Albor Ruiz, New York Daily News
April 5, 2010
Is it incompetence or callousness? Stupidity or just plain old racism?
It’s not easy to fathom what is behind the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s embarrassing trajectory of abuse that was splashed across the front pages of the news last week.
As if the revelations of cruel treatment of mentally ill detainees and a deportation “quota” policy that instructed ICE agents to go after “easy targets” – undocumented workers – instead of focusing on criminals and security threats had not been enough, last Thursday The New York Times published a new report that bordered on the surreal.
Three dozen Haitians rescued after the killer earthquake by U.S. forces and brought to Florida believing they would get safety and medical treatment were immediately handcuffed upon arrival and thrown into the Broward County Transitional Center, a privately operated jail in Pompano Beach, the newspaper reported.
What makes this incident so outrageous is that it involves people who lost everything in the Jan. 12 earthquake, including parents, children and friends, and who in some cases had been themselves rescued from under the ruins of Port-au-Prince.
Following the quake, which claimed an estimated 220,000 lives, many survivors sought aid at the airport and in the confusion the 36 Haitians were ushered onto planes by U.S. military personnel, the newspaper reported.
Brought to Florida in U.S. planes by U.S. Marines, they were not received with compassion and human solidarity. Instead, as soon as they landed they were imprisoned to await deportation for – listen to this – lacking visas.
In a happy ending of sorts, after languishing for more than two months in ICE jails, the Haitian earthquake survivors last Thursday were temporarily released – coincidentally, the same day their story was made public. It’s unclear whether they will be allowed to remain in the U.S.
One is left to wonder what would have been their fate without media coverage.
“Rather than being welcomed in the U. S. of A, and getting the refuge that they expected, they were detained for two months here at the Broward facility,” said Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.
Little noted that most of the Haitian detainees have family in the U.S. who are able to support them.
“We were just scratching our heads, honestly. We knew they couldn’t be deported under the new government policy, they didn’t have criminal backgrounds, and yet they were being detained with our tax dollars, American tax dollars.”
Incompetence or callousness? Stupidity or racism? It’s hard to tell.
What is absolutely certain is that the Obama administration cannot pretend to call on other nations to respect human rights while at the same time tolerating the blatant disregard by its own federal immigration agency.
To be taken seriously, the administration must act quickly and drastically to rein in ICE’s cowboy mentality and force the agency to march in step with President Obama’s stated priorities.
“When communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raids, when nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing, when people are detained without access to legal counsel, when all that is happening, the system just isn’t working, and we need to change it,” candidate Obama said with passion and conviction during his presidential run.
President Obama must not be allowed to forget his own words.