“Heads-in-Beds” Mandate Crushes Our National Soul

Stock Photo woman behind fenceA little-known Congressional mandate requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to keep an average of 34,000 detainees per day in its custody. This quota has steadily risen since it was established in 2006 by conservative lawmakers who insisted that the agency wasn’t doing enough to deport unlawful immigrants.

“Controversial quota drives immigration detention boom,” an article written by Nick Miroff in the October 14 issue of The Washington Post, rightly points out the staggering cost of making detention a cornerstone of immigration enforcement. Miroff notes that Congress’s order to detain an average of  34,000 people each day requires ICE officials to spend nearly $400 million more than the agency had requested in April from Congress.

More important, the cost of the “heads-in-beds” mandate to the American people can be measured in more than dollars. Liberty is one of Americans’ most deeply held values, and the protection of the individual against arbitrary deprivation of liberty one of our most fundamental rights. U.S. immigration law already mandates detention of broad categories of people and it permits the discretionary detention of anyone who is determined to pose a risk of flight or danger to the community.

By holding people simply to fill the beds, we cross the line to arbitrariness. Congress’s detention quota squanders not only our national treasure, but our national soul.

By Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates’ director of advocacy

Two Percent of U.S. Counties Responsible for Majority of Executions

Death Penalty Image for CCWhen it comes to the death penalty, the United States finds itself in the company of China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. The United States, along with these countries, executed the most people in 2012.

In our country, two percent of counties are responsible for the majority of U.S. executions, according to a report compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center. The notorious “Top 10,” responsible for more than half of the executions since 1976, are Harris County, Texas; Dallas County, Texas; Oklahoma County, Okla.; Tarrant County, Texas; Bexar County, Texas; Montgomery County, Texas; Tulsa County, Okla.; Jefferson County, Texas; St. Louis County, Mo.; and Brazos County, Texas. Read more about the study’s findings here.

The Advocates for Human Rights, working to abolish the death penalty, is active on the steering committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, represented by Rosalyn Park, The Advocates’ research director. Park also chairs the working group for World Day Against the Death Penalty and is active on other working groups.

Park and Robin Phillips, The Advocates’ executive director, represented The Advocates at the World Congress Against the Death Penalty, a gathering of 1,500 advocates, scholars, politicians, and members of civil society, held in June in Madrid, Spain. At the event, Park presented The Advocates’ Death Penalty Abolition Toolkit, a tool for activists seeking to abolish the death penalty.

By Susan L. Banovetz, The Advocates’ director of communication

Helen Rubenstein

A request by the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia opened a new door for The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights program. The embassy approached us about traveling to Malaysia to speak on violence against women. Our work with embassies in Latvia, Lithuania, and Serbia has gotten a lot of attention, and our experience prompted the embassy’s invitation. As a result, during The Advocates’ first venture in Southeast Asia, I spent a week speaking with groups ranging from women parliamentarians to police to NGOs to law school faculty to radio hosts.

My work was divided between Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, and the large city of Penang. In both places I met with members of the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, a consortium of seven women’s human rights groups. I met some wonderful, dedicated people and the contacts are valuable to our work.

One of these groups, the Women’s Aide Organization (WAO) in Kuala Lumpur, opened the first shelter for abused women and their children in 1982. In addition to providing services to victims, WAO educates the public and advocates for legal reform on domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, and migrant domestic workers.

In Penang I met with the Women’s Centre for Change, which is also doing remarkable work assisting victims of gender-based violence and pushing for legal reform.

Perhaps my most rewarding meeting was with a group of women law school faculty at the University of Malaya. In earlier meetings with the NGOs they had expressed frustration about not having sufficient data to identify the scope of the problem of domestic violence and do effective advocacy. The law school faculty expressed a different frustration: they feel that they are doing research without a practical application. I suggested that they work with the NGOs to identify useful research projects to support the NGOs’ advocacy work. At the end of the meeting the organizer announced that she would schedule another meeting with the NGOs. It was great to feel that connections might be made and that there might be a concrete outcome to my work in Malaysia.

My colleagues and I look forward to returning to Malaysia to conduct in-depth training for police, prosecutors, and judges to advance the effective implementation of Malaysia’s domestic violence law.

By: Helen Rubenstein, deputy director of The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program