Suspected illegal immigrants held in detention by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are failing to receive timely medical treatment and adequate food, being subjected to frequent sexual harassment, and having their access to lawyers, relatives and immigration authorities improperly limited.
These are among the findings of the departmentâ€™s inspector general, based on an audit of the U.S.-owned and operated Krome Service Processing Center in Miami, a contract Corrections Corporation of America facility in San Diego, and local jails and prisons in Berks County, Pa., and Hudson and Passaic counties, N.J.
But critics of the agency called the report disappointing, contending that it watered down recommendations and ignored the most serious allegations of abuse collected since June 2004, which they said included physical beatings, medical neglect, food shortages and mixing of illegal immigrants in administrative custody with criminals.
Mark Dow, author of â€œAmerican Gulag,â€ a scathing expose of immigrant detention facilities, goes further. He toldus that the Inspector Generalâ€™s report â€œhas helped ensure that, for now, the mistreatment will continue.â€
He contends the reason is that the IG recommends that the DHS
agency responsible for the detention of immigrants, the Immigration and
Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) police itself.
â€œThat is telling
the agency responsible for the mistreatment of its prisoners, and whose
own inspections are deficient, â€˜ensure that periodic oversight and
inspection procedures are in place to address compliance with the
Detention Standardsâ€™. The (IGâ€™s) report neglects to mention that ICE
has refused to promulgate its detention standards as regulations
because they would then be, at least theoretically, legally
enforceableâ€, he says.
He adds: â€œThe bottom line is that â€˜auditingâ€™ without truly independent enforcement is meaningless.â€
view is echoed by Mary Shaw of Amnesty International, USA. She told us,
â€œWhile the U.S. immigration system has always had its faults, it has
become much worse since the attacks of 9/11. Many of the people who
enter this country are fleeing persecution in other countries. They
come here to seek asylum. We must not confuse these victims seeking
refuge with those who would enter this country to do us harm. The U.S.
has every right to protect its borders. However, immigration policies
must not make it harder for victims of human rights violations to find
protection in the United States. We need to honor our countryâ€™s
commitment to protecting the persecuted.â€
In response to the
IGâ€™s report, more than a dozen national organizations have filed a
petition with the DHS to create enforceable regulations governing
detention standards. If the federal government agrees to the request,
DHS will promulgate binding standards for the safety, health, and
conditions for thousands of detainees around the country.
These advocates believe DHS regulations governing detention standards
will ensure effective protection of detaineesâ€™ human rights. â€œTodayâ€™s
petition highlights our unconscionable detention system. The reality is
that county governments vie for lucrative contracts with the federal
government to warehouse non-citizens without any binding standards of
signatories included the American Friends Service Committee Immigrant
Rights Program, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the
Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Seton Hall University Law
Center for Social Justice.
Among the most significant issues
raised in the IGâ€™s report was that detainees face significant hurdles
when attempting to make complaints about their conditions of
confinement. It further points to the current ineffectiveness of ICEâ€™s
own annual inspections of detention facilities. â€œThe report exposes
gaping holes in the protection of detainee rights. We cannot trust the
jail officials to address detaineesâ€™ concerns, and we cannot trust ICE
to effectively review the jailsâ€™ practices.
Many of the
detention centers for immigrants have been privatized and are being run
by such companies as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and
Wackenhut. In 1999, the feds farmed out less than three percent of
beds; but seven years later, the number had reached almost one in five.
boom in privatized prisons began shortly after the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001, when the Department of Justice rounded up thousands
of â€œMiddle Eastern-lookingâ€ immigrants and detained many of them for
months, abusing many, treating them as criminals, and denying them
access to lawyers.
A 2003 report by the DHS Inspector General
forcefully condemned the treatment of immigrants inside various jails
in its report, â€œThe September 11 Detainees: A Review of the Treatment
of Aliens Held on Immigration Charges in Connection with the
Investigation of the September 11 Attacks.â€ Infractions included
routineabuse of basic prisoner rights, mental and physical abuse,
denial of health care and medical treatment, prison overcrowding, and a
lack of working showers, andtoilets.
None of those held were ever charged with a terror-related crime. Some were deported for immigration violations.
detention facilities have grown apace amid the clamor for a crackdown
on alleged undocumented immigrants. Contracts for these new jails
flowed to the private prison industry despite many previous allegations
of mismanagement and scandal.
Detainee advocates accuse prison
companies of cutting corners in training guards and in providing basic
services. The government has done littleto regulate prison
administration, but has sanctioned exploitive labor practices and
rip-off telephone costs for inmates.
For example, a former
detainee in a CCA facility in San Diego testified that â€œThe guards
would scream and shout at us as if we were little kids. If we would ask
them to stop, they would threaten to lock us down for a few days, which
would happen constantly. Three people being locked in a two-man cell,
in a 12 x 7 room. This happened a lot; sometimes as punishment for the
actions of one or two inmates, the other 105â€“115 detainees would
â€œOther timesâ€ he said, â€œIt seemed â€˜just because.â€™ A lot
of the detainees would be missing money on their accounts, which I was
recently told by a detainee who keeps in contact with me was being
stolen by the staff, according to [an] OIG investigation. We would get
underserved during meal times. When we complained to the unit manager
she would say that we were given the rightamounts, which in my opinion
is the appropriate portion for a ten or eleven year old. Some of the
guards and staff would curse at us. They would purposely lower the
televisions so we couldnâ€™t hear them, just to mess with us. During our
free time they would take their time turning on the phones so we
wouldnâ€™t be able to call our families. Just to be cruel.â€
the second quarter of 2005, CCA announced that its revenue had
increased three percent over the previous year, for a total of almost
$300 million. CCA calculates that it expenditure of $28.89 per inmate,
per day allows it to make a daily profit of $50.26 per inmate.
on July 1, 2005, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement
awarded CCA contracts to continue running the 300-bed Elizabeth
Detention Center in New Jersey and the 1,216-bed San Diego Correctional
Facility. Both of these contracts are for three years with five
three-yearrenewal options. In 2005 CCA also secured new prison
contracts with the Kentucky Department of Corrections, the state of
Kansas, and the Florida Department of Management Services.
has also shared in the private prison boom. Before 2001, Wackenhut,
like CCA, had been at the center of all manner of inmate-abuse
scandals: Guards were caught having sex with underage inmates, there
were routine reports of extreme mistreatment of inmates, and there was
even adisproportionately high level of deaths in their facilities.
After a CBS Television report exposed the repeated rape of a
14-year-old girl at a Wackenhut juvenile jail and two guards were found
guilty, its CEO said, â€œItâ€™s a tough business. The people in prison are
not Sunday-school children.â€ Still more worrying was Wackenhutâ€™s record
with inmate-on-inmate killings. In 1998â€“99 alone, Wackenhutâ€™s New
Mexico facilities had a death rate of one murder for every 400
prisoners. For the same period in all U.S. prisons, the rate was about
one in 22,000.
most public response was to change its name to the GEO Group. It
continues to win lucrative government contracts.
industry has routinely argued that privatizing prisons dramatically
lowers costs. A 1996 U.S. General Accounting Office report concluded,
however, that there was no clear evidence supporting this contention.
Prison companies do have clear advantages over other corporations: They
are able to save large amounts of money on labor practices that would
illegal under any other circumstances. Inmate jobs in all prisons pay a
pittance, but immigrant prisons are even worse. Because DHS guidelines
mandate that non-citizen prisoners cannot earn more than $1 per day,
the company gets janitors, maintenance workers, cleaners, launderers,
kitchen staff, sewers and grounds keepers at almost no cost.
Mark Dow says, â€œIt isn't politically popular to speak up for alien
inmates, but Congress has a responsibility to establish independent
oversight of the ICE detention system. Congress should hold hearings on
ICE detention - with meaningful follow-up.â€ It should â€œCreate a
statutory-based ombudsman's office or independent oversight body
outside the Department of Homeland Security. It must have subpoena
power as well as authorization to make unannounced inspections of all
facilities holding ICE detainees.â€
â€œEventually, the very nature
of our immigration detention system must be reexamined. We take it as a
given that a visa violator, or an asylum seeker, or a thirty-year
lawful resident who has paid taxes but committed a non-violent
misdemeanor decades ago, should be strip-searched, dressed in a prison
jumpsuit, and denied contact with her children.â€
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO BILL FISHER