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5/23: Why Immigrant Detainees Are Turning to Civil Disobedience(4)
Released 05 June 2014  By Max Blumenthal

(....Continue from Part Three)

In 2013, the year after ICE detained almost half a million undocumented immigrants, federal spending on immigration enforcement reached a record high—over $3 billion more per year than it spent on all other criminal law enforcement activities. Even conservatives in Congress had begun to bristle at the Obama administration’s approach. “It looks to me like maybe there’s an overuse of detention by this administration,” GOP Representative Spencer Bachus complained during a House Judiciary Committee hearing. Months later, sixty-five House Democrats issued a letter to Obama demanding the repeal of the bed quota.

The White House has staunchly refused to issue an executive order halting the mass deportations, with Obama deferring responsibility onto Congress for any reforms to the immigration system. One of the few reforms proposed by the administration arrived in a bloated 2015 Department of Homeland Security budget in the form of alternatives to mass detention—the kind that represent a cash cow to GEO Group subsidiaries. Buried in the budget request was perhaps the most significant clause: $1.3 billion to fund 30,539 prison beds, only a few thousand lower than the established bed quota.

“These tepid changes aren’t going to change anything,” Chárazo maintained. “A lid has been taken off, and ICE won’t be able to put this lid back on.”

At his April 10 keynote address at the Texas summit commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Obama paid tribute to the political courage of President Lyndon Johnson. “He liked the feel of [power], the wielding of it,” Obama said of LBJ. “But that hunger was harnessed and redeemed by a deeper understanding of the human condition, by a sympathy for the underdog, for the downtrodden, for the outcast.”

While Obama spoke, three immigrant rights protesters were arrested outside. Another protester, Isaac Chavez, wondered, “How can you really say you’re fighting for civil rights when so many people are being denied their basic civil rights of being with their family?”

An Endless Cycle

While Congress awaits a vote on Representative Smith’s prison reform legislation, the deportation machine’s blades spin with increasing ferocity. In Tacoma’s mostly Latino immigrant community, it seems that few families can escape the thresher.

Wendy Pantoja Castillo is a recently naturalized American citizen from Mexico who has kept an unrelenting vigil at the Northwest Detention Center, joining the protests and visiting detainees whenever she can. She rattled off an almost endless litany of horror stories she gathered from her trips inside the jail. “Seeing the family separation is the hardest part of it all,” Castillo told me.

Two years ago, Castillo rushed to Northwest Detention Center to search for a single mother who had just been detained by ICE. Having not been told that their mother was arrested and jailed, her despondent children were forced to wonder whether their mother had been involved in some kind of accident or abduction. When Castillo arrived at the jail, she said she had to help the woman arrange for a neighbor to adopt her children, who were born in the United States. In the end, the woman was deported, forced to leave her children behind for good.

Others have not been so lucky. According to Castillo, children are routinely placed into foster care and put up for adoption when their undocumented parents fall into the hands of ICE. “Just imagine if someone takes you away from your kids and you can’t tell them where you are and they wind up in the hands of the state,” Castillo remarked. “The fact that this is happening in the USA shows there is a huge hole in the law.”

More recently, in February, Castillo escorted a family from the nearby town of Salem to visit their father in Northwest Detention Center. The detainee’s four children were American citizens, as was his wife. Separated behind a wall of blast-resistant glass, one of the detainee’s children, an autistic boy, began to sob uncontrollably. “He just wanted to touch his father,” Castillo said. “But the visits are noncontact. He could only cry behind the glass.” Several weeks later, the man was deported, prompting his family to give up on life in the United States to reunite with him in Mexico.

Castillo has met detainees from around the world: from Africa, the Middle East, East Asia and Eastern Europe. She said some have been held in the Northwest Detention Center for several years without receiving a hearing. “They work all day out here for nothing,” she said. “A lot of them don’t speak any English, don’t know anyone and no one knows where they go. They just disappear.”

Mora Villalpando described the Northwest Detention Center as a dark abyss from which some never emerge. “One family we have spoken to had a son inside who was mentally ill,” she said. “He disappeared after going into the jail and they have not heard from him since. Another woman who contacted us said her first husband died in the desert after being deported. And her second husband was just taken by ICE. We have entire families out here that have been devastated by ICE.”

During one of the protests in support of the hunger strikers, a young man who had just emerged from the jail approached Mora Villalpando. He explained that he had just visited his brother inside and that he had been detained there two years before him. Several years before that, he said, he was among the undocumented immigrants who were hired to build the prison.

With congressionally mandated reforms on the distant horizon, a sense of siege has engulfed immigrant communities around Tacoma. Jose Moreno, the former prisoner in Northwest Detention Center, is among the swelling ranks of the undocumented trapped in a legal gauntlet. Initially arrested for driving under the influence, his detention by ICE prevented him from completing the intoxicated-driver classes he was sentenced to attend. As a result, a warrant was issued for his arrest. When he appears before a judge in the coming weeks to explain his extenuating circumstances, Moreno must prepare for the worst.

“If they put me in jail, ICE could put another immigration hold on me,” he worried. “Then they could transfer me to Tacoma [to the Northwest Detention Center]. And it will never end. The cycle never ends.”

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