As the New York Times reports, recessions have a way of changing attitudes about incarceration, even among the ardent yet newly frugal law-and-order types. The states are finding that imprisoning convicts can bust already strapped state budgets. Alternatives to incarceration, such as diversion for treatment or early release, are therefore increasingly the norm. And as Lindsay Lohan shows, ankle monitors can be more than just a way to monitor the wayward, but also a fashion statement.
In the topsy-turvy word of immigration, however, the detention of immigrants, most of whom have committed no crime, is a growth industry for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the private incarceration companies that contract with ICE. On March 26, Amnesty International (AI) charged the U.S. with human rights violations in the detention of immigrants:
The US immigrant-detention population has surged in the past decade, resulting in a lack of due process that has driven some detainees to attempt suicide, according to an Amnesty International report. In the last decade the number of immigrants in detention has tripled from 10,000 in 1996 to over 30,000 in 2008. Those detained include asylum seekers, survivors of torture and human trafficking, lawful permanent US residents and the parents of US citizen children.
The Feds, aided by a docile judiciary, have long justified the denial of immigrants' due process rights by a word game. Deportation (or, removal, as it's now called), although a long-term banishment, and often a life sentence of separation from family and friends, is a "civil" proceeding, and as such, the legal protections given persons accused of crimes do not apply. With linguistic (and sophistic) legerdemain, the jailers and deporters deny immigrants the presumption of innocence, the right to a trial by jury, the deterrent of the exclusionary rule, and the appointment of defense counsel for the indigent at government expense.
In essence, the "civilizing" of the detention and deportation process, a legal ruse, has become for its woebegotten incarcerants at once dehumanizing and demonizing. Because this is only a civil process, anything apparently goes. Immigrants have died in custody for want of medical care. Persons with claims to U.S. citizenship, accused of migrancy, have languished in immigration jails -- In 2007, some 322 people in detention with potential claims for US citizenship according to AI were in custody. Lifelong permanent residents convicted of minor, non-violent crimes are held in custody until deportation can be arranged. Even "Auntie Zeituni" -- whose nephew is the President of the United States -- although not incarcerated, faces civil deportation back to Kenya.
It is time that Congress stops the twin charades of "civil" deportation and "civil" detention, and at least provide immigrants with the level of due process granted accused misdemeanants, if for no other reason than that the perpetuation of these evils gives lawless regimes abroad a way for the garlic to tell the onion: "You stink!"