Immigration Detention: The Golden Goose for Private Prisons

An immigrant stands in a holding cell at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Florence, Arizona. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

For many months now, states all over the U.S. and the federal government have taken steps to “get tough” on undocumented immigrants of color without taking into account the fact that workers are crossing the border because U.S. employers are desperate for their labor and no visas exist to permit their entry.

Instead of spending their time tackling this reality, which if actually addressed might create a basis for the nondiscriminatory enforcement of immigration laws, legislators are instead continuing to introduce bills, such as Rep. Lamar Smith’s H.R. 1932.

These bills throw more money at detention centers and enforcement operations and ups the ante by making their imprisonment mandatory and indefinite, regardless of Supreme Court precedent finding that it’s unconstitutional.


A Small Victory for Arizonans, A Bigger Victory For Human Rights

Opponents of Arizona's immigration enforcement law SB 1070 embrace after a judge blocked some controversial provisions of the law on July 28, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. (c) John Moore/Getty Images

In a welcome, 11th hour order that prevents Arizona from putting into place much of its immigrant profiling law [SB1070], Judge Susan Bolton ruled that the offensive sections of the state law — authorizing police to check the papers of a person whom they reasonably suspect of being an illegal immigrant, requiring immigrants to carry their papers at all times, making it a crime for an undocumented immigrant to apply for work, and permitting the warrantless arrest of a person suspected of a crime that would make him deportable from the U.S. — will not go into effect July 29th as scheduled.

Amnesty International applauds Judge Bolton’s decision as a major victory for all those who support civil and human rights and oppose SB 1070.

The preliminary injunction issued by Judge Bolton means that the court views these sections of  SB1070 as likely to be found unconstitutional and permanently barred from taking effect.  The Court condemned mandatory immigration verification upon arrest, acknowledging that the portion of the law requiring that immigration status must be determined “before the person is released” would “inevitabl[y] increase the length of detention”  elevating it to unconstitutional proportions.

The Court also found the law impermissibly restricts the liberty of those in the U.S.  lawfully due to “the intrusion of police presence into the lives of legally-present aliens (and even United States citizens), who will necessarily be swept up” by enforcement of the law.

As Amnesty International USA consistently has pointed out in opposing SB1070, the law is based on unconstitutional racial profiling that targets any immigrant or citizen who may “look like an immigrant,” and violates the human right to be free from racial discrimination, live with one’s family, and enjoy freedom of movement in Arizona.  What is more, the flagrant imposition of detention on broad sections of the population without any standards or safeguards to prevent the unjustified deprivation of personal liberty cannot be tolerated.

The overreaching aspects of SB 1070,  struck down at least preliminarily in  the Court’s opinion, illustrate not only the need for reform of federal immigration law and policy,  but the need for state officials to observe and protect the constitutional and human rights of all persons within their jurisdiction. Today’s ruling should send a cautionary note to the several other state jurisdictions thinking of following the blatantly unconstitutional path taken by Arizona.

SB1070: What Starts in Arizona, Stops in Arizona

On April 23, 2010 Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070 – Arizona’s discriminatory and unfair bill that essentially makes racial profiling legal – into law.

At its core, SB1070 requires any person about whom the police have a “reasonable suspicion” to produce documents proving that s/he is legally in the US.  SB1070, however, does not offer a safeguard against racial profiling if  “reasonable suspicion” cannot be formed without resorting to racial profiling. The law fundamentally increases the likelihood of arbitrary arrest and requires detention once an arrest is made.

In just 2 days, on July 29, this harmful law will officially go into effect and the streets of Arizona will never be the same. Families will be torn apart and innocent people will surely be detained.

But the insanity doesn’t stop there – 9 more states want to follow suit and pass discriminatory immigration policies of their own. Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia are all considering their own versions of Arizona-style legislation against immigrants. And other instances of anti-immigrant measures continue to pop up all across the U.S.

These proposed laws don’t just threaten human rights. They also flagrantly violate the Constitution by threatening every status of U.S. immigrant – including those who have immigrated here legally, those who are in the process of obtaining their legal status, and those who are eligible for legal status. What’s more frightening – anyone who even “looks like an immigrant”, including a U.S. citizen, can be treated as a threat.

This kind of vigilante policy making is dangerous because it completely disregards human rights, including those to freedom of movement, privacy, family unity, and equality under the law. Human rights are protected under international law regardless of a person’s citizenship status. International human rights law is rooted in the principle of non-discrimination, which this law violates; it is all too easy to deny a person’s human rights if you consider them to be as less than human.

Human rights exist regardless of nationality, ethnicity or immigration status. In passing SB1070, Arizona public officials have ignored this truth to the detriment of every individual who passes through the state.

In the next 2 days, let decision-makers know that you oppose these flawed notions about immigration control! Call on your Governor to take a stand against discriminatory immigration policies.

Utah's Immigrant Hit List

Last week, at least two Utah state employees were involved in distributing a list of 1,300 names of supposedly illegal immigrants. This 29-page list was sent out to Utah government offices and media and included such personalized details as social security numbers, addresses, and even pregnancy due dates. The Governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, told CNN’s John King on Friday night that those listed have Hispanic names and not all of them are in the state illegally.

While Herbert condemned the actions saying the “release of such private, sensitive information is deplorable”, it isn’t just the violation of privacy rights and the rogue behavior of public servants that makes this incident so troubling.  It is also the irrepressible undercurrent of racially-based targeting of those with Hispanic surnames as outsiders, creating a climate of intimidation and fear in communities of color and among people of foreign national origin.

As emphasized in the Amnesty Report Jailed Without Justice, all people, whatever their immigrant or citizenship status, have fundamental human rights which include the right to privacy and the right to be free from police harassment. Utah Attorney General Shurtleff  acknowledged:

“Clearly, it’s not even meant as a blacklist. It’s more like a hit list. It is, I think to put people at fear, to terrorize, to get people mobilized to do things.”

I agree. State policymakers and officials must understand that discriminatory stunts such as “listgate” don’t occur in a vacuum.  This incident has to be viewed in the larger political context of states like Utah’s neighbor Arizona rushing to adopt harsh and restrictive immigration initiatives without regard to the human rights violations involved. In fact,  no one has been able to demonstrate persuasively how it will be possible to enforce Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB1070, without resorting to racial profiling, a blatant human rights violation.

Nevertheless, without a court-issued injunction to stop it,  SB1070 will take effect next week, not only requiring police to arrest and detain anyone they reasonably suspect of being present in Arizona without a legal immigration status, but giving Arizona citizens the power to sue the police if they do not do so.  You can speak out against SB1070 by sending a message to your senators.

When governors and other public officials pass laws allowing themselves to abrogate the human rights they are otherwise obligated to uphold, it’s no wonder that state workers are emboldened to engage in lawless and discriminatory conduct that terrorizes communities. There’s simply no justification for violating human rights. What’s next? Tolerance of hate crimes?

Posted in USA

New Bill Could Help Families Torn Apart by Immigrant Detention

Some good news on the immigrant rights front: Recently Senator Al Franken (D-MN) along with Senators Kohl, Menendez, Klobuchar, Feingold, Durbin and Feinstein introduced S.3522 the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections for Separated Children Act, or the “HELP Separated Children Act.” This bill would implement critically needed reforms to protect children impacted by immigration enforcement.

In the past several years Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has detained hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have U.S. citizen children. Parents who are detained are separated from their children, sometimes permanently, breaking up the family structure. This legislation would help to minimize the traumatic effect that immigration enforcement situations have on children by giving parents the opportunity to make appropriate childcare arrangements, reducing the likelihood that children will unnecessarily be placed into the foster care system.

Amnesty International has long called for safe, thoughtful and humane immigration reform.  Part of this reform should include a move away from mandatory detention to community based alternatives to detention (if detention is required at all) for those who do not pose a flight risk (i.e. those with strong ties to the community, those with local families).  If release is contraindicated,  secure alternatives to detention should be considered in all cases involving pregnant women, sick seniors and nursing mothers.

Amnesty International has joined a broad coalition of human rights organizations in support of this legislation to reduce the devastating human rights impact of our nation’s immigration system on children. We have heard in recent weeks many brave voices speak up publicly about their own experiences of family separation. In Washington this has included a Senate briefing Amnesty co-hosted with the American Friends Service Committee where immigrant families and separated children filled the room to stand together in support and tell their stories of broken families struggling to survive without a mother or father. On the House side 10 year old Katherine Figueroa testified before a teary crowd about the fear she lives in after watching both parents being taken away and detained for three months (see video below).

In the wake of Arizona law SB1070, it is even more important that meaningful immigration reforms that respect the rights of all people are enacted.

Now it is time to hear YOUR voice. Take action to help support this critical legislation by calling your Senators U.S. (Capitol Switchboard 202-224-3121) and asking them to keep families together by cosponsoring the HELP Separated Children Act.