An Irony Within the Immigration Policy Debate

By David North, September 11, 2009

An irony within the immigration policy debate relates to the treatment of incarcerated illegal aliens.

Immigrant advocate groups complain that those being held prior to deportation are sometimes mistreated and sometimes have inadequate medical care.

The irony is that if the immigrant advocate groups had not campaigned so successfully for so much due process for those in the deportation process there would be far fewer detained aliens to worry about in the first place.

The question of how the illegals are treated in Homeland Security facilities was raised Wednesday in a New York Times article headed: "Immigration Official To Run New York's Jails".

The Obama Administration had located and hired Dora B. Schriro, apparently a well-credentialed corrections professional, to manage Homeland Security's jails, but one month after she came on board in Washington, she accepted Mayor Bloomberg's offer to run the New York City prison system. She said that she had no quarrel with the Obama Administration, and that she wanted to be near her ailing parents.

Prior to supervising the Missouri and Arizona prison systems, she had been an assistant commissioner of the New York City operation.

Homeland Security captures hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens each year, and quickly separates them into two subpopulations: those caught at the southern border, and those apprehended inland.

Most of the illegals in the first group are Mexican nationals, most do not have criminal records, and most go through a process called "voluntary departure," which is neither voluntary nor much of a departure. The aliens waive their rights to a judicial process, are rarely kept more than overnight, and then are bussed to border crossings where they are turned over to not-very interested Mexican officials. Most then seek to cross the border, often successfully, the next night.

Most of the population of interest to immigrant advocates, who had hailed the arrival of Ms. Schriro, belong to the second group, those apprehended within the U.S. Some of these are, in effect, returned to the community but others are held for deportation proceedings. Many in this group have had contacts with the criminal justice system.

Homeland Security has a mixed system of penal facilities; it runs a few directly, subcontracts with private-for-profit firms to run other detention centers, and simply hires empty spaces in local jails to house other aliens. It is in these places that the illegals wait for hearings before immigration judges and, if there is an appeal, before federal district court judges.

The speculation is that Ms. Schriro is facing a tough job in New York City, but is leaving a far more difficult one in Washington.