I know that what I am asking is impossible. But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand….James Baldwin
César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández opens his book, Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants with this quote from James Baldwin. Professor García Hernández spoke in Houston yesterday at Brazos bookstore, and in his presentation echoed the core demand of his book: End the incarceration of immigrants. The quote from James Baldwin framed the discussion that followed. Ending the imprisonment of immigrants may seem nearly impossible, but we must nevertheless make the demand, recognizing that if it happens, it will take time.
García Hernández makes the case that the incarceration of immigrants is not justified by claims for security and protection. That, in fact, the evolution of immigrant prisons over the last 40 years have been driven by the strategic use of nationalist, race-baiting politics coupled with the profit generating subcontracting of enforcement operations. The two features – ideology and resources – intersect in a social structuring of incarceration. The practices that have evolved fly in the face of due process, and contradict existing legal protection.
Finally, we know that a country without immigrant jails is very possible. The United States had no immigrant prisons for nearly 25 years. Between the closing of Ellis Island, and other detention sites by President Eisenhower in 1954 and the decision to begin incarcerating Haitian and Cuban asylum seekers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, incarceration was not a tactic employed by immigration authorities.
While there is not a blueprint for ending immigrant incarceration in the book, there is a discussion about the need to get engaged, and to not be afraid to make the demand to abolish jails. Too many advocates focus exclusively on improving the conditions of incarceration without a parallel demand of ending the practice. As with the prison abolition movement, this means seeking every means possible to reduce incarceration, and thus the resources made available for it, while also eroding the ideological justifications.
Another Death in ICE Custody
Another person has died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. David Hernandez Colula was from Mexico, and had been in the United States for at least 5 years. He was picked up by ICE on December 6, 2019 following release from St. Joseph County jail in Michigan two days earlier. He had been previously detained by ICE in 2014 and then released on bond. The apparent cause of death is self-inflicted strangulation. He died on Thursday, February 20. He was being held at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown.
David Hernandez Colula is the seventh person to die in ICE custody since the new fiscal year began on October 1, 2019, and the fourth to take his own life. The other six men to die since October 1 are:
Nebane Abienwi, from Cameroon, October 1, 2019. Otay Mesa Detention facility (CoreCivic).
Roylan Hernandez-Diaz, from Cuba, October 15, 2019, Richwood Correctional Facility (Lasalle Corrections).
Anthony Oluseye Akinyemi from Nigeria, December 21, 2019. Worcester County Jail.
Samuelino Pitchout Mavinga from France, December 29, 2019. Otero County Processing Center (Management Training Corporation).
Ben James Owen from Britain, January 26, 2020. Baker County Detention Center (Baker County Sheriff’s Office).
A 63 year-old man from Cuba (Name not released), January 27, 2020, Larkin Medical Center, Miami, FL.
When César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández signed my book, he simply wrote: Dreaming of Freedom.
It is a dream we must dream together.