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Week of Embarrassing News Coverage Ends in Release of Haitian Detainees
Washington, DC – Immigrant advocates in Washington and Miami today strongly urged the Obama Administration to improve practices and performance by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency charged with apprehending, detaining, and deporting unauthorized immigrants. According to reports today and Tuesday in the New York Times and this week in the Washington Post, the federal government has continued misguided immigration enforcement policies first implemented during the Bush years, and allowed ICE to continue to operate with little oversight and accountability. Today’s revelation that dozens of Haitians rescued after the earthquake by U.S. forces and brought to Florida were greeted with handcuffs and put in detention, was just the latest in a litany of abuses and scandals.
Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice; Cheryl Little, Executive Director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center; and Dr. Derrick Harkins, Senior Pastor of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, DC, participated in a teleconference this afternoon to denounce the detention of the rescued Haitians and demand stronger oversight over ICE. This followed a week of embarrassing news reports that revealed cruel and callous treatment of mentally ill detainees and an unauthorized deportation “quota” policy that instructed ICE agents to beef up their numbers by going after “easy targets”—undocumented workers—instead of focusing on serious criminal offenders and security threats.
According to Frank Sharry, these revelations “strongly suggest that ICE is a rogue agency that acts in direct contradiction to the stated priorities of President Obama. Candidate Obama clearly understood this when he said: ‘When communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raids, when nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing, when people are detained without access to legal counsel, when all that is happening, the system just isn’t working, and we need to change it.’ More recently, the head of ICE, John Morton, stated that his agency’s priority was go after the ‘worst of the worst.’ But given today’s New York Times story and the developments earlier this week, it is clear ICE agents haven’t gotten the memo.”
The media coverage has prompted action from the Administration, which began releasing dozens of Haitians who were being held in a detention center in Broward County, Florida while Cheryl Little was there and taking part in the advocates’ press conference.
“Rather than being welcomed in the U. S. of A and getting the refuge that they expected, they were detained for two months here at the Broward facility,” Little said, adding that most of the Haitian detainees have family in the U.S. who are able to support them. “We were just scratching our heads, honestly. We knew they couldn’t be deported under the new government policy, they didn’t have criminal backgrounds, and yet they were being detained with our tax dollars, American tax dollars.”
Reverend Hawkins said the developments point to a need for reform of the immigration laws and a policy that treats immigrants humanely. “We call on our leaders to address the immigration issue with equity, fairness, and compassion,” he said.
U.S. Rep Yvette Clarke (D-NY), who was not at the press conference but supports the call for change, issued the following statement: “I am very concerned with reports that Haitian survivors from the January 12th earthquake are being detained by ICE. I commend Reform Immigration for America, America’s Voice and other immigration advocates for highlighting the importance of this issue. I applaud the Obama Administration for reviewing its detention policies, but it is important that we maintain a high standard of humanity when we deal with detainees. Unfortunately this situation only highlights one of the many issues that need to be addressed in our detention/deportation system. ”
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