ICE Castles

by wjw on December 21, 2009

I haven’t commented on the Peter Watts thing, partly because I’ve never met Peter Watts and don’t know whether or not he’s capable of trying to strangle a border agent after being pepper-sprayed in the face. (I know I am. If someone pepper-sprayed me for no reason, I’d do my absolute best to crush his trachea no matter how many of his friends were piling on.)

Anyway, feel free to catch up with Peter Watts and his story here.

Friend of the blog al-Zorra used the Watts story to link to another, far more frightening story about how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has created a Gulag of 186 secret detention facilities within the United States, in which people are held indefinitely without trial, without legal representation, and apparently without toilets, showers, or other civilized amenities. The organization’s leaders go so far as to boast about it in public:

“If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we can make him disappear.” Those chilling words were spoken by James Pendergraph, then executive director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Office of State and Local Coordination, at a conference of police and sheriffs in August 2008. Also present was Amnesty International’s Sarnata Reynolds, who wrote about the incident in the 2009 report “Jailed Without Justice” and said in an interview, “It was almost surreal being there, particularly being someone from an organization that has worked on disappearances for decades in other countries. I couldn’t believe he would say it so boldly, as though it weren’t anything wrong.”

Pendergraph knew that ICE could disappear people, because he knew that in addition to the publicly listed field offices and detention sites, ICE is also confining people in 186 unlisted and unmarked subfield offices, many in suburban office parks or commercial spaces revealing no information about their ICE tenants–nary a sign, a marked car or even a US flag. (Presumably there is a flag at the Veterans Affairs Complex in Castle Point, New York, but no one would associate it with the Criminal Alien Program ICE is running out of Building 7.) Designed for confining individuals in transit, with no beds or showers, subfield offices are not subject to ICE Detention Standards. The subfield office network was mentioned in an October report by Dora Schriro, then special adviser to Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, but no locations were provided.

I obtained a partial list of the subfield offices from an ICE officer and shared it with immigrant advocates in major human and civil rights organizations, whose reactions ranged from perplexity to outrage. Andrea Black, director of Detention Watch Network (DWN), said she was aware of some of the subfield offices but not that people were held there. ICE never provided DWN a list of their locations. “This points to an overall lack of transparency and even organization on the part of ICE,” said Black. . .

It is not surprising to find that, with no detention rules and being off the map spatially and otherwise, ICE agents at these locations are acting in ways that are unconscionable and unlawful. According to Ahilan Arulanantham, director of Immigrant Rights for the ACLU of Southern California, the Los Angeles subfield office called B-18 is a barely converted storage space tucked away in a large downtown federal building. “You actually walk down the sidewalk and into an underground parking lot. Then you turn right, open a big door and voilà, you’re in a detention center,” Arulanantham explained. Without knowing where you were going, he said, “it’s not clear to me how anyone would find it. What this breeds, not surprisingly, is a whole host of problems concerning access to phones, relatives and counsel.”

It’s also not surprising that if you’re putting people in a warehouse, the occupants become inventory. Inventory does not need showers, beds, drinking water, soap, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, mail, attorneys or legal information, and can withstand the constant blast of cold air. The US residents held in B-18, as many as 100 on any given day, were treated likewise. B-18, it turned out, was not a transfer area from point A to point B but rather an irrationally revolving stockroom that would shuttle the same people briefly to the local jails, sometimes from 1 to 5 am, and then bring them back, shackled to one another, stooped and crouching in overpacked vans. These transfers made it impossible for anyone to know their location, as there would be no notice to attorneys or relatives when people moved. At times the B-18 occupants were left overnight, the frigid onslaught of forced air and lack of mattresses or bedding defeating sleep. The hours of sitting in packed cells on benches or the concrete floor meant further physical and mental duress . . .

According to Aaron Tarin, an immigration attorney in Salt Lake City, “Whenever I have a client in a subfield office, it makes me nervous. Their procedures are lax. You’ve got these senior agents who have all the authority in the world because they’re out in the middle of nowhere. You’ve got rogue agents doing whatever they want. Most of the buildings are unmarked; the vehicles they drive are unmarked.” Like other attorneys, Tarin was extremely frustrated by ICE not releasing its phone numbers. He gave as an example a US citizen in Salt Lake City who hired him because her husband, in the process of applying for a green card, was being held at a subfield office in Colorado. By the time Tarin tracked down the location of the facility that was holding the husband when he had called his wife, the man had been moved to another subfield office. “I had to become a little sleuth,” Tarin said, describing the hours he and a paralegal spent on the phone, the numerous false leads, unanswered phones and unreturned messages until the husband, who had been picked up for driving without a license or insurance, was found in Grand Junction, Colorado, held on a $20,000 bond, $10,000 for each infraction. “I argued with the guy, ‘This is absurd! Whose policy is this?'” Tarin said the agent’s response was, “That’s just our policy here.”

Rafael Galvez, an attorney in Maine, explained why he would like ICE to release its entire list of subfield office addresses and phone numbers. “If they’re detaining someone, I will need to contact the people on the list. If I can advocate on a person’s behalf and provide documents, a lot of complications could be avoided.”

. . . ICE agents are also working in hidden offices in one of the grooviest buildings in one of the hottest neighborhoods in Manhattan. Tommy Kilbride, an ICE detention and removal officer and a star of A&E’s reality show Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force, is part of the US Marshals Fugitive Task Force, housed on the third floor of the Chelsea Market, above Fat Witch Bakery and alongside Rachael Ray and the Food Network. Across the street are Craftsteak and Del Posto, both fancy venues for two other Food Network stars, Tom Colicchio and Mario Batali.

. . . Natalie Jeremijenko, who lives nearby and is a professor of visual arts at New York University, pointed out the “twisted genius” of hiding federal agents in the “worldwide center of visuality and public space,” referring to the galleries and High Line park among these buildings.

Wow! It’s one thing to be hiding your secret jails in strip malls and office buildings, but in the trendiest building in the Big Apple? That’s style! (Or maybe they’re building a case against Mario Batali, and will be sending him back to Italy where he came from! Who knows?)

john_appel December 21, 2009 at 5:53 pm

It's also going to take a generation to purge the influences of the Bush-Cheney shredding of the Constitution from our civil service – if not longer.

This one actually pisses me off enough that I'm contacting my Congress-critters.

Kelly December 21, 2009 at 5:57 pm

I was thinking these people are going to put me and the other people in a grinder and make sausages and sell them in the local market.

My god. My god. How can there not be outrage and marching in the streets about this?

Foxessa December 21, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Vaquero and I have three friends to whom this happened, with no warning.

They are citizens, gainfully employed, esteemed academics. One day, poof.

Fortunately each of them was married to a bitchgoddess from hell who WOULD NOT SHUT UP OR STOP HOWLING AND HARRASSING EVERYONE WHO NEEDED TO BE HARRASSED. And they, like their wives, had contacts, smarts and capacities and patience to thread the system. Still, it took forever. The friend held the longest was held for 3 years. To this day neither he nor our other two friends know why. Their stories of what they endured are awful.

Love, C.

Foxessa December 21, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Why no outrage?

Well, you know they deserved it.

Besides gotta get up the WOW ranking.

This nation is worse than a nation of sheep.

Love, c.

dubjay December 21, 2009 at 11:00 pm

I know why people aren't marching in the streets— because the victims are only a bunch of foreigners stealing our jobs, and they deserve what they get.

What I don't understand is why there aren't hundred-million-dollar lawsuits being filed.

Drew December 22, 2009 at 2:07 am

Mario's from Spokane originally isn't he?

dubjay December 22, 2009 at 2:32 am

You see, =I= know Batali is American, but do =they=?

Ralf the Dog December 22, 2009 at 5:53 pm

I am a politically active Liberal who lives in a VERY Conservative state. When will they start disappearing those of us who were born in the US, just because they don't like our views?

No one wins a 100 million dollar lawsuit anymore. If some company has you beaten up with a baseball bat, they admit fault and you get it all on camera, you might get half of your medical costs back.

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