Monday, September 17

Tancrazy Train: Inalienable Rights?

It appears Rep. Tom Tancredo has a problem with the way detained immigrants are being treated as they await deportation. In fact, the detainees’ conditions bother him so much that he sat down earlier this week to pen a thoughtful letter to John Torres, director of the federal Office of Detention and Removal Operations (DRO).

Human rights advocates have long criticized ICE’s detention policies (as well as the private and local jail facilities with which the agency contracts, often as a revenue generator for the jails).

When awaiting legal aid or deportation, immigrants routinely face extreme overcrowding, unsanitary living conditions, inadequate access to legal services, profound lapses in medical attention, unsafe food, poor case management causing breaks in family communication… the list is long, and at times, shocking.

In late July, for example, Victoria Arrelano died while in custody at a Los Angeles-area ICE detention center. Arrelano was 23 years old, transgendered, had AIDS and happened to be an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Her family is suing the U.S. government for allowing Arrelano’s AIDS treatment to lapse — ultimately leading to her death. The Los Angeles Times reports that Arrelano’s condition was so dire that other inmates signed a petition begging prison staff for immediate care for Arrelano, to no avail. A few days later, she died handcuffed to a hospital bed, according to news reports.

Arrelano’s is hardly the only horror story to emerge from ICE’s twisted detention system, though most are egregiously underreported. According to the Washington Post, 62 immigrants have died under ICE detainment since 2004. And countless more have fallen severely ill from inhumane conditions — including this man profiled in Westword, who says he lost his leg due to unsanitary conditions in Colorado’s Park County Jail.

The situation is so bad (and the government’s response so slow) that organizations like Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have stepped in to investigate. Earlier this year, the ACLU, representing immigrant detainees in California, filed a class-action lawsuit against ICE for failing to provide adequate medical treatment.

But back to Tancredo. And his letter. None of the above grievances are found in his impassioned missive to DRO’s John Torres. Instead, Tancredo worries that detained immigrants actually might have it too good.

When the DRO recently attempted to persuade a Glenwood Springs jail to cease its use of tasers on these detainees, Tancredo swung into action — to lobby in favor of the continued use of the controversial devices.

“I hope that DRO will pull back from any effort to impose its ‘taser rule’ on jails operated by local law enforcement,” he opined. “If there is an occasional abuse of this law enforcement tool, such abuses should be dealt with on a case by case basis.”

In other words, if a corrections officer gets overzealous with the zapping, no big deal. After all, these are clearly dangerous people who’ve committed the heinous act of crossing an invisible line in the desert. (And their skin happens to be brown.) Clearly, extraordinary methods must be deployed to keep 'em in line.

While he had the office’s ear, Tancredo addressed several other luxuries detainees are apparently enjoying. Immigrants, he argued, should sleep on pads on the floor, rather than actual beds. And since he’s on the subject, how about scrapping the use of detention centers altogether?

“Additionally, is it possible for the DRO to authorize the use of ‘tent cities’ for detention of illegal aliens apprehended on the border…?” his letter implored. “Is there anything in the DRO Detention Standards that would prohibit this approach?”

Yet another brilliant solution from the would-be commander-in-chief.

While most would say ICE isn’t doing nearly enough to correct life-threatening problems at immigrant detention facilities, Tancredo doggedly protests every feeble attempt at improvement for a population whose offense pales in comparison to those of most U.S. citizens in custody.

As Human Rights Watch researcher Allyson Collins puts it, ICE detainees “are not serving criminal sentences. They are administrative detainees awaiting immigration proceedings, and their treatment should reflect their administrative, non-criminal status.”

Read more about conditions at local detention centers in this Chronicle story.

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