DETAINED: Undocumented and Imprisoned in America
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Each year more than 400,000 refugees and undocumented immigrants are put in immigrant detention centers across America. In Northern New Jersey alone there are five detention centers that, combined, hold over 2,000 people every day. Detention centers are “for profit” meaning that the two major private corporations, CCA and GEO group, have contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in which they have an established number of beds (currently 33,400 beds) that need to be filled each day at a cost of $166 per person, per day. They earn billions each year in taxpayer money; banks, corporations and educational institutions have stock invested (Bank of America, Wells Fargo, General Electric, Columbia University before “Columbia Prison Divest”), and consequently, they have major sway in political lobbying, pushing for legislation that will put more immigrants behind bars, thus increase their profits. The word “detention” is truly a euphemism for prison - the NJ facilities are either inside or adjacent to federal prisons, and the conditions and treatment can be worse than prison because “rehabilitation” programs are infrequent to non-existent (no academic, career or hobby classes offered), in certain facilities there is no real outdoor access, medical care is often neglected and ill-treatment of immigrant prisoners (like solitary confinement for prolonged periods) is easily overlooked.
The majority of people in detention are not criminals, though they are treated as such. Many refugees are picked up by ICE at the border crossing, or by customs at the airport at the moment they declare asylum. Undocumented immigrants residing in the United States, even for 20 or 30 years, with families and jobs, are apprehended after minor offenses, traffic accidents, and even more controversially, in ICE raids in their homes and schools. Minors are no exception to detention and are often put in adult facilities, and children are placed in “Family” detention centers. American bureaucracy is slow - court cases constantly get pushed back - there is a severe lack of pro bono lawyers, and most asylum seekers cannot afford the $7-10,000 cost of an immigration lawyer. As a result, many people rest in the detention system for a year or more, their only “out” is self-deportation. This system is created so that private companies make a huge profit, certain politicians gain influence with PAC donations and anti-immigration platforms, and immigrants are forced to choose self-deportation.