There is more evidence that, however unjust and dysfunctional the administration of Australia’s immigration laws was in our recent past, it is being outstripped by what has been happening in the USA.

There are more and more examples coming to light in the USA that have echoes of the Cornelia Rau and Vivienne Alvarez debacles of the Howard era in Australia.  The reasons these things are happening are similar to causes of the same gross injustices that occured in the adminstration of Australia’s immigration laws.  A government wanting to look tough, an attitude that migrants have fewer rights, deliberate efforts to prevent access to legal advice or other communication and detention centres run by private providers.

From the New York Times:

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One toxic remnant of one of the Bush administration’s failed wars — the one on illegal immigrants — is immigration detention. Wanting to appear tough, Bush officials cobbled together, at great speed and expense, a network of federal centers, state and county lockups and private, for-profit prisons.

The results were ugly. As we learned from reports on the secretive system, detainees were locked up and forgotten. They were denied access to lawyers and their families. They languished, sickened and died without medical attention.

On Tuesday, the National Immigration Law Center issued the first comprehensive report on abuses in a system that holds about 30,000 on any given day and more than 300,000 a year. It found “substantial and pervasive violations” — ignored for years — of the government’s own minimal monitoring requirements.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, there’s this:

When Brian Lyttle got word on April 22 from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala that his brother Mark had been deported to Mexico and bumped around Central America for three months, he was floored.  The family had been searching for 31-year-old Mark and feared he was lost or dead.  Mark Lyttle was born in Rowan County, N.C., and had never left the United States. He speaks no Spanish and has no Mexican ancestry.

But Mark Lyttle suffers from mental illness. He has bipolar disorder, which requires medication, and is also mentally disabled.

He had been living in a group home when he got into trouble for inappropriately touching an employee. Lyttle pled guilty to a misdemeanor and served 85 days in jail. Instead of being released, he was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because a jail form listed his place of birth as Mexico. ICE did not investigate his citizenship. He spent two months at an Atlanta detention center just miles from his mother, who didn’t know where he was.

and this:

Houston chef Leonard Robert Parrish, 52, wasn’t locked up by ICE or deported, but he did run afoul of a law intended for illegal immigrants.  The Brooklyn-born Parrish went down to the Harris County sheriff’s office in September to clear up a problem over a couple of bounced checks. He wound up in jail on immigration charges. He was strip-searched and spent 12 hours in custody.

“The deputy told me I had a foreign accent,” Parrish recalled. “I told him I had an East Coast accent. He said, ‘It sounds like a foreign accent to me.’ “

and this:

Hundreds of U.S. citizens have been detained and, in some cases, deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement….

Cesar Ramirez Lopez, a San Pablo truck driver, won a $10,000 settlement in 2007 after he was held for four days by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents even after his lawyer convinced ICE investigators that he was a citizen.

“When ICE came and detained me, I told the officer I was a citizen,” said Ramirez Lopez, 25. “They told me they didn’t want to hear it, that I was going to get deported.”

Others – detained for months or years and in some cases even deported – are suing for much more. Among them are:

— Pedro Guzman, a mentally disabled man born and raised in Southern California, who was deported in 2007 to Mexico, where he survived by eating out of garbage cans for three months while his frantic mother searched for him.

— Rennison Castillo, a Washington state man who was born in Belize but took his oath of citizenship while serving in the U.S. Army in 1998, who spent seven months in an ICE prison in 2006.

“Part of the problem goes back to a system that locks people up when they’re placed in deportation proceedings and then doesn’t provide them with legal representation,” said Matt Adams, the legal director at the project.

Some longtime observers of the immigration agency say that, while citizens make up a tiny fraction of the roughly 400,000 people who pass through ICE custody each year, such cases occur with some regularity. The problem is exacerbated, they say, by the fact that immigration detainees, unlike those in the criminal justice system, lack the right to legal counsel and other due process protections.

More information here.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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