Our VoiceImmigration

Human Rights Crisis Within Our Borders


Jill Garvey • Nov 02, 2009

Treatment of immigrant detainees tells of the shameless brokenness of America’s immigration system. Even the valiant efforts by some to lessen the suffering of families caught in the immigration web are stymied by the lack of rational immigration reform.

Recent articles have highlighted the issue. In Nina Bernstein’s recent New York Times article, In Manhattan, Immigrant Jail Draws Scrutiny, she discusses the Varick Street Detention Facility in Manhattan.

The new focus on Varick highlights the conflict between two forces: the administration’s plans to revamp detention, and current policies that feed the flow of detainees through the system as it is now. A disjointed mix of county jails and privately run prisons, where mistreatment and medical neglect have been widely documented, the detention network churns roughly 400,000 detainees through 32,000 beds each year.

“Any attempt to get support or services for them is stymied because you don’t know where they’re going to end up,” said Lynn M. Kelly, the director of the Justice Center.

When she asked that the lawyers’ letters of legal advice be forwarded to detainees who had been transferred from Varick, she said the warden balked, saying he had to consider the financial interests of his private shareholders: 1,200 members of a central Alaskan tribe whose dividends are linked to Varick’s profits under a $79 million, three-year federal contract.

Arlene M. Roberts wrote last month about how corporate interests are superseding humane treatment of immigrants in The Detention Debacle: Toward Reform with Civility.

No discussion of detention reform can be complete without addressing the establishment of a uniform standard of accountability.

Across the nation detention facilities are run by private companies that are not held accountable for what transpires within the confines of their facilities. As a result, former detainees recount tales of horror and abuse.

Perhaps the best guide as our nation traverses immigration reform is to demand that every immigrant, refugee, and citizen is treated as a human being.

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