These ICE detention centers are atrocious, and are a national disgrace. Below I am pictured speaking about them 4 years ago in Wilmington, DE.
Excerpts from the Article:
As President Donald Trump prepares to pick a new secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is preparing to appear in a Brooklyn court. She is being sued for blocking a man on Twitter who criticized her for calling immigration detention sites “concentration camps.” Her opponents seized on the comment. One of their talking points: America’s hardworking immigration officers should not be equated with Nazis.
To some extent, I can understand their perspective.
I recently visited four Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention sites across the country. I met many of their workers. They carried clear plastic backpacks and lunchboxes as they filed through security in the morning, looking weary and bored. As I left each site, some asked me whether I had had a “nice visit” and wished me safe travels.
These workers don’t bring to mind cinematic villains. Yet they are part of a system that, no matter its appearances, is inflicting the horror of trapping people inside.
I saw it in the eyes of the people I interviewed in detention. A 28-year-old Cuban woman told me about spending five days sleeping on the ground in an outdoor cage run by Border Patrol, the “perrera” — a place for dogs. That was followed by 17 days in the “hielera,” a frigid room. She had been denied a shower the entire time.
She recounted this months later, when I met her at an ICE detention site in Adams County, Mississippi. She had not seen or talked to her husband for months, since U.S. authorities separated and detained them. She said that last summer, an asylum officer interviewed her and determined that her fear of persecution if she returned to Cuba was credible — the first step in an asylum case. But she said she had never seen a judge, had no court date, no lawyer, no ICE officer assigned to her. She was alone and trapped: She had no idea of what would happen to her next, how to move her asylum case forward and whether she would ever be released.
Adams County is part of the immigration detention boom. Detention levels have skyrocketed to a record high of about 50,000 people a day, at an annual cost of more than $2 billion. Counties are grabbing at detention contracts that provide jobs, although many will be filled by out-of-town residents. New detention sites are opening in the Deep South — hours from urban areas with networks of pro bono or low-cost attorneys. Even in big cities, the number of people detained far outpaces the number of attorneys available to help them. The result is that these immigration jails are effectively legal black holes, where legal rights often exist in name only.
“You come to this place and you can never win,” another woman told me. She had spent three months in an ICE detention center near Miami, separated from her then 5-month-old baby. Her husband, a U.S. citizen, was driving her to Walmart when local police questioned them during a random traffic stop. She was not accused of a crime, and she was in the process of petitioning for residency based on her marriage to a citizen. But police took her to a local jail and held her for ICE.
“I haven’t seen my baby in three months,” she said, and asked me what would happen to her.
Without a lawyer, she is likely to remain in detention for months or years — and ultimately be deported away from her husband and child. Just 3% of detained individuals without a lawyer succeeded in their cases, compared with 74% of nondetained and represented individuals who won in theirs, according to a study that focused on New York immigration cases. For asylum-seekers, the stakes are often life or death.
Yet immigrants have been denied the right to a government-appointed lawyer in their deportation proceedings. I met many who didn’t have enough money to make a phone call from prison, let alone pay a lawyer. Even those who could afford it struggled to find one, since they are stuck on the inside without access to Google, email or a cellphone.
Our immigration system is set up for them to fail, with Kafka-esque limits on their ability to apply for legal relief and appeal to federal courts. Navigating this complex and unforgiving set of legal rules is hard for lawyers, let alone for detained individuals. Some are offered release on bond, but in unaffordable amounts like $25,000.
Many people I met had never seen a judge, several months into their detention. They had no idea how or when they might ever be free. They were confused, scared and, in some cases, suicidal. A woman from Cameroon who fled its ongoing civil war after her father was murdered told me she prayed that God would provide her a way out.
Local governments should end ICE detention contracts, if they exist, and prohibit new ones. Cities and states should robustly fund free legal service providers and bond funds. Major law firms should send their lawyers to the Deep South to work with local pro bono providers to address the drastic shortfalls in legal services. Community groups should lobby Congress to cut funding for detention and pass comprehensive reform legislation like the Dignity For Detained Immigrants Act.
Trump’s new Homeland Security secretary is likely to ramp up immigration detention to even higher levels, using the specter of prison to deter people from coming here and the reality of it to punish those who do. We cannot afford to be divided by semantics.
Whatever we call them, America’s immigration prisons are antithetical to the free society we claim to be. We must do all we can to dismantle this system. Naureen Shah is the senior advocacy and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, working on immigrant rights.