Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Neighbors Visit ICE Office in Grand Junction, Colorado

This is Koinonia Church in Grand Junction, Colorado, where people met after visiting a nearby ICE subfield office.

On Monday I received a memorandum from someone who had read "America's Secret ICE Castles" on the Nation website, downloaded the list of ICE subfield offices I obtained through a FOIA request, and paid a visit to their office in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Here's what they reported.

As Cold as ICE: A visit to the Grand Junction ICE Offices

On December 31, 2009 at approximately 2:00 pm, eight representatives of area Faith-based organizations (Hispanic Affairs Project, Grand Valley Peace & Justice and Koinonia Church) visited a facility operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at 571 S. Commercial Drive in Grand Junction. The facility had heretofore been unknown in our community. Our visit was in response to an article in the 1/4/2010 issue of The Nation by Jacqueline Stevens talking about “hidden” detention centers located nationwide.

The brown block building in the industrial section of Grand Junction is non-descript with no signs identifying it as government office or ICE facility.

[A member of the group later reported that in response to a query from the Red Cross, ICE stated that the facility lacked a sign because of "budget cutbacks."]

Here's an image of the Grand Junction ICE office:

This is how it was described by a member of the 12/31 group that visited: "This is the ICE facility we visited 12-31-09. In the right corner is the Office, but we did not have permission to go inside. In the left side, is where the ICE Van are coming in. The whole area is restricted perimeter and not sign is around there. I entered in the parking lot there, but they asked me to put out the car, because no particular vehiculo can be there. Just video camaras around there bring out more scare in this place."

The memorandum continues:

When we arrived we rang the doorbell and an ICE officer who was outside came and asked what we wanted. We introduced ourselves and our purpose and he responded that the building was just a “booking center” and that they never held people in the facility...

The memorandum concludes:

Our group left the parking lot (where these conversations had taken place), and followed up with a brief discussion at Koinonia Church where the following questions and observations were noted:

  1. KM said the facility is not a detention facility, but if people are being held for up to ten hours then they are being detained. The question arises as to adequacy of facilities such as bathrooms, chairs, cots, etc. These are health and safety issues that need to be addressed for the comfort and safety of detainees.

  2. In addition to physical facilities there is also the question of services. If detainees are being transported and processed over lengthy time spans what provisions are made for adequate nutrition, medical care for fragile individuals, etc.?

  3. KM said that phone privileges were available at the local jails. If a person is detained in Meeker, transported to GJ, processed, and then transported to the local jail it could conceivably take 24 to 36 hours for this process to occur. In the meantime family members and friends would be out of touch with the detainee and the detainee would have no ability to make contact.

  4. The fact that ICE has no publicly accessible and up-to-date list of detainees means it is impossible to track the location of people. At the same time these people are being removed from the location of their resources and documentation and as The Nation rightly notes are unable to mount any kind of defense to their detention.

We agreed on the following actions in response to the visit:

1) We would contact the ACLU to investigate.

2) We would make appointments with John Salazar and Mike Bennett’s local offices to bring this to their attention.

3) We would contact Ja[c]queline Stevens, the journalist who wrote the piece in The Nation to let her know of our experience and that ICE claims her story is not based on facts.

You can find the complete memorandum here.

The Nation article "America's Secret ICE Castles" consists almost exclusively of statements from government officials, government documents, immigration attorneys, and people who were mistreated in ICE facilities. ICE has a record of denying facts in plain sight, to wit ICE spinmeister Richard Rocha saying ICE does not detain US citizens despite copious evidence that ICE detains US citizens every day.

If ICE has specific evidence of misstatements, what is it? The only way for ICE to falsify the article's claims is by providing a real-time database for locating people in their custody, listing these offices on the ICE website, posting signs, and respecting the rule of law in all their facilities.

Finally, this coalition did something pretty great. I wrote the member who sent this to me:

i think you understand that simply by knocking on their door you and your group have made a big difference to the culture of that subfield office. december 31, 2009 was the first day they knew that you knew they were there and might at any time stop by. bravo!
As my colleague Bonnie Honig writes in her recently published book Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy (Princeton, 2009), democracy means the competing and elusive possibilities of rationality, equality, majority rule, and rights in a system that may not make a lot of sense and be unfair, not despondency because the government is breaking the law.

Or, as Gandhi put it, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Democratic politics in the United States sometimes makes this difficult but it is always a possibility.

Finally, I was on the Leonard Lopate show today -- he's on New York's public radio station WNYC. You can listen to it here. (The station is across the street from the Varick Detention Center, also unmarked as to this function, though it posts signs indicating the presence of other federal agencies.)

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