Friday, January 22, 2010

Immigration Detention Centers Operated by Alaska Native Corps Faced Hunger Strikes and Protests

(Note: NYT's Nina Bernstein continues her great reporting on ICE detention centers this week, with an update on the controversy over the Varick Street Detention Facility in New York City, which is under contract to a Native Alaskan Corporation. Below is an excerpt from a new article, based on Border Line postings, on a new CIP Americas Program article on ANCs and immigration detention.)

Another ANC that has taken advantage of preferential government contracts is Ahtna Development Corporation, which describes itself as "A Full-Service Operations and Maintenance Company."
DHS contracted with the ANC's subsidiary, Ahtna Technical Services, Inc. (ATSI), which had no experience in correctional services, to provide operational, maintenance, and other support services at four ICE facilities: Buffalo Federal Detention Facility, Krome Service Center, Port Isabel Service Processing Center, and the Varick Street Detention Facility in New York City.
In addition, ICE has contracted the Alaskan corporation to manage food services at six other ICE processing centers.
New York Times article (Nov. 1, 2009) highlighted the history of abuses at the Varick facility, which is an adjunct to the ICE field office in New York City. Operated by ATSI under a DHS contract, the security staff at the Varick detention center are employees of a Texas security subcontractor.
In April last year 200 immigrant detainees at ICE's Port Isabel detention center organized a passive resistance campaign and hunger strike to protest alleged physical and verbal mistreatment by the staff of Ahtna Technical Services. According to immigrant-support groups, detainees also suffered due process violations and were not receiving adequate medical care.
The immigrant inmates involved in the protest complained that despite repeated complaints to ICE the abuses and deplorable conditions at the detention center had gone unresolved.
According to Maria Muentes, an organizer with Families for Freedom, "Many of the detainees are legal permanent residents from northeastern cities [and] they've been shipped to this desolate prison away from any kind of family and community support. ATSI [Ahtna] staff is being very brazen in their lawlessness. I think there's a perception that no one will speak up in defense of immigrants. It all seems designed to break down the will of the detainees so that they will agree to being deported."
DHS says that it owns and operates the Port Isabel detention center. However, by contracting out the operation of the center to a company with dubious professional credentials and experience and which then outsources its responsibilities to yet another company, DHS gives the impression that it is not taking direct and full responsibility for this homeland security and immigration regulation mission.
On Jan. 19 ICE agents in riot gear broke up a hunger strike at the Varick facility, according to detainee accounts. But an ICE spokesperson denied that there was a "sustained hunger strike," although he acknowledged that immigration agents entered and searched a jail dormitory after detainees began complaining about conditions and refused to leave it.
A Jamaican detainee in one dorm told New York Times (NYT) reporter Nina Bernstein that "all hell broke loose" after about 100 inmates refused to go to the mess hall on Tuesday morning and gave guards a flier declaring they were on a hunger strike to protest detention policies and practices. The detainee said a SWAT team "beat up" some detainees, took many to segregation cells as punishment, and transferred about 17 to immigration jails in other states, according to the NYT report.
Another detainee, an architect who said he has been a legal resident for 30 years, said he didn't want to give his name. "I don't want to be singled out," he said. "A lot of things are happening in the night—people are being moved secretly."
Last week ICE said it was closing the immigrant jail, which had become the subject of much criticism by immigrant advocates for its practice of transferring detainees, without notice, to other ICE detention centers. Immigrants inside the detention facility opposed the closure and consequent mass detainee transfer, apparently because their removal from Varick would also remove them from contact with family and legal advocates. However, they told the NYT that the hunger strike was part of a larger protest over immigration and detention policies.
The problems and concerns at ICE's Varick detention center reflect the generalized state of immigrant detention abuses, vindictive and unreasonable transfers, and the lack of accountability and transparency in an immigration incarceration system that is largely outsourced to private firms.
Media reports and immigrant advocacy are raising new awareness about the injustices that characterize the outsourcing of legal and illegal immigrants to private security firms like Ahtna and Doyon, and to prison companies like GEO Group.
But the lack of accountability and transparency and irresponsible profiteering are problems that are also prevalent in the very heart of Homeland Security operations, including intelligence, information systems, and infrastructure protection—all of which are largely outsourced using highly questionable bidding and contracting processes.

Photo: Protest Outside Varick Detention Facility

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