Immigrant detainees are patted down at a detention center in Broadview, Illinois. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)
As lawmakers begin to offer largely draconian amendments to the Gang of Eight’s proposed immigration reform legislation, Vice President Biden has announced that he hopes the bill will pass by the end of the summer. Because deportations haven’t been suspended, that means that some one million people may be deported between January and August of this year—the time between which the bill was introduced and may finally be endorsed by Congress. All of those deportees will first make their way through immigrant detention, where some will face death before deportation.
Arizona houses five immigrant detention centers—and illustrates the conglomeration of public and private interests that make up this detention system. Four of those centers are located in Florence, with another about a half-hour drive away in Eloy. One is run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, another is managed in a jail by a local sheriff’s office and three are privately owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Because immigrant detainees are facing civil—not criminal—cases, detention centers are, by definition, not punishment. But conditions suggest that this particular type of captivity is indeed penalizing.
CCA’s Eloy Detention Center has long been under scrutiny for what human rights advocates say are conditions that lead to nearly a dozen deaths in less than a decade. Suicide is not a new phenomenon in this facility, but two recent apparent suicides in the course of just three days are once again drawing attention to Eloy. Twenty-four-year-old Elsa Guadalupe González, originally from Guatemala, had been detained at Eloy since March 20. Authorities say that on April 28, a fellow detainee found that she hanged herself. Forty-year-old Jorge Mario García Mejía, also originally from Guatemala, arrived at Eloy on March 22, and authorities said he also hanged himself, on April 30. ICE says it’s looking into the apparent suicides.
Guatemala is demanding an exhaustive investigation. Spanish language press is reporting that foreign affairs officials have stated that two people dying two days apart in apparent suicides in one detention center sounds a serious alarm. And although the US has responded that it will take the apparent suicides seriously, not everyone is convinced. One Guatemalan government official, Alejandra Gordillo, says that she’s worried that the deaths won’t be investigated, and that what may appear to be two suicides may in fact be “racist acts against Guatemalan migrants.” But whether the deaths are the result of coincidental suicides or something more sinister is unclear, since Eloy operates without independent supervision and federal authorities have not been very forthcoming about previous dubious deaths at the center.
Two of the eight authors of the Senate’s immigration bill hail from Arizona—where, aside from targeting immigrants through the use of racial profiling, the hodgepodge system of detention puts people’s lives in jeopardy at an unnecessarily high cost. Detention Watch is calling for Senators McCain and Flake to shut down Eloy and release detainees before more tragedy strikes.