Tag Archives: Detention System

2013: New opportunities for healthy immigration reform?

9 Jan

The Curious Ostrich has big plans for 2013! We are now moving to a monthly format, providing readers with in-depth analysis and commentary on the public health impact of immigration policies and national conversations around immigration. As always, our mission is to bring attention to the ways immigration policies affect health and to provide information and resources for health and immigration advocates alike. Want regular updates on immigration issues? Like our Facebook page!TCO cover

Over the course of 2012, a number of policies and events across the country significantly, and often negatively, affected the health of immigrants and their communities. Deportations continued at an all time high, separating families and at great cost to our economy. Due to programs such as Secure Communities 1.6 million people were deported during President Obama’s first term. Our nation’s growing immigration enforcement system now receives more funding than all other federal enforcement agencies combined. This focus on enforcement and a militarized border increased border violence and resulted in many deaths, some perpetrated  by the US Border Patrol itself.

Immigrants also continue to be denied many basic rights. For example, while the Affordable Care Act (ACA) goes a long way in expanding access to health insurance, undocumented immigrants and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals-approved individuals are barred from new health insurance programs. At the state level, although the Supreme Court knocked down many of the provisions in Arizona’s immigration bill SB 1070,  the “paper’s please” provision will move forward.  Other states continue to follow Arizona’s lead in anti-immigrant legislation.

The impact of xenophobia and anti-immigrant politicking is not limited to immigrant communities. For example, in 2012 the Violence Against Women Act, a traditionally non-controversial, bi-partisan bill, failed to be reauthorized for the first time in its history. This was in part due to Republican supposed opposition to protections for immigrant women.

In 2012, we also saw promising policies and inspiring activism by undocumented immigrants, particularly youth. Influenced by ongoing activism by DREAMers, President Obama granted deferred action to “childhood arrivals” (DACA), creating the largest opening in many years for undocumented individuals to gain work permission and protection from deportation. While not a long-term solution, DACA created opportunities for many young immigrants.

Exciting grassroots mobilizations also helped raise the profile of immigrant issues and pushed forward a more progressive policy agenda. The Caravan for Peace turned attention to the human impact of border violence and the United State’s role in drug war violence; undocumented youth are using art and creativity to assert their rights; DREAMers sat-in at Obama campaign offices; the Undocubus shared stories at the Democratic National Convention; and the Campaign for the American Dream team walked from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness about immigration policy.

Moving into 2013

Building on this momentum, 2013 brings new opportunities for making immigration policy more just and protecting immigrant communities. President Obama’s re-election turned new attention to the power of communities of color in our political system and we now have the most diverse Congress in US history. Polling suggests that the public and elected officials are ready to consider immigration reform. President Obama has repeatedly stated that comprehensive immigration reform will be a priority early on in his second administration. However, for too long, political debates about immigration have focused on controlling immigration through the criminalization and stereotyping of immigrants.  Therefore, we hope to see these policy discussions and decisions acknowledge the importance of immigrants to our society and economy and affirm that all people, including immigrants and regardless of their immigration status, have rights as residents of this nation.  Specific policies that we would like to see from the 113th congress include:

      • Create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the US.  The increasing numbers of young immigrants applying for deferred action demonstrates that creating a process for undocumented immigrants to apply for papers is not only relatively politically non-controversial, but is feasible and has tremendous positive impacts. This is a start, but temporary status for a small portion of undocumented immigrants is not enough.  There are still roughly 11 million individuals who lack papers and a path to citizenship. This is an injustice, not only to these individuals, but to their families and communities and the nation as a whole.
      • Reduce deportations and keep families together.  Enforcement programs and deportations needlessly tear people from their jobs, communities and families, with devastating emotional and economic impacts.  A simple fix would be to end programs such as Secure Communities.  In addition, policies are needed to end the fear that deportations have caused by creating clear delineations between local police officers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
      • Create accountability over and reform the detention system. The unregulated and unhealthy network of privatized detention centers must be reformed and regulated. This should include expanding accountability and oversight for current detention centers.  The all-historic-high number of detention beds in centers and county jails creates a gross profit motive and should be reduced.
      • End the militarization of the border.  Border fence and patrolling policies throw money into militarization, rather than the true safety of people in the United States.  There should be an end to financial support for the border fence, reduction in funding for the Border Patrol, and increased oversight over the Border Patrol, including the training and background of officers and their use of surveillance technology.
      • Increase access to education and social services for all immigrants.  Immigrants should be positively included in public policies.  This is a matter of both fairness and of effective crafting of public policies, as economic, social service and health policies ultimately have an impact on immigrant communities, such as the Affordable Care Act and the Violence Against Women Act.

The connection to health

At The Curious Ostrich, we believe that all of these policies and their resulting challenges and opportunities for immigrants are public health issues. Immigration policies, and related social and economic policies, directly impact the health of immigrants in a number of ways – from reduced access to essential services and resources to the  fear and stress that result from discrimination, criminalization and deportation. Over the course of 2013, we will continue to explore these links between immigration policies and health:

      • Access to health care— Many people are barred or have limited access to health insurance and health care services due to their immigration status. Access to regular primary care is important in preventing many diseases (e.g. diabetes), while limited emergency care services results in unnecessary deaths.
      • Diminished rights and protections— Fear of deportation diminishes the rights of undocumented individuals by shaping their decisions about accessing services such as education or police protection. For instance, many undocumented workers are victims of wage theft, yet they do not have legal recourse without risking deportation.
      • Access to resources— Diminished rights lead to reduced access to resources to lead a healthy life. For example, undocumented immigrants may choose not to access public resources, such as education or social services, because they believe they are not eligible or they are afraid of coming into contact with government officials.
      • Discrimination— There is widespread anti-immigrant sentiment embedded in our national policy and media discourses, and anti-immigrant groups continue to advocate effectively for policies that devalue and dehumanize immigrants because of their lack of legal standing. From conservative politicians campaigning on deportation policies, to widespread discriminatory commentary in the news, there is a strong national narrative that a lack of papers justifies less-than-humane treatment.

There are feasible policy solutions that can reduce the risks to and protect the health of immigrant communities. There are dynamic and mobilized advocates who will continue to fight for the rights of immigrants.  Public health advocates can play a critical role.  Therefore, in 2013, our hope is to see not a continuation of the short-term and enforcement-focused policies often associated with “comprehensive” immigration reform, but rather the promotion of healthy immigration reform.

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“Reform” for whom?; deportation is the problem; DACA update; and the 10 worst detention centers 11/12-11/18

18 Nov

Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsay Graham

What’s really in immigration “reform”?  
Seth Freed Wessler of Colorlines.com posses the question: “What qualifies as “reform,” for whom and at what price?“ Those who are concerned about the well-being of immigrants should be wary of the political rhetoric starting to fly about the halls of Congress and the airwaves of the mainstream media. The dominant narrative in the US is that the immigration system is broken.  This narrative helps perpetuate the view that undocumented people are criminals or lawbreakers.  As a result, the policy “solutions” that are likely to be re-introduced in the next Congress focus heavily on enforcement measures.  Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsay Graham, who co-authored a bill that failed in 2010, are likely to take the lead.  In interviews after the election, both stated that their plan would be “heavy on enforcement and avoid anything that sounds like amnesty.” As Colorlines.com reports, immigrant advocates are prepared to take a stand against so-called reform measures that increase enforcement.

Deportation the problem, not immigration courts
A report by the Inspector General of the Justice Department highlights our nation’s broken enforcement and deportation policies. The report determined that the backlog of cases in immigration courts are due to increased deportations, not problems with the court system.  Currently, immigration judges are ruling on an average of 1,200 deportation cases each year and the system still has a backlog of over 300,000 cases of individuals awaiting to see whether or not they face deportation.

 
Over 50,000 individuals approved under DACA
In total, over 300,000 applications have been filed.  Data released by USCIS show that over 80,000 applications have been submitted by individuals in California, almost 50,000 from Texas, and almost 20,000 from New York.  It is predicted that as many as 100,000 individuals will be approved by the end of the year.  The New York Times predicts that the number of applicants is likely to increase now that President Obama’s re-election ensures that the policy will continue.

“Expose and Close” campaign pushes for closure of 10 detention centers
Detention Watch Network’s campaign to end the nation’s detention system has released a report highlighting the conditions in 10 of the worst detention centers in the US.  They document the chronic human rights violations in these 10 centers as a means of drawing attention to the rampant abuses and lack of oversight across all 250 of ICE’s detention facilities.

States and citizens push back against Secure Communities; Immigrants continue to face labor protections, 7/2-7/9

12 Jul

CA State Senator Tom AmmianoCalifornia moved forward with legislation to limit Secure Communities

CA State Senate passed the Trust Act, a bill intended to limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement policies. The bill would prevent police and sheriff officials from detaining a person for deportation if that person does not have a prior felony conviction. 75,000 people have been deported from California since Secure Communities was implemented in 2009. Fewer than half of these individuals were convicted of serious violent felonies. By limiting the reach of S-Comm, the Trust Act will decrease the fear and stress that is caused by this policy.

Secure Communities also places many citizens and legal residents at risk of detention

This week Secure Communities faced its first legal challenge from a U.S. citizen. An Illinois resident is suing the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, after he was detained for two-months in a maximum-security prison when immigration officials mistakenly identified him as an undocumented immigrant. Under Secure Communities, local police check fingerprints against immigration and FBI databases. This sharing of information is a violation of the Privacy Act – and for some, like James Makowski, results in serious violations of personal rights and freedoms. This also demonstrates that immigration policies do not limit their harm to undocumented immigrants.

Expanded protections for all immigrant workers needed

Labor abuses of immigrants coming to the US through guest worker programs continue to be uncovered. Most recently, Wal-Mart stopped supplying seafood from C. J.’s Seafood after the National Guestworker Alliance publicized severe labor violations ranging from low wages to threatened physical abuse. The H-2B guest worker visa program has been subject to investigations by the GAO for a series of complaints about wage and working condition violations. New labor laws that were to take effect earlier this year have been postponed due to pushback from large businesses and cuts in enforcement funding.

President Obama continues to court immigrant voters

President Obama attended a naturalization ceremony for active duty military members, using the opportunity to speak about the importance of legislation such as the Dream Act, which would enable a path to legal status for immigrants who serve in the military or attend university.

Not Too Late For Reform: a new report on inhumane conditions in immigrant detention centers in Kentucky and Illinois, 12/12/11

14 Dec
A new report by the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights exposes the persisting inhumane conditions in three immigrant detention centers: Jefferson County Jail and Tri-County Detention Center in Illinois and Boone County Jail in Kentucky. The report documents the following:

  • Many detainees have no criminal history or have been charged with only minor offenses. In Kentucky’s Boone County Jail, at least 50% of detainees assessed for legal relief fell into this category.
  • Detainees are denied access to legal counsel. Investigators found that an estimated 84% of immigrant detainees had no access to attorneys. Complicating things further, individuals must either pay for an attorney or rely on scarcely available pro bono services.
  • Detention centers violate basic human rights such as access to food and medical services. While ICE’s National Detention Standards states that detainees should be served two hot meals every day, detainees in Illinois’ Jefferson County Jail go hungry, and report receiving a hot meal only once every two weeks.
  • Detainees are denied adequate medical services and are required to pay for them, which they often cannot afford. In one case, an HIV positive detainee was not allowed to see a doctor for more than six weeks.

These detention centers are an example of how current immigration policies are a threat to public health.  As a result of these policies, the detention system has been created for the sole purpose of locking-up individuals, for indefinite periods of time, who are waiting for their immigration case to be reviewed.  Current Federal regulations allow for little oversight of detention centers and, as a result, abuse is rampant.  Sadly, the reports of inhumane conditions across the detention system have become a common occurrence. As we have written in previous blog posts and factsheets, additional investigations find that detention guards physically and sexually abuse many immigrant detainees. In a recent editorial, the New York Times, called upon the U.S. to fulfill promises to reform detentions centers to eliminate these abuses, rely on other means for deporting individuals, and provide detainees more access to the legal system.

The conditions in these detention centers mark a clear failure by our federal government. In 2009, it had announced it would improve these centers. This year is rapidly ending, and 2012 will likely arrive with no change in these deplorable conditions. The Obama administration should be held accountable to making significant changes in 2012. One first step would be to close the worst detention centers that violate human rights, including Boone County Jail, Jefferson County Jail, and Tri-County Detention Center in the Midwest.

Other News 12/5 – 12/12:

Supreme Court to Rule on Immigration Law in Arizona, The New York Times, 12.12.11
On Monday, the Supreme Court that it would decide whether Arizona had the authority to impose anti-immigrant policies despite objections from the Obama administration. The decision is likely to come in the middle of next year’s presidential campaign and is joined by other major cases, such as challenges to Mr. Obama’s health care law.

Judge blocks Alabama immigration rule on mobile homes, The Guardian, 12.12.11
A federal judge temporarily blocks part of Alabama’s discriminatory anti-immigrant law, one which would have required residents to show proof of citizenship when registering their mobile homes with the state.

Occupy Birmingham: Immigrant Rights are crucial to the Occupy movement, Colorlines, 12.7.11
On Saturday, members of the Occupy Birmingham movement marched with other Alabama civic and religious organizations to the Etowah County Detention Center to protest the state’s harsh immigration law, which has been challenged in court as racial profiling, among other things.
Occupy Birmingham says it has a long list of objections to the law, H.B. 56, but it names the jailing of people for profit as one of the factors that ties the Occupy movement with immigrant rights.

Initiative would give California undocumented immigrants safe harbor, Sacramento Bee, 12.3.11
Nearly a million undocumented immigrants could live and work openly in California with little or no fear of deportation under an initiative unveiled Friday by a state legislator and others. Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, is helping to spearhead the measure, called the California Opportunity and Prosperity Act.

Take Action November 5th Against Detention Centers and Corporations that Profit from Them!

1 Nov

If you are in the Bay Area on November 5th, there is an opportunity to stand up against corporations that profit at the expense of the human rights of individuals in immigrant detention centers. Wells Fargo, one of many banks and corporations, reaps profits by investing in private detention centers that treat human beings as inferior beings, subject them to humiliation and violate basic human rights.

Contrary to the common portrayal of detainees as criminals, immigrants are not held in detention centers to serve time for crimes or felonies, but to wait the decision on their immigration court cases. These detention centers violate basic human rights, some of which were exposed in the recent PBS documentary by Maria Hinojosa, “Lost in Detention.” One of the most powerful quotes in a Colorlines article about the documentary, Continue reading