Immigration Detention Centers, By Any Other Name, Are Still Detention Centers

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There is this famous saying in my country that is roughly translated to English as “the longer the chains of the shackle are, the more unchained the captive is made to believe.” Or perhaps something like, “the longer one’s chains are, the more unconfined the captive believes to be.”

This post is not meant to familiarize you with the witty adages of my community but to reference all the talks about Biden’s so-called reinvention of the migrant detention centers and curfew projects that are being christened as Alternative to Detention Programs. 

Long or short, a chain is still a chain.

Let me start this message by saying that immigration detention by any other name is still a detention center.

Known for their appalling settings where a culture of abuse and cruelty permeates. No reinvention or renaming of detention can truly change or transform what actually transpires and takes place within the walls of the centers. Immigration policies must be based on values of dignity and humanity for all are pursued and enacted, putting an end to the funding of facilities that serve inhumane and egregious treatment of immigrants fleeing harm and danger. You can’t round up migrants fleeing harm and violence and apprehend them to keep detaining them at centers that strip their human rights and dignities while exposing them to more trauma and mistreatment. All the while, separating them from their loved ones but still publicizing and campaigning for immigration and detention reforms.

Alternatives to detention programs are overly intrusive and dehumanizing, robbing immigrants, who waded the waters and crossed borders in search of safety, of their dignities. No matter where someone comes from or how they arrive in the United States, their life is of value and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Time and again, it has been proven that liberal reforms do not keep detentions and the enforcements that run them from harming and abusing people– Black and brown people in particular. Such structures rooted in slavery and anti-Blackness and their institutionalization by decades of racist immigration policy and border militarization must be overhauled by repurposing the astronomical funding in alternatives and community proposed and based programs that actually make the Black and brown communities safer. But this reform would need efforts cemented in deeds and actions more than just a change in names.

There are approximately 200 detention facilities. Their design and operationality meant to garner notoriety for its harshness and instill fear in the minds of the detained and anyone outside the compound and beyond the border—used to detain immigrants and asylum seekers in the United States. These facilities are detention centers operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement popularly known as ICE, private contractors, and local county jails with active 287(g) agreements. The program allows state and local police officers to collaborate with the federal government to enforce federal immigration laws. If state and local police officers are assisting the ICE and other border control officers in restraining and arrests, it is not hard to recapitulate which race and group of people will be disproportionally targeted and are subjected to the funneling of the ‘prison to detention’ pipeline that feeds the deportation and removal proceedings. 

Black immigrants are more likely to be detained and deported than any other immigrant group; Black migrants are most likely to be detained at significantly higher bonds than migrants of other groups. On average, Black migrants serve the longest length of time in detention and are six times more likely to be placed into solitary confinement solely because the U.S. immigration system is a reflection of the anti-Blackness and racism that runs rampant in the criminal justice system in the U.S.

Hate is being sponsored by the ‘othering’ of immigrants.

According to the USA Today investigation in December 2019, “more than 400 allegations of sexual assault or abuse, inadequate medical care, regular hunger strikes, frequent use of solitary confinement, more than 800 instances of physical force against detainees, nearly 20,000 grievances filed by detainees and at least 29 fatalities, including seven suicides.”

The aim should be to go all the way and work to eradicate such harmful and punitive measures that have been on works and perpetrated on this country through the agenda of hate, fear, anti-Blackness and division – specifically to the immigrant population. The Biden administration has the insight to right the wrongs that have been committed under the pretexts of keeping America safe. His administration should start by putting an end to the sharing of information and resources between the local and state enforcement and ICE. Closing the doors, persecuting immigrants and harsh treatments of immigrants fleeing violence, harm, danger, persecution, poverty, famine and natural disasters is not only abhorrent but should be a crime.

Even in the midst of a global pandemic, ICE and CBP have been actively involved in incarcerating children, pregnant women, separating families and deporting and expulsion of hundreds of Black immigrants. Last year Black-led immigration movements and allies woke up to the news of death flights taking hundreds of Black immigrants back to the places they fled from during the first day of Black History Month. The flurry of these death flights continued throughout the month and the year.

It is still happening as you read this.    

As the country is getting back to rebuild, it is critical to ground immigration policy in human rights while we refocus our funding into prioritizing institutions which actually create safe, healthy, communities – like education, healthcare, jobs and infrastructure improvements. Resources that can help everyone and end immigration detention and family separations to allow the immigrant community to be welcomed to their own communities.  It’s about high time Biden puts action to his promises to promote both radical and transformative racial justice. As it stands now, people are dying in ICE and CBP custody, migrants are perishing in the desert, children are being detained in camps, families are separated and toddlers are suffering. The images of those horse-mounted U.S. Border Patrol agents with whips driving Haitian migrants away from U.S. territory in Del Rio, Texasare still fresh in our minds. This routine and egregious abuse of basic human rights needs to be entirely abolished not renamed or rebranded.

This is to say that such deep-rooted and deeply ingrained practices cannot be overhauled with a mere name change; immigration detention by any other name is still detention.

Words By: Bethelhem T. Negash, Media Engagement Specialist, UndocuBlack Network

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