STOP THE LOCAL PROFITEERING OF DETAINEES
FLAVIA ALAYA and JEANNETTE GABRIEL, Herald News, 8/31/03
You know the Passaic County Jail. It sits as square on Paterson's
Main Street as if this were Dodge City, its yellow-brick face spiked
with razor-wire staring blankly down the brownstone spires of St
John's Cathedral across the street. And if you've been by it lately,
you've seen protesters on the church sidewalk, carrying signs that
read: "Free the Detainees" and "Support the Hunger Strikes," and may
have wondered, "What's going on?"
Well, what's going on is a national issue and a national shame.
The "detainees" being held inside this jail are there under Passaic
County's highly lucrative contracts with the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security. And there are hundreds, indeed over time,
thousands of them - among tens of thousands held indefinitely in
jails around the country. Yet they are neither criminals nor
terrorists. They are innocent men; some with minor past convictions,
previously paid in full, whose status as immigrants has, under recent
immigration law, become their only "crime..."
Since 2001, this old and overcrowded facility, built for 800-plus
prisoners and typically holding more than 1,700, has housed, in
absolute numbers, the largest contingents of detainees in the United
States - over 500 at one time - at a bounty of $78 apiece per-day. It
now routinely holds an estimated 80-100.
One of two detention facilities investigated by the Justice
Department's Office of Inspector General for brutality and abuse, it
was singled out for human rights abuses in the OIG's June 2003 report
to Congress. Remember, these conditions are not happening in some
remote place or time. The overcrowding, poor food, lockdowns, denial
of visitor and legal access, shackling - are all here, in our
neighborhood, on our watch, at the behest of our duly-elected public
officials. If we give silent consent to such treatment, if we allow
it to go on because we cannot see it or because we're afraid to be
the first to shout "Fire!," we too are accomplices.
At this very moment, among other forms of hardship, some 50 detainees
are being denied access to telephones - innocent men, being hustled
to deportation, unable to call for legal or other assistance, unable
even to contact their families to say goodbye.
We call ourselves "a nation of immigrants," yet we permit this
profiteering on the suffering of immigrants and their families, the
uncles, brothers, cousins and sons of our own surrounding
communities. We allow this reign of terror, absolutely at cross-
purposes with the principles Americans have defended with their blood
for over two centuries.
For the truth about the "detainees" is that they should not be held
at all if we still believe in the due process and other civil liberty
guarantees of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights
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