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25.1.08

Immigration Detention Madness

First, a story about a man from Minnesota by way of Georgia who ICE tried to deport to Russia*, though luckily he got help from several attorneys and a reporter, who found his Minnesota birth certificate in minutes. If someone ever made a serious effort at deporting the 12 million or so undocumented people, I wonder just how many citizens would find themselves ejected. (Disclosure: my wife was one of the attorneys in question.)

Second, a long post by XicanoPwr (which I admit I haven't finished yet -- it's pretty information-dense) about the privatization of the immigration detention system.

Third, a post by brownfemipower about how borders and distance are used to break down communities, and hence undercut the ability to resist violence either from outside or from within the group. She doesn't explicitly address the detention system, but it makes a good example. My wife once said that she heard about a seminar for nonprofits on building relationships with the wider community, and she said "in immigration detention work, we don't have a wider community -- our clients are a miscellany of people whose friends and family are scattered all over the country." In the US today, imprisonment has been nationalized** -- that is, you don't necessarily go to the prison nearest to where you live or allegedly did something wrong. The Florence, Arizona detention centers house plenty of people who were picked up for immigration violations in Boston. Eloy, Arizona recently completed a new prison specifically for people serving criminal sentences from Alaska and Hawaii.

Even if you accept the principle that it's OK to put people behind bars as a punishment or to prevent them from absconding, it's still detrimental for those bars to be on the opposite side of the country from the inmate/detainee's family and community. For people serving sentences, being jailed close to your community means loved ones can visit you, contributing to your own mental health as well as the maintenance of your ties to the community, which in turn make it more likely that you'll be re-integrated into society upon your release. For detainees, the distance is a critical factor in whether you can win your case. Winning an immigration case is hugely dependent on support from people on the outside who can organize documents and testify (the huge role of the judge's discretion means having your family and other supporters there in person makes a great difference). It puts a high burden on detainees' families who may spend a thousand dollars to come to the hearing in person, only to find that it's postponed at the last minute because, for example, ICE hasn't read its own documents yet. I don't have any documentation of particular instances, but I would be very surprised if ICE did not at least occasionally transfer a detainee to a facility in another state in order to disrupt that person's access to legal aid. And even when a person is let out, they're often just dumped -- with nothing more than the clothes on their back -- at the Tucson bus station in the middle of the night.

*Which I suppose is better than one Colorado prison he spent time in, whose records say he's being sent to "the Soviet Union." I didn't know you could be deported through time as well as through space.

**I imagine it's only a matter of time before imprisonment is fully globalized. As little as CCA and Geo pay their guards in the US, I'm sure they could find cheaper labor abroad. Heck, I'm told in Haiti they don't even feed their prisoners, so that would save big bucks.

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