Please Don’t Deport My Mom

Border fence

[ Photo: Flickr: dawn ]

PBS’s FRONTLINE recently aired a powerful report on the Obama Administration’s “get tough” immigration policy. It’s both alarming and heart-breaking, and I’d encourage you to watch. At the very least, take seven minutes to watch this clip, which tells the story of Roxana Garcia, who was deported to Mexico and torn from her five American-born children, after being stopped by police for failing to signal before changing lanes. (Their story begins at minute 3:00 of the clip.)

Watch Lost in Detention on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

The FRONTLINE piece becomes even more upsetting beyond this clip, as it describes disturbing conditions at some of the government’s detention centers, where immigrants are held in purgatory, without access to legal counsel and vulnerable to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Is it possible that the Willacy Detention Center profiled by FRONTLINE — run by a privately-held, for-profit prison management firm with the Orwellian name Management & Training Corporation — does not reflect the typical case? Sure. But it’s hard to believe that officials could not foresee the inevitability of abuse in this situation.

If we are being charitable, we can conclude that the White House believes that, if it amps up enforcement, the GOP will come to the table to enact sweeping legal reforms. (If we are not being charitable — how many times can we be charitable here? — we can conclude that the White House sees draconian enforcement as “good politics.”) We’ve heard this story before. This is just another version of what has happened to the Obama Administration over and over again: assume that the GOP is interested in good faith compromise, concede their demands up-front, and then be crushed by a political bulldozer. As the President says of Republican immigration demands, “All the stuff they’ve asked for, we’ve done.” But this time, we’re not dealing with debt ceilings or tax policy. We’re dealing with human beings.

Today’s GOP isn’t interested in the damage to families, communities, or the U.S. economy being wrought by its anti-immigrant paranoia. It is interested in catering to its most extreme wing. As such, it’s no longer shocking to me that, when Newt Gingrich (hardly a moderate) proposed that some undocumented immigrants with families and long-standing ties to the U.S. not be deported, his fellow debaters pounced. From Michelle Bachmann to Mitt Romney, one Republican hopeful after another declared Gingrich a proponent of “amnesty.” (Never missing an opportunity to have it both ways, Romney later tried to evade follow-up questions to his own position on Fox News.)

It’ll be interesting to see how prominently immigration politics figure in the Republican nomination race. Historically, jingoism has risen during times of economic hardship, even as the actual number of new undocumented immigrants has simultaneously dropped. But, right now, it’s hard for me not to simply turn away in disgust at the willingness of those in power to dehumanize other people. I’d like to see Mitt Romney (or even Barack Obama) refer to Roxana Garcia as “an illegal” in the presence of her five children.


  1. Rich Boatti says:

    It’s a sad situation. I think Obama tried to “get tough” on immigration as a means to get comprehensive immigration reform through congress, but unfortunately that effort failed so the “get tough” was all that remained.

  2. Jess says:

    Such a beautifully written article and thank you so much for writing this! It means so much to me. I hope other media outlets republish your article. I need to know, Andrew, what is your take on Newt Gingrich’s Poilicy on immigration? Do you believe it is sincere?

    • Andrew Solomon says:

      Jess, I think that it’s hard to evaluate the sincerity of anything that Gingrich says. (I don’t think much about “sincerity” in general when it comes to politicians — mostly I think about interests — but Gingrich is on the extreme end of Machiavellian politics.) Still, it is interesting to ponder why he would come out with such a strong position that so recently had gotten Rick Perry into trouble with the same primary electorate. Perhaps it is because he had made similar statements in the past and knew that he was going to be attacked for them, in which case the best strategy may be to “get out ahead of them.” I’m not sure.

  3. Kenan says:

    Beautiful as always, Andrew. I think you are being too lenient, though, in your judgement of WDC’s “inevitable abuse” of a perhaps well-intentioned system. In fact, these for-profit prisons have helped craft this system. Of another one, Alternet writes:

    Recent anti-immigration laws in Alabama (HB56) and Georgia (HB87) guarantee that neighbor facilities will have an influx of “product.” In the past few years, CCA has spent $14.8 million lobbying for anti-immigration laws to ensure they have continuous access to fresh inmates and keep their money racket going. In 2010 CCA CEO Damon T. Hininger received $3,266,387 in total compensation.

    CCA is the Corrections Corporation of America, which pays its “illegal” inmates $1 for a day’s work, while charging them $5/minute to make phone calls.

    Another episode of Frontline (I’m looking for it but can’t find it) reported on a private juvenile detention center that was caught paying off a judge to give harsh sentences for absurdly minor infractions, again to create “customers.” Of the many ill-advised privatizations of public works in our nation’s recent history, private prisons surely represent the most egregious abrogation of state responsibility. What kind of a free society incentivizes incarceration?

  4. Alan says:

    One more sad illustration of how high rhetoric by the Obama folks gets undone by the harsh realities of politics. Our country has so lost its way and its origin as a beacon of freedom, light, and opportunity to lost souls in the world. Or, was that also just high rhetoric too, in its day?

    Thanks, Andrew, for another well-written and substantiated piece.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>