Immigrant Detention Should Have No Place in Our Society

In May 2018, Fernando Arredondo and his 12-year-old daughter, Andrea, reached the U.S.-Mexico border. The two had fled Guatemala after gang members killed his son, Marco, and threatened the rest of the family.

Weeks earlier, the Trump administration had introduced the zero-tolerance policy: Adult migrants who were caught crossing the border without permission were to be prosecuted and imprisoned, and the children traveling with them taken away and detained separately.

Mr. Arredondo was not aware of the new policy, but it should not have mattered. He did not cross the border illegally. He and Andrea walked to a Border Patrol processing center in Laredo, Texas, and asked for asylum, a right guaranteed by U.S. law. Still, an immigration official took Andrea from Mr. Arredondo and placed them in different cells. Hours later, the officials lined up a group of children, including Andrea, and drove them away without explanation.

The next day, Mr. Arredondo was transported to a different facility. When he arrived, his eyes fell on the vastness of the complex, which was surrounded by razor wire and policed by guards. Even though he had not broken the law, he now found himself at the Rio Grande Detention Center, a holding facility for men that was run by the GEO Group, a private prison corporation.

The United States was founded on the notion that it welcomes “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but it is also a nation of prisoners. Mr. Arredondo’s story sheds light on how immigrant detention overlaps with America’s prison system.

In theory, the purposes of detention and imprisonment are distinct. Unlike people held by the criminal justice system, detained immigrants are not being penalized for breaking the law; they are being held while they wait for permission to enter the country or until they are removed or deported. Nonetheless, the nation’s detention and prison systems have grown side by side, buttressed by the same logic and practice.

Back to top button