Detention & Removal

Op-Eds are organized chronologically, with the most recent publications listed first.

“Criminalizing immigrants in the United States and locking them up indefinitely pending deportation began in the late 1880s after the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. This first federal immigration law jump-started the building of an enforcement machinery, but it was an underfunded and improvised jalopy at first...

...In its 1896 Wong Wing decision, the Supreme Court resolved this contradiction by declaring that detaining an immigrant pending deportation was “not imprisonment in a legal sense” and therefore was not subject to the protections afforded to someone accused of a crime.”

Some 90% of the people pushed out of the country during the 20th century were Mexicans deported via a coercive, fast-track administrative process euphemistically referred to as voluntary departure. Similar to prosecutors in the criminal justice system relying on plea bargains, immigration authorities depended on voluntary departure, making it seem like the best of all the bad options facing people who had been apprehended. These deportations without due process also functioned as a cost-saving measure, since they minimized detention-related expenses and reduced the number of immigration hearings.

A study of prison visitation in Iowa published in 2019 found that one additional visit per month would reduce misconduct in prison by 14 percent and time served by 11 percent...that when prisoners receive visitors they are 15 percent less likely to recidivate.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that the right to have a family should be protected by society and the state. When the BOP sends inmates hundreds or thousands of miles from their family, they are effectively denying them the possibility of seeing their mother, wife, children, or other family members ever again. This is an additional punishment beyond their criminal sentence.”

Making family reunification the centerpiece of the legal immigration system strengthened the United States in the 20th century while increasing the migration of people of color and benefiting U.S. citizens who were able to bring family members to join them. Keeping families apart is an effort to reduce immigration and whiten America — and history suggests that despite attempts by nativists to brand family reunification with the derisive, dehumanizing term chain migration, the public will remain steadfastly supportive of keeping families together.”

“...The U.S. military re-opened a Haitian refugee camp under the name Operation Sea Signal in 1994 that would eventually also hold Cuban migrants.

The story of Guantanamo shows that, once the U.S. establishes the infrastructure of prison camps for families, it can persist as prison camps for anyone. People who endured indefinite detention have described it as a form of torture – one that the U.S. now proposes to inflict on thousands of migrant families.

The detention of children and the separation of families has a much longer history than even this relatively recent episode suggests. The Trump administration’s shameful treatment of migrant children today is not, in fact, un-American but, sadly, part of a long American tradition. However, a more honorable tradition also endures, and that is the determination of migrants and their allies to fight for freedom. The Haitian children of Guantanamo built on that legacy. And so do all of those fighting for migrant children and families today.”

“[Trump] disparaged Haitians while simultaneously revoking their ability to legally reside in the United States under temporary protected status. We are in a moment that is strikingly reminiscent of the early 1980s, when fear and hatred of Haitians was used to justify the reinstitution and expansion of immigration detention.”

“The felons not families slogan is a dangerous myth, not only because Obama did not in fact target felons, but because the very idea that these are two distinct groups ignores the basic humanity of those convicted of felonies...

...Until we wrestle with the uncomfortable reality that our entire society has been criminalized, with more than two million people in prison and millions more under the surveillance of the carceral state, we will not be able to break out of the endless cycle of detention and deportation.

Oxford University Press Blog | March 21, 2017

“The roots of immigration control in America lay in the English poor law, which allowed each parish to banish transient beggars. English settlers in American colonies enacted similar laws...[and] Atlantic seaboard states built upon the colonial poor law to develop laws to restrict the immigration of destitute Europeans. American immigration control emerged as a measure to protect public treasuries from the expenses of supporting needy foreigners.”

“From 2009-2015, 56% of all immigrants removed from the country had no criminal convictions. The preliminary data from 2016, when Obama was still in office, suggests that this trend of deporting non-criminals continued. What’s more, a good portion of the so-called criminal deportees were arrested on low-level misdemeanor charges such as marijuana possession.”

“Executive discretion toward immigrants is as old as the American republic itself. Indeed, when George Washington assured a group of Irish immigrants in 1783 that the “bosom of America is open to receive . . . the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions,” he also cautioned that such welcome was subject to discretionary considerations: “[I]f, by decency and propriety of conduct, they appear to merit the enjoyment.”

The imposition of numerical limits on immigration from countries of the Western Hemisphere under the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 led to an upsurge of unauthorized migration from Mexico and Central America...the 1996 immigration laws...made removal mandatory for nearly all cases of unauthorized presence, with no administrative discretion or judicial review. America’s long history of practicing both deportation and legalization pretty much came to an end. The United States now only deports people.