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Nation reporter unmasks extraordinary rendition-like subfields run by ICE

BlogCaryA 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

ACLU Texas advocate reveals inside look at inhumane conditions and profiteering at GEO managed detention center

reevesProtest_smGuest Blogger: Tracey Hayes from American Civil Liberties Union of Texas

Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC) is a for-profit prison managed by GEO Group, an international prison management corporation, to hold so-called “criminal aliens.”  Located in the far reaches of barren West Texas, RCDC sits on the outskirts of the small town of Pecos. History associates the remote location with the legend of Judge Roy Bean, known as “the law west of the Pecos (River).”

Built to hold up to 3,760 criminal aliens (though many are confined for unlawful re-entry), according to the detention facility website, no one knows for sure how many are there because officials do not disclose the real number. What we do know is that detainees are being housed in small cells with 50-55 people or more per room.  Detainees report that as they sleep, they are bumping into each other for lack of space.

On December 12, the ACLU of Texas, Grassroots Leadership, Southwest Workers Union and family members of some of those incarcerated marched from the Reeves County courthouse to RCDC to direct attention to the life-threatening conditions and inhumane treatment that has resulted in nine detainee deaths in the past four years.  A year ago, following the death of an epileptic inmate in solitary confinement after being denied adequate medication, detainees rioted to protest poor medical care. An ACLU of Texas request for a federal investigation of this outbreak has gone unanswered by the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons.

The goal of our march and vigil was to commemorate the anniversary of the riot, and bring public attention via the media to the litany of unaddressed abuses at RCDC through our staged action, which it succeeded in doing.  See below:

Meanwhile, our legal staff gained admission to the prison and was given the opportunity to interview detainee after detainee to learn more about what is actually happening inside.

Here’s what they discovered: Prison officials keep medical costs down by making it almost impossible for inmates to get adequate medical care. They keep food costs down by serving low quality food in insufficient amounts.  They keep administrative costs down by restricting access to grievance processes with English-only requirements and by punishing English speakers who assist mono-lingual Spanish speakers in filling out the forms.  Bi-lingual speakers who try to help others must eventually choose between being thrown into solitary confinement or ending their translation assistance.

Furthermore, GEO’s cost-cutting has led to a long and steady rise in the company’s profits while atrocities continue unabated.  For example, detainees spoke of medical staff prescribing “two Tylenol” to detainees who complain of stomach ulcers, blood in the urine or stool, and metastasizing lumps spreading over aging bodies.  And inmates with previously diagnosed chronic and serious conditions were also prescribed “two Tylenol.” When they press their cases to obtain the medicines they need, detainees are often thrown into solitary where they are unable to ask for further medical attention or submit grievances.

Of the detainees ACLU of Texas attorneys interviewed, one reported:

“I have 2 teenage boys and a son in the military.   I do not want to be the next person to die.  When the riot happened in 2009 I almost burned to death.  The unit was on fire and the guards left us in the unit to die.  The inmates had to break a window for us to get out.   I don’t really tell my family how it really is here, enough is the worry of me being here. The commissary sheet is in English, the inmate request forms are in English.  It is getting harder for me to help other inmates [by translating].  I have already been warned and was placed in the hole for 21 days.  I feel like I am in a concentration camp.”

Detainees stories substantiate the severity of ongoing civil and human rights abuses.

GEO’s contract with Reeves County is up for renewal in March. If conditions are not improved dramatically, RCDC should be closed and detainees should be transferred to a facility that is equipped and staffed to meet basic minimum needs of the persons held there.  Please JOIN US in asking that the Bureau of Prisons investigate living conditions and medical treatment at RCDC.

To get more information about Reeves County Detention Facility and how you can help, please visit www.aclutx.org or email me at thayes@aclutx.org.

Photo courtesy of ACLU Texas

Faith communities shine the light for CIR ASAP on International Migrants Day

candle_flame_0.thumbnailFaith communities across the country have been banding together to give an important voice for immigration reform, countering extremism, forcing a conversation about morals and American values, and in some instances intervening on the part of their congregation members.

Last week, faith leaders launched the “Shine the Light for Immigration Reform” campaign, a week-long series of Interfaith Days of Action urging Congress to reunite families and welcome the stranger. The days of action, which began on December 10th, International Human Rights Day, will culminate tomorrow, December 18th, the eve of International Migrants Day, with a vigil at a church near the White House where diverse faith leaders will deliver prayer flags and signed postcards from the various vigils and posadas held over the week to send a powerful message to Congress that comprehensive immigration reform must be delivered early in 2010.

Rev. Michael Ellick, Associate Minister of the Judson Memorial Church in New York City, a participating congregation, articulated the timeliness of this call to action; echoing Rep. Gutierrez’s recent words before Congress:

“This is the greatest crisis of our time. To delay or deny immigration reform not only turns our backs on the great legacy of our society of immigrants – which by the way was forged and populated by the greatest migration of people in the history of the world, it’s to turn our back on 5.5 million children who are our own.”

Other churches, like the century-old Reformed Church of Highland Park, New Jersey has been engaged in activism for several years. After the 2006 raids, when armed federal immigration agents rounded up 35 Indonesian men with expired visas and outstanding deportation orders, their wives and children, as well as others in hiding, began pleading to sleep at the church, and Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale couldn’t ignore the issue.

While attempting to intervene and understand the complex terrain of immigration law and detention on behalf of the Indonesian Christians who shared his sanctuary, Kaper-Dale discovered that many of them had initially arrived on tourist visas in the 1990s, but had over-stayed their visas, because they faced violence and discrimination in their home country.  After 9/11 when the government required “special registration,” NSEERS (termination recently requested in a December 7th letter to DHS and DOS), of men ages 16 to 65 who entered the country on temporary visas from a list of primarily Muslim countries, including Indonesia, most of these Indonesians complied, on the advice of their pastors, hoping that honesty would open a pathway to citizenship. Instead, their appeals for asylum were denied, and those who registered became targets during immigration crackdowns.

However, under an unusual agreement eventually negotiated between Kaper-Dale and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Newark, four Indonesians have been recently released from detention, and 41 others, living as fugitives from deportation, have turned themselves in under the protection of the church. And rather than jailed, they have been released under supervision, and are eligible for work permits while their lawyers figure out how their cases might be reopened.

Though agency officials claim this type of arrangement is determined on a case-by-case basis, advocates hope it signals a broader use of humanitarian relief as Congress begins to tackle immigration reform in the new year. But skeptics recognize that this “church run-alternative to detention” is both an inconsistent exception and a temporary band-aid within a flawed immigration system that demands an overhaul.

Therefore, until the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 CIR ASAP” which Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced on December 15th, and other proposals, based on the same principles, including one from Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), who heads the Senate Immigration Subcommittee and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who heads the House of Immigration Subcommittee, which are expected to be put on the table in early 2010, are transformed into actual legislation, millions of immigrants, like Patricia, a mother fighting a deportation order, will live in limbo with the fear of separation, only temporarily mitigated by the passionate efforts of pastors, like Rev. Kaper-Dale, and a committed volunteer base.  As Patricia simply asserts through a translator:

“Before our neighbors took us in for sanctuary, we lived in fear and insecurity…As a family, we want to call for comprehensive immigration reform that can help us to have a better life, so we can live with dignity and honor in this country, as children of God.”

So, if you’re in Washington tomorrow, shine some light for CIR ASAP, and URGE the remaining congressional members to get on board to fix this crisis.

Photo courtesy of Christian Religious Leadership Network

First ever Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and Law to re-examine our treaty obligations

committee_roomThe Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and Law under the guidance of Senators Durbin and Coburn is holding its inaugural hearing on the domestic implementation of human rights treaty obligations, tomorrow, Wednesday, December 16th.  The hearing will focus on how the U.S. government is currently upholding human rights treaties to which it is a party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Convention Against Torture, the Genocide Convention, the Refugee Protocol, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Children in Armed Conflict, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Child Prostitution, and will also examine what more the U.S. government could do to fulfill its treaty obligations to protect and promote human rights.

Witnesses will include:

·       Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil
Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice
·       Michael H. Posner, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human
Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State
·       Wade Henderson, President and Chief Executive Officer,
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
·       Elisa Massimino, President and Chief Executive Officer, Human
Rights First

Additionally, our coalition partner, the Rights Working Group (RWG), will submit testimony on how the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has called for specific reforms under the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) to combat racial profiling in the U.S., including many recommendations that both RWG and ACLU initially submitted in a report to the U.N. Committee, which have yet to be implemented.

Particularly concerned about the impact of post 9/11 policies that have eroded the civil liberties and human rights of communities of color, RWG’s testimony will draw upon Article 2 of ICERD, which states:

“Each State Party shall take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination whereever it exists.”

And their statement will endeavor to remind the Subcommittee that after reviewing the U.S. record of implementation of its obligations under ICERD, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination adopted several Concluding Observations, in particular, Paragraph 14, which addressed a number of U.S. laws and policies that needed immediate attention.  For example, the UN Committee specifically called on the U.S. to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), to strengthen the June 2003 Department of Justice Guidance on the Use of Race in Law Enforcement, to end the National Entry/Exit Registration System (NSEERS) and repeal §287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act passed in 1996.

Because none of the above Concluding Observations, were implemented, RWG will also present the following list of critical recommendations to ensure that the U.S. is properly executing its obligations under ICERD by implementing the recommendations of the UN Committee:

• Introduce and pass the “End Racial Profiling Act”
• Strengthen the 2003 DOJ guidance to ban profiling based on religion and national origin, eliminate the loopholes that allow for the use of race and ethnicity in the name of national security and border security, and make the guidance enforceable
• Terminate the NSEERS program
• Repeal 287(g) and eliminate all programs that devolve the responsibility for the
enforcement of federal immigration law to state and local law enforcement agencies.

The ACLU will also be presenting testimony that calls upon Congress and the current administration to “correct the transgressions of the past [administration] by honoring U.S. human rights obligations and commitments, and using our commitment as a beacon for setting policy at home and abroad.”  Their specific recommendations entail the need for Congress to effectuate our human rights treaty obligations by transforming them into detailed domestic laws, policies and programs with effective enforcement and monitoring mechanisms through the active engagement with other branches of the government to certify that our treaties are being promoted and respected at all levels.

The importance of this hearing cannot be overstated; it is the first oversight hearing on human rights treaty implementation since 1992, when the Senate ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  And this Committee was initially eliminated at the beginning of the 111th Congress, and Senator Durbin and his staff fought to get it back.  So, let’s make sure we pack the hearing room to show strong support for the Subcommittee’s interest in and continued monitoring of human rights issues.

If you’re in Washington tomorrow, and can attend this critical public hearing, see the details below:

The Law of the Land: U.S. Implementation of Human Rights Treaties
Hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law

Date:                Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Time:                10:30 a.m.
Location:        Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 226

Gutierrez to unveil immigration reform while enforcement measures on the rise

hq2Tomorrow, December 15th, at 12:30 pm, Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) will officially unveil his immigration reform bill to the U.S. House of Representatives–”Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009.”  Details of the bill are yet unknown.  However, in October and November, he spoke persuasively about protecting American and immigrant workers, providing enough visas to diminish undocumented immigration, strengthening border security, keeping families together as well as the DREAM Act and agJobs.  In his own words:

“We have waited patiently for a workable solution to our immigration crisis to be taken up by this Congress and our President. The time for waiting is over. This bill will be presented before Congress recesses for the holidays so that there is no excuse for inaction in the New Year. It is the product of months of collaboration with civil rights advocates, labor organizations, and members of Congress. It is an answer to too many years of pain –mothers separated from their children, workers exploited and undermined security at the border– all caused at the hands of a broken immigration system. This bill says ‘enough,’ and presents a solution to our broken system that we as a nation of immigrants can be proud of.”

Rep. Gutiérrez will be joined by members of many different faiths and backgrounds, including Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Black Caucus, Asian Pacific American Caucus and Progressive Caucus.

Meanwhile, enforcement measures continue to be ramped up.  Last week, 286 foreign nationals representing more than 30 different nations were arrested in a 3 day California operation coordinated  by ICE Fugitive Operations Program, involving over 400 agents and officers from ICE, the U.S. Marshals Service, as well as several other state and local agencies.  The largest enforcement surge targeting criminal aliens yet.  Assistant Secretary John Morton,  who oversees ICE, called the operation another example of the vital role multi-agency cooperation and targeted immigration enforcement play in protecting our communities.  Morton also suggested that:

“Enhancing public safety is at the core of ICE’s mission. Legal immigration is an important part of our country’s history and the American dream exists for many immigrants.  However, that dream involves playing by the rules and those who break our criminal laws will be removed from the country.  Sadly, many of the people victimized by aliens who commit crimes are other members of the immigrant community, who are following the rules.”

Although ICE claims that nearly 80% of the criminal aliens taken into custody had prior criminal records, the arrests were conducted as part of a controversial program also designed to arrest and deport immigrants without a criminal record, who may have ignored deportation orders or who have been deported and illegally reentered the United States, to fill quotas, according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute earlier this year, which states that 73% of the nearly 97,000 people arrested by ICE fugitive operations teams between the program’s inception in 2003 and early 2008 were unauthorized immigrants without criminal records.

Additionally, the report notes that the National Fugitive Operations Program (FOT) has dramatically expanded; its budget increased from $9 million in 2003 to $218 million last year. In its first five years, the program has received more than $625 million, more than any other ICE program.  Yet ICE estimated last October that 557,762 fugitive aliens remain in the United States.  Michael Wishnie, a Clinical Professor at Yale Law School reinforces this finding:

“The National Fugitive Operations Program has not delivered on its promise to find and remove dangerous fugitives. The evidence suggests that this is a case of ‘mission drift,’ in which the program has used public funding intended for one purpose for something entirely different: Apprehending non-violent non-fugitives – who constitute the easiest targets.”

Other critics focus on the fear that the FOT program, and similar initiatives, like the Criminal Alien Program, Secure Communities and the agency’s partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies under 287(g) induce in immigrant communities by sending armed agents into neighborhoods and pulling parents away from their children.

Photo courtesy of indypressny.org

One year ago, a private profit detention center saw a spate of riots in reponse to a detainee death

reeves_prison_uprising1On December 12th 2008, 32 year old Jesus Manuel Galindo died in solitary confinement at Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC) in Pecos, Texas. Galindo was a Mexican citizen whose death was caused by multiple seizures and inadequate medication and medical care. He had been in solitary confinement in the ‘security housing unit,’ which the inmates called “the hole,” since November, and during that time his mother and fellow inmates had repeatedly warned prison authorities that Galindo was suffering from severe seizures and was desperately in need of daily medication for epilepsy.

By the time Galindo’s body was found in his solitary cell, rigor mortis had already set it, indicating that he had been dead for some hours. A toxicology report found “below-therapeutic levels” of Dilantin, a cheap anti-epileptic drug, in his blood. The medication is only effective if administered in fixed dosages with the patient’s blood being check regularly. According to Robert Cain, a neurologist who reviewed Galindo’s autopsy, he concluded that “[w]ith multiple seizures, inadequate levels of medication and left in isolation without supervision, he was set up to die.” The medical neglect and human rights abuses at the Reeves facility have resulted in nine reported deaths over the past four years.

According to a Reeves County prisoner:

We are on lock down 21 hours a day. When you’re sick they don’t call you till a week or a month later. There’s people that put in request for surgery over six months ago and they still haven’t gotten it.

Jesus Galindo’s death sparked off two multi-day uprisings by inmates in December 2008 and January 2009 to protest the inhumane treatment and lack of medical attention for the detainees. When they saw Galindo’s body being removed from the facility in a large black plastic bag, the inmates set fire to the recreational facility and occupied the exercise yard overnight. The first uprising or “motin” as the Spanish speaking inmates call it lasted only 24 hours, causing the prison one million dollars in damage.

After the first riot, the inmates sent a delegation of seven representatives to talk with the authorities.

They explained that the uprising had erupted from widespread dissatisfaction with almost every aspect of the prison: inedible food, a dearth of legal resources, the use of solitary confinement to punish people who complained about their medical treatment, overcrowding and, above all, poor health care.

A month later there was a second riot at the detention center during which detainees set fire to the security housing unit, demanding immediate redress for their demands. This insurrection lasted five days and cost the prison 20 million dollars. One year later, the inmates’ demands are yet to be met.

The Reeves County Detention Center is owned by the GEO Group, and is the largest privately owned prison facility in the world, housing 3,700 detainees. With the number of prosecutions of immigration crimes surging over the last few years, the need for detention centers and jails has also gone up. 68,000 people were prosecuted for immigration-related offenses in the first nine months of 2009, and 50% of those took place in Texas. Following the huge increase in immigration related arrests, federal agencies have outsourced the building and administration of detention facilities to private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. For-profit prison facilities are run as low-risk and high-reward for the corporations that run them, and the immigration facilities such as the RCDC are specifically located in remote, economically deprived communities.

A Boston Review article discusses the problem with privately managed prisons and their lack of accountability:

Over the past eight years, the prison giants CCA ($1.6 billion in annual revenue) and GEO Group ($1.1 billion) have racked up record profits, with jumps in revenue and profits roughly paralleling the rising numbers of detained immigrants…Prisons are owned by local governments, but local oversight of finances is rare, and the condition of prisoners is often ignored. Inmates such as those in Pecos are technically in the custody of the federal government, but they are in fact in the custody of corporations with little or no federal supervision. So labyrinthine are the contracting and financing arrangements that there are no clear pathways to determine responsibility and accountability. Yet every contract provides an obvious and unimpeded flow of money to the private industry and consultants.

In commemoration of the one year anniversary of the uprisings and Jesus Galindo’s death, and in the spirit of International Human Rights Day, a number of rights advocate organizations are coming together to denounce the neglect of human rights and the continuing abhorrent living conditions at the Reeves County Detention Center. The ACLU of Texas, Grassroots Leadership, Southwest Worker’s Union, and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights are organizing a march and vigil on December 12th to draw attention to the events of last year and demand accountability from the GEO group. The organizations have also drafted a letter to the BOP (The Bureau of Prisons) demanding that it terminate its contract with Reeves County and the GEO Group if they fail to comply with basic detention standards.

And for an intimate look at immigration detention-related deaths, check out Breakthrough’s End Homeland Guantanamos campaign.

Photo courtesy of www.malcolm-che.com

U.S. Department of Justice announces probe into racial profiling allegations against East Haven police

EastHavenpoliceIn March 2009, the members of St. Rose of Lima Church in East Haven, Connecticut submitted an official racial-profiling complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging that the local law enforcement agency, the East Haven Police Department (EHPD), had been engaging in a pattern of race-based violence against Latinos in and around East Haven. After considering the complaint, the Department of Justice announced on Wednesday, December 3rd, that they were launching a federal investigation based on the allegations of harassment against the EHPD.

Angel Fernandez, a parish leader from Fair Haven’s St. Rose of Lima Church, made the announcement at a vigil held in East Haven on Wednesday, and was met with a thunderous burst of applause from the crowd that was assembled. The audience included New Haven’s Ecuadorian Consulate, parishioners from St. Rose, and Father James Manship, a priest that was arrested in February while trying to videotape an incident of racial harassment taking place in a store in East Haven.

While the complaint traces stories of racial-profiling by the East Haven police beginning in June 2008, the EHPD’s discrimination against Latinos is part of a much longer history of police abuse of racial minorities in East Haven. The Latino community in this otherwise predominantly white area now accounts for about 6 percent of the population,  and while Latino-owned businesses and shops line the town’s streets, they have consistently been faced with suspicion and hostility from local law enforcement. From the complaint:

Since June 2008, the EHPD has targeted the Latino community in improper stops, searches and seizures, false arrests, and the use of excessive force in ordinary encounters with Latino residents and motorists. Latinos are pulled over without reasonable suspicion while driving, arrested without probable cause and in some cases, severely beaten by law enforcement officials. As a consequence, Latinos in East Haven now live in daily fear of harassment and retaliation by East Haven police officers.

The complaint documents more than twenty detailed accounts of race-based violence and harassment suffered by shopkeepers and residents of East Haven and its neighboring towns, and classifies the accounts into the following broad categories: ‘Race-Based Violence and Excessive Force,’ ‘Harassment and Intimidation,’ ‘The Department’s Tacit Approval,’ and ‘Police Retaliation and Lack of Redress.’ In his speech announcing the investigation last Wednesday, Fernandez recounted some of the personal stories that lie at the center of the complaint and called it  “a victory for the brave men and women who risked retaliation to tell their stories of abuse to the public for the first time.”

One of the accounts tells of four men, Guillermo, Juan, Jorge and Juan, who were driving to a restaurant and were followed and stopped by Officer Dennis Spaulding. Without telling them why they were being stopped, the officer asked to see the license of two of the men, even though one of them, Juan, was a passenger and not the driver. On finding that Juan’s was not a Connecticut license, the officer threw it on the ground, and when Juan tried to pick it up, he was arrested. When Jorge inquired as to why his friend was being arrested, he, too, was arrested. By this point, five other squad cars had gathered and were all witnessing this. In a few minutes, all four men had been arrested, frisked, and put in different cars. During the course of the evening, they were punched, pepper-sprayed, and subject to racial epithets and verbal abuse as they spent the night in the police station.

The complaint also contains numerous accounts of race-based traffic stops, harassment and abuse by the police, often in the police station and in full view of senior police officers. A number of the Latino store owners told of how the police would set up check-points directly outside their stores and stop Latino customers as they were exiting the parking-lot, asking them for their license and registration. One shop owner, Lazaro, often came to work and found the police and a tow truck in his parking lot. When he asked them to leave, the officer threatened to come every day. Lazaro asked him, “What, you don’t like Hispanics?” and the officer replied, “No, I don’t.” After this incident, the police began to come into Lazaro’s store and harass the customers for their ID and car papers. Lazaro has seen a significant drop in customers and has made it difficult for him to pay his rent and monthly bills.

Police officers have repeatedly denied allegations of racial profiling, and have being caught lying about incidents since members of the community took to filming confrontations taking place in stores and checkpoints. Tafari Lumumba, a Yale student attorney who helped draft the complaint gave an idea of the possible outcomes of the investigation by the Department of Justice.  Siting a similar probe of the LAPD, he said that a possible outcome could be a consent decree covering the East Haven police department, that would require the department to track the race of people being arrested and stopped for traffic violations. Further requirements could include additional training for the officers and the implementation of a new citizen complaint system.

On the note of race-based violence, a town hall meeting will be held in Miami, Florida on December 10th, Human Rights Day, to talk about racial profiling. Organized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, ‘Racial Profiling: Face the Truth‘ will be a meeting of national and local activists and people who want to share their personal stories of racial profiling. Panelists include Chandra Bhatnagar, Marleine Bastien, Subhash Kateel, Muhammed Malik and Jumana Musa. For more information, click here.

Photo courtesy of www.newhavenindependent.org

Government report verifies claims of lack of fairness for immigration detainees

immigrant-detention-480x329In August 2008, 33 year old Alexandro Sibaja was picked up in Houston on a bad check warrant and turned over to immigration officials. Having moved to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 12, Sibaja was put into removal proceedings by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Over the next 15 months, he was transferred six times from Houston to Conroe, from Conroe to Mississippi, then back to Houston before being transferred to Amarillo and then to Big Spring. Eventually, he ended up in Haskell, Texas, and his case was assigned to the immigration court in Dallas. On November 25th, the immigration judge granted him a green card based on his seven-year long marriage to Lopez-Sibaja, a U.S. citizen, and the trauma that deportation would cause for his two children.

While the judgment came as a huge relief to Alexandro and his wife, the ordeal of the past 15 months is one that will haunt them for some time to come. By the end of the 15 months, Alexandro’s wife, Iris, barely visited him once every two months because she could not afford to drive seven hours to see him while working and looking after their children. Iris spent a large part of the past year trying to keep track of her husband’s whereabouts through the immigration detention network, since the information provided to her accompanying his transfers was patchy and inconsistent. Alexandro’s frequent transfers had the decided effect of delaying his proceedings. His original attorney, Steven Villarreal, had to stop representing him when he was transferred since it would have been too expensive once he factored in the costs of the flights and hotels. “I had to refer him to another attorney up there…This happens all the time,” Villareal said about the transfers.

Alexandro’s case is symptomatic of the gaping flaws in the detainee transfer system that were highlighted in separate reports brought out last Wednesday. In addition to the reports by the non-profit group, Human Rights Watch and the data analyzed by TRAC (discussed last week on Restore Fairness), The Constitution Project published a review of ICE policy entitled, ‘Recommendations for Reforming our Immigration System and Promoting Access to Counsel in Immigration Proceedings‘. These findings were corroborated by an investigation that was carried out by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security, and released in a document called ‘Policies and Procedures Related to Detainee Transfers‘.

The objective of the OIG investigation was to determine “whether ICE detention officers properly justify detainee transfers according to ICE’s standards,” and their findings verify the criticisms of the system offered by the other reports. The OIG found that the detainee transfer procedures regularly failed to comply with the tenets of the ICE National Detention Standards; they were random, they resulted in a loss of access to necessary evidence and witnesses, and to legal counsel itself, and in increased time spent in detention. Further, most people were transferred without the requisite photo and security classification. From the report:

Transfer determinations made by ICE officers at the detention facilities are not conducted according to a consistent process. This leads to errors, delays, and confusion for detainees, their families, and legal representatives…ICE National Detention Standards outline the policy, applicability, standards, and procedures for the transfer of a detainee. ICE must consider the detainee’s security requirements, medical needs, legal representation, and requests for a change in venue for the removal proceeding.

Responding to the delays, confusion and errors caused by the numerous transfers of detainees, not to mention the resultant denial of due process for the detained and their families, the OIG review and that drafted by The Constitution Project list a series of recommendations for corrective action to be taking by ICE. The recommendations outlined by the OIG address the disjointed network of private and county detention centers and the lack of a clear and centralized system of communication between them. They require ICE to establish:

A national standard for reviewing each detainee’s administrative file prior to a transfer determination, and that it develop protocols with EOIR (Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review) court administrators for exchanging hearing and transfer schedules.

The Constitution Project issued a review that called for large-scale amendments to immigration law and ICE policy, including access to legal counsel appointed by the government for those facing deportation. The Constitution Project, whose members include Asa Hutchinson, a former secretary of Homeland Security, called for measures that lead to shrinking the use of detention, making it easier for people to avoid detention while fighting deportation. According to the New York Times, the Constitution Project:

recommended a significant easing in the burden of proof, and a hardship waiver from mandatory detention for lawful permanent residents…Mr. Hutchinson said that the immigration agency could make many other changes immediately, including some that would “correct some potential unfairness in the system” unintentionally left by his own efforts when he was in office.

ICE responded with a statement on Wednesday announcing that they are in the process of overhauling the immigration detention system, and will work to reduce the number of detainee transfers. Working towards a “truly civil detention system” with more centralized agency control, the agency promised a re-issuing of the National Detention Standards that would require a review of the detainee’s file prior to a transfer, ensuring a more efficient and human approach to immigration detention.

Photo courtesy of www.washingtonindependent.com

Obama authorizes refugee re-settlement, but in reality ICE is detaining the “unadjusted”

Picture 1On September 30th 2009, President Obama signed a Presidential Determination authorizing the admission of 80,000 refugees into the U.S. in the year 2010. This commitment to ensuring the protection and re-settlement of refugees has been an integral part of U.S. policy since the Refugee Act of 1980 that sought to:

Provide a permanent and systematic procedure for the admission of refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States and to provide comprehensive and uniform provisions for the effective resettlement and absorption of those refugees who are admitted.

The Act defines a refugee as someone who is:

Outside his country of nationality (or in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which he last habitually resided), and who is unable or unwilling to return to such country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

The White House release said that while the economic recession had presented new challenges to maintaining this and other humanitarian programs, the administration had “undertaken an in-depth review of the program with the goal of strengthening support to both the refugees and the communities in which they are being resettled.” In light of this declaration of strengthening support to refugees, it is shocking that the Department of Homeland Security has taken to detaining refugees who have not adjusted to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status after having been in the country for one year (also known as “unadjusted refugees”). While some of these refugees are apprehended by ICE after encounters with local law enforcement for minor offenses, some are taken in without any criminal charges at all. These refugees are then held in detention facilities for the entire duration of time that it takes for the application to be received and processed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

As per section 209 (a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), those refugees who have not acquired Permanent Residency within one year of residing in the U.S., “…shall, at the end of such year period, return or be returned to the custody of the Department of Homeland Security for inspection and examination for admission…” According to an article by Emily Creighton on Immigration Impact, ICE is misinterpreting “return to custody” too literally to allow for those refugees to be detained while USCIS processes their application.

This interpretation is particularly unfair since the law prohibits refugees from applying for permanent residence until one year after they have been admitted to the U.S. as refugees. In essence, ICE detains refugees for not doing what the law bars them from doing…DHS’ policy of detaining unadjusted refugees is extremely problematic—it is not required by the language of the statute and is unsupported by the policies that drove lawmakers to pass laws protecting refugees. The word “custody” in the statute does not require ICE to take physical custody of unadjusted refugees, something ICE’s predecessor organization recognized. The former Immigration and Nationality Service reasoned that “custody” in INA 209(a) could be satisfied by simply requiring refugees to apply for adjustment of status and compelling them to appear at the agency.

Not only do some of these application review processes take up to a year, but pursuing this application while in ICE custody can lead to further legal complications for the refugees. A number of human rights, refugee assistance and other advocacy groups have been urging DHS to change this policy of detention and have written numerous letters over the years to ensure that DHS and ICE adopt a more humane policy towards refugees that respects the long-standing national policy of protecting and rehabilitating refugees rather than further incarcerating them.

While the ISAP II program which is designed to allow individuals who present a low flight risk to avoid incarceration by agreeing to regular monitoring offers an alternative, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller, believes that it’s still too early to know whether or not this offers the best alternative for asylum seekers; “the objectives of many alternatives to detention systems are enforcement objectives. UNHRC believes that humanitarian considerations should take on a higher profile.”

Still many asylum-seekers in the United States are held in detention centers, alongside those facing immigration and criminal charges, while their cases are being processed.  The most recent figures from DHS indicate that approximately 10,000 of the more than 300,000 individuals detained were asylum seekers. According to a 2003 report published by the Physicians For Human Rights and entitled ‘From Persecution to Prison: The Health Consequences of Detention for Asylum Seekers‘, being detained further can be severely traumatic and detrimental for people who are fleeing persecution, threat and torture in their own countries.

Detention can induce fear, isolation and hopelessness, and exacerbate the severe psychological distress frequently exhibited by asylum seekers who are already traumatized…Physicians, experienced in evaluating and caring for asylum seekers, found extremely high symptom levels of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among the detained.

In our video, Restore Fairness, Jean-Pierre Kamwa, an asylum seeker from Cameroon, provides a powerful testimony on the psychological ramifications of seeking protection only to be incarcerated when he landed in JFK airport.

Photo courtesy of www.physiciansforhumanrights.org

New reports from Human Rights Watch and TRAC shed light on the shocking trend of detainee transfers

Line of DetaineesIn recent years, a sharp rise in the number of non-citizens held in immigration detention has been accompanied by their increased transfer between facilities, creating barriers they face in accessing counsel and receiving fair treatment in immigration proceedings. These are the findings by TRAC (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse) and Human Rights Watch from data obtained by the Freedom of Information Act to be released today.

The number of individuals held in custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2009 is now estimated to have reached 369,483 detainees, more than twice the amount in 1999. As a result of this overcrowding, the past decade has witnessed an escalated increase in the “free-wheeling” transfers of detainees, often to less-crowded centers in remote areas, taking detainees miles away from their families and attorneys.

Based on data obtained from various sources by TRAC and 3.4 million records obtained by Human Rights Watch from ICE, TRAC has found:

An increasing proportion of all detainees are being transferred. In 1999, one out of every five (19.6%) detainees was moved from one detention facility to another. Compare that to the first six months of 2008 (the latest data available), where more than half of all detainees (52.4%) were transferred.

-There has been a vast growth in multiple transfers of individuals from one detention facility to another, where one starts at one detention facility, is transferred to a second, and then a third (and sometimes again and again). Ten years ago only one out of 20 detainees experienced multiple transfers (5.6%). But in 2008, that increased to one out of every four detainees (24%).

-The number of times that detainees are transferred now actually exceeds the total number of individual detainees. This surprising tipping point – more transfers than detainees – was reached for the first time during the first six months of 2008.

Similarly, Human Rights Watch reports that an astounding 1.4 million detainee transfers have occurred between 1999 and 2008. Most transfers are costly and chaotic, usually occurring without prior notice to family members of detainees. During these transfers, detainees are often taken miles away from their families and lawyers, breaking contact between them and their lawyers and delaying their proceedings. Immigration attorneys say that due to the transfers, they are constantly “losing their clients.” Besides the costs of these delays, ICE has spent more than 10 million dollars to transfer nearly 19,400 detainees in 2007 alone.

Speaking about their new report, “Locked Up Far Away: The Transfer of Immigrants to Remote Detention Centers in the United States”, Human Rights Watch says:

Human Rights Watch found that ICE is increasingly transferring detainees to remote detention centers as a response to overcrowding. Many immigrants are initially detained close to their attorneys and witnesses, in locations such as New York or Los Angeles, but are then transferred to detention centers in rural Texas or Louisiana…The transfers interfere with detainees’ rights to counsel, to defend against deportation, to present witnesses and other evidence, and to be free from arbitrary and prolonged detention.

TRAC has also released 1,393 individual facility-by-facility reports that analyze each detention facility’s transfer records over the last decade, and a free online tool where users can make a focused query about a specific detention facility. All of this is available as of noon today.

Photo courtesy www.ice.gov