February 20, 2009
Secretary Janet Napolitano
Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Napolitano,
We are delighted to welcome such excellent new leadership to the Department of Homeland Security. On January 30th you sent a directive for an agency assessment of current immigration enforcement practices to be completed by February 20th. As part of that review process, I am writing to urge you to revisit unfair policies that have led to human rights abuses and preventable immigrant deaths in detention.
As an immediate step we encourage you to explore secure, community based alternatives to detention and make the incarceration of non-citizens a last resort. We also encourage you to limit the detention of vulnerable populations like children, asylum seekers, and the physically and mentally ill, unless such custody is necessary to national security. Ensuring due process and guaranteeing basic standards of decency and fairness for detainees should be the bedrock of all detention policies.
With more than 300,000 people in immigrant detention and the number of questionable deaths in custody rising every month, it is more urgent than ever to ensure safe and humane detention conditions. Here are a few stories of detained immigrants whose voices too often go unheard:
Warren Joseph, originally from Trinidad, a legal permanent resident, served in the U.S. Army in Iraq. Instead of receiving help and support, he was detained and threatened with deportation because of actions caused by post-traumatic-stress-syndrome. During his three years in detention, Warren experienced and observed serious physical and psychological abuse.
June Everett, originally from Barbados, lost her sister, Sandra Kenley, while in immigrant detention due to medical negligence. Sandra was a 52-year old grandmother who had lived in the U.S. legally for 33 years and was detained for a minor crime that she had committed many years prior.
Juana Villegas, from Mexico, was nine months pregnant when she was stopped for "careless driving" (for which she was later found innocent). Instead of receiving a customary citation, she was detained in jail where she was shackled as she gave birth.
You can learn more about detention conditions first hand by visiting Breakthrough's online 3D simulation at www.homelandgitmo.com. The simulation is based on stories, facts and figures assembled from groups addressing the issue around the country.
As President Obama so eloquently pointed out in his inauguration speech, "...we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." His leadership in making this a reality has been demonstrated by his call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay.
We hope that your assessment of current immigration enforcement practices will clearly show that we need to bring closure to similar conditions on American soil and that our national security will only be enhanced by restoring due process and fairness to immigrant detention.
Thank you for your time and attention to this critical issue. We would like to take this opportunity to wish you the very best in your new position.
Breakthrough: building human rights culture