Immigration Reform – Dignity Not Detention Campaign Rollout, Spotlight on Hudson

This is a diary from this weekend, with an interesting conversation going on in the comments. Jump in at will. – – promoted by Rosi

Hudson County Jail is getting national attention.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on Jan 12th that it would close the 300 bed detention center in Manhattan, Varick St and move them to “another facility in the NY metropolitan area”, because Varick didn’t meet their standards for outdoor exercise and visitation.  As if any jail in New Jersey meets ICE’s detention standards. Oh yeah, and because $250 per night (that was going to an Alaskan Indian tribe) was twice what Hudson charges, $111 per night.  Think of the cost savings (if you do, you will find out that that saves less than 1% of the $1.7 billion budgeted last year for custody operations).  NY and NJ advocates, as Bill Orr pointed out here, are calling for review of who needs to be in detention.  We are at a record number of over 32,000 people being detained each night.

NY/NJ advocates held a press conference on Thursday as part of the rollout of the national Detention Watch Network’s Dignity Not Detention campaign.

Alix Nguefuck of the American Friend Service Committee, Newark spoke about the issue of transfers, which we’ve seen increased numbers of in NJ, because of the closure of Middlesex on Oct 1, which I wrote about at the time.  Some of the detainees we used to visit have been transferred up to 3 or 4 times between Essex, Hudson and Monmouth since Oct!

NY advocates suited up for a photo op that got picked up by Telemundo, 6:30pm news on Thurs.  Second from the right is a former detainee who described how when he was taken to immigration court in a jumpsuit and shackles, his daughter was afraid to be near him.

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Nina Bernstein reported that the chronically ill and detainees with psychological problems remain in Varick as NJ jails refuse to take them.  Her story of the guy who need a tooth extracted is pretty gruesome.  They wanted him to pay for his own root canal. We had the opposite problem in Middlesex, they wouldn’t do any procedure other than extraction, not a filling or a root canal.  

My favorite nat’l magazine and journal press coverage follows, starting with Jackie Stevens’ Broken ICE from the upcoming March 15th issue of The Nation:

“We view this as a lose-lose situation,” says Udi Ofer of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), which, along with numerous other New York civil rights organizations, is disturbed that ICE is shifting people from one intolerable facility to another and not releasing them…

If you’re going to be one of the largest jailers in the world, it is a good use of your time to create enforceable regulations,” says Amy Gottlieb, director of immigrant rights for the American Friends Service Committee…

Congress could pass a bill requiring enforceable detention standards. But Senator Chuck Schumer–a key player on immigration issues who recently decried the transfer from Varick to the Hudson jail as a “crushing blow” to their “due process rights”–will not be requiring detention regulations in his committee’s forthcoming bill. “Schumer is playing this safe political game and not recognizing we have a gulag happening,” says Gottlieb.

In the National Law Journal Feb 8th article by Jenna Greene,

John Morton makes no apology for locking up 380,000 people a year.

They haven’t been charged with crimes. Rather, they’re immigrants, confined to a sprawling network of more than 270 jails and prisons for weeks or months while proceedings to determine whether they’ll be allowed to remain in the country are pending.

“This isn’t a question of whether or not we will detain people. We will detain people, and we will detain them on a grand scale,” said Morton, who is head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) within the Department of Home land Security. “It’s a necessary power” … he said in a lengthy interview in his spacious 11th floor office at ICE’s headquarters in Southwest Washington…

I got quoted in talking about the lack of access to lawyers.

One of the top concerns … is detainee access to counsel. According to last week’s ABA report, 84% of detainees have no lawyer to guide them through the complex removal process. “The need is so huge. They beg you, ‘Please help me, get me a lawyer,’ ” said Karina Wilkinson, co-founder of the Middlesex County Coalition for Immigrant Rights, who is not a lawyer but works with immigrants in detention centers in New Jersey.

Wilkinson said her group has received letters from detainees that detail the difficulties of mounting a pro se defense from a county jail, including limited access to law libraries, a lack of basic supplies such a paper and envelopes, difficulty making copies, and mail delays of up to two weeks.

And here’s my statement to the Jersey Journal when asked to comment on the PR person for Hudson saying they have dropped the rule limiting detainees visitors lists to 5 people, which has prevented two of us from visiting former Middlesex detainees in Hudson since October. Not sure how much of it will appear:

Hudson County jail realized how arbitrary and unjust it was to limit detainees to visiting lists of five people.  That is a small piece of a huge problem.  Immigrant detainees continue to be denied access to the community, lawyers and family.  New standards that ICE promises to impose on the Hudson Co. jail will not make the jail into a ‘civil’ detention center.  A jail is a jail. Transferring detainees from one to the other does not solve the problem. ICE needs to make an honest assessment of who poses a flight risk or danger and who doesn’t, to reduce the record number of over 30,000 people in detention every night.

In a Feb 12 press release ICE said it “expects the Hudson facility to be in full compliance with the new guidelines by summer 2010.”  I’m having trouble squaring that not just with Asst Sec’y Morton’s ‘detain them on a grand scale’ remark, but with the direction ICE’s actions are taking. Increasing transfers doesn’t look like the smart, ‘civil’ and cost effective thing to do.  

Meanwhile, all of the remaining Middlesex detainees that we are visiting were transferred to Essex, ‘the green monster’ on Tuesday, where it is a 4 hour round trip ordeal to get a half hour visit through a glass.

Comments (11)

  1. Bill Orr

    What we are facing is the callous calculus that warehousing immigrants in an over-crowded, under-serviced local jail is a solution to a county’s financial problems. It also represents a cowardly acceptance of ICE’s disregard for humane practices.

    People within each county where there is a detainee center should exert pressure on their local Freeholders, Assemblypersons and Senators and also contact the Governor’s offfice.  We can address the problem at a county level or at the state level through legislation. The longer term, more significant solutions are in the hands of the federal government. However, in the meantime local counties must refuse to either engage in or get out of this cruel practice (like Middlesex,) or establish humane standards. If not the State must impose regulations.

    I have visited inside the Bergen and Essex jails, and believe me you do not want to be in them as an American citizen – but even less so as an immigrant.

  2. William Weber (WjcW)

    as someone who married an illegal immigrant, with 5 undocumented children (I have six total)… and having sheparded them through the process to adjust their status and eventually gain citizenship…

    It’s been my experience (and I have a whole family of inlaws that is also undocumented living here) that by and large… you have to commit some sort of crime, or obvious fraud to get yourself detained.

    Can you explain WHY this particular subset of people finds themselves detained? Becuase it’s been my experience (both with my family, and in my employement, in Bound Brook, with the largest Costa Rican population outside of Costa Rica) that the ICE pretty much lets these people go unmolested unless they cause trouble.

    I don’t agree with current policy, (there are far too many children swept up in this through no fault of their own)… but I’ve rarely seen ICE bring action against anyone who really didn’t ‘ask’ for it…

    (by asking for it? shoplifting/DUI/etc…counterfeit documents, etc)


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