habeas corpus

Is this really the kind of country we want to live in?

Regardless of where you stand on the immigration issue, there ought to be one thing on which we all agree: It is not okay for detainees to die in custody because of a lack of needed healthcare or for individuals to be taken into custody only to disappear into the system, their location unable to be determined.

Earlier this week, the New York Times exposed yet another horrendous story about an immigrant dying while in I.C.E custody:

In April, Mr. Ng began complaining of excruciating back pain. By mid-July, he could no longer walk or stand. And last Wednesday, two days after his 34th birthday, he died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a Rhode Island hospital, his spine fractured and his body riddled with cancer that had gone undiagnosed and untreated for months.

The details of the case are stunning, to say the least. Perhaps it would be easier to understand if it could be explained as an isolated incident, but frankly, it isn't an isolated incident. Mr. Ng's death is just one of a series of recent cases that have drawn Congressional scrutiny around complaints of inadequate medical care, human rights violations and a lack of oversight in immigration detention.

Moreover, this isn't a problem that will be solved through comprehensive immigration reform alone. Mr. Ng was denied access to legal counsel on several occasions and denied access to independent hearings.

Does anyone else find it terrifying that in 21st Century America we throw people into detention facilities, deny them access to legal counsel, refuse to grant independent hearings and leave their medical needs to be determined by detention administrators?

The shame of it all

Two pieces in the New York Times over the last two days caught my eye, and while not obviously related at first, are two parts of a single terrible tale about how our regard for time worn American values have been abandoned in the age of Bush. 

The first was by Nick Kristoff yesterday, and focused on the horrible stories from those who have been released from Guantanamo.  There can be no question now that this awful prison must be shut down, and that this era of rendition, torture and secret prisons brought to an end.  

The second story comes from the front page of the Times today, and looks at another unaccountable American prison system - this one for immigrants here on our own soil.  For those reading this blog, they will know how much we despise our current system of immigration, and how hard we've worked to fix it.  But what is not well understood by many Americans is how unlike our system of justice the judicial system for immigrants is in this country.  Immigration officials need no warrants, and can arrest anyone for suspicion of violation of immigration laws.  When arrested, the accused often disappear into a patchwork quilt of prisons, and it can take weeks for family members to find the missing person.  The accused has no habeas corpus rights, and does not have to be granted access to the outside world.   They can be held for years without trial, or any action being taken, and often are.

The Times piece captures the Kafkaesque nature of immigration justice in the United States.  But what is worse, and it is beginning to get even more attention, is that American citizens are being disappeared into this system.  Imagine if you were caught up in one of these raids.  How would you prove that you are an American citizen? Or a legal resident?  Driver's licenses don't prove anything.  And this gets to a deeper reality also brought up by the U.S. Supreme Court decision last week about Voter IDs - the manner in which we prove our identity in the United States is very much a mess.    

There are many reasons for reforming our immigration system.  But one of the most urgent is how suspected violators are being treated. The United States of America has managed in the age of Bush to be now regularly and routinely, abroad and at home, disappearing people into dark and unaccountable prison systems with very little hope of reasonable redress.  Of all the things that made America different and better than other nations, it was that here, in this nation, the government could not disappear those who it did not like.  If we have lost that, my friends, we have lost a great deal as a people and as a nation.

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