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tv   Frontline  PBS  October 19, 2011 3:00am-4:00am EDT

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>> tonight on frontline... as a candidate, he promised to fix the immigration system... >> the system just isn't working and we need to change it. >> a president, obama cracked down hard. >> what did he give us? a million people been deported. >> frontline, the investigative reporting workshop, and correspondent maria hinojosa investigate obama's tough immigration enforcement... >> hasn't the president ended up enacting the republican agenda? >> what the president is doing
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is enforcing the law of the land. >> ...examining his promise to deport hardened criminals... >> 1,000 murderers, 6,000 sex offenders, 45,000 serious drug violators. >> ...while critics say the program has swept up thousands of immigrants with no criminal record... >> a mother who had a broken tail light being separated, maybe forever, from her children? >> ( translated ): i don't understand how their mother could have been thrown out of the country. >> ...and investigating conditions in the vast network of immigrant detention centers. >> women harassed for sexual favors, guards taking detainees and beating them, running them down like they were animals. >> tonight, how the politics of immigration are "lost in detention." >> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major funding is provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation. committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. and by reva and david logan. committed to investigative journalism as the guardian of the public interest. additional funding is provided by the park foundation. dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. and by the frontline journalism fund, supporting investigative reporting and enterprise journalism.
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>>hinojosa: these are the front lines of a new immigration crackdown in america, federal officers from ice - immigration and customs enforcement - on their way to arrest some of the millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally. >>first target, guys, he's got conviction of hit and run. also, he's got duis. he's a final order. he goes to work between 6:30, 7:00 o'clock. any questions? okay. >> hinojosa: these so-called "fugitive operations" are part of an immigration enforcement offensive... >> we're pretty sure the guy's going to be here. >> hinojosa: ...that has reached historic levels under the obama administration. >> the team's been doing surveillance on this house for the last few days. target's house is right here, right here on my right side. target's house. >> hinojosa: this year, about 400,000 undocumented immigrants
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will be detained and deported, totaling more than one million since obama took office. >> we have a job to do. we enforce immigration law, and we seek to remove people that are here illegally from the country. in terms of protecting the public, and also in terms of border security, we're setting records with our enforcement results. >> in terms of apprehending people, putting them in a detention system, and then removing them from the country, the scale has gone way up. under obama, the numbers are significantly higher than they were under bush. so, obama has juiced up the bush policies. >> we have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible. >> hinojosa: earlier this year, the president came to the border in el paso... >> we now have more boots on the ground... >> hinojosa: defend his tough enforcement policies... >> ...and we are deporting those
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who are here illegally. >> hinojosa: ...while, at the same time, pushing for comprehensive immigration reform. >> now we need to come together around reform that reflects our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. >> the administration has believed, since it was sworn in, that in order to make the political ground fertile for a comprehensive immigration reform bill, that enforcement had to come first. but there's no chance of comprehensive immigration reform in the current political environment. there's just... there's no support on the republican side. >> washington has been unable to enact new immigration legislation for, like, 20 years. and it's in this vacuum that enforcement, all of a sudden, has become this kind of talisman, that you have to prove the government is in control. >> in the absence of reform, we're left with, essentially, enforcement on steroids. but that's all we're left with.
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that... that is our immigration policy. >> hinojosa: this is the story of how that policy is playing out, often far from the border, in places like maple park, in the president's home state of illinois. antonio arceo and his wife moved to maple park from california five years ago to raise their five children and live near family. then, last february, antonio told me he received a call that changed everything. >> ( translated ): i was working, and, about 4:00, i received a call from my wife's own cell phone, but a man was speaking. he asked, in english, if i knew roxana garcia, who's my wife. i said yes.
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he said, "it's the police, kane county sheriff. your wife has been detained for not carrying a license. can you come pick up your kid?" >> hinojosa: roxana had been stopped for speeding and was held overnight in the county jail. >> ( translated ): next morning, when i went back, she was no longer there. i asked the lady there, "how come? they told me she was getting out the next day." she said, "no, immigration came this morning and took her away." >> hinojosa: antonio had no idea what the government had done with his wife. he spent days looking for her. >> ( translated ): i went around to all the jails where she could possibly have been held, and nobody would give me information. so, at that point, i was desperate because we didn't know what had happened. >> hinojosa: what he didn't know is that roxana had been taken
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six hours away to southern illinois, swept up by the administration's widening net of enforcement. roxana was being held in detention. at the center of this story is a federal program called secure communities, in which ice has extended its reach by enlisting the help of local law enforcement to better identify illegal immigrants who have committed crimes. the sheriff's department here in lake county, illinois, north of chicago, joined secure communities in 2010. the sheriff is mark curran. >> i think, in law enforcement, especially since 9/11, it has been impressed upon us that you need to work as a team. when you have local, state and federal law enforcement all sharing information, all working together, all contributing to
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each other's task forces, that's when we work best. >> hinojosa: an elected republican and former prosecutor, curran says he came to realize that about 20% of those locked up in his jail were undocumented immigrants. >> they're everywhere. probably every fifth one of the people that's in here, in all likelihood, is not documented. >> hinojosa: he decided the government wasn't being tough enough. >> as a result, i thought, you know, let's close down these borders and let's start deporting these people as fast as we can. let's... let's return the rule of law to its place. >> hinojosa: secure communities seemed like the right tool. >> the goal is to identify people, aliens who are removable from the united states based on their criminal background, while they're still within the premise of the criminal justice system, not giving the opportunity to be released on the street and commit other crimes.
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this system is designed where a person be arrested, booked into a jail or a prison, and just by the submission of those fingerprints, instantly sent off. not only would all of the criminal justice systems be checked, the immigration databases would also be checked at the same time. so, within seconds-- literally, seconds-- you would have the immigration vetting almost complete by identifying that person. >> hinojosa: do we know why he was arrested? >> it appears that he got charged with leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in injury and/or death. it is a felony. >> hinojosa: the obama administration says secure communities is essential to taking the worst criminals off the streets and removing them from the country. >> we have record-breaking numbers, in terms of criminal alien removals-- 195,000 last year, about half of the people that we removed. that included 1,000 murderers, 6,000 sex offenders, 45,000 serious drug violators.
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as we expand the deployment of secure communities focused on criminal aliens, you'll see that number continue to go up and up. >> hinojosa: but critics say secure communities is sweeping up more than just serious criminals and, in illinois, one case in particular got a lot of attention. it started about 75 miles west of chicago, in mchenry county, when local police made a routine traffic stop in march of 2010. the driver had changed lanes without signaling. >> ( translated ): all of a sudden, i saw the lights on the police car turn on. that's when the policeman stopped me. i didn't even know why until later on. he asked me for my driver's license and car insurance. i didn't have a license. he said i was going to be
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arrested, to call someone to pick up my truck and little girl. he simply put me in the car and took me to jail. >> hinojosa: what did you understand that you were being arrested for? >> ( translated ): because i didn't have a license. >> hinojosa: when susana ramirez was booked into custody, her fingerprints were sent to ice under the secure communities program. ice quickly put a hold on her-- she was in the country illegally. have you ever been arrested before? do you have a criminal record? >> ( translated ): no, that was the only time. not even in mexico. this is the first time this has ever happened to me. >> hinojosa: a single mom with two daughters, both american citizens, ramirez says she fled the violence of mexico's drug wars after being threatened with kidnapping in her hometown of durango. she had come to us legally in 2007 and found work in illinois cleaning houses. then, she overstayed her visa, and says she was afraid to
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return home. >> ( translated ): for me, the place i wanted to be was mexico, but i had to emigrate because of the circumstances. >> hinojosa: for fear? >> ( translated ): because of fear, exactly. >> mi nombre es susana ramirez... >> hinojosa: the sympathetic story of a mother facing deportation was picked up by immigration activists and politicians. >> translator: ...ramirez, and i am a person who was detained in april. >> hinojosa: a state bill known as "susana's law" was introduced to deny funding for secure communities. >> the federal government should stop deporting the parents of american citizen children who have never... like this wonderful woman, who have never committed any serious violation of the law. >> leaders in the immigrant community came to the governor and met with us on the staff, and said the participation in secure communities is driving a
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wedge between our... our neighbors, our families, and our local law enforcement. >> hinojosa: jerry stermer is a top advisor to the democratic governor of illinois, pat quinn, a close obama ally. stermer says the administration had sold secure communities to illinois as a program targeting the worst of the worst. >> we're talking about murderers and rapists and arsonists and the most serious, and that was very clear. that's what we heard about, and that's what we understood was going on. >> hinojosa: but when the governor's office looked at ice's own statistics and discovered that less than 20% of those deported from illinois had been convicted of a serious crime, they concluded they'd been sold a bill of goods. >> we met on a number of occasions with the federal officials and said, "this isn't... this isn't going the way that you had described it and that we had understood.
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can we fix this?" and they said, "well, if we're looking for the most serious offenders and we want to deport them, there's going to be collateral damage." and we thought, "are we talking about collateral damage of a mother who had a broken taillight being separated, maybe forever, from her children?" and we said to them, "our interest is in zero collateral damage, not some collateral damage." >> hinojosa: that collateral damage has been felt here in lake county, illinois. >> my last name is ramirez... >> hinojosa: after 18 months of secure communities, sheriff mark curran, once a supporter of the program, has had a surprising change of heart. >> when i deal with the latino community throughout lake county, there is fear that's running through these communities. they know all about secure communities. they know the horror stories of their uncle or their brother
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that committed the most ticky-tack of offenses, got incarcerated as a result, and is now being deported. >> hinojosa: but for supporters of secure communities, the program is doing exactly what it should be doing. so, when you hear stories about unauthorized immigrants now living in a state of fear because they could be detained and put into a detention center, you think this fear is a good thing? >> absolutely. i mean, it's supposed to be. it's like, if you are speeding on the highway and you're afraid there might be a trooper around the corner, or if you want to claim a couple of extra deductions on your income tax form and you're worried about the irs maybe paying attention. you're supposed to be afraid. in fact, the reason we have 11 million illegal immigrants is because too many people for too long understood quite clearly that there wasn't anything to be afraid of. ( knocking on door ) >> hinojosa: but sheriff curran
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says that fear is undermining the ability of law enforcement to do its job. >> when the squad car rounds the corner, you'll see people scram. it's not because they are engaged in criminal activity, necessarily. it's because they have this perception that they... they are illegal or they know someone that might be undocumented, and they don't want to have anything to do with law enforcement. >> hinojosa: what does that do to you, as a law enforcement officer? >> law enforcement works best when it's engaged with the community. to have the community not working with you, it's a frightening proposition. >> hinojosa: although curran is now an outspoken critic of secure communities, the obama administration has made the program mandatory, and the lake county sheriff's department is still helping to identify and hold undocumented immigrants for ice. >> one thing that i've experienced since 2002 when i started, you did not get a lot of immigration detainers. now, it appears to me that immigration is placing holds on almost everybody that was born
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outside of the united states. >> hinojosa: this aggressive enforcement by ice has been driven, according to insiders, by the agency's need to hit a target number of deportations-- now 400,000 for the year. >> because the number 400,000 was what was agreed upon, what's happened is, you pick up whatever you can. so, the low-hanging fruit, the high-hanging fruit and all the fruit that's in between, you would pick up whatever you could and take your collateral apprehensions-- which would be the other illegals that may be present when you're arresting a fugitive-- and bring them into custody, as well, to get the numbers moved up. >> hinojosa: the pressure to move the numbers up was evident in an internal ice memo last year. ice was at risk of falling "well under the agency's goal of 400,000" deportations, the memo says. in particular, it highlighted the shortfall of "non-criminal" removals.
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so, basically, washington is setting some numbers and, on the ground, if you're not meeting those numbers, then you're being judged by not meeting those numbers. >> you're being judged or you're being summoned to washington. you know, you get this "be in my office tomorrow morning," so... kind of a thing. >> hinojosa: while ice tries to hit its numbers, the results show up in the miami courtroom of immigration judge denise slavin. >> we're seeing more and more people who are just having some sort of contact with the law enforcement community, where the individuals who are being picked up were not the... not the target of the law enforcement operation at all. they were a witness to a crime, a victim of crime. it could happen because you had a flat tire on the side of the road and the state police stopped. so, i think that they're going after people that they're easy to... if they're handed to them, probably is the best way to put it. that if the state police or local police run across someone who is unauthorized and call the department... ice, they're not
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going to say, "no, we're not going to take that person." they're going to come and pick them up and put them in detention. that... that happens more now than it used to. >> hinojosa: at the white house, president obama's top advisor on immigration is cecilia munoz. even the supporters of the president, the illinois governor, have said secure communities is doing more damage, and, in fact, there's collateral damage of mothers being separated from their children, of fathers being separated from their children. >> right. >> hinojosa: is this collateral damage that this administration is prepared to accept? >> well, as a result of the concerns raised by the governor of illinois, the governor of massachusetts and others, dhs made adjustments on how it's implementing the policy. so, the... the feedback from the community has been important in shaping dhs' work. but at the end of the day, when you have a community of ten million, 11 million people living and working in the united states illegally, some of these things are going to happen. even if the law is executed with
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perfection, there will be parents separated from their children. we don't have to like it, but it is a result of having a broken system of laws, and the answer to that problem is reforming the law. >> hinojosa: in maple park, illinois, the arceo family has been pulled apart. last march, antonio's wife, roxana garcia, who had been stopped for speeding, was deported back to mexico. she had a previous record of crossing the border illegally. left behind were her husband and her five american-born children. >> mama! >> hinojosa: if your wife, before she was deported, was in charge of five kids, what happened after she was deported? how did you handle this? >> ( translated ): i didn't handle the situation. the situation definitely handled me.
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>> hinojosa: although he had help from friends and his church, antonio had a tough time making ends meet. there were times when he had no one to pick up the kids at school, and so they stayed with him at his repair shop. >> ( translated ): they don't understand how their mother could have been thrown out of the country because of a simple piece of paper. they are american citizens that are going to be productive for this country one day. how can you take away the most important pillar in their life, their mother? i don't understand. >> hinojosa: at times, antonio has his doubts about making it without roxana and considers moving his family back to mexico. would you want to go back to mexico? >> no, not really. >> hinojosa: have you ever been to mexico?
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>> no. >> hinojosa: so, when your dad talks about maybe the solution is to go back to mexico, what do you think about that, david? >> well, just the thought of having to pack everything up and leaving my country to be somewhere i've never even been is just... it doesn't seem right to me. >> 46% of undocumented people live in a family, and the majority have been in the us for longer than 11 years. so, the face of the undocumented person isn't the young mexican who's scaling the fence and able to get in, works for six months and then leaves. it's not a mexican male anymore. it's women, it's kids, it's people who put their roots down here, their lives down here. >> hinojosa: there are now 4.5 million us citizen children living in families where one or both parents are undocumented. >> we had future plans, like going to college and stuff,
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especially for serving this country like everyone does. but this happened. >> hinojosa: what were your dreams about, what you wanted to do? >> i wanted to be a police officer when i grew up. >> hinojosa: and now? >> i changed my mind. >> i wanted to be a lawyer. >> hinojosa: and now? >> and now, i... i don't know, i'm not really concentrating on that right now. >> we're talking about people that have been here for 20 years and they have five children that are us citizens. and that they came here under this message that, "don't worry about it, you can get into this country. don't worry about it. you can work and nobody's ever going to ask about it." and now, we're going to deport them. to me, that's absolutely wrong. i mean, i could talk about it from a faith perspective, but people don't want to hear that, especially if they're not roman catholic. but the truth is there. when you take a father out of the house and you deport him, or a mother out of the house and
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you deport her, and you leave those children now without one of the two spouses, to me, that's not a good recipe for the future of america, and it makes us a lesser country. >> hinojosa: at the heart of the "get tough" immigration policy is a vast network of 250 detention centers, from county jails to large centers run by private prison companies, where immigrants facing deportation are held until they can be removed from the country. in the past decade, three million immigrants have been detained in the system. this woman, a canadian citizen, was one of them. >> i went to florida in l994, and when i went there, i liked it and i inquired about business. >> hinojosa: she agreed to speak only if we disguised her identity. we'll call her mary.
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her detention began when local police in florida pulled her over in a routine traffic stop. >> so, i show my license and my registration and whatever, and everything was fine. but then, he came back and he said, "there's a warrant out for you." i said, "a warrant? like, i didn't do anything. i don't have no outstanding tickets." >> hinojosa: but the warrant said mary had bounced a $230 check ten years earlier. >> i wrote a check to walmart, but then, i moved to fort lauderdale and i closed my account. >> hinojosa: it was soon discovered that mary had been living in the us for 15 years without a visa. she was quickly detained by ice, and then sent a thousand miles away to the southern tip of texas to the willacy detention center. when she first arrived, mary was warned about willacy by a fellow
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detainee. >> she said, "it's terrible, it's really terrible. and you need to tell them you need to go back to canada because you don't want to stay in someplace like this. this is not for you." >> hinojosa: willacy had been built quickly in 2006. designed to hold up to 3,000 detainees, it was run by a private prison contractor and was one of the largest detention centers in the country. >> what's stunning about it is the sheer size of it. it looks like an airfield, with these kevlar white domed tents. and you walk in and there's razor wire all around it. and in each one of them, they're holding 200 people with very limited space and movement, where they are basically warehoused in order to effectuate their removal. >> hinojosa: mark fleming was part of a special human rights
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commission for the organization of american states that inspected willacy in 2009. >> ice establishes these facilities mainly to make sure that they show up for their hearing, and if they're ordered removed, to effectuate that removal. it's not supposed to be punitive, and yet, in every way, shape, or form, it was punitive. it was a criminal setting. they wore uniforms, as inmates. the officers had very much a criminal justice mentality. and so, it's palpable, the desperation that detained immigrants feel at this facility, because they are not well informed of when they are going to get out. >> i begged and i begged every day, "what's going on? please, i want to get out. just get me out of here." >> hinojosa: mary wanted to fight her deportation, but she had a problem. like the vast majority of detainees, she had no attorney to help her. unlike in the criminal justice
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system, immigration detainees don't have a guaranteed right to an attorney. even if they have strong cases to remain in the us, most have to fend for themselves and be their own legal advocates. >> we hold people, we handcuff them, we detain them, we take away the basic right to liberty and the right to due process. when the government takes away your basic right to liberty should be equivalent to that in the criminal context, and that's unfortunately not the case. >> immigration matters are not criminal matters; those are administrative matters. there's no punishment that the immigration service metes out. it is simply a question of whether you're supposed to be here or whether you're supposed to be there. that's an administrative matter. and the supreme court has said repeatedly for over a century that due process in immigration matters is whatever congress says it is.
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>> hinojosa: without access to attorneys, critics say detainees are vulnerable in other ways. they're less likely to have legal protection in cases of physical and sexual abuse. >> ( sighs ) oh, my god. >> hinojosa: during her three months at willacy, mary says she endured repeated sexual assaults by a guard. >> he kissed me, and then i pushed him. and then he said, "well, i love big-breasted women." and then he took his hands and he, like, put them in my pants. >> hinojosa: he put his hands in your pants. >> in my pants. and he said, "well, do you like that? does it feel good? because you're locked up, so you don't know what it feels like." and i pushed him away, and i said, "please, let me go." >> hinojosa: and then what
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happened? >> he said, if you tell anyone, you wouldn't come out of here alive to see your family. "if you tell anyone, you wouldn't come out of here alive to see your family." so then, who do... who do you go and tell? >> hinojosa: mary says she told a female guard about the attacks. >> she said to me that if you go to ice and you complain or you write a report, it's going to be worse for you because they don't want a bad name that these things are going on. >> hinojosa: don't complain about the fact that you've been sexually assaulted because it could be worse for you if you complain? >> yes. >> hinojosa: they could retaliate against you? >> yes. >> hinojosa: our investigation into willacy found that mary's treatment wasn't unique. we uncovered many stories of racial, physical and sexual abuse. when we visited willacy, ice would not let us talk with detainees we met along the
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way... so, if you're a detainee, you have to stay... ...or interview the local ice officials. but we did speak with dozens of former detainees and staff. >> i would take account of how many detainees we saw. >> hinojosa: twana cooks-allen was the mental health coordinator at willacy. >> we would make referrals to our department to see them. >> hinojosa: she heard a lot of stories of abuse. >> men of color were coming to me, talking about guards taking them in an area and beating them, talking to me about guards who are running them down like they were animals, and yelling and screaming and calling them names and talking about family members, and getting in their face and spitting. >> this is the first place where i ever went to that it was all right for somebody to say, "you nigger monkey," "black nigger monkey," you know? >> hinojosa: a guard to say that to you. >> yeah. and say it in front of a lot of other people, too. so you would start to think that, i guess that's all right down here for them to do that.
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>> hinojosa: while you were detained at willacy, did you witness any physical abuse by the guards on the detainees? >> there was a lot of nights i hear screaming in the hallway, "ah, ah," and hear "toop, toop," that were, like, sticks and stuff. and then, i would run to the door and look, and you would see them have somebody on the ground, beating them. >> hinojosa: you saw this? >> yeah, more than once. >> the guards' favorite thing was to say, "let's take him down," using excessive force. or they will tell you, "i'll take you down, i'll take you down." because i've seen them took off, put the radios down, took off they belts and get into fisticuffs with detainees. >> hinojosa: you get a call in the middle of the night one night. this former guard says she saw a
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surveillance video of a vicious beating of a detainee. >> i basically saw a lieutenant, a sergeant and two officers beat up on a detainee-- to me, it just looked half to death. he had been knocked off his front teeth, a busted nose. he had a black eye. he was bleeding everywhere. >> hinojosa: what was the reason for the altercation? >> from my understanding, he talked back. >> hojosa: he talked back. >> yes. >> hinojosa: so, there wasn't an actual violent assault against the officers, it was a verbal response. >> yes, ma'am. >> hinojosa: and then, four officers... >> two supervisors and two officers. >> hinojosa: ...proceeded to beat him. >> yes, ma'am. >> hinojosa: adameit says she was shown the video and asked by officials to clean up the statements of the guards and make them consistent to hide evidence. >> it was just covered up, and next morning, he was shipped out. if i'm not mistaken, he was from
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ecuador, so he was on the first plane out by j-pod. >> hinojosa: former detainee donovan jones acted as a jail house lawyer, helping others with their legal cases. he says he heard many stories of abuse, much of it targeting women. >> there were a lot going on between the women and the guards. the guards would bring stuff from the outside, things that we could not... or the ladies could not access, and they will bring stuff in exchange for different favors, some of them sex. >> i knew something was wrong when i started getting women coming in complaining about being harassed by guards for sexual favors. i had got to the point where i knew and felt comfortable with some of the guards that i went to them and said, "look, just tell me, is this really going on out there? we keep getting these detainees complaining and saying this and that."
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and the sad thing was that many of the guards supported it, in the sense of saying, "they're right. yeah, it does happen." >> hinojosa: i mean, isn't it the case that there are always going to be some bad apples within the context of people who are guarding detainees? a couple of bad apples? >> i think they had a whole lot of bad apples. i think they had some barrels of bad apples at willacy. >> hinojosa: recently, this willacy guard pled guilty to sexually assaulting a female detainee, admitting he pulled her into a bathroom to have intercourse. frontline's investigation into willacy uncovered more than a dozen allegations of sexual abuse, including mary, who says she couldn't take it anymore. >> i said, "i want to go back home. please. i want to go back home. get me out of here, because if this goes on one more time with me and i don't get out of here, i'm going to kill myself."
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>> hinojosa: desperate to get out of willacy, mary asked to be deported back to canada. she left behind four us citizen children in the care of a relative. she says she's been unable to see them for more than two years. >> how do you explain to seven-, eight-, nine-year-old kids that their mom can't come there, i can't take care of them? how do you tell little kids that? do they understand? they don't understand. >> hinojosa: a cache of government documents recently obtained by the aclu reveals that claims of sexual abuse are widespread throughout the us detention system. the documents detail more than 170 allegations of sexual abuse during the past four years. >> we're only scratching the surface of what we know is a
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much bigger phenomenon. we know that there are many more cases that don't get investigated, where people do not get held accountable for the abuse or the rape of immigrants. and especially when you're dealing with a vulnerable community, where they don't have access to lawyers, where they're in out-of-the-way places. and so, you are much less likely to have them step forward and say, "wait, i was just raped. i was just abused sexually in a detention center." they just want to get on with it. "let me out of here. "get me out of here. get me out of this purgatory." and so, they'll do anything to get out. >> hinojosa: despite all the problems we uncovered at willacy, a 2009 audit gave the detention center a rating of "good." at the same time, the audit also said that 900 grievances had been filed by the detainees. >> you look at the audit, and the audit is bare bones. it's hard to believe that you can have 900 grievances and no
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discussion as to what the substance of those grievances were. and so, there's no transparency as far as once they do get a complaint like that, what happens. >> hinojosa: the willacy detention facility actually got an audit in 2009, and it was rated "acceptable," but, in fact, there were more than 900 grievances filed that year. how do you put those two things together? >> well, i don't know the specifics of what the grievances may be. i don't know if the... if the grievance... i don't know if it has to do with the quality of the food or whatever. we put a lot of people through our facilities more broadly. this is a big system. there are always going to be people that are dissatisfied with one element of it or another. but where it rises to... to a level of, you know, that... that merits attention and merits a response and we're aware of it, we... we do all we can to address it >> hinojosa: but that's not the response that twana cooks-allen saw. >> we had to circle things, we
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had to write in... >> hinojosa: in 2009, she was asked to survey all detainees at willacy, part of a broad review of the detention system undertaken by ice officials in washington. and all of this information you're getting in writing. >> yes. >> hinojosa: you're documenting. >> we're documenting. >> hinojosa: but when she delivered initial findings of the survey, she says local ice officials began a cover-up. >> ice had questions about it. >> hinojosa: and ice wanted to know what, as far as you understood? >> they wanted to know who said what, period. who said what, anything that had to do with anything negative. >> hinojosa: and were they trying to fix the situation? >> no. not the information i got back from the detainees. i had a detainee who had saw me come down the hall and came in and knocked on my door, and he was upset. he was extremely upset because he said, "ice came over yesterday, pulled me out of the dorm, and basically told me if i complained about anything else again, they would make sure that i didn't stay here and that i was deported." and in that day, i got bombarded with those first 38 people that
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i had interviewed, and the majority of them came in complaining or crying that they had been harassed by ice. >> hinojosa: the survey was shut down and, soon after, cooks-allen resigned her position at willacy. >> you have a decision to make, and your decision is either you stay there and continue and see the unethical behavior that's being played out there, or you choose to walk away. >> hinojosa: this summer, the government made changes at willacy. the facility was transferred from ice to the bureau of prisons. it's still run by the private contractor, but it is now a prison for repeat offenders caught crossing the border illegally. meanwhile, ice says it is making major reforms to the detention system and says they plan to build six new centers that will house detainees in less prison-like conditions. >> we're trying to do the best we can to move the system in a
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way that treats our detainees in a respectful way. so, there... there are areas that we need to improve on. there are areas... places that we need to continue to work towards making them better. but we're committed to doing that. it's an ongoing process, and it's something that we're going to continue. >> hinojosa: but critics say the vast network of 250 detention centers-- the fastest-growing incarceration system in the country-- will not be easy to reform. >> it's clear that when you create a detention facility that's out of the public spotlight, that's in out-of-the-way places, where lawyers don't have access to individuals who are detained there, where you have very little public scrutiny, that are privately run by government contractors, that without that public scrutiny of what goes on behind those barbed wires and those closed doors, you have the potential for enormous violations of basic rights.
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( chanting in spanish ) >> hinojosa: there are about 50 million latinos living in the us today, and obama's tough enforcement policies have deeply angered many of them on a personal level. >> somewhere in america today, there is a man missing his wife, there is a woman missing her husband, there is a destroyed family. and it doesn't have to be that way. >> hinojosa: more than half of latino voters know someone who is undocumented. more than a quarter know someone who has been detained or deported. >> ( translated ): this enforcement policy and the deportations are largely invisible to most voters, i'd say. >> it appears in the us-language media every once in a while. it's on spanish-language television all the time, all the time.
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i promise you, the sense of human cost that's resulted from this enforcement effort is very real to latino voters. >> he promised us that he was going to give us immigration reform, and what did he give us? a million people been deported. so, we're very angry, and we're locking up our votes and we're not going to give them to him unless he delivers. >> hinojosa: as a candidate, obama had been sympathetic to their cause. >> when communities are terrorized by ice immigration raids, when nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing, when people are detained without access to legal counsel, when all that's happening, the system just isn't working, and we need to change it. ( cheers and applause )
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>> hinojosa: his strategy for change wasn't really different from previous presidents. it was george w. bush's blueprint-- tough border enforcement and deportations, together with a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants already in the country. >> my administration is fully behind an effort to achieve comprehensive immigration reform... >> so, there's nothing new about the ideas that obama was proposing. he basically came into office saying, "i'm going to take something that exists, we're going to put it on the agenda, we're going to get it enacted." >> ...and not put off till a year, two years, three years, five years from now, but to start working on this thing right now. >> hinojosa: but the president's agenda was immediately overrun by more urgent priorities. >> tonight, breaking news-- the federal reserve is... >> turned out nothing happened, because the first year of the administration was spent with
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the economic crisis. >> markets fell around the globe today... >> then, we got into health care reform, and then came the 2010 elections. >> ...candidates who slammed president obama... >> and we're not going to be able to get anything like this measure through. >> ...still a very serious situation. >> hinojosa: the president said that he was going to support immigration reform in a big way in his first year, and that didn't' happen. >> well, he did support immigration reform in a big way in his first year. >> hinojosa: the reform didn't happen. >> the reform didn't happen because it requires action on the part of the congress of the united states, which did not take it up. but he's going to keep at it until we find the partners we need in the congress to get this job done. >> hinojosa: but finding partners for reform has proved impossible. >> no reform until you secure the border. >> hinojosa: republican leaders like judiciary chairman lamar smith are pressing for even tougher enforcement. >> unfortunately, the obama administration is not really enforcing the law. anyone in the country illegally that is apprehended or detained ought to be sent home, not just
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the ones who committed the most serious crimes. >> hinojosa: so, just to be clear, chairman, you believe that anyone who is in this country without papers, regardless of whether they have committed any other crime, should at some point be targeted and processed for deportation. >> unless congress is going to change the law and, say, grant amnesty to millions of people, the law should be enforced. and if you're in the country illegally, if you're apprehended, i think you ought to go home. >> ...voters fed up with illegal immigration are demanding action. >> enforce the law! >> the possibilities of comprehensive reform have dropped so drastically. i mean, no one thinks that it's likely to come anywhere close to getting enacted with the current configuration in washington. so, talking about it becomes kind of a meaningless exercise. in the meantime, however, he has continued the trajectory of aggressive enforcement.
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>> hinojosa: the president seems to have calculated that tougher enforcement might convince conservatives to support comprehensive immigration reform. but it seems now that the gop is intransigent. so, hasn't the president now basically ended up enacting the republican agenda on immigration? >> what the president is doing is enforcing the law of the land. it's a... that's our obligation as a federal government. there's no quid pro quo, there is no negotiation that has happened here. congress passes a series of laws, appropriates the funds to enforce those laws, and the executive branch's job is to enforce them. >> hinojosa: will this administration continue to oversee the deportation of 400,000 people a year? >> as long as congress gives us the money to deport 400,000 people a year, that's what the administration is going to do. >> hinojosa: that figure of 400,000 a year is a target - immigration and customst enforcement - based on the agency's annual appropriation
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from congress. >> once you tell congress a number, they're fixated on that number. so, if you were to say 400,000, well, that's etched in their minds. they're going to give you the resources to get the 400,000. but you never go back to congress and say, "oh, by the way, we weren't able to meet our goals," and then expect the next year is going to be as resourced up, if you will, as the previous year. >> hinojosa: so, in essence, in terms of ice, you want to keep your detentions as high as you possibly can because that's going to impact your budget for the next year. >> absolutely, for the next two or three years. >> hinojosa: for the next two or three years. >> right, because you're always working two or three years out. ( chanting ) >> we need you to take a stand on this program... >> hinojosa: critics say the administration doesn't have the political will to slow down the enforcement machinery at ice and reduce the damage done by secure communities. >> how many stories do you have to hear of women who call the
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police to get help and get shackled, of children who are taken from their parents...? >> hinojosa: in response, the administration has been holding listening sessions around the country, promising to review deportation cases and better focus enforcement on serious criminals. >> we come here with an unequivocal demand that you terminate this program! >> hinojosa: but president obama is not backing down on secure communities, with plans to take it nationwide. >> it's shameful, and it's shameful that it is being done by someone who was a civil rights attorney, and someone who understood grassroots communities, and someone who sold himself as part of this great american immigrant narrative. >> buenos noches... ( cheers and applause ) >> hinojosa: last spring, torres, a longtime obama supporter and informal advisor,
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reached out to her old friend at a white house reception. >> he was, you know, very nice, and greeted my husband and i, and, you know, "how are the kids," etc., etc., etc. and i just basically said, "barack, you've got to help us." and he said, "what can i do?" and i said, "you've got to stop the deportations." and he said, "it's very complicated. we've been talking about it." this is, like, a week before the el paso speech. "it's very, very complicated, and i don't want to bicker with you right now." that was it. >> hello, el paso. >> hinojosa: with an election looming, the president tried to explain his political dilemma. >> we have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. all the stuff they asked for, we've done. >> hinojosa: he said he understood the high cost of his policies.
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>> even as we recognize that enforcing the law is necessary, we don't relish the pain that it causes the lives of people who are just trying to get by and get caught up in the system. >> the trip to el paso was intended to reconnect the president to a core constituency that had become disaffected. he got about 70% of the latino vote in 2008. but the percentage of latinos saying that they're certain to vote for the president for reelection hovers in the mid-40s. now, latinos are not going to run over and vote republican. that would be out of the frying pan and into the fire, as it were. and so, the only question is turnout. are latinos so disenchanted that latino democrats might not turn out in the numbers that the president needs them to? and this could spell problems for the obama reelection campaign in very closely contested states. >> what we really need to do is to keep up the fight to pass genuine, comprehensive reform.
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that is the ultimate solution to this problem. that's what i'm committed to doing. ( applause ) >> hinojosa: recently, the administration said that, for the third year running, it expects to break records for deportations. >> yes, we can. we can do it. ( chanting ) >> next time on frontline... >> the whole house was in smoke. my little girl was calling "daddy, daddy." >> he set that fire and killed those kids. >> he wouldn't plead guilty. >> he got exactly what he deserved the day they put him to death. >> this is an accidental fire. >> fire does not lie. >> the state of texas executed a man for a crime they couldn't prove. >> "death by fire." watch frontline. >> frontline continues online... >> and we are deporting those
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who are here illegally. >> ...with more about obama's immigration policy... >> there's fear that's running through these communities. >> under obama, the numbers are significantly higher... >> it is a result of having a broken system of laws. >> interactive map of the u.s. immigration detention industry. read about allegations of sexual abuse in detention centers. watch the program online. follow frontline on facebook and twitter, or tell us what you think at >> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major funding is provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation. committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. and by reva and david logan. committed to investigative journalism as the guardian of the public interest.
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additional funding is provided by the park foundation. dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. and by the frontline journalism fund, supporting investigative reporting and enterprise journalism. captioned by media access group at wgbh >> for more on this and other frontline programs, visit our website at frontline's "lost in detention" is available on dvd.cí&m8 to order, visit or call 1-800-play-pbs.
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frontline is also available for download on itunes. turn to pbs... for stories that define the american experience. it was wild and out of control the flash apparently official revealing our strengths... it shall be called the hoover dam our struggles. he said it is madness beyond measure putting you into history... and taking you to the moment. we have a liftoff these are our stories. it's felt experience our american experience. only on pbs.
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