Posts Tagged ‘Immigrant Detention’

The Age of Crimmigration is Upon Us: Latinos New Majority-In Federal Prisons

February 19, 2009

A Rising Share:  Hispanics and Federal Crime

A recently released report provides another startling indicator of how Latino demographics are being used to lead the United States into a new age, the Age of Crimmigration. Produced by the Pew Hispanic Center, the report found that Latinos are now the largest single ethnic group in the federal prison system.

Fueled, in large part, by changes to immigration law that have multiplied exponentially the ways in which undocumented immigrants can be prosecuted and jailed as criminals, the new Latino federal prison majority documented in the report provides definitive proof of the “crimmigration” thesis developed by legal scholars like Juliet Stumpf of the Lewis and Clark Law School in Oregon. Stumpf’s groundbreaking paper, “The Crimmigration Crisis: Immigrants, Crime, & Sovereign Power,” predicted how a lethal combination of forces-changes to immigration laws, political shifts, intensified prosecution and enforcement – would lead to what she called, in 2006, “the most important development in immigration law today: the convergence of immigration and criminal law.” On a less legalistic level,the news of the new Latino federal prison majority also means the convergence of hundreds of thousands of the poor white, black and Latino families in terms of their dealings with a prison system fed increasingly with immigrant bodies. Nearly half of all Latino offenders were convicted of immigration-related crimes, crimes that only became crimes as a result of relatively new sentencing laws and policies.

Although normalized over the course of several years by a confluence of separate but symbiotic interests – opportunistic politicians (Republican and Democrat), nationalistic and race-baiting media personalities, multi-billion dollar security and prison-industrial interests, “immigrant rights advocates” (and the major foundations that fund and legitimate them) promoting “smart” & “tough” immigration policies in exchange for legalization for 12 million undocumented-the immigrant=criminal axiom is, in legal terms, a relatively recent historical development. And it will likely worsen without major mobilizations from below.

As the new Latino federal prison majority overtakes the sizeable populations of whites and African Americans in federal facilities, it should be noted that the criminalization of immigrants and immigration policy described by the crimmigration thesis comes as an extension of previous legal and other institutional practices. For example, the exponential increase in laws facilitating the mass incarceration of mostly Latino migrants appears to follow the same pattern and logic that led to the exponential increase in the disproportionate drug sentencing laws and policies that led to the mass incarceration of African and other, mostly poor Americans. Without radical intervention from below or a definitive change of heart from above- or both, immigration laws will join drug laws as the drivers of the prison system in the Obama era.

Latinos already account for 40 percent of those convicted of federal crimes, a percentage that has doubled from 1991 to 2007 (see chart below). And, according to this report in the New York Times, “Of Latino federal offenders, 72 percent are not United States citizens and most were sentenced in courts from one of the four states that border Mexico.” (contd. below chart)

(from NY Times)


Because crimmigration combines two political third rails -criminal justice and immigrant rights-, legal reform, enforcement and prosecution and detention issues in immigration policy have been and may continue to be largely ignored by elected officials and other policy influentials. That candidate and now President Obama and his allies have remained largely silent on the crisis of incarceration and criminal justice in black and Latino communities does not bode well for the “hope” that the Obama administration will be willing to take on powerful lobbies of the fast growing immigration prison-industrial complex: aerospace, surveillance and prison-building industries like Halliburton and Boeing, prison guard unions (whose fasest-growing group are Latino prison guards), and super predatory private prison management firms like GEO. Soon, we will likely see increasing numbers of immigrants themselves joining the ranks of those profiting from mass imprisonment of immigrants.

But, if there’s an opportunity to be found (and there always is) in the cloudy complexities of crimmigration policy it is the realization that the silver lining is actually and truly black and brown. Growing Latino majorities in the already overcrowded federal penitentiary system are nothing if not an unprecedented opportunity to create a visionary, mass-based movement of blacks and Latinos and others committed to ending the disgrace that makes us the largest carcereal country on earth. Rather than operate piecemeal and in separate silohs, criminal justice and immigrant detention activists can together lead a powerful movement the likes of which this country has never seen. Crimmigration represents as much a historic opportunity as it does a great danger in times of economic and political crisis.

The Guantanamization of Immigrant Detention

June 18, 2008

Imran Ahmad (a pseudonym), a 29 year-old Pakistani computer scientist who can see the Statue of Liberty from his studio apartment in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, says he no longer believes in the symbol of freedom cast in copper. “Freedom is relative. It depends on things like where you’re from and what you look like” says Ahmad. He reached this conclusion, he says, because of what happened to him as a orange-uniformed detainee held for more than 3 years in numerous federal detention facilities: the denial of habeas corpus (his constitutional right to plead his case before a judge), facing growling dogs, watching friends languish and die while in custody, the “subtle torture” of living for months in a tiny, windowless white room while a nearby TV set blared American Idol or “24.”

After a fellow detainee died under mysterious circumstances, which were covered up by detention facility authorities, Ahmad says he was threatened with lines like “We don’t want you to tell or speak to anyone about this” and “We have cameras and people [detainees] who are watching you, monitoring you.” Though Ahmad was released, he is still in deportation proceedings.

Ahmad’s story will not shock anyone familiar with stories of death, violence and other abuse coming out of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other offshore military detention facilities holding men in orange prison uniforms. But what makes his story noteworthy is that it reflects how many of these same offshore practices are now being perpetrated against detainees held within the borders of the United States: the hundreds of thousands of immigrants held in one of the growing number of detention facilities run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), the most militarized branch of the U.S. government besides the Pentagon.

To protest what they consider the increasingly cruel and inhuman conditions and practices in the ICE detention facilities, Ahmad and thousands of activists are organizing the Night of 1000 Conversations, a series of vigils, town halls, house meetings and other events which will take place in over 250 towns and cities across the country on June 19th .

Among the principal concerns to be discussed during the nationwide events are what critics say, is nothing less than a “Guantanamization” of migrant detention within the borders of the United States: death, abuse and neglect at the hands of detention facility guards (many of whom are former military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan); the prolonged and indefinite detention of thousands including children and families denied due process and other fundamental rights as they languish in filthy, overcrowded and extremely unhealthy facilities; orange-uniformed detainees sedated with psychotropic drugs, attacked by growling dogs and physically and sexually abused by guards; multi-million government contracts for prison construction and management given to high-powered, military industrial and prison industrial giants like Halliburton and the Utah-based Management and Training Corporation, whose former director set up the infamous Abu Ghraib detention facility.

Jamil Dakwar, director of the Human Rights Division of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is currently at Guantanamo, outside one of the notorious Military Commission hearings created as a result of the recently rescinded (but still being implemented) law that denied the right to habeas corpus to both military and immigrant facility detainees. Dakwar sees clearly how detention practices on the island have now crept onto detention facilities on the mainland. “The general lack of accountability and oversight, the secrecy, the lack of respect for human dignity for persons held in military and immigration facilities, the lack of legally binding standards regulating treatment of persons in both (military and immigrant) facilities—all of this leads to the abuses we’re now seeing in both” said Dakwar, adding, “In cases of people who die while in custody, for example, the government makes it extremely difficult to impossible to find out who is responsible for conditions that lead to the killing or other loss of life.”

For her part, Dakwar’s ALCU colleague, Amrit Singh, a staff attorney who has worked on different cases involving people detained by the Pentagon in Guantanamo and people held in ICE detention facilities believes that “Noncitizen detainees at home and abroad are part of the same continuum of mistreatment. The dogs used on detainees in the New Jersey [immigrant] detention facilities look very similar to the dogs used on detainees in Abu Ghraib and Iraq.”

In the case of both the military and immigrant detention facilities, says Singh, the Bush Administration has used national security imperatives to deny many of the Freedom of Information Act requests she and her colleagues have filed in their efforts to find out things like how people are being treated in detention, under what conditions did detainees die and what kind of medical treatment they are receiving. Asked about progress towards answering these and other questions, Singh responded, “The answer to these questions are still not being made available to us.”

The connections between abuse and death in military and immigration facilities has also caught the eye of the international community. Singh, Darwit and some of the groups and individuals participating in the Night of 1000 Conversations, will be submitting testimony to a United Nations Special Rapporteur who, in the next two weeks, will visit several U.S. cities as he investigates deaths in both overseas detention facilities and in U.S. prisons and immigration detention facilities.

And, as he prepares to take part in the Night of 1000 Conversations, former detainee Ahmad says he will raise his voice to educate people about what he sees as the primary cause of the abuses he saw while in detention, “Creating guilty people and detention are all about war. I will tell people about how all those arrests, all that abuse are all about war, a war on immigrants.”

NPR-Latino USA Commentary: On the Need to Destroy Juan Crow

May 24, 2008

Latino USA Globe

Thanks to Maria Hinojosa, Mincho Jacob and the folks at NPR’s Latino USA for letting me record this call to action disguised as a commentary:

NPR Latino USA Commentary

Immigrant Detainees Killed by Neglect and by Juan Crow

May 12, 2008

(Guinean immigrant Boubacar Bah in ICE custody before dying in that same bed)

Immigrants held in immigration detention facilities are not just suffering and dying because of the bad management documented so thoroughly in recent stories by the New York Times, the Washington Post and on 60 Minutes; they’re suffering and dying because the situation of undocumented in the U.S. bears more than a passing resemblance to that of African-Americans dehumanized and killed by Jim Crow. Call it Juan Crow: the matrix of laws, social customs, economic institutions and symbolic systems enabling the physical and psychic isolation needed to control and exploit undocumented immigrants.

The death, violence and neglect suffered by immigrants would not be possible without the increasingly radical dehumanization seen daily on television, heard on radio and felt in the almost daily raids on homes and workplaces. And, as reported last week, even schools and childcare facilities are no longer free from the looming presence of heavily armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Given the extremes to which our government is going in its war on immigrants, it should come as no surprise that, since 9-11, more detainees have died in immigration detention than have died in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib combined.

Nowhere is the increasingly tragic plight of immigrants more obvious than in the Georgia. The toll this increasingly oppressive climate has taken on citizen, non-citizen and, especially, undocumented, immigrants is felt powerfully by children. The younger children of the mostly immigrant Latinos in Georgia are learning and internalizing that they are different from white–and black–children not just because they have the wrong skin color but also because many of their parents lack the right papers.

To read more about Juan Crow, go here.