Reports of unsanitary conditions inside immigration deportation facilities have been a regular occurrence over the years, and may continue to grow as more and more facilities are being built to house immigrants awaiting deportation. While prison operators and the government have continued to promise improvements and ensure safety in these facilities, new problems continue to come out. In a recent report by the Guatemala Acupuncture and Medical Aid Project, immigrant families report alleged human rights violations during short term detention here in Southern Arizona.
The 91-page report, titled Deprivation Not Deterrence, is compiled from interviews of immigrant families held in short term detention facilities during this past summer. According to the report, people faced a series of rights violations at the hands of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials during the recent surge of immigrants coming into the U.S. primarily from Central America.
According to Blake Gentry, a board member with the Guatemala Acupuncture and Medical Aid Project, “there's food deprivation, there's deprivation of water, there are unsanitary conditions and overcrowding in cells — which made children, infants and women sick — and there's withholding of food and water during interrogation.”
The volunteer group based here in Tucson, Arizona interviewed 33 Mexican and Central American families who were detained by CBP and held at various facilities around Southern Arizona. The resulting interviews detailed allegations of physical, psychological and verbal abuse as well as food, water and sleep deprivation. The report also indicates the people were offered rancid or inedible food. Another 34 percent of those interviewed reported some form of abuse at the hands of CBP.
Among other allegations, detainees were reportedly held for longer than the Department of Homeland Security standard detention period of 72 hours. Lights were left on continuously, cells were cold, and people were routinely woken up between 2 and 5 a.m. Gentry reported the sleep deprivation was systematic, “it is not an accident, this is designed.”
Gentry has indicated that while the allegations of abuse in their report is troubling, they do not believe these are unique incidents because they mirror other similar findings from groups such as Amnesty International and the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. According to Gentry, “we don't feel that it's any accident or coincidence that these same results are being reported by other organizations, completely independent of us, in a completely different time frame, with completely different immigrants.”
Part of the problem, according to Gentry, is the incompatible mission of the Department of Homeland Security. They are charged with fighting terrorism, while at the same time battling immigration of Mexican and Central American families crossing the southern U.S. border.
The CBP has faced similar criticism before. In 2009 the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility announced they would no longer house families, due in part to lawsuits filed on behalf of immigrants alleging prison like conditions. While CBP has not responded directly to the report, they state they are committed to preserving human rights and the dignity of those they come in contact with, while doing their job.
A PDF copy of the full report can be found here.
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