Bud Conlin: Isolation, Secrecy, and Disrespect Required: Inside Immigration Detention

May 6, 2019 – As a supporter of human rights, having visited with confined immigrants more than 600 times, I hope to bring a humane and informed perspective to what is happening out of our sight and in our backyards. Typically referred to as detention centers with innocuous names like the Krome Service Processing Center (KSPC) and the Broward Transitional Center (BTC), they are, in fact, prisons full of immigrants seeking a better life.

These detention centers are isolated by geography (KSPC) or behind pink walls (BTC). With the exception of small visitation and advocacy groups who go in to visit and offer aid, ICE and their contractors operate in secrecy.

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There are no timelines for the resolution of their cases and there is no right to a public defender as is the case in the criminal justice system. Imagine the plight of an asylum seeker with little knowledge of English and no knowledge of immigration law or the immigrant court system trying to plan their defense for freedom along with hundreds of others jamming an over-crowded and inadequate court system.

There is no privacy, the noise is relentless, and intrusive frisking is a way of life. The isolation is extreme.

For the visitor, entering Krome is otherworldly. The lobby is furnished much like any office complex with padded chairs, restrooms and a registration desk. Beyond the long hallways with four controlled steel doors is a maximum security prison where it is always cold and every surface is hard.  Men in blue, orange, or red pants and tee shirts, designating the degree of their security risk as determined by ICE, shuffle out and present themselves across from the visitors, separated by thick glass.  We communicate by phone.  All conversations have the potential to be monitored.  While some of those visited try to be upbeat, the pain in their eyes is unmistakable, the isolation, palpable.

Folk are frequently transferred with no notice or reason to any one of the six jails in Florida or beyond to the over 200 facilities acting as detention centers in this country. Transfers, often punitive and sadly referred to as “diesel therapy”, remove folks from the little support they have found, leaving them even more despondent and unable to process their cases.

Bud Conlin (center)

Nothing beyond basic food and a bed with a thin mattress or cot is provided to immigrants in confinement. Everything else including toiletries and phone time come at a cost. Phone rates can be exorbitant. This limits contact with family and legal resources.

At most immigrant prisons, folks are allowed to work for the princely sum of one dollar a day. After 17 days, an immigrant can afford to purchase a tube of toothpaste at Krome. For profit companies and their contractors are making millions of dollars off the pain of immigrants, all promoted by well-funded lobbyists.

After 17 days, an immigrant can afford to purchase a tube of toothpaste at Krome.

Immigrants come from every country imaginable with a single wish: to live a peaceful life in this country. People in these immigrant prisons are guilty of nothing beyond their presence in this country. Folks charged with real crimes are processed through the criminal justice system before ever being turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, causing these folks to pay for the same transgression twice.

People do not flee their homelands on a whim. They are running for their lives. I vividly recall a Somali friend telling me, “Mr. Bud, a tomato is worth more than my life in my country.”   Naively, even today, many asylum seekers believe they will be welcomed at the border, falsely assuming that Liberty’s torch is shining for them. Sadly, they are met with the harsh realities imposed by an unaccountable Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureaucracy.   My friend from Uzbekistan pleaded to remain in immigrant prison for the rest of his natural life rather than return to his country.  He was forcibly deported.

Incarceration of immigrants is not limited to adults. The Children’s Detention Center in Homestead currently detains over 1,700 youth, and a major expansion is underway. This detention camp, operated by Comprehensive Health Services, a subsidiary of Caliburn, has been reported to receive $775 per child, per day.  Children should not be part of the detention industrial complex, but rather should be quickly and safely reunited with friends, family, or placedH well screened community facilities.  Children not reunited prior to their 18thbirthday are put in 3 point restraints and sent to adult immigrant detention centers.

For those fortunate enough to avoid or find release from immigration detention, frequent reporting is the norm. Non-detained immigrants in South Florida are required to report to the ICE Miramar, FL field office as often as an immigration officer requires.  The lines at this office have grown dramatically in the last two years, with more folks required to report ever more often.  As part of the Miramar Circle of Protection, a support group for folks reporting at Miramar, I have witnessed hundreds of folks standing in all of the elements South Florida has to offer with only two toilets for up to 500 folks, no water, and no protection.  The facility is clearly overwhelmed and not built to handle huge numbers of immigrants, daily.  Sadly, it is the immigrants who suffer.

Any one of these folks can be, and sometimes is, handcuffed with no notice while reporting and sent to a detention center for deportation. Family and waiting friends do not know what happened until much later. Folks arrive as early as 4 a.m. and, after missing work and standing in lines all day with their children, are often told to return the next day.

Ambulance calls to the facility are not a rarity.

The conditions at the Miramar ICE office have been the subject of numerous news reports and protests, and yet the federal government continues to operate with impunity.  Ambulance calls to the facility are not a rarity.

In addition to the frequent reporting, many of these immigrants face electronic incarceration and are forced to wear bulky ankle monitors. To illustrate the madness, I recently accompanied a mother seeking asylum who was ordered to report to Miramar to have her monitor reactivated. After waiting all day, she was told to return the following day. As instructed she returned, and after waiting for several hours, was told she was not in the right location and was told to report to a private contractor’s office 25 miles away. Following these directions and again waiting several hours, she was told to come back the following day. After spending another 5 hours at the office the issue was resolved, at least for now.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement formed in 2003, supposedly to make us safer, has morphed into a brutal, profit driven machine which devours decent folks and destroys families and communities, all to make dollars from the pain of immigrants for an ever increasing cast of private companies.

MM Print (https://imm-print.com/) is a publication by and for people affected by immigration detention. IMM Print is the online storytelling platform of Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC), a U.S. based nonprofit dedicated to abolishing immigration detention worldwide. Learn more at www.FreedomForImmigrants.org.