Monday, April 11, 2011

Immigration detention: everybody knows

Remember Lincoln Steffens in The Shame of the Cities? He wrote a blockbuster of a book by intentionally telling only stories that everybody already knew:
Exposure of the unknown was not my purpose. The people: what they will put up with, how they are fooled, how cheaply they are bought, how dearly sold, how easily intimidated, and how led, for good or for evil ... that was the inquiry, and so the significant facts were those only which everybody in each city knew, and of these, only those which everybody in every other town would recognize, from their common knowledge of such things, to be probable...
Y'know who just took the Steffens approach? The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in its report on U.S. immigration detention. (Via Reuters, via the valuable Siskind Susser immigration newsletter.)

The IACHR report draws some of the grand, obvious, appalled conclusions that a stranger with a legal education is likely to draw from a close view of the U.S. immigrant imprisonment system and its surrounding rationalizations.

For example:

¶¶11-12: “11. The IACHR would like to thank ICE and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for the cooperation they provided to enable the Inter‐American Commission to conduct the mission and for their willingness to answer the delegation’s questions.
12. Nevertheless, the IACHR denounces the decision of the Sheriff of Maricopa County, in Phoenix, Arizona, who refused to grant access to the delegation...”

(Yep, they mean that professional sadist Arpaio.)(What's the masculine form of “dominatrix” anyway?)

¶17: “...one of the IACHR’s main concerns is the increasing use of detention based on a presumption of its necessity, when in fact detention should be the exception.”

¶19: “For those cases in which detention is strictly necessary, the IACHR is troubled by the lack of a genuinely civil detention system, where the general conditions are commensurate with human dignity and humane treatment, and featuring those special conditions called for in cases of non‐punitive detention. The Inter‐American Commission is also disturbed by the fact that the management and personal care of immigration detainees is frequently outsourced to private contractors, yet insufficient information is available concerning the mechanisms in place to supervise the private contractors.”

¶24: “[The U.S. govt.] then goes on to express its opinion in the sense that “contrary to the Commission’s assertions, neither the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man nor international law generally establish a presumption of liberty for undocumented migrants who are present in a country in violation of that country’s immigration laws”....”

So you can read the rest for yourself. The sad stories start about a third of the way in. Biggest concerns have to do with medical care but there's enough awfulness to go around.

As in Steffens a century ago, the generalizations are the food for thought. We know the sad scary details already.

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