It’s long past time to end America’s immigration injustices

Dawn Wooten, left, a nurse at Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, speaks at a Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020 news conference in Atlanta protesting conditions at the immigration jail. Wooten says authorities denied COVID-19 tests to immigrants, performed questionable hysterectomies and shredded records in a complaint filed to the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (AP Photo/Jeff Amy)

A whistleblower complaint submitted Sept. 14, alleged medical neglect and mistreatment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees at a privately-operated facility in Georgia. Among the allegations are instances of hysterectomies performed without the immigrants’ informed consent.

These allegations – though yet unconfirmed – are horrifying. More than 170 members of Congress called for an investigation following the complaint’s publication. House speaker Nancy Pelosi called it a “staggering abuse of human rights,” and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador threatened legal action against the U.S. if the allegations are confirmed.

What is also horrifying is just how unsurprising these allegations feel. Shocking and disgusting? Absolutely. But out of character for U.S. immigration enforcement? Not a chance. ICE and Customs and Border Protections (CBP) have built an astounding resume of cruelty. Forced sterilization feels more like a natural evolution than shocking revelation.

In May, accounts emerged of a California detention center frequently using a potent disinfectant known to cause skin burns and eye damage multiple times per day in poorly-ventilated areas, creating conditions that have been compared to gas chambers.

ICE guards have been accused of “systematically” sexually assaulting detainees at a facility in El Paso. A key witness in the investigation was deported Sept. 14, against the wishes of the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.

In 2019, it emerged that children held at a Border Patrol facility near El Paso were being detained by CBP for far longer than the maximum 72 hours allowed by government policy. The children were given inadequate food, forced to care for one another and went weeks without bathing or changing clothes.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration authorities have begun housing migrant children in hotels as part of a largely secretive system. Detained children have little contact with the outside world and are often deported before even seeing an attorney or judge.

One doesn’t even have to be in the country illegally to be subjected to mistreatment. In one chilling case, an 18-year-old U.S. citizen was detained for 26 days and nearly deported, even after providing a Texas ID, Social Security card and copy of his birth certificate. He was told he had no right to an attorney and no right to make a phone call while in custody. In another case, a Marine Corps veteran was detained by ICE for three days after being arrested even though he had identification to prove he was an American citizen. According to the Cato Institute, ICE detained more than 20,000 U.S. citizens from 2009 to 2019.

This is all on top of the Trump administration’s continual onslaught against the U.S. asylum system, CBP’s well-publicized policy of separating families at the border and holding children in “cages.” It is a war on immigrants, one which is especially ironic when you remember this country was built by immigration on land taken through colonialization.

The injustice needs to stop. The cruelty needs to stop. The abuse of power needs to stop.

The government is being sued by a bevy of groups and individuals for its injustices, including the ACLU and SPLC. In many cases, they’re winning. The prospect of abolishing ICE completely has gained traction in some circles in recent years.

CNBC published a list of the leading nonprofits working to help immigrants for those looking to donate. Beyond that, making your voice heard through voting and local advocacy is a way to help. ICE and CBP are powerful government agencies, but the government is supposed to work for the people. Electing politicians who will defend immigrants instead of demonizing them can end the cruelty which has become all too common.