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When NY Times obtained and released the list of immigrant detainees that have died in detention from 2004-2007, I immediately scrouged the list for young adults, hoping that I would not find any persons who may have been eligible under the DREAM Act. What I discovered left me shocked and rattled.
Barely in their 20s, Felipe Garcia-Sanchez, Ervin Ruiz-Tabares, Nery Romero and Raudel Carlos-Cortez, chose to commit suicide in detention. More young adults in their late 20s and early 30s–Cesar Rioz-Martinez, Geovanny Garcia-Mejia, Juan Salazar-Gomez, Sebastian Mejia Vicentes, Hassiba Belbachir–also resorted to suicide rather than deportation. Who were these young adults? Could any of them have qualified under the DREAM Act before their final deportation orders? What are their stories? Were conditions so horrible that they opted to take their own lives rather than live another day in-limbo and in fear of being sent to a foreign country? Did we separate them from their U.S. citizen spouses and children? Did we unknowingly condemn our future doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, scientists and social workers to death? We may never know.
We don't have many details on these individuals but on the most part, they were probably either legal permanent residents being deported due to prior misdeamnors and felony convictions or immigrants detained due to the civic violation of being undocumented. To draw an analogy, imagine being detained for breaking a traffic law, locked up in bad humanitarian conditions and ending up dead. Sounds like 'cruel and unusual punishment?' You bet.
We are not against the enforcement of immigration laws. If anything, the American public would only agree to a solution on the 12 million undocumented immigrants following strict enforcement. At the same time, given the rising costs involved in the privatization of detention centers, inhumane conditions, human rights violations and lack of accountability, surely there are alternatives to detention. What about monitoring the non-violent and non-criminal detainees via electronic ankle bracelets?
Some liken the conditions in immigrant detention camps to the internment of Japanese in concentration camps and the Native American Trail of Tears. While I am certainly not going to trivialize those historical atrocities by drawing comparisons, there is no doubt in my mind that building more private detention facilities to hold undocumented workers without oversight and accountability is unfair, unjust and simply unAmerican, if not illegal under 'cruel and unusual punishment.'
America is a better country than to stand by these heinous atrocities. So we will forge ahead and work harder, and always remember our fellow students that were fatally wounded in the battle for which none of us signed-up.
"What happens to a Dream Deferred? It explodes into shards and fragments, still yearning to be free…"