The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently filed a lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other law enforcement agencies to challenge the practice of shackling immigrants before being led into a courtroom. See “ACLU Sues ICE for Shackling Immigrants in Court”, http://www.newamericamedia.org, May 14, 2012. The lawsuit was filed on the basis that there would be an unfair perception of detained immigrants as violent criminals if they are handcuffed.
Further, the lawsuit claims that being handcuffed deprives a detainee’s rights to fair representation and equal rights while in court in that communication with their attorneys will be more difficult, and they would also deprived of the right to take any notes during their proceedings.
One of the most obvious issues with this unfair practice is that it is well-established that only violent criminals are subject to being handcuffed, so of course, there is an automatic perception that each of these immigrant detainees is comparable to a violent offender. Statistically speaking, ICE compiled evidence which shows that 95 percent of immigrant detainees do not have violent felony records.
So, why do ICE and other law enforcement agencies insist on shackling immigrant detainees where the vast majority are not violent offenders? It is for the same reason the majority of Americans who are on the other side of the immigration debate insist that immigrants in the United States without lawful status are automatically criminals, that all immigrants without status don’t pay taxes, that they don’t contribute positively to society, and that they only deplete our society of valuable resources and benefits. It is our country’s misconception that undocumented immigrants are bad people simply because they might be residing in the U.S. without legal status. And so it must also be our country’s misconception that an individual who flees horrific circumstances in their own country to seek safety and a dream in the U.S. can only be a bad person. Maybe if immigrants are shackled in the courts of our country, it will be easier for a judge, a prosecutor, a juror, and a member of the public to view them as a criminal so they can justify separating these people from their families, or sending a child back to a country he or she has not seen since before they had the ability to even form memories? It is always easier to dismiss an individual who doesn’t appear deserving of compassion – surely a person in handcuffs cannot be a hardworking father who works in a factory sixteen hours a day to support his children, so they can benefit from the educational opportunities that he never had. Right? For those who oppose the rights of immigrants in this country, it does seem the easier solution.
These are the very reasons why it is a violation of where our country’s morals should be for law enforcement agencies to paint the picture of an undocumented immigrant as an individual who is simply a hardened, dangerous criminal. A perfect example is an article where a woman was kept in handcuffs in the custody of ICE after being the victim of domestic violence in Brazil where she was bound and raped by her abusive husband and his brother. In this situation, who is the one actually engaging in the violence? Who is the one more closely associated with her violent husband in Brazil? Is it the woman who is being handcuffed in much the same manner, or is it the agency compounding the violent acts this woman suffered already? She escaped to the United States to beg for protection from a horrific situation just to walk right back into the hands of her attackers. Is that really what our country means when we insist that our immigration laws are meant to protect those that are fleeing persecution in their home countries?
We can only hope that the ACLU is successful in arguing that there is no justifiable reason for an immigrant detainee without a violent criminal record to be visibly restrained by shackles for all of the world to judge.