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Women's Rights Advocates, Immigrant Families Disgusted by Lamar Smith's Efforts to Play Politics

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Speakers Call House Immigration Subcommittee Hearing, “Holiday on ICE,” an Insulting Attack on Immigrant Victims of Abuse

As the House Immigration Subcommittee hearing, “Holiday on ICE,” gets underway, a press call today highlighted egregious and systemic problems inside our nation’s civil immigration detention facilities and questioned why House Republicans are making light of such serious issues and the need for reform.  On today’s call, Immigration detention experts, women’s rights leaders, and victims of sexual abuse discussed the hundreds of preventable deaths and sexual assaults in detention centers across the nation and expressed outrage that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) is playing politics with people’s lives.

Today’s House Immigration Subcommittee hearing will “examine” the Obama Administration’s new detention standards.  However, the very title of the hearing makes it clear that Rep. Lamar Smith and his allies have already made up their mind about whether there should be any standards at all.  It’s not enough to push to deport record numbers of immigrants—they want to treat them as less than human and make deportation as painful as possible.

According to Cheryl Little, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Americans for Immigrant Justice, “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.”

To address the crisis in our nation’s civil immigration detention facilities,  the government created Performance-Based National Detention Standards back in 2008 and just recently, the Obama Administration released an updated set of standards to further improve basic rights of people in the care and custody of the U.S. government.  However, Rep. Lamar Smith is opposed to the standards, and has called them a “hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants.”  He even dispatched culture war allies like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council to link the war on immigrants  to the war on women.  

Said Louise Melling, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of the ACLU Center for Liberty, “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 their very personal stories on today’s call with the goal of preventing future abuses.

Claudia Leiva Deras, who is represented by the ACLU of Nebraska, said, “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.’ 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.” (Read Claudia’s full statement here: http://americasvoiceonline.org/claudia)

M.C., who is represented by Americans for Immigrant Justice (formerly the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center), said, “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.” (Read M.C.’s full statement here: http://americasvoiceonline.org/mc)

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: