Youth activists infiltrate Florida immigrant detention center, find people wrongly held

Activists with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance intentionally placed themselves in deportation proceedings in order to enter the Broward Transitional Center, an immigration detention facility in Florida -- and they say they found scores of detainees who shouldn't be there under the Obama administration's revised deportation policies.

"Our organizers inside of the detention center have discovered that the Obama administration is still deporting the same people it promises not to deport," the group said in a statement.

Beginning in June 2011, the administration ordered broader discretion in the prosecution of undocumented immigrants, with consideration to be given to age, how the person entered the country and his or her education, military service, criminal history and family circumstances. Then in June of this year, the administration extended the policy to cover undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children.

But it appears that those policies are not being applied on the ground. Over the course of the past month, seven NIYA activists who themselves are undocumented immigrants entered the facility (in photo) in an effort to organize detainees. They report finding people who should not or need not be there, including:

* people with pending applications for U visas, which give temporary legal status and work eligibility to victims of certain crimes including rape, torture, domestic violence and human trafficking;

* more than a dozen youth eligible for conditional permanent residency under the DREAM Act, federal legislation that has not yet been approved by Congress but which sets out criteria that the Obama administration says it is using in making deportation decisions;

* several cases of immigrants in need of immediate medical care, including one person with a blood clot in his leg and another with a bullet in the spine; and

* more than 60 people with no criminal record or prior deportations who are eligible for discretion under the administration's policy.

Many of the detainees have been at the facility for at least five months, with some there for as long as 20 months, the activists report. Among those involved in the undercover investigation was Viridiana Martinez, an immigration-reform activist with the North Carolina Dream Team.

A facility specifically for low-priority immigrant detainees, Broward Transitional Center is operated by the GEO Group, a private correctional services company based in Boca Raton, Fla. Formerly known as Wackenhut Corrections Corp., GEO Group receives an average of about $166 a day in tax dollars for each detainee at the Broward facility, which has a capacity of 600.

NIYA publicized the findings of its undercover investigation in a July 30 press conference held outside the office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The group is petitioning Homeland Security officials to undertake a full and immediate review of all detainees at the facility.

"NIYA will no longer allow GEO Group or other private prison corporations to profit off of shattered families and broken lives," the group said in a statement. "We will continue to organize inside their jails until the president lives up to his promises."

(Photo of Broward Transitional Center via Immigration Detention Justice Center.)