Guantánamos Across America

As the Congress makes a lot of noise but no sense on the immigration issue, the New York Times documents “the boom in immigration detention — the nation’s fastest-growing form of incarceration“:

Sandra M. Kenley, a legal permanent resident who had high blood pressure and a bleeding uterus, died in a rural Virginia jail after not receiving her medication. Returning home from a trip to Barbados she was locked up because of two old misdemeanor drug convictions. Abdoulai Sall, an auto mechanic, had no criminal record, but was still seized during an immigration interview. He had a severe kidney ailment and he, too, complained about not getting his medicine. He got sicker and died in another Virginia jail last December.

Sixty-two immigrants have died since 2004 while being held in a secretive detention system, a patchwork of federal centers, private prisons and local jails. Advocacy groups and lawyers say that the system not only denies detainees the most basic rights but also lacks the oversight and regulations that apply to federal prisons. Instead of fixing this broken system, the Senate bill that is lumbering toward final passage — after surviving a crucial procedural vote yesterday — is overloaded with provisions that will make it even harsher and more unfair.

One of the worst amendments comes from Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. It would impose mandatory detention of all people who overstay their visas. It’s a huge overreach that threatens to swamp the detention system, filling already-strapped prisons at great expense and inevitably leading to more abuses and deaths. And because it takes away the power of officials to decide who poses a genuine threat and who doesn’t, it would undermine efforts to catch and deport the truly dangerous.

So, as with the incarceration of pot smokers, we are converting hundreds of thousands of otherwise decent people into criminals, at an annual cost of billions. But hey, the prison business is booming.

Michael Sky