The following blog post was written by Leslie E. Vélez, Director for Access to Justice/Legal Programs at LIRS.
On a snowy day last Thursday, I accepted an invitation to LIRS from Secretary Napolitano to the Department of Homeland’s first “State of Security” address, just two days after the President delivered his state of the union address. I was eager to accept the invitation and thought that this invitation foreshadowed a commitment by DHS to continue with their detention reforms. Why else invite LIRS to such a high profile event? Alas, detention reform was not mentioned, not even when she turned to the topic of issues that kept her awake at night. The unnecessary incarceration of so many asylum seekers and torture survivors fleeing for their lives to the U.S. (many of whom LIRS serves) is certainly something that keeps me up at night, too often than I should admit.
She rests, she announced, assured that in this struggle for homeland security, that no matter what happens, no terrorist, no attack, can successfully threaten our American values of freedom. But how can this be true when we unnecessarily detain those is their own fight for freedom? Our American fear allows the incarceration of refugees in the name of security. Common sense security tells me that it is sensible to run biometrics, fingerprint, and check out any person who comes to the U.S. especially without valid documentation. My common sense agrees that initially keeping someone claiming to be a refugee in custody is a reasonable security measure until their story checks out through the many “credible fear” security hurdles that our government has put into place. But the well of common sense dries up when a refugee is stuck in a jail, mixed in with hardened criminals, for an average of 18 months, just so that we are secure, usually because they don’t have a place to go. (They were fleeing for their lives after all.) Unfortunately, common sense tells me that, at the very least, Secretary Napolitano, our value of freedom is extremely threatened.
Just yesterday, Secretary Napolitano, (coincidentally speaking at my alma matter) said the following:
“In addition, we have continued to reform our immigration detention system, making it easier for families and attorneys to locate people in custody, and implementing new detention standards to ensure consistency across the country….It involves having an immigration detention system that recognizes the basic differences between immigration violators – from families with small children to hardened, violent criminals and gang members – and treats them as such.”
This may seem trite, but because of these two public sentences, I think I may sleep ok tonight assured that she cares enough to mention the need for reform.
What keeps you up at night?