ICE-d Over

Homeland Security’s increased oversight may not go far enough.

Last week, President Obama's point person on illegal immigration gave new details of a planned overhaul of the nation's detention system. In a speech at the Migration Policy Institute, a D.C.-based think tank, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security John Morton said the federal government would start providing much more oversight over the private facilities that currently hold detainees—the lack of which has given the government a black eye. But he gave no indication that the government will be detaining fewer or different kinds of people. Under former President Bush, immigration authorities ramped up detentions, putting hundreds of thousands of people in jail-like facilities, even if they had lived in the U.S. most of their lives or, in a few cases, obtained American citizenship. That's still going on. Just ask Dara Kommavongsa, who was held for the past four months at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. The 37-year-old Laotian immigrant has lived legally in the U.S. since she was 8, and her father, husband, and two children are all American citizens, according to her attorney, Anthony Caso. Yet in October, immigration authorities picked her up at First Place, a Seattle school and service agency for homeless children, where her daughter attends and she works as an administrative assistant. Although she holds a green card, she is deportable because of four crimes she committed in 2003 and earlier, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Those offenses included two thefts from her employers at the time, netting $1,500 in one instance. Caso says Kommavongsa, with an infant she was struggling to support, was in desperate straits. She became homeless and spent some time living with her young daughter under an I-5 overpass. He says she has since found a job, married, and turned herself around. Sometime last year, the government sent her a notice warning her that she could be deported and ordering her to appear before an immigration judge, but she didn't receive it, Caso says. Her failure to appear caused the case to be closed and an order for her detention to be issued. Caso recently got the case reopened, and is awaiting a hearing. At press time, a judge had just granted Kommavongsa's release on a $4,000 bond, and her family was in the process of raising the money.

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