Immigration detention and deportation in the USA

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:

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.

Cross-posted at Crikey.

Like & share:


  1. Red Crab – are you seriously asking the question about the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees? There is some inforamtion here

    and here is a link to information debunking the myth of the refugee ‘queue’ ..

    I think that before commenting in any issues – particularly ones like immigartion where so much misinformation is peddled – we owe it to ourselved to become informed. The local newspaper is often either ignorant or deliberately inflaming misunderstandings .. you have to ask yourself why.

  2. Togret I think our Red is a little bit smarter than some might assume or he portrasy at times.

    The question was not that they existed, he well knows that, it was more the relevance of them in todays environeemnt.

    The dates yuo correctly quoted probably give some credecne to the question

  3. Ken – nothing wrong with looking at the law now (because, like it or not, we have passed a law saying we will adhere to the Convention on how to treat refugees — even though we don’t actually do that nowadays) to see if it fits our current circumstances.

    I’d like to see it done with the right intent, though. I hear in W.A. the same old noises about “people different from us” .. that’s what they said about the Irish, the Greeks, the Italians, the Vietnamese when they first came .. “they won’t fit in” … and then you look at eminent businessfolk, medical, academic, religious, etc folk whose ancestors came from far away, as well as salt of the earth folk like most of mine. Some came a long time ago, some only recently .. they are all people.

    Yes we have to be careful – we have only somuch water and fertile land, and even if we turned around our current mismanagement and evened out our social structure a bit more, thei poor old dusty, tired land can only support so many.

    We should be looking in a self-interested way, as well as in a humanitarian way, at working out ways to assist people who need to flee in such a way tha they can stay where they are. Iraq was a rich source of refugees a while ago .. will the war there end up with some sort of peace and no need to flee? I hope so, but not too confidently.

    Look at what’s happening in Sudan, another war where religion is being used as one excuse for killing in a grab for land, water and power. Could we assist in setting up a locally-based move for peace-making, coming form the region but backed by us, among others? Or locally, Burma and Sri Lanka provide places where we could perhaps try to mend matters so that people don’t need to escape.

    Why are fearful people so sure that refugees would not prefer to live comfortably in the land of their ancestors, if given a chance for peace there? Let’s talk about this, fine; but with compassion and intelligence – not hate and fear.

  4. CRIME REQ – 45,000 Americans die each year because they don’t have health insurance. Goodness knows how many who are insured but a knocked back for some frivolous reason/s. They’re allowed to die. Why aren’t you advocating for the poor and sick in the US, instead of your selective behaviours of using nebulous nonsense.

    There’s how many murders via a gun every minute in the US? I’d strongly suggest, that if you want to use frilovous and incorrect stats, you might look into this stat. I’d suggest, that there’d be less murders in the US if they tightened up their gun laws – they’re the real threat to people.

    The infant mortality rate in Cuba is better than that in the US. The infant mortality rate in indigenous communities is much higher than the rest of the community. Why aren’t you advocating about that?

  5. thanks togret and ken

    you have done well
    those 1951 Conventions and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees should have been looked at every 10yrs since they were intridused . because things change .
    now if it was something like extra shopping time or mabe daylight saving they would have been revisited ever year. but because there are more countrys in the u.n. that beniffit from the satus quo that it has not been looked at and it needs to be.

    tagret i try to not comment on things i dont look into first but sometimes i like to ask questions .

    i had more first hand info than most other ppl when the tampa incident was going on and i have spoken to someone from the bording party that was pressent during the children overboard tragedy

    just right place right time sort of thing

    niether the govts or the media storys come anywere close to what iv been told .

    i was told at least 5yrs ago which country the ppl would be comming from when they were building the facillity out there amazingly accurate .
    the thing is that in my humble opinion i think that there will be more trouble here than we could imagine in the future and i think we would be nieve and arrigant to think that we would be any different to other countrys that have the problems the now.

    as a country we should be looking inward and fixing our own problems first.

  6. Naomi Carttledge: take a deep breath and reread carefully what you have written about me:

    FRANKLIN – You are living proof of the fact, that when people can’t put forward a concise and adult argument to support their assertions, they must fall back on lies and insults. You are a living breathing example of what lies and hatred do to people.

    This is a quite a statement considering you do not know me or know anything about me. Could it be that the reason you resort to personal abuse is simply that I have opinions contrary to yours. I would be most grateful if you could desist in personal abuse and instead provide examples of these so-called “lies and insults”. And do you include the information in the article regarding failed asylum seekers who escape deportation every year by throwing tantrums at the airport as also being “lies and insults”.

    You state that “There are up to 60,000 people in the country at this minute, but who came here by plane and have overstayed their visas, and when confronted plead asylum”. This implies that you freely admit that the asylum process is being manipulated on a large scale by unlawful non citizens who use it as a means for remaining in Australia – most interesting. Please inform us what do you think can be done about this problem. And what is your solution to the problem of failed asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country although they have no legal right to remain.

    I would appreciate a logical and reasoned response instead of personal abuse.

  7. Franklin asks “what is your solution to the problem of failed asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country although they have no legal right to remain?”

    I don’t know what Naomi’s views are, but this ‘problem’ is already addressed. Those whose asylum claims who are unsuccessful and who are not entitled to any other visa are removed (assuming they don’t go voluntarily as the vast majority do).

    This graph from The Australian shows that of boat arrivals ni the last 13 months, 687 have been recognised as refugees and 101 whose claims have been finally rejected have left – 3 involuntarily.

    There is no problem. I don’t why you would want to suggest there is.

    As for Naomi’s statement about the 60 000 overstayers who “when confronted plead asylum”, I would point out that the statistics show differently. Most overstayers who are detected depart fairly promptly. Some try to regularise their status by applying for another visa. Few put in a refugee claim – most that seek to go down this path put in a claim before their visa expires. Overstaying of visas is a small problem – not linked to boat arrivals at all – and handled far better in Australia than virtually any other country.

  8. red crab – I don’t think it takes great intelligence to work out that when there are wars there will be refugees – Sri Lanka (in our vicinity) and Afghanistan (where we are participants in the war creating the refugees) seem to be contributing most of the asylum seekers we have been receiving lately by boat. If somene said that 5 years ago, I am not surprised that they might have predicted accurately.

    If you look at visa overstayers they represent an entirely different set of countries of origin … as has been said many times before.

    Your dark hints about knowing much more than you can ever say about the underlying motives or facts surrounding the arrivals of boat people will get no credibility unless you can bring forward some support. No disrespect at all, but that’s an old trick “Oh, I could tell you much more, but you’ll have to take my word for it – I am bound by the Official Secrets Act.”

    If you are in fact bound by some secrecy oath, I wonder if you should not just say nothing .. you seem to want to run with hare and hounds. If not, and you have a whistle to blow- I feel sorry for you. That’s not an enviable position to be in.

    This is my last post here – I need to return Back Over East – a family member needs my help.

  9. togret
    why would i want you to take my word for anything im just saying that you mite want to dig a little deeper .
    there are no secrets just the trust of some ppl i know who were there.

    there is no old trick im just implying that the media and the gvt rearly tell the truth and only a fool would take anything they say on face value without looking for some adgenda. as for me im nothing more than someone who is interested i have no adgenda .the only reasion i comented on some things is because i have been there and seen for myself.unlike some others.

    anyway hope all gos well with your family togret.

    as for the problems america has australia would be foolish to think that its not going to happen here and even more foolish to asume that we could do any better.

  10. Congratulations Andrew on receiving your award. I didn’t catch the actual ‘title’ of it, but I know that it’s to do with all your hard work and commitment to the care and human rights of asylum seekers! Good for you! Glad that you’ve received acknowledgement! You restore my faith in humanity! Thank you!

  11. In his discourse Andrew Bartlett’s premise is that the administration of immigration laws in Australia and the USA are unjust and dysfunctional. As an outside observer with a particularly strong point of view it would be natural for him to come to that conclusion. However, has he ever considered the myriad of practical difficulties of running an immigration system. Those in the system need to be treated with dignity, but do they not also have a responsibility and obligation to obey the laws of the country they are in. If they are found not to be in need of protection are they not obligated to leave the country. As an example, what practical and humane and workable solution could Andrew Bartlett suggest to the problem highlighted in my above comments regard failed asylum seekers who escape deportation every year by throwing tantrums at the airport in the UK’s immigration system.

  12. In the UK many failed asylum seekers attempt to escape deportation by throwing tantrums at the airport:

    Does Andrew Barlett agree that asylum seekers have a responsibility and obligation to obey the laws of the country they are in, and if they are found not to be in need of protection are they not obligated to leave the country.

    What practical and humane and workable solution could Andrew Bartlett suggest to solve the problem in regard to these failed asylum seekers who seek to evade deportation.

  13. That link is the same as you posted it the first time Franklin. I prefer to rely on something other than the UK Daily Mail for factual interpretation of events. You should try it sometime.

    I presume your question as to whether I have “ever considered the myriad of practical difficulties of running an immigration system” is just a rhetorical one. Some of the laws in place today in this area are there because of my considerations, and I have repeatedly stated that migration is a difficult and complex area – asylum seekers issues even more so.

    This is precisely why adopting an approach based on kneejerk responses to tabloid distortions and hatemongering is irresponsible as a matter of good public policy and administration, even before you consider issues like injustice and harm to individual human beings.

    Taking your questions on face value:

    1. Do I agree that asylum seekers have a responsibility and obligation to obey the laws of the country they are in?

    Yes. So does the government of the country they are in, as do the officers who act on the authority of the Govt.

    2. If asylum seekers are found not to be in need of protection are they not obligated to leave the country?

    The major problem with people not leaving the country when they are obligated are visa overstayers, not unsuccessful asylum seekers. Focusing on asylum seekers for political or pejorative reasons diverts resources from more significant problems. Instances of unsuccessful asylum seekers trying to then disappear in the community are extremely rare in Australia, so there is little point discussing a ‘problem’ which doesn’t exist (unless someone is just trying to smear and hatemonger, which I’m sure is not the case with you, Franklin).

    Any person who is not eligible for a visa entitling them to remain in the country should depart. Of course, many refugee claimants who are found not to engage Australia’s obligations under the Refugee Convention are none the less determined to be suitable for the grant of a visas on other grounds. Unsuccessful refugee claimants are a minority of those required to depart Australia.

    3. What practical, humane and workable solution(s) do I suggest to solve the problem in regard to failed asylum seekers who seek to evade deportation?

    As noted in the above answer, this is a minimal “problem” in Australia, particularly when you factor in the far greater numbers of people who try to remain in Australia without authorisation. It is also irrelevant whether the person who is subject to deportation was unsuccessful in an asylum claim or is without a visa for a range of other reasons (unless someone is just trying to score political points by demonising and smearing all asylum seekers as a group in which case it’s not a genuine question about immigration laws and administration, but just an attempt to generate antagonism towards a vulnerable group relying on ignorance and misrepresentation – I’m sure Franklin isn’t doing that here though).

    The situation of forcibly refusing deportation occurs very rarely in Australia and it would be distorting debate and public perception to try to pretend it is a significant issue – but I’m sure Franklin isn’t doing that.

    However, I don’t wish to be falsely accused of trying to avoid a question – even a hypothetical one. The rare occurrences where a person forcibly resists deportation from Australia raise difficult issues which should be dealt with on a case by case basis. Whether the person had made a refugee claim or not is irrelevant – the circumstance is that they have no lawful right to remain in Australia.

    Such cases should be treated on their individual merits – which befits their rarity. Australia in the past has deported people to places who have not been prepared to receive them, or using invalid documentation. The UK recently had the embarrassment of forcibly deporting a group of Iraqis, and having the majority of them refused entry by Iraq and have to be returned. Such is the risk of forcibly deporting people for a political spectacle, without bothering about lawful procedure.

    Experience shows that threatening and brutalising people in an effort to force them to leave is often counter-productive. Usually giving people a fair go and due process from the start means they are more willing to leave if they are unsuccessful – I’d recommended the UK should give that a try. Experience in Australia shows that when people have been treated fairly and humanely and openly from the start, they are more likely to accept the outcome even when it is unsuccessful.

    In an Australian context in the very rare case where people still refuse to leave voluntarily, it is practical and workable (and also humane as it turns out) to spend the extra time negotiating with the person concerned and using organisations with wide experience in such matters, such as the IOM. IOM is engaged throughout the world in arranging the movement of people, but does not engaged in physically forcible removals. Engaging with people as human beings, rather than as anonymous dehumanising labels almost always works better.

Comments are closed.