Immigration v. Incarceration? Lock ‘em up usually wins
By Sean Pittman
In a competition between immigration and incarceration, it isn’t really much of a contest. Incarceration in America significantly tips the scales.
For those who believe the Trump administration’s family separation immigration policy is an un-American aberration, think again. Putting people behind bars is deeply rooted in the American way.
The United States already is the world’s largest jailer with 2.3 million persons in prison or jails. That’s almost four times the number of people incarcerated in the Russian Federation.
Our country, as great and beloved as it is, has a history of putting people behind bars. Black Americans have endured incarceration in the form of slavery going back to our nation’s birth, and it didn’t end there.
By law, or by whim, prison remains a powerful tool for America to deprive Black citizens of their rights long after slavery and legal segregation ended.
From the internment of Japanese American during World War II, to America’s ongoing War on Drugs that resulted in the imprisonment of Blacks and Latinos for misdemeanor drug charges, America has a penchant to lock ‘them’ up. These factors and others raise a significant question about whether the mass incarceration is about public protection or private profit?
The latest statistics show only 34,000 individuals were incarcerated because of immigration detention, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. However, those figures will change, especially since the White House believes separating children from their parents works as a deterrent in keeping unwanted refugees and immigrants out of the United States.
Florida reportedly is now home to 1,000 of these jailed kids, and the odds are that our government’s immigration policy will feature even more detainment and imprisonment.
Private prison companies like the Florida-based Geo Group Inc., are expected to make big money as the Trump administration recently sought a “request for information” for 15,000 additional beds to contain families crossing the border. Stock in private prison firms is expected to rise as investors bet on the demand for more detention beds.
The good news is that many Americans oppose any immigration policy that separates children from their parents. A recent poll of likely voters in Florida showed 55 percent of the respondents oppose Trump’s family separation policy. In fact, an overwhelming 72 percent favor allowing young immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents to remain in the country.
Still, that same poll found a mixed bag when it comes to our nation’s immigration policies. A majority of respondents, 58 percent, think building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is a good idea and 43 percent believe recent immigrants from Mexico and Latin America have made life worse in Florida.
The outrage over tearing families apart and then caging their children has brought the need for immigration reform back into the public spotlight. Trump’s incarceration policy must end.
Unfortunately, the president isn’t interested in reforming immigration policies. As a result, Trump is creating a very different America, one where the welcome mat for the masses yearning to be free has been replaced with a jail cell.
Sean Pittman is an attorney and senior partner of The Pittman Law Group, offices Tallahassee, Miami and Riviera Beach.