Republicans in the House of Representatives have held insultingly titled hearings into conditions in immigration jails.
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement called their hearing held last week “Holiday on ICE” (ICE is Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith said that the hearings were on “hospitality guidelines,” but in reality they covered proposed new ICE rules, such as on the shackling of pregnant women, women’s health care including routine pelvic and breast examinations, Pap smear and STI tests, mammograms, a minimum of recreation and decent sanitation and clean drinking water.
Lamar claimed that the proposed rules “[treat] them better than citizens in federal custody,” whereas the rules only extend some of the conditions expected in jails for criminals.
The new ICE rules lampooned by House Republicans address a well-documented human rights crisis in increasingly privatized immigration jails, which house refugees and asylum seekers fleeing persecution as well as the undocumented.
And the new proposed rules do not extend to protections against rape provided to those in the correctional system.
As the system grew more rapidly than thoughtfully, reports from the government itself – as well as from media, non-governmental organizations such as Human Rights First, and international human rights bodies – have documented chronic problems.
Problems in facilities include excessive use of shacking and strip-searches, overuse of solitary confinement, medical neglect, sexual abuse, deaths, challenges in accessing legal counsel and telephones, frequent transfers, noncompliance with existing standards, lack of oversight and interference with the open practice of religion. They include in some facilities a lack of cleanliness, heating and even food.
An Australian government inquiry has just found that the sort of prolonged detention also practiced in America causes endemic mental illness.
Another issue is the use of detention despite the availability of dramatically less costly, less restrictive and highly successful alternatives to detention programs.
Those working within the system, such as counsel Annie Sovcik, accused the House Republicans of “trying to sensational [sic] and belittle what is a difficult problem.”
She asked instead that they “get down to the real business of figuring out how to implement the changes that can make immigration detention facilities safer and more humane.”
Picture by Carrie Sloan