Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Immigration Issues For The Debate

Roque Planas reports in Huffington Post that California senator Kamala Harris "is now a leading foe of President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown." However, when she was state Attorney General

From 2011 to 2013, as pro-immigrant California activists and legislators struggled to pass a trailblazing, statewide sanctuary law called the Trust Act over the objections of then-Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and the Obama administration, Harris remained largely silent.

Harris, however, is currently only one of 23 candidates, albeit one of the five leading Democratic contenders for the presidency. Her ambiguous record toward immigration policy, though, raises a larger issue about immigration (and beyond), one which should be raised by the hosts of the upcoming debates. Planas explains

Under President Barack Obama, deportations from the interior of the country had climbed to the highest levels recorded since the mass expulsion of the 1950s. That increase was driven by Secure Communities, a program that requires local police to share the fingerprints of arrested migrants with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE, in turn, slaps local arrestees with a request to hold them in jail on the feds’ behalf, even if their charges are dropped or they are eligible to bond out.

At the upcoming debates, the NBC/MSNBC moderators can ask general questions, thus soliciting general answers which mean little. Fortunately, on immigration at least, they can ask specific questions. 

One of these would be whether the candidates believe that local authorities should be required to offer to ICE the fingerprints of any individuals who are arrested and/or whether they believe that accused misdemeanants or felons should be held for any length of time for the agency.

But an even more important question, because it suggests a much larger issue, would be the use of private prisons.  The private prison industry has grown substantially in the past two decades, and Mother Jones' Madison Pauly notes that nearly three-quarters of individuals detained for immigration violations now are held in private prisons. Further

Between 2002, when the Department of Homeland Security was created, and 2017, the total number of immigrants arrested by ICE and apprehended by the Border Patrol fell by more than half, correlating with lower levels of illegal immigration. Yet the average daily population of US detention centers nearly doubled.

While profits in the private prison industry have grown because immigrant detainees, it is likely also that the detention of immigrants has grown because of the prominence of private prisons. If Democrats are sincere in wanting to curb the lock-'em-up policy toward immigrants, they need to come out decisively in opposition to private detention.

The issue of private prisons extends beyond immigrants, however. Although employed primarily for (presumably) illegal entrants, for-profit centers are utilized also to house inmates in the general population, thus encouraging Judges to incarcerate defendants. If Democrats are intent on reforming the criminal justice system, they need to advocate the elimination of private prisons, for immigrants and for the native-born population. A debate is a good place to start.

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