Detainee report ‘too damning’ to release?
Nearly eight months after the Department of Homeland Security said it would issue the first official report on the treatment of immigrants in federal detention, immigrant-rights advocates are wondering what’s taking so long.
“I don’t think they intend to release it — it’s too damning,” said Jeannette Gabriel, an organizer with the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee. “If the audit is released, even the haphazard audit that was conducted, we believe that it would show such systematic abuse, that ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) would be forced to make systemic changes.”
The report, conducted by auditors from Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, examined the treatment of federal immigration detainees at several facilities nationwide ? including the Passaic County Jail and the Hudson County Correctional Center — and how well the jails were complying with federal detention standards.
Homeland Security spokeswoman Tamara Faulkner said via e-mail Monday that the audit’s delay was due to “a complex project that involved accumulating and analyzing information gleaned from myriad sources and many facilities.”
Faulkner said the Inspector General had launched the investigation in 2005 in response to complaints of abuse and poor treatment at different facilities used by the federal government to house immigrant detainees. Nearly 60 percent of the estimated 21,000 federal immigration detainees are currently held at county jails and privately run detention facilities. The Passaic County Jail garnered nationwide attention for its treatment of immigration detainees when allegations of physical abuse, including the use of attack dogs and poor healthcare, were exposed in the national media.
Faulkner said in addition to investigating the specific allegations of detainee mistreatment at different facilities, the audit would examine ICE’s processes for tracking detainees.
She said the audit was now scheduled for release “in late summer,” but declined to specify a date.
Auditors visited the Passaic County Jail over the course of several weeks last summer, where, according to Warden Charles Meyers, they reviewed everything from complaints of under-cooked chicken to the jail’s bookkeeping records. They also interviewed a number of immigrant detainees.
In July, Passaic County Sheriff Jerry Speziale threw the auditors out of the county jail for what Meyers said was their unprofessional conduct. After Speziale and Meyers traveled to Washington to meet with DHS officials in August, the auditors were allowed back to finish their work.
In December, Speziale announced he was suspending the inter-governmental service agreement with federal immigration authorities; Meyers insisted the timing was coincidental.
“The audit wasn’t related to the suspension (of the DHS contract),” he said. “It was all the unfair press we received and we realized we could make up the money with other federal detainees without the headache.”
Meyers referred to the fact that the jail now houses an increased number of U.S. Marshall prisoners to compensate for the loss of moneys DHS paid the jail to house the immigrant detainees, which at one time netted the $12 million in yearly revenue.
Officials transferred out the last of the jail’s immigration detainees in April.
Sherriff’s Department spokesman Bill Maer said Monday the department did not expect the audit would find fault with the way the jail handled immigration detainees.
“We have no fear. We’re not nervous. We hope it’s done fairly,” he said. “We hope the personal agendas of the auditors are not in play.”
Maer said the Sheriff’s Department felt that the auditors listened only to detainee advocates.
Gabriel, the immigration detainee advocate, said auditors were “incredibly hostile to community activists and attorneys throughout the process.”
Federal guidelines covering the detention of people held on immigration violations–which are currently civil, not criminal offenses–do not hold the weight of law. Such standards were drafted after heavy lobbying by the legal community, and the National Lawyers Guild is preparing to petition the government to give the guidelines legal weight.
But until then, detainee advocates said, there is little oversight of the treatment of immigrants taken into custody.
Falah Ajaj, a Palestinian who was held at the Passaic County Jail on an immigration violation for four months in 2005, was one of those interviewed by government auditors. He said he hoped the audit would expose the way detainees are treated and lead to changes.
“I’d like them to close this jail; don’t put any inmates in the jail,” he said. “If you stay one hour there, you can get sick for 10 years. This is not for human beings, this jail.”