In the wake of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, more than 2,500 children were separated from their parents and placed into detention “shelters” across the US. The cruelty of this policy has captured the world’s attention and unleashed a series of debates regarding human rights and criminality.
An oft-parroted rebuttal to the outrage over family separation is that “incarceration regularly separates families in the US”. While a poor counter-argument, it’s not without some merit, because it does highlight an important point in the movement to reunite immigrant families: Our system of immigrant detention is rooted in the legacy and struggle to end mass incarceration in the US.
The criminalization of migrants crossing into the US is a strategy pulled straight out of the War-on-Drugs playbook. While coined by Richard Nixon in 1969, the War on Drugs is synonymous with the Reagan administration’s dogged pursuit of crack-cocaine dealers and users in the 1980s. Not only has this so-called war sparked a massive boom in the US prison and jail population (2.2 million people, as of 2016), but it has also reinforced narratives that dehumanize poor people and communities of color. The legacy of these policies laid the foundation for the Trump administration’s persecution of the undocumented.
There are dozens of profiteers within the multi-billion dollar industry of mass criminalization—private and non-profits alike—who manage immigration detention facilities, are contracted to provide substandard healthcare, and control prohibitively expensive services like telecommunications and commissaries. Not surprisingly, most of these bad actors also oversee and/or provide services to jails and prisons across the US. CoreCivic, GEO Group, Correct Care Solutions, and countless more are all companies who thrive and profit off the misery of incarceration.
Though President Trump signed an executive order ending family separation on June 20, his zero-tolerance policy to criminalize undocumented parents remains in place. This, of course, is the preamble to a larger court battle where the Trump administration is actively challenging the legal precedent of Flores v. Ryan (which caps the number of days a child can be detained) to reach their desired outcome: incarcerating families indefinitely in ICE detention centers. So far, the courts have ruled against the administration. But Trump’s commitment to these inhumane practices is unwavering.
While the battle wages on to end the persecution and detention of immigrants, it is important to root this movement in the larger struggle to dismantle all systems of mass incarceration in the US.
As poet Emma Lazarus wrote, “until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
To learn more about AFSC-AZ’s work to end the expansion of prison privatization and prison profiteering, check out these reports:
—By Tiera Rainey, AFSC-AZ Project Coordinator