I’ve written a lot about immigration as well as prison in my time with the SISGI Group. However, it never occurred to me to discuss the two issues together. Which was a huge oversight on my part. Because they often go hand in hand. Immigrants who are here without proper documentation or have visa issues or any number of other problems will periodically have run ins with the law. However, the experience for citizens vs. non-citizens is DRAMATICALLY different.
Imagine you’ve broken some law. It can be something as minor as speeding in your car or as major as a drug arrest. As a citizen, you know what the next steps will be. You’ll be read your rights, possibly taken to prison and then processed. But you know you know more or less what to expect so whatever happens to you will be predictable. You know you’ll be treated with a certain level of respect and you’re entitled to certain things like a phone call and a lawyer if you request one. You know you won’t be kept in jail or a detention center indefinitely. You won’t just disappear.
Now imagine what that process would be like if you weren’t a citizen. You have no idea what’s going to happen to you. You don’t have the same guarantees under the law. And for all you know you’re never getting out or you’re getting deported immediately. And there’s nothing you can really do to change that. You’re not given the opportunity to call someone. You don’t know what these officials can do to you. You’re essentially powerless and likely terrified. And unfortunately this happens way more often that you would think.
By the numbers:
429,000 immigrants were detained in 2011 alone
They spent an average of 10 months in a detention center
Approximately 300 immigrants held in detentions centers will be kept in solitary confinement on any given day
And half of those are in solitary for 15 days or more (which can lead to mental health issues). Sometimes for up to 75 days.
This should not be happening. Unfortunately, how legal system does not really understand a) how to classify undocumented immigrants and b) what to do with them while they’re trying to figure it out. So people are disappearing into these detention centers where they’re often not given proper treatment. And where little oversight exists for the people in charge. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t want to be held somewhere at the complete mercy of another person. Any person.
Now I know immigrants are not supposed come here without the correct documentation. But it happens all the time whether we like it or not. Whether it’s right or wrong. I’m not trying to pass judgement on that issue one way or the other. But I do want to argue that they should have rights while they’re here. They are still people. They are living in this country. And they deserve to be treated as such. They cannot simply be held indefinitely, without a conviction in what is essentially a prison. Maybe they did commit a crime. And maybe we do need to take action. But that MUST be decided through a legitimate, legal process. People’s civil and human rights simply cannot be brushed aside for any old reason.
Immigration has become a hot button issue in the United States recently. The Obama administration has been working with Congress on an immigration overhaul. I don’t know what exactly will be in it and I don’t know how it will affect the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country. But I do hope it addresses the their lack of rights and the gross misconduct currently taking place in detention centers.
I may not be able to directly affect how that bill plays out. But I will do everything I can to make sure these human rights violations stop. And I hope you will too. So don’t stick your head in the sand. Be aware of the problem and don’t be afraid to talk about it. Let’s stand up for what’s right. Let’s making a lasting difference in the world.