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As the House Immigration Subcommittee hearing, “Holiday on ICE,” gets underway, a press call today highlighted flagrant and repeated violations inside our nation’s immigrant detention centers and questioned why House Republicans are making light of an issue so seriously in need of reform. During the call, immigration detention experts, women’s rights leaders, and victims of sexual abuse discussed the hundreds of preventable deaths and sexual assaults that occur in detention centers across the nation and expressed outrage over the fact that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is playing politics with people’s lives.
We’ll be livetweeting from the hearing here.
Today’s hearing will purportedly “examine” the Obama administration’s new detention standards. However, the very title of the hearing makes it clear that Smith and his allies have already made up their mind about whether there should be any standards at all. It’s not enough to want to deport record numbers of immigrants—they want to make their detention and deportation as inhumane and painful as possible.
As Cheryl Little, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Americans for Immigrant Justice, said during the call:
Labeling this hearing ‘Holiday on ICE’ is particularly offensive and demonstrates serious disregard for the abuses that so many detainees have had to endure. Detention clearly is no joke. Just ask Miguel Bonilla who nearly died of a ruptured appendix while detained in a Florida county jail. Or M.C., a client of ours who was raped by a detention officer in South Florida. The standards are basic protections—far from a luxury as has been suggested.
It was back in 2008 that the government created Performance-Based National Detention Standards to address the crisis in our nation’s detention facilities. When the Obama administration recently released an updated set of standards, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith—predictably—threw a fit and called the list of basic rights a “hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants.” He even dispatched culture war veteran Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council to speak against the standards, in the process linking the war on immigrants to the war on women.
It’s completely pointless politics, considering how badly these detention center standards are needed. As Louise Melling, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of the ACLU Center for Liberty, put it:
The harrowing stories of harm women who have suffered in detention should make it clear that there is a dire need for standards of care in ICE facilities. But instead of recognizing that the new standards merely serve to correct a past injustice, those on the Right are turning women’s health care in the immigration context into the latest culture war. We can’t indulge that. These medical care standards are about treating everyone under the United States’ care with respect, dignity and humanity. This is not about your stance on abortion — this is about doing what is right.
Claudia Leiva Deras from Iowa and M.C. from Florida, both survivors of sexual abuse while in detention, shared very personal stories on today’s call, stories they said they only managed to share because they were determined to try and prevent future abuses. Here’s Claudia’s story:
Being put in detention was the worst time of my life, and it got even worse when I was abused by another inmate. I begged to see a doctor so I could privately tell someone what was happening, or get a physical examination for the pain in my stomach and womb, but they told me ‘immigration doesn’t pay for that. You’re not on the outside.’ Even though it’s been two years since I was in immigration detention, I still struggle, and speaking to you today is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but I’m speaking out because I know there are many other women who are abused and harmed while in ICE custody. I want to make sure this never happens to another woman.
And part of M.C.’s:
I used to be a really outgoing, friendly, confident, strong woman, but after I was sexually attacked and raped I could hardly look people in the eye. When my attacker, Officer Vazquez, was convicted, the judge noted the message the crime sent to other immigration detainees about the system of justice the officer had sworn to uphold. I no longer want to feel like a victim, and I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else.
Noted author Edwidge Danticat published an op-ed today in the New York Times recounting her family’s horrific experience with immigration detention and expressing deep concerns about the politicization of basic standards addressing the health, safety, and humanity of immigrants:
The ‘Holiday on ICE’ hearing may just be a political stunt, but the message behind it is dangerous; it suggests that the 30,000 vulnerable people in our jails and detention centers should have little right to proper medical care, that their very lives are luxuries, and that it is not our responsibility to protect them.
According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice Education Fund:
When an immigrant with cancer is denied access to life-saving treatment, or a survivor of sexual assault feels unsafe reporting the abuse or is denied help and treatment, something is seriously wrong. Rep. Lamar Smith is playing politics with people’s lives.
For additional resources and more on abuses in immigration detention, see:
Link to recording of today’s call here
National Immigration Forum’s Summaries of Recent Reports on Immigration Detention
New York Times series on deaths in immigration custody (May 2008-January 2010)
Washington Post “Careless Detention” series (May 2008)
Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center report, “Dying for Decent Care: Bad Medicine in Immigration Custody” (February 2009)
ACLU, “Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention” (October 2011)