The Globe’s three-part series, “Justice in the shadows,” shined a bright light on the system that has been set up to process tens of thousands of immigrants who are rounded up for the crime of being in this country without proper documentation. Unlike other crimes, this one doesn’t come with the usual set of rights and guarantee of procedural fairness: In setting up mechanisms to deal with non-Americans, the United States seemed to go out of its way to insist that its highest principles apply only to its citizens and properly documented visitors. Far too often, families are torn apart and detainees are shut off from legal help and communication with loved ones.
Taxpayers pay billions of dollars for this shadow world, but based on extensive reporting by the Globe’s Maria Sacchetti and Milton Valencia, it does little to enhance security or keep people from entering the country without proper documentation. More daylight is needed, not only to address incidents of injustice, but also to police instances in which immigration authorities lack the legal levers necessary to keep dangerous people off the streets.
According to the Globe’s investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the federal agency known as ICE — detains more than 10,000 immigrants every day who are in the country illegally, but have committed no other crime. Once apprehended, they can be held for weeks and sometimes months in jails where they have fewer rights than criminals. There are no guaranteed hearings prior to lockup and no guaranteed access to counsel. Some people are eventually deported. Others remain in custody, unable to get the medical treatment they need, and some die under agonizing conditions.
The Globe also found that the system careens from too harsh to too lenient. ICE releases thousands of criminals — including murderers — back onto US streets because their home countries won’t take them back.
For years, many Democrats and Republicans talked about the need for immigration reform, but were thwarted by political extremists who decried any show of tolerance or leniency. The message sent by Latino voters in the recent presidential election could change that. When Congress takes up comprehensive immigration reform, as leaders of both parties have said they will do in the spring, detention reform should be included.
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