Monday, October 19, 2009

Death in Texas

(The following is an excerpt from a recently published essay of mine in the Boston Review. It is online at The Obama administration has deftly deflected ethical arguments against mass detention with liberal rule-of-law logic. DHS, it argues, is simply upholding the rule of law by consistently and wholeheartedly enforcing immigration statutes and securing the border. Rather than echoing or shadowing the ideological restrictionism of the right, as the Bush administration did, the Obama administration argues that enforcement-first immigration policy will establish the political foundation for immigration reform. But there is no sign yet that the administration or the Democratic leadership are willing to lead the way toward durable immigration reform that would address both the future structure of immigration and the failures of the existing immigration system. Such a reform should be based on measurements of how immigration flows affect existing wages. Armed with these benchmarks, we can establish how much new immigration is sustainable. The goal is both to ensure that new immigration will not undermine wages or working conditions in the U.S. labor force, and, at the same time, to allow American society and the economy to benefit from regulated flows of unskilled and skilled labor. Reforms would need to account for unauthorized immigrants who for many years were tolerated or even welcomed in the United States. These immigrants and their families have integrated into this country, and should now be accorded a path to citizenship. As the immigrant crackdown continues, hundreds of thousands of immigrants like Jesus Manuel Galindo will be caught in the profit-driven public-private-prison complex. In the end though, the human cost of the system is unlikely to bring it down. It may only be when citizens and politicians start questioning the financial cost of incarcerating immigrants that these public-private prisons will go bust. Meanwhile, the 26 inmates identified by GEO as having been involved in the riot following Galindo’s death will spend an additional year in detention. After the initial April 2009 count against them failed to elicit guilty pleas—there was little hard evidence—the U.S. Attorney’s office added another count to the indictment under an obscure statute requiring a mandatory ten-year sentence for the use of fire in the commission of a federal crime. Under threat, all plead guilty to the first charge. More than one hundred inmates will be indicted for the second riot. Reeves County recently approved another $15.5 million in project revenue bonds to pay for prison repairs and upgrades that will not be covered by insurance. If the County does not make the costly improvements, it may lose its BOP contract to imprison criminal aliens. County Attorney Alvarez knows what is at stake. “Without that prison,” she told the Commissioners Court, “basically, Reeves County is going under.” Photo/Tom Barry: Reeves County Detention Center

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