ICE on ICE: self-policing appears to pay off at Port Isabel Detention Center

A censored cry for help. Immigration's official verdict? Crackpot.

Greg Harman

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It's interesting that after all the time that has gone by since last spring and the first cries of protest erupted from the Port Isabel Detention Center that U.S. Immigration and Customs' official version of events about life there hasn't been challenged by another official version. That is, despite the many hunger strikes and complaints about lack of due process, ICE's Isabel appears to be an island answerable only to itself.

Of several detainee complaints released to the Current by Homeland Security under federal Open Records law (which only took about three months longer to release than federal law supposedly allows), only one appears to be under investigation by Homeland Security's office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

One complaint about a relative on a hunger strike being held at Port Isabel (above), about whom an administrator allegedly said “if he dies, he dies ... oh well,” was determined by ICE to be unfounded and dismissed.

A detainee pleading for protection (top) from ICE officers supposedly determined to kill him (and possibly in league with the Mexican Mafia?) was also investigated by ICE and dismissed.

The issues most often taken up by civil rights activists â?? allegations of lack of due process and access to legal counsel â?? were voiced in a third complaint released to the Current. That one was forwarded to the Office of Inspector General, which refused to consider it.

It appears, the only group that has truly tried to investigate the many complaints about detainee treatment at Port Isabel has been the non-governmental, human-rights group Amnesty International, representatives of which toured the facility last year.

Now, I always enjoy a good slip o' honesty. Below is the transcript of an AI interview with an ICE representative. Watch how the ICE rep mistakenly drops the “don't” from “don't conduct strip searches.” Revealing?

Q. What are the types of security measures? I'm talking about strip searches?

A. ICE does conduct strip searches unless there is reasonable suspicion that contraband may be concealed on the person, or when there is a reasonable suspicion that a good opportunity for concealment has occurred, and when properly authorized by a supervisor.

And about that hunger strike that ICE spokesperson Nina Pruneda denied happened (she admitted to one case of “voluntary fasting”)? ICE's response to AI admits to as many as seven participants participated in the hunger strike, although a former detainee, who has since beat the charges against him in court and is reestablishing his former life up in Massachusetts, put the number between 70 and 90.

It's apparently a sore point at Port Isabel.

"The truth is ... they blocked our number," said Anayanse Garza of Southwest Workers Union, who first released information about the strike. Family members of detainees informed Garza of the telephone block recently, saying it was instituted because so many detainees had been contacting the organization with their complaints. "It's been retaliation ever since," Garza said.

Pruneda was not immediately available for comment.

During the last hunger strike in February, Garza released a press release stating the demands of the detainees included:

1. Suspend the detention and deportation of immigrants with U.S. citizen children, spouses, and immigrant students until there is resolution on the passage of comprehensive immigration reform;

2. Work permits for immigrants with U.S. citizen children and spouses whose detention and deportation have been suspended until there is resolution in Congress on the passage of immigration reform;

3. Creation of an honest, transparent process by which the best interests of communities, families, and children are weighed before detaining and deporting any individual;

4. The right to Due Process;

5. End the abuse of Human Rights in detention (lack of medical access, indefinite detention, inadequate food, physical and verbal abuse);

6. End the unjust deportation;

7. End raids on immigrant communities

It would seem we have a ways to go yet.

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