U.S. Senate Newsrom, Press Release, June 11, 2008
This afternoon, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) took to the floor of the Senate to deliver a major speech on immigration raids and detentions. He cited the numerous incidences of American citizens and legal permanent residents of Hispanic or other minority descent getting swept up in raids and the fear this has engendered in minority communities. Senator Menendez, who is the Senate sponsor of legislation to ensure basic medical care for detainees, also announced that he will be introducing legislation to prevent the unlawful detention of American citizens and permanent residents.
“The legitimate desire to get control over our borders has too often turned into a witch-hunt against Hispanic Americans and other people of color,” said Senator Menendez. American citizens “are targeted because of their race, targeted because of their color—denied every fundamental right guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Common sense repeatedly loses out to hysteria, and agents of intolerance repeatedly jump over the legal protections to which every single American is entitled.”
Senator Menendez mentioned several reported instances of the illegal detention or harassment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents of Hispanic descent. “Each of us in this country has to think, ‘What if that happened to me? Why couldn’t that happen to me? What would happen to my children if I were taken away?’”
“We can never lose sight of the fact that everyone who immigrates to this country, whether they are documented or not, is a human being. A detention should never amount to a death sentence.”
“Before we accuse someone of being undocumented, there’s one other document we should inspect first: it’s called the Constitution of the United States. It’s time for immigration and law enforcement on all levels to rededicate themselves to respecting the rights the Constitution guarantees.”
Full text of Senator Menendez’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Our deepest obligation as United States Senators and as representatives of the American people is to make sure our nation’s founding promises are being kept.
With a few strokes of Thomas Jefferson’s pen, we were told that life and liberty would be unalienable rights, that a chance to seek happiness would be something to which we were all entitled.
Our rights grew over time—and over time we grew out of restrictions on who was entitled to those rights. African Americans threw down the chains of slavery. Women marched to the polls. People came from all over the world to become full members of our society, because of the promise that our country held and the guarantees that our government made.
But when agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement—also known as ICE—conducted raids in Texas not long ago, one 19-year-old U.S. citizen who was dragged from her home while she was still in her pajamas wasn’t thinking about that history.
An 18-year-old U.S. citizen who was shackled at his ankles, handcuffed at his wrists and tied at his waist wasn’t thinking about that history.
They were thinking to themselves, “My God, what’s happening to me? What’s going to happen to my family?”
When ICE agents banged on the door of a U.S. citizen named Arturo Flores, and pushed their way into his house in Clifton, New Jersey without showing a warrant; and when agents in North Bergen, New Jersey stormed into the house of a legal immigrant named Maria Argueta, in the middle of the night, and held her without cause, taking her away from her family for 36 hours—those loud knocks on the door quickly woke these law-abiding individuals up from their American dreams.
Hearing these examples, some people may say, “Well, this is what happens when people enter this country without going through the proper channels.” I hear it all the time because it is the mantra of people who defend ICE’s raids.
But these aren’t undocumented immigrants getting pulled from their homes in the dead of night. They are US citizens who are targeted because of their race, targeted because of their color. Denied every fundamental right guaranteed by the United States Constitution.
Our fellow citizens may not have been surprised that they were yanked from their homes. They might have known that their immigration status wasn’t even necessarily relevant.
They might have heard stories about friends who were U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, but who were seized in immigration raids, detained, and in some cases, deported. I’m talking about U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
They may have known that their accent, their name, the color of their skin, the place where they lived would have put them at risk. They may have known that—regardless of what our politicians and historians say—fundamental Constitutional rights still might not apply to them, in today’s America.
We’ve been hearing these stories for too long. It’s time they were told on the Senate floor, because together we need to face a blunt reality: our legitimate desire to get control over our borders has too often turned into a witch-hunt against Hispanic Americans and other people of color.
Common sense repeatedly loses out to hysteria, and agents of intolerance repeatedly jump over the legal protections to which every single American is entitled.
I’m going to tell just a few stories today, but there are plenty of others like them.
Last year, a 30-year-old mentally impaired man named Pedro Guzman, who was born and raised in Southern California, was arrested on misdemeanor charges and scheduled to be released—he’s a U.S. citizen, but somehow, his accent, his name and the color of his skin must have convinced immigration authorities otherwise. So instead of returning him to his home, they decided to deport him to Mexico.
Even after immigration authorities realized their horrible mistake, they made no significant effort to correct it. Pedro attempted several times to cross the border home to the United States, and was repeatedly turned away. He was forced to wander the streets of Tijuana, eating out of trash cans to survive—a U.S. citizen.
His mother Maria was worried beyond belief, and took off time from her job to search for Pedro. Finally, three full months after he’d been illegally deported, Pedro found his way home. When he came back, his mother said, after so much trauma, only half of her son had returned.
Each of us in this country has to think, What if that happened to me? Why couldn’t that happen to me? What would happen to my children if I were taken away?
The authorities harass U.S. citizens of Hispanic descent in other ways.
Last fall, under the cover of darkness, a dozen immigration agents stormed into the Long Island home of Peggy Delrosa-Delgado, a U.S. citizen and a mother of three.
They pushed through her 17-year-old son, herded her children into the living room, and one of them drew a gun on a family friend staying in the house. This was the second time they had done this, supposedly looking for someone named Miguel who had never lived there.
Another U.S. citizen named Gladis was at her home one day when eighteen vehicles drove into her front yard, and twenty agents jumped out.
Agents banged on the door and threatened to throw gas inside the house if they didn’t let them in. While the children in the house ran and hid in the bedroom, the agents broke down the door.
One of the agents grabbed Gladis and attempted to handcuff her.
Gladis said she could prove her citizenship, and gave them her social security card. After interrogating Gladis and her family for twenty more minutes, the agents left as fast as they came—
they had no warrant, no probable cause, no reason for their actions besides suspicion about someone’s name, their accent, and the color of their skin.
And there’s one more detail I should mention: Gladis was six months pregnant at the time.
Each of us in this country has to think, What if that happened to me? Why couldn’t that happen to me? What would happen to my children if I were taken away?
M. President, very shortly I’ll be introducing legislation to prevent the unlawful detention of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
But the problem with our detention system is even larger. Beyond the U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are unlawfully detained, there are people who have come to the U.S. fleeing persecution, people who have committed no crime, but find themselves trapped and squeezed between the gears of the U.S. immigration system.
The Washington Post has recently run a disturbing series on the catastrophic state of our detention system. I encourage all of my colleagues to read it, and I ask Unanimous Consent to enter the articles into the record.
The whole series is staggering, revealing deficiencies in our detention system that most of us couldn’t dream up in our worst nightmares. The Washington Post has forced us, as a nation, to look in the mirror, and I for one am appalled by what I see.
We, the United States of America, the greatest democracy in the entire world, have been injecting people with heavy doses of drugs in order to deport them or just to move them around the system with more ease.
Immigration officials drug people going through U.S. facilities, and they drug people who are about to be deported. They drug some people so heavily that when they get off the plane they collapse on the tarmac, or they have to be rolled off the plane in a wheelchair.
They don’t only drug people to make it easier to kick them out. One story that stood out in both the Washington Post and a segment on 60 Minutes was that of a woman named Amina Mudey. Last year, Amina fled from Somalia to the U.S. to seek asylum after she was tortured and her family was killed before her eyes.
When she arrived at JFK airport, she was shackled, thrown in a van and driven to a windowless converted warehouse in New Jersey. Immigration authorities didn’t so much as find an interpreter.
Instead, they decided to lock her up, decided she was insane without even talking to her, and decided to inject her full of a drug to treat a disease she didn’t have. The side effects were awful. Her tongue swelled so much she couldn’t close her mouth. She drooled and vomited uncontrollably, and began to lactate.
When she complained, they upped the dose. She thought to herself, “maybe I’m going to die in here.”
Finally, five months after she was detained, she won her asylum case in court and was released from the detention center. Without the perseverance of her lawyer, Amina would never have emerged from her drug-induced state. She would never have found the asylum she so desperately needed.
This case sheds light on another grim reality: medical treatment at our detention facilities is atrocious. Over-medication is far from the only problem. Life threatening lack of care is also a serious problem. Take the heartbreaking story of Francisco Castaneda. Francisco entered one of our detention facilities battling cancer—although he didn’t know it.
All he knew is that he had significant lesions on his reproductive organs.
Offsite officials who never examined Francisco repeatedly denied him the biopsy he so desperately needed. After 11 long months in custody, Francisco argued for and eventually obtained a temporary release so he could pay for his own biopsy. Life-threatening cancerous tumors were found.
Despite amputation of the affected area and several rounds of chemotherapy, Francisco died of cancer at the age of 36.
A federal judge recently noted that this case appears to present, quote, “one of the most, if not the most, egregious Eighth Amendment violations [involving cruel and unusual punishment] the Court has ever encountered.”
The United States of America essentially killed Francisco Castaneda by denying him the medical care he so desperately needed. Why? Because he had entered this country without the proper documentation, at the age of 10, with his mother, fleeing civil war in El Salvador—a war the US had helped to fund, a war which sent thousands of refugees like him to our country.
He was denied care because he tried to make a better life for himself and his family. These are hardly offenses that warrant death. We cannot, in good conscience, allow these conditions to continue. That’s why I’ve joined together with my colleagues, Senators Kennedy, Durbin, Akaka and Lieberman, to introduce the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act.
First, the bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to establish procedures for delivering basic health care to all immigration detainees in custody.
It requires DHS to give people in custody access to any medications they urgently need, both during detention and during any transfers.
Currently, a bureaucrat in an office can overrule a medical professional who is actually on site and seeing a detainee. This bill ensures that treatment decisions are made by the professionals who actually see the patients.
And finally, the bill would require DHS to report all detainee deaths to the Office of Inspector General and Congress.
We can never lose sight of the fact that everyone who immigrates to this country, whether they are documented or not, is a human being. A detention should never amount to a death sentence. This kind of action to ensure humane treatment and prevent unnecessary deaths at these facilities is long overdue.
Let’s not forget that many in immigration detention are there for minor violations, many because of administrative errors, or pending legitimate asylum cases.
At some point, this becomes more than a legal issue—it becomes a human rights issue, and it is our job to do all we can to secure our country while protecting the dignity of all human beings.
If we fail to do so, not only do we blemish ourselves, but we lose the moral high ground to be a beacon of democracy and a leader in human rights around the world.
It is astounding to me that human beings could be treated as badly as some are being treated on our soil.
When innocent people are drugged, tranquilized and treated like animals,
When agents attempt to handcuff a pregnant United States citizen, break down the door to her home, and terrify her children and her family;
When an agency of the federal government deports its own citizen;
When all of this is going on, each of us in America has to think, What if that were my family? What if that happened to us? Doesn’t my U.S. citizenship, whether by birth or naturalization, protect me from this kind of abuse?
Some officials have claimed that these incidents are rare. Some of suggested that this is acceptable collateral damage in pursuit of undocumented aliens. They should tell that to Pedro, Gladis, Amina and everyone else, and all the families who have had to watch this happen. No matter how widespread this pattern of abuse turns out to be, one thing is clear: it isn’t rare enough.
There’s only one way to prevent that kind of abuse: it should be a universal policy, that before we accuse someone of being undocumented, there’s one other document we should inspect first: it’s called the Constitution of the United States.
It’s time for immigration and law enforcement on all levels to rededicate themselves to respecting the rights the Constitution guarantees.
That means respecting the need for probable cause and the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment, the right to Due Process guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment, the full benefits of citizenship and Equal Protection for anyone born or naturalized in this country guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment—and the entire range of rights and protections our Constitution grants.
This is going to take real leadership, at every level of our justice system, from the Attorney General, to the Secretary of Homeland Security on down.
That’s the only way that those who by birth or naturalization have a legitimate right to pursue the American Dream, won’t have to watch as their lives turn into an un-American nightmare.
This issue might not be the legislative business of this chamber right now, but it is always our moral business.
It’s always our moral business to defend the most fundamental principle on which our nation was founded: that all of us are created equal.
Stopping illegal detentions of Americans based on their race is about more than properly enforcing the law. Above all, it’s about respecting people who may be different from us, but who share the same birthright.
As Martin Luther King said, “We may have come on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”
If we’re worried about what to throw off the boat, it should be our oldest enemy: fear.
Once that’s gone, we can resume our course on the currents of freedom, and let our sails be filled with liberty and justice for all.
Thank you M. President, I yield the floor.