Incompetent ICE system violates core U.S. values

Cold, inept, dehumanizing, immigration policies are not and should not be the American way

Mira MacLaurin and Liam Wilson, Knight staff members

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A MAYDAY ON MAY DAY: A child protests state Senate Bill 4 during the International Worker’s Day protest outside Gov. Abbott’s office in the State Insurance Building. Dozens of activists gathered downtown on Monday May 1, 2017, to voice their opposition to the arrest of 24 activists who were staging a sit-in in the building to protest Gov. Abbott’s signing of the bill, which would punish local government and law enforcement officials who refuse to assist the federal government with deportations. Among the arrested were Austin City Council Member Greg Casar and Pastor Jim Rigby of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of Austin. The protesters were released on site after being charged with trespassing. As the Department of Public Safety state troopers who made the arrests exited the building, loud boos could be heard from the audience as the protesters demanded an apology. The group had originally assembled to hold an air-in, where people could voice grievances about a wide range of worker’s issues, among them criminal justice reform, a higher minimum wage and a call to expand Medicare to all Americans. The event was part of a daylong celebration of May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day. The Austin observance coincided with May Day events in several U.S. cities and smaller communities nationwide. Photo by Diego Gutierrez.

Davino Watson, an African-American U.S. citizen born in New York, was detained for almost three and a half years by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. or ICE, despite telling the immigration officers, his judge, and jail officials that he was, in fact, a United States citizen. He told everyone that he could and even gave the officers his father’s name. When they looked it up, they selected a man with the same first and last names, but a different middle name from his father’s. The fake father was not from the United States, unlike his real father, who was a U.S. citizen also from New York. Watson’s ordeal was originally reported by NPR.

This type of tiny, easily avoidable mistake is something that occurs all too often in a system that determines the future of thousands of people’s lives. According to an L.A. Times investigation, since 2012, a little fewer than 1,500 ICE detainees have been released after authorities determined they were in the country legally.

Watson was seized by ICE agents as soon as he got out of a jail sentence for selling cocaine and was held as under suspicion of being an undocumented immigrant. After learning that his own government saw him as an intruder, he entered the ICE system without a lawyer because, unlike other courts in the United States, a court-appointed lawyer is not a guaranteed right in immigration courts. In fact, many rights you would have at any other court in the United States are not automatic in an immigration court because these courts are not a part of the judicial system. Watson wrote out a letter to the officers and attached his father’s naturalization certificate, but these efforts did not resolve the government’s error. ICE kept him detained as a “deportable alien” for three and a half years, then abandoned him outside of a prison in rural Alabama with no money, more than a thousand miles from home. In 2016, a judge awarded him $82,500 in damages. However, in 2017, it was ruled that he was ineligible for that money because of legal time limits on receiving payment for damages because of unlawful arrest. This specific case is not a unique incident. Due to the amount of bureaucracy in the immigration system, it is not uncommon for a person fighting deportation to be detained for years on end.

Due to the amount of bureaucracy in the immigration system, it is not uncommon for a person fighting deportation to be detained for years on end.”

In addition to this bureaucratic ineptitude, there is a huge problem with women who, when they are detained, whether they be legal citizens or a “fugitive criminal aliens” (what ICE calls undocumented immigrants), allege to have been sexually assaulted whilst in a detention center under ICE care. One such story is that of Laura Monterrosa, a young woman from El Salvador who is currently seeking asylum after a female guard allegedly sexually assaulted her over a period of months, which is when she first started having suicidal thoughts. This incident took place at the T. Don Hutto detention facility, a for-profit prison for people awaiting the verdict on their immigration status situated roughly 30 miles from Austin.  Despite the fact that she was a victim, she was later scheduled for a disciplinary hearing after not going to eat at the cafeteria for a week, which according to Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit organization that is supporting her, was due to the fact that she was trying to avoid the woman who had been abusing her. Before the hearing could take place, she attempted suicide and was subsequently placed in solitary confinement and not allowed to see any of her attorneys. After this suicide attempt, she was forced to spend an additional 60 hours in solitary confinement, and attempted suicide two more times. Monterrosa came to the United States from El Salvador as a way to escape the constant sexual harassment she experienced there because she was a lesbian. Abuse of women is not something necessarily unique to ICE, but it is especially prevalent in the organization. Monterrosa’s situation was originally reported by Newsweek.

This dehumanizing of the pregnant woman (and her baby) is a normal routine for ICE. ”

Another example of the disgusting mistreatment many women captured by ICE endure is their gross mistreatment of pregnant women, especially recently after the Trump administration ended a policy to release pregnant women while awaiting their ruling to their immigration cases. One Mexican woman, Jacinta Morales, already a mother of two U.S.citizens, was captured and separated from her 11-year-old son in Oregon. While in custody, Morales woke up bleeding and asked to be taken to a hospital. Three hours later, she was finally taken to a hospital in the back of a patrol car. The delivery ended in a miscarriage. The President’s Executive Order (EO) 13768 (Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States), has altered the previous ICE policy refraining from detaining pregnant women. ICE defends this change by explaining that now, to keep Americans safe, every illegal immigrant will be treated equally.

But what about the safety of the pregnant women? The detention centers are not known for their impressive safety or health care, and even if they aren’t detained for more than a year, eventually being deported, most likely the place that pregnant women will be deported to won’t be safe and that’s why they left in the first place. Under the same tab on their website, ICE gives an exception stating that: “Generally, absent extraordinary circumstances, ICE will not detain a pregnant alien during the third trimester of pregnancy.” While this might give some flexibility to immigration officers implementing the policy change, the language is extremely unforgiving and degrading. This dehumanizing of the pregnant woman (and her baby) is a normal routine for ICE. Rarely is the person being deported or being considered for deportation regarded as a human being, or anything more than a “fugitive criminal alien,” as ICE commonly refers to them. Morales’ plight was originally reported by NPR.

The ICE system seems to reflect that America is the “land of free,” but only for some. ”

ICE’s treatment of suspected undocumented immigrants and their detainees is damaging to both the international image of America and the idea of the “American Dream.” Not only do we inflict this mistreatment onto hundreds of our own people, we impose it on other country’s people, often those who are attempting to escape dangerous situations. The way this represents our own country abroad is something of which we should all be ashamed. We advertise ourselves as the country of freedom and rights, yet the basic rights that everyone of us is (supposedly) guaranteed are denied to others. The ICE system seems to reflect that America is the “land of free,” but only for some. ICE publicly scolds cities, politicians, policemen who try to create sanctuary cities as a refuge for people on the constant run from ICE. But we think that we the people need to join together and help immigrants who want to contribute their work, their intelligence and their spirit to our country. Let’s extend to them the same opportunities we have received, and the respect that is every person’s natural right and they will repay us, just as they always have in the past, with a stronger and more prosperous nation.

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