Friday, June 19, 2009

Calif. looks to immigrant inmates to save costs

The original story can be found here.

By DON THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer – 42 mins ago

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – With California slipping into a financial sinkhole, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing to save more than $180 million by cutting short the sentences of thousands of immigrants in the state's prisons and turning them over to federal authorities for deportation.

The idea faces certain hurdles — for one thing, commuting some sentences will require court approval — and immigration authorities warn that a mass release of inmates from California and other states could swamp the federal system, which is already at capacity.

But Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Lisa Page said: "Every dollar not spent to house an undocumented immigrant inmate is a dollar that can be spent on health care services and education and other important programs to Californians. These inmates are the federal government's responsibility and California taxpayers shouldn't be paying the bill."

In recent years, other states have struck agreements with federal authorities to deport some inmates before their sentences were up, but those releases were done on a much smaller scale than what California is proposing.

The state's plan would involve as many as 19,000 inmates. Those among them who committed sex offenses or violent crimes would not be eligible for early release, Page said Friday.

Nearly 65,000 immigrants — most of them in the U.S. illegally — are serving time in the U.S. for state crimes.

Once immigrants have done their time in state prison, the federal government takes custody of most of them and begins deportation proceedings against them, either because they are illegal immigrants or because they committed crimes while in the U.S. legally.

The government reimburses states for some of the expenses involved in imprisoning immigrants, but states say the money is not nearly enough to cover their costs.

Schwarzenegger is proposing to commute the sentences of thousands of immigrants and transfer them to federal custody over the next 12 months to help close a state budget gap projected at more than $24 billion.

The savings would be a pittance for California — just $182 million if all 19,000 inmates now being held for immigration authorities were released — but Schwarzenegger is looking to save every dime he can. He already has proposed eliminating health care for poor children.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the 33,000 federal detention cells across the country already are full, and immigration judges could be overloaded if the number of deportation cases balloons.

California Corrections spokesman Seth Unger said that to avoid overwhelming the federal system, the state would keep its inmates behind bars until their deportation hearings were over and their appeals exhausted. In that way, they could be deported almost immediately after being turned over to federal authorities.

Since more than 70 percent of California's immigrant inmates are from Mexico, deporting them would typically involve putting them on a bus.

Officials in other states, including Oregon and Washington, are considering similar moves.

"The fiscal realities that Florida and California and other states are facing will probably put great pressure on trying to reduce the prison population," said Michael Ramage, general counsel for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. "Why should the state be saddled with the expense of having to provide a place for these people to be incarcerated while they wait to be deported?"

Most of these released inmates are unlikely to serve additional time once they are home. That is one reason governors of some states are not about to follow Schwarzenegger's example.

"That's just not happening here in Texas," said Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Officials with the Mexican consulate in Sacramento expressed concern that thousands of ex-convicts could be deported to Mexico.

"In the event that this happens, we will make sure that it takes place in an orderly and safe manner, and that the rights of all deportees, regardless of their migratory status, are observed and respected unconditionally," Consul General Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez said.

Schwarzenegger can single-handedly commute the sentences of 3,200 of them who were convicted of nonviolent, non-sexual offenses. Releasing more serious and repeat offenders early requires approval from the state Supreme Court.

For weeks, the Schwarzenegger administration left open the possibility that violent and sex offenders could be released too. But on Friday, in response to inquiries from The Associated Press, Schwarzenegger's spokeswoman said the governor has ruled that out.

Schwarzenegger's proposal was prompted in part by President Barack Obama's May budget proposal to end the $400 million program that pays states and counties for holding illegal immigrants behind bars — a program that California officials say reimburses only about 12 percent of the state's costs.

U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said the Obama administration wants to divert the money to border security and immigration enforcement.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Minuteman Group Has Previously Supported CCA/SDC

Some of you might recall that the minuteman group had formed a counter protest against protesters at the Stewart Detention Center not to long ago. I believe the Minutemen who were protesting at the Stewart Detention Center in support of ICE and CCA were out of Atlanta.

The group linked to the shooting in Prima Arizona has since taken there website off the web. This chapter of the group no longer wishes to acknowledge Forde's role as the group's leader or Bush's as its operations director. The page can be found here. I can not say that I am terribly surprised that an extremist group that has been known to accept support from white supremacist hate groups would be involved in a shooting.

The Minutemen American Defense members apparently went to this families house and killed the woman's husband and child. A 911 call exists in which these extremists can be heard firing shots while stating "shut your fucking mouth" repeatedly. Luckily one of her children was not home at the time of the premeditated murders. During the course of the shooting she was able to return fire and apparently shot one of them in the calf according to Clarence Dupnik, Pima Counties Sheriff. Sheriff Dupnik has stated that three individuals are now in custody. At least two of them are apparently affiliated with the Minuteman group.

Sheriff Dupnik is no stranger to immigration controversy himself. Recently he stated that immigration checks during school enrollment would eliminate some of the area's "social woes" and would also help border security. This suggestion did not go over very well with local school boards and state legislators.

Minuteman Leader Kills A Family Including A Child

This story can be found here.

Two of three people arrested in a southern Arizona home invasion that left a little girl and her father dead had connections to a Washington state anti-illegal immigration group that conducts border watch activities in Arizona.

Jason Eugene Bush, 34, Shawna Forde, 41, and Albert Robert Gaxiola, 42, have been charged with two counts each of first-degree murder and other charges, said Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County, Ariz.

The trio are alleged to have dressed as law enforcement officers and forced their way into a home about 10 miles north of the Mexican border in rural Arivaca on May 30, wounding a woman and fatally shooting her husband and their 9-year-old daughter. Their motive was financial, Dupnik said.

"The husband who was murdered has a history of being involved in narcotics and there was an anticipation that there would be a considerable amount of cash at this location as well as the possibility of drugs," Dupnik said.

Forde is the leader of Minutemen American Defense, a small border watch group, and Bush goes by the nickname "Gunny" and is its operations director, according to the group's Web site. She is from Everett, Wash., has recently been living in Arizona and was once associated with the better known and larger Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.

A statement attributed to officers of Forde's group and posted on its Web site on Saturday extended condolences to the victims' families and said the group doesn't condone such acts and will cooperate with law enforcement.

"This is not what Minutemen do," said member Chuck Stonex, who responded to an e-mail from The Associated Press sent through the Web site. "Minutemen observe, document and report. This is nothing more than a cold-hearted criminal act, and that is all we want to say."

The assailants planned to leave no one alive, Dupnik said at a press conference in Tucson on Friday. He said Forde was the ringleader.

"This was a planned home invasion where the plan was to kill all the people inside this trailer so there would be no witnesses," Dupnik said. "To just kill a 9-year-old girl because she might be a potential witness to me is just one of the most despicable acts that I have heard of."

Dupnik said Forde continued working through Friday to raise a large amount of money to make her anti-illegal immigrant operation more sophisticated.

Forde denied involvement as she was led from sheriff's headquarters.

"No, I did not do it," she said. "I had nothing to do with it."

Gaxiola also denied involvement; Bush was arrested at a Kingman, Ariz., hospital where he was being treated for a leg wound he allegedly received when the woman who survived the attack managed to get a gun and fire back.

Killed were 9-year-old Brisenia Flores and her 29-year-old father, Raul Junior Flores. The name of the wounded woman who survived the attack hasn't been released.

Forde is well known in the anti-illegal immigration community, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino.

"She's someone who even within the anti-immigration movement has been labeled as unstable," Levin said. "She was basically forced out of another anti-immigrant group, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, and then founded her own organization."

Stonex, of Alamagordo, N.M., said he met Forde while on an Arizona border watch operation last fall, and liked her despite her reputation in the Minutemen community.

"I know she's always had sort of a checkered past but I take people for what I see and not what I hear," the 57-year-old said.

She recruited him to start a new chapter in New Mexico, but was secretive about her group or its members. Stonex said he didn't know how to recruit for a chapter and never did.

He said Forde called him on the day of the attack while he was visiting Arizona and asked him to bring bandages to an Arivaca home because Bush had been wounded. Stonex said it appeared Bush had a relatively minor gunshot wound, which he treated.

He said Forde and Bush told him Bush been wounded by a smuggler who shot at him while the group were patrolling the desert.

Stonex said he didn't suspect that might not be the case until he was contacted by a deputy on Saturday about their alleged involvement in the crime.

News Story

This story can be found here

Detained and Dying: Immigrant deaths in detention raise questions about oversight of private prisons

A coalition of immigrant and civil rights groups held a vigil in front of the Atlanta headquarters of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency last week to mark the three-month anniversary of Roberto Martinez Medina's death in immigrant detention in southwest Georgia.

Before his death, Medina, a 39-year-old Mexican national, was held on immigration violations at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga., a federal ICE facility. For three months the immediate cause of Medina's death remained unclear. The autopsy results were finally released last Thursday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, noting that Medina died of myocarditis, an inflammatory heart disease.

Medina's death in March marked the latest in the mounting number of immigrant deaths in ICE detention centers. For the past year, stories of inadequate health care for immigrant detainees and a slew of questionable deaths in immigration custody have been surfacing. Even though Medina died of apparent natural causes, immigrant advocates maintain that these immigrant deaths, as well as the stories detainees continue to tell about abuse and neglect, raise questions about the adequacy of medical practices in the jails and private prisons under contract to hold immigrant detainees, as well as underscore the lack of overall accountability in U.S. immigrant detention.

Rights advocates have pointed out that many of the reported immigrant deaths could have been prevented through timely and effective access to medical care. But due to the absence of enforceable standards and an independent oversight mechanism, ICE and the corporations that contract with it for the most part escape accountability, advocates say.

Amnesty International released a report last March criticizing the system of immigrant detention in the United States. The report found that tens of thousands of immigrants have been held without access to due process and many have been left to "languish" in deplorable conditions. In the last few months groups such Human Rights Watch and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center have also released reports detailing startling levels of immigrant abuse in detention centers and a real lack of adequate medical care.

Profiting From Immigrant Detention
ICE oversees a network of federal centers, county jails and privately-run, for-profit prisons that detain and process undocumented immigrants; more than 30,000 immigrants are incarcerated in the U.S. on any given day. Many of these facilities are located in the South and Southwest.

Facing South has reported on the large-scale immigration raids that have swept across the country in the last couple of years. The heightened anti-immigration actions have left federal authorities struggling to cope with rapidly rising numbers of detainees. Arrests have overwhelmed detention systems and local jails.

In turn, over the past couple of years, immigrant detention has become the nation's fastest-growing form of incarceration. The private prison industry in the United States is making a fortune on the exponential increase in the number of immigrants detainees, and despite the economic downturn, the industry is currently experiencing the largest business demand in its history.

Many of these private prison corporations are looking to open more detention facilities for immigrants. But human rights advocates point out that many of these for-profit facilities being built to house the overflow are problem-riddled and lacking in oversight. In fact, privately-run detention centers are continually plagued by scandal, lawsuits and controversy surrounding prisoner maltreatment.

For years, the Florida-based GEO Group, a private corporation that owns and operates correction facilities and is contracted to manage five of ICE facilities, has been at the center of scandal in its private prisons and detention centers in places such as Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Idaho, and Texas. Charged with squalid conditions, prison abuse, ill treatment of prisoners and even prisoner deaths, the corporation has faced several lawsuits by prisoner family members who say the facility did not provide adequate medical care or proper supervision for inmates.

The Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison company, operates six ICE facilities, and has a long, documented history of abuses in its prisons. The CCA runs the same detention center in Lumpkin, Ga., where Medina was held. In 2007, nearly 1,000 immigrant prisoners at the 1,500-bed facility in Lumpkin went on a hunger strike protesting conditions including lack of medical care.

Georgia Detention Watch, an Atlanta-based coalition of immigrant rights advocates, released a report in April on detention conditions at the CCA-run Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin. Calling the conditions at the CCA-run facility "grossly inadequate," the report found that detainees were denied food and medicine as punishment, there were too few working toilets, detainees were placed in solitary confinement without a disciplinary hearing, the facility lacked necessary medical care, and it served undercooked and expired food.

Rights groups continue to demand accountability and transparency from ICE in regards to its CCA-run facilities. From October 2003 through Feb. 7, 2009, 18 people died in immigration detention custody in facilities operated by CCA alone, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Private prison corporations such as the CCA and the GEO Group are seeing an exponential growth in business and stock prices, even though stories of their inadequate facilities continue to stream into the public. In 2008, the GEO Group reported nearly $60 million in profits, and the CCA posted profits of more than $150 million. And the profits continue to soar.

As the Business of Detention pointed out in 2008:
[CCA] has partnered with the federal government to detain close to 1 million undocumented people in the past 5 years until they are deported. In the process, Corrections Corporation of America has made record profits. Critics suggest the CCA cuts corners on its detention contracts in order to increase its revenue at expense of humane conditions. Thanks to political connections and lobby spending, it dominates the industry of immigrant detention. CCA now has close to 10,000 new beds under development in anticipation of continued demand.

CCA plans to open a new facility in Gainesville, Ga. similar to its Lumpkin facility. Rights advocates say that the prospect of yet another CCA-run immigrant detention facility should trouble lawmakers.

Immigrant advocates are also demanding greater transparency and swift and public investigations for deaths in immigration detention. Groups are calling on Congress and the Obama administration to create enforceable standards binding ICE and corporations such as CCA to humane standards of care for the detainees and to ensure an effective and independent oversight mechanism.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Private prisons for immigrants lack accountability, oversight

The original article can be found online here.

By Azadeh Shahshahani

Thursday, June 11, 2009

On March 11, a 39-year-old man held in detention at the Stewart Detention Center, a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in southwest Georgia, died at a hospital in Columbus.

To this day, the immediate cause of Roberto Martinez Medina’s death remains unclear (a press release pronounced the cause of death as “apparent natural causes”).

Last month, Leonard Odom, 37, died at the Wheeler County Correctional Facility in south-central Georgia.

Both facilities are operated by Corrections Corp. of America, which has a contract with the Department of Homeland Security to operate the Stewart center and one with the Georgia Department of Corrections to operate the one in Wheeler County.

The DOC has not released additional information about the death of Odom, due to an ongoing investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

What sets apart the deaths of these two men held at CCA-operated facilities is the difference in official responses.

In the case of the death at the immigration detention facility, there have been no further explanations regarding what may have prompted the death — much less an official investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which was created as a part of Homeland Security in 2003 to consolidate immigration enforcement.

Medina’s tragic death marks the latest in the mounting number of immigrant deaths in the custody of CCA, the largest corporation in the business of for-profit detention.

From October 2003 through Feb. 7, 2009, 18 people died in immigration detention custody in facilities operated by CCA alone, according to information from The New York Times.

Yet ICE has failed repeatedly to hold CCA accountable. Instead, the federal agency continues to reward CCA with additional contracts, most recently for operation of the North Georgia Detention Center in Hall County.

The CCA’s track record should come as no surprise to those who read the report issued in April by Georgia Detention Watch, a coalition of several organizations and individuals advocating an end to unjust and inhumane immigration detention and local enforcement practices.

The report was based on interviews with 16 detainees during a humanitarian visitation coordinated by Georgia Detention Watch in December 2008. The report uses ICE’s own Performance Based National Detention Standards to evaluate conditions at Stewart.

Even compared to ICE’s own nonbinding standards, conditions at the CCA-operated facility can best be described as grossly inadequate.

Members of Georgia Detention Watch and partner organizations have requested on several occasions to meet with ICE to discuss the findings of the report, but have gotten no response.

Georgia Detention Watch is not alone in demanding answers and accountability for immigrant deaths in U.S. detention.

The United Nations Expert on Extrajudicial Killings, Philip Alston, who toured the United States on a fact-finding mission in June 2008 on a mandate to investigate killings in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, recently released a report demanding greater transparency and swift and public investigations for deaths in immigration detention.

Today marks three months since the death of Medina. ICE has yet to provide any answers regarding why this man died in detention.

Neither have Georgia Detention Watch members been provided with an opportunity to meet with ICE representatives to discuss the mounting concerns regarding the treatment of immigrants at the CCA-run Stewart.

With the prospect for yet another CCA-run immigrant detention facility in Hall County, these concerns become especially urgent.

If ICE’s oversight of the CCA operation of Stewart is any guide, we can expect yet another facility funded by taxpayers held to no standards at all.

I will join others in front of the ICE office in downtown Atlanta today to honor the memory of Medina and other immigrants who have died in CCA custody.

Georgia Detention Watch members will wear black T-shirts reading: “Why Did Roberto Martinez Medina Die in Detention?” Our message is clear: The era for impunity is over. ICE must hold CCA to account.

Azadeh Shahshahani is the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project director for the ACLU of Georgia and chairs Georgia Detention Watch.