Chertoff defends immigration raids, detentions
Homeland security secretary also says border 'virtual fence' is working.
By Eunice Moscoso
The Austin American Statesman, March 6, 2008

Washington, DC -- Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Wednesday defended the federal government's treatment of legal and illegal immigrants during workplace raids and at detention facilities.

At a sometimes-contentious House hearing, Chertoff also said that the initial stage of a 'virtual fence' along the U.S border with Mexico is working, despite technical problems and other glitches that have delayed the effort.

'We have a system that is operational and has already assisted in identifying and apprehending more than 2,000 illegal aliens trying to cross the border since December,' Chertoff told the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law.

The Government Accountability Office said in a recent report that the 28-mile project is 'not an optimal system' and would need a redesign before expanding it further.

That would delay the first phase of the broader technological fence by three years, to 2011, the GAO said.

Chertoff faced questions from Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, and Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., about the treatment of children at immigrant detention facilities at the T. Don Hutto residential facility in Taylor and a smaller facility in Berka, Pa.

Sanchez said that children at the facilities had been put in cells alone for hours, awakened in the middle of the night with flashlights in their faces and threatened with being permanently separated from their parents.

Attorneys for several of the children confined at the Hutto facility contended in lawsuits that conditions there were inhumane and violated minimum standards for minors in custody. The case ended in a settlement that included new standards for the centers.

Chertoff said that he couldn't judge the conditions because he wasn't there, but that 'eventually, this was resolved to the satisfaction of the plaintiffs.'

Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., asked Chertoff to explain what it meant that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had power to 'briefly detain' people and whether that included denying them food or access to their families. Watt said this occurred last year at raids of Swift & Co. meat plants.

Chertoff said that 'no specific amount of time' has been determined by the courts as far as detention periods.

Watt also suggested that Chertoff needed more minority staff members. He pointed out that the 10 staff people with Chertoff at the hearing were white men. ... rtoff.html