8/1/09 The New York Times – Detained and Abused
August 1, 2009
Detained and Abused
Editorial, The New York Times
One toxic remnant of one of the Bush administration’s failed wars — the one on illegal immigrants — is immigration detention. Wanting to appear tough, Bush officials cobbled together, at great speed and expense, a network of federal centers, state and county lockups and private, for-profit prisons. They needed lots of beds to warehouse the tens of thousands of people its raiders and local police were flushing out of the shadows.
The results were ugly. As we learned from reports on the secretive system, particularly those by Nina Bernstein in The Times, detainees were locked up and forgotten. They were denied access to lawyers and their families. They languished, sickened and died without medical attention.
On Tuesday, the National Immigration Law Center issued the first comprehensive report on abuses in a system that holds about 30,000 on any given day and more than 300,000 a year. It found “substantial and pervasive violations” — ignored for years — of the government’s own minimal monitoring requirements.
The next day, immigrant advocates issued a report containing the testimonies of detainees in a privately run detention center in rural Basile, La., where immigrants are waging the latest of several hunger strikes to get their grievances resolved. They say they have pleaded for access to medicine, lawyers, their families and basic information about their cases. They lack underwear and soap. Rats, spiders, flies and filth are rampant.
Sadly, President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security rejected a petition in federal court to enact legally enforceable standards for the treatment of immigrant detainees. Instead, the administration is sticking with a Bush-era system that relies in part on private contractors for quality control, even though those outside monitors are often former federal immigration agents.
Senators Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have introduced bills to force the department to adopt legally enforceable rules, with real penalties, for detention centers. Mr. Obama and his homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, did not create the system, nor is six months enough to take it apart. But at some point that work must begin.