Federal Civil Rights Commission Harshly Criticizes Homeland Security Dept.’s Treatment of Immigrant Detainees
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has found conditions in facilities holding undocumented immigrants to be so bad that it has recommended the release of families being held in them. The report was passed by a 5-2 vote with three of the yes votes coming from commissioners appointed by President Barack Obama, whose administration policies they now criticize.
The commission looked at two facilities in Texas. One, Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, is run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the other, in Karnes City, is run by private contractor GEO Group.
The commission reported (pdf) brutal conditions under which immigrants are treated like criminals and stripped of their basic rights, according to Sarah Lazare of Common Dreams. “While these immigrants migrate to the United States to escape harsh living conditions, once they cross the U.S. border without authorization and proper documentation, the federal government apprehends and detains these individuals in conditions that are similar, if not worse, than the conditions they faced from their home countries,” according to the report.
Commission chair Martin R. Castro wrote of attempts by those running the Karnes City facility to whitewash the problems there. “When I asked the detention center staff about a hunger strike we had read about in the news at Karnes, the staff person in charge denied it and said, ‘You can’t believe everything you read,’” Castro wrote. “Yet, a short time later, I personally spoke to mothers who were part of the hunger strike. They told me in Spanish, over the protests of the detention center officials who were demanding that I not speak to the women and who were pulling at my sleeve to get me to move on, that they had been at Karnes with their children for almost a year; that they were part of the hunger strike until the detention center officials threatened to take away their children unless they gave up the hunger strike.”
Some of the findings of the commission were:
--The federal government’s treatment of detained immigrants may be inconsistent with the Fifth Amendment’s right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law.
--The Commission finds that DHS may not be providing detainees with adequate avenues to report sexual assault or abuse. Moreover, the Commission finds that DHS may be inadequately addressing staff misconduct with regards to sexual assault and abuse.
--Certain privately owned detention facilities are not adhering to any set standard and are not providing detainees with nutritious food.
--Given the evidence presented in this report, and in light of the recent District
Court ruling on DHS’s compliance with Flores Settlement, the Commission recommends that DHS act immediately to release families from detention.
“All people, no matter whether they are immigrants or asylum-seekers, deserve to be treated as humans,” Castro told Common Dreams. “Now, more than ever before, we need to treat fairly and humanely those persons, especially women and children, who are seeking sanctuary from violence and instability in their countries.”
Some in Congress have taken note of the problem. A bill introduced Thursday by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) and Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona), Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), and Bobby L. Rush (D-Illinois) would ban private prisons, end family detentions, eliminate immigrant detention quota, and reinstate the federal parole system. Whether it gets any traction in the Republican-dominated Congress is another question.
To Learn More:
Citing Abuses, U.S. Commission Demands Release of Refugee Families (by Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams)
With Liberty and Justice for All—the State of Civil Rights at Immigration Detention Facilities (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights) (pdf)
Immigrant Detention Breaks up Families, Enriches Private Prison Companies (by Danny Biederman and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Federal Judge Blasts Obama Administration for Refusing to Release Detained Children and Mothers despite 1997 Court Settlement (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
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