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Lamar Smith’s “Holiday on ICE” Hearing Last Week a War on Women, Immigrants, and Decency

by Van Le on 04/02/2012 at 12:03pm

detention centerAs we’ve been writing about all last week, House Immigration Subcommittee Republicans like Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) hit a new low on Wednesday with their “Holiday on ICE” detention hearing, in which they spent some 90 minutes insisting that being deprived of your liberty inside one of the nation’s immigration detention facilities is as fun and relaxing as a vacation.   

To recap: the Obama administration recently updated guidelines for the treatment of immigrants held in civil detention centers while the government tries to deport them.  The goal of these standards is pretty basic: to do a better job preventing abuse, injury, and even death of people while they are in the custody and care of the U.S. government.  Keep in mind that updated standards were very necessary, as immigrants in the past have been sexually abused, ignored as they endured excruciating pain, and left to needlessly die while they were being detained.

In a New York Times op-ed, noted author Edwidge Danticat told the story of her uncle, who died in detention:

He arrived in Miami in October 2004 after fleeing an uprising in Haiti. He had a valid passport and visa, but when he requested political asylum, he was arrested and taken to the Krome detention center in Miami. His medications for high blood pressure and an inflamed prostate were taken away, and when he fell ill during a hearing, a Krome nurse accused him of faking his illness. When he was finally transported, in leg chains, to the prison ward of a nearby hospital, it was already too late. He died the next day.

On a press call shortly before the Wednesday hearing, Claudia and MC, two former detainees who have suffered terrible abuse at the hands of the system, went public with their stories.  Here’s Claudia’s:

Just a couple of days after I got to the jail, another detainee started abusing me.  She said if I didn’t do what she said, she could have my family murdered.  She started stealing my money and phone cards.  She pushed me, shoved me, hit me, and choked me.  And she abused me sexually. She hurt me a lot and left me bleeding…

I begged them for a doctor, and they told me, “Immigration doesn’t pay for that. You’re not outside.” I got one thing from them: once, they offered me a Tylenol. 

And MC’s:

Officer Vasquez kneeled in front of me and pushed me back on the sofa.  He held my legs up and had oral sex with me.  I remember looking at the top of his head and thinking how much I  just wanted to hit him or push him away.  But I couldn’t.  He had a gun and I truly believe that if I fought or tried to run away, he would kill me.  If it was any other man, I would have fought him off.  I would have screamed, hit, kicked, punched.  I felt completely out of control and I couldn’t do anything about what was happening to me.  It was horrible…

Then Officer Vasquez ordered me to kneel on the sofa and turn away from him.  He put on the condom and had sex with me.  Words can’t describe what was going through my head this whole time.  I was just dazed.  I kept saying to myself, “How can I stop him?”  But I was just too scared.  There was nothing I could do, but pray and wait for it to be over.

We won’t even try to understand what goes on in the heads of people like Rep. Lamar Smith, because despite knowing full well what goes on in these detention centers, Smith continues to make a joke out of the need for reform.  He’s said that under the new standards, “detention looks more like recess,” criticized the “hospitality guideline” for going “beyond common sense to accommodate” undocumented immigrants, and of course flippantly defended naming the hearing “Holiday on ICE.”  Apparently he can listen to stories like Claudia’s and MC’s and still think that the old system worked. 

That’s all before the hearing even begun.  Our colleague, Dara Lind, attended the “Holiday on ICE” hearing (you can read her outraged livetweets here) and brought back this summary of just how callous Lamar Smith, et al, can be:

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith stood by the [hearing] title: From Smith’s statement on the Committee’s website, which he also read at the hearing: “This hearing is entitled ‘Holiday on ICE’ because ICE has decided to upgrade accommodations for detained illegal and criminal immigrants.  While we would all like to be upgraded, we don’t have the luxury of billing American taxpayers or making federal law enforcement agents our concierge.”

Apparently Smith’s co-extremist, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) claimed that there is no need for reform because only 110 people have died in detention since 2003:

King said “110 deaths” in detention since 2003 “is not alarming to me.” From Mother Jones: “Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) attempted to turn the immigrant rights advocates’ figures against them, arguing that, comparatively speaking, the number of detainees who have died while awaiting deportation is actually quite small: ‘110 deaths is not alarming to me,’ he explained, suggesting that immigrants were actually safer in an ICE detention center than they were ‘in the broader society.’  But as one witness, ICE assistant director Kevin Landy, pointed out, King was comparing apples and oranges. The detention population does not mirror the broader population: Immigrants in their mid-30s generally don’t die of old age.

And finally, in true Republican doublespeak, a witness from the Center of Immigration studies actually suggested that pro-immigrant groups were to blame for detention center abuses, because they help immigrants contest their deportation, which is why they stay in detention so long, which opens the door to them being injured and abused:

From the statement of Center for Immigration Studies witness Jessica Vaughan, which she read at the hearing: “With a few exceptions, the small number who remain in ICE detention facilities for long periods are there because they continue to challenge their deportation. And they often do so because they are given false hope by open-borders advocacy groups intent on using such people as pawns in a political effort to hamper enforcement of American immigration laws. The humane thing to do would be to make clear to these illegal aliens that immigration to the United States is a false dream for them and help them return home and get on with their lives.”

In short, it was all just too much crazy to fit into a week.  Which is why it’s Jezebel that perhaps best sums up the Republican inhumanity on display this week:

This whole debacle reminds me of the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, but make sure they know that when they get here they might get raped and no one will care.” Brings a patriotic tear to my eye.

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