Citing human rights concerns, activists demand ICE take action to close Willacy County and Port Isabel detention centers
San Antonio – Faith leaders, formerly detained immigrants, and human rights activists from across Texas today participated in an action and letter-delivery as part of a launch of a “Dignity, Not Detention” campaign. Activists gathered to call on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to close two south Texas detention centers – the Willacy County “Tent City” detention center and the Port Isabel Detention Center (PIDC). Both facilities have been racked by allegations of human rights abuses, and PIDC has been the site of hunger strikes lead by detained immigrants over conditions of confinement and due process concerns.
Activists delivered a letter to ICE outlining their demands along with a petition by hunger-strikers. The protest included members of Grassroots Leadership, Southwest Workers Union, Texans United for Families and other groups.
Over 300,000 immigrants a year are detained in a secretive web of 350 private, federal, state and local jails, and prisons at an annual cost of more than $1.7 billion to taxpayers. Over 10% of detained immigrants in the U.S. are held in these two detention centers in Texas. The more than 4,000 immigrants detained at these facilities are held in conditions considered to be substandard by numerous human rights organizations. Immigrants can be detained for months or years without any meaningful judicial review of whether they should be released. While detained, immigrants face horrific prison conditions, including mistreatment by guards, solitary confinement, the denial of medical attention and limited or no access to their families, lawyers, and the outside world.
Rama Carty, who was detained by ICE for more than 20 months, said in a statement, “There is no humanitarian justification to detain somebody unless absolutely necessary. I strongly believe that detention centers in the Rio Grande Valley are at the forefront of numerous human rights issues.” Mr. Carty was held in detention centers in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. He was transferred to the Port Isabel Detention Center where he and two other detained people held in the facility started a hunger strike in protest of the unjust and inhumane immigration enforcement and detention system.
Advocates stressed that the human rights of detained immigrants, including those who continue to protest their confinement by hunger striking, must be upheld. “We believe that no law or agency, government or otherwise, is beyond accountability with regards to human rights,” said Anayanse Garcia, of the Southwest Workers Union. “Human Rights apply to all regardless of immigration status, color or economic status. We need reform that ends mandatory detention, restores due process rights, and stops the transfer of immigrants far from their families.”
John Morton, the head of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently announced that he plans to institute major reforms in the detention system, yet to date advocates say there is little evidence of change. "ICE has already acknowledged that their detention system is severely flawed, yet human rights violations still occur, and communities continue to suffer," said Sarah Carswell of Grassroots Leadership. "ICE can take a first step towards mending its system by closing these two detention centers, and releasing detainees into more-humane, less-costly alternatives that uphold the values of dignity, due process, and democracy."
Faith leaders also joined the protest. “As people of faith, we affirm the worth, dignity, and inherent value of all persons regardless of their nationality or legal status,” said Reverend Lorenza Andrade Smith of the Westlawn United Methodist Church. “Immigration reform must also include the elimination of privately-operated detention centers and the elimination of indefinite detention.”
The national “Dignity, Not Detention” campaign is coordinated by the Detention Watch Network. Action in support of the campaign occurred across the country in cities including Gainesville, GA, Phoenix, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. For more information, visit http://www.dignitynotdetention.org.