Re­port: U.S. abus­ing its de­ten­tion au­thor­ity

Ad­e­quate le­gal aid, med­i­cal care with­held

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

The way the gov­ern­ment de­tains illegal im­mi­grants of­ten breaks fun­da­men­tal con­sti­tu­tional guar­an­tees, and hold­ing whole fam­i­lies in de­ten­tion is a par­tic­u­larly harsh abuse of hu­man rights, the U.S. Com­mis­sion on Civil Rights said in a con­tro­ver­sial new re­port Thurs­day, wad­ing deeply into the immigration de­bate.

Some de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties — both gov­ern­ment-run and pri­vate ones op­er­at­ing on con­tracts — don’t pro­vide good med­i­cal care, deny illegal im­mi­grants the chance to try to get lawyers to help them with their cases, look the other way when rape or sex­ual abuse oc­curs, don’t al­low Mus­lims ad­e­quate lee­way to celebrate Ramadan and mis­treat trans­gen­der de­tainees, the ma­jor­ity re­port con­cluded.

Two of the eight com­mis­sion­ers is­sued sting­ing re­but­tals, ques­tion­ing whether the com­mis­sion even had ju­ris­dic­tion to look at immigration en­force­ment, and por­tray­ing the re­port as re­hashed in­nu­endo and dis­cred­ited ac­cu­sa­tions.

But the ma­jor­ity said the abuses the com­mis­sion found were so egre­gious that the ad­min­is­tra­tion should im­me­di­ately re­lease all fam­i­lies be­ing held, and urged Congress to with­draw fund­ing over­all, say­ing the gov­ern­ment should find other ways to track illegal im­mi­grants rather than hold­ing them in de­ten­tion.

“From call­ing im­mi­grants ‘illegal aliens’ and ‘in­vad­ing hordes,’ to the most re­cent rant­ings of pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates spew­ing anti-im­mi­grant, anti-Latino and an­tiMex­i­can vit­riol, we have wit­nessed the cre­ation of an en­vi­ron­ment which con­dones the in­hu­mane treat­ment of im­mi­grants, es­pe­cially those com­ing from Latin Amer­ica,” com­mis­sion Chair­man Martin R. Cas­tro wrote, ac­cus­ing Home­land Se­cu­rity of sub­ject­ing illegal im­mi­grants to “tor­ture­like con­di­tions.”

The re­port was adopted by five of the eight com­mis­sion­ers. One of the eight re­cused her­self, while the two dis­senters said the ma­jor­ity got snook­ered by im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates.

“It is said that where there is smoke, there is fire. But some­times where there is smoke, there is only a smoke-mak­ing ma­chine, busily stoked by pub­li­cists work­ing for ac­tivist or­ga­ni­za­tions,” said Gail He­riot, one of the dis­sent­ing com­mis­sion­ers.

Home­land Se­cu­rity spokes­woman Mar­sha Ca­tron said they were re­view­ing the re­port, but said they take the care of im­mi­grants in their cus­tody se­ri­ously. She said they’ve made steady im­prove­ments, in­clud­ing ma­jor changes Sec­re­tary Jeh John­son an­nounced in June to speed illegal im­mi­grants through de­ten­tion as quickly as pos­si­ble.

“We are tran­si­tion­ing these fa­cil­i­ties into short-term pro­cess­ing cen­ters where in­di­vid­u­als who claim fear of re­turn to their coun­tries can be in­ter­viewed for asy­lum and other hu­man­i­tar­ian pro­tec­tions. Fam­i­lies who es­tab­lish a cred­i­ble or rea­son­able fear of per­se­cu­tion will be re­leased un­der con­di­tions de­signed to en­sure their com­pli­ance with their immigration obli­ga­tions,” Ms. Ca­tron said.

Home­land Se­cu­rity has also agreed not to use de­ten­tion as a de­ter­rent to other would-be illegal im­mi­grants and to re­quest lower bonds that illegal im­mi­grants might be able to post.

But Mr. Cas­tro said that is “noth­ing but lip ser­vice,” and there has been lit­tle change on the ground.

The com­mis­sion’s re­port comes at a touchy time in the immigration de­bate.

The find­ings echo what some Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have ar­gued on the cam­paign trail. But Repub­li­can can­di­dates are tilt­ing the other di­rec­tion, ques­tion­ing why the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been un­able to de­tain and de­port more illegal im­mi­grants.

The surge of both un­ac­com­pa­nied illegal im­mi­grant chil­dren and moth­ers trav­el­ing with young chil­dren, who have jumped the bor­der in record num­bers over the last few years, has tested the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s abil­i­ties.

And a fed­eral judge in Cal­i­for­nia has been look­ing at the fam­ily de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties, and has is­sued a pre­lim­i­nary find­ing that Home­land Se­cu­rity is in vi­o­la­tion of a 1997 agree­ment on how chil­dren should be treated when in cus­tody.

Ad­vo­cacy groups and the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity are still hashing that case out.

U.S. Immigration and Cus­toms En­force­ment, the agency that han­dles de­ten­tion and de­por­ta­tion, set up thou­sands of new beds in spe­cial fa­cil­i­ties de­signed to hold fam­i­lies, com­plete with ath­letic fields, clin­ics, school rooms and snacks.

Be­fore the ad­di­tional beds were added, most illegal im­mi­grant fam­i­lies were re­leased into the pop­u­la­tion, where they were much less likely to show up for their de­por­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings.

The Civil Rights Com­mis­sion, though, said the way the gov­ern­ment treats fam­i­lies could vi­o­late their due process rights, par­tic­u­larly when fa­cil­i­ties make it dif­fi­cult for illegal im­mi­grants to re­tain or stay in con­tact with lawyers.

The re­port had par­tic­u­larly harsh crit­i­cism of pri­vate fa­cil­i­ties con­tracted to hold illegal im­mi­grants, say­ing they of­ten ap­pear to run afoul of fed­eral treat­ment guide­lines.

Un­der con­gres­sional man­dates, Home­land Se­cu­rity is re­quired to main­tain an av­er­age of 34,000 de­ten­tion beds a day — though the ad­min­is­tra­tion says it’s not ac­tu­ally re­quired to fill them all.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has ar­gued it is of­ten more cost-ef­fec­tive and hu­mane to re­lease illegal im­mi­grants un­der al­ter­na­tives to de­ten­tion, such as an­kle-mon­i­tor­ing or hav­ing them check in by phone.


Some de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties — both gov­ern­ment-run and pri­vate ones — don’t pro­vide good med­i­cal care, deny il­le­gals the chance to get lawyers to help with their cases and look the other way when sex­ual abuse oc­curs, said a re­port from U.S. Com­mis­sion on Civil Rights.

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