Civil Rights

Congress should get serious about immigration detention facilities

During the last decade, I’ve crisscrossed America visiting remote immigration detention centers in more than half a dozen states. From New Jersey to California, there are over 250 such facilities that house almost 400,000 immigrants and asylum seekers on an annual basis -- all waiting in limbo as their fate in the United States is determined. Some of the facilities are actual jails, others just look and feel like them. Time spent there is certainly no “holiday,” a notion that seems to escape some members of Congress.
On March 28, for example, the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), will host a hearing titled “Holiday on ICE: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s New Immigration Detention Standards.”   It’s these kinds of flip references that make you think the Chairman is out of touch with the gravity of what people face in immigration detention.


Today’s MADD drives dangerous new policies

In the early 1980s, Americans came together to find common-sense solutions to the problem of drunken driving. Ronald Reagan created a Presidential Task Force to confront the challenge, the drinking age rose to 21 and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) began its climb to the top of public awareness.

Unfortunately, our great strides against drunk driving have led MADD to push more and more radical anti-alcohol doctrines and policies. Today’s MADD pressures state and federal lawmakers into adopting draconian new measures with the ultimate goal of eliminating responsible social drinking. In fact, in 1985, MADD founder Candy Lightner left the organization because she disagreed with the organization’s shifting focus.


The bishops’ contraceptive problem

The furor over contraception coverage is clearly making some people blind. Case in point, John Feehery in “Obama’s Irish Problem.” Sometimes a debate over contraception really is a debate over contraception.
The invocation of Ireland is timely, and not just because of the week that’s in it. Those of us who grew up in Ireland at a time when contraception was illegal know that any pain the US may be experiencing because of conflict over new policies for contraceptive coverage is not from an assault being inflicted by the Obama administration on the Catholic church. Rather, using an interpretation of religious freedom that only they recognize, the Catholic bishops in the United States are themselves engaged in a pitched battle in which the conscience rights of many Americans stand to be hurt.


Revisiting WWII Latin American arrests

Seventy years ago this week, 425 men from California entered a detention camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico for the first time.  As prisoners of the United States Department of Justice, their hands were bound behind their backs, but by any legal measure they were innocent.

Their only crime was their heritage: Japanese. As leaders of Buddhist churches, teachers of Japanese language, or business owners with ties to Japan, the FBI had been spying on them months before the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor. On the night of December 7, 1941, arrests began.

While Americans may generally know the U.S. government incarcerated Japanese Americans from the West Coast starting in February 1942, far less is known about the Department of Justice-run camps, and even less is known about the peculiar practice the U.S. government undertook to pad these prison populations with people living in South America.


Immigration detention is no hospitality suite

On February 28, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) issued a statement criticizing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for releasing new national standards for immigration detention facilities. Entitled, “Deportation Manual: a Hospitality Guideline for Illegal Immigrants,” his statement makes imprisonment sound like a hotel visit. In so doing, Mr. Smith belittles the fact that each year 400,000 people — including thousands of asylum seekers, trafficking victims, families with children, the elderly and the sick — are jailed while they await civil immigration court proceedings in facilities that bear no resemblance even to the cheapest motel.

In 2008, Francisco Castaneda died of penile cancer after detention staff refused his numerous attempts to obtain diagnosis and treatment at a San Diego detention facility. Over the years cases like his and the substandard conditions in immigration detention have been well-documented by 60 Minutes, National Public Radio, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. In many facilities, detainees endure a myriad of abuses including a lack of adequate medical and mental health care that has led to numerous unnecessary deaths. As recently as October 2011, PBS Frontline revealed frightening accounts of sexual abuse by guards in the Willacy, Texas detention center.

Detention facilities should not jeopardize the health and safety of those in custody and that is why stricter standards are absolutely necessary. The national standards ICE announced last week are an important step. They are not a hospitality guide, but minimal standards to prevent mistreatment, injury, or death. Moreover, concerns remain that these new standards are insufficient to hold accountable the hundreds of facilities under ICE contract.


Welcome to the Twilight Zone

Lately I, along with many other women, have felt like we are extras in an episode of the Twilight Zone. I can hear the narrator of the show saying “You're traveling through another dimension -- a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. That's a signpost up ahead; your next stop, the Twilight Zone!”

The rhetoric espoused over that last few weeks by many conservatives has me feeling as if I am in an alternate political universe, where men say the most oddly absurd things about what women should be doing with their bodies. In this universe, the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform holds hearings on women’s health and contraception with a panel made up completely of men.


Saving lives by empowering the justice system

Dr. Amy Castillo’s three children could and should be alive today.
Dr. Castillo, a pediatrician, spent the first days of 2008 in Maryland District Court trying to get a protective order against her abusive husband Mark Castillo. Amy testified that her husband had been involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital for a suicide attempt and manic-like destructive behavior.  On January 10, 2008, the court, despite hearing further testimony about Mark Castillo’s threats to kill his children, refused to grant a permanent protective order on the grounds of insufficient evidence.


Guarantee liberty, support H.R. 3676

235 years ago, a brave group of patriots signed their names to a piece of parchment declaring that all individuals are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Today, we find these rights endangered by vague language passed late last year in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which if interpreted incorrectly could allow the indefinite detention of American citizens.
I will not stand for such a degradation of our rights. I can’t. On January 5, 2011, I placed my hand on a Bible and swore before God to defend the Constitution against “all enemies both foreign and domestic.”


Pass 'Freedom to Marry'

There’s no denying that marriage is on the march forward. Across the nation, from New Jersey to Washington State, the freedom to marry is being discussed at dinner tables and in state legislatures. In November, we’ll be fighting for marriage at the ballot in Maine and trying to fend off an anti-marriage constitutional amendment in Minnesota. And here in the nation’s capital, the conversation continues to dominate the 2012 political narrative.
We’ve all heard about presidential candidates taking pledges to “protect marriage” from loving, committed gay and lesbian couples, but today Freedom to Marry has taken an important step forward in truly protecting marriage and restoring the tradition of respecting all marriages legally entered into in the U.S.


Due process, detention and defense

In the halls of Congress, many issues divide us, but there are also issues that unite us as Americans. Protecting the due process rights of American citizens and legal permanent residents should be at the top of the list. Every American deserves their day in court. Every American is innocent until proven guilty. These are core values enshrined in our founding document – the United States Constitution.
A few months ago, Congress voted on legislation to fund our national defense. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) secured a pay increase for American military personnel, funded the operations at every base and national laboratory in our country and continued vital cybersecurity programs that are keeping America safe.