Sunday, May 20, 2012

Immigration: ACLU alleges rights violations at detention centers

The ACLU seems to think that jails should be run like the Hilton.  Fancy handing out secondhand underwear!  What a horror!

Suspected illegal immigrants in Georgia are suffering from a “systemic violation ... of civil and human rights” during their confinement in “substandard” federal immigration detention facilities, including Stewart Detention Center, the largest of its kind in the nation, according to a new report by the state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The 182-page report, released Wednesday, immediately added fuel to the hot-burning debate over illegal immigration in this Deep South state, where the presence of an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants — the seventh-largest population in the nation — has transformed large swaths of both cities and countryside.

D.A. King, a prominent supporter of stricter illegal immigration policies here, dismissed the document as a “pseudo-report” that relied too heavily on the testimony of detainees, who, by the nature of their circumstances, would tend to be in a complaining mood.

King, president of the activist group the Dustin Inman Society, added in an interview that the ACLU “is leading the anti-enforcement charge here in Georgia.... Their goal here is to stop any enforcement of U.S. immigration law.”

Officials from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and an attorney for Detention Management LLC, the owner of the Irwin Center, did not respond to queries about the investigation.

But Steve Owen, a spokesman for the Corrections Corp. of America, which operates Stewart and the North Georgia Detention Center, called the report an “unfortunate example of the lack of seriousness with which ACLU lawyers approach the very real and practical challenges our nation faces in safely, humanely and cost effectively housing our immigrant detainee population.”

Owen said in an interview that the ACLU ignored or underplayed CCA responses to some of the criticisms of its facility. Those responses argued that the facilities featured clean cells, with a “robust and effective” grievance process at Stewart. The company also argued that some of the allegations were unsubstantiated or incorrect.

For Anton Flores-Maisonet, co-founder of Alterna, a Georgia-based immigrant rights ministry, the report bolstered his long-standing contention that suspected illegal immigrants in federal detention centers were being treated like criminals, or worse, when in fact many of them were guilty of violating only civil immigration statutes.

“I think every American, regardless of how knowledgeable they are about the complexities of our broken immigration system, should be able to agree to some codified, basic human rights minimums as to what we do with individuals we've chosen to detain for immigration purposes,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

The report, “Prisoners of Profit,” was based on documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, as well as tours and interviews at Georgia's four federal immigration facilities.

Three of those facilities, including the 1,750-bed Stewart Detention Center, are run by private corporations. The report challenges the wisdom of the private model, alleging the “systemic violation of immigrant detainees’ civil and human rights while detained in substandard prison-like conditions ill suited for civil detainees.”

The report highlights a number of instances in which detainees were allegedly coerced by staffers at the centers into signing “Stipulated Orders of Removal,” which allow them to be deported without a court hearing.

In some cases, guards at the jails allegedly screamed at and threatened immigrants who would not sign the orders. In two cases, a officer allegedly physically forced immigrants to sign.

The report also alleges that detainees are not given information about pro bono legal services, denied adequate medical care, and subject to regulations that could violate attorney-client confidentiality rights.

Hygiene was also a concern: At the privately run Irwin County Detention Center, female detainees are provided with used underwear and, in at least one case, a woman was given “soiled” underwear, causing her to suffer from an infection that left her legs and genitals scarred, according to the report.

Last year, Georgia passed a tough illegal immigration crackdown law, but parts of it are on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court renders a decision on a similar law passed in Arizona in 2010.


Alabama's Governor Signs Controversial Immigration Law

Two days after sending the state’s controversial immigration bill back to lawmakers for revisions, Alabama’s governor signed the bill into law without any of his proposed changes made.

Gov. Robert Bentley signed HB 658 into law on Friday, claiming that Alabama’s legislature "did not have the appetite" to make anymore changes to the bill at this time.

"In an effort to remove the distraction of immigration from the other business of the special session, I decided to sign House Bill 658 and allow the progress made in the legislation to move forward," Bentley said in a statement.  "We can now also move forward on the other business of the special session."

Bentley, a Republican, had previously argued that the state legislature should remove a provision in Alabama's immigration law that requires school officials to ask students about the legal status of their parents. He called a special session of the state’s legislature to address the immigration issue along with state budget and redistricting.

"I still have concerns about the school provision in the original law," Bentley said in a statement Friday.  "That provision is currently enjoined by a federal court, so it is not currently in effect, and we can re-address this issue if the need arises.  I also still disagree with certain aspects of the new provision in House Bill 658 that called for expending state funds to create a public database with the names of illegal immigrants."

Bentley appears to be concerned that the revised measure tramples on constitutional rights.

Alabama Sen. Scott Beason, the sponsor of the 2011 law and its 2012 revisions, said that he "couldn't be more pleased" with Bentley’s decision to sign HB 658. Beason views the signing as another victory, as he was successful in getting lawmakers to approve limited changes to state's law pending the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling on Arizona's SB 1070 immigration law.

"Now we're set to hear from the Supreme Court on Arizona," Beason said, according to

Some activists are threatening to take civil action against the state for alleged unconstitutional provisions in the immigration law.

"This so-called “reform” bill is nothing more than window dressing – apparently aimed at appeasing the state’s business leaders even though the majority of small businesses and the state’s farmers will continue to suffer," wrote Mary Bauer, the legal director of Southern Poverty Law Center, in a press release last week. "And, in some areas, the bill actually makes the original law much worse."

“And, given the added unconstitutional provisions it will create, the Southern Poverty Law Center will be forced to file more lawsuits against the state of Alabama,” Bauer added.

Despite his own misgivings about the law, Bentley believes that the immigration law is a good thing for Alabama and that is has made progress within the state.

"The bottom line is there are too many positive aspects of House Bill 658 for it to go unsigned. I don’t want to lose the progress we have made," Bentley said.  "This bill reduces burdens on legal residents as they conduct government transactions.  The bill also reduces burdens on businesses while still holding them accountable to hire legal workers.  These changes make this a stronger bill."


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