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Arizona Joins National Call for ‘Dignity, Not Detention’

New America Media, News Report, Valeria Fernández Posted: Feb 26, 2010

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Local human rights groups protested outside of the Phoenix offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Thursday as part of a national action against immigrant detention.
ProtestPhoto by José Muñoz
Demonstrators delivered a letter to the Obama administration asking for an end to cooperation with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

“Arpaio is just one example of the gross mismanagement and lack of federal oversight of immigration enforcement programs and detention facilities,” the letter read.

The action was part of the national campaign “Dignity, Not Detention: Preserving Human Rights and Restoring Justice” launched by the Detention Watch Network with the support of 30 groups in more than seven cities.

The campaign aims to put focus on arbitrary arrests, lack of legal representation and abuse faced by migrants in more than 350 detention facilities across the country as a result of ICE's approach to dealing with illegal immigration.

“ICE is just as guilty as Sheriff Joe Arpaio of what is going on in Maricopa County,” said Carlos Puente, a Phoenix community organizer with PUENTE, the movement that coordinated the local protest.

“Most of the migrants detained are being held with people who were convicted of crimes. But the only crime of these folks is working,” he said.

Garcia said communities are in danger of racial profiling due to the sheriff’s cooperation with immigration authorities, as well as mistreatment and abuse within the jails.

“We have women who had broken jaws without medical treatment, women who got their arms broken by officers trying to get them to sign deportation papers,” he said.

Two weeks ago, a migrant detained during a worksite sweep sued the sheriff’s office for negligence and physical abuse after allegedly dislocating her jaw during detention and being denied medical treatment.

“Detention is not the solution to the problem of illegal immigration,” said Salvador Reza, organizer of the PUENTE movement. “The solution will be immigration reform, not criminalization.”

Immigrant rights activists see Arizona as one of three “fight sites” for the “Dignity, Not Detention” campaign, together with Texas and Georgia. Protests in these areas will focus on the local impact of detention and the cooperation of local police with ICE to lock up immigrants.

“These are not isolated problems. This is the human rights crisis we’re facing all over the country,” said Jacki Esposito, policy coordinator for the Detention Watch Network. Her organization’s campaign aims to shed light on the 107 people who have died in immigration custody since 2003, and the $1.7 billion that is spent each year on migrant detention and made it a lucrative business for corporations.

In October, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and Assistant Secretary John Morton announced reforms of the detention system to include more accountability and better medical care.

Advocates argue that the administration is on the right path, but is falling short when it comes to the accountability of programs like Secure Communities and 287(g) agreements that allow local police to enforce immigration laws.

“Under the 287(g) program, ICE and Maricopa County subject people to costly and, in many cases, unnecessary detention,” said Victoria Lopez, an immigrant rights advocate at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Arizona. “DHS cannot meaningfully address detention reform while continuing to support sweeping enforcement practices that fail to protect basic human rights and fundamental due process for all people in Arizona.”

Last year alone, immigration authorities held more than 380,000 migrants in detention. About 60 percent of them were turned over to ICE by local law enforcement through 287(g) cooperation programs and a Criminal Alien Program that identifies undocumented migrants in the jails.

But well over half of the detained immigrants had no criminal record or conviction, according to a report issued by former ICE Office of Detention Policy Planning Director Dora B. Schriro.

“The numbers are so staggering. More and more people are being funneled into a detention system in a way that appears to be senseless,” said Esposito. “It’s not clear that ICE has some standards that determine who should be detained and who shouldn’t.”

In the following weeks, actions are being planned in connection with the “Dignity not Detention” campaign across the country. On March 6, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) will be leading a caravan from Phoenix to Washington, D.C., to denounce human rights violations in Maricopa County.

“If we don’t stop the kind of immigrant criminalization that’s going on here, it will spread to the rest of the nation,” said Reza, a member of NDLON in Arizona.

Related Articles:

Churches Ease Immigrant Fears in Wake of New Arizona Law

Immigration Reform Advocates Losing Patience with Obama

Arizona Sheriff Arpaio to Unleash 800 Deputies on Undocumented Immigrants

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