On this week’s episode of Unauthorized Disclosure, Kevin Gosztola and I spoke with Carlos Garcia, the director of Puente Arizona, a grassroots organization fighting for migrant justice, about the congressionally-mandated immigration detention bed quota that requires 34,000 people be held in immigration detention at all times. (You can download the episode here or subscribe for free on iTunes here.)
As Carlos explained in the interview, bed quotas are contributing to record high detentions and deportations, which are “breaking up families, destroying communities, and….leaving gaps in our society.” Describing the trauma this creates for immigrants and their loved ones, Carlos said, “It’s a constant fear. It’s a constant doubt of people, not knowing if their family members are going to be picked up that day.”
Carlos added that the immigration reform bill in Congress does nothing to alleviate bed quotas. In fact, if passed into law, detentions will intensify.
“A lot of the reasons why we are in this situation and people are being detained is because of previous immigration reform laws in 1996,” said Carlos. “In this last immigration bill that was proposed, it was also proposing more criminalization, more expansion of programs such as the Streamline program, which is a program in Arizona and Texas, a border program that gives people criminal sentences for having re-crossed the border.”
Carlos also updated us on hunger strikes that have taken place in immigration detention facilities across the country and offered examples for ways people are successfully fighting back.
When asked about the most difficult part of organizing around migrant justice, Carlos responded, “We have no friends,” since both the Democrats and Republicans to varying degrees are united against immigrant communities.
In the discussion portion Kevin and I talked about the need to be wary of US involvement in Nigeria, Yemen’s troubling deportation of a US journalist, Israel’s aggressive spying on the US, the Obama administration’s latest gag rule for government officials, and more.
I didn’t have a chance to post last week’s episode, which featured an interview with Rachel Meeropol, a senior staff attorney for CCR, about federal prisoners being isolated in Communications Management Units or CMUs. Fortunately, Kevin recapped and posted it here.
Below is a partial transcript of our interview with Carlos:
RANIA KHALEK: For our listeners who are unfamiliar with it, what are “bed quotas”?
CARLOS GARCIA: “Bed quotas” is something that was passed by Congress and it’s a mandate that makes it so 34,000 beds every year have to be paid for detainees. So, people in immigration detention, 34,000 beds have to be paid for from Congress from the budget to immigration detention centers, and that includes both private prisons, federal prisons and sometimes contracts with local, county or state prisons.
KHALEK: Would you say that this is something that contributes to the high number of deportations because the cycle of detaining people and keeping beds full has to continue?
GARCIA: Yes, once you pay for something, most people tend to want to use it so that’s why we are asking for this “bed quota” to be ended because if you’re paying for 34,000 beds unfortunately this administration and unfortunately [inaudible] has seen it as something that they now have to fill them. It’s obviously increased or made it to where there is quota and now officers are not only going about their regular business to detain and put people in deportation proceedings but now are going out of their way to make sure that these beds and that people from all over the country are put in a deportation process.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Would you be able to share with us some of the human impact on families who become victim of this system that involves “bed quotas”?
GARCIA: Because of “bed quotas” and because that increase is unfortunate—And in “bed quotas,” it also has these facilities or unfortunately agencies are keeping people longer in detention centers.
You’re usually inside a detention center while your case is moving along, while you’re in the process of deportation. And so the people that are in detention centers are fighting to stay here.
The effects: obviously, breaking up families, destroying communities, and just taking of people away from what they are already doing, from what is going on in their community. So, if someone, whatever position that they hold in their community, they’re being taken away and leaving gaps in our society to be put in detention and this process of deportation.
Obviously, children are suffering. Families are suffering. Loved ones are suffering because those people are gone, but there’s also the trauma of people, the people who haven’t been caught, knowing that there’s an agency and these quotas that are aiming and targeting them to be put in detention centers and to be put in the process of deportation.
It’s a constant fear. It’s a constant doubt of people, not knowing if their family members are going to be picked up that day.
KHALEK: It’s interesting that you talk about because the conditions in these detention centers—These are usually detention centers that are specifically designed to hold immigrants, to hold undocumented immigrants or whoever may have been rounded up at any given time. But the conditions are horrible and a lot of cases they’re worse than prisons for real criminals, which aren’t too great in this country either.
I’m not sure if your group is involved in this but there is a hunger strike that’s taking place in an immigrant center in Tacoma, Washington. Do you have any updates about that?
GARCIA: Sure, in Tacoma, Washington, over 50 [inaudible] people were on a hunger strike. It was an amazing unprecedented hunger strike that was led by the detainees in Tacoma, Washington. And you saw the detention centers in Texas and also Arizona follow with shorter hunger strikes but still in that same sense of pushing to change the conditions or pushing for them to get out.
A lot of people think of detention centers and a lot of times even enforcement agencies try to make them seem different from prisons. They’re not. They look exactly the same. The detention centers we have in Arizona used to be regular prisons or sometimes are co-habitated by people serving criminal sentences and people serving for immigration detention reasons. And there’s some places where it is worse off.
For example, we have a county jail in Pinal County, Arizona, that is set to be a county jail. County facilities are made for people to usually spend three to six months in these places. Now, when they serve as joint and have immigration detainees inside of them, you have people serving inside of these facilities that aren’t prepared to hold people long term for sometimes three, four, five years at a time. Conditions such as only get fed twice a day. You can’t go outside. You don’t have contact visits. And sometimes even worse than regular prisons, which are already bad in this country.
KHALEK: We were both curious actually about the immigration reform bill, whether or not this addresses the quotas.
GARCIA: From what we’ve seen in immigration reform—And I think there’s also a misconception. The words “immigration reform” means making things better. A lot of the reasons why we are in this situation and people are being detained is because of previous immigration reform laws in 1996 and also even the last time people advanced legalization, which is an amnesty. All these compromises or immigration laws come with consequences, things such as mandatory detention, where if you’re charged with a certain crime you have to be detained. Those sorts of things happen.
In this last immigration bill that was proposed, it was also proposing more criminalization, more expansion of programs such as the Streamline program, which is a program in Arizona and Texas, a border program that gives people criminal sentences for having re-crossed the border.