On Monday, members of the Committee on Homeland Security, including Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Nanette Barragán (D-CA), held a virtual forum with immigration advocates and experts on the conditions and standards of care in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities. Laura Rivera, director of the SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, joined the panel to provide her expertise and share some of the first-hand accounts of ICE detention she and her team have documented. The forum coincided with the release of the Committee’s majority staff report, concluding a year-long investigation into ICE facilities. Committee staff visited eight ICE facilities and spoke with more than 400 migrants held in detention during their investigation.
Opening remarks of Laura Rivera:
Thank you, Chairwoman Rice, and Representatives Watson Coleman and Nanette Barragán for convening this conversation.
I direct the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Our team has given legal aid to hundreds caged by ICE in Georgia and Louisiana.
First, my sympathies got out to the family of Cipriano Chavez-Alvarez, the latest person to die from COVID after being caged by ICE.
My respect goes out to every person in ICE custody. Their voices matter most.
As advocates, we’ve witnessed ICE and its private contractors routinely abuse people in their custody. During COVID, ICE has failed to follow basic guidelines to control the spread of the virus. ICE doesn’t give people enough soap, masks, or even information about the virus in a language they can understand. ICE isn’t quarantining the sick. Instead, it continues to transfer people across facilities. The result is thousands of people sick with COVID and at least seven deaths.
When people protest, ICE punishes them. At the Stewart Detention Center, in Lumpkin, Georgia, agents of a private SWAT team hit a man in a wheelchair with 60 pepper-ball bullets, in an act of torture.
Abuses like this – and the disgusting harms against women in Ocilla, Georgia alleged in a recent whistleblower complaint – must be seen in the context of a system designed to dehumanize.
This system treats human beings as commodities to be exploited for enormous profit. Most Americans would be shocked to learn that millions in taxpayer dollars are handed out to private prison companies regardless of their performance, in contracts called “guaranteed minimums.”
This system subjugates mostly Black, Brown, and Indigenous people to maintain white supremacy in this country. It uses the shame and stigma of incarceration to justify its own cruelty, suggesting: If those people are in jail, they must’ve done something to deserve it.
No one deserves this abuse, period.
This system cannot be reformed because it is not broken — it is working exactly as intended. It is irredeemable. These prisons must be shut down, now. We must say ‘not in our name.’
Let’s invest instead in creating a positive, not a punitive system: One that welcomes migrants to this country in an orderly fashion, sets out a clear and simple process to gain immigration status, and connects them to key institutions in local communities.
Thank you and I look forward to today's conversation.
Watch the full forum here:
Lead photo by iStock