing came on the heels of the news that the Dallas Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office was routinely stealing money from undocumented immigrants in their custody.

Now, today, it’s being reported that the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, held a hearing titled “Holiday on ICE.” A clear play on the title of a popular national touring ice skating show but there was nothing playful about how Rep. Smith chose to talk about the issues plaguing ICE or undocumented immigrants — in fact, it was disgustingly insulting.

One Democratic member of the committee formally, in a letter, asked Smith to rename the hearing since “the manner in which we treat immigrants in our detention facilities is not a laughing matter.” Smith ignored his request and responded:

“ICE has decided to upgrade accommodations for detained illegal and criminal immigrants,” he said during the opening minutes of the hearing. “While we would all like to be upgraded, we don’t have the luxury of billing the American taxpayers or making federal law enforcement agents our concierge.”

The upgrades Smith was referring to were the improvements the Obama administration promised would be made in light of what was happening in the detention facilities. The changes included: improving medical care for detainees, reducing incidents of sexual abuse, increasing access to safe water and outdoor recreation.

Since when are these upgrades considered luxuries?

These are basic human rights that every facility in the world is expected to furnish their detainees, whether they’re death row inmates or undocumented immigrants.

“I would like to be clear that no member is against the humane treatment of detainees,” said Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) However, Gallegly said, the new 400 pages of detention standards made public in February are part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to put the interests of illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of American citizens and taxpayers.

The best way to help immigration detainees is to deport them more quickly, said Gallegly, “not to roll out the welcome mat at a posh detention facility.”

How sad that it seems to be a consensus among these Republican politicians that preventing sexual abuse or providing safe water should be described as “posh” and unworthy of undocumented immigrants.

Due to the response of the Republicans on the committee, immigrant advocates quickly realized that there will be no leadership forthcoming from Congress to discipline ICE or keep tabs on how they treat detained undocumented immigrants.

For that reason, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) announced the launch of a community blog project called These Lives Matter. The blog will be a source for tracking reports of deaths and abuse in the detention system, documenting human rights violations occurring to detainees since the reforms went in place in 2009, research, aggregating news stories and publishing content submitted by immigrant advocates.

“Political theater like Smith’s hearing makes the men and women in this broken system invisible,” said NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “If we do not acknowledge that abuses are taking place, we take away the voices of the thousands who are experiencing injustices every day.”

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