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July 17, 2013

Immigration and the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC)

by balexisd

Hello everyone!

Last Saturday I attended my weekly PIC workshop and learned about how the United States prison and immigration systems are deeply intertwined, and how they are separated. We covered so much information and so many terms that it will be hard to relay them all here in a timely fashion, so I will provide the gist of the situation and the questions that arose for me during our conversations.

To begin the workshop, we drew another map of the prison system, starting from arrest/booking and ending in release.

Prison System:

Arrest/Booking -> Criminal Court -> Return    OR       Arrest/Booking -> Criminal Court -> Captivity -> Release

We then drew a map on the same page of the immigration detention system, showing how it overlaps and how it deviates from the prison system of justice.

Immigration Detention System:

(for undocumented immigrants who were not arrested for a crime, for example during a raid by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement))

Arrest/Booking -> ICE Captivity -> Immigration Courts -> Deportation    OR    Arrest/Booking -> Deportation

(for undocumented immigrants arrested for a crime)

Arrest/Booking -> Criminal Court -> Captivity -> ICE Captivity -> Immigration Courts -> Deportation

Basically what this means is undocumented immigrants who are arrested for a crime must first go through punishment for their crime in prison, then when they are released they are sent to ICE captivity, and are either given a trial in an immigration court, where they are often present only through skype, or they are deported straight away. An immigrants rights are rarely respected, as adjudicators are often trying to deport as many people as possible to meet their quotas. Immigrants can be confused by the legal jargon, often don’t speak the language, and are not represented by a lawyer. ICE is also guilty of locking up and deporting U.S. citizens (

We often hear that our government is getting rid of the “bad guys”. That the people they deport are the worst of the worst offenders – people who have committed aggravated felonies. One example of an aggravated felony under immigration court law is shoplifting. Immigration courts are able operate under different laws than the laws that apply to U.S. citizens. This makes it easier for our government to rapidly deport many people.

Why are so many people deported? Why is it so hard to get a green card? One idea is that an influx of a population, mainly hispanic, is threatening a national idea of what America is and who America is for.

What would happen if it were easy for anyone to attain citizenship in America? What role does the U.S. play in making not want to live in their own countries of origin? How do other countries deal with immigration? Is there a role model we could be like?

How does citizenship organize unjust social policies? What would happen in a world without borders?

The biggest question I had is this – if we are all immigrants in America, who decides who gets to live here? What makes a person worthy of citizenship, and how does our popular culture support those ideas?

I will be reading “Beyond Walls and Borders”, a book by Jenna Loyd, Matt Mitchelson, and Andrew Burridge to try to find answers to these questions.

My next post coming later this week will be about my work on my children’s book about incarceration and how it is developing.


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