Immigration policies are criminalizing our communities

by Christina Mansfield, Cinthya Muñoz Ramos and Diana Zuñiga

In this moment, with President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration and the mass protests throughout the country against the grand jury acquittals of police officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo for the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, it is more important than ever for Black and Latino communities to confront racism and the oppressive structures that deny our fundamental humanity and divide us into those who are worthy of justice and those who are not.

Southern-California-protest-‘Stop-criminalizing-our-communities’-081614-300x200, Immigration policies are criminalizing our communities, News & Views
On Aug. 16, 2014, communities throughout Southern California caravanned to oppose a series of proposed prison and jail expansion plans.

The executive action that President Obama just approved on immigration, providing relief to less than 40 percent of our community, is no doubt the result of the tireless organizing and leadership of immigrant communities similar to Canada Toronto Immigration Services. On the one hand, it demonstrates the significance and impact of our marching, community forums, door-knocking and direct actions to demand an end to the deportations and call for immigration reform. On the other, it has presented another opportunity for the state to divide us into “good” and “bad” immigrants, for those dealing with immigration problems Becraft immigration law is one of the most common laws that help resolve this kind of situations.

This executive action is a double-edged sword, a very sharp one at that. For the estimated 5 million who may benefit from this, the fear of detention, deportation and separation from loved ones will be alleviated. For the 7 million who will not qualify for this relief, it creates an open target range for law enforcement to profile, police and deport the “undeserving.” Not only does it exclude and alienate a large part of the community, but community members have also said it makes them a clear target for detention, deportation and continued dehumanization.

The continued dehumanization of Latino communities begins with the concrete faction established by this executive action and is deeply rooted in the divisive language used to distinguish the “worthy immigrant” from “unworthy immigrant,” the “innocent and deserving” from the “felon.”

The end of S-Comm and the birth of PEP-Comm

A key part of the executive action was the announcement that “Secure Communities” or “S-Comm” will end and instead there would be new priorities for “enforcement,” to carry out detentions and deportations. This is a bright red light that is disguised as relief. Deportations and detentions have exponentially increased under the Obama administration, with over 2 million people deported since this administration took office and over 34,000 people detained every day.

CIVIC-members-protest-Adelanto-prison-jail-expansion-290x300, Immigration policies are criminalizing our communities, News & Views
Members of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) organize against the new prison and jail plans.

S-Comm was launched in 2008 and activated in 2010. In its description, it enlisted the “voluntary” collaboration of local law enforcement to detain and hold immigrants accused of a crime for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to pick them up. The administration thought there would be no way anybody could argue against S-Comm, after all who would dare protest against secure communities? Well, we did.

The visionary and coordinated organizing that we took on throughout the country, at local, state and national levels, was driven by our understanding that the program violated due process rights, further deteriorated community trust in police, and squandered local resources that could have otherwise been used for much needed community-based programs.

Not to mention our understanding that “a secure community is an organized one” made S-Comm so unpopular and ineffective for the administration that they had to end it. Or rather rebrand it.

This new Priorities Enforcement Program or, as we call it, PEP-Comm, will continue to take everyone’s fingerprints at booking and have them checked against ICE’s database as well as enlist local law enforcement collaboration via notification instead of detention of persons they are interested in. PEP-Comm is voluntary, as was S-Comm and, like S-Comm, we believe it will violate due process and increase racial profiling and prolonged detention by local law enforcement; the program will also ensure the continuation of broken families and torn communities by way of its aggressive practices of detention and deportation.

One flaw in Obama’s executive plan is that, while it protects certain categories of undocumented immigrants from deportation, it does not attack the racist and profit-driven structure of the immigration detention system. President Obama’s plan leaves intact a “Congressional Bed Quota” that requires 34,000 people be locked up in immigration detention each day.

Instead of lowering the total number of people that ICE may hunt, detain, sell to corporations and deport, Obama’s plan provides relief for “good immigrants,” ensuring that “bad immigrants” will be more heavily targeted by law enforcement than ever.

Another problem in debates on immigration reform is that the structure of criminalization waged against immigrant communities of color is rarely addressed. The rhetoric of “criminal” and “felon” are thrown around with little understanding of how these categories are defined under immigration law.

Instead of lowering the total number of people that ICE may hunt, detain, sell to corporations and deport, Obama’s plan provides relief for “good immigrants,” ensuring that “bad immigrants” will be more heavily targeted by law enforcement than ever.

For example, non-citizens who are convicted of an “aggravated felony” are mandatorily detained in immigration detention and barred from receiving most forms of relief that would protect them from deportation. However, an offense need not be “aggravated” or a “felony” to be considered an “aggravated felony” under federal immigration law.

This is where Obama’s “felons not families” rhetoric begins to break down. Countless families are permanently separated by detention and deportation when one member is unnecessarily branded a “felon” under immigration law, redefining categories of “good” and “bad,” who is deserving of rights and who is disposable.

With enforcement and continued criminalization has come the push towards more carceral expansion that is happening on multiple fronts in California through the construction of county jails, state prisons, private jails and detention facilities. Many of these proposals are establishing narratives that focus on the construction of mental health, gender responsive or green jails.

‘No-new-jail-for-Adelanto’-banner-300x98, Immigration policies are criminalizing our communities, News & Views

Currently in California, 41 out of 58 counties are attempting to build jails, two are expanding existing prisons and there are at least four private detention centers being proposed. An example of carceral expansion is depicted in the Los Angeles jail fight. (See

Los Angeles recently approved a massive $2 billion jail plan to build a women’s jail and a mental health jail. While they approved these expansion plans, they have also focused on reinstating the 287(g) agreement that now gives the LA Sheriff’s Department the authority to serve as ICE ( This process continues to shift the focus from relief and support in the community to more funding for increased policing and incarceration against the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Vonya-Quarles-of-All-of-Us-or-None-testifies-against-new-jail-Adelanto-City-Council-121014-300x226, Immigration policies are criminalizing our communities, News & Views
On Wednesday, Dec. 10, Vonya Quarles of All of Us or None, along with other San Bernardino County residents and members of LA No More Jails, attended the Adelanto City Council meeting to object to the proposed new jail plan.

Another issue that directly contributes to carceral expansion is the profit incentive that fuels the expanding immigration detention system. Private prison corporations like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) lobby Congress to maintain the Bed Quota, ensuring they have a steady flow of profit (human life). Meanwhile, taxpayers spend $5 billion enforcing the “Congressional Bed Quota,” a name that deliberately leaves out the human beings that lie in detention center beds each night.

For example, GEO Group is guaranteed $180,000 taxpayer dollars each year to run immigration detention centers. Yet this guarantee of profit is not enough. This model is now being funneled towards lobbying counties in California to approve the construction of private facilities that can then be used to house prisoners from other counties and bring a profit to rural communities that are struggling.

One example of this is being proposed in Southern California where there are plans to construct two jails in Adelanto, one of which is being proposed for Los Angeles ( Adelanto’s previous City Council voted to approve 3,264 cages to house folks from LA County, proposed by the Corrections Corporation of America and developer Buck Johns – and a 1,050-bed facility proposed by for-profit prison operators Geo Group Inc.

This is on top of the already existing High Desert prison industrial complex in Adelanto that has resulted in a total of 9,235 cages within a seven-mile radius, plus current construction to add 640 detention beds to a current facility. The neverending addiction to incarceration that impacts all of our communities is clearly seen in the plans to expand capacity, which will in turn continue the “if you build them, you must fill them” mindset.

Since the spring, the Obama administration has increased its capacity to detain families exponentially. From 2009 to 2014, fewer than 100 beds were required for family detention. In a matter of months, the Obama administration has approved detention center expansion plans that will increase the number of family detention beds to at least 4,000. As President Obama assures us that the administration will target “felons not families, criminals not children,” we are witnessing the largest expansion of family detention since the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.

The neverending addiction to incarceration that impacts all of our communities is clearly seen in the plans to expand capacity, which will in turn continue the “if you build them, you must fill them” mindset.

President Obama in his speech made it a point to say that the priorities for enforcement will be “felons not families, criminals not children, gang members not a mom who is working hard to provide for her kids”. We refute that. Our work refutes that.

Everyone in our communities is a critical and integral part of it. So-called “felons, criminals and gang members” are our families, our children, our mothers and fathers working hard to provide for their kids, loved ones and elderly. The understanding that the act of migrating is criminalized behavior and the knowledge that people of color disproportionately end up with criminal convictions pushes us to envision that a path to citizenship starts by rejecting criminalization entirely. We cannot buy into the narrative that divides our communities.

We will continue our organizing for our whole community’s safety and rights. We will continue to fight alongside and take leadership from the most vulnerable in our communities who made this executive action possible, who are on the frontlines of fighting against jail expansion and for better conditions in detention, an end to the quota and an end to PEP-Comm. Collectively, our continuous fight with the same visionary commitment to the leadership of our communities that includes every voice and every story in our marches, direct actions and organizing will bring us victory.

Christina Mansfield, co-director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), a national visitation network that provides a consistent community presence and independent oversight of the U.S. immigration detention system, can be contacted at P.O. Box 40677, San Francisco, CA 94140,

Cinthya Muñoz Ramos, immigrant rights organizer with Causa Justa:Just Cause, a multi-racial, grassroots organization building community leadership to achieve justice for low-income San Francisco and Oakland residents, can be reached via

Diana Zuñiga, field organizer for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), a coalition of over 65 organizations working to reduce prison spending by stopping prison and jail expansion and reducing the number of people who are locked up in California, can be contacted at P.O. Box 73688, Los Angeles, CA 90003,