On the heels of the Obama administration’s announcement of its latest record-high number of deportations, two television documentaries and a study revealed persistent problems with the nation’s immigration detention and enforcement systems. Meanwhile, Santa Clara passed new guidelines for civil immigration detainers and a Washington D.C. Mayor signed an executive order Wednesday that would prohibit local police from inquiring about a person’s immigrant status. Then on Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union released documents containing nearly 200 allegations of sexual abuse against female immigration detainees in federal detention centers since 2007.
Nearly 400,000 Deported from the U.S. in 2011
The Administration reported this week that it had deported a record number of undocumented immigrants for the third year in a row, removing 396,906 individuals in FY2011.
“These year-end totals indicate that we are making progress, with more convicted criminals, recent border crossers, egregious immigration law violators and immigration fugitives being removed from the country than ever before,” said Immigration Customs and Enforcement Director John Morton.
According to the enforcement agency, nearly 55 percent or 216,698 of the people removed were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors — an 89 percent increase in the removal of criminals since FY 2008. This included 1,119 immigrants convicted of homicide; 5,848 immigrants convicted of sexual offenses; 44,653 immigrants convicted of drug related crimes; and 35,927 immigrants convicted of driving under the influence. Meanwhile, it reported that ninety percent of all ICE’s removals fell into a priority category and more than two-thirds of the other removals in 2011 were either recent border crossers or repeat immigration violators.
Critics of the administration’s failure to address systemic reform expressed disappointment with the enforcement tally. “President Obama has continued his aggressive persecution, jailing, and deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who he has labeled ‘criminals’ and whose lives are being destroyed through traffic violations and similar minor infractions,” said Roberto Lovato of Presente.org.
The agency has continued to aggressively defend the increasingly unpopular program despite the program’s shortcomings. Critics have argued that the program has veered off its mandate of targeting priority offenders and deteriorated relationships between local police and the communities they work in.
In August, ICE announced it would launch a case-by-case review of approximately 300,000 cases of undocumented immigrants in removal proceedings, allowing those who pose no threat to society to remain in the country and apply for a work permit. It also laid out new guidelines to address enforcement activity, detention decisions, budget requests and prosecutorial discretion.
Frontline and CNBC Document On-Going Problems with Immigration Enforcement and Detention
PBS’s Frontline, in partnership with The Investigative Reporting Workshop, produced “Lost in Detention,” a documentary based on a year-long investigation into America’s vast immigrant detention system and documented the far-rearching impact of the Obama administration’s controversial immigration enforcement policies. It examines the abuses at the Willacy Detention Center, also known as Tent City, which was given a “good” grade even after 900 complaints were filed by detainees and featured the story of “Mary,” a Canadian immigrant who was held there and sexually abused by a guard.
The Workshop requested data going back a decade about people held by the U.S. government for deportation, including detainee names, when and where individuals were booked in and booked out of detention, and what prompted their arrest. We asked for this information in several Freedom of Information Act requests to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security, one of the nation’s largest, federal, law-enforcement agencies.
What arrived at our doorstep in 2009 was a mess of confusing and incomplete information that didn’t help us answer our original questions. After months of trying to pry data from the agency about those being detained, it was clear that the government didn’t always know where the detainees were held, how long they were detained, or how much they paid to house and feed them. In fact, our records showed that in some cases officials might not have known whether detainees were actually in custody or even if they were dead or alive.
Meanwhile, CNBC produced a documentary that explored the the profits and inner-workings of the multi-billion dollar corrections industry, which costs states and the federal government some $74 billion a year and employs nearly 800,000 employees, including the profitable business of immigration detention.
Warren Institute Study Highlights Problems with Secure Communities Program
The Warren Institute at UC Berkeley School of Law released a study Wednesday that analyzed Secure Communities data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
“Programs like Secure Communities are understudied, largely because of their rapid implementation and expansion and because the data has been kept, in large part, confidential,” wrote the study’s authors. “Given that its expansion does not appear to be slowing down, it is all the more imperative that research on the impact of Secure Communities continues.”
According to the study, the findings in “Secure Communities by the Numbers: An Analysis of Demographics and Due Process” are based on a random national sample of 375 individuals who were identified as “IDENTMatches” by the Secure Communities Program and were apprehended by ICE after October 1, 2008. The Institute also analyzed data on removal proceedings.
- Approximately 3,600 United States citizens have been arrested by ICE through the Secure Communities program
- More than one-third (39%) of those arrested through Secure Communities report that they have a U.S. citizen spouse or child, meaning that approximately 88,000 families with U.S. citizen members have been impacted by Secure Communities
- Latinos comprise 93% of individuals arrested through Secure Communities though they only comprise 77% of the undocumented population in the United States
- Only 52% of individuals arrested through Secure Communities are slated to have a hearing before an immigration judge
- Only 24% of individuals arrested through Secure Communities and who had immigration hearings had an attorney compared to 40% of all immigration court respondents who have counsel
- Only 2% of non-citizens arrested through Secure Communities are granted relief from deportation by an immigration judge as compared to 14% of all immigration court respondents who are granted relief
- A large majority (83%) of people arrested through Secure Communities is placed in ICE detention as compared with an overall DHS immigration detention rate of 62%, and ICE does not appear to be exercising discretion based on its own prioritization system when deciding whether or not to detain an individual.
“The Warren Institute study demonstrates how deeply U.S. citizens’ own rights have been eroded in the name of immigration enforcement. The Obama administration should treat this study as the final nail in the coffin of a program that should have been buried long ago,” said Sarahi Uribe, Organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
Jurisdictions Set New Guidelines to Limit Police Collaboration in Immigration Enforcement
In a 3-1 vote, Santa Clara County officials approved a new set of guidelines for civil immigration detainers, which would limit the county’s collaboration with ICE officials. The guidelines would require the county to only honor those detainers convicted of “serious” or “violent” felonies and it would not apply a detainer hold on juveniles. The guidelines would also require a written agreement from ICE to reimburse all costs incurred by the County for holding a detainer for an extended time.
According to the New America Media, Supervisor George Shirakawa told an audience of supporters, “Today is historic. We now have the most progressive policy in this field, and the whole nation will be looking at us as Santa Clara County makes it official: we don’t do ICE’s job.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) signed an executive order that would prohibit police, fire fighters, the attorney general’s office and other public safety agencies from inquiring about a person’s immigrant status or contacting ICE. However, the order does not apply in criminal investigations.
ACLU Releases Documents on Sexual Abuse Complaints in Immigration Detention Centers
The ACLU released documents obtained through a FOIA request that shows the nearly 200 allegations of sexual abuse in today’s immigration detention centers. It coincided with a federal class action suit filed by the ACLU of Texas on behalf of three immigrant women who were sexually assaulted, while they here held at the controversial T. Don Hutto facility.
According to the ACLU, 185 complaints had been made to DHS since 2007, 56 of which were from facilities in Texas. The defendants in the lawsuit include three ICE officials; Williamson County, Texas; Corrections Corporation of America (CCA); the former facility administrator for Hutto; and Donald Dunn, a guard who pleaded guilty in state court to three counts of official oppression and two counts of unlawful restraint based on his assaults of five women, reported the ACLU. Dunn was also charged with four additional federal counts of criminal violation of civil rights.
The ACLU also reported:
The assaults occurred when Dunn alone was transporting women from the Hutto facility to the airport or bus station in nearby Austin. Log books and other documents obtained by the ACLU of Texas indicate that in addition to the seven known occasions on which Dunn is believed to have assaulted a total of nine women, at least 20 different male guards transported at least 44 female detainees alone between December 2008 and May 2010. The lawsuit alleges that ICE, Williamson County and CCA were deliberately indifferent and willfully blind to the fact that Dunn and other employees regularly violated the rule that detainees not be transported without another escort officer of the same gender present.
“Unfortunately, we believe these complaints are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Mark Whitburn, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Immigrants in detention are uniquely vulnerable to abuse, and those holding them in custody know it. Many do not speak English, many – like our plaintiffs – have fled violence in their home countries and are terrified of being returned. They may not be aware of their rights or they may be afraid to exercise them.”
The ACLU also launched a new page on its website devoted to the issue of sexual abuse of immigration detainees and a special blog series examining the consequences of detention. The ACLU’s Blog of Rights will host the series, which will run from Oct. 19 through Nov. 1, and examine ramped up enforcement efforts, deaths in detention, mental disabilities, sexual abuse, prolonged detention and privatization of detention facilities.