Women’s Rights Advocates Disgusted by Rep. Lamar Smith’s Efforts to Play Politics with People’s Lives

Speakers Call House Immigration Subcommittee Hearing, “Holiday on ICE,” an Insulting Attack on Immigrant Victims of Abuse

As the House Immigration Subcommittee hearing, “Holiday on ICE,” gets underway, a press call on Wednesday highlighted egregious and systemic problems inside our nation’s civil immigration detention facilities and questioned why House Republicans are making light of such serious issues and the need for reform. Immigration detention experts, women’s rights leaders, and victims of sexual abuse discussed the hundreds of preventable deaths and sexual assaults in detention centers across the nation and expressed outrage that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) is playing politics with people’s lives.??The House Immigration Subcommittee hearing “examined” the Obama Administration’s new detention standards.

According to Cheryl Little,Executive Director and Co-Founder of Americans for Immigrant Justice, “Labeling this hearing ‘Holiday on ICE’ is particularly offensive and demonstrates serious disregard for the abuses that so many detainees have had to endure. Detention clearly is no joke. Just ask Miguel Bonilla who nearly died of a ruptured appendix while detained in a Florida county jail. Or M.C., a client of ours who was raped by a detention officer in South Florida. The standards are basic protections—far from a luxury as has been suggested.”??To address the crisis in our nation’s civil immigration detention facilities, the government created Performance-Based National Detention Standards back in 2008 and just recently, the Obama Administration released an updated set of standards to further improve basic rights of people in the care and custody of the U.S. government. However, Rep. Lamar Smith is opposed to the standards, and has called them a “hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants.” He even dispatched culture war allies like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council to link the war on immigrants to the war on women.

Said Louise Melling,ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of the ACLU Center for Liberty, “The harrowing stories of harm women who have suffered in detention should make it clear that there is a dire need for standards of care in ICE facilities. But instead of recognizing that the new standards merely serve to correct a past injustice, those on the Right are turning women’s health care in the immigration context into the latest culture war. We can’t indulge that. These medical care standards are about treating everyone under the United States’ care with respect, dignity and humanity. This is not about your stance on abortion — this is about doing what is right.”

Claudia Leiva Deras from Iowa and M.C. from Florida, both survivors of sexual abuse while in detention, shared their very personal stories on today’s call with the goal of preventing future abuses.

Claudia Leiva Deras, who is represented by the ACLU of Nebraska, said, “Being put in detention was the worst time of my life, and it got even worse when I was abused by another inmate. I begged to see a doctor so I could privately tell someone what was happening, or get a physical examination for the pain in my stomach and womb, but they told me ‘Immigration doesn’t pay for that.’ Even though it’s been two years since I was in immigration detention, I still struggle, and speaking to you today is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but I’m speaking out because I know there are many other women who are abused and harmed while in ICE custody. I want to make sure this never happens to another woman.” (Read Claudia’s full statement here: http://americasvoiceonline.org/claudia)

M.C.,who is represented by Americans for Immigrant Justice (formerly the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center), said, “I used to be a really outgoing, friendly, confident, strong woman, but after I was sexually attacked and raped I could hardly look people in the eye. When my attacker, Officer Vazquez, was convicted, the judge noted the message the crime sent to other immigration detainees about the system of justice the officer had sworn to uphold. I no longer want to feel like a victim, and I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else.” (Read M.C.’s full statement here: http://americasvoiceonline.org/mc)

Noted author Edwidge Danticat published an op-ed in the New York Times recounting her family’s horrific experience with immigration detention and expressing deep concerns about the politicization of basic standards addressing the health, safety, and humanity of immigrants: “The ‘Holiday on ICE’ hearing may just be a political stunt, but the message behind it is dangerous; it suggests that the 30,000 vulnerable people in our jails and detention centers should have little right to proper medical care, that their very lives are luxuries, and that it is not our responsibility to protect them.”

According to Lynn Tramonte,Deputy Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, “When an immigrant with cancer is denied access to life-saving treatment, or a survivor of sexual assault feels unsafe reporting the abuse or is denied help and treatment, something is seriously wrong.

Additionally, two op-eds attack Republican falsehoods about the immigration detention system, using painful stories to underscore the point that improving conditions in our nation’s civil detention facilities should be about basic human decency, not politics:

· In a powerfulNew York Times op-ed, noted author Edwidge Danticat stated, “these new standards are far from luxurious. They simply help protect basic human rights. The flippant title of the hearing shows a blatant disregard for the more than 110 people who have died in immigration custody since 2003. One of them was my uncle Joseph, an 81-year-old throat cancer survivor who spoke with an artificial voice box. He arrived in Miami in October 2004 after fleeing an uprising in Haiti. He had a valid passport and visa, but when he requested political asylum, he was arrested and taken to the Krome detention center in Miami. His medications for high blood pressure and an inflamed prostate were taken away, and when he fell ill during a hearing, a Krome nurse accused him of faking his illness. When he was finally transported, in leg chains, to the prison ward of a nearby hospital, it was already too late. He died the next day.”

· An op-ed inThe Hill from Annie Sovcik of Human Rights First highlights the author’s personal experience with the realities of the detention system, noting, “As a lawyer, I know immigration detainees. I have observed legal orientations for individuals seeking asylum or facing removal, and I have inspected some of the nation’s 250 different immigration detention facilities to assess whether conditions meet the threshold of basic human rights standards. For years, it has been clear that most do not… At Wednesday’s hearing, members of the House Judiciary Committee should spend less time trying to score political points and more time figuring out how to implement the changes that can make immigration detention facilities safer and more humane. Though there’s room for improvement, ICE has a solid roadmap in place to start that journey. Now is the time for Congress to get on board.”

Further resources on abuses in immigration detention:

· New York Times series on deaths in immigration custody (May 2008-January 2010)

· Washington Post “Careless Detention” series (May 2008)

· Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center report, “Dying for Decent Care: Bad Medicine in Immigration Custody” (February 2009)

· Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “Report on Immigration in the United States: Detention and Due Process” (March 2011)

· National Immigrant Justice Center report, “Not Too Late For Reform” (December 2011)

· ACLU, “Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention” (October 2011)

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