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No crime means no police. What makes the presence and control of the police tolerable for the population, if not fear of the criminal? This institution of the police, which is so recent and so oppressive, is only justified by that fear. If we accept the presence in our midst of these uninformed men, who have the exclusive right to carry arms, who demand our papers, who come and prowl on our doorsteps, how would any of this be possible if there were no criminals?
-Michael Foucault, Prison Talk
When the immigration question is framed as a matter of law-breaking, the inevitable result is the criminalization of migrant workers and families which feeds into the migrant-prison-industrial complex.
In a recent article published in La Prensa, Ali Noorani-Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum (www.immigrationforum.org),– subscribes to the dangerous ‘rule of law’ discourse that criminalizes undocumented workers and their families. The ‘enforcement-mantra’ of the mainstream DC organizations holds that comprehensive immigration reform is key to holding undocumented workers accountable and ensuring that U.S. security is not compromised:
Only through a controlled legalization of those who meet certain criteria can we hope to isolate those few immigrants hiding under the radar that may wish to do us harm or take unfair advantage of our generosity.
Combining an enforceable immigration system with effective, targeted enforcement is the only way we can achieve an immigration system consistent with American values. We must reestablish the rule of law by fixing our immigration system and then enforcing the heck out of it. This is how we regain control, create an even playing field for all workers in the economy, and ensure that workers and employers who play by the rules will be rewarded rather than undercut.
This ‘rule of law’ discourse is devoid of the fact that many immigrants fell out of status by trying to follow the rules. Moreover, a quick study of the new ‘comprehensive immigration reform’ discourse and agenda citing President Obama in ABC News (www.ABCnews.com) would tell one that it hardly applies to the horror of immigrant detention camps–the Guantonomizing of America (www.homelandgitmo.com). The heterosexualized concept of immigrant ‘family unity’ (www.Change.org) stops just outside the immigrant-detention complex.
In a recent report named Jailed Without Justice, Amnesty USA (www.amnestyusa.org) found the number of immigrants held in detention camps had tripled from 10,000 in 1996 to 30,000 in 2008, with the numbers likely to increase this year. The ‘rule of law’ discourse somehow forgets that the migrants detained in these archipelagos of detention constitute not only ‘criminal aliens’ but asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors, legal permanent residents, and survivors of torture and human trafficking. And they probably would not benefit from any sort of ‘comprehensive immigration reform.’
The gender dynamics of immigrant detention are also unavoidable. See studies by Human Rights Watch and Southwest Institute for Research on Women, that highlight the mistreatment, lack of prenatal care, and other serious medical conditions that migrant women undergo while under detention. And these are women who have committed no crimes nor pose any flight risk.
As this country moves towards reforms via legalization, it is important to pay attention to the gross, inhumane violations of human rights in our immigrant detention facilities. Not engaging in dialogue and action about the creation of these achipelagos of detention would certainly not amount to ‘just and humane’ immigration reform.