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Friday, March 30, 2012

Dehumanizing “tired,” “poor,” “huddled masses”

Detained in USA
U.S. disparages, demonizes immigrants; justifies abuse based on demonic characterization
Excerpts, minor editing, comment 
by Carolyn Bennett

Detained in Greece
“It is heartbreaking,” a Greek writer wrote in 2009, how questions of immigration  never raise concerns about “‘aliens’ being forced to hug fathers through prison bars’” or how “‘illegals’ have to go days and weeks without knowing if wives made it through childbirth.”  The writer concludes,       “Something tells me that the reasons human violations like these are possible — even greatly applauded — is that the campaign to dehumanize immigrants through words like ‘illegal aliens’ and ‘illegals’ has been far too successful.”

This week Free Speech Radio News reported members of the U.S. legislature continuing the U.S.  Dehumanization Campaign against immigrants. In a congressional committee hearing purportedly on reform of the immigration system, some politicians reportedly dubbed the U.S. detention facilities “‘Holiday on ICE’” (Reference to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). One lawmaker compared federal agents to hotel “‘concierge.’” 

I find troubling that people holding inordinate power cavalierly turn other people’s misery — misery often created or exacerbated (or both) by U.S. officials and their corporate allies — into material for ridicule or stand-up comedy.   

The news story also linked to findings in a current study conducted by NYU law school on the treatment immigrants in New Jersey detention facilities.  “Immigration Incarceration: the Expansion and Failed Reform of Immigration Detention in Essex County, New Jersey,” was released this month.  The study concluded that though the immigration detention system in the area studied (and more broadly) has been touted as non-punitive and abuses are set aside  awaiting fulfillment of empty federal promises of reform — the fact is that detentions have increased as have violations of the 2008 and 2011 Immigration and Customs Enforcement Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS).

Some of report’s findings of abuse

In 2011, the number of immigration detention beds in Essex County (New Jersey) increased by 150 percent from 500 to 1,250 detainees per day. Essex County now holds over half of all immigrant detainees in New Jersey.

NYU School of Law
Immigrant Rights Clinic
New Jersey Advocates for
Immigrant Detainees report
Immigrant detainees in (privately owned and operated) Delaney Hall and ECCF (Essex County Correctional Facility) are not treated with the human dignity and respect they deserve. Many detainees reported verbal abuse and mistreatment from guards and jail staff.

During 2011, immigration detainees in ECCF filed 158 written grievances. These grievances included allegations of mistreatment from ECCF staff, inadequate access to special diet meals, and delayed or unanswered requests for medical attention.

According to written grievance records, ECCF has been in violation of at least five detention standards in 2011 concerning medical attention, food service, religious services, access to legal counsel, and visitation services.

From October 2011 through December 2011, detainees in Delaney Hall filed 46 written grievances. These included allegations of mistreatment from Delaney Hall staff, cold dormitories and inadequate blankets during the winter, and unacceptable food quality.

In both ECCF and Delaney Hall, violations of detainees’ rights to due process and access to justice were reported including obstacles to detainees’ contacting their attorneys after transfers and the negative affect of video conferencing on attorney-client confidentiality and due process rights.

This kind of inhumane treatment gives new meaning to “tired,” “poor,” “huddled masses” “yearning to breathe free.”

United States officials, their callousness and incompetence together with their allies have amassed masses (often fleeing U.S. wars abroad), deepened and exacerbated their fatigue, their poverty, and often their antipathy for this land where stands a Statue of Liberty.  

Some of report’s recommendations

Beginning with facilities that fail to meet the 2011 ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards and that unduly restrict detainees’ access to family and community, ICE should stop detaining immigrants in state and local jails.

ICE officials should use alternatives to detention, such as supervised release.

Essex County and corrections officials at Delaney Hall and ECCF should take immediate steps to bring their facilities up to the 2011 ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards.

Essex County and corrections officials should bring ECCF into compliance with existing standards by eliminating routine strip searches of detainees receiving contact visits.

Corrections officials at Delaney Hall and ECCF should undergo training in how to work with diverse detainees and be respectful of different cultures.

Corrections officials at Delaney Hall and ECCF should implement a meaningful grievance process that safeguards detainees from retaliation.

Attorneys and their clients should be able to appear in immigration hearings together in video conferencing rooms, the audio and visual quality of video conferences assessed regularly for quality; and ensure detainees given adequate opportunity to consult off-camera with their lawyers.

Essex County and corrections officials at Delaney Hall and ECCF should ensure that emergency medical treatment is immediately available to detainees 24 hours a day and all detainees receive timely and effective medical treatments.

Both Delaney Hall and ECCF periodically should review food served to ensure compliance with caloric requirements and adherence to special diets for medical and religious purposes.

The facilities should make unlimited clean drinking water available to detainees at all times.

Facilities should make available to detainees soap for washing and laundry at all times.

Sources and notes

“Immigrant detention in Greece” (la Macha), September 14, 2009, http://vivirlatino.com/2009/09/14/immigrant-detention-in-other-countries.php

“Immigration Incarceration-The Expansion and Failed Reform of Immigration Detention in Essex County, NJ,” ImmigrationIncarceration2012.pdf
Copyright:  NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic and New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees

Report’s primary authors: Semuteh Freeman and Lauren Major, candidates for the JD  at New York University School of Law.  They conducted the work as student advocates in the Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic.

New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees

The New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees is an alliance of civic and religious organizations (individual participation also welcome) whose goals include bringing attention to the plight of immigrant detainees in New Jersey jails, working to improve the conditions in those institutions, and advocating for the reduction and elimination of the use of detention of immigrants. Coalition 

Members include American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Immigrant Rights Program; Casa de Esperanza; the Episcopal Immigration Network; Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in NJ; NJ Association on Correction; NJ Forum for Human Rights; Pax Christi NJ; Middlesex County Coalition for Immigrant Rights; Monmouth County Coalition for Immigrant Rights; People’s Organization for Progress- Bergen County Branch; the Reformed Church of Highland Park; Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill ESL; Unitarian  Universalist Congregation at Montclair; IRATE & First Friends.

NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic

The Immigrant Rights Clinic is a institution in both local and national struggles for immigrant rights. Students engage in direct legal representation of immigrants and community organizations as well as in immigrant rights campaigns at the local, state, and national level.  Students have direct responsibility for all aspects of their cases and projects and the opportunity to build their understanding of legal practice in the field of immigrant rights law and organizing.

March 21, 2012, http://afsc.org/document/immigration-incarceration-expansion-and-failed-reform-immigration-detention-essex-county-nj

Free Speech Radio News

“Abusive conditions persist at detention facilities as lawmakers weigh reforms” FSRN News Segments, Thursday March 29, /2012 — “Republicans on a congressional committee are coming under criticism after titling a hearing on reforms to the country’s detention facilities ‘Holiday on ICE’.

“At Wednesday’s hearing at the House Judiciary Committee, Congressional member Lamar Smith compared federal agents to a ‘concierge’ and refused requests from Democrat committee members to change the title of the hearing, which refers to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement acronym. More than 33,000 are held at detention facilities daily, according to ICE. Some of those facilities have been under investigation for inadequate medical care, cases of sexual assault and other abuses.

“Even as the U.S. Congress debates how to treat thousands of immigrant detainees in various facilities across the country, a recent report about detention facilities in New Jersey reveals that the detainees are kept under harsh conditions, without proper food or water, and without access to lawyers. [News report by FSRN’s Salim Rizvi] http://fsrn.org/audio/detention-facilities-abusive-conditions-persist-lawmakers-weigh-reforms/10063

Wikipedia image
Customs and Border Patrol ( CBP)  agent with  female Mexican undocumented immigrant in a holding facility.

“Complainant …”  PBS image: “GAO to Investigate Sexual Abuse at Immigration Detention Centers” (PBS Frontline), February 3, 2012,


Bennett's books are available in New York State independent bookstores: Lift Bridge Bookshop: www.liftbridgebooks.com [Brockport, NY]; Sundance Books: http://www.sundancebooks.com/main.html [Geneseo, NY]; Mood Makers Books: www.moodmakersbooks.com [City of Rochester, NY]; Dog Ears Bookstore and Literary Arts Center: www.enlightenthedog.org/ [Buffalo, NY]; Burlingham Books – ‘Your Local Chapter’: http://burlinghambooks.com/ [Perry, NY 14530]; The Bookworm: http://www.eabookworm.com/ [East Aurora, NY] • See also: World Pulse: Global Issues through the eyes of Women: http://www.worldpulse.com/ http://www.worldpulse.com/pulsewire http://www.facebook.com/#!/bennetts2ndstudy

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