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“Ritmo” … a concentration camp for the whole family

4 February 2007

Photo Credit: By Kirsten Luce For The Washington Post

By Spencer S. Hu and Silvia Moreno, Washington Post (registration required

Friday, February 2, 2007

RAYMONDVILLE, Tex. — Ringed by barbed wire, a futuristic tent city rises from the Rio Grande Valley in the remote southern tip of Texas, the largest camp in a federal detention system rapidly gearing up to keep pace with Washington’s increasing demand for stronger enforcement of immigration laws.

But civil liberties and immigration law groups allege that out of sight, the system is bursting at the seams. In the Texas facility, they say, illegal immigrants are confined 23 hours a day in windowless tents made of a Kevlar-like material, often with insufficient food, clothing, medical care and access to telephones. Many are transferred from the East Coast, 1,500 miles from relatives and lawyers, virtually cutting off access to counsel.

“I call it ‘Ritmo’ — like Gitmo, but it’s in Raymondville,” said Jodi Goodwin, an immigration lawyer from nearby Harlingen.
An inspector general’s report last month on a sampling of five U.S. immigration detention facilities found inhumane and unsafe conditions, including inadequate health care, the presence of vermin, limited access to clean underwear and undercooked poultry. Although ICE standards require that immigrants have access to phones and pro bono law offices, investigators found phones missing, not working or connected to non-working numbers.

In Willacy County, one of the country’s poorest, ICE has set up 10 huge tents on concrete pads, surrounded by 14-foot-high chain-link fences looped with barbed wire. Each “sprung structure” holds about 200 men or women, divided into four “pods.” Similar temporary buildings were used for troop recreational facilities in Iraq.

The center is part of a chain of facilities in South Texas with 6,700 new immigration detention beds. At a cost of $78 a night per bed (compared with an ICE average of $95 a bed), the Willacy facility is not only cheaper than any bricks-and-mortar prison but also faster to construct, move or dismantle, Mead said.

Detainees are subject to penal system practices, such as group punishment for disciplinary infractions. The tents are windowless and the walls are blank, and no partitions or doors separate the five toilets, five sinks, five shower heads and eating areas. Lacking utensils on some days, detainees eat with their hands.

Because lights are on around the clock, a visitor finds many occupants buried in their blankets throughout the day. The stillness and torpor of the pod’s communal room, where 50 to 60 people dwell, are noticeable.

Goodwin described a group of women who huddled in a recreation yard on a recent 40-degree day with a 25-mph wind. “They had no blanket, no sweat shirt, no jacket,” she said. “Officers were wearing earmuffs, and detainees were outside for an hour with short-sleeved polyester uniforms and shower shoes and not necessarily socks.”

Perhaps more troubling, lawyers said, large numbers of immigrants have been transferred from Boston, New York, New Jersey and Florida, far from their families and lawyers. Because some immigration judges do not permit hearings by teleconference, detainees are essentially deprived of counsel.
Immigration violators in the United States are held on civil grounds and have no right to appointed lawyers. But federal guidelines call for providing them law libraries, telephones and phone numbers for legal aid.

Joining a lawsuit last week, the American Civil Liberties Union alleged that severe overcrowding at a Corrections Corp. facility in San Diego poses an unconstitutional risk to detainees’ health and safety, arguing that as administrative detainees, illegal immigrants should be treated better than convicted criminals.

No wonder they scrimp on the food.   Stalag L. Don Hutto L. Don Hutto Concentration Camp Residential Center is run as a profit making enterprise by Corrections Corporation of America. And, heck, the overhead is enough from fingerprinting the babies.  You can’t expect them to pay for little things like heaters or telephones.   

A question though.  If these are OTM’s (Other than Mexican) prisioners inmates (maybe or maybe not) deportees, why are they on the Mexican border.  Think it might have something to do with “looking like” they’re deporting Mexicans… or maybe that Raymondville is the middle of nowhere? 

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