**An important note:
After writing the following blog post, I had a friend of mine who reached out and checked me (thank you!) on an unintentional blind spot I overlooked in my initial analysis below. My friend (who is a civil rights attorney) informed me that many of the people in county jails/Cook County jail are specifically pre-trial detainees, who have not been convicted of any crimes. And she was right that these people, too, are victims of being associated with criminality. Here in the US, the act of criminalization in and of itself is a product of a number of totally dysfunctional and oppressive systems -- frequently targeting the marginalized and poor.
And there is also tension within the immigration advocacy community about how family detention centers (women and children, most of whom with no record) are often pitted against other detainees who may have a criminal record. It does not propel the most important issue forward: that detaining human beings--period--is wrong and this practice needs to end.
So, thanks again to my friend who checked and reminded me about this issue -- and together, let's continue the fight to end inhumane detention everywhere.
The way we treat each other
It is already week 3 of my time here at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, and so far, so good. Working in downtown Chicago continues to be a stark contrast from working in the family detention centers in rural Texas -- but many of the issues are still the same.
Up until this project stop, all of the detention centers I have worked at have been federally contracted by for-profit corporations, namely GEO Group, Inc. and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
As I've mentioned a number of times before, GEO and CCA are making a profit of billions of dollars off the inhumane detention of immigrants -- and it's been going on right under our noses all throughout the United States.
But immigrant detainees are not just being held in these federally contracted facilities. They are also frequently found in county jails, as is the overwhelming case here in the Midwest.
The criminalization of detainees
It is worth directly pointing out that there are a number of immigrant detainees who have absolutely no criminal record yet they are being detained at a county jail -- which clearly more than insinuates criminality.
A prime example of this: a large number of the detainee population in greater Chicago/the Midwest are border transfers/asylum seekers who have no criminal record and are fleeing their countries due to absolutely inescapable and unavoidable amounts of violence. I remember hearing some of those stories firsthand while I was in Texas, and feeling like life for some of these women and children truly sounded like hell on earth.
And some of the asylum seekers from the US/Mexico border who have been transferred to the Midwest are sharing space with inmates who are serving time for criminal acts.
Taking this fact combined with the dangerously anti-immigrant, exclusionist rhetoric that is fueling populist movements around the globe (most recently and notably, with "Brexit") -- detaining immigrants at the county jail just fuels those misinformed opinions even more.
The county jail is no place for an asylum seeker.
The florescent jumpsuits/uniforms they are forced to wear and max security (for what?) -- is a profound waste of American taxpayer dollars and continues to be one of our most shameful practices.
Tackling the system
The immigration system can be unwieldy, bureaucratic, dysfunctional -- and ultimately frustrating. I am currently working on a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) brief (see photo below) and the process can be bogged down by paperwork, backlogging, and much more.
I ask myself how I can continue to be an advocate and agitator for change, and I am committed to continuing to fight within the system itself (Saturday's DACA clinic was re-energizing) as well as innovating new methods to bring more legal services access to more people (the opening of my Virtual Law Office later this month!).
The number one thing that any one of us can do, right now, is to push back against some of the outlandish rhetoric that is out there -- especially here in the US as our election day continues to creep up.
Together, we can push back against these false narratives and continue to ensure that human beings have the right to migrate -- as so many of us, our families & ancestors, and friends have. It is a human right.
So, for me it's back to working on the large case file below -- and thinking about what's next. Sending you all much love from the Windy City.