Immigrant Rape Survivors: The Target of Contempt

© Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images

As unemployment continues to worry Americans, and immigrants remain an easy scapegoat of frustration, we have heard some pretty outrageous and contemptible comments against immigrants lately.

However, about a week ago state GOP Representative Ryan Fattman of Massachusetts surpassed our expectations in his shocking announcement that he is willing to let rapists roam the streets with impunity—that is, as long as the victim is an undocumented woman.


Government Workers Get Wrist Slap for Illegally Exposing Information of 1300 People

Many people remember last summer when a list including the names of over 1300 supposedly undocumented immigrants was anonymously sent to addresses around Utah, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  The list included not only names, but social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, up to 200 children’s names, and even pregnancy due dates.

Virtually all of the people identified on the list had Hispanic last names, and although the makers of the list alleged that all the individuals on it were undocumented and should be immediately deported, Utah Governor Gary Herbert subsequently reported that was not the case.

The release of this list raised fears among the 385,000 Latinos in Utah and millions of immigrants and their families across the country as a vivid reminder that discrimination and menace, whether directed at a U.S. citizen, lawful resident, or undocumented person, is alive and well.


Migrants’ Rights: A Visual and Verbal Journey

By Amalia Greenberg Delgado, Immigrants’ Rights Coordinator

“You don’t imagine that your dreams can end in a moment on this journey… he [the soldier] pulled me by the hand and told me to walk further into the bushes. He took me far away from the train tracks until we were completely alone. He told me to take my clothes off so that he could see if I was carrying drugs. He said that if I did what he said he would let me go.”
Margarita (not her real name), a 27-year-old Salvadoran migrant, describing how she was sexually abused by a soldier, Amnesty International interview, June 2009.

Every year, tens of thousands of women, men and children travel without legal permission through Mexico to reach the United States. They flee poverty, war, environmental disasters and are enticed by a promise of freedom and a chance to join their families in the North. Some disappear on the journey without trace, kidnapped and killed, robbed and assaulted or sometimes falling or thrown off speeding trains. Some suffer arbitrary detention and extortion by public officials along the way. The litany of abuses and repeated attempts to reach the United States are testaments to the determination migrants have to build a better life.

At the Annual General Meeting (AGM) this past Saturday, March 19, 2011, Amnesty International USA heard from leaders in the movement about increased human rights abuses of migrants on both sides of the United States’ southern border. Father Solalinde, a human rights defender and director of a migrants’ shelter in Oaxaca, spoke of the “globalization of love” and the absolute right to dignity that must be afforded to all human beings. His soft spoken words did not lessen the blows of his words as he reminded us of the struggles that migrants face.


A State of Siege in Texas?

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced this week that the 1,200 National Guard troops that President Barack Obama ordered to the southwest border were deployed on Aug. 1, and hundreds of additional Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are being sent to the border to target dangerous criminals and help shore up security.

I asked Erica Schommer and Celestino Gallegos, Amnesty International members in Texas, what it’s been like living near the border. They were glad to set me straight!  They wrote:

If you are like most Americans, you probably believe that our southern border is under siege.  Recently, media coverage has had many people from D.C., New York, and other places far from the border talking about the crime and violence in the borderlands as if there was a crisis in the U.S.  For those of us who live on that border, the report released by the FBI was welcome news, confirming what many of us know:  statistics show that the border is safer than many places in the U.S.

We live ten miles from the Mexican border.  The increase in violence in Mexico has indeed impacted our lives: we do not go to Mexico nearly as much as we used to, and when we do, we are much more cautious. But no, the violence that has plagued Mexico since the inception of President Calderon’s war on the drug cartels has not “spilled-over” into the U.S. as many outside commentators have claimed.  Here in the U.S., life feels no different.

Nevertheless, pundits and opportunistic politicians have seized on the dramatic violence in Mexico to justify border militarization and undertake draconian immigration enforcement measures in the U.S.  While these measures may cater to the fears of the American public, they neither offer a long term humanitarian solution to our broken immigration system, nor provide any security to border residents.  Moreover, if adopted, these measures will result in significant human and civil rights violations of border residents.

We don’t want to live in a militarized zone. Would you? As it is, Border Patrol vehicles are a daily reminder of enforcement in our neighborhoods.  We don’t want to hear helicopters over head and see tanks stationed by the bridges, like there are on the Mexican side of the border.  We don’t want surveillance cameras in unmanned drones tracking our mundane daily activities.  It is not necessary and it is not welcome.


Don't Quota Me

On February 22, James Chaparro’s sixth day on the job as the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) behemoth detention and removal operation, he issued a memo directing all ICE field office directors to collectively identify, detain and deport 400,000 individuals in 2010. Stressing the need to increase this year’s numbers, the memo communicated the quota and provided ideas for how individuals could be identified for deportation, including increased use of detention and deportations without an immigration court hearing (i.e., expedited and stipulated removal). Entirely missing from the memo was any consideration of the drastic impact massive detention and removal would have on individual families, communities and employers.

Last Saturday, The Washington Post carried a story containing the first public information about the memo and the deportation quota. The Assistant Secretary of ICE John Morton issued a press statement distancing the agency from the memo’s contents. Chaparro apologized for the memo, stating that within a week of starting his job he had written and issued the memo without the approval of Morton or other senior staff. Daring and ambitious, if it’s really possible that a memo of this magnitude could be crafted and published at ICE headquarters without any consultation within the first few days of work, but frightening if Morton’s oversight is really this lax on national policy decisions to shatter families.

After Chaparro’s mea culpa, Morton stated emphatically that ICE does not use deportation quotas. Instead it has “performance goals” for individual ICE officers that should collectively add up to 400,000 deportations in 2010. Regardless of intent, in practice these performance goals result in a deportation quota. For example, in November 2009, in an e-mail titled “Productivity,” a unit of ICE officers was ordered to open up three new deportation cases every day. Failure to do so would require an explanation to the shift supervisor. On January 4, 2010, a full month before Chaparro arrived on the scene, ICE officers in Texas received a document explaining how their performance would be evaluated – deporting 46 or more people per month would garner an “excellent” mark. Completing 30 individual cases or less was “unacceptable.”

In 2010 one of those successfully completed “cases” involved a refugee whom I will call David. David had been resettled in the United States after suffering extreme torture in a prison camp. He entered this country with PTSD and self-medicated, which resulted in a drug possession conviction. ICE held him in county jails and moved to deport him but couldn’t because, given his severe trauma, an immigration judge waived the deportation. Over more than two years ICE appealed the decision, lost and appealed again. Even though David kept winning his case and being locked up was causing recurrent nightmares and flashbacks, ICE would not release David from detention. When I met David last summer he explained that his indefinite detention was wreaking havoc on his mental and physical health, and he did not have access to medical care that would help alleviate the trauma. He told me that every day he volunteered to help out jail staff in any way possible, hoping that it would exhaust him so that he could sleep. At the end of 2009, with an ICE appeal still pending, David gave up, leaving a U.S. citizen child behind. In January, his deportation helped one ICE officer meet his monthly quota.

Measuring success by the numbers may make sense in finance, but when the numbers constitute real people – mothers and fathers, breadwinners and caretakers, community leaders, human rights defenders, refugees and scholars – it is an entirely inappropriate and dehumanizing measure of success. Without a doubt, ICE leadership is under pressure to be tough on immigrants, but this pressure cannot trump the rights of families to unity and individuals to due process and dignity.

For months Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Morton have publicly committed to transparency in government and dignity in detention and removal. Yet, it was only because of a newspaper’s exposure that Morton spoke out against Chaparro’s memo, and even then, he did not disavow the contents and instead essentially stated that it could have been better written.

Deportation quotas are dehumanizing, degrading and undermine due process. They force ICE officers to view individuals and families as milestones on their own road to success instead of people with their own hopes and dreams. Consistent with his public statements, Morton should retract the February 22nd memo, recalibrate and publicly release performance goals that focus on the deportation of individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes, and publicly restate his commitment to a system of detention and deportation that upholds the U.S. government’s ability to deport the dangerous while respecting and protecting the human rights of all.

Cover Up of Detention Center Deaths Exposed

This past weekend, the New York Times reported on the widespread and coordinated cover up of deaths in immigration detention. One such case, highlighted in our 2009 report on immigration detention, Jailed Without Justice, involved Boubacar Bah, a 52-year-old tailor from Guinea who had lived in the US for ten years when he was detained. Newly available video shows him begging for help while handcuffed on the floor in solitary confinement. After four months in a coma, he died in detention.

The deliberate and coordinated dehumanization of the 107 people known to have died in immigration detention is shocking and shameful. For the last seven years Amnesty has monitored, investigated and advocated on the mistreatment of immigrants in detention, some of the core problems seemed to stem from incompetence and mismanagement. But it seems clear now that officials involved in immigration detention were regrettably quite competent at re-framing deaths due to neglect, and that detention facilities were in fact well coordinated in the cover up of ill-treatment and disregard.

Independent oversight and accountability is crucial to reforming a cruel detention system that is overused, under-scrutinized and where impunity is the rule and transparency the rare exception. While the US government has publicly stated its intent to reform the detention system, it has specifically rejected calls for enforceable rules as to the treatment of people in detention. According to the government, they are not necessary. The government is wrong. In Jailed Without Justice, Amnesty called for the adoption of enforceable human rights standards in all detention facilities coupled with independent oversight and accountability for transgressions. Until this occurs, ICE will have the ability to arbitrarily deprive people of their liberty, abuse them without repercussion, and label them as criminals as some sort of justification for the mistreatment they are forced to endure in silence.

On International Migrants Day Act to Restore Due Process in Detention and Deportation!

The White House has publicly committed to reforming the current immigration system, which permits arbitrary detention and deportation in violation of human rights. On December 15, 2009, Representative Luis Gutierrez (IL-D) introduced the first broad legislation of this session to address a broken immigration system that results in egregious and pervasive human rights violations against immigrants and asylum seekers.

In the Senate, Senators Schumer and Graham are expected to introduce a comprehensive bill addressing immigration reform in early 2010.  No doubt, ensuring that the human rights of immigrants in detention and deportation are respected and protected will be a battle, and Rep. Gutierrez has provided a blueprint for the protection of rights in detention and deportation.

We need you to tell Senators Schumer and Graham that restoring the due process rights of immigrants in detention and deportation is a key component to successful immigration reform, and must be part of any Senate bill.

Stuck Between a Rock and U.S. Immigration Policy

Sarnata Reynolds, AIUSA’s policy and campaign director for refugee and migrant rights, spoke at a press teleconference on Thursday July 30th, 2009, set to discuss the bills presented by Senators Menendez and Gillibrand: “Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Detention Act” and “Strong STANDARDS Act.” These new bills stand to drastically improve plight of detained US citizens and immigrants. The bills also require immigration authorities to ensure that U.S. citizens and other vulnerable populations such as children are informed of their rights when arrested, are considered for release and are treated humanely while detained.

Over the last twelve months, I have met with dozens of people detained in local jails, privately contracted centers, and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facilities across the United States. Their arbitrary, prolonged and in some cases, indefinite, detention is shameful. Just a few weeks ago in Minnesota, I met two immigrants who had gone an entire year without ever being outside. Twelve months. The county jails they are held in are not designed for long-term detainees, and they have no outdoor facilities. One of the men stated, “deportation is supposed to be a civil procedure, but there’s nothing civil about it.”

In June, I went to Texas and met a man from Maryland who had been granted a $5000 bond by an immigration judge. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorney appealed the decision and invoked what is called the “automatic stay” – a procedure that gives ICE the authority to ignore an immigration judge’s decision while it pursues an appeal. For eight months the man languished in jail. Finally, in early July the administrative appellate body agreed with the immigration judge and ordered his release on a $5000 bond. During the eight months this breadwinner was detained, his family became destitute and now they don’t have the necessary $5000 to bond him out.

These stories are not anomalies. They represent the experiences of thousands of immigrants who are locked up right now across the U.S. They are mothers and fathers, breadwinners and caretakers, community leaders, human rights defenders and scholars. They build houses and raise other people’s children, only to be ripped away from their own.

Immigration detention is a crutch that props up a broken, clumsy and inhumane enforcement policy. It is a poor substitution for smart immigration law, and reform of the entire system is desperately needed.

ICE will say that the average detention stay is 37 days, but this statistic is skewed. It includes the people who agree to be deported almost immediately after being arrested, and this accounts for tens of thousands of people every year. The reality is that if an individual chooses to fight deportation: because he/she is a US citizen, fears persecution, or is not in fact deportable, the person faces months and years of detention.

In our report, Jailed Without Justice, Amnesty International documented over 100 cases in which individuals were detained for years, until they were ultimately found not deportable. These individuals don’t get those years back, and the US taxpayer will not recoup the massive cost of these needless detentions.

While Congress has funded alternatives to detention because they have been shown to be effective and significantly less expensive than detaining people, there is concern that ICE is using these funds for programs such as electronic monitoring to supervise individuals who are eligible for release rather than for individuals who would otherwise be detained.

Secure alternatives to detention should be considered in all cases, and if some form of custody is deemed necessary, they should be the norm for pregnant women, sick seniors, and nursing mothers. This is not the currently the case. In fact, in the summer of 2008, a nine months pregnant woman was detained and forced to undergo labor while shackled to a hospital bed. An officer remained in the room during the entire labor. There was no reason to believe that this heavily pregnant woman posed a flight risk or a danger. At most, she should have been placed in a secure alternative program. She was locked up.

Although the Department of Homeland Security has enacted standards for the treatment of people subject to immigration detention, these standards are not legally enforceable – and as was reported by Amnesty International, and reinforced this week in two more reports, transgressions of the standards occur frequently and with impunity. Despite this reality, just a few days ago the Obama administration declined to independently enact enforceable standards, stating that the current system is functioning well. As anyone who has been detained will tell you, the standards are not working.

Legislation that provides a framework for safe, humane and thoughtful detention policy is desperately needed, and the two bills introduced by Senator Menendez and his colleagues today meet these requirements. Amnesty International USA applauds Senators Menendez, Kennedy and Gillibrand for sponsoring these vital pieces of legislation, and Rep. Roybal Allard for her bill, introduced earlier this year. As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in an immigration detention case it decided in 2001, “Freedom from imprisonment— from government custody, detention, or other forms of physical restraint – lies at the heart of the liberty [the due process] clause protects.” This truth is not reflected in current U.S. law and policy. It is time to reform them.

Posted in USA