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The Boston Globe (Also NYTimes)
ACLU alleges rights abuses
Report: Detained immigrants face harsh conditions
By Maria Sacchetti, Globe Staff | December 10, 2008
Immigrants jailed for deportation in Massachusetts are often subject to harsh conditions, including inadequate medical care, harassment, and overcrowding, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said in a report to be released today.
The report alleges that state and county jails and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement are failing to oversee the detainees' treatment.
"There's no one watching over them, so there's no real incentive to make sure that the immigration detainees' rights are protected," said Laura Rótolo, staff attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts and the lead researcher on the 22-month investigation. "They are not protecting people's fundamental rights."
ICE confirmed that the agency received letters from the ACLU of Massachusetts about its findings, and is in the process of responding fully.
"We take all allegations about conditions of confinement very seriously," said ICE spokeswoman Paula Grenier, who added that the agency follows federal guidelines to ensure that immigrants are treated humanely. "ICE is committed to providing all detainees in our care with humane and safe detention environments and ensuring that adequate medical services are available."
For the report, the ACLU interviewed 40 detainees and corresponded with more than 30 other inmates, spoke with dozens of advocates and lawyers, and reviewed hundreds of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The authors of the report called for an end to immigration raids and alternatives to detaining immigrants, such as electronic monitoring bracelets.
As of August 2007, about 800 immigrants and asylum-seekers were in seven county jails, one state facility, and one federal medical center, although the report said none are serving time for crimes. Many detainees have criminal records, but the report's authors estimate that more than half have overstayed a visa, are awaiting a decision on asylum, or sneaked over the border - all civil violations. The cost of housing them is roughly $90 a day to the US government, the report said.
Jessica Vaughan, recently named director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said detaining immigrants - especially criminals - is important because it ensures that they will be deported.
"The odds are if we don't detain them that they're not going to be removed," said Vaughan, who is based in Franklin. "Then they become fugitives and they have to be tracked down."
The report documented several cases in which medical care was delayed or denied to immigrants, reportedly because they were about to be deported.
One 43-year-old Pakistani national, the report said, waited five months to have a specialist look at a painful lesion inside his mouth. He was released after the specialist ordered a biopsy, which was never performed, and is still awaiting deportation.
A 27-year-old Liberian national, diagnosed with schizophrenia, bounced among three county jails with a skin condition and dental problems that were left untreated for months.
Some mental health issues were ignored as well, the report found. An immigrant was removed from Bridgewater State Hospital and transferred to New Mexico, and then to Rhode Island, without his medications or health records.
The report was released at a time when ICE is investigating the August death of a 34-year-old Chinese national who allegedly received inadequate care at Wyatt Detention Center in Rhode Island. On Monday, ICE relocated 153 detainees from the center during its review.
Detainees also complained about crowding as well. At one point in Essex County, inmates were sleeping in the gymnasium, though they have since been relocated. The six New England states have space for approximately 1,200 detainees a day, the report said.
Interviewees complained about being assigned to cells with violent criminals and of guards who threatened them with sedation or harassed them if they complained about jail conditions or resisted deportation.
In Suffolk County, two detainees were transferred to Franklin County after complaining to the media about a strip search. A female detainee said she was sent to York, Pa., after she complained about her protracted detention.
Detainees spent an average of 11 months in Massachusetts jails awaiting deportation, Rótolo said, based on her interviews with 40 detainees. One man spent more than five years in jail fighting deportation before he was released to continue battling his case. Three immigrants spent more than two years in jail, and 10 spent more than a year in jail.
Maria Sacchetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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