The shackling of nonviolent detainees

8/25/2011, 10:51 a.m.
Imagine this: Your immigrant relative who has never committed a crime but is seeking asylum...
Letter No. 30: Immigration reform now!

"But in San Francisco Immigration Court, every one of these people has to appear and testify in front of a judge and family members in hard metal chains, even those seeking asylum due to torture in their home countries. American courts are supposed to dispense justice, not trauma."

"Freedom from physical restraint during court proceedings has been recognized since the 18th century as a fundamental right. But you don't have to be a scholar to know that shackling a woman in belly chains and leg irons for passing a bad check is unnecessary and inhumane," added Julia Harumi Mass, staff attorney for the ACLU-NC.

ICE runs the largest civil detention program and supervised release program in the country, with more than 31,000 immigrants in detention at more than 300 facilities throughout the nation. In theory, ICE places a high priority on the removal of dangerous persons with criminal convictions but in practice, as of October 2009, only 51 percent of the detained immigrants had felony convictions. Of them, only 11 percent had committed violent crimes.

The number of people in immigration custody has also grown exponentially in recent years. From 2006 to 2009, the number of non-criminal versus criminal detainees grew by 64 percent, to 383,524 people from 233,417.

The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.