Last night I listened to a member of the U.S. Coast Guard narrate the experience of intercepting a boat full of Haitians trying to reach American soil. The worst part, he said, was that the immigrants thought they’d found "the welcome wagon." The Coast Guard was enthusiastically invited onto the boat before they burned it and repatriated its passengers.
I was thinking about that experience as I read Anna Clark’s piece on women prisoners -frequently, it seems, women in the process of being deported-who are forced to give birth in shackles lest they try to run while in labor. And I was still thinking about it as I read Nina Berstein’s New York Times report on 43-year-old Tanveer Ahmad, a New York City cab driver who died in an immigration detention center and whose death went unacknowledged by authorities for three years. He died of a heart attack in a facility that "did not allow guards to send detainees to the medical unit without prior approval."
Imprisoning peaceful people who happen to lack papers is coarsening work. If you draw a paycheck for catching women who’ve just completed a life-threatening journey across the desert in Arizona, or for keeping entire families behind bars in Texas, you’re going to develop a certain capacity for emotional distance. That would seem to imply the necessity for oversight and transparency. But as Berstein’s article demonstrates, and the ACLU has long complained, the world of immigration detention is at once antiquatedly barbaric in a Wild West kind of way and almost comically bureaucratic in a Terry Gilliam’s Brazil kind of way. Is American immigration policy so ugly even regulators can't bear to look?
Photograph of a man protesting American deportation policies by Alex Wong/Getty Images.