Category Archives: Detention

Senator Schumer Urges DHS & ICE to Grant Working Status to Immigrants with Immigration Cases Closed Under Obama Action

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to give a one-year “deferred action” legal status to immigrants whose court removal cases have been administratively closed under new immigration initiatives. This “deferred action” legal status would give a small group of non-criminal immigrants the ability to work while the deportation of higher priority criminal cases are processed first, which is expected to take over a year.

About 40,000 non-criminal immigrants with close family ties in the United States are expected to see their cases closed in immigration court in the coming months, which will likely delay their eventual deportation for over a year. Schumer is pushing for these immigrants to be granted a temporary legal status for that time, so that these individuals can work and pay taxes. Schumer also noted that this legal status would allow DHS and ICE to use their limited resources effectively, by minimizing the chance that immigration proceedings will be repeated for immigrants whose cases have already been closed.

“Given our scarce enforcement resources, it is critical that we prioritize the deportation of criminal immigrants, and de-prioritize the deportation of non-criminals with significant family ties and long time residence in the United States,” said Schumer. “For that small percentage of individuals who meet this criteria, it is only practical to provide them with actual relief that encourages them to contribute to the country rather than remaining in the shadows in a state of legal limbo. The administration should grant these individuals status for a period of one year, so that they can legally work and support themselves and their families while still residing in the U.S., all while clearing out courtrooms for higher priority criminal immigrant cases.”

In April 2011, Schumer urged DHS and ICE to use their limited resources to prioritize criminal deportations and de-prioritize non-criminal deportations, and the administration took that course of action in June 2011. Since announcing a plan to use prosecutorial discretion in non-priority removal cases, ICE has conducted pilot programs in the Denver and Baltimore immigration courts. Of nearly 12,000 removal cases combined, 1,667 were administratively closed for non-criminal immigrants with strong family ties, pending a background check. Nationwide, approximately 40,000 immigrants could see their cases closed in this way under the administration’s plans, and would remain in the United States for at least one year as the deportation of higher priority criminal immigrants is processed first. Schumer is urging authorities to allow this small group of immigrants to be able to spend this year in the U.S. in a productive manner by working and paying taxes.

Schumer was expected to present the letter to ICE Director John Morton in person at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. Schumer stated that granting “deferred action” legal status after the administration closes a removal case would help to ensure that those same immigrants are not subjected to repeated court proceedings because their status cannot be verified. Without a legal status, even after an immigrant’s court case is closed by the administration, ICE could end up repeating investigations of this low-priority individual. Schumer stated that these duplicative investigations would be a drain on already limited federal resources, which should be directed at high-priority criminal deportation cases.

DWN Conference: Write-up and video summary


On Saturday, I was lucky enough to attend the Detention Watch Network member conference. I was guest-speaking on a panel about storytelling and social media. I arrived at the conference early and was lucky enough to observe the attendees debriefing after their lobby day spent talking to elected officials on the Hill.

Here is a rough video of the final day of the conference [full disclosure: yours truly appears ever-so-briefly…]

These activists and advocates spoke thoughtfully and powerfully about their meetings. Not only were they aware of the political realities of the situation, but they were engaged in thinking deeply about how to move their issue forward and how to connect it to the broader fight for social justice.

For those of you who don’t know what the Detention Watch Network is:

The Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to educate the public and policy makers about the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for humane reform so that all who come to our shores receive fair and humane treatment.

The conference itself was for members to meet and strategize about how to create a successful campaign for immigration detention and deportation reform. This is a topic that often gets overlooked in the broader fight for reform and immigrant rights, but the truth about the immigration detention system is shocking.

By the end of 2009, the U.S. government will hold over 440,000 people in immigration custody – more than triple the number of people in detention just ten years ago – in a hodgepodge of approximately 400 facilities at an annual cost of more than $1.7 billion.

The prison-industrial complex is alive and well in the immigrant detention “industry”, with many facilities opting for more expensive procedures rather than less costly alternatives. Don’t be fooled, it does take taxpayer money to run these facilities, but many of the corporations contracted out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are for-profit multi-billion dollar operations. The more beds they fill, the more profit they make. Not to mention the inhumane standards and lack of access to adequate medical care facing many immigrant detainees.

To find out more about this issue, visit the Detention Watch Network’s website. And to check out videos from the other two days of the DWN conference, click here and here.

Also, check out a new post from Becca Sheff at Immigration: It’s our community, titled “400,000 reasons to care about detention reform”.

Special thanks to Will Coley of Aquifer Media for the invite to speak at the conference and for his great work on these videos!

DWN Conference: Detention Reform advocates gather in DC

Today the Detention Watch Network’s national member conference is kicking off in DC. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend the full conference, but if you want to keep up with the happenings, you can follow @willcoley or @DetentionWatch and keep track via the #DWN hashtag on Twitter. Here are a few of the updates that have come in so far today.

DWN updates

Looks like the priorities of the conference are all about restoring fairness and due process to the system – something we can all get behind.

Also, if you’re going to be around, come check out our panel on Saturday morning at 9am. I will be speaking along with Will Coley from Aquifer Media and Matias Ramos from the United We Dream Coalition. Our panel will discuss the use of social media and storytelling in recent successful campaigns.

DHS Plans to Reform Immigrant Detention Policy


This morning the New York Times broke the story of the Department of Homeland’s Security new effort to reform the immigrant detention system.

The Obama administration intends to announce an ambitious plan on Thursday to overhaul the much-criticized way the nation detains immigration violators, trying to transform it from a patchwork of jail and prison cells to what its new chief called a “truly civil detention system.”

While I’m not sure what a “truly civil” way of detaining non-criminal immigration violators would look like, I do know that this is at least a step in the right direction for the administration, which has been frustratingly unwilling to tackle this issue until now.

The best news of today’s announcement is that the administration will stop sending families to the T. Don Hutto “family” detention center near Austin, Texas.

The T. Don Hutto Detention Center where families are being detained in inhumane conditions - even children, pregrant women and

Hutto was one of the more outrageous moves by the Bush administration to “get tough” on immigration – by jailing whole families, including small children, in inhumane conditions.

Before [an] A.C.L.U. lawsuit was settled in 2007, some children under 10 stayed as long as a year, mainly confined to family cells with open toilets, with only one hour of schooling a day. Children told of being threatened by guards with separation from their parents, many of them asylum-seekers from around the world. Only through judicial enforcement of the settlement…have children been granted such liberties as wearing pajamas at night and taking crayons into family cells.

This is, perhaps, the most symbolic departure from Bush-era policies in this reform effort. However, in order to truly reform this system, I think that there must be a drastic change made to the underlying network of corporations profiting off of the detention of immigrants. Take the recent quote from Daniel Cooney, chairman of the board of the Donald Wyatt Center, an immigrant detention center in Rhode Island:

“Frankly, I’m looking at it like I’m running a Motel 6. I don’t care if it’s Guantanamo Bay. We want to fill the beds.” He was eventually fired in the fallout from this remark, but his candor is revealing. Immigrant prisoners are valuable commodities to local jails.

So, I applaud the administration for (finally) tackling this urgent issue, but I am only cautiously optimistic. As the New York Times notes:

Details are sketchy, and even the first steps will take months or years to complete.

But it is a step in the right direction – a step that should be incorporated into a much broader comprehensive immigration reform plan.

Death in Detention: Details of a Life Lost


Yesterday’s New York Times covers the story of an immigrant detained in 2005 who then died three weeks later, captive of a broken system. Until February of this year, the government refused to acknowledge the existence of Tanveer Ahmad.

Tanveer Ahmad, it turns out, was a longtime New York City cabdriver who had paid thousands of dollars in taxes and immigration application fees. Whether out of love, loneliness or the quest for a green card, he had twice married American women after entering the country on a visitor’s visa in 1993. His only trouble with the law was a $200 fine for disorderly conduct in 1997: While working at a Houston gas station, he had displayed the business’s unlicensed gun to stop a robbery.

After September 11th, this small misdemeanor was enough to get Ahmad arrested, under new and stricter laws.

It would come back to haunt him. For if Mr. Ahmad’s overlooked death showed how immigrants could vanish in detention, his overlooked American life shows how 9/11 changed the stakes for those caught in the nation’s tangle of immigration laws.

In the end, his body went back in a box to his native village, to be buried by his Pakistani widow and their two children, conceived on his only two trips home in a dozen years. He had always hoped to bring them all to the United States, his widow, Rafia Perveen, said in a tearful telephone interview through a translator.

“He said America is very good,” she recalled. “When it comes to the treatment of Muslims in the U.S., he had faith in the rule of law. He said, ‘In America, they don’t bother anyone just for no reason.’ ”

When immigration agents burst into Mr. Ahmad’s two-room Flatbush apartment on Aug. 2, 2005, they were looking for someone else, his friends say — a roommate suspected of violating his student visa by working. But they ordered Mr. Ahmad to report to immigration headquarters in Manhattan on Aug. 11.

Ahmad is the poster child of the almost impossibly complicated legal paths immigrants must walk in order to gain documents to back up their presence in this country.

Though he had overstayed his first visa, he had repeatedly been authorized to work while his applications for “adjustment of status” were pending. Twice before 9/11 he had been allowed back into the country after visits to Pakistan.

While the DHS cover-up of Ahmad’s death (and even his existence) are shocking, it is evident that this situation is not isolated. The backlogs and complications of the immigration bureaucracy in this country are driving away some of the best and the brightest in the country, while others die, locked up for a questionable reason and unacknowledged except for statistics used to bolster the very forces that killed them.

Yet if his death was not counted, his arrest was — it had been added to the agency’s anti-terrorism statistics, according to government documents showing he was termed a “collateral” apprehension in Operation Secure Commute, raids seeking visa violators after the London transit bombings.

I find this to be the worst kind of hypocrisy.

ACTION: View Screening of “The Least of These”, Documentary on Immigrant Detention

least-of-these“The Least of These”

A Documentary on Family Detention, American Values, and the Power of Community Activism

Monday April 20 6:30 PM

Landmark’s E Street Cinema

555 11th Street NW (entrance on E Street between 10th and 11th Street)

There will be a Q&A with the directors and Michelle Brané of the Women’s Refugee Commission after the screening.

The Least of These takes a penetrating look at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a former medium-security prison that re-opened in 2006 as a prototype family detention center. The facility houses immigrant children and their parents from all over the world who are awaiting asylum hearings or deportation proceedings.

As information about troubling conditions at the facility began to leak out, three activist attorneys (Vanita Gupta of the ACLU, Michelle Brané of the Women’s Refugee Commission, and Barbara Hines of the University of Texas School of Law) sought to investigate and address the issues. In telling the story of their quest, the film explores the role and limits of legal and community activism in bringing about change.

The film leads viewers to consider how core American rights and values – presumption of innocence, the protection of children, upholding the family structure as the basic unit of civil society, and America as a refuge of last resort – should apply to immigrants, particularly children.

For more information about the film:

For more information about the festival:

For ticket information:

ACTION: Vote for Breakthrough’s Video – Death in Detention

From our friends at Breakthrough:

We need your VOTE for Breakthrough’s immigration video “Death by Detention.” It has been selected as a finalist for the 2009 DoGooderTV Nonprofit Awards!

Go to Staff Long-Form Finalists and choose “Death by Detention.” Your vote puts us closer to educating even more audiences about an unjust, harsh immigration system.

Told from the point of view of her sister June Everett, this powerful video unravels the tragic story of Sandra Kenley, a 52-year-old grandmother, who, after living in the U.S. legally for 33 years, was subjected to medical negligence and inhumane conditions that eventually caused her death in immigration detention.

It’s critical that these often silenced voices be heard, and that the system of neglect be exposed, so we can build civic support to speak out against blatant violations of human rights.

VOTE for our video TODAY!

ACLU Files Suit ICE for Inhumane Conditions


The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against Immigrant and Customs Enforcement in California for the denail of humane detention conditions and due process to immigrant detainees.

A team of legal organizations announced today that it is suing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in federal district court for detaining immigrants in egregious, unsanitary conditions in a downtown Los Angeles facility without soap, drinking water, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, changes of clothing or showers. The lawsuit – filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the National Immigration Law Center, and the law firm of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky and Walker LLP – also charges that the unsanitary conditions have led ICE to deprive immigrants of due-process rights such as access to mail or attorneys while in detention.

The facility, known as “B-18,” was intended to temporarily house detainees for no more than 12 hours. But in a perverse distortion of its original purpose, immigration officials have kept detainees in this basement facility for weeks by shuttling them to local jails in the evening and on weekends, and returning them to the facility the next business day.

Under these intolerable conditions, immigration officials often fail to notify detainees that they have the right to obtain release on bond while their cases remain pending. Meanwhile, immigration officials deny detainees any mail correspondence, writing materials or access to other materials that would enable them to defend themselves – all of which are required by law.
“It’s shameful that immigration officers are treating detainees like animals, apparently because the immigration bureaucracy cannot seem to send detainees to the right place,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, ACLU/SC director of immigrant rights and national security. “Officers routinely crowd detainees into dirty cells under grossly unsanitary conditions. They then deny them access to basic constitutional necessities like the use of the mail, making it impossible for them to defend themselves.”
It is truly inhumane that these people are treated like animals, crowded into unsanitary conditions and denied their basic legal rights. For those of you who will start your screams of “illegal is illegal”, please note that these detainees are not only folks who have entered the country without papers, but also people who have overstayed visas or are in the midst of filing for asylum.

This lawsuit, which comes merely days after Amnesty International released a damning report on immigrant detention in the U.S., is yet another symptom of the broken system desperate for reform. Let’s hope that Dora Schriro was serious about improving detention conditions for immigrants detained in the United States. Its an improvement that is way overdue.

Jailed without Justice: Report Slams Immigrant Detention in the U.S.


Adding to the growing concern over immigrant detention in this country, a report released by Amnesty International last week blasts the current system. The report finds that tens of thousands of immigrants – both undocumented, legal residents and even some U.S. Citizens – have been held without access to due process and many have been left to “languish” in deplorable conditions.

Among the findings of the report are:

  • People in immigration custody don’t have the same guarantees as criminal detainees to challenge their detention before a court, make a phone call or obtain legal representation.
  • Detainees can be transferred from one facility to another, sometimes in another state, with no notice given to their families or attorneys.
  • Two-thirds of people in federal immigration custody are housed in state or county detention facilities, usually alongside criminal detainees, even though violations of immigration law are considered administrative, not criminal, and asylum seekers have committed no violation.
  • Immigrants are subject to excessive use of restraints such as handcuffs, waist chains and leg restraints.

This is not news to many of us who have followed the shocking stories of immigrant deaths in detention, complaints of the horrible conditions and proof that the privatized prison system has made a fortune off of the exponential increase in the number of immigrants detainees.

As Keith Olbermann said during his “Still Bushed” segment this week, where he referred to immigrant detention centers as “Gitmo Jr.’s”:

The most startling fact about Amnesty‘s report, nobody at Immigration, nobody at the horrifically acronymed ICE, nobody hearing the details of this American Gulag is denying anything.

Dora Shriro, who was hired by the DHS head Janet Napolitano to oversee the immigrant detention system, recently said that she will be open to working with organizations such as Amnesty International to help improve the system. Shriro said:

I have learned that the best way to achieve change is to work closely with partners inside and outside of government, including vital organizations such as Amnesty International, which will issue a report raising concerns about immigration detention later today. I will carefully consider this important report.

Read the full Amnesty Internation report here.

Another Death in Detention


It seems like the stories of inadequate healthcare for immigrant detainees never cease. Last week, there was a report of yet another immigrant death in Detention, this time in Colombus, Georgia.

Roberto Martinez Medina, a 39-year-old Mexican national being held on immigration violations passed away at the St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, Georgia, of apparent natural causes. An autopsy will be performed.

ICE officials have notified Martinez’s next of kin and the Mexican consulate of his passing. In addition, consistent with ICE protocol, the appropriate state health and local law enforcement agencies have been notified.

For more on the neglect faced by immigrant detainees, check out RaceWire’s most recent analysis of Health in Detention.  Here’s a brief synopsis:

Part of the problem is that the mission of ICE’s Division of Immigration Health Services isn’t really to ensure that all detainees receive the care they need, but rather, to keep people essentially well enough to be kicked out of the country before they die. (Though occasionally, the process gets a little mixed up.)

I think that pretty much sums it up. My heart goes out to the Martinez Medina family.