Only "Three-Fifths of a Person" - More Immigrant Deaths Uncovered from Under DHS

At a border conference recently Secretary Napolitano stated, "Our job is to enforce the laws that we have now, to do it intelligently, to do it with well-trained professionals who are well-supervised," but in enforcing current immigration law, DHS is violating the highest law of all - the Constitution of the United States. 
Until due process applies to immigration courts, DHS should seriously revisit this policy. 

I allude in the title to Article I, Sec. II of the original U.S. Constitution (before the 14th amendment providing equality under the law came into being) because today, the New York Times uncovered additional deaths of individuals who were held under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention.  I would like to think that this absence of humanity at ICE persists because many of the DHS officials there are remnants of the Bush Administration.  DHS officials report that these deaths were "missed," the way you'd fail to notice a new hair do, or forget to pick up dry-cleaning.  Not only is the enforcement system itself appalling, more infuriating is DHS's completely unacceptable response.  If I were a family member of that person who was left to die and then "forgotten," DHS would have a wrongful death suit on their hands (at least). 

But most of those detained do not know the legal system, and do not have the resources to effectively fight back, and so they often lose their lives in the attempt.  As Rep. Zoe Lofgren has pointed out, it is unacceptable that in the United States of America, that prides itself on its humanitarian, inclusive values, and "justice for all," ICE detention centers are something out of a "gulag" or dark ages. 

Let me explain how "justice" works in the immigration enforcement system:  first, a person - any person mind you, even U.S. citizens - can have their door knocked down one fine day and get taken in by ICE (because unless you happen to carry your U.S. birth certificate or U.S. passport in your pocket, you have no proof of citizenship).  Once you are taken in and accused of a violation to immigration law, many are kept for days or weeks on end while they await a hearing.  Because infractions to the INA and immigration laws are a civil penalty, not a crime (contrary to popular belief), if you are detained for an immigration violation you have absolutely no right to a lawyer.  If you cannot get one, tough luck.  Similarly, you have no right to a translator.  So if you don't know to ask for one, if you cannot find one or hire a translator in order to understand the charges against you - again - too bad, you will be processed without being able to understand the charge against you.  How is THAT for due process?

So once you are convicted of an immigration offense that you probably didn't understand, whether you violated the law or not, you are sent to one of these detention centers, where approximately 104 individuals have died since 2003.  That might not seem like a large number, but the fact that many died after needing and requesting medical attention repeatedly means that ICE detention procedures as they stand often amount to manslaughter.  And this is no exaggeration - the fact is that according to the law, detainees have no enforceable rights.  ICE has acted in such a way that has resulted in the deaths of dozens of people, but those people have no due process rights under current law. 

And unfortunately, this epidemic of mistreatment and deaths in detention is not isolated to immigration detainment centers.  Immigrants (and U.S. citizens) when held for immigration violations are sometimes placed in ICE detention centers, but because of overcrowding, they are often moved to local, state and federal prisons.

According to the Department of Justice, there are Bureau of Prisons facilities, privately managed "secure" facilities, and community corrections facilities.  Our focus on detention might begin to explain why our prisons are also the most crowded in the world.  The U.S. has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world, with 750 inmates per 100,000 persons.  Of those incarcerated, "white" inmates make up about 57% percent of the prison population, while "blacks" make up 39% and "Hispanics" are 32%.  However, the prison system has a disproportionate effect on minorities.  Only approximately 118,000 inmates are white, while approximately 81,000 are black and 66,583 are Hispanic.  Although African-Americans constitute 14 percent of regular drug users, they are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses, and 56 percent of persons in state prisons for drug crimes.  Many justice experts have found that the increase in the incarceration rate is the product of changes in penal policy and practice, not changes in crime rates. 

But as I said earlier, the important distinction is that people who violate only immigration law are not criminals.  And thus, they should not be in prisons or similar establishments.  I encourage enforcement of laws and of immigration law, but an immigration law that is functional, fair, and that is in line with our Constitution and our principles.  I do hope President Obama takes this opportunity to reverse much of the damage caused by the 1996 revisions to immigration law and to create a new, realistic, fair, and enforceable immigration law. 

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