Discussion Guide

INTRODUCTION

PDF
Download the Discussion Guide PDF
(13 MB)

The "End Homeland Guantanamos" Discussion Guide is intended as a tool to facilitate discussion around the violations of due process and human rights that exist in immigration detention in the United States.

The Guide contains two sections:

  1. We examine five real life detainee stories featured in "End Homeland Guantanamos" to reveal diverse human rights violations that form the basis of discussion questions.
  2. We give a basic do it yourself overview on hosting a discussion or event using "End Homeland Guantanamos" as a theme, and incorporating the above exercises.

Why you should care

The US government now detains close to 300,000 immigrants a year, more than three times the number from nine years ago. Detainees are held in the 400-plus immigrant detention centers across the country, run by the Department of Homeland Security.

There have been records of 87 men and women that have died in detention from March 2003 to August of this year recorded by the Washington Post and the New York Times1. Nearly 40% of these deaths have happened under questionable circumstances.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for immigrant detention, is not required to publicly report deaths, and it isn't known if a proper investigation takes place with regard to the deaths. ICE has 38 detention standards that include guidelines for proper medical care, but they are not legally binding and cannot be enforced.

The root of the problem lies in the laws. Current immigration laws have greatly expanded the types of crimes for which legal and undocumented immigrants are being detained and deported without due process and human rights. This includes minor crimes that do not generally carry jail time. And because the laws for detention and deportation are mandatory, judges' hands are tied by the laws, which do not allow them to consider the circumstances of each case. Moreover, these laws affect all immigrants: legal permanent residents, those fleeing persecution, students and undocumented people.

When we let the government deny due process and human rights for some people, we put all of our freedoms at risk.

SECTION I - REAL LIFE DETAINEE STORIES

Story: Boubacar Bah

Boubacar Bah was an immigrant from Guinea who lived in the United States for 10 years. He was a well-known tailor in the West African community who was dedicated to supporting his family in Guinea. When his application for a green card was submitted, Mr. Bah took the opportunity to visit his family in Guinea. He was ill advised that it would not be a problem for him to re-enter the country. However, upon his arrival in New York, he was arrested at the airport and informed that his green card application had been denied. He was sent to a privately run immigration detention in New Jersey.

Unlike others in detention, Mr. Bah had an extensive network of friends and family who visited him and a lawyer to advocate on his behalf. However, when he was involved in a mysterious accident, which went untreated and was perhaps aggravated by guards, supervisors, government medical employees and federal immigration officers, no one from his family was notified for five days. He never awoke from a coma and died in custody four months later.

Human rights violated in this story:

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Article 10, All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

Explanation: This article of the ICCPR (a convention to which the United States is a states party) stipulates that all people who are incarcerated have the right to protection from the state and must be treated humanely. However, the guards' log that provides sketchy details of Mr. Bah's treatment in the 12 hours after his fall leaves little doubt that he was neglected. Instead of receiving critical medical care that could have saved his life, as a punishment, Mr. Bah was placed in solitary confinement where his condition worsened.

UDHR: Article 9, No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Explanation: Mr. Bah was not a criminal. He had never been convicted of a crime and was a productive member of society. He believed that his green card application would be approved and was advised that he would be able to re-enter the United States. Instead, when he arrived, he was detained in a windowless detention center, even though immigration violations are civil, and not criminal offenses. Despite the fact that officials had no reason to believe that he posed a risk to society, he remained detained indefinitely with no access to bail. The arrest and detention of non-criminals is a violation of human rights. It is made worse when they are treated as criminals, denied access to legal advice, and held indefinitely.

Discussion Questions:

  1. After Mr. Bah collapsed and injured his head, he was taken to the medical unit moaning, vomiting, and incoherent. Despite the fact that these are signs of intracranial bleeding, he was pinned to the floor and handcuffed "to prevent injury." He was then placed in solitary confinement as a punishment for disobeying orders. The Public Health Service runs the medical facility at the Elizabeth Detention Center.

    When Mr. Bah died four months later, his most fundamental right, the right to life, had been violated. Who was responsible for violating this right? Who was complicit in the violations?

  2. Human rights law recognizes that the family unit is to be protected and valued by the state. Yet, Mr. Bah's family, who had visited him regularly in detention, was not notified of his hospitalization for five days. When Mr. Bah died four months later, no one that was close to him, not his wives nor his children, had been able to communicate with him.

    In denying the family vital information about Mr. Bah's health status, whose rights were violated? What is the State's responsibility in communicating with detainee's families about health and security information? What is the State's responsibility in informing them about legal information and transfers between facilities?

^ Back to the top

Video Story: Warren Joseph

Warren Joseph emigrated from Trinidad to the United States in 1987 with a green card. Only six months after immigrating, Mr. Joseph joined the US Armed Forces and served for eight years, including duty in the first Gulf War. He considered himself American and applied twice for citizenship but never received a reply to his case. After returning to Brooklyn, Mr. Joseph - like many veterans - suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He turned himself in to authorities for transporting weapons across state borders, believing that this would get him the help that he needed. After completing his term, instead of being released, Mr. Joseph was shocked when immigration officials detained him pending deportation because he was not a US citizen.

Mr. Joseph remained in custody for three years where he encountered serious physical and psychological abuse from immigration officers and jail officials. Finally, a court ruled that Mr. Joseph's charge was not an aggravated felony, and therefore, not an immigration offense, so he was finally released. For Mr. Joseph, it was hard to forget those three years in detention - far longer than the six-month jail time he originally served.

Human rights violated in this story:

UDHR: Article 7, All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Explanation: Warren Joseph was victim to an immigration loophole known as "double jeopardy", which violates the basic human right of equal treatment before the law. His original sentence was four years probation for transporting weapons across state lines. When he broke probation by moving without informing the authorities (he moved in from his house to his mothers because of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), he was sentenced to six months in jail, which he served. However, upon his release, he was arrested and incarcerated for three additional years in detention. Because this was far more time than a citizen would have served, the State violated the provision that all people are entitled to equal protection before the law.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Article 12, The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Explanation: Upon returning from war, Mr. Joseph suffered severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but never received treatment. In fact, he didn't even know where to go to receive help. He is not alone. The United States government violates the human rights of many returned armed service men and women by not providing adequate treatment for mental and physical ailments that result from their service. Moreover, Mr. Joseph witnessed serious psychological and physical abuse while in detention which also violates this right.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When Mr. Joseph was transferred to immigration detention, he was very confused and had no one to advise him on the situation of his arrest or his charges. He says:

    "Now the first month, the first two months in immigration detention was horrible. I had problems. I had to tell my family to let them know what was going on. I had to try to sort out and deal with what was going on and wasn't given no type of counseling. They do not allow us lawyers or anything like that, so it was very difficult for me to first try to understand what was taking place, you know."

    What basic human rights were violated for Mr. Joseph when he was arrested and put in immigration detention? Was he given access to an attorney? Why is this right so important to people who are detained?

  2. After serving eight years in the Armed forces, including service in the first Gulf War, Mr. Joseph returned to Brooklyn, New York suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, hearing loss, depression, and other war ailments. He never received support for this condition and, desperate for help, turned himself into the police for a non-violent crime.

    Did Mr. Joseph make the right decision in going to the police for help? Do you think the United States Armed Forces provides adequate rehabilitation support to former soldiers?

^ Back to the top

Video Story: Ali

Mr. Ali was born in Pakistan, a country where the rights of gay people are frequently violated. Coming to terms with his sexual identity was difficult for Mr. Ali who came to find freedom in the United States. As a green card holder for many years, he never imagined that he could end up detained and potentially deported for a minor crime. The year that he spent in detention was agonizing because Mr. Ali felt constantly pressured to hide his gay identity and HIV-positive status. He observed that those who were openly gay were treated differently by both inmates and corrections officers. Worse still, Mr. Ali was denied life saving HIV medication, having to call on his attorney to speak on his behalf. As a result of legal services provided by an advocacy group, Immigration Equality, Mr. Ali was able to avoid deportation based on his sexual orientation, which has allowed him to remain in the United States freely. No reparations have been paid for his lost time and suffering.

Human rights violated in this story:

UDHR: Article 3, Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Explanation: In detention, Mr. Ali was denied adequate health care that is critical for people who are HIV-positive. As a result, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for his detention, denied his basic right to security. When he advocated for proper medical care, putting himself at risk by admitting that he was HIV-positive, doctors resisted ordering the important medications. On one occasion, a doctor at the New Jersey detention center told him that the medications were, "too expensive". Another time, when he requested essential blood work, the doctor replied that they didn't have time for it.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): Article 10, All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

Explanation: Mr. Ali, as a gay man, feared for his life in detention. To protect himself he had to change who he was and live a different life. He said, "if they find out you're a gay man, everybody is pushing you, even the staff, the correction officer". The ICCPR is a part of US human rights law. By not ensuring that all detainees are treated equally and humanely, the government is not meeting its international human rights commitments.

Discussion Questions:

    1. With the help of Immigration Equality (www.immigrationequality.org), a national organization that fights for the equal immigration rights of gay, lesbian, transgender and HIV-positive immigrants, Mr. Ali was able to stay in the United States and avoid deportation to Pakistan where he faced persecution. However, this was achieved after spending a year in detention. Make a list of costs that Mr. Ali incurred while in prison and a list of costs that were incurred by society to keep Mr. Ali incarcerated for over a year (don't forget opportunity costs2). Who do you think should incur these costs and why? Should Mr. Ali be compensated for what he lost while in detention?
    2. Article 9 of the ICCRP guarantees, "Anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention shall have an enforceable right to compensation." Does this apply to Mr. Ali?
  1. Mr. Ali felt that he couldn't let the inmates or staff know of his sexual preference or his HIV-positive status. Other then gay men, who else (or what other group of people) might feel at risk because of their minority status? What should detention centers do to protect these people?

^ Back to the top

Video Story: Juana Villegas

Juana Villegas and her family suffered some of the worst human rights violations when Ms. Villegas was arrested for "careless driving" for which she was eventually proven innocent. She spent six days in detention during which time she gave birth to a son while shackled to a hospital bed. She was barred from seeing or speaking with her husband and she was not allowed to see her newborn for two days.

Ms. Villegas was arrested in Tennessee where 287(g), a pact between local police and federal immigration, gives Nashville officials the ability to screen foreign-born inmates at their arrest and provide any information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The program has been sold as a way to remove dangerous immigrant criminals. However, many believe that it has increased racial profiling of immigrants and given officers the authority to treat foreign-born people differently from citizens before the law. The danger of this policy is clear in Ms. Villegas' case.

Human rights violated in this story:

UDHR: Article 16, (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Explanation: The treatment that Ms. Villegas, her children and husband received during her arrest and detention are in direct violation of this important article of the UDHR. Not only did her three older children have to undergo the traumatic experience of witnessing their mother being wrongfully arrested, post-arrest no one in the family was able to communicate with Ms. Villegas about her progress in delivering her baby. In addition, the father of Juana's newborn baby was not only denied the opportunity to be involved in his son's birth; he wasn't even informed that his wife had gone into labor.

Convention on the Rights of the Child3: Article 9, States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from her parents, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.

Explanation: When Ms. Villegas was discharged from the hospital, she was returned to the county jail as a medium security inmate while her two-day old nursing baby was sent home. At a time when baby and mother are building a crucial bond, State authorities violated the child's fundamental right and separated him from his mother. To make matters worse, the separation was extended because she languished in the jail over Independence Day weekend and so was unable to access a hearing during that time.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States held that "the Constitution protects the sanctity of the family precisely because the institution of the family is deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition." In separating the Villegas family, taking a newborn baby away from his mother, and preventing a father from supporting his wife through childbirth, were the rights of this family protected? Is this in agreement with US law and/or human rights law?
  2. In Davidson Country, Tennessee, where Ms. Villegas was arrested, a 287(g) agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement gives immigration enforcement powers to local officers who have completed a four week training course, are US citizens, have two years experience, and have no disciplinary actions pending. So far, 62 police forces have 287(g) agreements with ICE and the program has identified more than 65,000 individuals, "mostly in jails", who are suspected of being in the country illegally4.

    Are there benefits to local authorities being empowered to enforce immigration law? Are there potential pitfalls? As a result of 287(g), how were Ms. Villegas' rights violated?

  3. According to international human rights principles, inmates should only be restrained if they are trying to escape or if they may injure themselves or someone else. Ms. Villegas was never violent with officers and posed no risk, but was still shackled to her bed through the initial stages of labor and only unshackled two hours before giving birth. The nurse attending the birth objected to this treatment repeatedly, suggesting that it would be extremely uncomfortable and dangerous for the baby.

    As a result of the violations in this case, human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have demanded that guidelines for the treatment of pregnant and birthing inmates be changed. If you were in charge of writing more humane guidelines for the Department of Corrections, what suggestions would you make to protect the human rights of women who give birth while incarcerated5?

^ Back to the top

Video Story: Agatha Joseph

Agatha Joseph, a native of St. Lucia, came to the United States in 1986 to build her life here. She eventually brought her two daughters who are green card holders. When her daughter returned from vacation to Saint Lucia, she was detained for three years and faced mandatory deportation because of a prior marijuana violation for which she paid a fine. As an active member of Families for Freedom, a New York based multi-ethnic network by and for immigrants facing deportation, Ms. Joseph spent years fighting for her daughters' release and eventually won her case.

Human rights violated in this story:

UDHR: Article 7, All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Explanation: For US born people, the punishment for first-time possession of marijuana would be a fine or a slap on the wrist. Agatha's daughter, because of her status as a legal resident (not yet a US citizen), was punished twice for the crime of possession of marijuana: the first was only a $50 fine, but the second, much harsher punishment was deportation. This is not equality before the law and is a violation of her basic human rights.

UDHR: Article 9, No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Explanation: For Agatha's daughter, detention was cruel and unnecessary for a misdemeanor offense. Detention, when necessary, needs to happen as a result of a fair trial and conviction. When an immigrant is detained, the arrest and holding must happen in a humane and respectful way. Immigration detention should not be punitive.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Agatha's daughter would have been deported to a country she hadn't grown up in for "smoking a joint" with a group of friends, a misdemeanor crime for which she had already received a punishment. Was Agatha's daughter going to receive the same treatment that a US citizen would have received for committing this crime? Why or why not? Would the punishment (permanent exile in a country she was not familiar with) fit the misdemeanor crime?
    1. Read article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). What does this article say about legal proceedings? Based on the words of the Covenant, what treatment should immigrants receive before the law?
    2. As a States Party to the ICCPR, is the United States upholding its human rights commitments? Why or why not?

^ Back to the top

SECTION II - Do It Yourself Workshop or Event

The release of the multi-media experience "End Homeland Guantanamos" provides an opportunity to teach about the unjust treatment of immigrants who are detained and abused on US soil. Use this website to help you inspire action in your community group, school, or among your peers, by hosting a workshop event to inform people of this critical problem.

What?

Your event can take many forms. It is most important that you gather a group of people who can participate in the multi-media experience. After that you can lead a discussion about the human rights of detainees as a group (use the discussion guide!), and then provide attendees with a simple way to take action.

You may want to host the event at a local library or school with access to a bank of computers so that everyone can experience the activity simultaneously. Alternatively, use an LCD projector and your computer to collectively watch the videos and solve the mystery. A more intimate option is to have a small group gather around one computer to experience the web-based experience.

Finally, if you don't have access to a space with a live computer connection, use the group gathering to read an article and discuss the relevant issues. Once the attendees understand the issues, provide the link to the "End Homeland Guantanamos" site by email. Before the meeting ends, schedule a follow-up meeting when you can take action.

Who?

You need to get a group together, but who should you invite? The important thing is that you have a balance of people who care about the issue and those that might be aware of the injustices. Think broadly and creatively.

Here are some ideas of places to start:

  • Invite friends, family, students from local schools, and people from religious communities.
  • Reach out to clubs, sports teams and your neighbors. You may look to local action groups that have an affinity with you (political, environmental, and anti-poverty groups) and ask if they would be willing to distribute to their network.
  • Use social networking sites to get the word out about the event!

When?

To get people to your event, you need a "hook". Some of the best hooks are news item or larger events like elections or the passing of bills that are related to immigration. If you are working with students, use the social studies curriculum to find the hook to human rights and immigration.

To choose the best time for an event, you will need to stay informed of the current immigration issues. You can do this by signing up for RSS feed alerts with your local paper or joining immigrant rights list-serves.

Make sure to hold the event in the evening or on the weekend so that you are sure to get a large group.

Where?

It doesn't really matter! The important thing is that it is a comfortable gathering of people so that you can focus on your discussion about detention and human rights.

You could host it at the local public library or a school. How about your living room or a local church? You can even contact restaurants and coffee shops and see if they would be interested in hosting the event. The important things to remember are:

  • Make sure the location is convenient to public transportation.
  • Check to see what the technological capacity is. Are there computers on site?
  • Choose a place that is familiar to your intended audience. If you have a multi-denomination group of youth who will be attending, they may be alienated if you hold the event at a church. Similarly, if you are drawing from people in your community, make sure to hold the event there.

How?

  1. Choose a date and secure a location (1 month before).
  2. Make a list of people and groups that might be interested (3 weeks before).
  3. Design an invitation/draft an email or an evite (3 weeks before).
  4. Send out invitations/post signs about the event (2 weeks before).
  5. Plan your agenda- find articles, invite speakers, familiarize yourself with the website(2 weeks before).
  6. Re-send invitation (1 week before).
  7. Print and photocopy materials for the event. (5 days before).
  8. Call invitees for confirmation of attendance (4 days before).
  9. Go to location and check to make sure that the technology works properly (1 day before).
  10. Send reminder (1 day before).

Take Action: Follow-up

Use the "End Homeland Guantanamos" Take Action at www.homelandgitmo.com to help generate some doable next steps for you and your group to participate in.

^ Back to the top

Notes

^ Back to the top