Promoted from the diaries by Rosi
Our federal government is dithering on immigration reform. The recently created NJ group, Latino Action Network, is rightly despairing of any action this year. However, such does not stop NJ from instituting reform of its own.
Local NJ counties and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can only be viewed as shameful in their treatment of incarcerated immigrants. It is time for NJ to end the cruel and inhumane practices in its detention centers.
These counties, including Union, Bergen, Hudson, Essex and Monmouth, have reaped big money – blood money – for their coffers by renting out over-priced, under-serviced, and over- crowded jail space to ICE for locking up immigrants. Conditions are often squalid. Medical care has been limited and sometimes non-existent. The food is often so bad that there have been hunger strikes. Visitation rights are cumbersome and hours are limited. Nationally documented cases of deaths resulting from negligence and abuse have been reported. Should our counties be in the business of generating extra income through mistreatment of immigrants?
ICE, a unit of Homeland Security, not only countenances such practices but aggravates them. They make it difficult for concerned family and relatives to find out where immigrants are incarcerated. They frequently move immigrants from one facility to another. No sooner does a public advocate begin to help a detainee than the person may be moved to another location. So bad were some of the practices in the NYC Varick facility that ICE recently began transferring its detainees to a Hudson County jail in Kearny and to other NJ centers. Will they be better off in NJ? The NJ and NY ACLU recently wrote to Homeland Security expressing grave concern.
Congratulations to those individuals who staged a ten-mile walk last week from the foot bridge for Ellis Island to the Elizabeth Detention Center to highlight the plight of immigrant detainees. “America’s greatness is represented by the Statue of Liberty over there, not the Elizabeth Detention Center,” said Shai Goldstein, spokesman for the New Jersey Immigration Policy Network.
The problems regarding ICE’s deportation system, of course are broader. As the NY and NJ ACLU group indicated in their letter, “Detention itself is a relatively new, costly, and inappropriate response to other problems within the deportation system that are better addressed by true alternatives to detention aimed at reducing rather than expanding the detention system as a whole.” The Ellis Island organizers seek an overhaul of immigration policy and want to see “community-based alternatives to detention as well as judicial discretion in the deportation.”
In the meantime local immigrant detention continues to be characterized by inhumanity, secrecy and greed. NJ should undertake its own reform and assure that humane standards are being met in our detainee jails.
So far local jails have made only token improvements. In his budget address to the legislature Governor Christie said, “For those who stay in the corner defending parochial interests, please be on notice – people will band together and drag you to the center of the room to make our state the place we know it can be.” Go for it Governor! Or else the courts should intervene.