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The Obama administration can jumpstart promise of immigration reform by overhauling ICE

LatinaLista — While the story that broke in the New York Times over the weekend Officials Hid Truth of Immigrant Deaths in Jail, may have been a wake-up call for the Obama Administration and countless politicians, law enforcement officials and average citizens, it was not a wake-up call for the many writers/reporters/bloggers who have been covering immigration enforcement since the Bush Administration.


It was a validation that the stonewalling by an uncooperative federal agency to requests were indication markers of an agency that obviously thought, and still thinks, they are above the law when it comes to accountability, responsiveness and transparency.

In reading the NYT piece, the overall sense one gets is that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) doesn’t like to explain itself — to anyone.

In the past, when trying to press for information about certain detainees known to be in custody, reporters and bloggers were stonewalled with the excuse of violating the detainees’ “privacy.”

An odd reason given that ICE and the Department of Homeland Security always ascertained that their detainees, because they were non-citizens, had no rights, or at least not the same rights, afforded U.S. citizens. Privacy would certainly fall under those rights.

Furthermore, inmates at all county, state and federal prisons can easily be found online through online databases — so why not immigrant detainees?

Unless there was something to hide.

There have been countless reports over the last few years of the rampant abuse, misconduct and negligence occurring at ICE detainee facilities — all begun under the umbrella of the Bush Administration and the watch of former Dept. of Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff.

There’s no denying that the tone and conduct of ICE were established under the previous administration’s rule. There are numerous examples showcasing the entitled arrogance that has been characteristic of this department but one remark by an ICE official epitomizes it:

“If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we can make him disappear.” Those chilling words were spoken by James Pendergraph, then executive director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Office of State and Local Coordination, at a conference of police and sheriffs in August 2008.

An excellent investigative piece published last month by The Nation, titled The Secret ICE Prisons of the United States uncovered that ICE’s whole method of operation is to not be transparent:

…in addition to the publicly listed field offices and detention sites, ICE is also confining people in 186 unlisted and unmarked subfield offices, many in suburban office parks or commercial spaces revealing no information about their ICE tenants–nary a sign, a marked car or even a US flag.

From the companion article ICE Agents’ Ruse Operations

According to an unnamed ICE official responding to questions sent by e-mail, ICE agents regularly impersonate civilians and rely on other tricks, some of which are illegal, in order to arrest longtime US residents who have no criminal history.

When the Obama Administration came into power and appointed Sec. Janet Napolitano the feeling was that things were going to change, and they did but not far enough. It was disturbing to read in the NYT piece that Nina Dozoretz, someone with affiliation with the Bush Administration, was rehired by the Obama Administration to oversee detainee health care.

Yet, it was under this woman’s watch as well that detainees died.

While everyone is pressing Obama to begin addressing immigration reform, he doesn’t have to wait for Congress to start the debate when it comes to cleaning up ICE. There are certain things that can be done now:

  1. Sec. Napolitano has to do away with the veil of secrecy that still permeates the ICE division of the Department of Homeland Security. There must be a mandate to make things as transparent in that department as the White House does with the daily schedules, briefings, announcements, etc. that come from the White House.
  2. All detainees should be listed in an online database like the federal prisons where people doing the inquiries on detainees must know the first and last name before information is accessed online.
  3. Dismiss anyone in management positions that worked at ICE, or was contracted by ICE officials under the Bush Administration to act as a third-party in overseeing detainees. The harm in keeping these people is that they didn’t get the memo when it comes to transparency and media cooperation.
  4. There should be no excuse to stonewall news media whose job it is to tell the stories of these people in detention.
  5. And lastly, a criminal investigation should be conducted into the practices of former DHS Sec. Michael Chertoff and ICE officials who strove to obstruct inquiries from the media and international human rights organizations on the conditions of detention facilities and the health and welfare of all detainees.

The NYT piece brought to a wider light the appalling way ICE conducts business but it’s up to the Obama Administration to take the lead and illustrate their commitment to rectifying these wrongs and create the kind of transparency and accountability that have become trademarks of his young administration.

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  • Karen
    January 12, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Last night Rep. Bart Stupak held a town hall meeting on C-Span, and he flat out said that Gutierrez’s immigration bill wasn’t going anywhere. He told his constituents not to worry about this issue coming up for a vote at all.He had no problem saying this on national TV.
    As long as Obama thinks that he will automatically get the Latino vote, he won’t touch this issue.

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