Tuesday, December 21, 2010

IRATE & First Friends Voices Opposition to Plans to Double Immigration Detention in NJ

Proposed Site in Essex County Would Expand an Inhumane System Plagued by a Lack of Oversight that Breaks Apart Families and is Wasteful of Tax Dollars

Elizabeth, NJ - IRATE & First Friends would like to make public its opposition to Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) proposed 2,250 bed facilities in Essex County. Our opposition stems from the fact that this would constitute a significant expansion to the immigration detention system, more than doubling the current number of immigration detention beds currently in NJ. It is our position, as an organization, that such detention is morally wrong, legally suspect and wasteful of taxpayer funds.

For over a decade, IRATE & First Friends has advocated for an end to the mass detention of immigrants, the use of alternatives to detention and the improvement of conditions for those currently in immigration detention. Since 1997, First Friends has managed a visitor’s service at the Elizabeth Detention Center and has recently begun visitor services for immigrant detainees at both the Hudson and Bergen County jails.

What we have observed is that visits from family, lawyers, clergy, and other humanitarian groups are often restricted or are outright barred. Many of the rights that apply in criminal cases such as the right to counsel, appeals, phone calls, health care, etc. are not extended to people suspected of immigration violations and the entire system is plagued by a lack of oversight. Since 2003 over 100 people have died in immigration detention, some due to obvious medical neglect and US citizens continue to be mistakenly detained and deported.

Though it may be considered a money maker for the county, the new detention center will be paid for by our federal tax dollars. This year the immigration detention system will cost the US taxpayer $1.7 billon. The proposed Essex County complex alone will cost the US taxpayer in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million dollars per day and in excess of $85 million per year. Essex County will not see all of this money either as a private, for-profit company, namely Community Education Centers, or CEC, is said to be involved in the planned expansion.

It is unavoidable that these federal tax dollars will be used to incarcerate long time county residents with significant ties to the community and split apart local Essex county families. Just over 23% of Essex County’s population is foreign born, according to the most recent data from the US Census Bureau. Of this population, 71% have been in this country since before 2000 and 54% are not yet US Citizens.

One must also take into account the negative impacts to the local economy. Immigration detention removes workers and consumers from our local economies, reducing both economic output and consumer spending. Some of the residents of Essex County who will be incarcerated at the new detention center will be from mixed immigration status families in which at least one parent is undocumented or is a legal permanent resident and may include a spouse or children who are US citizens. Many will be the primary breadwinners or caregivers for their families. Their detention will only further burden our already stretched social services.

If the building of a new immigration detention center proceeds in Essex County, the county executive and the freeholders must ensure that the complex avoids the human rights abuses found at other detention centers and that the conditions are humane. As a long time service provider to the immigrant detainee population in NJ, IRATE & First Friends expects to be among those organizations which will assist with such an effort. We will also be vigilant in monitoring general conditions and the treatment of all immigrant detainees in any such facility.

In order for the conditions in the new center to be considered humane at a minimum we would expect the following:

· Visiting hours that include evenings and weekends

· Contact visits for family members

· The establishment of a visitor’s service for detainees with no local family

· No restrictions on visits, phone calls, and other contact with lawyers and clergy

· Adequate mental and physical health care

· Healthy food that complies with dietary restrictions and religious observances

· Unrestricted access to communal religious services

IRATE & First Friends looks forward to a time when immigrants are no longer detained, but in the interim we will work with ICE and the local county administrations and advocate for the rights of those who are being held for suspected immigration violations.

About IRATE & First Friends
IRATE & First Friends is a non-profit organization that upholds the inherent humanity and dignity of all immigrants. We provide visitors and non-legal assistance for immigrants held in detention and work for improved conditions. We advocate for the end of arbitrary, mass detention believing such detention is morally wrong, legally suspect and wasteful of taxpayer funds. www.irate-firstfirends.org

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Immigration Policy - Keeping Families in Poverty

[I]t is important that communities do not think that they have completed their duty to migrants simply by performing acts of fraternal assistance or even by supporting legislation aimed at giving them their due place in society while respecting their identity as foreigners. Christians must in fact promote an authentic culture of welcome capable of accepting the truly human values of the immigrants over and above any difficulties caused by living together with persons who are different… Christians will accomplish all this by means of a truly fraternal welcome in the sense of St Paul’s admonition, “Welcome one another then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rm 15:7) - PONTIFICAL COUNCILFOR THE PASTORAL CARE OF MIGRANTS AND ITINERANT PEOPLE Erga migrantes caritas Christi (The love of Christ towards migrants)

The far reaching damage to communities and families created by public policies that have been shaped by an enforcement first attitude, such as the Rockefeller Drug Laws, has been well documented. Currently, the arguments of homeland security and the rule of law which seek to criminalize the human right of migration are prevailing in the immigration “debate” and are providing the veil of legitimacy for oppressive laws and immigration policies resulting in the deepening and perpetuating of poverty.

Some of these laws deal specifically with immigration, but limits on benefits, entitlements and even human rights are being attached to all kinds of laws and policies which reach far beyond the border and persecute immigrants, both undocumented and legal permanent residents. They exist at the federal state and local level in part due to the vacuum created by the inaction of legislators in Washington, but also are a reflection of a punitive attitude toward immigration policy.

What everyone needs to understand about immigration enforcement is that it is extremely costly and it separates families. In 1996, when the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act (IIRRA) was passed, detention became mandatory for those suspected of immigration violations (a civil offense under federal law). This quickly expanded a system of administrative detention comprised of about 3,000 beds to over 30,000 and growing.

The US will spend nearly $2 billion on detention alone this year and billions more on raids and border enforcement. Just like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the war on immigrants is stealing money that could be used on much needed social programs. The Obama Administration while promising to fight for comprehensive immigration reform has also promised heightened enforcement. By the end of this year nearly 400,000 people will have passed through the immigration detention system and almost as many will have been deported. These are statistics that Janet Napolitano regularly touts as a significant accomplishment.

Those in detention include not only the undocumented, but also legal permanent residents all of whom may be the primary breadwinners and caregivers to young children including children who are US citizens. Some 4 million children live in mixed immigration status families, where at least one parent is undocumented. Arguably, millions more live in families where one parent is a legal permanent resident who, because of the IIRRA, are at much greater risk of mandatory detention and deportation for minor non-violent offenses. Also because of the IIRA those who are deported are likely to be barred from re-entering the US for a minimum of ten years if not for life.

The families of US citizen children who have at least one parent who has been deported must make a series of heart wrenching decisions. Do they live separated? Do they leave their children in the care of another, possibly in foster-care? Do the children return to the home country of their parents effectively living in exile? No matter how they chose to answer, the emotional and economic burden which will be placed on these families is tremendous. The stress on the social fabric and the burden to social institutions created by children living in single-parent families is also great and has also been well documented.

In addition, immigrant families living in the US, intact or otherwise, suffer the consequences of policies designed to produce deportation by attrition. By limiting access to the social safety net and the basic needs of food, shelter, education, etc. it is hoped that immigrants will just give up and go home.

People who are undocumented are barred from receiving food stamps, WIC assistance, public housing, HUD money or other government subsidies. Private agencies that accept public money to provide housing to the poor are also barred from providing shelter to anyone without papers. In addition, local legislation has been enacted in recent years making it a crime to rent to undocumented immigrants in the municipalities of Riverside, NJ; Hazelton, PA and Fremont, NE. Beginning July 29, 2010, it became a crime in Arizona to provide shelter to anyone who there is reason to believe may be undocumented.

In terms of healthcare, undocumented immigrants are barred from receiving Medicaid. They are also barred from purchasing healthcare from the soon to be created insurance exchange as a result of the recently passed healthcare reform bill. On the state level, in NJ, Massachusetts, and several other states facing difficult budget decisions, legal residents who are immigrants have been dropped from state programs that provide healthcare to families in poverty.

Education which has offered a way out of poverty for many past generations of immigrants is more difficult for the children of immigrants to access. Despite a Supreme Court decision requiring all public schools to admit students regardless of immigration status, immigrant children are regularly discriminated against in the admissions process to public schools. A survey by the ACLU of NJ in 2006 showed that as many as 20% of local school districts in NJ where either requiring proof of legal immigration status or requiring information that would reveal a student's immigration status during the enrollment process. A follow up survey in 2008 revealed that many of the districts previously found to be in violation had not changed their policies or procedures despite written notice.

When it comes to college, undocumented students do not have access to federal grants and loans and, in all but nine states, undocumented students are forced to pay out of state tuition. South Carolina and Oklahoma were recently joined by Georgia in banning undocumented students from state colleges and universities all together.

This past January in NJ, an attempt to extend in-state tuition to all students who could prove physical residency failed to pass both houses of the legislature. This leaves in place a system by which individual institutions set their own policies regarding tuition and admission of undocumented students. The County College of Morris currently completely bars the admission of students who are without papers. A bill that is currently pending in NJ would bar all undocumented students from public colleges and universities. It is one of about a half dozen anti-immigrant bills that have been introduced in NJ following a nationwide trend.

The sad fact is that the arguments that generate these laws and policies have become so pervasive and accepted that even if the most liberal comprehensive immigration reform bill is enacted into law it will not address many of the issues created by an enforcement first policy. This means our strategy for immigration reform must have a local component that engages legislators and community leaders at all levels.

As people of faith who believe in the Gospel’s call to radical hospitality we must look beyond Washington DC in our advocacy for immigrants. It is not enough that we oppose the totality of the injustice created by our federal immigration policy, we are also called to mitigate the suffering of individuals and families while we work and pray for systemic change.

Labels: , , , ,