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ICE’s Secret Holding Pens

El Diario NY, Editorial, Staff Posted: Dec 22, 2009

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is disappearing immigrants. ICE must immediately end its dark practice of hiding people in off the radar facilities.

Throughout the country, 186 subfield offices are used for shuttling immigrants. They operate as staging locations or holding areas for detainees, as an internal review commissioned by ICE describes, and are used for the vast majority of “book-ins.”

The shocking problem, as a report by The Nation illuminates, is that these sites have not been made known to the public—they are unlisted. They are largely without any signage beyond some vague reference to “service processing.” The poor conditions in these holding sites include immigrants sitting in packed cells to not having basic necessities like sanitary napkins for female detainees.

In one case last year, a mentally ill U.S. citizen was found homeless in Mexico months after disappearing into this network. Desperate family had fleeting traces of Mark Lyttle after he was transferred from a federal prison to an ICE subfield office. At subfield offices, the time and date of custody are recorded after the fact.

The unmarked network makes it difficult, it not impossible, for family and lawyers to find and access detainees. This undermines any due process that is available to immigrants. With the subfield offices out of sight, they are also out of mind versus the visible and marked federal detention facilities that civil and human rights groups can monitor.

The U.S. immigration detention system already has a reputation as an American gulag. The secret sites and lack of real time data add further evidence to the deplorable treatment of detainees. But it doesn’t stop there. Immigration agents are also allegedly playing loose and fast—from impersonating civilians and using other deceptive tactics to nab undocumented immigrants who have not committed crimes.

That the unlisted offices resonate with military rendition is frightening for those who are detained and for those who care about the transparency that is core to a democracy.

ICE must now be forthcoming and fully disclose and label the locations where detainees who have been silenced have not even had a chance to plea their case.

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