As U.S. deportation flights continue to Haiti and across the Caribbean and Latin America, judges are ordering U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to take action to protect immigration detainees – and by extension, ICE’s own employees and surrounding communities.
One small corner of this battle is playing out in Bristol County, Massachusetts. A Haitian man reported to have been exposed to the coronavirus while detained at the Bristol County House of Correction was among those to be deported from Louisiana, but he was taken off the plane at the last minute.
Self-described pro-law-enforcement advocates don’t like the law much when it threatens to protect immigrants.
I’m referring to Bristol County (MA) Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, his recent hosts at the Center for Immigration Studies, and the Trump administration itself.
A class-action lawsuit filed in late March by Boston’s Lawyer for Civil Rights sought “emergency release and alternatives to detention for all immigrants experiencing life-threatening conditions in Bristol County.”
District Judge William G. Young has ordered the Bristol County Sheriff’s office to submit reports on its coronavirus testing of ICE detainees. According to Boston’s WBUR, “The court will hear arguments on the release of the remaining . . . . ICE detainees at Bristol County on May 7.”
Bristol County facilities are jailing 85 detainees for ICE, none of them positive for the virus, as of Apr. 28, according to a spokesperson at the sheriff’s office.
The state’s Attleboro Sun Chronicle reports that seven Bristol County jail employees, including a nurse, had tested postive as of Apr. 24.
In an earlier order, Judge Young instructed ICE to hold bail hearings for many of the Bristol County immigration detainees. (Why the detainees weren’t already permitted bail hearings is another issue.) The judge required detainees to comply with “bail conditions imposed by ICE.” He also demanded information on where and with whom a released detainee would reside, and he imposed the reasonable requirement that released detainees observe a 14-day quarantine.
Sheriff Hodgson nevertheless proclaimed in an online panel hosted by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) on Apr. 13 that the detainees “have nowhere to go and no restrictions” and will soon “meander into people’s neighborhoods [and] homes.”
In 2017, Hodgson, an honorary chairman of Trump’s Massachusetts re-election campaign, contacted White House advisor Stephen Miller to alert him to the presence of immigrant “know-your-rights” flyers, printed in various languages, which the sheriff had discovered in the Dartmouth church he attends. In his latest publicity stunt, Hodgson has posted an unverified list of criminal convictions – and charges – which he says are connected with the released but unnamed ICE detainees.
As corrections experts, judges, and even prosecutors around the country have worked to release non-violent inmates, there has been increased attention to the fact that, despite the rhetoric, the majority of ICE’s now-31,000 detainees, have not been convicted of any crimes. Those with convictions may have committed only nonviolent crimes or misdemeanors. And none are serving sentences. If they were U.S. citizens, they would not be locked up. A former ICE director recently told Democracy Now that “even some of the harder ICE officers” would admit that “only a small percentage [of the detainees] pose any public safety threat.”
That’s not what the anti-immigrant crowd likes to hear. CIS director Mark Krikorian referred to news reports that at least 56 of the ICE detainees in Bristol County had not been convicted of any crime. He didn’t dispute the statistic. Instead, he asked the sheriff rhetorically: “Are those people, in fact, not criminals, or had they just not graduated to actually being convicted of a crime yet?”
Translation: immigrant means criminal.
Inexplicably, media outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post continue to bestow expertise status on CIS, which denies it is a hate group even as its “analysts” – including a former immigration judge – insist on referring to COVID-19 as “the Wuhan virus.”
Back in 2010, several days after the earthquake in Haiti, CIS director Krikorian added his voice to a long line of racist pseudo-analysis, writing in the National Review: “My guess is that Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough… [Haiti failed to] develop a local culture significantly shaped by the more-advanced civilization of the colonizers. Sure, their creole language is influenced by French, but they never became black Frenchmen” (“What to Do About Haiti?”, Jan. 21, 2010).
At the ICE detention panel, one of the Center’s other “experts” reminded listeners that some lives are simply more valuable than others.
Dan Cadman, a CIS fellow, was Miami District Director for the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), where he was investigated by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for a cover-up of conditions at the Krome detention center. (He now accepts responsibility for the cover-up, though he blames it on colleagues.)
Cadman asked the online audience to imagine a doctor in this pandemic choosing to treat “a young detainee” who “was ordered released by a federal judge some place” instead of attending to “your elderly grandfather.” When the doctor does not even take into account “that young detainee’s immigration status, how are you as a citizen going to feel?”
Fifty-two ICE detainees wrote in a letter from the Bristol County jail: “We are detainees and not prisoners nor hostages.”
Technically, they are correct. Technically, they are “administrative detainees.” Technically, they are not even being punished. But they are prisoners, and they are also hostages, bringing in revenue as well as political capital.
Bristol County is paid $98 per detainee per day by ICE, a $10 daily profit on each head. The county received $13.5 million from ICE in fiscal years 2016-18, though a Massachusetts state audit last year found that approximately $350,000 paid to Bristol County by ICE was unaccounted for; the county blamed the error on ICE and corrected it.
At the CIS panel, Sheriff Hodgson scoffed at the “humanitarian initiative” by a federal judge who doesn’t understand inmates the way he does and assured listeners that the detainees are better off in jail.
Fortunately, Judge Young heard from at least one corrections professional not motivated by the political agenda of scapegoating and dehumanization.
Rick F. Raemisch, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, himself a former sheriff and prosecutor, told the court in a written statement: “Due to the rapid spread of this deadly virus, it is too late to debate and too late to litigate,” and he urged governors and local officials around the country to act.
That was a month ago.
Officials must pressure ICE, and local residents must continue to pressure those officials, to release immigration detainees from needless imprisonment, where they are more likely to contract COVID-19, and not deport them during a global pandemic.
Mark Dow is the author of the book “American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons.”