The Injustice of Immigration Policy and Family Detention Centers

Deportation is a very real and immediate threat for families and communities. The fear of deportation and concern for loved ones is present in many individual’s minds. It has the capacity to tear families apart, destroy dreams, cause severe emotional distress, and at times, death. There are countless stories of families who have suffered because of cruel and bigoted immigration policy. One of the most inhumane practices of immigration policy is the use of family detention centers.

The irony and hypocrisy of this country’s immigration and refugee policy can be directly traced back to American imperialism, which has exploited and devastated many countries causing a whole host of problems, including poverty and political instability. Theodore Roosevelt’s horrible imperialist policy of “speak softly and carry a big stick” was particularly harmful for Latin America but detrimental imperialism has existed long before his presidency and is still present today.

Another sickeningly ironic element of immigration policy is its blatant exclusion of white European UNDOCUMENTED immigrants. Currently in America, there is an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish immigrants

These facts are not presented in support of any immigration policy/deportation or to disregard the discrimination Irish people faced in the early 1800s but rather to highlight the fact that present American immigration policy specifically discriminates against, and harms, people of color and Black people.

There is currently about 45,000 immigrants held at detention centers in the U.S

Women who are escaping terrible conditions such as gang violence, starvation, abuse, and death are forced into family detention centers, only to experience more abuse at these centers. These centers put a severe and life-threatening strain on the physical as well as the emotional and mental health of the detainees.

Detention centers are designed in the style of prisons with guards and cramped cells. The women and children have very limited access to outside contact, exercise, and receive inadequate food and clothing. Detainees also aren’t given sufficient information regarding their legal rights and processes, if at all. Infamously, at the Hutto detention center, children were even required to wear prison jumpsuits and only allowed to be outside for one hour. The proximity to other detainees (there are reports of eight people to a single cell) means sickness spreads quickly and the unavailability of adequate medical care is a huge issue. There are also many reports of both sexual and physical abuse in detention centers, which are largely uninvestigated. 

Women and children have described feeling suicidal and depressed while also neglected and/or abused. Some have organized food strikes within detention centers. Many children and mothers have also written letters expressing their desire to escape such miserable conditions and cruel treatment.

Private prison systems work very closely with ICE. Private prison corporations make deals with ICE officials, at times even detaining mothers and children along with other jail inmates, which they also profit from. Geo is a private company that owns several prisons and detention centers and as of 2014, made 143,840,000 in profit from immigration detention. These corporations also lobby for stricter immigration policy, for obvious reasons. And no, it’s not because they’re concerned about the influx of immigrants, whatever that actually means(see also xenophobia and racism). Their complete disregard for the lives of mothers and children in order to make profit is extremely disgusting and alarming.

Photo from  Jolt Texas

Photo from Jolt Texas

It astounds me that people talk about “illegals” and criminalize innocent women and children. These are people seeking asylum while trying to go through the legal process to live a good life and contribute yet the American private prison has literally capitalized on their vulnerability and desperation.

The Corrections Corporations of America is the largest private contractor. The CCA receives federal money to run detention centers. Without detainees, they lose their contract, which further explains why they have spent so much money donating to organizations and candidates for stricter immigration policy. The first profit the CCA made from detention centers was $362 million in 2007. The Hutto detention makes $200 from each woman and children every day. 

The legal process can be extremely long with low rates of success. Language and funding are two of the biggest barriers. There are many lawyers who volunteer however the guarantee of refugee status is still determined by the court. There are not many laws to protect immigrant families which also works against their favor. 

There are organizations, volunteers, and immigration lawyers working tirelessly on the behalf of these families.

The exploitation and abuse of these families is one of the most tragic and pressing issues. Several of this country’s institutions and systems operate on racist beliefs and policies. To counteract and dismantle that, we must protect and continually show visible support for the most vulnerable and marginalized through the means available to us.


If you would like to make a contribution and/or volunteer, here is a list:

ACLU - a national organization that advocates on behalf of an individual’s rights and civil liberties in court and communities for immigrants, disability rights, reproductive rights, and ending the war on drugs and mass incarceration. More recently, they have fought against Trump’s Muslim ban in court.

Mariposas Sin Fronteras - a group from Arizona that aims to end the violence and abuse toward LGBTQ detainees and prisoners

Black Alliance for Just Immigration - an organization that provides education and resources for black immigrants to succeed socially and economically

Mama Sana/Vibrant Woman - an organization based in Austin, Texas that provides resources for low income women of color and their children. You can read about our work with Mama Sana here.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations(CAIR)- an org dedicated to dispelling stereotypes of Muslims, empowering and protecting the civil liberties of Muslims

Make the Road New York - a coalition that provides for working class and immigrant communities in New York by improving education, access to healthcare, better wages and housing

Grassroots Leadership- their goal is to get rid of detention centers, jails, and private prison

Immigrant Legal Resource Center -provides training and education and information for communities, immigrants and their paralegals and attorneys