Because the language of “illegal” frames the U.S. immigration debate, many assume that everyone with an undocumented status is a “criminal.” However, lacking proper documentation in the United States is an infraction of civil—not criminal—law. Undocumented immigrants are not criminals. The Supreme Court in its recent decision in the Arizona immigration law case reiterated that it is not a crime for an undocumented immigrant to remain present in the U.S., or to seek employment. In fact, the decision text did not use the terms “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien” except when quoting other sources.
However, this important legal distinction does not align with the reality many immigrants face. We hear countless stories of ICE raids descending on families’ homes like SWAT teams, tearing away parents from their children and refusing parents the right to arrange for their care. Or we hear of a friend stopped for a traffic violation, leading to nightmarish months of detention, isolation, and deportation.
Are our communities safer because long-standing members who have loved, married, raised children, worked, and worshipped in our communities are suddenly stripped away from everyone they know and love and treated like criminals? Are the children safer, because they are suddenly without parents?
While communities are shattered, families are torn apart, and prison companies profit from detaining suspected undocumented immigrants, taxpayers foot the bill
A recent report by the ACLU of Georgia documented alarming human rights abuses in four immigrant detention facilities in the state of Georgia. The report found violations of detainees’ due process rights, inadequate living conditions, inadequate medical and mental health care, and other breaches. In San Diego, a man almost had his foot amputated because he was denied basic medical attention. Faith leaders visiting Arizona’s Tent City in June were “saddened and appalled” by conditions there.
The dire situation faced by immigrants in our communities is deeply troublesome. So is the situation faced by asylum seekers, many of whom endured detention and abuse in their home countries and come to the U.S. seeking safety. Instead, asylum seekers are automatically greeted with months to years of inhumane detention. A privately-operated detention center in Hutto, Texas, holds mostly women seeking asylum. Until recently, children were incarcerated there too.
Who profits and who loses from treating undocumented immigrants like criminals?
While communities are shattered, families are torn apart, and prison companies profit from detaining suspected undocumented immigrants, taxpayers foot the bill – an estimated $166 per detainee per day, totaling more than $2 billion in 2011. According to a recent Associated Press article, companies like GEO Group and Correction Corporation of America reap millions from immigrant detention.
No matter your stance on immigration reform, the practice of treating non-criminals as criminals, tearing apart our communities, and violating basic human dignities is simply atrocious.
Common folks like you and I can do a lot to change this twisted state of affairs. Here are some simple actions you can take:
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