MAS Freedom (MASF), the civic and human rights advocacy entity of the Muslim American Society (MAS), has initiated an investigation into the July 22, 2008 detainment by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) authorities of Ziyad Busaileh, a 60-year old Palestinian immigrant residing in Raleigh, North Carolina. Busaileh was arrested as he arrived home from a doctor's visit – he is a diabetic and cardiac patient of Carolina Cardiology Consultants, P.A.
MAS Freedom North Carolina Director, Khalilah Sabra, reports that upon arrest, Busaileh was not allowed to retrieve his eye glasses or medications (he is recovering from a recent surgery), was denied the right to make a phone call, strip searched at the detention center and subjected to a rigorous interrogation by ICE authorities. In the absence of counsel, and additionally handicapped by his limited command of the English language (no interpreter was provided), Busaileh felt pressured under the threat of never seeing his family again 'for the next 5-years', into signing a document he could not possibly have fully comprehended.
Since entering the U.S., originally seeking treatment for the life-threatening health condition of a triplet son, Busaileh, who's own health began to deteriorate a few years ago, reported for voluntary registration when the 2002 National Security Entry/Exit Registration System (NSEERS) was implemented after 9/11. Subsequent to registration, Busaileh, a tax-paying sandwich shop worker and father of four, checked in periodically by phone to verify his status – being told each time, 'not to worry'.
ICE officials routinely arrest immigrants who have been convicted of serious crimes, or who have outstanding warrants against them, however, prior to his arrest, Busaiyeh had not violated any U.S. law, and received no prior notice requiring him to surrender to ICE authorities.
Busaileh's detainment is one the latest examples of how immigration officials violate the basic rights of persons whom they arrest. To compound matters, MAS Freedom has learned that on Tuesday, July 29, Busaileh was transferred to the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsen, Alabama – a facility known to provide insufficient medical care, restrict necessary dietary needs, violate detainees rights to legal privilege and attorney-client communication, and for denying detainees the right to make phone calls. Detainees of the facility have also complained of being subjected to three and four day periods each week of 24-hour lockdown – anyone complaining or talking subsequently punished by having their food placed directly onto the floor of their cell.
All persons, regardless of their status deserve humane and just treatment, and yet, Busaileh has been denied the right to receive the prescribed dosage of his life-sustaining diabetes and heart medications, and despite a July 25, 2008 statement provided by his treating physician acknowledging that his condition (ischemic cardiomyopathy) is such that he cannot sustain increased amounts of stress, and further asking that the patient/detainee be released to his home – Busaileh remains at the detention center – his fate and health in certain jeopardy.
For those who don't know, Etowah County Detention is by far the most hostile ICE holding facility in the country.
Among immigrants, the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, has achieved a notorious reputation. Glenn Fogle, an Atlanta immigration attorney, has made the two-hour drive to the Etowah jail many times to meet with clients. “It’s the worst place I’ve ever been to,” Fogle says of the jail, not far across the Georgia-Alabama border. “To be locked in this tiny cell for twenty-one hours a day is horrendous.”
Allison Neal, staff attorney for the Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, collects correspondence from detainees at Etowah. One letter, dated February: “We are kept under a 21-hour lockdown; no access to fresh outside air, or outdoor recreational activities . . . Staffs are very verbal[ly] abusive.” Another letter, dated May: “I previously requested for transfer several months ago, because of lack of outdoor exercise at Etowah, my request was denied because of a contention that Etowah meets the ‘minimum standards.’” Another letter, signed by thirty-two detainees in August, 2004: “The amount of food served us as adults is less than enough for a five-year-old child. The daily servings are beans and cornbread; at times we are served mashed potatoes or rice, but the amount is two tablespoons, or when there is no cornbread, one slice of bread.” Detainees have also complained about the cost of using the phones, about being forced into overcrowded cells, about being placed into segregation, and about inadequate medical care. To protest conditions at the jail, detainees have occasionally gone on hunger strikes.
Abdul remembers being led in handcuffs and leg irons into Etowah his first day there. Guards, he says, taunted the new arrivals, taking bets on who would get deported. Abdul was given the khaki uniform of a detainee and a pair of flip-flops. He was crammed into a cell with three other men. There were three hours of freedom each day—one after breakfast, one after lunch, one after dinner. “How do four men spend twenty-one hours a day in a cell?” Abdul says. “I slept and slept. I looked at pictures of my kids. I read the Bible.”
The federal government pays Etowah County $35.12 a day for each detainee at the jail. The contract was hammered out in 2000, when the feds helped finance an $8 million addition to the jail. The contract doesn’t expire until 2015. Patrick Simms, the Etowah County CEO, believes that Etowah is among the cheapest, if not the cheapest, facility in the country when it comes to housing inmates. Judging by his voice, this isn’t meant as a boast.
“Looking back, I would have advised [county officials] not to get into it,” he says. This year, revenues from the contract have brought in about $300,000 to county coffers. “That’s about one mile of paved road,” Simms says with a rueful chuckle. “The only one who’s making a profit here is the sheriff.”
The sheriff? In fact, a quirk in Alabama state law allows sheriffs to keep any money that is left over in the food budget after inmates are fed. No, not his office. Him. Personally. For instance, $3 of every $35.12 is set aside for meals, Simms says. If the sheriff can feed a detainee for less than that per day, he can pocket the difference. “It’s an incentive for him to go as cheap as possible feeding inmates to maximize profits,” Simms says. And because it’s personal income, the sheriff is not obligated to disclose how much he profits. Interestingly, the sheriff of Etowah County, James Hayes, gets only $1.75 a day from the state to feed his normal criminal population; the extra $1.25 he gets from the feds to feed ICE detainees is, so to speak, icing on the cake. Hayes’s office did not return calls seeking comment.
But according to Abdul, the food for detainees was sometimes worse than the food county inmates got. “The county [inmates] that would come in the unit to fix or replace something were always happy with the food and would talk about pizza and other menus,” Abdul wrote in a letter of complaint. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away. In [Etowah], forget about seeing fruit unless you’re watching a TV or a [corrections officer] eating.” In fact, in the three months Abdul spent at Etowah, he remembers eating one apple—and it was given to him by a guard. Abdul says he lost ten pounds in jail.
Jail conditions for detainees have recently garnered some attention. Last December, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general released a fifty-four-page assessment of five detention facilities (none of them in Georgia or Alabama). Among its findings: Five out of thirty-six detainees on suicide watch weren’t monitored sufficiently; at one facility, eight of nine pest control reports indicated evidence of rats and cockroaches; at another jail, detainees were served undercooked poultry; one detainee was given lockdown for wearing a religious head garment. Other findings included slow response time to detainee complaints, insufficient recreation time, and family visits cut off early. In one facility investigated by DHS, officials found that the property officer had stolen more than $300,000 in personal property from detainees. In a San Diego jail, a female detainee said a guard sexually assaulted her; the guard was fired. Despite the inspector general’s findings, all five facilities had garnered an “acceptable” ranking during ICE’s own inspections.
In July, the General Accounting Office inspected twenty-three detention facilities (again, none in Georgia or Alabama) and found that the phone systems available to detainees often weren’t working properly. At one facility, deputies were armed with Tasers, even though ICE standards prohibit the use of them. The study also pointed out that ICE had never severed a contract with a jail for falling short of meeting standards.
So, lets recap...
A 60-year-old Palestinian cardiac patient who had not violated any U.S. law, and received no prior notice requiring him to surrender to ICE authorities was arrested by ICE and placed in the worse holding facility in the country.
Yeah...ICE is NICE.
(h/t to a reader for heads-up on this article)