Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sojourners from Riverside Church Visit Elizabeth Detention Center Detainees

Helen O'Neill of the Associated Press wrote an article titled Sojourners Are There For Detainees, which describes how members of the Sojourners at Riverside Church in New York City visit some of the detainees in the Elizabeth Detention Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

For 10 years, the group's members have been making visits to be a friendly face for an hour and to make a commitment to be a real friend to the detainees, some of whom sit in detention for well over a year while fighting their asylum cases. Critics of the detention center question why conditions have to be so harsh inside -- detainees wear prison uniforms and are addressed by number, not by their name. They are allowed no physical contact -- the visiting room has plexiglass barriers separating them from their visitors. There is no outdoor space for detainees to get exercise or fresh air, just one room with an open skylight for one hour a day of recreation.

Detainees are also given no right to appointed counsel, even if they can't afford one.

Some of the detainees that the sojourners visit are able to get free, pro bono counsel, but not all do. One couple received pro bono legal repesentation from Elissa Steglich of the American Friends Service Committee, who worked frantically to save the couple from deportation after they lost their asylum case, but were filing an appeal to a federal court. Steglich points out that detainees with asylum claims should have an absolute right to counsel.

Human rights groups compain that detention amounts to criminalizing them. Others criticize the profits earned by private corporation who run the detention centers. ICE officials said it costs around $175 per day to detain someone in Elizabeth, NJ, though they would not say how much ICE pays CCA to run the Elizabeth Detention Center.


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