Border Patrol

The U.S. government has increased its spending on border enforcement, in order to mediate the persisting problem of illegal immigration from Mexico. In addition to the increased spending of $10 billion more per year on border enforcement, the government also spent tons of money creating a fence across the border, which has had little effect in decreasing the number of unauthorized immigrants who come into the U.S. In fact, the fence has created a greater problem, because it funnels the migration streams from Mexico and Latin America into more dangerous points of entry. Many activists groups have been established in order to address the many problems concerning human rights violations along the border.

A political science professor interviewed over 1,000 migrants in an effort to highlight the impacts of border enforcement on migrants. In his study, Cornelius (2006) found that heightened border enforcement does not discourage immigrants from migrating. Often, the migrants keep trying to cross until they finally succeed. More migrants have begun hiring smugglers–which cost anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000 per person–in an effort to ensure safer crossings.

There is a large discussion suggesting the need for reform because of the re-direction of immigrants into more dangerous terrain, which causes more deaths. In addition, the detention facilities in which immigrants are held are often lacking in their ability to provide adequate food and access to medical care. There have also been reports of physical and sexual abuse in the detention facilities. Castillo (2011) discussed the different testimonies reported by No More Deaths, a humanitarian organization in Arizona whose mission is to end the deaths and mistreatment on the U.S.-Mexico border, and to make the public aware of what is happening there. In addition, members of the organization wish to encourage more humane immigration policies and want to see a reform of the current legislation. Castillo (2011) found that many immigrants who are held by Border Patrol are denied food and water, even if they are clearly dehydrated, and are subject to extreme hot and cold conditions, sleep deprivation, death threats, and psychological abuse. At times, some immigrants were unable to retrieve all of their personal belongings upon departure. Also, there were reports that children were often split from their parents and deported separately, which is very unjust, especially when taking in consideration the trauma that children must already be suffering, only to then be separated from a source of comfort – their parents. In addition, racial profiling and harassment are common along the border.

Other organizations that defend basic human and civil rights are the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso and Derechos Humanos In Arizona. Both organizations hope to correct misinformation through informative demonstrations and marches. Isabel Garcia, founder of Derechos Humanos, stated that “lies about immigrants prevent any real justice.” Others suggest changes in U.S. immigration policy that could decrease the U.S.-Mexico conflict. For example, Cornelius (2006) proposes that we should legalize the immigrants who are here, therefore providing them an option for upward mobility. Also, he suggested that perhaps the U.S. government could grant temporary worker options, which has the potential to decrease illegal entries. It is clear that there is a need for reform and that these conflicts should be made aware to the public.


Castillo, Mariano. 2011. “Report: Border Patrol abuses widespread.” Retrieved May 14, 2012 (

Cornelius, Wayne A. 2006. Impacts of Border Enforcement on Unauthorized Mexican Migration to the United States. Border Battles: The U.S. Immigration Debates. Retrieved April 10, 2012 (

Detention Watch Network. 2012. “Border Enforcement and Short-Term Detention.” Retrieved May 14, 2012 (

Immigrant Youth Detention

The headlines have increasingly focused on undocumented immigrants in the United States. Every day there are new stories, from the conservative and the liberal sector, that describe one issue or another regarding illegal immigration. For example, the news has focused on the new configured rate of illegal immigration (which as of March 10 was reported to be in decline) or a new crime committed by or against an undocumented immigrant. However, only recently have the media focused on immigrant detention centers, and rarely has the press focused on immigrant youth detention centers. Undocumented youth, just like adults, can be detained due to their legal status. While the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency is focused on finding criminal and violent undocumented immigrants, that does not mean that they let everyday undocumented individuals go, and youth are no exception.

Undocumented youth are brought to the attention of ICE officers mainly due to two reasons. The first reason is that immigrant youth are caught trying to cross the border illegally. It has been calculated that in recent years “approximately 8,000 youth are considered ‘unaccompanied alien children’” who tried to enter the United States (Frankel 2011: 64). These youth travel extraordinary lengths to try and find a better life in the United States. The film Which Way Home, produced by HBO, documents the journey of children as they travel to the U.S. The other reason undocumented youth are brought to the attention of ICE is because they are entered into the juvenile justice system without a clear legal status, in which case ICE puts a hold on their forms. It is approximated that “1,000 minors are apprehended each year through internal enforcement efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement” (Frankel 2011: 64).

Once within ICE custody, youth are sent to detention centers or an “ICE-contracted facility—a local city or county jail, a state facility, or a juvenile detention center” (Frankel 2011 74). These facilities, jails, and detention centers, are created for the purpose of rehabilitating incarcerated individuals who were convicted of committing a crime. Undocumented youth who are detained–not because of criminal offenses but because of their legal status–are then sent to these facilities. In “An Analysis of Treatment of Unaccompanied Immigrant and Refuge Children in INS Detention and Other Forms of Institutionalized Custody,” author Lisa Rodriguez Navarro writes that “the INS treats unaccompanied minors like common criminals by handcuffing them during transit and by requiring that they wear jail clothes” (1998: 601). However, unlike incarcerated individuals, undocumented youth who have been detained do not know the duration of their sentences. Youth can spend a couple months to over a year incarcerated (Navarro 1998: 599). Not only are these youth contained in a criminal setting, there is a history of undocumented youth being denied services.

Navarro writes that “these centers, camps and facilities have a history of housing immigrant minors in disgraceful conditions without access to education, health care, legal services, or other basic necessities” (1998: 590). These detention centers do not provide the guaranteed rights to undocumented youth. Even though these youth are not citizens, that does not mean that they should be denied the liberties entitled to them.

Undocumented individuals, especially youth, “have no statutory right to counsel at the governments expense” (Frankel 2011: 66). This means that undocumented youth must be able to pay for a legal representative or find a pro bono attorney, however, most youth appear before court without any representative.

Undocumented youth who have been detained live in unsafe facilities, do no receive access to legal aid, and are often treated like criminals. Media, news sources and academia should focus more on what is happening to detained undocumented youth in the United States.

Works Cited:

Frankel, Elizabeth M. 2011. “Detention and Deportation with Inadequate Due Process: The Devastating Consequences of Juvenile Involvement with Law Enforcement for Immigrant Youth.” Duke Forum for Law & Social Change, 3(63):63-107. Retrieved from

Navarro, Lisa Rodriguez. 1998. “An Analysis of Treatment of Unaccompanied Immigrant and Refuge Children in INS Detention and Other Forms of Institutionalized Custody.” Chicano-Latino Law Review 19:598-612.

Untitled Poem

Crossing from one side of the line to the other,
she was taken
left waiting.
From one prison —
poverty, fear
to another, called
“homeland security.”

for something that wouldn’t come
in a cell made of red tape, her broken dreams.

Looking for something else
finding no mercy
returned to the same.
Returned to an unfamiliar land
living on the streets
alone and cold
sold into labor
trafficked for sex.

Thinks to herself,
it could be so simple
in a world without
lines drawn in the sand.

Children and Human Rights Violations in Border Enforcement

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, as a result of political, armed struggle in Central America, the United States experienced a dramatic increase in undocumented, unaccompanied youth immigration (Byrne 2008:9). Most of these immigrant youth crossed the Mexico-United States border (Vera 2008:10). Migration has continued as a result of armed violence and poor economic conditions in Mexico and Central America. The now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) would once detain unaccompanied immigrant minors. Prior to 1984, these youth were processed relatively efficiently and usually released to “a responsible adult” before immigration court proceedings (Navarro 1998:591-592). This meant that unaccompanied, immigrant youth could be released to the care of foster homes or other charitable organizations.

Yet, after 1984, the INS instituted new restrictions — unaccompanied, undocumented youth could only be released to “a parent of lawful guardian” (Navarro 1998:592). The Supreme Court supported the INS’s restrictions in Reno v. Flores (Navarro 1998:597). Because many immigrant children and youth did not have family in the United States, most were shunted off to detention facilities, the conditions of which were often extremely poor.
With the passage of the Homeland Security Act in 2002, undocumented (and unaccompanied) youth now fall under the responsibility of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) (Byrne 2008:9). The DHS goes through a process to determine whether or not the immigrant is under the age of 18 and unaccompanied (Byrne 2008:18).

Most sources claim that conditions have greatly improved since the ORR has taken responsibility for undocumented, unaccompanied youth. These sources cite improved conditions, the use of low-security facilities and the availability of foster care as positive changes.

Yet the DHS’s priorities — national/homeland security — conflict with the ORR’s priorities — immigrant youth welfare. The DHS aims to apprehend and remove unaccompanied immigrant youth from the United States (Lopez 2010:23-24). On average, “over 7,200 unaccompanied immigrant children [are] detained by the U.S. each year” (Lopez 2010:6). Immigration agencies under the DHS may detain these children and youth on the Mexico-U.S. border or within the borders of the United States. Because the federal government of the United States has made a clear shift of its priorities toward “national security,” child welfare is often curtailed at the border.

Many children and youth who have have first-hand experiences with U.S. Border Patrol report severe abuses, including but not limited to: physical abuse, handcuffing, starvation, dehydration, cramped and uncomfortable conditions and refusal of youth’s requests for medical treatment (Byrne 2008:9).

Currently, the federal government of the United States is also pushing to privatize many immigration detention centers (Lopez 2010:39). Doing so reduces expenses and the burden of responsibility on the government’s part. However, privatization means that corporations can outright discard the federal government’s protective policies in favor of efficiency, which often means an increase in child abuse.

The repatriation of undocumented immigrant youth is another area of U.S. immigration policy that deserves attention. In repatriating immigrant youth (returning immigrant youth to their home countries), the DHS often reintroduce youth to dangerous conditions including, but not limited to, increases in poverty and violence, and homelessness (Thompson 2008:55). For repatriated immigrant youth, there is also a significantly higher risk of being subjected to human trafficking, commonly for labor or sex (Thompson 2008:53).


Byrne, Olga. 2008. Unaccompanied Children in the United States: A Literature Review.     New York: Vera Institute of Justice.

Lopez, Alejandra. 2010. “Seeking ‘Alternatives to Detention’: Unaccompanied     Immigrant Children in the U.S. Immigration System.” Honors College Theses.     Paper 97.

Navarro, Lisa Rodriquez. 1998. “An analysis of Treatment of Unaccompanied Immigrant     and Refugee Children in INS Detention and other forms of Institutionalized     Custody.”

Thompson, Amy. 2008. A Child Alone and Without Papers: A report on the return and     repatriation of unaccompanied undocumented children by the United States.     Austin, TX: Center for Public Policy Priorities.

ICE Website Represents Immigrants As Criminals

The US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the largest branch within the Department of Homeland Security and, in addition, is responsible for the greatest number of deportations. Considering some of the literature our class has read this semester, it has become clear that ICE, whose website frames its goals as those of protecting our families, our borders, and the nation’s safety, is responsible for breaking apart thousands of families via the deportation of illegal immigrants.

Of the 396,906 immigrants deported last year (2011), 180,208 of them were deported for non-criminal reasons, which is nearly half of all deportations ( 2012).

Despite this large number of non-criminal deportees, ICE represents itself as an organization that “promote[s] homeland security and public safety” ( The ICE homepage has a continuously rotating news ticker, which is constantly updating with news releases regarding the detention and deportation of criminal illegal immigrants. One of the headlines reads “HSI, local law enforcement joint operation nets 6 arrests, seizure of illegal weapons, drugs” ( 2012), offering a link to a news release describing various arrests and seizures. For example, a successful raid is described in which “task force officers seized five additional .40 caliber magazines; 58 rounds of 9 caliber ammunition; an AR15 rifle; 427 rounds of 2.23 caliber ammunition; a 9 caliber, Sig Sauer model P229 pistol; a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver; 52 rounds of 9 caliber ammunition; three .40 caliber and two 9 caliber magazines; and 910 capsules of crack cocaine” (ice.gov2012). Another article reads, “ICE arrests 80 criminal aliens in Georgia, Carolinas” and describes how “Of those arrested, 20 were immigration fugitives, 14 re-entered the United States after a previous deportation and 46 were at-large criminals. The arrested aliens came from Mexico, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. ERO arrested 33 in Georgia, 15 in South Carolina and 32 in North Carolina” ( 2012).

If ICE was really interested in offering a full and complete representation of their deportation activities, they might post a picture of a child left alone in the U.S. whose parents are being deported due to a raid sponsored by ICE. Or, they might post an article about one of the 180,208 non-criminal immigrants who had been working in the United Sates for years and had made this country his home. Perhaps an exposé on how a family’s “separation poses huge economic costs to the family members in the U.S. household, who ironically may become more dependent on the U.S. government for assistance in the absence of the breadwinner ” or an article that focuses upon the tremendous “emotional, financial, and psychological trauma as a result of losing loved ones” (Hagan, Eschbach, and Rodriguez 2008: 84).

Obviously ICE isn’t going to be posting those articles anytime soon. However, what this class has taught me, and what is important for the public to understand, is that despite the stated aims of ICE, good people are being deported, losing loved ones, and being removed from their families. While the face of ICE is an anti-terrorist, anti-criminal organization, ICE is in many ways an organization that disrupts families, causing children (often times legal U.S. citizen children) psychological trauma and economic hardship.

The article “US Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s Well-being: The Impact of Policy Shifts” points out how “recent changes have led to a criminalization of federal immigration policy enforcement” (Androff et al. 2011:80). The way in which ICE chooses to represent itself and the people it detains is indicative of this criminalization, as it presents a much more sinister, and demonizing, depiction of who these deported immigrants are.


Androff, David K., Cecilia Ayon, David Becerra, Maria Gurrola, Lorraine Salas, JudyKrysik, Karen Gerdes, Elizabeth Segal. 2011. “US Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s Well-being: The Impact of Policy Shifts.” Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare XXXVIII(1): 77-98.

Hagan, Jacqueline. 2008. “U.S. Deportation Policy, Family Separation, and Circular Movement.” Internal Migration Review 42(1): 64-88.

ICE 2012. “Home”. Washington DC: Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved            May 11 2012 (

Deportations: Beyond the Numbers

We hear the numbers a lot: 396,906 immigrants were deported last year. 392,862 the year before that. And almost 390,000 in 2009 as well. Yet seldom is it included in these news reports who, exactly, is being deported, and what circumstances the person is being forced to leave behind.

A poster from a May Day rally in Poughkeepsie, NY

One common assumption is that most of the immigrants who are being deported are felons who steal identities, cheat the government, physically endanger others, or get involved with drugs and other criminal activities. President Obama’s administration has certainly placed a rhetorical emphasis on removing these kinds of people from the country—and indeed, the number of deportations of immigrants convicted of felonies (e.g. murder, child abuse, possession of illegal drugs, etc.) has increased by 70 percent over the last four years. But that still only accounts for about half of all of the people who have been deported during Obama’s tenure.

As for the other half? These immigrants are often family members of U.S. citizens—parents, children, spouses, siblings—who have been unable to obtain legal permanent residency status due to the bureaucratic vortex that constitutes our immigration system.

One of these family members is Felipe Montes. Mr. Montes spent nine years in the United States raising two children with his wife before he was deported in 2010. His wife Marie had been pregnant with a third child when he was forced to return to Mexico, and the loss of his income and support meant that Marie would struggle to raise all of the kids on her own. Two weeks after their third child was born, the local child welfare department took thr children from Marie and put them in foster care. Now Mr. Montes may never see his children again.

The tragic situation of the Montes family is not an anomaly. ColorLines reported in December 2011 that during the first six months of 2011 the Obama administration deported 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children, and there are now 5,100 children of detained and deported parents trapped in foster care.

A paper published in 2011 in the Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare describes the tremendous hardship that this separation can entail:

The disruption of undocumented families, when parents are separated from their children, results in increased symptoms of mental health problems among children. This disruption is so traumatic that the fear of deportation itself results in emotional stress. Fear of arrests and trauma from the workplace raids themselves have profound impacts on children. After the Iowa raid [a May 2008 federal crackdown which resulted in the arrests of 389 immigrants], half of the school system’s students were absent from school, including 90 percent of Hispanic children, because their parents were arrested or in hiding.

At the time, the May 2008 raid had been the largest-ever crackdown on undocumented workers. Despite the clear damage it inflicted on the families and communities in Iowa, however, the Obama administration has gone egregiously further this year. A six-day operation in April conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) nabbed 3,168 undocumented immigrants—with only about half (1,477) of those with felony convictions on their record. This policy will only continue to cause pain and hardship for families with mixed legal status, and must be reconsidered.

Additional collateral damage can be found in the industries of which these undocumented workers have been a part. To take one example, last summer, Alabama’s legislature followed an insidious legislative trend in the South by passing a bill that would criminalize unauthorized work in the state and empower the police to stop and detain any person suspected of being in the country illegally. The law’s passage immediately led to a mass exodus of workers, both documented and undocumented, from the state, for fear of being harassed by local authorities. Many of the workers who fled had made significant contributions to the state’s agricultural economy. Now, a paper published this January by the University of Alabama estimates that the economic costs of the immigrant diaspora will be around 70,000-140,000 jobs, up to $250 million in state income and sales taxes, and up to $10.8 billion in Alabama GDP—a staggering loss.

It should be clear by now that the federal government’s wanton disregard for these immigrants who are affected by deportations is unconscionable. Our policymakers should look beyond the basic deportation figures, because if they bothered to parse the numbers and examine the consequences, they would find that current policy is severely detrimental not just to families, but to communities, industries, and the economy as well.

 Works Cited:

Androff, David K. et al. 2011. “U.S. Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s Well-being: The Impact of Policy Shifts.” Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare. March 2011.

Addy, Samuel. “A Cost-Benefit Analysis of the New Alabama Immigration Law.” Center for Business and Economic Research, The University of Alabama. January 2012.

Privatization of Detention Centers Puts Human Rights at Risk

Today, privatized detention facilities have an ever-increasing influence over immigration policy and control measures due to rising rates of detainees in the system.  According to the Detention Watch Network, the annual number of immigrants detained and the costs to keep them has doubled in the last five years (Detention Watch Network, 2011).  The three major competing corporations are the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the GEO Group, and the Management and Training Corporation. While public detention centers have to comply with government rules and regulations, private corporations are self-interested and profit-driven, which leads to higher rates of rights violations.  The role of detention centers is changing as private corporations advocate for stricter immigration laws.  Stricter laws, means more arrests and over-crowding in detention facilities, mistreatment of workers and detainees, as well as increasing costs to tax payers.  By looking critically at the privatization of detention centers and the problems associated with them we can advocate for change.

The public should be aware of the role of private corporations and the ways they seek to turn a profit at the sake of human detainees.  Since 9/11, the number of detainees has skyrocketed (Detention Watch Network, 2011). Private prison corporations make big profits from immigrant detention.  In 2010 the annual revenue for the CCA was $1.69 billion, and the revenue for the GEO group was $1.17 billion (Detention Watch Network). These corporations stand to benefit from cracking down on immigration control similar to corporations involved in war. Private corporations now provide 49 percent of the beds for immigrant detainees (Detention Watch Network, 2011).  The CCA and GEO Group help the government by taking over the industry because they can do the job for less.  However, in an effort to cut their costs, their facilities are understaffed and overcrowded.

Detainees experience prolonged detention, insufficient medical treatment, sexual abuse, and other human rights violations (Detention Watch Network, 2011).  Conditions for the workers aren’t much better considering they pay lower than the government, have less benefits, and therefore a high turnover rate.

Additionally, as a business, corporations are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, which protects them from acknowledging these violations (, 2006).  The Detention Watch Network states, “The private prison industry has been very explicit about its intention to influence immigration detention policy and practice in accordance with its own profit motive” (2011). Private corporations spend thousands of dollars lobbying state representatives and government entities, and were very influential in the drafting and passing of Arizona SB 1070.

It is expensive to house detainees, and how much of it is necessary?  Immigrants can be detained for months to years in inhumane conditions.  The cost for one detainee a day is $166 (Math of Immigration Detention, 2011).  Taxpayers could save more than $1.6 billion if only individuals convicted of serious crimes were detained. However, most detainees were arrested for non-violent crimes (Math of Immigration Detention, 2011).  Although Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is supposed to prioritize its limited detention resources to

primarily combat the most serious offenses, 65% of all immigrants who were detained and deported from 1996 to 2006 were detained after being arrested for non-violent offenses (

Detention centers are also said to be ineffective and counterproductive in deterring immigration (;  According to the ACLU and Detention Watch Network, alternative, more humane, forms of monitoring immigrants outside of detention facilities cost as little as $12 per day.  Additionally, over half of the immigrant detainees have no criminal record (  As a result, families and individuals suffer in detention centers, being held unnecessarily for prolonged periods of time while the CCA, the GEO Group, and other private corporations make huge profits and advocate for stricter immigration laws.



2011. “The Influence of the Private Prison Industry in Immigration Detention.”

Detention Watch Network. Retrieved May 4, 2012 (

“Ten Things IDC Research Found About Immigration Detention.” International

Detention Coalition. Retrieved May 4, 2012 (

2011. “The Math of Immigration Detention: Runaway Costs for Immigration

Detention Do Not Add Up to Sensible Policies.” National Immigration Forum. Retrieved May 4, 2012 (

2011. “The Money Trail.” Detention Watch Network. Retrieved May 4, 2012


2011. “Securely Insecure: The Real Costs, Consequences, and Human Face of

Immigration Detention.” ACLU Georgia Detention Watch. Retrieved May 4, 2012 (