Opinion

Profiting from immoral immigrant detention should be illegal

A photo illustration of a young boy in immigration custody. (Image: Suzanne Tucker, via Shutterstock)

As our country bears witness to the horrific attacks and reckless hate unleashed against immigrants, we must find truth and power in the basic principles of solidarity and justice. This begins with the simple premise that defending our values starts at home, and California is home to more immigrants than any state in the Union. Any confrontation with injustice against immigrants must necessarily hold accountable the institutions that perpetuate oppression.

The most logical starting point is to end private detention.

The United States is home to the largest immigrant detention system in the world, a cruel arm of the broader system of mass incarceration, which has long devastated communities of color.The most recent effort to expand this perverse apparatus was put on full display last week by Trump’s newly announced regulations, which would end protections for migrant children that have existed for decades and place migrant families in indefinite detention.

Separating or indefinitely detaining families is wrong. And profiting off of such injustices is reprehensible.

The majority of people in immigration detention are held at for-profit detention facilities. Disturbingly, private prison stocksincreased 100% after the last Presidential election.

Immigrant detention stands as the largest impediment to human rights and access to legal representation in our immigration system.

I know this because I have spent more than a decade as a deportation defense attorney fighting to free asylum seekers from detention and reunify families separated by ICE. That is why I have joined a coalition of activists, attorneys, organizers and impacted community members to support AB 32, a bill that would end all for-profit detention in California.

As immigration detention rates skyrocket in the United States and across the globe, we must challenge the morality and legitimacy of the walls being erected around us. These facilities operate with little transparency or accountability, and view the individuals in custody as nothing more than commodities.

Our national conscience has been scarred by images of makeshift concentration camps. Mine was scarred long ago when my pleas for mental health services for a young client went unanswered and he attempted suicide in a Sacramento facility, when a young mother was refused appropriate medical care for over a year while detained in Richmond only to be later diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and when I consoled a father in tears who met his 6 month old child for the first time while shackled in an immigration courtroom in San Francisco. Why? Because he fled his home country to save himself and his pregnant wife’s life.

All of these injustices are rooted in one simple truth: separating or indefinitely detaining families is wrong. And profiting off of such injustices is reprehensible.

Private detention also retraumatizespeople who come to this country fleeing persecution and seeking freedom, as well as those who have called our state home for many years. They also faceforced labor and conditions which amount to torture. Our moral indignation to the concept of private detention quickly rises to the level of outrage when corporations are yielding billions in profit from this entire operation.

And as the insatiable appetite for profits grows, other communities are also at risk of being further targeted, criminalized, and dehumanized.

To be sure, the deep injustice of mass incarceration is not limited to private detention. But ending private detention is one important step toward a future where we invest in community – and don’t put our fellow human beings in cages.

And the time to act is now. History has shown what can take place when we authorize and incentivize the development of a national infrastructure to arrest, transport and detain mass populations. When the history of this dark moment is told, I pray we look back with resolution that we did everything in our power to protect and stand up for the rights of all people.

Editor’s Note: Jackie Gonzalez, a deportation defense attorney, is the policy director for the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice.


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