Latina Advocates to Congress: Immigration Detention Looks like Jail, Not Vacation

Yesterday, some members of House Judiciary Committee continued their attacks on immigrants by trying to compare immigration detention to a luxury vacation.

Titled “Holiday

on ICE” the hearing took aim at new detention rules (2011 Performance-Based

National Detention Standards) released by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement

(ICE) last month. During the hearing, Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and

others criticized humane detention conditions as too costly to implement, a

claim that ignores both the realities of detention and the alternatives.

“We cannot put a price tag

on human rights and human dignity,” said Jessica González-Rojas, executive

director of theNational Latina Institute for Reproductive Health(NLIRH). “Furthermore, if we were

truly concerned about costs—rather than looking for opportunities to attack

immigrants—we would spend far less money on immigration detention facilities

that look like jails, spend more time exploring more humane and lower-security

options, and ultimately recognize that alternatives to detention are what make

the most sense from both a budgetary and human rights standpoint.”

NLIRH was instrumental in

getting a women’s health section added to these new standards which recommends

that women have access to basic feminine hygiene products, routine

gynecological and obstetric care, contraception, and pregnancy services including

pre- and post-natal care and abortion care. The standards also outline a rule

to prevent shackling of pregnant women “absent truly extraordinary


This hearing comes as

immigration detainees continue to suffer human rights abuses.More than 120detainees have died in ICE

custody since 2003, includingVictoria Arellano, who died of AIDS after

two months of being denied treatment in immigration detention. There have been

documented cases of sexual assault in detention, including byICE guardsthemselves, and Latinas likeMiriam Mendiola-Martinezhave been forced to give birth while

shackled. These kinds of abuses are suffered by many of the more than 30,000

individuals in immigration detention each day—a population that includes asylum

seekers, individuals with refugee status, and evenU.S. citizens.

The detention standards

under discussion at the hearing were designed to introduce a modicum of

humanity into immigration detention. While the standards fall short in many

ways, including protecting against sexual assault, they nevertheless represent

a major improvement for the predominately Latino detainee population,

particularly for women.

Though the implementation of

these standards is ongoing, NLIRH applauds the Administration for continued

efforts to improve living conditions in immigration detention and urges

immediate, full implementation and enforcement of these standards.

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