U.S. Violating Constitutional Rights of Citizens and Undocumented Workers

 

By VALERIE BURCH

 

Mohammed Uddin lived in New York City for 15 out of his 41 years. Back in Bangladesh, he wouldn't be able to get the life-sustaining heart medication he takes daily for a rare form of severe hypertension called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. On the tarmac at Harrisburg International Airport on May 13, 2008, about to begin the arduous journey back to Bangladesh, his blood pressure soared and he lost consciousness.

 Tioti Tong was crewing the Cap San Augustin when it docked at Philadelphia in August 2008. Other crew had stowed narcotics aboard, and the Department of Homeland Security heard about it. When agents raided the ship, Tioti was arrested with the other Kiribatian crew. Long after the Cap San Augustin departed and Tioti was cleared of all charges, he sat in Lackawanna County Prison for another year, speaking only Kiribatian, with no way home, forgotten by the government that had arrested him.

 Abed Asie is a citizen of no country. He snuck into this one five years ago. Found out, he threw up his hands and acquiesced to deportation at the first opportunity. For more than a year he languished in Pennsylvania prisons, dressed in prison orange and never setting foot outdoors, writing letter after letter searching for a safe way home to a land with no airport, no agreed-upon name, and no official government. The son of a divided family in a divided land, (his father is Jewish, his mother Muslim) he longs to return home to Nablus. His return has proved impossible, and he continues to wait for freedom in a Pennsylvania prison.

 The logistics of our immigration system are painful, particularly for these ACLU-PA clients, but to many our immigration system is just that-logistics. Each year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detains more than 300,000 people in "administrative custody" under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Such custody is not accompanied by the procedural protections afforded convicted criminals. Immigrants arrested by DHS have no right to a lawyer. Often, no judge reviews their custody. They aren't given the same medical treatment as their cellmates-native criminals. They sometimes wait for years while the courts decide whether they may remain in the United States. They are assigned a number-an "Alien Registration Number" which they had best memorize, because it's likely that no one in the jails they'll visit will be able to pronounce their names.

 And, they will likely visit a lot of jails.

 DHS moves detainees any prison in the nation where it has "bedspace."  One woman, plucked from an Amtrak train during what was to be a brief station stop in Erie, struggled to recount the number and names of the Pennsylvania prisons through which she was transferred over the course of a 30-day period before she landed in front of an immigration judge at York County Prison. At each jail, she said, it was the same.

 "No one there could tell us why were being held, for how long or where we were going next. We were 'immigration,' and our jailors didn't know anything about that."

 Add to this the fact that friends and family of the detained person frantically phone government offices where no one answers in English, let alone Kiribati, and immeasurable, unnecessary suffering results.

 At least 11 Pennsylvania county prisons have contracts with DHS to hold immigration detainees: Allegheny County Jail, Berks County Family Shelter, Berks County Prison, Berks County Secure Juvenile Facility, Cambria County Prison, Clinton County Correctional Facility, Columbia County Prison, Erie County Prison, Lackawanna County Prison, Pike County Prison, and York County Prison.

 Most DHS detainees held in Pennsylvania have been arrested in greater New York City, New Jersey and Philadelphia after residing in the U.S. for years. They often present complicated claims for relief from removal based on U.S. family ties, length of time here and fear of return to their home countries. These people, who present strong arguments to remain, find themselves in detention the longest. On January 25, 2009, 551 of 1,135 immigrants detained in PA had been detained longer than the 45 days. One of them had been detained for 5 years.

 The rate at which people detained by DHS move through the commonwealth is astounding. Most must travel through York County Prison which houses an immigration court. Over the course of a year 10,000 people are shuttled through York and off to everywhere in the world. But, this massive forced migration is invisible, unless you're looking. Pennsylvania's detained people are transported in unmarked buses (see photo on page 1). They are held in regular county jails that often bear no insignia of a federal government presence.

 The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, "No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."  The promise of freedom made by our Constitution applies to every person in the United States, not just to citizens.

 The ACLU-PA works every day to keep this promise. Since 2008, the ACLU-PA, along with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, has won the release of eight people detained by DHS longer than one year in Pennsylvania's prisons. In one of these cases, filed as a class action with the help of Pepper Hamilton LLP, the Middle District of Pennsylvania acknowledged, "the growing consensus within this district and, indeed it appears throughout the federal courts, that prolonged detention of aliens . . . raises serious constitutional concerns." The case, Alli v Decker, is on its way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where we hope for a decision that will set free Pennsylvania's DHS detainees who have been held for more than a year absent any judicial review of the decision to detain.

 According to the government's interpretation of the law, people jailed for years by DHS are not even entitled to a hearing before a judge who has the power to set them free. DHS's "administrative detention" powers, it argues, are absolute. We believe that the Fifth Amendment applies to all people, and as such, we trudge onward through the courts.

 

[Valerie Burch is a staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the ACLU, she served as managing attorney of the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center, where she litigated immigration cases. She is a 2004 graduate of Penn State's Dickinson School of Law and a 2000 graduate of the University of Rochester.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: Profits, Premiums and Potassium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

Ashley Ellis weighed just 87 pounds when she reported to the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Vermont to serve a 30-day sentence for "careless and negligent operation of a motor vehicle." Two days later, she was dead.

As Terry J. Allen reports for In These Times, Ashley suffered from severe anorexia and bulimia. She died because the understaffed, profit-driven prison health service contractor, Prison Health Services (PHS), failed to give her potassium supplements that kept her heart beating normally. Investigators later learned that staffers nicknamed Ashley "Potassium Girl" because she begged so frantically for her medicine.

The only health care providers on duty were licensed practical nurses who are barred by law from assessing patients. Ellis's family is considering a civil suit.

Critics say that PHS has already figured the costs of lawsuits into its business model. Unlike public institutions, corporations can just move on when the costs of their negligence become unsupportable. If Vermont fires PHS, it can move on to the next state.

Allen writes that "Vermont's serial contracts with for-profit prison health care corporations follow a nationwide pattern: Prisoners get inadequate care, contractors absorb lawsuits, states switch providers, and the conflict between profit-making and good care remains."

In other health news, the proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Senate health bill was defeated last night. Ardent pro-choicer Barbara Boxer (D-CA) killed the Nelson-Hatch-Casey amendment by calling a vote to table, as Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check reports. The fight over abortion funding and health care reform is far from over. Anti-choice senators might still decide to join a filibuster over the issue.

The fate of the public option is still up in the air as Democratic senators are negotiate furiously amongst themselves. James Ridgeway of Mother Jones is disappointed with the options on the table. At this rate, he predicts, the Senate will approve a public option that isn't public at all.

One popular proposal is modeled on the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), which allows beneficiaries to choose between different private insurance plans under the oversight of an independent regulatory board. Some federal employees already opt out of the FEHBP because they can't afford the premiums. "This is the Democrats' idea of a 'compromise'--not with the Republicans, but with the so-called moderates within their own party," Ridgeway fumes.

At The American Prospect, Paul Starr floats a plan to minimize political backlash over the individual mandate. Under an individual mandate, everyone who doesn't have health insurance would be required to buy coverage or pay a fine. A mandate is an important part of bringing down the cost of insurance because it would force young healthy people who might otherwise be tempted to skip insurance to pay their share. But, Starr notes, health care reform is supposed to help the uninsured, not force them to buy coverage they can't afford. He proposes that those with low incomes should be exempted from the mandate if they sign a waiver that makes them ineligible for future federal subsidies for the next five years. This proposal might soften the political blow of the individual mandate, but it would seem to defeat the purpose of having a mandate in the first place. The whole point was to get people to sign up, not to make it easier for them to avoid buying insurance.

Starr's approach seems backwards. We shouldn't have to figure out how to cajole people into buying coverage that costs too much and covers too little. Subsidies and waivers won't change the ground truth: People will be annoyed when the government forces them to buy more of the private health insurers' crappy product. We know that for-profit health insurance is structurally designed to charge more and cover less. We know that premiums will keep going up if insurers don't have to compete with a public plan. Yet Democrats are converging on a plan that puts the interests of health insurers first and those of the public a distant second.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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You Are Expendable

This blog is to that 20-25% of the population that has now become expendable to our economy. When we switched from a manufacturing based economy to a market based economy the need for a large work force became unnecessary. As our manufacturing infrastructure was being dismantled more and more of our people became expendable and many of those workers were the low skilled and under educated. In a manufacturing economy there is a need for low skilled and low educated workers to learn repetitive skills to keep the manufacturing machinery humming.

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Children are better off in blue states

The Every Child Matters Education Fund has released a report called "Geography Matters: Child Well-Being in the States." It assesses the vulnerability of children in all 50 states according to a dozen metrics.

As the mother of two small children in the Des Moines area, I had a particular interest in Iowa's ranking (seventh overall, mixed bag on the individual metrics).

But when I clicked on the page ranking all states in terms of "overall child vulnerability," one thing jumped out at me: the bottom 20 states all voted for George W. Bush in 2004. Of the top 20 states, only three voted for Bush (including Iowa, which he won by a very slim margin).

Follow me after the jump to learn the specific reasons that blue states are better places for children to be born and grow up.

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US is a Rogue State & Violator of Human Rights

The tyrannical Bush regime is worse than an embarrassment now that our nation has been branded evil , inhumane , and even a danger to civilization itself. I was saddened but not shocked to find out that our country is now the rogue state used to represent the worst case example of abuse of prisoners during presentations at the United Nations Prison and Probation Officer Course.
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When I was in high school we had a President who was a true statesman and defender of the quality of life and rights of people everywhere on earth his name was Jimmy Carter. The only way we can begin to heal the deep wounds inflicted upon our traumatized nation by the NEO-CONS is returning to Jimmy Carter's human rights doctrine as the mainstay of our foreign policy. I miss the days when our country had a leader who could walk down the middle of Paris with the French President and was cheered and greeted as a friend.

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United States of America President Jimmy Carter and French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing

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