Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lost in Detention

Yesterday I was flippantly flipping TV channels when I landed on this devastating Frontline documentary about the horrible policies of the Obama administration re the deportation and incarceration of illegal immigrants in this country. This dismal state of human rights abuses is going on in this country every day, and gets reported regularly by the Spanish broadcast media in the US, but it is as if it did not exist at all on the mainstream media. It is a hidden shameful secret, sort of like the Japanese internment camps in WWII. Particularly shameful, since it is happening on the watch of Barack Obama, who should have the decency to know better.
Because of the unwillingness and the inability of Congress and this hypocritical president to enact immigration law reform, what is happening right now is sheer enforcement without legal reform; that is, a police state nightmare. The amount of human rights abuses committed against illegal immigrants has soared. The Bush administration privatized immigrant detention centers, and currently there are 250 of them, some of which are notorious for having housed hardcore criminals in the past. These centers are not under public scrutiny, nor are immigration detainees guaranteed the right to a lawyer. The documentary focuses on one specific center in Texas (hellhole of the Western world, it seems), where scores of sexual abuses of female inmates as well as beatings and racist taunts have been denounced.
A program called Secure Communities is supposed to deport criminal illegal aliens exclusively, but instead stops people because they had a broken taillight or did not signal a turn, and if they find they are undocumented, it sends them to detention centers that treat them as hard core criminals.  The Obama administration has made this program mandatory in every state and it requires the cooperation of local law enforcement, which basically turns the local police force into informers for the immigration authorities. There is something about this entire exercise that seems a violation of human rights. If a cop stops you for a broken taillight, and finds you are undocumented, is that his job, to rat you out to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (the cynically named ICE) so that they can detain or deport you?  There are many hardworking men and women who get separated from their families in this way. If you see this movie without sound, you'd think it takes place in China or the former Soviet Union or some such totalitarian nightmare.
The Obama administration has not only ignored the promises it made to the Hispanic community about immigration reform, it has hardened its stance on illegal immigrants, surpassing the number of deportees and detainees of the Bush years. ICE needs to fill a quota of 400,000 deportees a year, so innocent people get swept into this nightmare. This may include people who entered the country legally but let their visas expire, or simply good people without papers. 46% of illegal immigrants now have families in the US, many of which are comprised of American born children. Mothers and fathers are being deported and held in detention indefinitely, never told when they are going to be deported or released. Families are destroyed, and all this is because Congress and the White House refuse to deal with this dire national policy crisis.
Now, those on the right say that illegal immigrants are criminals and are breaking the law. But as Anthony Romero of the ACLU points out, immigration enforcement is an administrative matter, not a criminal matter. Coming into a country illegally cannot be treated in the same scale as other more heinous crimes. There are degrees of malfeasance; anti-immigration hysterics have got to stop pretending that coming here illegally is tantamount to murder, rape, or other hard crimes.
And why are only the workers penalized for illegality and not the businesses who hire them and encourage them to stay? The people who give illegals jobs are also breaking the law and should also be punished. But Americans want to have their cake and eat it too. They want cheap, unregulated labor for their businesses but at the same time they want to criminalize the workers who are trying to make a living. The sheer hypocrisy is revolting.
I am disgusted with Obama for many other reasons, but this is more than a disappointment; it feels like a huge betrayal. Democrats think that liberals don't have a choice in this coming election, and are scared of a Republican victory so they are going to vote Obama whether they are disenchanted or not. This should not be the case. Hispanics, as one expert said, are not going to vote Republican, since that would continue the same inhumane policy, but they can certainly threaten to withhold their very significant vote until something gets done to correct this situation.
I will not vote for this president unless I see real change, and from what I've seen so far, this is very unlikely. So what if the Republicans win? A Republican administration could not be much worse than what we already have.

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