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Republican Congressmen Mock Immigration Detention as a ‘Holiday’ for Immigrants

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights today criticized a House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement hearing held yesterday in which the Subcommittee’s Republican members attempted to portray immigration detention as a “vacation” for undocumented immigrants. 

The hearing was an attempt to discredit a new set of standards aimed at improving conditions for immigration detainees. The hearing, entitled “Holiday on ICE,” an insensitive reference to the time immigrants spend in detention, was intended to consider the 2011 Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS).

“The fact that anyone in Congress thinks this is a joke is reprehensible,” said Christy Fujio, Director of PHR’s Asylum Program. “They’ve already demonstrated their unwillingness to fix the immigration system, but to then go on and degrade all those who have suffered and even died in immigration detention is unconscionable.”

The PBNDS are a set of guidelines issued last month by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency charged with running the immigration detention system, to govern conditions in the 250 immigration detention facilities spread across the country. Though they will be written into contracts with the law enforcement agencies and private prison corporations that run most detention centers over the next year, the standards are not legally enforceable.

PHR welcomes the 2011 PBNDS as an important step in improving conditions for immigration detainees. Nearly 34,000 immigrants are in detention every day, and more than 1.2 million immigrants have passed through the detention system since the beginning of the Obama administration.

“While the new standards are a step in the right direction, they simply do not go far enough to ensure that detainees are held in safe and humane conditions,” said Fujio. “Immigration detainees are not convicted criminals, but the standards are still modeled after prisons and jails. Even more troubling, hearing witnesses called by the Republican majority characterized detainees as ‘criminals’ and called for more detention under worse conditions.”

At the hearing, Congressman Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, repeated his contention that the PBNDS amounted to “hospitality guidelines for illegal immigrants,” while Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s representative to Congress, asserted that “we ought to promote policies that treat people with decency and compassion.” Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, the Subcommittee’s Ranking Member, characterized the hearing as an attack on immigrants, noting that “it’s very easy to pick on the most vulnerable people, and I think that’s what’s going on here.”

PHR denounces the Republicans’ characterization of immigration detention.

“Nobody who has spent even a minute in an immigration detention facility would characterize it as a ‘holiday,’” said Fujio “Detention centers are overwhelmingly jails or jail-like facilities, and conditions in them are often worse than they are in criminal jails. Nobody wants to be there.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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