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Haitian earthquake survivors amongst those in immigration detention centers

Where have all the promises gone?

The Obama administration has delivered many promises, not least of which is to deliver desperately needed reforms to an unwieldy and unjust immigration detention system.

So why is it that the New York Times reported today that 30 survivors of the devastating Haiti earthquake were rushed out of Haiti during aftershocks at the airport, only to be thrown into immigration detention centers on U.S. soil in far flung areas, confined while dealing with the traumas of what they had encountered back home. Many have relatives in the U.S. who are desperate to take them in. They are neither flight risks, nor a danger to the community. Yet, they continue to remain detained. Like Jackson,

who was trapped in the collapse of his family’s apartment building in the quake… His formal request for release, dated March 12, describes how even the sound of someone on the jail stairs makes him fear another earthquake and worry that because he is locked up, he will be unable to escape.

The detainees have received little or no mental treatment for their trauma. This is not surprising, given a new report from a public interest law center Texas Appleseed that documents the shocking treatment and lack of due process meted out to immigrants with mental disabilities. The case studies are astounding. Take for example a 50-year-old legal permanent resident who had lived in the United States since 1974. Declared incompetent by a New York criminal court, he was ordered to serve 90 days in a mental institution, but before anyone could blink, he was transferred far away to a detention center in Texas for deportation without his family’s knowledge. Even though he was suffering from severe schizophrenia, he went without his medication for a month, as detention centers are notorious for medical mistreatment, and this extends even further to mental illness. As his sister said

If they deport him, it will be the end of his life and the end of my mother’s life. My mother says he will die out there in the streets.

The example illustrates the continuing emphasis on enforcement only approach. Even though many immigrants are neither flight risks, they are mandatorily detained in far flung locations. Even though detention is a civil sanction, people in the system are treated as criminals, required to wear prison uniforms, housed in cells and monitored constantly. More than 33,000 immigrants are held daily in a network of privately contracted facilities and state and local jails. Imagine the state of someone with a mental illness in an increasingly overwhelmed system. Moreover, 84% of detainees have no legal counsel – so in an overburdened court system, mentally ill detainees are often left defending themselves.

The report documents what health professionals in the facility have to say. Like one Detention Facility Nurse who stated, rather matter of factly, that “When they are crazy and cannot be managed they go to ‘seg’ [segregation] when there is not room in the short stay unit.”Detainees are often given the wrong drugs, or accused of faking their illness. The worst is when they are let free, often suddenly in the middle of nowhere where the detention facility is located, without any resources. Like the tragic story of a delusional Mexican national suffering from schizophrenia whose father had arranged with immigration for his son’s voluntary departure by plane to Mexico, where he was to be picked up by his mother. But when he called the deportation officer to confirm the travel arrangements, he was told that his son had been deported four days earlier than originally planned, due to the vacation plans of his deportation officer. He still remains missing two years later, though the body of a young man who fits his son’s description remains in a morgue in Tijuana.

Day by day, violations in detention continue, even as a leaked memo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has revealed the need to meet larger quotas of immigrants for deportation, contrary to the official stand by the administration that they are mainly targeting immigrants who have criminal convictions. According to the ACLU,

The ACLU and select immigration groups met Monday with ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton and his senior staff to discuss the reported quota policy and Detention and Removal Office (DRO) priorities. At the meeting, James M. Chaparro, the DRO director who wrote the memo, which was apparently not cleared by the Assistant Secretary, apologized for his “tremendous error”… Assistant Secretary Morton denied the use of quotas, stated his commitment to work together in a “spirit of candor and transparency” and asked to be “judged on the record, not on rumors.”

But many are not believing the “bad apple” story. Key immigrant and Latino organizations have called on President Obama and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to dismiss John Morton. “The reality is that ICE has gone rogue and needs to be reined in with dramatic action,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change.

Growing frustration is leading to more broken families and destroyed futures. No more promises we say again. It’s time for concrete action.

UPDATE: From the New York Times – More than three dozen Haitian earthquake survivors were released from Florida immigration jails on Thursday after more than two months in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigration officials said 40 Haitian survivors would be released on orders of supervision by nightfall. This came on the day that The New York Times reported that at least 30 earthquake survivors were being detained. Lawyers said the federal government was now reversing a practice adopted after the earthquake, to hold Haitians for at least 90 days after a deportation order before considering them for supervised release. Those released can be returned to Haiti when deportations resume.

Photo courtesy of globevision

One Response to “Haitian earthquake survivors amongst those in immigration detention centers”

    gerard 2b says:

    Where have all the promises gone? Into storage until the next election in 2012 when they will be trotted out again along with all the pwogwessive accomplishments such as the renewal of the PATRIOT Act, health care reform written by the corporations it was meant to regulate, $8 billion in guaranteed loans for two nukes, expansion of the war, military bases in Columbia, and so on.