Latina Advocates to Congress: Immigration Detention Looks like Jail, Not Vacation
Yesterday, some members of House Judiciary Committee continued their attacks on immigrant people 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 National 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 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 circumstances.”
This hearing comes as immigration detainees continue to suffer human rights abuses. More than 120 detainees have died in ICE custody since 2003, including Victoria 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 by ICE guards themselves, and Latinas like Miriam Mendiola-Martinez have 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 even U.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.
The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health is the only national organization working on behalf of the reproductive health and justice of the 20 million Latinas, their families and communities in the United States through public education, community mobilization and policy advocacy.