Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

October 14, 2011

ACLU: Pinal County Jail's shocking abuse of migrants violates treaty on torture

No More Deaths photo
Pinal County Jail violates international treaties on human rights and torture

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News
Update: ACLU: Documented sexual abuse of detainees

TUCSON -- The inhumane conditions for migrants at the Pinal County Jail violates US treaties on human rights and torture, ACLU Policy Director Anjali Abraham said Friday.

"Terminate the contract with Pinal County Jail right away," said Abraham, making recommendations to ICE, at the Human Rights Documentation and Social Media Reporting Conference in Tucson.

Mexico's Consulate in Tucson Juan Manuel Calderon Jaimes was among those attending the conference held on the campus of the University of Arizona.

Abraham said the current immigration detention system in the US violates a number of constitutional and international rights. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, treaties ratified by the US that apply to the rights of migrants and detained persons.

Abraham described deplorable conditions for migrants at the Pinal County Jail in Arizona. Rape, denial of medical treatment and prolonged isolation of victims, were among the inhumane conditions.

The Pinal County Jail is one of the county jails and private-for-profit prisons in Arizona where immigrants are detained, and often abused, by way of contracts with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.)

In one case, a woman who should have been detained for 48 hours was detained for a year. In another case, a woman with vaginal bleeding was repeatedly denied medical care and then required a full hysterectomy, one that could have been avoided had she received medical treatment earlier.

"The Pinal County Jail operates on a cycle of fear and threats," Abraham said. Conditions are so severe that inmates in another facility had to be pepper sprayed to force them to be transferred back there.

Abraham said the jail's use of isolation is alarming. "Locking someone in a little cube for 24 hours a day only increases existing mental and physical health issues," she said.

Pregnant migrant women in labor are being shackled to beds, which is cruel and puts both the mother and baby at risk. Migrant women, with no criminal history, are placed in cells with serious criminals. The detainment of migrant women has far reaching impacts on families. While many women are the primary caregivers of their children, their families are left to fend for themselves.

Abraham said the most vulnerable populations in detention are the women, children and the lesbian, gay and transgender detainees. In Pinal County, transgender detainees are placed in cells with the gender they do not identify with.

"They are victims of physical and sexual violence," she said. Further, they are often placed in isolation when they report being victims of sexual abuse.

"They are punishing the victim for being the victim," she said.

Tanya is a transgender woman who has lived in Tucson for almost 20 years. Her family members are US citizens and lawful residents. Tanya's case is among those in the ACLU report, "In Their Own Words: Enduring abuse in Arizona immigration centers."

Tanya was detained by ICE at the Eloy Detention Center for seven months. She was placed in a men's housing unity and isolated for six weeks of the time. After reporting an incident with detention staff, she was placed in isolation. Then she was threatened by a male detainee who tried to force her to engage in oral sex. She is now out of detention.

Abraham said the inhumane conditions at Pinal County Jail include lockdown for minor infractions, including not making a bed, not moving quickly enough or saving a piece of fruit to eat later in the day, because people are so hungry in the jail.

In Arizona, ICE detains 3,000 immigrants on any given day, a 58 percent increase over six years. These men, women and children represent 10 percent of the country's detained immigrant population.

ICE Detention Centers in Arizona are the Florence Detention Center, Pinal County Adult Detention Center and Eloy Detention Center. ICE also contracts with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA,) a private-for-profit prison company, at two separate facilities in Florence, the Florence Correctional Center and Central Arizona Detention Center.

Abraham said these ICE detention centers lack any grievance process that would hold detention centers and staff accountable.

Speaking of migrants being detained in private for profit prisons, Abraham said, "We don't need them."

Raquel Rubio Goldsmith of Derechos Humanos said the number of migrant deaths in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona has increased dramatically in recent years because of the militarization of the border and US policies that have forced migrants into more dangerous areas, where they are far more likely to die.

Earlier, families came to work in the ranches and fields, and returned home to Sonora, by well known foot paths. There was very little risk of losing human life. Then, suddenly, there was a flood of deaths.

Goldsmith said the search for missing persons is difficult because of the lack of central records for the border. There are currently 600 missing persons in the Tucson region alone. There is no central location in the United States, on the border from California to Texas, where families can go and find help for missing loved ones.

Currently, there is a higher percentage of deaths of those who are risking crossing the Arizona desert, because of the US policy that forces migrants into dangerous regions.
Goldsmith said another reason for the increase in deaths is that people who have lived in the United States for years are now attempting to cross back into Mexico to rejoin their families. In the rush to get back to their families quickly, they risk the desert crossing. They are unfamiliar with the desert and too often die in the desert.

Since the year 2000, there have been 2,272 recovered human remains in the Arizona desert.

During the conference, Danielle Alvarado, volunteer with No More Deaths. Alvarado described the abuse by Border Patrol, as documented in the recent release of report, The Culture of Cruelty. Border Patrol agents repeatedly denied migrants water, food and medical treatment, according to thousands of interviews spanning two years. Read more and watch videos:

Alvarado also showed a video of a Border Patrol agent pouring out life saving gallons of water in the Sonoran Desert, gallons of water left by humanitarian groups to save the lives of migrants crossing the desert.
Among the most alarming discussions was the fact that when parents are detained, their children are placed in state custody. The state then often severs their legal rights to their children.

The children of detained parents can be disappeared into the state system indefinitely. Too often they are placed in foster care with no contact with their parents.

On Tuesday, October 18, at 11:45 am, in Tucson, Coalicion de Derechos Humanos and other organizations will hold a press conference in front of the Tucson Police Department to announce the airing of the PBS Frontline documentary Lost in Detention.
Derechos Humanos said that last year, the Obama administration set new records for detaining and deporting immigrants, with over another 400,000 slated for 2011. Frontline correspondent Maria Hinojosa, in partnership with American University's Investigative Reporting Workshop, takes a penetrating look at Obama's vastly expanded immigration net, and explores the controversial Secure Communities enforcement program.
Maria Eugenia Carrasco of Derechos Humanos said, "Secure Communities has created a nightmare in our community in Tucson and across the country, resulting in a concrete and direct attack on the security of the families we deal with on a daily basis."
"How can it be that someone who is on their way home from dropping off their child at school, wind up being arrested and deported because of an encounter with law enforcement for a minor infraction like having a crack on the windshield," Carrasco said.

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