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National campaign to launch calling on Obama administration to stop expansion of immigrant detention


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?

dignitynot detention.jpg

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.

Though the film is available for purchase on DVD, with $5 from each purchase going towards the Detention Watch Network, the film is also available to be seen free online.

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.

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  • CarlMcGinnis
    February 24, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    They are never going to stop detention and deportations as long as Dick Cheney owns the detention centers. Since he was Vice President he owns like 85 million dollars investment in the private prison centers in the U.S. He also controlled ICE….ICE pays Chaney and Chaney sees that ICE has the power to fill his prisons. Just Google Dick Cheney GEO and you can get the whole story. Our Government is broken people…..Wake up…Washington is Corrupt.If you think Obama is going to change immigration reform….I suggest you buy a vowel or get another clue.

  • laura
    February 24, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Thank you for making us aware of this critically important campaign. It is heartbreaking how children are victimized by our immigration system.
    President Obama has multiple executive tools at his disposal to end this gulag of essentially secret concentration camps. He has shown not the slightest inclination to do so. Apparently, immigrant families and children are disposable people to him.
    Let’s speak up and prove that to us, these families and children are precious human beings. Let’s strike fear of outraged voters into the Democrats’ heart – there is nothing else they care about.

  • Bryan J.
    February 25, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Good article. I only have one concern on what you wrote, Marisa:
    “the basic objection remains as to why even physically detain those immigrants who are non-criminals and can just as easily be electronically monitored?”
    On the facts given, it’s unclear whether ICE could just as easily electronically monitor non-criminal immigrants.
    I think it comes down to government incompetence. Why do the non-criminal immigrants spend so much time in Jail? Part of the reason is that, say, an immigrant is found removable, it takes them FOREVER to get the immigrant back to their home country.
    I remember one example I had, when I worked for an Immigration Attorney(but it was a criminal immigrant, same issue though). After months and months of prodding, ICE still dragged their feet and did not send him back home, even though his sentence for his crime was up. In other words, the government was so slow and disconnected in their coordination, a human being spent more time in prison than our society said was needed. Unacceptable.

  • Karen
    February 25, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    I don’t want to be mean, but maybe some of them should go home. At some point Mexicans need to fix their own country. I don’t see immigration reform passing this year, if ever. Unemployment is over 10%, and in some areas it is almost 20%.
    And how much of our political capital is used up on the never ending issue of illegal immigration? I live in CA, and the school budgets are being slashed and many jobs are leaving. But Latino politicians don’t say anything because it would inevitably draw attention to illegal immigration and its impact. So basically Americans of Mexican descent have little political representation.
    If I wanted to live in Mexico, I would. At some point, enough is enough. All of Mexico is not going to fit here. Meanwhile, the social problems and their costs are increasing: high drop out rates, teen pregancy, obesity/diabetes, gangs, DUI, etc.
    The root of the problem is NAFTA, yet I don’t see anybody demanding that NAFTA be renegotiated or repealed. Moreover, I see people fighting any and every effort to close the border.
    I don’t mind legalizing the Dream Act kids and their families, anybody married to an American citizen, or people who have American citizens to support them, such as old people. In addtion, farm workers should be issued work permits. Everybody else should go home.

  • Texan123
    February 25, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    A report came out today that ICE has much fewer illegal immigrants in detention. Guess it is cheaper to let them feed and house themselves.
    As for the remark that these are all precious human beings–Aren’t all humans precious? Yes. But sometimes the choices they make to violate the law results in punishment or detention. History has shown that illegal immigrants will not show for court dates if they are not detained.They just get a new ID from some poor victim and move on.
    There was an effort to remodel a prison to make it possible for mothers to be in the same room or rooms with her children. Protests started about how these kids and moms were in prison. Even tho much money was spent to make it safe and comfortable, it did not matter to those who believe all immigrants have a legal right to be here, legal or not.
    The only way to deal with this crisis is to seal the border. Use whatever it takes to make it impossible to enter without proper papers and fingerprints.

  • katie
    February 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Why are there detention centers? Because there are people here who chose to break the law by not leaving when their visa expires or by crossing our borders without the proper
    documents. If they would stop these practices I would suppose they wouldn’t need to be in a detention center if they played by the rules.

  • Alonzo
    February 26, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Katie is right. Those that oppose detention centers trot out the same discredited assertion that somehow catch and release is a practical approach when time and again it’s been shown that undocumented immigrants fail to appear at hearings at unacceptable rates. Suggested alternatives, such as ankle bracelets, don’t work because of cost and the fact that there are just not sufficient ICE to chase down people who cut them off. These people have scoffed at our laws time and time again, so a violation of a promise to appear in court is meaningless. As to dignity, these people checked their dignity at the Mexican border when they skulked around in the desert to avoid capture by the Border Patrol and lied to obtain work. A man cannot cheat and retain his dignity.

  • Alonzo
    February 26, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    I’m not the only Latino that has concerns over the cost and corruption of the undocumented.
    I found this at….
    Illegal migrants costly to San Bernardino County
    Total spent on illegal immigrants elusive
    Stephen Wall, Staff Writer
    Posted: 02/20/2010 02:50:10 PM PST
    Four years ago, a group of concerned citizens expressed outrage at the cost of illegal immigration to San Bernardino County taxpayers.
    The price tag for six county departments to provide services to illegal immigrants was more than $38 million a year, the county Grand Jury found.
    Most of the money was spent on emergency health care and law enforcement-related services for illegal immigrants.
    But that was just a fraction of the tab.
    Fourteen other unnamed county departments had no idea of their costs for illegal immigrant services. If those departments had provided numbers, the bill would have been substantially higher, the Grand Jury’s report stated.
    The Grand Jury recommended that the county immediately require all departments to start tracking their costs.
    The information should be made available to the public as well as to state and federal lawmakers who would take action to solve the immigration crisis if they knew the true cost of the problem, according to the report released in 2006.
    In response, the Board of Supervisors directed all departments to track the costs, but not all of them have been complying, officials said.
    County supervisors want to find out what happened.
    “The public has a right to know who’s receiving the services and whether or not they’re entitled to them,” said Supervisor Neil Derry. “These are dollars that are being used by people who don’t belong here that either
    Click here to find out more!
    could be used to provide services to legal citizens or returned to them in the form of lower taxes.”
    Supervisor Josie Gonzales also wants to know why some departments have not followed through on the board’s direction.
    “The fact that we continue to incur costs for services that are extremely difficult to recover funds for is of great concern to me,” Gonzales said.
    Supervisor Paul Biane said he will ask Chief Administrative Officer Greg Devereaux to look into the matter. But he isn’t optimistic that tracking the information will make much of a difference.
    “It would be great to know,” Biane said, “but at the end of the day, I don’t think it will mean more revenue to the county of San Bernardino to support us for the services we provide.”
    Brad Kuiper, who was foreman of the Grand Jury at the time, said county officials should be complaining louder.
    “It’s very frustrating to me and the Grand Jury,” said Kuiper, a 71-year-old Apple Valley resident. “It’s all taxpayer money and we don’t seem to have a vote on any of this. Until it comes from the grass roots, it’s obvious that none of these people that we’ve elected to office are going to do anything about any of this stuff.”
    The county is mandated by state and federal law to provide services to illegal immigrants.
    Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, the county hospital in Colton, must treat every person that enters the emergency room, regardless of income or immigration status.
    The hospital’s health care cost for illegal immigrants was nearly $9 million in 2006. Today, that number is about $18 million, said Frank Arambula, the hospital’s chief financial officer.
    The hospital gets back about $5 million from Section 1011 of the Medicare program, which helps reimburse hospitals for emergency services provided to illegal immigrants.
    Illegal immigrants make up about 1,400 emergency room patients a year, which equates to about 5 percent of total admissions, Arambula said.
    “Is it a strain on our resources to provide these services? No,” Arambula said. “Our mission is to take care of the sick who can’t pay for health care. If someone doesn’t have treatment, they could potentially infect others.”
    The county pays a hefty price to provide other services to illegal immigrants.
    The District Attorney’s Office spends about $9 million a year to prosecute cases against illegal immigrants charged with crimes, according to the 2006 Grand Jury report.
    District attorney’s spokeswoman Susan Mickey said she could not provide an updated cost.
    “No one here has any idea where that ($9 million) figure came from,” Mickey said. “We do not track cases by immigration status. We do not track by ethnicity or race or anything. If they break the law, they’re prosecuted, whether they’re legal or illegal.”
    The county Public Defender’s Office also spends $9 million a year to provide criminal defense for illegal immigrants who can’t afford their own lawyers, the report said.
    County spokesman David Wert could not provide an updated cost.
    Wert said the numbers provided to the Grand Jury were one-time estimates provided by the county administrative office at the Grand Jury’s request. The county does not track costs for the Public Defender’s Office because the county must provide services and there is no reimbursement from the federal government, Wert said.
    Tracking costs is also extremely difficult because determining immigration status is a separate legal process, Wert said.
    The Sheriff’s Department does track the cost to jail illegal immigrants. Sheriff’s employees undergo special training by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to determine the immigration status of inmates for purposes of reimbursement.
    In the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the county spent $15.8 million to jail illegal immigrants but only got back $2.2 million from the federal government.
    “It has a huge impact on the county and especially the Sheriff’s Department budget,” said sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Beavers. “It also taxes our jail population.”
    In recent years, the department has left more vacant positions unfilled and cut back on some crime-prevention and community programs as a result of not being fully reimbursed for the cost of jailing illegal immigrants, Beavers said.
    For the first time, the county is seeking federal reimbursement for probation services provided to juvenile illegal immigrants. County officials are requesting $5.5 million this year to cover that cost.
    Assemblyman Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, blamed the federal government and Democrats in the state Legislature for not dealing with the immigration crisis.
    “They don’t want to take this seriously,” said Knight, whose district includes Victorville and Adelanto. “Unfortunately, counties like Los Angeles and San Bernardino are taking the brunt of a lot of this cost. How many of the basic services we provide are being stripped away because we’re spending our money on illegal immigrants?”
    Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea, said citizens deserve to know how many of their tax dollars are spent on illegal immigrants.
    “It’s not the state’s job to close down our borders,” said Miller, whose district includes Chino and Chino Hills. “It’s the federal government’s, and we’re not doing it. If we’re unwilling to do our job, we should at least pick up the cost of the burden we’re placing on our states.”
    Read more:

  • Karen
    February 27, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    They should go after the costs of illegal immigration, AND the millionaires in CA who don’t pay ANY state or federal taxes:
    “The McCourts, who own the Los Angeles Dodgers (so she says; he says he’s the owner and she’s not), jointly pocketed income totaling $108 million from 2004 through 2009, according to documents Jamie McCourt recently filed in the couple’s divorce case in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
    On that sum, they paid zero federal and state income tax…”

  • Evelyn
    February 28, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    “Schwarzenegger Affirms ” That Undocumented Immigrants Are Not To Blame For California’s Economic Woes
    Throughout the economic recession, anti-immigrant groups have been eager to blame California’s budget woes on the state’s undocumented immigrants. However, yesterday, in an interview with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) denied these accusations. While recognizing that undocumented immigration does pose some costs to the state, Schwarzenegger reiterated that the recession that California is experiencing is the result of a larger economic downturn, not immigration. And while the anti-immigrant crowd is quick to cite California’s economic troubles as a reason to clamp down on immigration, Schwarzenegger supports a more open policy that gives immigrants an opportunity to contribute to the state of California:
    SCHWARZENEGGER: The fact of the matter is yes, it does create an extra burden on our economy and also on our budget situation. But, at the same time, that is not the reason why we have an economic downturn. This just was a crash that happened world-wide, it happened in all different countries all over the world. […]
    VAN SUSTEREN: Is immigration a factor in this state — I mean, what would you do about illegal immigration?
    SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I’ve said many times we need immigration reform…we’ve got to go and make a decision so that people can come to this country legitimately, rather than having quotas there. Because we need the farm workers, we need the construction workers, we need people to do certain jobs that maybe we cannot fill otherwise. So I think we ought to provide that.
    Schwarzenegger also appeared critical of those who are holding back immigration reform:
    SCHWARZENEGGER: So, there are kinds of things like this that we ought to do in immigration reform and it ought to be done now. We should not every two years say: “this is not the right time,” “it is an election year,” “I think we should postpone it until next year.” It will never get done this way and we will always live in this kind of chaos. It’s living in denial basically, like ignoring that we have this major problem and people are coming across the border.
    Watch it:

  • Bryan J.
    March 4, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Hey Marisa,
    I take back my comment. I decided to look into the Immigration Detention center for a blog post and upon research, detention for non-violent and non-criminal immigrants is tantamount to how Cuba imprisons its political dissidents. Here is what I came up with:

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