Sunday, January 29, 2017

The US Immigration System and Mass Detention

In 2003 I met a Russian national who had been imprisoned in NYC for 2 yrs. He was a legal and documented person who wasn't doing anything wrong. Even if we're just talking about justified racial profiling, it didn't make sense b/c he wasn't Arab or aligned with any radical thoughts. His profile was as far from potential terrorist at the time: white-looking, Russian, young, gay, engineer, cosmopolitan. Christian. He came to this country to work and in a Kafka-esque turn of events his name or region of origin got him snagged in the post-9/111 immigration mass detention dragnet.

On his first day in prison, he said his case worker looked at his file and said 'you shouldn't be here.' And then for the next 2 yrs, gov workers would visit him, quizzically look at his file and say 'hmm, this is strange' or 'how the hell did you end up here?' And yet he wasn't released b/c well..immigration bureaucracy. Everyone said someone else will take care of it and over 24 months passed. And yes, the Russian guy got a monetary settlement for being wrongfully imprisoned for years for absolutely no reason. But money doesn't equal time lost, psychological damage, or your family not knowing where you are for two years, and thinking you're dead.

Imagine waking up one day and being arrested, sent to prison, having no ability to call someone, and no official can tell you a) why you're here b) when you're getting out c) who you can see to have your case heard. And imagine months turning into years and still not knowing anything, and finally getting spat out onto the street with just your belongings. Every time we do one of these mass sweeps there are hundreds (possibly thousands) who face this surreal horror. And it happened under Bush. It happened under Obama. And now it's happening again.