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Obama’s Immigration Conundrum

Posted on Feb 7, 2009
AP photo / J. Scott Applewhite

Janet Napolitano—now head of the Department of Homeland Security—sits next to Joe Biden during a Dec. 3 briefing in Washington, D.C., by Jim Talent, right, vice chairman of the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism.

By Bill Boyarsky

One of the worst messes facing the Obama administration is the disgraceful state of the federal government’s immigration detention centers.

There are 350 of these centers around the country, housing almost 30,000 men, women and even children waiting for the Department of Homeland Security to decide whether or not they will be deported. Some have been in custody for years. The centers are overcrowded. Newspapers and academic and civil liberties studies tell of physically and mentally ill inmates being denied help. 

Given that they are in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security, you’d think these people would be suspected terrorists, threats to national security. Many, however, are guilty of nothing except seeking asylum from their native lands. Plenty have been swept up in the increasing number of raids by immigration officers. Some of these are actually here legally but are detained until they can prove it. Others have committed crimes, although some of the violations are so small they would have rated only a light fine or jail sentence in the criminal justice system.

As Dana Priest and Amy Goldstein wrote in The Washington Post last year, “Most are working-class men and women or indigent laborers who made mistakes that seem to pose no threat to national security. ...” The reporters counted 83 deaths in the last five years among those in detention centers and those who had just left them.

The American Civil Liberties Union, on a Web site devoted to the issue, said: “Within hours of their arrest, many immigrants caught up in raids are transferred to remote out-of-state detention centers and pressured into signing removal orders, often without being able to tell anyone where they are; as a result, family and lawyers have no time or ability to provide support and a legal defense. Inhumane and cruel conditions of confinement in the immigration detention centers are pervasive.”


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University of Arizona researchers investigated three detention centers in that state, and in a report, “Unseen Children,” said mothers are separated from children in the immigration raids. The report also said the facilities did not provide enough care for the physically and mentally ill. It said inmates were denied chances to meet with lawyers or talk to relatives. And the researchers said noncriminal immigration women detainees were mixed with convicted criminals in some facilities.

Vincent Picard, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told me such mixing “is completely against our policy.” Inmates, he said, were permitted to make free phone calls to their countries’ consulates “and collect calls to anyone else.” Medical care is “excellent,” he said, provided by “an array of doctors, mental health professionals and staff.”

Recently, however, I met with Ahila Arulanantham and Marisol Orihueta, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. They told me a different story. One of their clients, for example, is Diana Santander (full name: Oscar “Diana” Santander Leyva), a transgender person. The ACLU lawyers gave me copies of the court documents they’d filed on her behalf. Her story illustrates how immigrants can be unjustly locked up for long periods.

In her native Mexico, law enforcement officers treated her brutally because of her sexual status. On one occasion, they forced her to perform oral sex on officers, then burned her thighs with cigars. Another time, police officers attacked her with a knife, beat her with a gun butt and called her a “fucking faggot.”

Trying to escape the torture, Santander fled to the United States in 2004, entering illegally. In 2007, she was arrested and convicted of prostitution and trespassing and turned over to federal immigration authorities for deportation. Later, she learned that the brutality inflicted on her by the Mexican cops amounted to torture as defined in the United Nations Convention Against Torture. She applied for asylum. 

Government attorneys objected, saying she had been jailed in Mexico more than eight years before on a robbery charge. The immigration judge sided with Santander, citing a lack of evidence that there had actually been a robbery. The judge granted her request for asylum. But that didn’t set her free. The government has appealed, and Santander remains in custody, where she has been for 21 months.

Whether the detention centers will be reformed is up to President Obama’s chief of the Department of Homeland Security, former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. Her record makes you wonder just how far she’ll go.

As the popular Democratic governor of a conservative Republican state, Napolitano had to walk the line between anti-immigrant conservatives and Democrats (including Latinos) who opposed harsh measures. She signed a law imposing tough penalties on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. She has also been allied with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the anti-immigrant sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, the state’s largest city. He became well known for making inmates wear pink underwear, housing them in tents and feeding them green-colored food. She got along well enough with the sheriff for him to endorse her for governor in her first race. This helped her win a narrow victory.

Once in her new Cabinet job, she said she intends to get “criminal aliens” off the streets. Presumably this means off the streets and into mandatory detention facilities, where they will await deportation hearings in the overcrowded centers.

To put them into detention, Napolitano can use laws that have greatly expanded the number of offenses for which mandatory detention is required. Previously, many immigrants were allowed to be free while awaiting their deportation hearings. Now they are just jailed. Diana Santander’s prostitution arrest would have earned her a night in county jail in the criminal justice system, not the months she has spent in jail under immigration jurisdiction.

Those who blame the recent Republican administration for the mess in the detention centers should be reminded that these laws were passed in 1996 and signed into law by President Clinton, who was desperately trying to court conservative voters after the Democratic congressional losses in 1994. The law doubled the number of immigrants in detention; the number grew swiftly after the Bush administration moved against immigrants after Sept. 11, 2001.

Don’t expect this mess to be cleaned up soon, especially with Secretary Napolitano sounding like a hard-liner. There is too much anti-immigrant sentiment. The detention centers were built with a bipartisan stamp of approval, with Democrats as well as Republicans supporting their expansion. Finally, given the poverty and low societal status of the inmates, few people will crusade on their behalf.

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By dey_bar, February 11, 2009 at 1:26 pm Link to this comment
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For the teacher-anyone who is as ignorant as you shouldn’t be teaching anyone.  God help us! 

Should Mexicans stay in Mexico and be aids in changing their own economy? Yes-I agree. On the other hand, Americans shouldn’t get on the high horse we don’t deserve to be on. We are all a bunch of zombies giving the true threat to our society the go ahead while they do to these “illegal” immigrants what they will soon do to us. It is absolutely necessary that the people held in those camps have rights, this is crucial to maintain a free society. The founders of this country knew what they were doing when they put the constitution in order, one thing they didn’t count on was having mostly idiots inhabiting the land
Please think of how Hitler started, way before he was even in power.  The first step was to attack the human rights of foreigners by throwing them into camps-no one said anything then either-fools!

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By Folktruther, February 9, 2009 at 6:20 pm Link to this comment

Prole- What you are saying is quite true, Boyarsky is a Zionist racist.  On the other hand, he did spotlight a horrible situation in which thirty thousand men, women and little children are imprisoned, often for years.  And are largely neglected by progressives.

Even a blind pig can occasionally find an acorn. He shouldn’t be attacked when he actually does something meritorious.  Who knows, maybe he’ll do something else that would redeem him.

People are not of one piece (excpet for you and me.)  Dostoievsky has Dmitri say, “man is too broad, I would have made him narrower.”  Not me.  A person can make a new start with his last breath.

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By hippy pam, February 9, 2009 at 12:40 pm Link to this comment


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By Shift, February 9, 2009 at 9:37 am Link to this comment

“Let me rephrase.  We English landed here first (to stay).  Anyone not of that ethnicity (riff-raff) has dragged the U.S. down from its early ideals and abilities. Please, Micks, Dagoes, Blockheads, Honyocks, Polacks, Frogs, Hopping Frogs, Krauts, etc., GO HOME.  You blacks may stay, since we invited you.”

English go home.  You were not invited.

An Indigenous American

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By hippy pam, February 9, 2009 at 9:26 am Link to this comment

Dear godistwaddle….OUR MISTAKE was in helping you get thru that first few years….We should have just let you die…..But that isn’t what our elders teach…So we helped you out and you took it all….

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By prole, February 9, 2009 at 1:59 am Link to this comment

“There is too much anti-immigrant sentiment” decries our sanctimonious muckraking columnist. And this from Boyarsky, a rabid zionist shil and impassioned defender of the segregationist state of Israel. That’s rich. “The detention centers were built with a bipartisan stamp of approval, with Democrats as well as Repub’s.”  And Israel’s occupation and apartheid was built with bipartisan U.S. support, as well. Israel is the only state in the world that bases it’s immigration policies on the criteria of race and religion. One could only imagine the reaction - especially among Jews - if the U.S. was to do the same. Or what would our outspoken zionist liberal reformer, Boyarsky say if the U.S. was to follow Israel’s lead - it usually does after all, in most matters - and propose a law such as did the Jewish State, known as The Law for Illegal Aliens, Amendment 19 of the Entry to Israel Law, or in the vernacular as the shabakhim, (i.e. illegally present); which precludes legalization of the status of partners and family members of Israelis who live in the country. In other words, prevents Arabs from gaining Israeli citizenship through marriage or a family relation. This has been a constant demand of immigration advocates in the U.S., of ‘reunification’ of extended families. But not for Israel. Once again, the blatant double standard of the Jewish State and it’s supporters in the U.S. - not to mention their flagrant racialism is inescapable. Of course, it could be logically deduced that not only all the militant settlers in the illegally occupied territories but indeed,the Jewish citizens of Israel who occupy land from which Palestinians were forcibly evicted during the Nakba could easily be considered shabakhim. But it’s not only Palestinian refugees who are barred from Israel on racial grounds, while every Jew around the world who never set foot there has a right to unrestricted ‘legal’ immigration.  Israel has also recently experienced an influx of illegal immigrants from Africa, prompting PM Olmert, last spring, to declare, “This is a tsunami that can only get worse. We must do everything we can to stop it.” Since then the Interior Ministry has issued regulations that would bar certain foreign nationals, who had illegally lived in Israel and then left of their own choosing, from entering Israel again.  Foreign workers from visa-exempt countries who stayed in the country illegally for more than 30 days and then left on their own would be subject to a two-year “cooling-off” period. And a tourist or foreign worker living in the country for over a year without a permit will be banned from returning for the rest of his or her lifetime. Earlier, in explaining his position during a Knesset debate, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, huffed “it is my duty to protect Israel from entry of unwanted persons.” “...It is not our job to deal with all of the criminals of the world. There are 300,000 criminals, prostitutes and drug dealers here.”  What would liberal zionists like Boyarsky scream if Napolitano ever made such a statement?  Still thousands of African refugees have crossed the Egyptian border into Israel in the past year. Most have been rounded up and sent to squalid desert detention centers or when there’s no room there, jailed for months on end. As with Palestinian refugees, there is no path available to naturalization and citizenship for them. And “given the poverty and low societal status of the inmates [and refugees], few”  Israelis - or their zionist henchmen in the West like Boyarsky -“will crusade on their behalf”.

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By M.B.S.S., February 8, 2009 at 2:03 pm Link to this comment

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

—Emma Lazarus, 1883

sorry for the inconvenience, america is closed for renovations.  please be sure to return soon, only disease free and money in hand.  thank you.

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By apolloguide, February 8, 2009 at 1:20 pm Link to this comment

The “self-hating liberal” accepting attitudes of the immigrant invasion will hopefully cave-in when Central American miliary tuberculosis, tuberculosis meningitis, and the H5N1 to H5N7 avian flu variations provide wave after wave of epidemics from which we have no protection.  In Richmond, California where I live and occasionally teach, students entering schools are given PPD tests for tuberculosis but the illegals who jump the border do not take the test and their infection rate is 30% positive.  These folks have zero consciousness on health issues and are uneducated on matters of public health. 

An ESL magnet school nearby has a faculty of 30; and 23 have contracted a strain of avian flu from the students.  The students are traveling back and forth to Mexico all the time and getting reinfected and are not being tested upon reentry. Nearly every immigrant household harbors one to several illegal border crossers who are not tested for anything and who in turn infect their sequestering saviors. The children are then exposed to TB and H5N and they go to school and infect everyone they come in contact with on the bus and in the classroom and lunchroom. 

Hence there is a flu epidemic with no available public health program to meet the threat.  Out of those 23 teachers who have the flu only two have kicked it.  The rest think it will just go away.  It doesn’t, it progresses to pneumonia and fills the lung cavity with fluid. How many people did you see today who are coughing quietly while driving their bus or riding their bus?  You can spend a few hours out in Richmond and see the coughing dozens of times.  You ask these legal American folks if they had flu shots and they say “yes”.  But they are sick and can only be treated by antibiotics and think that they have a “cold”.  95% of colds are allergies but these diseases began before the pollen season began. 

There is a new avian flu which has attached itself to Mexican cattle and is being transmitted by Mexican “bathtub” queso fresco (fresh cheese). Avian flu has the ability to cross infect from one species to another.  Pork is also a new avenue for infection with the disease and the biological similarity of the human and the pig makes this even more problematic. 

American citizens are now being asked to house and feed and clothe and care for the Mexican poor as they are being forced out of Mexico by the government. And their Mexican propaganda machine is running 24-7 accusing American citizens who object, -of racism. What is really occurring is that America is now the human dumping ground of the hemisphere taking the overflow for the patrician governments and elites of the world; -just like the Brits cleaned out their country and prisons and sent them on ships to America to get rid of their problems.  Except for the pre-Columbian native Americans, nearly everybody got here the same way. 

The cycle needs to stop now. We need to demand the rest of the world take complete responsibility for their ineffective public health programs and not allow them to send any more of their tired, poor, and sick to the United States.  The first solution to this problem is population control through education and strong borders. When you add in the effects of Mexican heroin and cocaine from Central America the conclusion is inescapable if our families are to survive, we have to “just say no” to all Central American immigrants. Mow your own damn grass. Take care of your own kids. Clean your own house and stop being a stranger to honest hard work.

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By godistwaddle, February 8, 2009 at 12:38 pm Link to this comment

Get used to immigration.  My forefathers landed in Connecticut in 1634.  Since then, my English family has had to deal with Germans, Swedes, Irish, Jews, Italians, French Canadians, French, Hungarians, Poles and all sorts of other riffraff.

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By Shift, February 8, 2009 at 11:44 am Link to this comment

I am for giving back Texas to Mexico, and for giving New York to the Israelis, and giving Washington D.C. to the A-1 Sewer Service.  In one sweep of the pen over half of our festering problems would vanish.

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By Purple Girl, February 8, 2009 at 8:07 am Link to this comment

The Other Gitmos that need to be exposed and closed.
Repugs and their corp co conpsriators have used the illegals not only as slave labor, but scapegoats.
It’s not the illegals ‘Stealing’ your jobs, it’s corps using them to undermine YOU!
Heres a raelity check for anyone who has no real knowledge about the immigrantion issue. Mexicans Don’t really want to Live here. they want to make money and return home, where they can afford more, for less. They are culturally an ‘extended family’ society. It’s not just their families they leave behind, but their way of life. It is far more difficult (and expensive) to stay here. this is why they get caught going back & forth.
The Corps and the Co owners love these workers because they can pay them leass, treat them like slaves, In slave conditions and use them as Threats against their Aemrican employees.‘I can hire 9 Mexicans for the price of 1 American’- Lockheeds CEO testifying before congress.
What need to be done is cutting the knee out from under these human traffickers business.
Union and Non Union Labor must come to the aid of the immigrant worker. Corps have won because they have pitted Us against them. By allowing this ‘shadow work force’ to be abused, we are allwoing the corps to use them to undercut US and the American way. If we bring them out of the shadows and demand they get fair wages and decent working conditions, corps will be forced to choose workers who give them a better ‘bang for their buck’- Obviously it TAKES 9 Mexicans to do the Work of 1 American! We have been better educated, have ‘ambition’ coursing through our veins and understand the benefits of References and Recommendations. Plus we intend to remain here the rest of our lives. So we are ‘engineered’ to be the more cost effective and efficient Worker.
By elevating the transient immigrant worker, we are constructing a SOLID Floor to our own wages, bennies and working conditons. Allowing endured Slavery tactics to be utilized by Corps only makes our ‘floor’ weaker.
As for Taxes, “Coyotas” charge up to $2,500 for a One way death defying passage. Charge those coming across the border a yearly tax of $ 2,000 ONE time. Provide access to transportions to get them to the designated work and then upon their return to Mexico the saem to get them home- far better than swimming the Rio, enduring the Desert or escaping Criminals and Gun fire.
Anyone who continues to bitch about Illegals had better put their Shit kicking boots on, don a large brim hat and get ready to clean the toilets of the ‘Nobles’. I, for one, Never Apired to become a Field hand, a Stall cleaner nor a maid. I’m an American who not only dreams of a better life, but was promised the opportunity to it by our founders.

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