No human being is illegal

Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, South Bronx

As others have said: judge a state’s respect for human rights by the way it treats its prisoners.

In what kind of country would people, convicted of no crime, be put into solitary confinement because they are mentally ill, or gay, or Muslim?

The United States — a country that dehumanizes many foreigners by branding them illegal aliens.

How pervasive and bipartisan is xenophobia in America?

Consider the response to drone warfare. Thousands of people have been killed in Pakistan provoking nothing more than a very marginal outcry over here. Why? Because none of the dead have been Americans.

Only after three U.S. citizens were killed in drone strikes in Yemen did the legality of Obama’s assassination program start to receive wider scrutiny and for most of those Americans troubled by the issue, concern about a disregard for the constitutional rights of Americans, seemed to be uppermost in their minds.

This is a nation that bathes in a sense of its own innocence. Its innocents can take for granted that all are presumed innocent until proven guilty — unless they happen to be foreigners.

When it comes to foreigners suspected of being terrorists, suspicion is as good as conviction. “Suspected terrorist” and “terrorist” are not exactly exchangeable terms since the exchange only goes in one direction — by dropping the qualification “suspected.”

Add to the xenophobia the racism that pervades what remains a white-ruled society and it should come as no surprise that the worst treatment for some of the least fortunate among us is often dished out to those whose double offense is that they are both foreign and have darker skins.

The New York Times reports: On any given day, about 300 immigrants are held in solitary confinement at the 50 largest detention facilities that make up the sprawling patchwork of holding centers nationwide overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, according to new federal data.

Nearly half are isolated for 15 days or more, the point at which psychiatric experts say they are at risk for severe mental harm, with about 35 detainees kept for more than 75 days.

While the records do not indicate why immigrants were put in solitary, an adviser who helped the immigration agency review the numbers estimated that two-thirds of the cases involved disciplinary infractions like breaking rules, talking back to guards or getting into fights. Immigrants were also regularly isolated because they were viewed as a threat to other detainees or personnel or for protective purposes when the immigrant was gay or mentally ill.

The United States has come under sharp criticism at home and abroad for relying on solitary confinement in its prisons more than any other democratic nation in the world. While Immigration and Customs Enforcement places only about 1 percent of its jailed immigrants in solitary, this practice is nonetheless startling because those detainees are being held on civil, not criminal, charges. As such, they are not supposed to be punished; they are simply confined to ensure that they appear for administrative hearings.

After federal immigration authorities caught up with him, Rashed BinRashed, an illegal arrival from Yemen, was sent to a detention center in Juneau, Wis. He was put in solitary confinement, he says, after declining to go to the jail’s eating area and refusing meals because he wanted to fast during Ramadan.

Federal officials confined Delfino Quiroz, a gay immigrant from Mexico, in solitary for four months in 2010, saying it was for his own protection, he recalls. He sank into a deep depression as he overheard three inmates attempt suicide. “Please, God,” he remembers praying, “don’t let me be the same.” [Continue reading…]

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One thought on “No human being is illegal

  1. Norman

    Has the U.S. always been like this? Or are we sinking lower into the slime that our leaders cite for the continual war mongering that the U.S. has been engaged in? The U.S., the “police state”, costing both the taxpayers as well as the inmates.

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