Friday, June 26, 2009

How Immigration Detention Harms Women

by Lindsey Daniel, AFSC Policy Intern

Everyday there are more than 33,400 immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in over 500 facilities across the United States according to the Women's Refugee Commission. About 10% of these detainees are women – up 3% from last year.

On Wednesday the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights, Human Rights Watch, the Women’s Refugee Commission, and the American Civil Liberties Union in cooperation with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus hosted a briefing on the treatment of women in immigration detention facilities.

“Had I not experienced a year in immigration detention, I would never have believed that such inhumanity existed,” said Marlene Jaggernauth, a single parent who was separated from her four children.

Although there are mental and physical healthcare standards for detainees, they are hardly ever met. While the standards cover emergency medical needs, they often exclude special needs of women, including gynecological exams, assistance to victims of sexual assault, and pre- and post-natal care.

Kathleen Baldoni, a former nurse at an immigration detention center in Texas, described the healthcare system as “an afterthought for the facility and for ICE. [The] care is task-oriented, not patient-oriented.” Baldoni's employer fired her for speaking at the briefing (Nursing Link). She showed “tremendous courage in coming forward,” said Meghan Rhoad of Human Rights Watch.

Bill Seeks Accountability for Inhumane Detention Conditions

At the briefing, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Congressman Michael Honda (D-CA), and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) all publicly announced their support of a new policy for immigration detention centers. Representative Roybal-Allard described her bill to amend these flaws in ICE detention practices.

The Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act (H.R. 1215) will strengthen accountability and oversight of the immigration detention structure by regulating higher standards of care in immigration detention centers in the areas of medical treatment, sexual abuse, the use of force, access to telephones and legal materials, and procedures for detainee grievances.

AFSC is committed to promoting an improved and humane immigration policy for the United States. AFSC’s staff team in Newark, New Jersey provide Know Your Rights presentations in detention centers throughout the state, and provide legal representation and referrals to detained immigrants facing deportation. For more information on AFSC’s policy recommendations on detention click here to read A New Path Toward Humane Immigration Policy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Confusing Immigration and National Security

Note: Prepared by AFSC's Newark Immigrant Rights Program

Our shift from a welcoming posture to one that equates immigrants with crime and terrorism stems from a place of fear and uncertainty. This tension and the impression that we need to protect ourselves from immigrants has been the placement of all immigration agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Within this context, myths abound. The focus has been one of building fences and jails, increasing the number of people who are detained and now form part of the profitable 'human warehousing industrial complex.' Too often, facts are ignored, and feeding the fear frenzy has become a disturbing national pastime. Defining factors such as the reasons for migration are also ignored. Survival, political oppression and the search for freedom, economic hardship, family love and reunification are some of the factors that are altogether side stepped.

Locked up, Locked out: The Detention Industrial Complex - The US has dramatically increased the jailing of immigrants to fight global terrorism. This poorly thought out strategy has seen a rise in the detention of immigrants with an Arab or South Asian background or surname. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of counterterrorism at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), argues, "[T]he detention of thousands of Middle Eastern and South Asian nationals after September 11 risked ‘alienating’ the very people on whom law enforcement depends for leads.” (12/19/02, The Nation). Indeed, immigrants -- whether they have adjusted their status or remain in an undocumented situation -- will be less likely to report crimes that occured in their communities if they cannot trust law enforcement agencies.

The Border Gets Militarized - Border security accounts for most parts of “national security;” this new action has also led to the militarization of the nation's southern border. The increased presence of the Border Patrol, expanded fences, lights and high-end integrated technology by now dot the southern border at an enormous cost to taxpayers. In addition, the militarization process has also disrupted the region's enviornment and the quality of life of border communities.

Code Language that Separates - Code words such as 'alien,' 'illegal,' and others are used to dehumanize the other. In the current political lexicon, an 'alien' is seen as the other -- is not entitled to receive any public assistance outside of emergency relief. Increasingly, we see the efforts to deny access to housing, social services, health care and other components of the nation's social safety net. Indeed, some wish to change the Constitution's 14th Amendment (citizenship to those born on US soil). Stripping a person of their basic human dignity and of their respect is at the core of language that feeds on stereotypes, misguided policies and ignorance.

It's Not Just the Economy - In fact, studies show that undocumented immigrants contribute more to the economy than they actually take back, through paying various taxes (property, sales, and often income). Most undocumented immigrants are unwilling to accept any form of public assistance as they fear it will impact their ability to obtain lawful residence status later and expose them to the authorities. Many would rather go without service than to threaten the future possibility of adjusting their immigration status and that of their spouse or children. Even if (and when) long-time permanent residents qualify for some benefits, studies have shown that they often underutilize public benefits and assistance. (For specific benefit or statistics, check out information from the Center for Budget and Policy Priority or Urban Institute websites listed below).

Did You Know?

“… the estimated seven million or so illegal immigrant workers in the United States are now providing the [social security] system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year.” (April 5 2005, New York Times)

“..the Social Security Administration reports that it holds $420 billion from the earning of immigrants who are not in a position to claim benefits.” (Fact sheet from National Council of La Raza in 2006)

“The 1996 welfare bill eliminated food stamp eligibility for most legal immigrant noncitizens (other than refugees). … According to USDA more than 4 million Latinos who are eligible for food stamps are missing out on benefits. Only half of Latinos who are eligible for food stamps participate in the program, and among eligible non-citizens the share that participate is even smaller (42 percent).” (Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 2007)

“… illegal immigrants are in the same situation as millions of Americans who have no health insurance, although undocumented people tend to be more reluctant to use public health services than uninsured Americans.” (Julia Preston, May 2007, NY Times)


Learn the FACTS on immigrants, social security and public benefits, visit:


AFSC - Newark, NJ Immigrant Rights Program - 973-643-1924

Budget and Policy Priority -

Urban Institute -

National Immigration Law Center -

Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, -

Friday, June 19, 2009

Humane Action Prevails: Temporary Parole Reunites Minors with Parents

“No matter where you stand on the immigration debate in this country, children should be free to go to school without the fear of being deported. We are pleased with the decision of the federal government to allow these three students to come back home - it is a step in the right direction.”
AFSC San Diego press release

Nearly a month ago the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched a controversial immigration raid in San Diego’s Old Town Trolley stations. The mid-May operation was led by the U.S. Border Patrol and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The “trolley raid” led to the apprehension of 21 persons, including three teenagers who were on their way to school.

Local response included a swift and united condemnation of the "trolley raids" and calls for DHS to be held publicly accountable for these actions. The strong outcry included the voices of educators, parents, community advocacy organizations, faith and other local leaders. Early this week, DHS officials announced that the 3 high school students who were apprehended in the raid were granted humanitarian visas and expected to reunite with their families. The three will appear before an immigration judge at a later date.

In the meantime, AFSC and other community partners are urging law enforcement officials to ensure the protection and the human rights of minors. Indeed, this case is an opportunity for immigration authorities to review and improve the policies dictating how children and teen-agers should be treated and questioned for immigration purposes.

According to Pedro Rios, director of AFSC’s San Diego office, “The humanitarian parole offered to the three minors detained in a DHS operation is a positive step forward in acknowledging that egregious missteps took place in their initial detention on May 20. This is an opportunity for both the US and Mexican governments to re-evaluate the regulations dictating how minors should be treated, and to ensure that physical and mental integrity remain a priority in any contact minors have with federal immigration agents.”

AFSC's San Diego office and program sites throughout the nation will continue to work with families and advocates to improve policies addressing the detention of minors. For further information, please contact AFSC’s San Diego staff at 619-233-4114 or visit to read A New Path Toward Humane Immigration Policy.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Flicker of Fairness

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced a two-year, temporary policy freeze that impacts the widows and widowers of U.S citizens. The interpretation of the existing federal immigration directive has meant that spouses of deceased U.S.-born citizens have been routinely denied the opportunity to stay in their new country; most of them face deportation.

This recent reprieve allows for the opportunity to pursue permanent residency even if the primary petitioner has passed away. According to DHS Secretary Napolitano, “Granting deferred action to the widows and widowers of U.S. citizens who otherwise would have been denied the right to remain in the United States allows these individuals and their children an opportunity to stay in the country that has become their home while their legal status is resolved."

This temporary shift helps alleviate some of the fear and uncertainty faced by widows or widowers who formed families, remained in the U.S., and created a new life but continue to be trapped by their uncertain future. While a hopeful first step, this latest action remains a limited solution that should be abandoned when Congress develops substantive and humane changes to the existing immigration system.

For now, this needed policy change portends a better tomorrow for those who have already lost too much in the process of making the U.S. their new home.

For more information visit:

Thursday, June 04, 2009

AFSC Supports Uniting American Families

"No American should have to choose between country and loved ones," said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) at a hearing this week on the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). Senator Leahy introduced UAFA earlier this year, which would allow same-sex permanent partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the same manner as spouses of citizens and lawful permanent residents. The bill would also penalize immigration fraud in connection with permanent partnerships.

Progress of Immigration Laws

The bill "would assist about 36,000 same-sex couples nationwide," according to the New York Times. Testimony by Christopher Nugent of the American Bar Association stated that as many as 19 other nations extend this right to bi-national, same-sex couples. Senator Leahy noted that government policy should encourage these relationships instead of trying to hold onto antiquated policy.

The majority of the Senators at the hearing, including Senators Leahy, Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Arlen Specter (D-PA) spoke in favor of UAFA. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) opposed the bill, stating that allowing same-sex couples to have the same immigration legal rights as traditional man/woman couples creates a new definition of marriage.

AFSC Joins Other Voices in Support of UAFA

The American Friends Service Committee submitted hearing testimony to Congress in support of UAFA. "We add our voice with many others in support of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) which will improve current immigration policies that protect equally the basic human rights of every immigrant person and immigrant families," said AFSC. The bill is "a critical piece and compelling change to existing policy is the elimination of discrimination in immigration law against same-sex, permanent partners," AFSC stated.

As the debate on immigration policy unfolds, AFSC and its partners will work to ensure that legislative and policy actions are constructive, humane and respect the basic dignity of every person. Finally, supporting families so that they remain intact, decreasing a 5.8 million family immigration backlog and reducing the years of waiting can be the beginning of a process that repairs the gaps in the nation’s immigration system. UAFA is a pivotal step in this direction.