A couple months ago, Jacqueline Stevens, a reporter for the Nation, went on a road trip with Mark Lyttle, a U.S. citizen, born in North Carolina, who had been kidnapped by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), stripped of his rightful identity documents, rendered stateless, and deported to Mexico, to re-locate the government offices that had temporarily held him.
Using google maps, they punched in 140 Centrewest Court, an address that appeared on a number of the documents issued to Lyttle by ICE in Cary, North Carolina. But when they arrived, Stevens was surprised that the government site was an unmarked building, no sign, no flag, with 15 equally unmarked vans next to an Oxford University Press production plant and a few gated communities.
Wondering how many other clandestine locations existed like this across the country, upon returning to Berkeley, Stevens picked up the phone and began a rigorous investigation of “America’s Secret ICE Castles,” the findings of which will appear in the January 4th edition of the Nation. First off, she read through, a recent report by Dora Shriro,”Immigration Detention Overview and Recommendations,” and discovered that there were 186 “subfields” which were used to primarily hold people for up to 12-16 hours for 84% of all book-ins. But because these secret sites are below the legal radar, it’s hard to say how long people are actually held and under what conditions.
When Stevens called ICE to request a list of the 186 subfields, she was initially told by Temple Black, an ICE public affairs officer, that these locations were “not releasable” and that the list was “law enforcement sensitive.” However, Mr. Black had a family emergency, and put Stevens in touch with another ICE official, who released a partial list, which she then shared with immigrant rights advocates in major human and civil rights organizations, whose reactions ranged from astonishment to total outrage.
Alison Parker, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch, who wrote a comprehensive report on ICE transit policies, “Locked Up, Far Away,” for example, had not even heard of the subfield offices and believed that the failure of the U.S. to disclose these locations is a violation of the UN’s Convenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which we are a signatory. A senior attorney at a civil rights organization, on the other hand angrily proclaimed, “You cannot have secret detention! The public has the right to know where detention is happening.”
Such lack of transparency frighteningly resonates with extraordinary rendition, and undermines the core principles of a functioning democracy. Unmarked networks make it near impossible for family and lawyers to track down and access detainees, ultimately stripping immigrants of due process rights afforded to “all persons” under the constitution. Because these sites are off the grid, and therefore, out of mind, there’s no oversight or standards in place, and detainees are often subjected to the inhumane whims of ICE agents who act in ways that are unconscionable and unlawful. As Stevens rightly observed, “it’s also not surprising that if you’re putting people in a warehouse, the occupants become inventory. Inventory does not need showers, beds, drinking water, soap, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, mail, attorneys or legal information, and can withstand the constant blast of cold air.”
According to Ahilan Arulanantham, Director of Immigrant Rights for the ACLU of Southern California, the Los Angeles subfield office called B-18 is a barely converted storage space. “You actually walk down the sidewalk and into an underground parking lot. Then you turn right, open a big door and voilà, you’re in a detention center…It’s not clear to me how anyone would find it. What this breeds, not surprisingly, is a whole host of problems concerning access to phones, relatives and counsel,” he explained.
While the President Obama may have released a memorandum in January requiring transparency for the heads of all executive departments and agencies, including DHS and ICE, the reality is it’s not happening. Instead we have agents, like Tommy Kilbride, an ICE detention and removal officer and star of A&E’s reality show Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force, operating out of a hidden office in a hip building in Chelsea Market alongside Rachel Ray and the Food Network, sporting a jacket that says POLICE, while rounding up criminal aliens, thereby glamorizing secret operations as the trappings of pop culture.
If indeed “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” as Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote, I say let the sun shine on these ICE castles, so we can restore fairness in America. A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.
Photo courtesy of State without Borders