By C. Ross Tobaire
According to ICE.gov, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement website, ICE is “the largest investigative agency in the U.S. Department of Home-land Security. Formed in 2003 as part of the federal government’s response to the 9/11 attacks, ICE’s mission is to protect the security of the American people and homeland by vigilantly enforcing the nation’s immigration and customs laws. With more than 19,000 employees in over 400 offices in the U.S. and around the world, ICE plays a vital role in … protecting the nation…. [with] innovative investigative techniques.”
Reports from the New York Times and the ACLU suggest that ICE has been intentionally covering up evidence of mistreatment and death in order to avoid inquiry and embarrassment.
On January 9th the New York Times reported several troubling stories about what was occurring to people in these ICE facilities. For example, as one man lay dying of head injuries, ICE was busy at work, not figuring out how to get him medical assistance, but rather held conferences discussing whether the man should be released and sent to Africa in order to avoid publicity.
In another case, a 22-year-old-detainee was in severe pain due to a broken leg and, according to his family, denied his prescription pain killers. ICE medical records show that he was given Motrin…the only problem with ICE’s account is that by the time the medication was given, he was already dead…he committed suicide.
Amnesty International’s report ‘Jailed Without Justice,’ details the tale of 52-year-old tailor, Boubacar Bah who had overstayed his work permit. After getting his skull cracked open, ICE decided that instead of getting him medical attention they would handcuff him and throw him into solitary confinement. After lying on the floor for 13 hours begging for help an ambulance was finally called. Mr. Bah spent four months in a coma before dying.
During this time, ICE did their very best to figure out how to help…themselves that is. One of the proposals was to send Mr. Bah back to Ghana in order to avoid “increased scrutiny,” and another was to simply renew his work permit so that the costs could be passed on to Medicaid.
Lastly, according to the same Times article; in order to avoid bad publicity, and to decrease the number of deaths occurring in ICE detention facilities, ICE has released some of their detainees shortly before they die.
If you believe ICE practices will only affect immigrants, there are numerous reports that many of those held in detention are in fact U.S. citizens. Some of these American citizens are being deported, finding themselves in a foreign land, unable to speak the language, without any resources to receive help whatsoever.
One would think that the American court system would prevent this, but immigration is a civil offense — not a crime.
It is this distinction that is the crooked crux of the problem. The US criminal justice system provides individuals charged with criminal offenses the opportunity to challenge their detention before a court. It also provides legal counsel for individuals who cannot afford to pay themselves. However, individuals detained on the basis of civil immigration violations are not provided with such safeguards.
The Nation’s (June 16, 2009) “Secret Courts Exploit Immigrants” article, author Jacqueline Stevens observes, “You don’t need to go to Iran or North Korea to find secret courts. They’re alive and well right here in the United States.”
According to federal law, all immigration court hearings, except exclusion hearings, are supposed to be open to the public with very few exceptions. Stevens, a UC-Berkeley law professor had been hearing horror stories about mass hearings and wanted confirm this for herself, so she went to the Eloy, Arizona immigration court. Unfortunately, she discovered that the otherwise simple act of attending a “public” trial would be an incredibly arduous task. Apparently anyone wishing to attend had to submit in writing, weeks ahead of time, their name, date of birth, social security number, home address, what hearing they wanted to attend. A background check was also required and if you had a felony or misdemeanor conviction for anything during the past five years you could be prohibited from entering for “security reasons.” In the same Nation article, Stevens described the experience:
“Hannah August, spokesperson for Department of Justice, minimized the screening requirements. ‘You just need to go through security, like a metal detector. You also need to get rid of your cellphone,’ she said. ‘How would one know how to obtain prescreening?’ I asked. ‘To find out the rules you have to contact the facility.’ I told her that no one had answered the phone at Florence. ‘You go there.’ I told her I was calling from the front gate, and I reminded her that it took two weeks at Eloy for a prescreening, to which she replied, ‘What I’ve heard is that it’s more like a day turnaround.’ When I asked her where she heard this, August said, ‘I can’t go into this further.’”
This, unfortunately, is only the tip of the iceberg. Recently, Professor Stevens probed deeper into ICE detention practices and uncovered that ICE is operating at least 186 secret, unmarked “subfield” offices hidden within office buildings and underground garages across the country.
Here is an except from Professor Stevens’ latest article “Ice Castles” published January 4, 2010 in the Nation:
“It is not surprising to find that, with no detention rules and being off the map spatially and otherwise, ICE agents at these locations are acting in ways that are unconscionable and unlawful. According to Ahilan Arulanantham, director of Immigrant Rights for the ACLU of Southern California, the Los Angeles subfield office called B-18 is a barely converted storage space tucked away in a large downtown federal building. ‘You actually walk down the sidewalk and into an underground parking lot. Then you turn right, open a big door and voilà, you’re in a detention center,’ Arulanantham explained. Without knowing where you were going, he said, ‘it’s not clear to me how anyone would find it. What this breeds, not surprisingly, is a whole host of problems concerning access to phones, relatives and counsel.’
“It’s also not surprising that if you’re putting people in a warehouse, the occupants become inventory. Inventory does not need showers, beds, drinking water, soap, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, mail, attorneys or legal information, and can withstand the constant blast of cold air. The US residents held in B-18, as many as 100 on any given day, were treated likewise. B-18, it turned out, was not a transfer area from point A to point B but rather an irrationally revolving stockroom that would shuttle the same people briefly to the local jails, sometimes from 1 to 5am, and then bring them back, shackled to one another, stooped and crouching in overpacked vans. These transfers made it impossible for anyone to know their location, as there would be no notice to attorneys or relatives when people moved. At times the B-18 occupants were left overnight, the frigid onslaught of forced air and lack of mattresses or bedding defeating sleep. The hours of sitting in packed cells on benches or the concrete floor meant further physical and mental duress.
“Alla Suvorova, 26, a Mission Hills, California, resident for almost six years, ended up in B-18 after she was snared in an ICE raid targeting others at a Sherman Oaks apartment building. For her, the worst part was not the dirt, the bugs flying everywhere or the clogged, stinking toilet in their common cell but the panic when ICE agents laughed at her requests to understand how long she would be held. ‘No one could visit; they couldn’t find me. I was thinking these people are going to put me and the other people in a grinder and make sausages and sell them in the local market.’”
This is very disturbing. Secret prisons, secret courts, efforts to hide mistreatment and detainee deaths, lack of transparency or access to attorneys, U.S. citizens being confined or deported without any recourse, no tracking systems, no way for families to find loved ones, no way to call out for help…this what America has become.
The Liberty Voice confirmed that one such substation is located at 50 W. Broad St. 306-D in Columbus, Ohio. It is an unmarked facility, hidden within a major city building full of upscale professional offices. Located within the 3rd floor, there is a processing center with approximately 20 cubicles for agents along with multiple holding cells. Local ICE officials informed us that nobody is kept there more then eight hours and that it is “not a detention facility.”
“Hmmm…Are people free to leave when they are brought here? No? Then would you call it a ‘facility where people are detained?’”
Other substations in Ohio are reported to exist at 123 Court St. in Hamilton near Cincinnati and at 1240 East 9th St. Suite 535 in Cleveland. A full list of reported substations in the U.S. may be found at our website, TheLibertyVoice.com. Heaven help us if there are more like B-18.