Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit
"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES newsweekly. For information on other news in French and Creole, please contact the paper at (tel) 718-434-8100, (fax) 718-434-5551 or e-mail at <email@example.com>
First, a little history. In the late 1970's, President Jimmy Carter formed the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy to make recommendations to Congress. In her book Inside the State (1992), Kitty Calavita writes, "An INS employee temporarily detailed to the Commission resigned from the INS in protest over the constraints placed on her efforts to provide the Commission with pertinent information. In her letter of resignation, she [wrote]... 'These restraints clearly constitute an attempt to influence and control the legal research activities of the Select Commission through me... I refuse to be a party to the proposed charade.'"
Such active deception, along with a penchant for what Calavita calls "bureaucratic secrecy," has typified the INS for years. Calavita also notes that, in the 1950's, the agency's Commissioner "decentralized the INS and deliberately placed the new [regional offices] in out-of-the-way places in order to make it difficult for immigration lawyers to access them, and to insulate the agency from the input of individual members of Congress." Furthermore, Calavita had problems to unearth INS history: "Unlike most other government agencies, the Immigration Service has relinquished virtually no internal documents since World War II to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., which serves as the official repository of the government's written historical record," and the INS has even withdrawn records after they were used for a book which was critical of the agency.
Miami is the scene of the latest chapter in this history of INS deception. In June 1995, the Congressional Task Force on Immigration Reform, formed by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, visited the Miami District of the INS. The visiting delegation looked at the Krome detention center and the immigration inspections section of Miami International Airport. After the delegation's visit, forty-seven INS employees wrote a joint letter to the Task Force alleging that INS management had intentionally deceived the visitors about Miami immigration operations. The Task Force (headed by Republican Congressman Elton Gallegly of California, who is also the sponsor of legislation that would allow states to deny public schooling to the children of undocumented immigrants) sent the complaint to Attorney General Janet Reno, who in turn referred it the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the congressional watchdog agency. In June 1996, the OIG issued its report entitled "Alleged Deception of Congress."
The OIG concludes, among other things, that the Miami INS took several actions intended to deceive the visiting congressional delegation. These include: reducing the population of Krome through releases and transfers, in order to hide the dangerous overcrowding there "for cosmetic purposes," in the words of Krome administrator Constance Weiss; overstaffing Miami airport, to give the impression of a more efficient operation there; removing persons detained at the airport from holding cells, to give a better impression of detention conditions there; and instructing airport personnel to remove their "leather gear belts," in order "to create the appearance of professionalism."
The Miami Herald and the New York Times covered this story but missed the bigger picture, in which such deception is predictable -- and not, as a Herald editorial called it, "stunning." Krome detainees themselves warned in a letter to the media last February, "Please do not notify the Center... that you will be coming out to see the conditions or they will tidy up and make the place look livable." That is exactly what happened when a pool of reporters toured Krome in April (see Haiti Progres, May 8-14, 1996), and when the congressional delegation visited last summer. Still, the OIG provides fascinating glimpses into the self-protective, bureaucratic mind-set of INS officials, and into what the OIG report describes as "the culture at INS [which] appears to be such that inspectors at [a supervisory] level would feel that their jobs would be in jeopardy if they failed to obey an order to lie to Congress."
Who is responsible for the elaborate deception of Congress? The OIG report does not really answer that question. It points less to individual responsibility and more to abstract bureaucratic "behavior," which makes it difficult for anyone -- inside or outside such an agency -- to effect any substantive change. Even someone as powerful as District Director Walter Cadman appears to be mere cog in a larger machine. As he put it last year in a surprisingly reflective e-mail message to a colleague, "in a bureaucracy, sometimes our imperatives and discretion are not entirely unfettered. Sometimes, we are forced into certain postures (e.g. tough enforcement and detention for airport arrivals) but not offered any help or relief in terms of what to do with people once they're on our figurative doorstep."
Unfortunately, there are human victims of Cadman's decision to sacrifice his own "discretion" to his bureaucratic "imperatives." In this case, the victims were being held at Krome. Cadman's reflections had come in response to a message from Dr. Aida Rivera of the Public Health Service at the detention camp: "The overcrowding poses a health problem due to the lack of cleanliness and appropriate air circulation. We have noticed an increase in respiratory and skin conditions. These issues must be urgently addressed to prevent any potential epidemics."
[The second installment of this series is missing here]
In the first two installments of this series, Mark Dow analyzed how officials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) attempted to deceive a congressional task force investigating U.S. immigration procedures. Disgruntled INS employees exposed the deception and prompted an investigation and report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the congressional watchdog agency. The June 1996 report entitled "Alleged Deception of Congress" provides a glimpse into the "culture" of bureaucratic secrecy and arbitrariness which characterizes this agency, but it stops short of blaming the highest officials of the INS for responsibility for the fraud, in particular INS Commissioner Doris Meissner.
The report reveals, both in and between its lines, what Dow calls the "diffusion of accountability" in the INS, a condition which renders difficult any reform of the agency. Dow also highlighted how the INS cynically rewarded some Cuban detainees with release if they "cooperated" in "intelligence-gathering" about other immigrants and their U.S. entry routes.
Finally, the report touches on the issue of union-management relations in the Miami INS office. Union representatives were excluded from meetings with the visiting delegation. In an e-mail message to his subordinates, Miami District Director Walter Cadman warned of the danger of the congressional visitors' "pulling some employees to the side to get the 'real story.' This, of course, carries with it some real risks." Eastern Regional Director Carol Chasse agreed that "'there might be some people at the journeyman level, perhaps Union members, who would be a little unbalanced in their presentation if they had the opportunity to do so.'"
At the Miami airport during the visit, when it looked as though union representatives might insist on speaking with the delegation, "Cadman threatened to arrest the Union President, Michael Wixted, for trespassing." On the day of the visit, union representatives put up signs in the inspectors' break-room at the airport saying, "Don't Lie to Congress" and "Tell the Congress the Truth!"
Whatever is the real story behind union-management tensions in the INS in Miami, we should not romanticize the intentions of the union representatives at the airport who blew the whistle on management with their letter to the delegation, thus producing the OIG investigation. Apparently they wanted their working conditions known so that they could do their job properly. But in portraying their jobs, they also revealed anti-immigrant prejudice. In the following excerpt from their original letter, the unionists complain that for the sake of a "'kinder, gentler' image," the airport inspectors were ordered to remove their weapons belts, handcuffs, and holsters for the visiting delegation. "Every day, we at Miami International Airport are dealing with passengers from all over Central America, South America, and the Caribbean," their letter said. "Many of these countries are the homes to dangerous drug felons, persons hoping to return from actual deportations, and desperately poor people looking to find a better life in 'El Norte.' We have also been recognized in the recent past for identifying and detaining an international terrorist who was involved with several bombing incidents around the world." In the view of these INS employees, drug dealers, terrorists, and poor people have all become versions of a single big threat: the alien.
As Cadman himself told hundreds of immigrants at a ceremony in which they became US citizens: "though some of you might have been here for many years, you were nevertheless an alien . . . you will walk out the same as us."
Given this mentality, it is no wonder that advocates must struggle mightily for "aliens" just to be treated decently while they are in INS custody. The latest chapter in that struggle is "Krome's Invisible Prisoners: Cycles of Abuse and Neglect," a report released by the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC) in Miami in mid-July. The report provides a look at the dehumanizing conditions of detention at Krome -- as they are now and as they have been, with unfortunate continuity, for years. As in the OIG report, the underlying issue raised is a lack of standards, and thus a lack of accountability. Without clearly articulated standards, how can officials be held accountable for anything? In the words of the FIAC: "The OIG report is significant because it details the ability of the INS to abuse its vast authority... But the [OIG] report only hints at the big picture of long-standing problems at Krome which have regularly been ignored by the INS and the Justice Department.... The cycle of repeated complaints about Krome proves the need for Krome and other INS detention facilities to operate under clear, consistently applied guidelines."
The FIAC report documents a world in which, quite simply, the authorities can get away with practically anything. Accountability is the exception. Those who might help the detainees are considered the enemy: "there is a bunker mentality at Krome," says attorney Randolph McGrorty of Miami's Haitian Catholic Center, "and attorneys are considered the bad guys."
Franklin Tse represents the Chinese Federation of Florida and the Asian American Federation of Florida. In a written statement included in the report, Tse explains that he has tried several times to get into Krome with a group "to visit with [the Chinese detainees] in our effort to help them." He has not been allowed into Krome, and INS officials have not returned his phone calls. At a FIAC press conference on July 17, Tse said: "We'd like to see the detainees treated as human beings." Apparently that is too much to ask.
The FIAC report also describes impediments to attorney-client communication at Krome as well as the difficulties of getting paroled out of Krome. The parole issue is an excellent example of what is wrong with the INS. The agency forces attorneys for INS detainees to spend a lot of time just trying to find out what the parole (release) policies are. "In carrying out its parole discretion, the INS has consistently acted in a very inconsistent and arbitrary manner.... Detainees and their attorneys must learn about the parole process by word of mouth."
Recently, attorneys report, the INS is not releasing many detainees from Krome. That is one reason for the overcrowding which inmates have been complaining about: the men's dormitory "is so crammed up," wrote a Nigerian in January, "that if a man sleeping on the bed next to you (if you are lucky to get a bed) coughs, he will be doing so right in your face."
The overcrowding also helps to explain the regular transfer of detainees to remote county jails, another long-standing complaint. The FIAC report rightly criticizes the OIG report for failing to examine the underlying issue, that is, "the necessity to detain so many people, including many asylum seekers, in the first place." And FIAC recommends that detention "be the exception, not the rule." That would be the humane approach, but it ignores the fact that detention has become a growth industry. Detainees are not only victims of discriminatory immigration policies and mistreatment by INS authorities; they are also pawns in a profit-driven enterprise (as detailed in previous articles in Haiti Progres last spring).
Immigrants' rights advocates should also clarify -- at least for themselves -- their position on the fundamental question of borders. Is arguing for detention as the exception a way of arguing that "illegals" should be able to escape the INS authorities? Not necessarily. Successful parole policies in other states (mentioned in the FIAC report) have depended on cooperation between the INS and attorneys, and paroled immigrants in these cases have appeared for their hearings.
At the same time, there are some in the immigration advocacy community who feel justified in using the immigration laws just to get people in. That strategy seems destined to fail, and this warning is itself much too late. Anti-immigrant propaganda has already been able to make much of such "abuse" of the system, pointing especially to allegedly fraudulent claims for political asylum. Operating within the constraints of US immigration law, attorneys must assume, for example, the distinction between political and economic refugees. Within those constraints, there is no way to demand protection for a Haitian boat-person trying to escape the poverty resulting, in part, from US policies imposed on his country.
The American Friends Service Committee, a leading advocate for immigrants' rights, addresses this problem when it proposes "a world not without borders, but one where borders are the product of mutual agreement and are mutually acknowledged, jointly administered, and disarmed; where borders are cooperatively administered by countries on either side, aided by border crossing procedures that respect human dignity and rights. This vision cannot be fully attained without major changes in the inequities of our global economy...."
For the time being, though, immigrant rights advocates remain on the defensive. There are differing opinions about what US immigration policy should be. The line dividing the two main sides of the immigration controversy become clear when we distill down the language of the debaters. On one side are those -- such as INS officials quoted in the OIG report -- who refer to "the teeming hordes" at Krome. On the other side are those who use the words that kept coming up at the FIAC press conference -- words like "dignity," "people," and "human beings."
All articles copyrighted Haiti Progres, Inc. REPRINTS ENCOURAGED Please credit Haiti Progres.