By Maria Peña
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is trying to please both those promoting immigration reform and those who want an iron fist used against undocumented aliens, many of whom languish in subhuman conditions at a privately run detention center in southern Louisiana.
Living conditions for the 100 detainees at the Basile facility have not improved much since the days of the Bush administration, so they go on hunger strikes to call attention to what they have to put up with every day.
Since the beginning of July, the detainees have rotated their three-day hunger strikes – the most recent was last Friday – and because of the negative publicity in the press, immigration authorities have locked up some of them in solitary confinement, activists say.
The detainees, according to a report by the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, live in unhealthy conditions with sick people in places infested with rats, and are often deprived of the most basic necessities including articles of personal hygiene.
One of the detainees cited in the report, the Dominican Fausto Gonzalez, complained of conditions “not fit for a human being ...
“There are rats, mosquitoes, flies, and spiders inside the cell and inside the dorm. The ventilation is terrible,” he said.
“We have tried to complain about all of these problems, and we haven’t gotten anywhere. They tell us, ‘It’s a jail. This is how it is,’” Gonzalez said.
Another detainee, Edwin Dubon Gonzalez, said that he received no medical attention despite his having been “so sick that I was delirious, vomiting, had no appetite, a strong headache, fever, I was very cold, and I had a cold sweat.”
The desperation of immigrants held at Basile, located four hours west of New Orleans, is growing, the Workers’ Center said.
The report, which has sounded an alarm in Congress, also indicated that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has not complied with its own regulations with respect to medical care for detainees, decent food and access to documents and legal aid, telephones and correspondence, among other infractions.
Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York are promoting a bill that would impose minimum regulations on detention practices and would require that the Department of Homeland Security enforce the laws governing the treatment of detainees.
Two recent reports, one by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and the other by the National Immigration Law Center, have reported violations of the rights of immigrants detained in the United States.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, based in New York, is also indignant about what it considers “reprisals” against those who do no more than “protest peacefully” about the conditions in which they are kept.
ICE agents have denied any mistreatment or “reprisals” in the jail with a capacity for 1,000 beds, and have said that, in any case, the federal agency is just following regulations on how to deal with hunger strikes behind bars.
ICE said, for example, that hunger-strikers are placed in “medical isolation” so their condition can be observed closely and they can be given the medical attention they need.
Nor does the agency deprive them of articles of personal hygiene, because they get them if they would just ask for them, ICE said.
None of this convinces the CCR, which, together with other immigrant-defense groups, ask that the DHS, led by Janet Napolitano, get to the bottom of what is happening in the Basile jail, an immigrant confinement center contracted by ICE.
“We demand that Napolitano stop doing business with private jails that profit from our extended detention in inhumane conditions,” said Joaquin Ruiz, another detainee who acted as a human rights monitor in the ICE detention facility.
“Napolitano says there is quality and accountability in ICE jails. She should spend a week in Basile, Louisiana,” Ruiz said. EFE