Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman faced a 24-hour prayer vigil outside his office last week by members of the Congress of Day Laborers. Those keeping vigil called for an end to what protesters said was a "policy of racial profiling" within the sheriff's office and Orleans Parish Prison (OPP).
The day laborers also filed a lawsuit alleging the office routinely is "funneling immigrants into deportation" by submitting to "hold requests" from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, according to a statement from the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice. The lawsuit alleges that some individuals are detained at OPP indefinitely, based on a suspicion of illegal status in the U.S.
In actuality, the sheriff's office determines whether to hold suspected "illegal" defendants for an extra 48 hours — after which defendants are handed over to ICE or released. The suit says that two plaintiffs, Mario Cacho and Antonio Ocampo, were held unlawfully for 91 and 160 days, respectively.
After the vigil, participants marched to City Hall in anticipation of a final City Council vote on an ordinance authorizing Gusman to build a new 1,438-bed jail — but with additional provisos that the sheriff says could make construction unrealistic if not impossible. The size of the new jail, designed to replace one that was destroyed in the 2005 storm, has been a source of controversy, with Mayor Mitch Landrieu's Criminal Justice Working Group recommending a 1,438-bed prison. Gusman wants to more than double that number, a move opposed by many in the criminal justice community. For years before Katrina, OPP housed more than 7,000 prisoners, making it the largest per capita prison in the country.