Last week, it was announced that a private company will be allowed to run a prison in Michigan to house undocumented immigrants. This is not good news.
What makes the deal especially disheartening is the intersection of two major problems: our continued mistreatment of undocumented immigrants and the concerning trend toward privatized incarceration.
For too long, our country has taken a punitive approach to immigration, threatening undocumented folks with detention and deportation. Under the Trump administration, things have only gotten worse, with reports of family separation and children in cages.
Amid all the propaganda conservatives spread to encourage fear and racism toward immigrants—statements about this detention center even use the dehumanizing term “criminal aliens” to describe undocumented immigrants—it’s all too easy for the humanity and struggles of undocumented immigrants to get lost in the noise.
The truth is, the vast majority of these folks are just people who come here hoping for a better life for themselves and their families, whether they’re fleeing violence in their home countries or searching for better economic and educational opportunities. We should view immigrants with compassion and empathy, instead of doubling down on a punitive approach.
Even worse, this deal puts a private corporation in charge of detaining immigrants—which, as evidenced by the many failures of private prisons, a terrible idea. For one thing, private companies have an incentive to increase profits by cutting corners—that’s how Michigan prisoners ended up with maggot-infested food from Aramark and a health provider that failed for more than a year to diagnose and address a scabies outbreak.
Privatizing incarceration also creates an entire class of people with a vested interest in keeping people behind bars. In the same way private prison companies benefit from mass incarceration, those that profit off of immigrant detention centers have reason to favor the continued criminalization of immigration.
Taking a punitive approach to immigration is bad enough, and letting corporate interests profit off of immigrants’ suffering is even worse. This deal is a step in the wrong direction, and it’s on all of us to fight for both the safety and wellbeing of the immigrant community and an end to mass incarceration.