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GOP’s War on Women Targets Immigrants in Detention With Lamar Smith Leading the Charge

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Stop the War on Women Since the Republican takeover of the House, the Immigration Subcommittee of Rep. Lamar Smith’s Judiciary Committee has held numerous hearings portraying immigrants as “criminals” who “steal jobs from Americans” and should be removed from the country by any means possible.  Smith, who endorsed Mitt Romney, sets the GOP agenda on immigration. He’s a proponent of mass expulsion, although he calls it “self-deportation.”

On Wednesday, the House Immigration Subcommittee will renew and expand its attack on immigrants with a hearing to “examine” the Obama Administration’s updated Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS). These are national policies about the way we treat people held in civil immigration detention, and it’s pretty basic stuff.  Like, someone with cancer should not be denied access to early screenings and life-saving treatment.  Seriously, they needed to create a standard for that.  

Also, victims of sexual assault in detention facilities should feel safe reporting the abuse and should receive the mental and physical treatment they need.  And if detainees feel that their health or safety is in danger, they should be able to file an emergency grievance so that their concerns can be addressed quickly. These are all the basics of a civilized society. But that’s too much for Smith.

Basically, Smith and his anti-immigrant colleagues are opening another front in the war on women. This time, with the help of Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council, they’re targeting women in detention – including undocumented immigrants, mothers, lawful permanent residents, survivors of torture, asylum seekers, and pregnant women. 

In a preview of what we’ll see at the Wednesday hearing, Smith called the 2011 PBNDS manual a “hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants.” He’s got an ally in Perkins, who recently appeared on Fox News to make link between the war on immigrants and the war on women. Talking about the PBNDS rule on abortions, which says the government will assume the costs of terminations in situations of rape or incest or where the mother’s life is in danger, Perkins said:

You talk about the issue of rape, that’s such a small percentage of pregnancies that are out there. Plus, how do you verify that that, in fact, is the case? That it’s a case of rape? Again, this comes down to government funds being used to advance radical social policy that is masquerading as health care.

What Perkins calls “radical social policy,” most people would consider just basic humanity.  The callousness that House Republicans and their allies are showing toward immigrants detained by our government is galling, and this hearing is not an isolated incident.

There have already been ugly immigration hearings before Smith – like the one trying to pit Latinos against African-Americans. Fortunately that was a complete fail.

But, this one is going to be especially ugly.  To put it bluntly: People going through the deportation process—one of the most traumatic and difficult experiences imaginable—are denied basic legal and human rights. They’re extremely vulnerable. So, Smith intends to mock their situation in an attempt to score very cheap political points. Smith has even titled this hearing, “Holiday on ICE.”

It’s not enough to push to deport as many immigrants as possible – he wants to make the deportation process even more painful and inhumane.

The US government failed to protect women from sexual abuse in detention, and failed to punish abuse when it happened—leading to nearly 200 complaints of sexual abuse from 2007 to 2011. Via Elise Foley at Huffington Post:

The ACLU of Texas lawsuit was filed on behalf of three women, identified by aliases to prevent future harm, who say they were assaulted by detention guards and officers. The three allegations are strikingly similar, according to first-person accounts by each person posted to the ACLU website. In each case, the victims say they were abused on the way to the airport after posting bond to be released from detention facilities.

All three women say they came to the United States — without authorization — to escape sexual or physical abuse in their native countries, according to the ACLU. Each says the abuse she suffered by detention officers gave her frightening reminders of earlier abuse.

“As he was doing this I was having a flashback to what happened to me in my home country,” a woman referred to as Sarah Doe said in her first-hand account. “I thought, this man is never going to take me to the airport, he is going to take me to a certain place where he will do whatever he wants to me.”

Last October, FRONTLINE did an in-depth report on the detention issue. One segment of the report was titled, How Much Sexual Abuse Gets “Lost in Detention”?

A FRONTLINE investigation found no evidence that the vast majority of complaints had been investigated or resolved. Most of the complaints went through the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General’s (IG) Office, which is the primary office responsible for investigating outside complaints. IG records show only 15 “reports of investigation,” which resulted in six substantiated or partially substantiated cases. Two guards were convicted of sexual abuse; three others have been terminated from their positions.

The documents, together with interviews of dozens of detainees, employees, investigators and officials, present a portrait of detainees with few effective recourses if they are victims of crimes while in detention. Many say they face continuous pressure to sign deportation orders. And unlike in the criminal justice system, immigration detainees do not have a guaranteed right of legal representation, and so have difficulty with access to counsel if they have a grievance.

A former mental health coordinator at Willacy Detention Center in Raymondville, Texas, told FRONTLINE that officials attempted to cover up complaints of sexual abuse, which she described as common among female detainees. The coordinator said she later resigned because of the treatment of detainees at the facility.

You’d hope Tony Perkins would be worried about those kinds of crimes against women. But, of course, he’s not. And, again, that’s what the House GOP, led by Lamar Smith are calling “Holiday on ICE.” Some holiday.

The attack goes beyond women. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) made it clear that he sees immigrants as less than human, when discussing the case of a man who was denied a kidney transplant on account of his undocumented status:

If they’re dead, I don’t have an objection to their organs being used.  If they’re alive, they shouldn’t be here no matter what. 

By using the culture war to chip away at the new detention standards, Perkins, Rohrbacher, Smith, and others are playing ugly politics with people’s lives. They’re really going after some very vulnerable people here. Abuses perpetuated in detention centers over the last several years have been nothing short of appalling. For example: 

  • For 11 months, Francisco’s penile cancer went undiagnosed and untreated as ICE officials refused to let him get a biopsy, which they called an “elective” procedure.  By the time the cancer was diagnosed in February 2007 and the growth had been removed, the cancer had spread.  It killed Francisco a year later.

  • In addition to suffering from another undiagnosed and untreated case of cancer, Hiu Lui Ng spent the last four months of his life in excruciating pain with a broken spine.  ICE officials refused him any treatment whatsoever.  A video recorded a week before his death in 2008 shows detention officers dragging him down a hallway while he screams in pain.

  • Rev. Joseph Dantica, a Haitian refugee who came to the U.S. to seek asylum from the gangs who had ransacked his home, fell ill in detention in 2004 and was accused of “faking” as he vomited profusely. He died in a hospital prison ward, in leg restraints, after not having seen a doctor for 24 hours. His niece, writer Edwidge Danticat, recounted his painful story in the book “Brother, I’m Dying.”

  • Boubacar Bah suffered a skull fracture while in detention in 2007. He was left in an isolation cell for 13 hours without treatment before an ambulance was called. According to the New York Times, as he lay in a coma after surgery, ICE officials plotted to release him to avoid “increased scrutiny and/or media exposure”; he died before they were able to do so.

As the detention system has grown exponentially over the past few years (with the help of ALEC, as Paul Krugman noted on Monday), numerous governmental reports, human rights organization, media investigations and federal lawsuits have documented systemic problems with the way immigration detainees were treated under the care of the U.S. government.  Lack of access to medical screenings and treatment led to unnecessary suffering and preventable deaths. 

Immigrants in detention are waiting for a civil administrative hearing on whether the government has the authority to deport them. But they are held in jails or under jail-like conditions, and until recently were not even guaranteed the same standards for care as incarcerated convicts.  The Obama Administration’s detention standards are the minimum of what our government should do to protect the lives of people in its care and custody.   

Women’s organizations, medical experts, and almost anyone who has ever been inside an immigration detention facility are outraged – and they should be. Republicans are opposing basic humanitarian treatment of immigrants in civil detention.  The war on immigrants, like the war on women, is ugly and un-American. And, it has to be stopped.