Washington, DC - On Thursday, September 26, Congress held two important hearings on Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention and oversight. The House Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship held a hearing on "The Expansion and Troubling Use of ICE Detention" followed in the afternoon by a Homeland Security subcommittee on Oversight, Management, & Accountability hearing on "ICE Detention Facilities: Is DHS Doing Enough?" The administration closed the day with the announcement that the refugee cap for FY2020 is 18,000 people, 92,000 fewer than three years ago.
Both hearings made abundantly clear that the conditions under which we are incarcerating immigrants, many who are refugees seeking asylum, are inadequate and in many cases inhumane. The policy of incarceration as the first option for housing undocumented immigrants has created an entire industry of privatized incarceration and inspections with insufficient oversight.
The stark differences in the inspector general’s report and those of the Nakamoto Group, a private contractor hired to perform facility inspections, demonstrate deep flaws in the inspection system. The inspector general’s report revealed numerous concerns and fundamental human rights violations not identified in the Nakamoto reports. Allowing a month’s notice for a general inspection conducted by contracted inspectors allows the facility to put forth its best face and conceal its normal operating conditions, even adding fresh paint immediately preceding an inspection to create the facade of a clean well-run facility.
ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations and the Office of the Inspector General stated they are working on new inspection standards. We call for those standards to bring independence to the inspectors and create a process which will provide legitimate oversight of detention operations. As Nakamoto Group president Jenni Nakamoto recalls her family’s story of incarceration, we call on the Nakamoto Group to play an active role in promoting stronger oversight standards and procedures for detention centers, and even more important, join in the call to end unnecessary incarceration of undocumented immigrants who do not pose a threat to their communities.
The lessons of the Japanese American community’s incarceration experience are for similar injustices to not be inflicted upon other groups. Mass incarceration based on immigration status in itself is unjust, and must be stopped. The continued portrayal of immigrants as a danger to the public through the use of a few tragic, but outlier cases, is an injustice to the reputations of the many immigrants who like many of our own families came to this country under the specter of demagoguery and racism.
The treatment we afford immigrants to this country today is barely different from the treatment afforded to past immigrant communities, including our own. We would hope that our country would seek to be better than it was in the past, to live up to the ideals emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty. Today, we are clearly failing those ideals.