Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My visit to an immigration detention center (Part 1)

As you perhaps know, immigration detention is big business. The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spends lots of money--around $1.7 billion per year--to detain undocumented immigrants. But few of us see how that money is used. So when I got the chance to visit a detention center this week, I jumped at it.

After a two hour tour, I’m no expert, but—(ahem)—I always have a few observations and opinions to share. Today is no exception. Take them with a grain of salt. A lot of info whizzed by me in two hours, and I could have misunderstood any of it.

I joined a group of college students who had arranged to visit the El Paso County Correctional Facility, one local place immigrants are detained. First important note: this is a big source of income for the county, since the federal government pays out $67 per day per detainee.

Most detainees are simple, humble “Jose and Marias” who were hoping to get a job in our slaughter houses, or cleaning our toilets, or harvesting our vegetables in 100 degree heat. [The Border Patrol told me 90% of their apprehensions have no criminal records.] But, those who are unlucky and get caught, are housed here in El Paso with those who face federal criminal charges.

As you’d expect, life in prison is highly regimented. This is a “maximum detention facility” which means that it can house the worst offenders—murder, rape and sexual assault. The intake process requires a complete physical search, including body cavities. Anything you bring with you is itemized and stored. However, if you are caught by the border patrol, your belongings are kept “at the bridge” [I presume that means at ICE headquarters in El Paso] and you’ve got just 30 days to petition to get them back.

Detainees who are determined to be “welfare” inmates—meaning they have no money in their account after a couple weeks—receive all their weekly supplies in a business envelope. This contains a few stamps and envelops, a traveler’s sized toothpaste and mini-toothbrush, and bar soap (used also as shampoo). They get a little laundry soap every other week.

“The food is bad here,” our tour guide frankly admitted. “It is not good.” But every detainee gets 1600 calories a day, divided into three meals: at 4 AM (!), at 9 AM and 3 PM. The students had some trouble understanding breakfast served at 4 AM [it helps the schedule to serve it then]. The cellblock goes dark from 10 PM until 6 AM (however, lights are turned on briefly for breakfast.)

Detainees are held in the same facility that holds the chronically imprisoned: those who are “institutionalized,” who can’t live in the outside world and, thus, recycle in and out of prison. Many prisoners are mentally ill, some of them seriously. The tour officer told of inmates who eat their own feces. Many try to commit suicide. Sexual assault happens. Anything can happen. The guards monitor the cell blocks every hour and remote cameras monitors watch the secured hallways. It is not a nice world.

---------------------- And this comment (reader response from Dava Castillo, with her permission) makes a worthy conclusion.:

The criminalization of illegal immigrants puts them in the same category as the criminalization of drug users. Non-violent offenders are housed with the violent. Nothing good can come from this. The jails and prisons have become the de facto mental hospitals and rehab centers. This is problematic for Americans as well as illegal immigrants. 

The prevailing concept of "out of sight, out of mind" is at work here. Placating the political entities by getting the so-called "undesirables" off the streets instead of dealing with the social issues prevents any real progress towards reasonable and humane detention. 

6 comments:

Big Mark 243 said...

Looking forward to pt 2.

TomCat said...

It sounds like pretty typical for a jail setting, but that 4 AM breakfast is not.

Spadoman said...

Enlightening to some degree in the fact that common people who broke a questionable law are kept with habitual criminal offenders, rapists, murderers and the like.
It's all about money, isn't it? The jobs are created by this government enterprise. If they were to be lost because of a change of policy in America, would the system really crumble> I doubt it. I also don't see why people with no record and the obvious pursuit of a job would make them criminals.
Looking forward to part 2. Great work. Keep your spirit high.
(Is it cold down there too?)

Peace

Border Explorer said...

Thanks, Gentlemen, for chiming in here on this post! Yes, it is cold in El Paso, Spadoman. We just emerged from the deep freeze. I think the most important point that remains with me from my visit to the Correctional Facility is that ordinary people who are in immigration detention for only incurring a civil infraction (entering the U.S. without inspection) are thrown in with the worst of federal offenders and left to fend for themselves in a really tough environment.

Dava Castillo said...

The criminalization of illegal immigrants puts them in the same category as the criminalization of drug users. Non-violent offenders are housed with the violent. Nothing good can come from this. The jails and prisons have become the de facto mental hospitals and rehab centers. This is problematic for Americans as well as illegal immigrants.

The prevailing concept of "out of sight, out of mind" is at work here. Placating the political entities by getting the so-called "undesirables" off the streets instead of dealing with the social issues prevents any real progress towards reasonable and humane detention.
However, visits like yours can help to reveal what is happening and hopefully facilitiate social change.

Vicente Duque said...

It seems that the Arizona Republicans want to devote all the Time, Energies and Money of the State to a single problem : "Racial Profiling". - They are Monothematic. Psychological Pathologies and Delusions of Arizona Republicans :


Happy Valentine Day for You and Me : One day in the Future Everybody will be beautiful :


All the Time, Money, Energies, Economic Resources, all Police Time in Arizona will be devoted to the persecution of the "Ugly Brownies" .... While many other problems in Arizona become graver and the state experiences losses of Income in Hotels, Tourism, Visitors, Business, Investment, etc ... loss of tax income, and the state finances are not in the best shape. Consider the Economic Slowdown and Home Foreclosures. Consider people abandoning the State while the Real Estate Market is Depressed.

A Monothematic Delusion is a delusional state where the subject is only concerned with one particular topic. It is an obsession



From Wikipedia, about the Monothematic Disorder and Psychological Pathology :


"These disorders can occur within the context of schizophrenia or dementia or they can occur without any other signs of mental illness. When these disorders are found outside the context of mental illness, they are often caused by organic dysfunction as a result of traumatic brain injury, stroke, or neurological illness".

"People who suffer from these delusions as a result of organic dysfunction often do not suffer from any obvious intellectual deficiency nor do they have any other symptoms. Additionally, a few of these people even have some awareness that their beliefs are bizarre, yet they cannot be persuaded that their beliefs are false".



My Comment :


Well, Jan Brewer is beginning to suffer from an "Organic Dysfunction", like when she appears to have Alzheimer during political debates, and stays silent for long, while the audience waits and waits for her to clear her confused mind and while she finds another angle for her obsession, delusions and paranoia with "Illegal Aliens".

Given enough time, all of us will be "Very Beautiful" and "Very acceptable", and there won't be any need of "Racial Profiling".


Vicente Duque