Migrant Detention is complex and hard to understand, but here is a break down on why we chose to support our detained brothers and sisters:

1. The first aspect of migrant detention is that it is administrative. That means that undocumented migrants and legal permanent residents (LPRs) who have lost their status, are detained for administrative convenience alone. They are detained while they wait for a hearing or outcome to their case. This can take anything from 2 months to 4 years… in jail…waiting for government officials to do their job… are you with me?

2. Crossing the border is a civil, not a criminal offense. It is akin to a speeding ticket. Does anyone go to jail for a speeding ticket? No. Now, because it is not a criminal offense, detainees are not protected by the 5th and 8th amendment, namely, right to a speedy process and that the punishment fits the crime (4 years waiting for a paper to be processed, remember?)

3. Detainees do not have a right to representation. That means that the only few who can afford a lawyer or are lucky enough to have pro-bono agencies help them, get good representation. The rest are left on their own to fill out their own asylum claims…in English. Have you ever seen an immigration form? Go check it out. Now imagine it is written in Russian and that your life depends on it.

All of this can be seen as government incompetency. Innocent stuff. But behold: now is where it gets truly dark:

4. Migrant detention centers are privately run. The main contractor of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), is GEO Group. GEO runs 58 detention facilities in the U.S. They also have a presence in the U.K., Australia and South Africa. GEO receives around $160 per day, per detainee from the federal government. There are 1,500 beds in the NWDC alone. GEO reported over $1.5 billion in revenue in 2013, 16% from their contract with ICE. So you see how there is no motivation to let people out of detention. This is a profitable business and many corporations invest in GEO stock.

5. Now, this is good business for GEO but super expensive for the federal government. Especially because alternatives to detention cost merely ¢7 per day. Furthermore, the thousands of detainees are moms and dads and grandpas and grandmas who are gainfully employed. Not having a work permit does not prevent you from starting thriving businesses. So when you detain one of these parents, you must factor in the burden that DSHS now has to support the US Citizen children who are now on food stamps because ICE detained their gainfully employed parents to have GEO make money. Talk about “wasteful spending!” So why and how is this legal?!

6. Migrant detention is legally supported by congress under “the bed mandate,” which stipulates that the Department of Homeland Security “shall maintain a level of not less than 34,000 detention beds through September 30, 2014.” There is wide agreement within government agencies that the mandate is arbitrary; it does not follow actual detention needs and that incarceration is far too excessive. This mandate was introduced into the 2009 DHS appropriations bill by the late Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) without public comment. (He was the chair of appropriations at the time and former KKK). The bed quota has increased each year since it was first approved. In 2013 congressmen Deutch and Foster introduced an amendment to repeal the bed mandate but it failed to pass despite wide support by the house and the Administration.

Under the bed mandate, Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) is obliged to incarcerate migrants who do not pose a threat to public safety. As a consequence, families are torn apart. Parents, pregnant women, and children are incarcerated indefinitely in privately ran prisons putting a price tag in immigrants’ lives.

7. GEO has lobbied aggressively to maintain their power within congress. In fact they make generous contributions for the campaigns of democrats and republicans alike. Byrd himself was a beneficiary, unsurprisingly, and now you make sense of why Marco Rubio is sooo into “protecting the borders.”

It gets worse:

8. The conditions at these detention centers are below universal human standards. GEO has incurred in human rights violations within their facilities. These include, but are not limited to, sexual abuse; denial of medical care often leading to detainees’ deaths; administrative detention of pregnant women, which is specifically against the law in the U.S.; lack of information to family members regarding the location of detainees; unlawful retaliation such as solitary confinement as a punishment for detainees’ reasonable requests for standard conditions; and so on.

As a response to the demands of the hunger strikers at the NWDC, Rep. Adam Smith introduced the Accountability in Immigration Detention Act (H.R.4620) on May of 2014, which addresses the concerns of the detainees and eliminates the bed quota with the statement, “the number of detention beds maintained shall be determined by the Secretary of Homeland Security and shall be based solely on detention needs.”

Eliminating the bed mandate and expanding alternatives to detention remain crucial aspects of any humane immigration reform that wants to protect vulnerable immigrants from becoming an object for profit. To this end, the role of community members is crucial. Calling our representatives demanding an end to the bed quota, and a better use of tax-payer dollars through the use of alternatives to detention, will have a deep impact in protecting undocumented migrants and their families.


You can keep yourself informed on detention in the US and around the world through the Global Detention Project and the Detention Watch Network.

This is an excerpt of a guest post at patheos.com Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/zhoag/2014/09/06/veronica-noriegas-hunger-strike-in-seattle-and-what-it-means-for-immigrants-and-all-of-us-cote-soerens/#ixzz3ElytqDqB