Jail Without Justice: Report Slams U.S. Immigration Gulags

Human Rights

Editor's note: the following is a transcript of the March 25 broadcast of Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a new report from Amnesty International lambasting the state of the immigrant detention system in this country. 400,000 people are arrested by immigration officials each year, some of them US citizens. On average, over 30,000 people are in immigrant detention facilities. That’s three times the number of immigrants who were in custody a decade ago.

The report is called “Jailed Without Justice.” It says tens of thousands languish in immigration prisons in deplorable conditions without receiving a hearing to determine whether their detention is warranted. Those detained include lawful permanent residents, undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, survivors of torture and human trafficking. At least seventy-four people have died in immigration custody in the past five years, says the report.

Well, I’m joined now in the firehouse by Rosa Clemente. You may know her as the former Green vice-presidential candidate. She ran with Cynthia McKinney. She is now the immigrant rights campaign director for Amnesty International USA.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

ROSA CLEMENTE: Thanks for having me, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: In just a few minutes, we’re going to be speaking with independent Senator Bernie Sanders. But right now, the results of this report, as we see the increasing militarization of the border and the focus of Washington on the Mexican-US border.

ROSA CLEMENTE: Yeah, I think it’s interesting, because the report is about immigrants in detention, so obviously our five most popular ethic groups are Mexicanos, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Chinese and Filipino people. But I’m very concerned about this potential federalizing of the border, because we already see kind of the immigration backlash that has been happening against particularly Latino immigrants, but also we haven’t seen a dialogue or a debate around comprehensive immigration reform and the system. So, we’re very concerned right now.

But as it pertains to the report and the statistics that you put out, one of the main things is that even when you’re detained, you are subject to human rights, and human rights are being violated within a lot of these ICE detention centers, but also the local and state prisons that contract to have detainees in their prisons.

AMY GOODMAN: Are immigration prisons mainly private?

ROSA CLEMENTE: Well, what we’re seeing, actually—excuse me, I’m sorry—that right now we see that there’s—67 percent of immigrants in detention are within state and county criminal jails, and about, I think, 50 percent of those are privatized. And the interesting thing is that the company that has this contract is CCA, Corporations Corrections of America [sic].

AMY GOODMAN: Correction Corporation of America [sic], right.

ROSA CLEMENTE: Corrections Corporation of America, formerly known as Sodexho, kind of the boogie monster that in the ’90s the movement around the prison-industrial complex was fighting.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the recommendations of your report?

ROSA CLEMENTE: Yeah, I mean, one of the main recommendations right now is that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, she needs to put out a strong message out there that, first, the ICE standards that are there must be enforced, also that we have to think about alternatives to detention. Right? There are programs where people can call in, say where they’re at. We’re not keen with the ankle monitoring, because that, in itself, is a violation of your humanity and your body. But there are alternatives to detention.

And also, I mean, we have to recommend that people get access to legal counsel and get access to knowing their rights within detention. And many of these detainees don’t have the money and don’t have access to legal counsel. So although they’re afforded a hearing, many can then languish without due process anywhere from thirty-seven days to—we had somebody that was in there for three-and-a-half years before their case was determined.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Rosa Clemente, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Rosa Clemente, immigrant rights campaign director for Amnesty International USA. We will link to your report at our website, democracynow.org.

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