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America's Disappeared

El Diario/La Prensa NY, Editorial, Staff Posted: Mar 17, 2010

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) runs a detention system that spreads across 350 different facilities and is operated largely by private contractors and local jails. Reports on the fate of detainees have revealed systemic abuse and neglect of immigrants in federal custody. Women who have been raped crossing the border have been denied abortion services while in detention. Pregnant women have been shackled as they give birth. Nursing mothers have been separated from their babies.

In a span of five years, more than 100 immigrant detainees have died in ICEs custody. These deaths only came to light as a result of inquiries by journalists and the American Civil Liberties Union. Deaths from medical neglect include that of an Ecuadorian immigrant who was transferred from a Rikers Island correctional facility in New York to immigration authorities.

Too frequently, detainees are swallowed into ICE subfield offices that are not publicly listed nor clearly identified by signage, as an investigative report by The Nation found. Families or lawyers are forced to track detainees who have been disappeared. The ability to access the outside world is an essential safeguard against arbitrary detention, states Amnesty International, among the human rights monitors that have criticized the U.S. detention system.

Immigrant detainees are not entitled to legal representation. They have to plead their case through a thicket of obstacles, from being directed to swamped nonprofits that cant accept collect calls; to poor translation and interpretation to lack of information about their rights.

The system undermines their already slim chance to a fair hearing. The Warren Institute recently described glaring flaws with the federal prosecution of immigrant detainees, from overburdened judges to en masse hearings that brush over individual circumstance.

These shameful conditions fly against human rights, including the right of detainees to access medical care and attorneys and the right to not be detained beyond a period for which a government can provide appropriate justification.

A recent Supreme Court decision is promising. In Kucana v. Holder, the Court ruled that individuals facing deportation orders have the right to appeal to the federal courts if the immigration court refuses to hear the appeal.

Under the Obama administration, the federal government has moved to revise policies around medical care and oversight. Last year, the assistant secretary of Homeland Security for ICE announced important steps for addressing complaints about detention conditions. An urgently-needed review of detention followed.

But what remains the same is that polices around medical care and oversight are not legally binding and thus, not enforceable.

So the question that also remains is who is culpable and held accountable for misconduct and neglect? One private corporation contracted to hold immigrants detainees who have died in its facilities continues to operate detention centers.

The absence of strict accountability is unacceptable. Humane detention policies, adequate legal representation and strong sanctions for misconduct must be the enforceable standard.

But the nation must go further. We must halt ICEs march toward the business of detention and imprisonment. Tomorrow, EL DIARIO/LA PRENSA will look at the booming immigration prison complex.

Related Articles:

The Immigrant Prison Industrial Complex

Complejo de prisiones de inmigracin

The Growth of Immigration Detention

Crece mercado de detencin de inmigrantes

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