Archive for October 2009

Immigration Detention – Part Three

The Medical Care Crisis

Of the poor conditions in immigration detention facilities across the U.S. reported over the years, the lack of adequate medical care provided to detained immigrants is among the worst. This article published online by the Texas Observer on October 2, 2009, and summarized below, illustrates how devastating this problem is.
The Observer article tells the heartbreaking story of the death of 32-year-old Jesus Manuel Galindo. Mr. Galindo, a Mexican man detained at the Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas for crossing the border illegally after having been deported, had lived in the U.S. since the age of 13. In detention at Reeves, Mr. Galindo informed the prison guards that because he was epileptic, he was prone to seizures and required medication and medical attention regularly. Despite this, his requests for medical attention went unanswered and he was dramatically under medicated.
Scheduled for release on December 12, 2008, Mr. Galindo had notified his mother on December 10th that he was still waiting for the medical attention he requested on December 9th. He told her he was concerned about his health and that if she did not hear from him on December 12th, to call the prison. On December 12, Mr. Galindo’s mother did have to call the prison only to learn that her son’s body had been found. He died in prison from neglectful medical care. By the time his body was found he had already been dead for several hours. His request for medical care in those last few days was apparently never granted.
Reeves, located in West Texas, is the largest privately run prison in the U.S. It houses approximately 1,230 inmates. It is run by GEO Group, formerly Wackenhut, and the prison is a for profit business model. GEO contracts Physicians Network Association of Lubbock, Texas to provide medical services.
Sadly, Mr. Galindo was not the first detained immigrant to die within its walls. Inmates claim that Mr. Galindo was placed in solitary confinement after requesting additional medical care, and that this was standard operating procedure at Reeves. Those who needed medical attention were punished, sent to solitary confinement.
Mr. Galindo’s death was the last straw for the inmates. Upon learning of his death, the 1,236 inmates at Reeves revolted in an uprising and shutting down the prison. The uprising resulted in negotiations between the inmates, and several state and federal level enforcement agencies. The demands by the inmates were simple – adequate medical care and better food. Although agreements were made, the requests made by the inmates went unanswered and another uprising occurred in February of this year.
This story is not just about Mr. Galindo. It is about the invisibility and vulnerability of detained immigrants, about the lack of accountability we have against privately run (for profit) prison companies, and about a need for enforceable, uniform standards in place for detained immigrants. It is also about the more than 100 other immigrants who have died in detention. Their stories go largely unheard.

The New York Times recently wrote about Xiu Ping Jiang, a Chinese woman with severe mental health issues whose medical needs were initially ignored and whose condition deteriorated significantly during detention. Thankfully, Ms. Jiang has been released and is now receiving the care she needs, but hers is also a harrowing story of neglect. Neglect is simply unacceptable.

The Obama Administration pledges to reform immigration. Detention needs comprehensive reform, and among the issues, access to medical care must be a priority.

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Immigration Detention – Part Two

The Many Costs of Detention
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the federal government agency charged with the mission to protect manage domestic security. Its various missions include counterterrorism, border security, immigration, and response and recovery. Agencies that fall under DHS include FEMA, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE is the agency that oversees immigration detention.
  • $5.93 Billion 2009 FY ICE Budget
  • $2.48 Billion 2009 FY ICE Budget for Detention and Removal
  • 440,000 Estimated Number of Immigrants that will have been detained in 2009
  • 400 Number of state and privately run facilities rented out by DHS for Immigration Detention (“facilities” generally refers to jails and prisons)
  • 33,400 Number of beds reserved by DHS for immigrants each day
  • 104 Number of immigrants who have died while in detention since 2003 (According to the DHS ICE)
  • $95.00 Average daily cost for the detention of a single immigrant
  • $3.17 Million Average daily cost to detain 33,400 immigrants ($1.64 Billion/year)
  • $12.00 Average daily cost for Electronic Monitoring Systems (ankle tethers) for a single immigrant
  • $400,800.00 Average daily cost DHS would incur if it used Electronic Monitoring Systems for 33,400 immigrants instead ($20.84 Million/year)
  • 93% Rate of immigrants tracked by Electronic Monitoring who appear for final hearings
  • $71.7 Million 2009 FY ICE Budget for Detention Bed Space (33,400 beds)
  • $7.2 Million 2009 FY ICE Budget for Alternatives to Detention
  • $514.19 Million 2009 FY DHS Budget for “Domestic Nuclear Detection” (reduce risk of radiological or nuclear attack in the U.S. and bolster defense readiness)
  • $388.38 Million 2009 FY DHS Combined Budget for “Chemical and Biological” and “Medical and Biodefense Programs” (reduce risk of biological attack in the U.S. and bolster defense readiness)
  • The 2009 FY ICE Detention and Removal budget is approximately 2.75 greater than the combined 2009 FY DHS counterterrorism budgets for “Domestic Nuclear Detection” and “Chemical and Biological” and “Medical and Biodefense Programs”
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Immigration Detention – Part One

Immigration detention is the fastest growing form of incarceration in the U.S. The effects of detention can be felt throughout the nation. This month, we will consider these effects and other aspects of detention in three-part series. The first part is an editorial voicing general concerns about detention and providing a basic understanding of the system. Part Two highlights the costs associated with the current system, as well as alternatives. Part Three focuses on the increasing alarm over the lack of medical care provided to detained immigrants.

Unjust, Unsustainable Detention
Imagine not committing a crime and being thrown in the slammer anyway. Imagine you are in a foreign country, perhaps one where you do not speak the language, perhaps one where you have no friends or family. Now imagine trying to find yourself a lawyer while behind bars or trying to gain a meaningful understanding of that country’s immigration laws and legal system. Good luck.

To me, the detention of immigrants has long been one of the most troubling aspects of our immigration laws and practices. There are myriad causes for concern about the detention of immigrants in the U.S., but at the heart of the issue is a lack of standards. “Lack of standards” is not merely a reference to a lack of uniform standards, but rather a lack of standards entirely.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) replaced the former INS by creating the border security agency known as Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the interior enforcement agency known as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). (The raids on factories and homes are conducted by ICE.) ICE is responsible for managing the detention and removal of immigrants. ICE does manage a few of its own federal facilities dedicated to the detention of immigrants, for which National Detention Standards have been devised and have begun to be implemented. However, these facilities hold only 13% of those detained. The vast majority of immigrants are detained among the 400 state and privately owned facilities rented out by ICE. No uniform standard exists for the immigrants detained in these facilities so they are subjected to the standards employed by the individual facilities.

“Facilities” generally refers to prisons and jails. Therefore, it is relevant to consider what “detention” in such “facilities” really means in the context of immigration. “Detained” and “detention” is in actuality “imprisoned” and “imprisonment.” True, some immigrants are detained for having committed a crime and who are deportable because of it. But make no mistake about it, immigrants who may have violated a civil law (or who are simply seeking asylum) are also held in jail, donning orange jumpsuits and handcuffs. In many cases they are detained alongside prisoners (i.e. inmates charged with and/or convicted of a crime). I have personally had a client, an asylum-seeker with absolutely no criminal history, in this scenario.

There is seemingly no application of “cruel and unusual punishment” to immigrants. Detained immigrants can languish in jail for weeks, a month, several months, and longer before being heard by an Immigration Judge. Although there is technically a limitation on indefinite detention, it is realistically ineffectual. This restriction is triggered by a final order, and obtaining a final order can take years. (Hearings in Detroit, for example, are often scheduled a year or more out.) To reiterate the injustice of detention, and long term detention in particular, most detained immigrants are imprisoned for an alleged civil violation. No crime. No conviction.

I understand the concern that to release immigrants from custody may be to lose them in the masses. However, alternatives exist and should be actively pursued and granted. Detained immigrants should no longer be automatically shackled and jailed.

Release on bond is a viable option that should be granted more regularly. Currently, bond is often overly high and underutilized.
The use of Electronic Monitoring, i.e. ankle tethers, should be adopted on a large-scale. DHS statistics show that nearly all immigrants released on bond with tethers appear for their final hearings before the Immigration Judge. Not only do tethers seem to effectively address the truancy concern, the use of tethers costs an average of merely $12/day per immigrant, whereas ICE spends an average of $99/day to detain a single immigrant. Despite this, the FY 2009 budget for ICE included $71.7 Million toward detention beds and only $7.2 Million to “alternatives to detention.”
The creation of immigration detention centers is another option that must be explored so that uniform standards can be evenly applied to all immigrants. Rented space from state jails and prisons is expensive, burdensome to states already overflowing with criminal inmates, impossible to closely monitor, and utterly ill-suited for the vast majority of detained immigrants.
The medical concerns of detained immigrants must be addressed as a priority. It is unacceptable that since 2003 at least 104 immigrants have died while in detention.

Regardless of one’s views on our borders, and whether they should be opened further or lined with walls, the detention of immigrants in jails and prisons under the status quo is something I believe no one should tolerate. If our elected and other public officials, including DHS Secretary Napolitano, have any sense of humanity and logic, they will work hard and fast to restore respect for human dignity and responsibility to the immigration detention system.

Posted in Asylum, Detention, Immigration, security, and fear, Recent Posts, Reform, The undocumented, Uncategorized | Leave a comment