The High Cost of Detention

I was very inspired today by reading news reports about the hundreds of immigrants held in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington on the fourth day of their hunger strike seeking better living conditions and treatment during their incarceration. So I created a petition in support of them on change.org. Please consider signing!

[Note: Here is a link to another more "official" petition circulating - please sign this one as well!]

I first learned about the Northwest Detention Center a few years ago when I wrote an article for A Matter of Spirit, the Justice Journal for the Intercommunity Pace and Justice Center in Seattle. If you read the article (copied below), you'll probably see why I was so inspired by the actions of the immigrants held in detention and spurred on to take action. I hope you will join me.

The High Cost of Detention by Susan Francois (Winter 2012 Issue of A Matter of Spirit)

Adriana’s* immigration detention experience began when she was rear-ended in a traffic accident. Local police who responded discovered that she had a deportation order. Her lawyer had failed to inform her that she had lost her pending immigration case and was going to be deported.

Even though she did not have a criminal history, Adriana was immediately taken to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA. That’s where Jorge Barón, Executive Director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), met her. “We identified that because she had been a victim of severe domestic violence, she may be eligible for one of the protections available, but it would be a difficult case,” said Barón. In the meantime, she would need to spend 2 to 3 months in detention away from her 7 year old daughter, a U.S. citizen. “She almost gave up because the prospect of being detained and not knowing was too much.” She persevered, however, and after 2 and a half months in detention, with the help of NWIRP lawyers, she was reunited with her daughter and granted permission to remain in the country.

Detention of people facing deportation proceedings has become the default, says Barón. “Reliance on detention increases the likelihood of an incorrect outcome. People are more likely to just give up because they don’t see any hope when they are detained.”

Barón has witnessed a “huge expansion” in the number of people detained in recent years, many in private for-profit detention centers like the one in Tacoma. This is problematic. “One, it dilutes accountability. Second, you get this incentive for these very large corporations to perpetuate the system and spend a significant amount of money to lobby for continuing the expansion of the system.”

The general public seems largely unaware of our immigration detention system. “I will talk to people in Tacoma who say, ‘I didn’t even know there was a detention center here.’ And here you have the 4th largest immigration detention center in the country, a mile from downtown.” Education of the public is key, as is advocacy.

“You can still have a deportation process, but do we need to keep them detained while cases are pending?” asks Barón. He points to the high costs of detention at a time when drastic cuts are being considered to things like health care and education. “It’s such a waste of resources, and it has this human cost that is
very disturbing. I think we can do better.”

*Name changed for privacy

No comments: