Outlawing Immigration Detention

Like a series of earthquakes that gradually lift portions of the earth while exposing underlying strata beneath, the continuing changes in immigration policy since Donald Trump’s inauguration have not only jolted American society; they’ve also exposed a growing number of Americans to long-standing human rights abuses generated by our immigration and detention system.

For example, two physicians serving as medical consultants to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties recently reported to the U.S. Senate’s Whistleblower Protection Caucus that the housing of migrant children in detention facilities, even with their families, posed a “high risk of harm,” and that such harm was indicated by a series of ten investigations that went back four years (2014-2107), including the period of the Obama administration.

In one reported case, a 16-month-old baby in a detention facility lost a third of his body weight because of untreated diarrhea, and another child suffered bleeding of the brain that had gone undiagnosed for five days, resulting in a seizure.  These cases were just two of many reported by the physicians.

In yet another arena now receiving widespread coverage, the Justice Department has acknowledged that it has summoned at least 70 infants to immigration court for their own deportation hearings since October 1, and that a total of 1500 “unaccompanied minors,” from newborns to three-year-olds, have been summoned to court since October 1, 2015.  About three-quarters are represented by attorneys, and a number became “unaccompanied” because of the family separation policy put in place by the Trump administration in early May.

Because of these and other abuses, an increasing number of Americans have become receptive to alternative ways of thinking about immigration, rejecting superficial “band-aid” reforms in favor of more fundamental changes, including the abolition of detention itself.  California, for example, has passed legislation prohibiting local governments from entering into new contracts with for-profit prison companies, and from expanding the number of beds in existing facilities.

Immigration rights groups that promoted the passage of this legislation see it as an opening to the abolition of detention altogether – and as a shift to humane policies, such as community accompaniment programs, that support migrants seeking asylum, seeking a place in American society.  (For further information about such programs, see the website for the organization, “Freedom for Immigrants“).


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