Commentary: Profiting from immigration cruelty: What is your price?

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent arresting a suspect in 2014. Image via Wikipedia.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent arresting a suspect in 2014. Image via Wikipedia.
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By Barbara Franz

Are you willing to profit from government policies that inflict cruelty?

County jails in Bergen, Hudson and Essex are getting into the immigration detention business. It’s a lucrative endeavor!

President Trump has expanded the scope of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), sending more than 1,900 immigrants to jails in those three counties.

Nationwide, the hunt is on for illegal immigrants. According to Matt Katz from WNYC, arrests of undocumented immigrants with no criminal record increased by 203 percent in the first 14 months of the Trump Administration, compared to the last 14 months of the Obama Administration.

During the same time period, the numbers show that arrests of undocumented immigrants with criminal records grew just 18 percent. To be sure, ICE deported more undocumented immigrants during the Obama administration than under any other president.

Barbara Franz
Barbara Franz

However, prior to 2017, ICE only targeted undocumented immigrants who were convicted of serious crimes, gang members and national security threats. The Trump administration expanded the scope of removable immigrants to include anyone in the country illegally. And if they are caught in New York or New Jersey, more likely than not they will end up in either the Bergen, Hudson or Essex county jail.

Based on their different contracts, the county jails collect between $77 and $120 per day for each incarcerated immigrant. The federal government pays the three counties about $6 million per month; overall they have collected more than $150 million since 2015. Along with the privately-run Contract Detention Center in Elizabeth, the four New Jersey facilities currently house more than 2,000 immigrants.

The availability of beds in county jails is due to a law signed by former Governor Chris Christie that diverts low-level drug offenders away from jail and into treatment. This law and a broad bail reform have resulted in a dramatic drop in inmates throughout the state.

Between January 2017, when the state’s law went into effect, and April 2018, the pre-trial jail population plummeted by 24 percent. The cells were empty, and the federal government needed the space to detain people who entered the country and applied for asylum, or crossed the border without authorization, or for those long-term undocumented residents who were picked up by ICE simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The scheme saves the local taxpayers millions of dollars. Losing the ICE contracts would cost the local municipalities more than $11.3 million in taxes, according to the Hudson County Clerk’s Office. This number would represent an average tax increase of 3.32 percent in each municipality.

We must ask two questions: One practical, and one humanitarian.

Pragmatically, wouldn’t it be more efficient and less cruel to enforce immigration laws through community supervision and electronic monitoring rather than through family separation and mass detention?

With community supervision, a non-profit agency provides families with social workers, who help them find housing and transportation, and who make sure they attend court hearings and comply with the law.

Alternatively, immigrants could be released with electronic monitoring, which generally involves placing GPS ankle monitors on the immigrants. This latter option is certainly the most inexpensive method of surveilling, given that an ankle bracelet costs between $6 and 10 per day.

The former option would raise the demand for social work within our communities. Social workers help marginalized groups adjust and acculturate, and in many ways, they make our communities more secure than do jail guards (approximately 100 of whom would lose their jobs if we halt the incarceration of immigrants).

Some have argued that ICE contracts with Bergen, Hudson and Essex jails have the merit of keeping locked-up immigrants geographically near their attorneys and loved ones; ankle monitors or social workers do this better and cheaper.

What about humanitarian intent? How much cash will it take to make you sell out your neighbors, coworkers, employees and friends?

There is a long history of people financially benefiting from cruelty.

In Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Crystal in Germany), German “Aryan” citizens killed at least 91 people, plundered 7,500 Jewish businesses and kept the spoils, and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries.

While the arrest of 30,000 Jewish men and the destruction of 1,000 synagogues are more spoken about, the massive theft of Jewish property during the 1930s and ’40s began with this neighborly looting.

British colonialism in India incorporated out-and-out looting, by shipping away massive quantities of precious materials. And ruthless taxation and trade restrictions essentially caused the collapse of the Indian economy (which shrunk from 23 percent of the world economy during the 17th-18th centuries to 4 percent in 1947 ).

While devastating to the Indians, this brought wealth to the British; there is a direct line between the decline of Indian silk and cotton industries and the rise of the British textile industry.

Speaking of cotton, slave-grown cotton in the USA provided more than half of all export earnings. By 1840, the South grew 60 percent of the world’s cotton and provided some 70 percent of the cotton consumed by the British textile industry.

Thus, slavery paid for a substantial share of the capital, iron, and manufactured goods that laid the basis for American economic growth, from which most farmers and workers profited directly or indirectly. Germans, British, and Americans all reaped the benefits of cruelty, pilferage, and exploitation.

Reaping the benefits of reduced taxes because your municipality collects money for imprisoning immigrants may not rank with looting Jewish businesses in Germany, stealing precious materials from India, or capitalizing on slave-grown cotton in the USA. But it is profiting from government policies that needlessly inflict cruelty on others.

First, the GOP administration talks about immigrants as vermin and rapists; next it separates children from their parents and needlessly incarcerates them; then it co-opts us into the business of mass incarceration of foreigners.

What will it take for Americans to stand up and demand an end to this?

Barbara Franz, Ph.D., is a political science professor at Rider University, and a Morristown resident.

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Editor’s note: The opinions expressed above are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.

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