Monday, May 12, 2008

Big Surprise

The Washington Post is running a series on medical care in immigrant prisons: detention centers where the federal government is holding foreigners suspected of immigration violations. Guess what? The care is scandalously bad. People die in custody from health problems (83 in the last five years) or just get appalling care -- worse than dogs get at a dog pound, one nurse says.

I don't mean to make light of the Post's investigation -- the problem is scandalous, and the Post is doing a public service to report it. But what would anybody expect? Of course the health care in immigrant prisons is going to be the worst care in the country. The reason lies in simple political analysis.

There's a reason why the INS (before it became the ICE) was the most incompetent agency in the government. There's a reason why, as the Post reported way back in 1991, the line to get service at the INS office in Florida's Dade County was "the most infamous line in Florida," often requiring a wait of 12 hours just to get in the door, and sometimes stretching as much as 2 days.

The reason is: noncitizens can't vote. In a system run by elected politicians, the bloc of nonvoters is going to get the lowest priority. So of course the government agency tasked with providing services to noncitizens is going to be the worst agency there is. It's that simple.

And among citizens, which group has the least political clout? Prisoners.

So now imagine what kind of priority politicians are going to give to providing services to noncitizen prisoners.

The Post can run all the articles it wants. And it should. This is important journalism. But the situation is not going to improve.

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