U.S. Immigrant Detention Centers: # NotOneMore

This post is part of SCSJ’s End Mass Incarceration Week series. It focuses on immigrant detention facilities in the U.S.  NotOneMore Deportation.

The United States is deporting more immigrants today than at any point in our history. Many of those deported spend at least some time in an immigrant detention center, often a for-profit prison.
April 5 is a day of action against mandatory beds at immigration detention centers. It is also the first day of End Mass Incarceration Week. This is no coincidence: immigration detention centers are part of a larger system of mass incarceration in the United States that leads to multi-billion dollar profits for private corporations and wreaks havoc on families and communities in the United States and throughout the world.
During the rise of the “War on Drugs” in the 1980s, authorities filled prisons with African American community members , pulling their families apart. After 9/11, immigrant communities were targeted as the new “threat to national security,” and in exponentially increasing numbers, immigrants were placed in detention facilities. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assumes that our immigration challenges can be solved by mass deportations—1,100 per day under President Obama’s Administration. In fact, Congress has mandated that 34,000 detention beds be filled every day with immigrants. Detainees are exposed  to brutal and inhumane conditions of confinement at massive costs to the American taxpayers – all the while generating enormous profits for private prison corporations.

NotOneMore Deportation
NotOneMore Deportation

Immigrant detention centers have been consistently denounced [by…? Can we name any report??? That would make this stronger] for providing inadequate medical care, allowing abuse and violations of human rights, and failing to allow meaningful access to lawyers or hope for a fair hearing.
The DHS’ use of private detention facilities has helped buoy profits for prison companies including the two largest: CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) and the GEO Group. These corporations and other for-profit prison operators hold almost two-thirds of all immigrants detained each day in federally funded prisons as they face deportation, U.S. data show [can we name any report?]. Private prison corporations have invested huge amounts of money lobbying for anti-immigrant bills that would further increase the demand for detention centers. Thus the cycle of private prison profiteering continues to separate families and destroy lives.
These successful lobbying efforts paid off for the private prison industry. The Detention Bed Mandate requires that  34,000  immigrants be detained at any given time,  at taxpayers’ expense  of about $120 each per day, meaning that law enforcement officers are constantly looking for immigrants to detain – whether or not those immigrants are actively breaking laws. No other law enforcement agency has such a quota, and there is little reason to believe that it makes Americans safer. Mostly, it appears to encourage profiling and harassment of immigrants.
Immigrants in detention
Physical detention, which is costly and severe, could be reduced by only holding immigrants whose release would pose a danger to the community. Alternatives to incarceration would allow reunification of thousands of families torn apart by detention of a family member. Tax payers could save billions of dollars if the government reduced its overreliance on detention and properly allocated resources towards more humane and cost-effective alternative methods of monitoring. First and foremost, the 34,000 bed mandate must be lifted so that law enforcement has the leeway to arrest and detain only those people it deems to be dangerous, instead of scouring for immigrants to fill beds in for-profit detention centers. Ultimately, we need humane immigration policies like those outlined in AFSC’s New Path document.
Today, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and American Friends Service Committee are standing up and saying, “Enough.” Enough of destroying families in order to increase corporate profits. Enough of racially profiling people who “look like” or “sound like” immigrants. It is time to live up to our national ideals of equality and dignity for all. And it is time to put people before corporate profits. Now is the time to end the 34,000 bed mandate for detention centers.
Post by Shoshannah Sayers, Southern Coalition for Social Justice & Lori Fernald Khamala, American Friends Service Committee