Immigration Authorities End Torture-by-Dogs of Detainees in US Jails

(Note: this is a press release by NJ Civil Rights Defense Committee, the current main focus of NJ WDN's work.)

The immigrant rights’ movement won a significant victory when the Dept. Of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement arm directed that all jails in the US holding immigrant detainees cease to use dogs around the detainees. The directive, effective Dec. 11, was a response to simultaneous reports on National Public Radio and in the New York Spanish-language newspaper El Diario documenting the use of the dogs to terrify and physically attack detainees. Officials at Passaic County Jail, one of several facilities that used the dogs, stated that they had already removed the dogs from the jail, an action confirmed by detainees.

The reports, and other previous news coverage were the result of an 18-month-long campaign by immigrant rights and civil rights groups to expose the use of dogs to torture immigrant detainees. At a press conference to be held at Hill Hall (Room 208), Rutger’s Newark Campus, Newark, NJ at 1:00 PM Monday, Dec. 6,  representatives of immigrants rights and civil rights groups, including NJ Civil Rights Defense Committee, Casa Freehold, Council on American Islamic Relations, and others will describe how this victory was achieved and the broader context of the struggle for immigrant rights. The representatives of the groups and detainee family members will explain what has been won so far and the much greater tasks that still must be accomplished to defend the civil rights of all who live in this country.

The canine abuse was first reported to the press by NJ Civil Rights Defense Committee (NJCRDC) in a press conference July 18, 2003.  The conference was held in connection with a hunger strike by Nigel Maccado and Hemnauth Mohabir, one of the detainees interviewed in the NPR report last week.  Since then, NJCRDC, Families for Freedom and other immigrant rights organizations have been vigorously exposing dog attacks. The groups arranged detainee interviews for the news stories. This effort has been part of a general campaign to win the release of all the detainees, who are being held unconstitutionally without any criminal charges

“This victory is a step forward,” said NJCRDC member Jeannette Gabriel, “but it puts an end to only one type of detainee abuse.  The worst abuse is to hold them at all, as they are not charged with any crimes.”  Detainees are held by the Department of Homeland Security as “civil” detentions under laws passed in 1996 and vigorously enforced since September, 2001.

The end of the torture-by-dog is one of the limited but important victories which the growing immigrant rights movement has won in the past year.  In Freehold, New Jersey, a coalition of immigrants and citizens united in Casa Freehold and other organizations defeated an attempt by the Township government to shut down a muster zone for immigrant day-laborers.  With the support of this coalition, the day–laborers were able to organize a hiring-hall-type of system, ending competition among the laborers and enforcing minimum labor standards on contractors.  When police harassment drove the contractors away, NJCRDC and Casa Freehold, joined by other immigrant rights and peace groups, organized a march in Freehold in July which succeeded in countering the harassment.

This new civil rights fight is just beginning. Thousands of detainees remain unconstitutionally incarcerated and immigrant communities are under attack. The detainee featured in the news reports for being deliberately subjected to a dog bite, Resendo Lewis, and another detainee, Abdoulie Secka, have just finished a nine-day hunger strike at Passaic County jail to demand their freedom.  They report being subjected to threats by ICE officials to move them to other detention facilities thousands of miles from their families. The dogs are gone, but the violations of human rights remain and only continued exposure and protest will stop them.

(Note: To get to Room 208, please go up the ramp from the second floor of Hill Hall. Hill Hall is at the corner of MLK  Jr. Blvd. and Warren St., next to the Student Center.)