FROM DEPORTATION TO PRISON: THE POLITICS OF IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT IN POST-CIVIL RIGHTS AMERICA

This was the 5th annual Labour Day event happening at King’s University. The invited guest speaker was Dr. Patricia Rojas. She hoped to highlight the plight of immigrants coming to America in the hope of better opportunities or reuniting with family and the challenges they face. It is often said that we judge our character by how we treat the less privileged among us and this presentation hoped that various administrations will look after the welfare of immigrants. Immigration can be traced back a century ago and even then, unfair treatment was still rampant. This is an all-round issue that involves border communities, law enforcers, policy makers and elected officials.

The speaker aims at explaining the complexities of immigration and its humanity stakes. Immigration criminal records have risen over the years. It is puzzling how border patrol criminal persecution cases have risen from an estimated 29,000 to 84,000 between the years 1999-2010. Her observations on the spike led her to various border patrol stations to see firsthand what was happening. Her observations included; agents processing people in terms of criminal background instead of legal issues, legal residents’ rights being revoked and deported after residing in the US for decades and first time immigrants being thrown into the correctional facilities. In the past, the immigration issue was treated as a labour issue and not as a criminal issue like the present. This may have been true in the Obama Administration where they tried to control it but it is still an issue in the current Trump Administration. Although the lecture did not address the current issue of the Trump wall along the US-Mexican border, this issue may remain a concern for a long time to come.

Routine activities at the boarder are majorly to blame on the increase in criminal cases. Activities such as sorting people on criminal basis, classification of immigrants as criminals and non-criminals in databases, operation streamline that leads to false criminalization, 12 minute hearings where public prosecutors wrongly advice first time offenders to plead guilty to earn a lesser sentence not knowing that they are giving up the little rights they poses as these people are not aware that future re-entry will not be possible as they will already be criminals in the databases. Under normal circumstances, illegal entry is petty and attracts a 6 month sentence, re-entry however is a felony.

At the beginning of her investigations only 5 federal prisons and correction centers existed. The number however plummeted to 10.So, why is mass incarceration on the rise? The concerned parties need to look into this issue to preserve human dignity eradicating malpractice.