Monday, March 1, 2010

Campaign Launched: Dignity, Not Detention

Arlene M. Roberts
Attorney and Policy Analyst
Posted: February 25, 2010 02:00 PM

Varick Street Detention Center was scheduled for closure today, according to an announcement made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) several weeks ago. But as the federal government opted for transfer rather than release of detainees, the closure has been delayed. Today marks the launch of a national campaign, Dignity, Not Detention: Preserving Human Rights and Restoring Justice, calling for an end to detention expansion.

In cities across the country, legal experts, community leaders, immigrant advocacy groups, members of the clergy and formerly detained individuals gathered to kick off a national campaign, Dignity, Not Detention. The organizers are demanding a reduction in government spending on detention, the use of cost-saving alternatives, and the restoration of due process in the government's enforcement of immigration laws.

Shortly after ICE announced it was closing the Varick Street Federal Detention Facility, sixteen community and legal organizations reached out to ICE to offer services. The goal was to collaborate on a comprehensive case-by-case review of every detainee at Varick Street, and to release every detainee eligible for parole. But ICE declined.

At a press conference today at New York University School of Law, Attorney Alina Das outlined a plan of action, "Now we are left with three tasks. We will follow our community members to Hudson and we will continue to fight for their release. We will bear witness to what happens at Varick as it turns into a processing center, scattering New Yorkers out of the state into cages near and far. And we will also raise our voices louder and stronger until the federal government rethinks its priorities. When the government decided to close Varick, the question it should have asked is not where people should now be detained, but why they are being detained at all. It's an ugly and costly system that should not exist. No one should be detained when alternatives are available."

The detention system is in dire need of an overhaul. Every year, over 300,000 immigrants are detained in a maze of 350 private, federal, state and local jails and prisons, costing taxpayers in excess of $1.7 billion. Conditions in detention are deplorable, including mistreatment by guards, solitary confinement, denial of medical care and limited access to family and legal representatives. Since 2003, 107 individuals have reportedly died in immigration custody. There must be a better way.

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