Abolishing Immigration Prisons
57 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2017
Date Written: March 8, 2017
The United States has a long and inglorious history of coercive state practices of social control that are motivated, explicitly or implicitly, by race. From chattel slavery to modern incarceration, state actors have regularly marginalized, demonized, and exploited people racialized as nonwhite. Immigration imprisonment—the practice of confining people because of a suspected or confirmed immigration law violation—fits neatly into this ignoble tradition. The United States’ half million immigration prisoners, who are overwhelmingly Latino, were almost all pushed and pulled to leave their countries of origin in part by policies promoted or supported by the United States. Yet, once here, Latin American migrants are relegated to a legal system that treats them as confineable based merely on their status.
Even worse is that the practice of immigration imprisonment, as designed and operated, has stripped migrants of their inherent dignity as humans and has instead commodified them into a source of revenue. For immigration prisoners, the prison operates as a means of segregation and stigmatization: immigration prisoners are segregated from the political community and perceived to be dangerous. For other migrants who, for the time being at least, avoid imprisonment, the prison symbolizes the state’s brute power. For the vast network of interested parties who have invested deeply in immigration imprisonment, the prison marks the location of production. Paid according to the number of people locked up, private prisons and local governments profit from human bondage. Meanwhile, opportunistic politicians reap political rewards by pointing to barbed wire perimeters and sizeable prison populations as evidence of their efforts to protect the nation.
This Article is the first to argue that immigration imprisonment is inherently indefensible and should be abolished. The United States should instead adopt an alternative moral framework of migrants and migration that is grounded in history and attuned to human fallibility. Doing so will help discourage harmful immigration rhetoric steeped in myths of migrant criminality and will foster better understanding of migrants and their reasons for coming to the United States.
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