The issue of Comprehensive Immigration Reform is complex. Basically, because it involves so many different components that must be examined and reformed.
One component is immigrant detention. While small strides have been made by the federal government to improve the quality of the conditions, the basic objection remains as to why even physically detain those immigrants who are non-criminals and can just as easily be electronically monitored?
In this way, families are kept together and the emotional trauma inflicted on the children of the family, that has been documented to happen, can be avoided. As well as, immigrants with specialized medical conditions can have their medical needs met better by their families and physicians rather than relying on a system that has a dismal record of honoring the medical needs of their detainees.
Also, by letting non-violent immigrants remain with their families, it removes the possibility of physical, emotional and sexual abuse from occurring and which have been perpetuated against some detained immigrants by those authorized to maintain their facilities.
When Obama ran on the promise that he would reform immigration, immigrant detention was also part of that package and like the advocates impatient for Congress to get started on reforming the nation’s immigration policy, there is also impatience about the continuation of immigrant detention.
The impatience has morphed into a national plan of action scheduled for launch this Friday, Feb. 26.
“Dignity, Not Detention: Preserving Human Rights and Restoring Justice” calls for an end to detention expansion nationally. Over 30 different organizations have pledged to join activists on “calling on President Obama to take immediate action to prevent human rights abuses in U.S. detention facilities and the arbitrary detention of more than 300,000 immigrants each year.”
If it weren’t for the fact that the federal government has created a very cloak-and-dagger policy in detaining immigrants at unmarked facilities, the rage could have been tempered with the rationale that the federal government, in this instance, would live up to its promise of transparency.
But transparency is the last thing Immigration and Customs Enforcement wants when it comes to detaining undocumented immigrants.
According to Detention Watch Network:
Immigrants in the U.S. are detained in a secretive web of 350 private, federal, state and local jails and prisons, at an annual cost of $1.7 billion to taxpayers. Over eighty percent of detained immigrants go through the immigration system with no lawyer.
Many are denied their fair day in court owing to mandatory and arbitrary detention laws and policies that severely limit judicial discretion. While detained, immigrants face horrific conditions of confinement, including mistreatment by guards, solitary confinement, the denial of medical attention and limited or no access to their families, lawyers and the outside world.
In many cases, these conditions have proven fatal: since 2003, a reported 107 people have died in immigration custody. Last year ICE announced plans to reform the immigration detention system, yet to date, there is little evidence of change.
For most people, immigrant detention is an abstract concept since the federal government does such a good job of keeping these detained immigrants hidden.
But bad things can’t be hidden forever.
The Department of Homeland Security found that out when lawyers representing some of the detainees started telling the world about conditions at the T. Don Hutto facility that housed children and their parents. Had it not been for the strong public outrage, the government would not have undertaken the initiative to improve conditions, and finally, removing children entirely from the site.
The story of what happened at the T. Don Hutto Residential facility was significant on many levels because the outrage united people from such diverse corners of society and the immigration issue that it restored a sense of hope, for a little while, that this country had not lost its heart or compassion where children were concerned — regardless of their legal status.
Last year, a documentary entitled The Least of These focusing on the T. Don Hutto situation was released.
The film explores the government rationale for family detention, conditions at the facility, collateral damage, and the role – and limits – of community activism in bringing change. The film leads viewers to consider how core American rights and values – presumption of innocence, the protection of children, upholding the family structure as the basic unit of civil society, and America as a refuge of last resort – should apply to immigrants, particularly children.
The bottom line is that current immigrant detention measures need to be reformed — and it can start with total transparency and the understanding that it’s never OK to treat an innocent child as a criminal.