In January 2009, the Southwest Institute for Research on Women (SWIRW) and the Bacon Immigration Law and Policy Program of the University of Arizona published a report on women held in Arizona immigration prisons. It dealt with three locations: Central Arizona Detention Center (CADC) and Pinal County Jail (PCJ), both of which are in Florence, and Eloy Detention Center (EDC) in Eloy. CADC and EDC are privately operated by Corrections Corporation of America under contract to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). All three are in small, remote desert towns far from the cities of Phoenix or Tucson.
The research was conducted by SWIRW researchers and trained law students who interviewed current and former prison-ers and attorneys, paralegals and social workers who work with the immigration prisoners. ICE, PCJ and CCA refused to allow their personnel to be interviewed.
Immigration prisoners are awaiting completion of an administrative process, not awaiting trial on criminal charges. Nonetheless, they are often treated worse than prisoners being held for felonies in the same prison.
“Few people realize that we are locking up huge numbers of immigrants every day and holding them for months and, in some cases, years at a time. They are not being punished for a crime, and yet they are held in facilities that are identical to, and often double as, prisons or jails.”
SWIRW lead research and report author Nina Rabin said. “Women immigration detain-ees in particular are an invisible population. We hope this report will raise awareness about women locked up just an hour away from here in conditions that would shock most Americans. We also hope to raise awareness about the U.S. citizen children separated from their mothers right now because of immigration detention. In our small sample…we encountered pregnant and nursing mothers, domestic violence victims, low-wage workers swept up in worksite raids, and asylum-seekers fleeing persecution and sexual violence.”
Immigration prisoners are covered by ICE National Detention Standards. These standards are deficient, especially for the imprisonment of women. However, even the inadequate ICE standards are not codified as laws and have no enforce-ment mechanism and are apparently largely ignored by the prisons.
Key findings in the report include a lack of adequate medical care--especially for gender-related problems such as preg-nancy, miscarriage, ovarian cysts and cervical cancer. A lack of mental health care was also noted which was especially pro-found due to the large number of women who had suffered domestic and/or sexual violence and were prime candidates for PTSD. Further traumatizing the prisoners was the forced separation from families that lived hundreds to thousands of miles away. Many of the women had underage children and some were even nursing babies they were forcibly separated from.
The report also noted inadequate access to telephones, legal materials and legal assistance. Unlike prisoners awaiting a criminal trial, immigration prisoners are not entitled to court-appointed attorneys. However, ICE standards require that they be given free phone access to legal representatives and consulates. This was rarely done. In fact, prisoners were at mercy of an expensive phone system and those with no money often were unable to contact their families, consulates or legal counselors.
The necessity of separating immigration prisoners from prisoners incarcerated on criminal charges and women prisoners from men often results in worse conditions for the women immigration prisoners. For instance, criminal prisoners might be allowed to move about the prison to the library, recreation yards and dining facility while women immigration prisoners are served meals in their wing, brought books on a cart and allowed only very limited recreational opportunities. Similarly, few educational or other pro-grams are offered immigration prisoners.
This makes it difficult for immigration prisoners to prove rehabilitation, one of the factors an immigration court takes into account when deciding whether to issue an order of deportation or not. Immigration prisoners are also often transported in shackles and leg irons, even though they are nominally not criminals.
They also complained of low-quality food and small portions. ICE routinely resists and appeals decisions by courts to grant bonds or release pregnant women. ICE rejects or ignores applications for humanitarian parole of refugees, prisoners with serious medical conditions and victims of domestic violence--all classes of prisoners allowed by law to be released on bond. ICE also resists attempts to reduce bonds when families are unable to post the initial bond.
The report contained numerous suggestions on how Congress, ICE and the prisons could improve conditions for women immigration prisoners. Chief among these are changing policies so as not to incarcerate immigration prisoners who pose no flight or security risk and passing laws which make ICE detention standards enforceable. See: Unseen Pris-oners: A Report on Women in Immigration Detention Facilities in Arizona, available online on PLN’s website.
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