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“DIGNITY, NOT DETENTION” CAMPAIGN LAUNCHES

February 26, 2010
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Activists Nationwide Demand End to Expansion of the U.S. Immigration Detention System

Urge President Obama to take immediate action to stop rampant human rights abuses

February 25, 2010  Scores of immigrant rights activists gathered in New York City for a press conference today at New York University Law School as part of a launch of the national campaign, “Dignity, Not Detention: Preserving Human Rights and Restoring Justice”. The campaign is a nationwide effort led by the Detention Watch Network (DWN) to expose the profit-driven expansion of the detention system. DWN is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to educate the public and policy makers about the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for humane reform so that all who come to our shores receive fair and humane treatment.

Ravi Ragbir, an organizer with the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, describing his experiences in immigration detention. He was held for 2 years.

Activists say the detention system is a key contributor to the unprecedented number of people being held in immigration custody today and are calling for an end to brutal immigration enforcement policies inside and outside detention. “I have been brought to the Varick Street Detention Facility in lower Manhattan in shackles and I have stood in front of the judges in shackles. Why? Where is the humanity? Where is the dignity? If this is not punishment what is?” emphasized Ravi Ragbir, a member of Families for Freedom and a Community Organizer with the NY New Sanctuary Coalition. Ragbir was joined by more than 30 groups, demanding: (1) a reduction in government spending on detention, (2) restoration of due process for immigrants at risk of deportation, (3) an end to expansion of enforcement programs and (4) the use of proven community based alternatives to detention.

For all in attendance, statistics reveal why change is so urgently needed. 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 eighty percent of detained immigrants go through the immigration system with no lawyer. 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. In many cases, these conditions have proven fatal: since 2003, a reported 107 people have died in immigration custody.

In New York and New Jersey, transfers of detainees from jail to jail have cut people off from legal and families resources and at times compromised vitally needed medical care. The announced closure of the Varick Street Detention Facility and transfer of detainees to Hudson County Jail was met with concern from immigrant rights advocates. “What is happening at Varick is a lost opportunity for changing a broken detention system. Rather than transferring our community members to jails far from their homes, family, and legal support, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should prioritize true alternatives to detention and work with us to release detainees. No one should be detained when alternatives are available,” implored Alina Das, Supervising Attorney at the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic.

Andrea Black, Coordinator of the Detention Watch Network

While John Morton, the head of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, recently announced that he plans to institute major reforms in the detention system, to date there is little evidence of change. “The Department Homeland Security has created a climate of fear in our communities by violating basic human rights. President Obama must take immediate steps to ensure that DHS is held accountable, starting with the use of community-based alternatives to detention programs, creation of enforceable standards governing detention conditions and meaningful independent oversight of DHS,” said Andrea Black, Coordinator of the Detention Watch Network. Coordinated actions in support of the national campaign occurred across the country in cities including Gainesville, Phoenix, San Antonio, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.dignitynotdetention.org.

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