Casualties in the War on Immigrants

war on immigrantsLiving in the Era of the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, and the War on Immigrants

Especially in light of significant hunger strikes that erupted at two immigration detention facilities in March (Tacoma, Washington, and Conroe, Texas), and more recently, the ACLU report released June 10th, Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison Industry, I still haven’t sent in my tax bill that was due April 15. I am disheartened that by being a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen my hands, too, are stained by the barbaric atrocity of human trafficking.

Back in 2006, Congress mandated that there always be at least 34,000 detention beds filled in our 200-plus immigrant detention centers across the US. This government sanctioned quota has been a boon for the private incarceration industry, which costs us, the taxpayers, up to $5 billion each year.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the only law enforcement agency in our country to have such a quota of inmates – if it’s not met by 90%, we the taxpayers have to pay a fine to private corporations such as GEO.

But as illegal crossings from Mexico have fallen to near their lowest levels since the early 1970’s, in order to meet that quota, ICE has had to look in every nook and cranny of our criminal justice system to vacuum up foreign-born, undocumented and legal US residents alike convicted of any crimes that could render them eligible for deportation – the vast majority of these offenses quite minor.

The Obama administration’s order to review deportation procedures must be bolstered by our own response as tax-paying citizens and fellow human beings to demand that such fascist and un-American policies be amended immediately. The country that I love was founded on civil liberties such as due process and humane conditions of prisoners – and immigrants were our founders. Detainees’ access to legal help is completely inadequate and often another money-making opportunity for crooked attorneys; medical care is a cruel joke. Consider how much trouble our governor has been in for shoddy medical care in our state prisons – and that’s for documented prisoners. The undocumented are treated even more poorly.
The response of my church has been to form the Detainee Friends Project. We pen-pal and visit with detainees at Adelanto Detention Center in San Bernadino, soon to become our country’s largest Detention Center, unless a huge expansion led by ICE is stopped. It cannot be described how isolated, forgotten and hopeless these detainees feel. They are often placed in solitary confinement. 

It cannot be described how isolated, forgotten and hopeless these detainees feel. They are often placed in solitary confinement.

The tactic is to break the detainee’s spirit, so they sign a form of voluntary deportation.
Through our work we met Carlos Hidalgo, who was wrongfully detained there for 11 months for trying to cash a bad check given by an employer. He has become an activist, and joined us when we lobbied US Representative Judy Chu a month ago. She was so disturbed by Carlos’ story and the facts we presented that she promised to visit Adelanto Detention Center in person, and bring lots of press. According to a reliable source in Washington D.C., Member of US Congress Judy Chu will be visiting Adelanto Detention Center  in the next couple weeks.

Conditions are so bad at these detention centers that the inmates are hunger-striking – though having been force-fed, we’ve heard little since then. Hunger-striking is the last resort of protest for a prisoner, and an apt one, because the quality and quantity of food given to detainees is so abysmal – snacks are for sale only at astronomical cost to the detainee. Another way for corporations to make money.

At what point do we, the tax-paying, free citizens wake up and realize we are living in a corporatocracy? What will it take for us to begin connecting the dots between the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, and the War on Immigrants? To understand that although it is out of sight, out of mind for most Americans, when we send in our tax bill we acquiesce to the demands of the war profiteers, forfeiting the values and policies that make America the democracy we claim to be? Will it take every immigrant detention center to commence hunger strikes? Every privately-owned prison?

hannah-petrie-202Those targeted by the Wars on Drugs, Terror, and Immigrants are mainly people of color. As the Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave reminds us, they have historically been the most vulnerable targets for those who aim to make the easy buck. But those languishing in today’s privately owned immigrant detention centers and prisons are canaries in the coal mine, and really, they already got the rest of us – if only, so far, in our wallets. For those of us who are awake, they also got us in our conscience. When and how will they finish the job? We ought to be asking ourselves this, lest we no longer recognize the country that we love. Author James Baldwin said, “If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own . . . For if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”

Rev. Hannah Petrie



  1. JoeWeinstein says

    The article asks us to connect the dots between the Wars on Drugs, Terror and Immigrants. But – weirdly – it doesn’t tell us what those connections are. It leaves us to guess that the main connection is that the several wars have the same sort of beneficiaries: pro-police-state incarceration enterprises.

    But actually there is a more profound connection between the Wars on Drugs and on Immigrants. By criminalizing domestic drug use, and pressuring our southern neighbors to do the same, the USA has in effect enabled massive illegal drug-supply cartels to exist profitably (and compete with one another violently) not only in our own cities and in some of our own countryside (rural NW California) but even more throughout much of Mexico and Central America. From the resulting hellish environment ever more folks have been trying to flee north. Criminalize drugs – and you create desperate immigrants.

    • Granny Tenderstone says

      if you don’t know what those connections are already, you need perhaps to do some homework. I guess I have a natural penchant for these things, and I spend most of my time trying to make others aware what they are. All things are connected anyway. I can’t write a book here to spell it out for you, but the information is out there….

  2. harry says

    You may not have lived in many other countries but I have. I have lived where the boarders of the country are obvious to anyone who can see. Some even had bob-wire and armed guards. I lived in occupied Berlin and East German guards would shoot people trying to get in or out if they did not use a official enter point. I agree such treatment is very harsh and we should not allow it to happen here. However, I feel we are a land of laws and neither our citizens nor non-citizens can be allowed to cross our boarders as if they were not there. Small children might not be a great threat to us but there are those who would be a threat if allowed to enter our country. It is possible to poison water systems with very little effort. There are poisons that are not easily removed from drinking water systems. You can not image the risk you would have with free and unrestricted boarders. We need to apply our laws as written.

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