Thursday, March 29, 2012

GOP lawmakers ridicule aid for jailed immigrants

Originally found here.

By Brian Bennett
WASHINGTON - Republicans in Congress mocked the Obama administration's plans to improve conditions for immigrants held in county jails and detention facilities Wednesday, saying that a raft of changes written by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement amounts to coddling lawbreakers.

In a hearing titled "Holiday on ICE," Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, took aim at recent administrative changes designed to improve medical care for detainees, reduce incidents of sexual abuse, and increase access to safe water and outdoor recreation, among other changes.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement made the changes after coming under fire from news reports, human-rights groups, and internal investigations for putting immigrants who have not been convicted of crimes in detention facilities plagued by sexual assaults and inadequate medical care.

Democrats on the committee took aim at the sarcastic title of the hearing, saying it belittled the serious issue of the agency's poor track record of ensuring the safety and health of detainees in custody. To help make that point, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D., Calif.) displayed graphic photographs depicting immigrants with fatal wounds and medical conditions that went untreated in detention facilities.

The ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, had asked Smith to reconsider the title of the hearing.

"I hope we can agree that the manner in which we treat immigrants in our detention facilities is not a laughing matter," Conyers wrote in a letter sent Tuesday.

Smith was undeterred.

"ICE has decided to upgrade accommodations for detained illegal and criminal immigrants," he said during the opening minutes of the hearing. "While we would all like to be upgraded, we don't have the luxury of billing the American taxpayers or making federal law enforcement agents our concierge."

"Detention is no holiday," said Gregory Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, who attended the hearing. "I think they should be embarrassed to describe people who are deprived of their liberty as if they were on vacation."