Monday, April 14, 2014

Immigration Detention: An Invisible Assault

A young woman named Cynthia Diaz is on a hunger strike in front of the White House. She's going hungry to protest the detention and incarceration of her mother, who was picked up by Immigration and Customers Enforcement in May 2011.

Watching this interview with Diaz on Melissa Harris Perry's show Saturday was painful. Did you know that mothers with legal-resident and citizen children and husbands are being held in prisons for nothing more than having come into the country or overstayed a visa?

Adding to the Diaz story was the report in Sunday's Star Tribune that ICE in Minnesota contracts with jails that put detainees in with the general jail population, including the case of one 18-year-old man who was housed with a sex offender who repeatedly molested him.

Sherburne County, a northern exurban county, makes money by renting its underutilized (taxpayer-funded) jail space to ICE. It has 85 ICE detainees, 183 other federal prisoners, and 136 state (not county) prisoners. Sherburne County is paid over $11 million a year for all this incarceration, with about $900,000 in profit. Who needs private prisons when counties can make the profits instead, right?

According to the Strib,
The 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, which passed Congress unanimously, set a “zero-tolerance standard” for prison rape. It created guidelines to hold correctional facilities accountable for protecting inmates.

Until recently, though, the rules didn’t govern immigration detention facilities overseen by the Department of Homeland Security.
The story goes on to say,
ICE does not prohibit the mingling of its detainees with prisoners, including at its contracted facilities like those in Minnesota.... Pat Carr, Sherburne County’s jail commander, said the jail’s classification officers make a determination about who can be put in the same cell.

Carr said the staff will take action if informed that detainees are threatened. Detainees can report threats or accusations of abuse directly to staff, through a telephone hot line, through ICE grievances and communication forms, Sherburne County grievance forms, and in letters to the jail administration or to ICE.
Yet the young man in this case was left in the same sell with sex offender for eight days after he complained of the abuse, according to the Strib.

The 2 millionth person to be "detained" since Barack Obama became president was picked up last month, according to 1,010 people per day. That's more than were picked up in all the years of George W. Bush's presidency.

This all-but-invisible assault on common decency has to stop. It not only does no good, it actively does harm to millions of people and their families.

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