This week two organizations, the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigration Justice Center and the National Coalition for Human Rights, issued a joint report entitled “Not Too Late for Reform” calling on the Obama administration to close several immigration detention facilities. The two organizations are advocacy groups that assist immigrants (they don’t use the term “illegal” on their websites) by several methods, including by providing direct legal services.
The report declared a “human rights crisis” and called upon the Obama administration to eliminate detainment facilities, establish alternatives methods and release “low-risk” individuals who pose no risk to society.
Much to my surprise, the Boone County Jail, a Kentucky facility located in my backyard, was held out as one of the worst offenders of human rights in the country.
As a lawyer who occasionally practices in Boone County, I was shocked and appalled. I’ve known the jailer for years and, as a libertarian by nature, was deeply disappointed to discover he was alleged to be violating the human rights of detainees at his facility. I quickly downloaded the entire report. Unfortunately, it was beyond vague. The allegations against the Boone County facility were mostly based upon statements that could not be readily confirmed.
So, I dropped by the Boone County Jail — a convenience of having a national story occur in your local community. Unless eating French toast and tater tots for breakfast is considered inhumane, I did not find anyone being tortured. No human rights were being violated, no inmate was wanting for any necessity of human life.
I did walk away with an education
The Boone County Jail is one of the larger facilities allowed to hold illegal immigrants for longer than 72 hours by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The detainees come to the jail in one of several ways.
Most illegals at the facility were arrested for an offense in a location where the local facilities did not meet the rigid guidelines required to hold them longer than 72 hours. In other words, they were arrested somewhere else and then transported to Boone County.
A second group of detainees had their statuses discovered following arrests in Boone County itself.
The members of the final group were lodged in the jail because their illegal statuses had been discovered as a result of a direct ICE investigation of immigration violations.
The jail facility is the subject of regular inspections by ICE to ensure it meets some pretty stringent standards. These inspections are in addition to the ones done by other federal and state agencies. Every time I’ve been to the Boone County Jail, the place has been impeccably clean.
Contrary to the allegations in the report, ICE detainees at the Boone County Jail get free medical assistance in a well-equipped infirmary where sick calls are made four times each day. They have phones in their cells to call lawyers. They get regular visits from advocacy groups and can read about them via special postings on the jail’s in-house cable television system.
One of the complaints in the report was that the Boone County Jail is more than 300 miles from Chicago. People in the South are used to being made fun of by people from places like Chicago, but our lifestyles and accents are rarely, if ever, referred to as human rights violations.
The report claims that there are no immigration lawyers in the region. Some would claim that the lack of lawyers is anything but a human rights violation, but that’s not the point. Immigration lawyers do exist outside of large cities like Chicago. George Free, an immigration lawyer from nearby Cincinnati, contradicted the report and stated in a television interview that the Boone County Jail was one of the best jails to work with.
Our conflicting immigration policy
While at the Boone County Jail, I spoke to an ICE detainee. He had been incarcerated before and knew his rights. We spoke about his frustration with the system, but he thought that the people at the jail were treating him and others detained there fairly.
The young man is symbolic of the contradiction of America’s immigration policy. One department of the federal government wants to detain and deport while another wants to sue law enforcement for checking identification. One side of the aisle in Congress wants tougher border enforcement, while the other wants amnesty.
Calls for ICE to raid job sites that employ illegal aliens are met by calls to release those same workers when caught.
And while the Obama administration and Congress do battle for a consistent immigration policy, I encourage them to drop by the Boone County Jail for a tour of a first-class immigration detention facility. If you get there early, the French toast and tater tots are excellent.
Rick Robinson is the author of political thrillers which can be purchased on Amazon and at book stores everywhere. His latest novel, Manifest Destiny has won seven writing awards, including Best Fiction at the Paris Book Festival.