December 3, 2019
University of Denver professor César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández writes in the New York Times today that it is time to abolish immigrant prisons. Garcia Hernández is also the author of Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants, which is now available in hardback edition.
He notes that Eisenhower came close to abolishing immigrant prisons when he shut down Ellis Island and other detention sites in 1953. Between 1953 and 1983, peak boom years for the U.S. economy, there were no immigrant detention facilities. Immigrants who ended up in detention were held in local jails and other federal facilities for brief periods of time. Indeed, detention in any form was rare. The op-ed does not delve into the history of immigrant detention too deeply beyond that, but makes a compelling case for ending incarceration today. It is expensive, wasteful and inhumane. Money would be better spent helping migrants navigate an increasingly complex legal framework for immigration. Programs that provide legal support have a demonstrated positive impact: people show for court cases and other appointments, and tend to be more successful in making their case. Garcia Hernández also argues that in most cases prosecuting immigrants is simply not worth it. Locking people up for what is an administrative transgression makes no sense. Immigrants are not more likely to be criminals, and many of the people in detention have not even broken immigration laws - but are simply seeking asylum in this country and being detained during that process. He concludes:
In the years after the Eisenhower administration led the federal government tantalizingly close to de facto abolition of immigration prisons, the country boomed, our cities diversified, and courts maintained a central role resolving disputes in our messy democracy. Growing pains and all, the United States progressed with migrants free to live as ordinary people. Since then, we have swerved far from that past. To put someone behind bars, we should demand an exceptional justification. So far, the government hasn’t found one.
ICE raids DMV records
Immigration and Customs Enforcement bought a years worth of access to North Carolina’s driving records for $27 dollars. (If you live in North Carolina and want a copy, your driving record costs $5-7.) Though it is not clear that ICE’s review of these records led to any arrests, it fits into a pattern of ICE’s efforts to access state records trolling for information on people to deport. From Quartz:
“ICE has been mining state driving records for several years,” César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, an immigration lawyer and professor at the University of Denver, told Quartz. “Unlike many other government databases, driver license records include high-quality photographs matched with home addresses. [S]ome states allow unauthorized migrants to obtain driver’s licenses, making these records especially promising gold mines for ICE and problematic targets for migrants.”
There are currently 12 states plus the District of Columbia that issues driver’s licenses and state ID’s to unauthorized immigrants (or simply do not ask about immigration status in the process of issuing IDs). However, North Carolina is not a state that issues driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants. Apparently ICE was interested in reviewing applications denied for lack of proof of residency.
In North Carolina, there is an enormous partisan fight over state cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This episode, even if it led to no arrests, is simply another chapter in this fight, which has included North Carolina’s legislature trying to abolish sanctuary cities, and passing legislation requiring the state’s sheriffs to cooperate with ICE investigations (over the objections of the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association). ICE has conducted raids throughout the state despite the objection of local law enforcement, mayors’ offices and immigrant advocates. We discussed this earlier this year when ICE stated it “had no choice” but to conduct raids in Charlotte, because the mayor was not cooperating with investigations. So,
[e]ven if accessing a state’s DMV records costs less than a couple of movie tickets, enforcing the Trump administration’s so-called zero tolerance policies is a waste of both money and time, said Camilla Townsend, a Rutgers University history professor with a focus on Latin America.
“ICE’s own statistics demonstrate that zero tolerance—meaning the harshest interpretation of the laws—hasn’t discouraged people,” Townsend told Quartz. “In the case of Honduras, for instance, in the midst of a drug-induced civil war, the numbers actually rose in 2018, after a year of such policies.”
Federal immigration enforcement policies, past and present, in this country are divisive and very costly, and to the extent they are aimed at deterrence, do NOT even work. It is a high cost to bear for the sake of political theater.
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