Either I am getting older and wiser, or the rapid expansion of technology has made narcissism and ingratitude more obvious. Almost everywhere I turn these days, self-absorption and lack of appreciation is hitting me in the nose like a bad stench. So my Christmas challenge to all this year is to spare a thought for immigrant detainees and their families, every time you are tempted to complain about how hard your life is and how much of a hellish day you are having.
And to those who might argue that the detainees broke the law and should pay the price, please go ahead and show me exactly where in the Good Book Jesus promoted hatred, bigotry, xenophobia, selfishness and narcissism.
It is especially important this holiday season, as many among us gather in churches to celebrate the birth of the son of God and later with our families for a Christmas feast, to remember the less fortunate, the anguished and the hurting among us, or as the Bible defines them, “the least of these my brethren.”
Not only are non-criminal immigrants being separated from their families, rounded up and detained in record numbers by Donald Trump’s U.S. ICE men, but also now a new report by the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security is telling a disturbing story.
Acting Inspector General John V. Kelly, who took over Dec. 1, has criticized several U.S. immigration detention facilities for having spoiled and moldy food and inadequate medical care for detainees. Kelly’s office also found there is inappropriate treatment of detainees, such as locking down a detainee for sharing coffee and interfering with the prayer times of Muslims.
Kelly said the watchdog agency identified problems at four detention centers during recent unannounced visits. The Dec. 11 report, released last Thursday, Dec. 14, also said the flaws “undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.”
At all four facilities, the Homeland Security watchdog said, kitchens had “moldy produce” and thawing meat in packages that failed to indicate an expiration date. Multiple detainees said they faced long waits for medical care, including those with painful conditions such as infected teeth and a knee injury. Two detainees, one at the Hudson County Jail in New Jersey and another at the Santa Ana City Jail in Santa Ana, Calif., waited months for eyeglasses.
In some facilities, immigrants with criminal records were housed with non-criminals, the report said, and jailers sometimes did not use interpreters to communicate with detainees.
In the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, staff sometimes interrupted or delayed Muslim prayers. In Santa Ana, officers strip-searched all detainees, a violation of existing policy, and one guard launched a “hostile and prolonged rant” at immigrants and threatened to lock them in their cells.
Detainees are supposed to be able to make phone calls, including to the Office of the Inspector General to lodge complaints. But at Stewart, a call to the agency’s hotline resulted in a message that said that number was restricted. And at the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico, inspectors found several broken telephones.
Detainees also complained about mold and peeling paint at the Otero and Stewart centers. At Stewart, some bathrooms lacked either hot or cold water. Several detainees at the Hudson jail and Stewart also complained that basic supplies, such as toilet paper, soap and toothpaste, were not provided promptly or at all.
The inspector general issued a separate report in March, after visiting visited the Theo Lacy Detention Center in California in November 2016, that detailed similar findings about food handling and other issues it said required immediate attention.
“Staff did not always treat detainees respectfully and professionally, and some facilities may have misused segregation,” the report found, adding that observers found “potentially unsafe and unhealthy detention conditions.”
So what is ICE saying about all this? Well, they have actually concurred with the inspector general’s findings and said they are taking action to fix the problems. But advocates for immigrants said the report reaffirmed their long-standing complains about reports of physical and sexual assaults, deaths in detention and other concerns for years under past presidents—and which are increasing under the Trump administration. And we know things are only going to get worse.
This holiday, I urge you, before you complain about how bad your life is, think about the many detainees across the country who are forced to endure the conditions described in the watch dog report as outlined here. And say a prayer for them and their families, but most of all, use it as a lesson to count the many blessings in your life, especially your freedom.