On April 4th, 2013, an organizer with The National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), Claudia Munoz, infiltrated Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Michigan. Claudia allowed herself to be detained by accidentally driving in to Canada. Claudia is still detained at the Calhoun County Jail in Battle Creek, Michigan.
In a video message that she shot before her arrest and detention, Claudio states that she is detained at a Michigan detention center because she allowed herself to be caught by Customs and Border Protection in an effort to expose the abuses that happen inside immigrant detention centers. Since Claudia has been detained inside the Calhoun County Jail for the past 10 days, she has witnesses numerous due process violations and abuses conducted by ICE officials:
- Due process violations: CBP agents intentionally misinterpreted detainees in order to incriminate them, which is a violation of their due process.
- Forcing detainees to agree to voluntary departure: ICE Liaison, Officer J. Jolin, was seen forcing detainees to agree to voluntary departure. Office Jolin told a detainee that “I can bring in 3 deputies and make you sign it!” in order to compel signature. Additionally, a detainee was locked away in a room ‘until he changed his mind.’ Office Jolin also threatened one man with “20-years in prison if you don’t sign.” These reports corroborate past allegations that ICE officials have forced individuals to relinquish their legal rights.
- Medical abuses. A detainee, Maria de la Luz, developed several health problems in the course of her detention. She has been coughing blood. Maria has also developed ovarian cysts, which are quite painful. Despite requesting medical help four times, she was merely given over-the-counter Advil. ICE agents have told her “why spend money on you when we plan on deporting you?” This is contrary to the Performance-Based National Detention Standards allegedly adopted by ICE in 2011.
- Inaccessibility to filing complaints: Most of the detainees cannot complaint to officials as all grievance forms are in English. Additionally, these grievance forms are not readily available and must be requested from an ICE agent.
- Detention of low-priority detainees. Gustavo Corona was detained on April 1st, despite being eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. His detention was also contrary to prosecutorial discretion guidelines, as he was pulled over for driving without a license, and detained despite having no criminal record and substantial family ties to the U.S. After protests from immigrant rights activists, Gustavo was finally released on April 11.
In addition to these abuses, Claudio also discovered out-of-date listings for pro-bono attorneys and non-profits. Other detainees have also allegedly complained of similar issues.
The National Immigrant Youth Alliance alleges that these cases are not an anomaly but that the Michigan ICE office has a track-record of abusing its power and not following national directives. In April 2011 and again in October 2012, Director Adducci ordered her agents to detain parents outside a local elementary school. In January 2012, Director Adducci refused to grant discretion in the case of Yanelli Hernandez, an undocumented youth from Ohio who had attempted suicide twice while in detention. In July of 2010, Officer J. Jolin, forced detainee, Ivan Nikolav to watch as his mother was stripped searched.
According to TRAC data, since Adducci became Field Director, Michigan ICE has issued over 4,200 immigration detainers; nearly 80% have been against immigrants with no prior contact with law enforcement.
The NIYA alleges that nearly all of the detainees at the Calhoun Facility are low-priority, and a result of racial-profiling against Latinos. Most are detained for driving without a license, as collateral walking to pick their children up from school, or merely as passengers in a car. Out of nearly 150 detainees at Calhoun, NIYA organizers contend that over 70% are the parents of U.S. citizen children, and eligible for prosecutorial discretion.
This is not the first time that NIYA has infiltrated a detention facility. Last summer, NIYA organizers Marco Saavedra and Viridiana Martinez, infiltrated Broward Transitional Center in Florida, where they found hundreds of cases of low-priority detainees. They were eventually released but not before they drew Congressional attention to the polices and practices at Broward, and started a hunger-strike inside the facility, which led to the release of many more detainees.
Claudia Munoz is likely to be identified and released from detention soon. However, while the Senate gears up for comprehensive immigration reform, it should seriously reconsider the practice of immigration detention and mount a full investigation into the policies and practices of detention centers across the country.