The Human Cost of Cashing in on Immigrant Detentions

Border control these days looks more like traffic control. While
one hand closes the borders to undocumented immigrants, the other
funnels them through cell doors. And the prison industry is all too
happy to accept them. As reported on
DemocracyNow!, the
League of United
Latino American Citizens
(LULAC) says that a record number
of more than 26,000 undocumented immigrants are now being
detained in the United States.

According to Deepa Fernandes of
CorpWatch,  immigrants are the
fastest growing prison population in the United States today, with
courts processing 350,000 immigrants in fiscal year 2005. Those
numbers translate to dollar signs for a prison industry that only
six years ago was wallowing in a $1 billion debt. But that,
Fernandes reports, was before a post-9/11 border crackdown, and
before the ‘government began to target non-citizens with mass
arrests during sweeps through immigrant communities.’

Now the increase in detainees is winning the prison industry
contracts to build new prisons to house them. And the influx of
incarcerated immigrants has the added business value of providing
prisons with a cheap labor force; since the Department of Homeland
Security restricts non-citizen prisoners from earning more than a
$1 a day, the prisons get maintenance workers and janitors for a
pittance. ‘The war on drugs has conveniently become a war on
immigrants,’ Tucson attorney and human rights activist Isabel
García told CorpWatch, ‘and there is a lot of money to be
made in detaining immigrants.’

Beyond the staggering numbers of incarcerated immigrants are the
equally alarming imprisonment conditions. Take, for example, the
‘tent city’ that has been constructed in Raymondville, Texas, to
house 2,000 detained immigrants. Within the confines of the
windowless tents, detainees incur a 23-hour-a-day lock down, and,
as CorpWatch notes (citing a recent
Washington Post
article
), immigrants are ‘often with insufficient food,
clothing, medical care, and access to telephones.’ Immigrant
detainees can be held for months, even years, and, as
DemocracyNow! reports, many are denied legal
assistance.

What’s worse is that many immigrants are being detained with
their children, as is the case at the T. Don Hutto Correctional
Center in Taylor, Texas.
In These Times reports that about half
of the approximately 400 immigrants at the facility are
children. Many of the ‘residents’ are refugees seeking political
asylum, who are being incarcerated while navigating deportation
proceedings. (Mexicans, who fall under different procedures, are
not kept at the facility.) Before the current crackdown, many of
these people would have been able to go to work and school while
their cases crept through the courts. And minors, if held at
all, would have been able to attend school and receive other
social services. Instead, attorneys tell In These
Times
, the children spend most of their time within a
contained ‘pod’ and are permitted only an hour of schooling and
an hour of playtime each day.

The correction center is now facing public outrage over the
incarceration of noncriminal, nonviolent children, as well as a
possible lawsuit from the University of Texas’ Immigration Law
Clinic. Texans United for Families, ‘a coalition of attorneys,
community organizations, and immigrants-rights groups,’ is also
lobbying to shut down the center.

Go there >>
Report: Record Number of Undocumented Immigrants
Jailed in US

Go there, too >>
This Alien Life: Privatized Prisons for
Immigrants

And there >>
Border Policy’s Success Strains
Resources

And there >>
Families Behind Bars

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