by Nezua Media Consortium Blogger
In political circles, we sometimes use the phrase "police state," to describe losses of civil liberties or the encroachment of penal processes into our lives. But how does such a thing manifest in our every day experience? Some would point to the all-too-casual use of electric shock devices by legal authorities. Others would quickly mention the United States’ swiftly growing enterprise of detention centers, barbed wire and concrete compounds or camps managed by Immigrations Customs and Enforcement (ICE).
These centers are at the forefront of this week’s Immigration Wire, due to a riot at the Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas—the "second uprising in recent weeks," according to RaceWire’s Feb. 4 article:
The protest began after a group of immigrant prisoners attempted to meet with the detention facility’s authorities, demanding that a gravely ill detainee be released from solitary confinement and be taken immediately to a hospital. The prison authorities refused to listen and did not take action. The detainees responded by protesting after being ignored.
In Desperation in Detention, Michelle Chen reveals other abuses related to the riot and quotes Wallace County, TX district attorney Juan Guerra, who warns that these conditions are a nation-wide trend. Guerra is right. While the conditions at Reeves County are shocking, they are not new developments. In July of 2008, Alternet’s Joshua Holland moderated a workshop called How to Win the Immigration Debate and Beat Back ICE’s Emerging Police State, where he spoke of Hutto Prison in Texas. Latino Politico’s Man Egee liveblogged the event:
Guantanamo Bay receives global condemnation, but right here in the US the poorest of the poor are being rounded up in a migrant gulag. Many are not charged with crimes, health care access is withheld, etc. 30 minutes to the north of Austin, the T. Don Hutto, half of the detainees are children, as young as three years old. It is a medium-security prison that has been changed very little to house families.
New America Media’s Feb. 3 article, Fear and Hate Policies Along the Border: R.I.P., clearly defines the inhumane conditions at work in detention centers across the country.
Here, in the United States, there is an entire detention system set up to house thousands of migrants, including women and children. They are generally incarcerated without rights, without due process and without trials. In Texas, the Hutto detention facility (also operated by CCA) continues to inhumanely imprison migrant children, separating them from their families. According to the recently released "Unseen Prisoners" study, by researchers from the University of Arizona, some 300 migrant women were being held in 2007-2008 in three detention centers (two are operated by CCA), subjected to unwarranted and inhumane conditions.
For those of you looking for additional reporting on immigration, The Sanctuary is tireless in their efforts to expose what goes on in these facilities, as New Report Details Abuse at Privately Run Ice Detention Center illustrates. The Sanctuary also casts some light on the Reeve’s operators in Feb. 1’s Prison Riot Underway Due to Inhumane Treatment & Death! GEO Group cited for Worst Prisons Ever!
…The GEO Group is an international corporation that operates prisons around the country and is frequently in the news for its abuse of prisoners in its care resulting in many preventable deaths. At least eight people died at the Geo Group-operated George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania, the state’s only privately run jail. Several of those deaths resulted in lawsuits by family members who say the facility did not provide adequate medical care or proper supervision for inmates.
In the U.S.’s detention centers, human rights violations abound. In March of 2008, there was the outrageous treatment of Francisco Castaneda, who died shortly after being released from the San Diego Correctional Facility as a result of what U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson deemed "one of the most, if not the most, egregious ‘violations of the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment that the court has ever encountered.’” And in August 2008, Hiu Lui "Jason" Ng died in the custody of ICE with advanced cancer and a fractured spine. His family has not given up the fight for justice, as New America Media reported on Feb. 4:
Ng’s family seeks answers about his treatment during his detainment at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, RI, which allegedly denied him use of a wheelchair and failed to take him to scheduled medical appointments. A Rhode Island court is expected to decide this month if the Wyatt Detention Center, which contracted with ICE but is not part of ICE, must turn over the records.
No matter what your position on immigration law happens to be; no matter how many generations your family has been rooted in this soil, these kinds of abuses are unacceptable. Treating our fellow humans in these ways simply is not, as they say, American. As more and more people understand the origins of the strongest resistance to immigration reform, there is hope that reason and a sense of decency will lead the conversation as we move forward.
In the wake of the Decider, we are left with abuses of power, broken laws, and remnants of symbolic and wasteful movements, like the 669 miles of fencing along a minuscule part of the border between the US and Mexico. Fear and persecution of the Immigrant come in cycles: We’ve been here before. We’ll be here again. How will we handle it today? Will Obama’s agenda extend to migrant communities?
When President Barack Obama made it his first act in office to shut down Guantánamo Bay prison, effectively ended one shameful chapter in our country’s embarrassingly large book of human-rights abuses. It was not so much redemption as a reminder that this country has a long, long way to go when it comes to detention, due process, and the Geneva Convention. It’s not just alleged terrorists that are suffering from our inhumane treatment. […] Children and families have suffered inexcusable indignities under this new policy, which treats them like convicted criminals instead of asylum-seekers and potential citizens. —The American Prospect, The Big Business of Family Detention, February 2, 2009
Maybe we truly are leaving behind some of our darkest days. There are signs here and there of positive change. Glimmers of hope. Meanwhile we keep at it. At the least, we can do like the child who slipped a note into the hand of an adult visiting Hutto prison asked: "help us and ask questions."