A coalition of 300 local, national and international organizations sent a letter to the White House this week imploring President Barck Obama to close 10 immigration detention centers that reportedly keep some inmates in egregious conditions that are tantamount to torture.
The detention system has grown drastically over the last 15 years, according to the Detention Watch Network’s Expose and Close campaign, which reports conditions in these facilities have reached a tipping point despite Obama’s promises to reform the system in 2009. Despite the Obama administration's purported goals, which include enlarging capacity near big cities and building new centers that have a less penal setting for detainees, the organization says those changes are not occurring fast enough.
The human rights violations that continue to occur in many detention facilities demonstrates that the only way to ensure the safety and dignity of the human beings they house is to shut them down and release detainees to their families and communities, the campaign reports.
“We hope the call for closure from such a diverse array of organizations across the country will convince President Obama that he must act. [The U.S. Immigration and Customs Authority] claims it has taken steps to reform the detention system, but the people actually in detention are suffering as much as ever,” said Andrea Black, the executive director of the Detention Watch Network.
The group is calling for the closure of 10 facilities located in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey and Texas. Those detention centers have subjected inmates to human rights violations. Those violations, the coalition wrote in its letter to Obama, “are not the exception, but the rule, in immigration detention today.”
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“In October 2009, your administration acknowledged that our immigration detention system was plagued with injustice and inefficiency and promised sweeping reform. Three years later, while there have been efforts to improve the system, Immigration and Customs Enforcement [or ICE] continues to detain more than 400,000 immigrants a year in prisons and jails across the country where they are subject to punitive treatment, inadequate medical care, vulnerable to rape and assault and isolated from any access to legal assistance,” the letter states.
A request for comment from ICE was not immediately returned.
Examples of the inhumane conditions reported by the Expose and Close campaign include:
*Roberto Medina-Martinez, a 39-year-old immigrant, died at Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center in March 2009 of a treatable heart infection. An investigation conducted following his death revealed that the nursing staff failed to refer Mr. Medina for timely medical treatment, and the facility physician failed to follow internal oversight procedures.
*At Pinal County Jail in Arizona, complaints regarding sanitation include receiving food on dirty trays, worms found in food, bugs and worms found in the faucets, receiving dirty laundry and being overcrowded, including 10 men in one cell and only one toilet.
*At Hudson County Jail in New Jersey, an HIV positive woman was not receiving any medication until a local NGO intervened.
*A man with serious emotional health problems in the Houston Processing Center in Texas was placed in solitary confinement for months at a time, a practice which the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Torture has deemed torture.
*In all 10 of the detention centers highlighted, there have been reports of inadequate access to medical care, a total lack of outdoor recreation time, meaning the incarcerated have no exposure to sunlight or fresh air, and the use of solitary confinement as punishment.
“As disturbing as the conditions described in these 10 reports are, they are only the tip of the iceberg,” the letter states. “It is unacceptable to be spending billions in taxpayer dollars every year to contract with corporations that perpetrate human rights abuses against this vulnerable population at a time of fiscal crisis.”