Activists Launch Campaign to Ask U.S. to Respect Immigrant Detainees’ Human Rights

A recent march for immigrant rights in Arizona - Photo: Detention Watch Network.

A recent march for immigrant rights in Arizona. (Photo: Detention Watch Network)

Immigration activists in New York and other cities launched a campaign on Thursday asking the U.S. government to respect human rights in its immigrant detention system.

“The campaign is a nationwide effort led by the Detention Watch Network (DWN) to expose the profit-driven expansion of the detention system,” the network said in a press release.

As a snowstorm blanketed New York City, the activists were to hold a press conference at New York University Law School. The protest was initially planned outside Manhattan’s Varick Federal Detention Facility, slated to close at the end of the month after being the target of many complaints and protests. New York and New Jersey advocates said they planned to “track the transfers of detainees from Varick Street” to the Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny, NJ.

The protests come on the heels of a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union which analyzes a year of grievances filed by detainees at the Manhattan jail to provide “a snapshot of the inhumane and illegal conditions plaguing the federal immigration detention system.”

After years of complaints about the immigrant detention system, the “Dignity, Not Detention” campaign demands that the government spend less on immigrant detention, restore due process for those subject to deportation proceedings, stop the expansion of enforcement programs and use “community-based alternatives to detention,” according to a press release from the New Sanctuary Coalition.

Thursday’s actions include events in Phoenix, San Antonio, Gainesville, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles, the organizers said.

“Over 300,000 immigrants a year are detained in a secretive web of 350 private, federal, state and local jails, and prisons at an annual cost of more than $1.7 billion to taxpayers,” organizers said. “Over eighty percent of detained immigrants go through the immigration system with no lawyers.”

The system is so secretive, indeed, that last month New York Times reporter Nina Bernstein showed how an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman rebuffed her questions at the same time he tried to prevent embarrassing publicity on the death of Guinean tailor Boubacar Bah. According to the activists, since 2003 “a reported 107 people have died in immigration custody.”

The NYCLU report says 34 percent of detainee grievances at the Manhattan jail allege inadequate medical care, 25 percent complain of abusive treatment and 13 percent concern food services.

One of the cases it mentions is that of a detainee with an abscessed tooth, for whom officials took “10 months to schedule a dental appointment.” By that time, “the infection had spread to seven teeth.”

Because the government did not authorize a series of root canals which would saved the detainee’s teeth, “after 16 months, the detainee’s teeth still have not been treated,” the NYCLU said.

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