Flipping the Script on Detention and Deportation: An AMC Workshop

Hey y’all, Amariah here. I know it’s been a minute, but I am excited to sit down and give some report-backs about my experience at the AMC with KCCA. The trip proved to be incredibly beneficial for the organization. Even without all of the amazing workshops we got to attend, the trip was worth it for the connections we made with other childcare activists and collectives, the alliances we’ve formed, the ideas we’ve brainstormed and will continue to work on collaboratively, the awesome footage Sam shot of interviews with childcare activists from all over the US, and the experience of working with other collectives to create entertaining, safe, and engaging spaces for children at a social justice-oriented conference.

I ended up going to fewer workshops than I had planned and doing far more tabling than I expected to. I really enjoyed tabling; I got to talk to dozens of people who were very interested in the idea of childcare collectives, many of whom were hoping to start on in their own city at some point. I got to talk to folks about why childcare activism is important, what kinds of things one needs to do to start up a childcare collective, and how our work is connected to all the different kinds of movement-building represented by various organizations at the conference. (Not to mention selling KCCA coloring books – many of our awesome books now have homes across the country and even in Canada!)

Still, I did get to attend some insightful and inspiring workshops. One of them was called “Flipping the Script on Detention and Deportation” with Carlos Perez de Alejo and Silky Shah. Our presenters gave us a useful 101 lesson about how immigration law enforcement looks in the US. I’ll list some highlights of this part of the presentation.

**On any given day, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detains over 33,000 immigrants, triple the number from 1996: Last year 392,800 immigrants were detained, costing taxpayers 1.77 billion at an average of $122 a day per bed. The number of people in detention has skyrocketed in the last five years while the unemployment rate has remained steady.

**ICE uses 350 facilities of which it owns and operates 7. Immigrants are housed at 16 facilities contracted with private prisons.

**Many people think that only folks affected by ‘illegal’ immigration are taken in, however: both undocumented and documented immigrants are detained, as well as survivors of torture, asylum seekers, families, and unaccompanied children are in detention, and other vulnerable groups such as LGBT and trans folks are automatically put in solitary confinement.

**Once detained, folks are often transferred across the country from their families; they have no right to counseling and have very few legal resources.

**In 1996, a law passed that made it so that anybody who is not a US citizen can be deported. This law created a category of crime called ‘aggravated felony’ which is not a felony and includes many crimes no one would describe as ‘aggravated.’ It is basically a list of things people can get deported for doing. This law is retroactive, so somebody who already served time for a crime and was let go can be subject to deportation. There is no judicial discretion; detention and deportation are mandated for people with aggravated felonies. When the law first passed it was not heavily enforced. However, since 9/11, the budget for deportation has skyrocketed. ICE was created under the department of homeland security in 2003.

**In 2004-2009, congress gave ICE $24 billion while schools had been (and continue to be) closing due to budget cuts.

**In 2007 Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) had record earnings of nearly 1.5 billion.
In 2001, right before 9/11, the prison industry was bankrupt. Now, almost 50% of people who are in detention are in private facilities. It has all been about business. The CCA has spent millions on lobbying and has been very involved in creating anti-immigrant bills.

Families are being torn apart and people are being treated without a shred of respect, dignity, or humanity. We discussed in the workshop how all of this greed and violence has been justified through rhetoric and popular ideas about the evils of immigrants. We were shown a series of historical propaganda images with very targeted messages; they all featured representations of people of color that completely dehumanized them while playing towards people’s fear of scarcity – the idea that people are ‘taking from us,’ using welfare to take resources that other people ‘deserve.’ (The implication being, somehow people born in the US deserve basic rights while folks born outside of the US do not.) They suggested that more people coming would result in overcrowding, that immigrants were coming to ‘take over’ – they’re coming for us, it’s unstoppable, and they will use whatever means necessary to take advantage of our vulnerabilities.

This is the kind of rhetoric that is absolutely pervasive and controlling in the US. It posits human beings as an annoying problem – like pests crawling all over our previously clean homes. The question is never, What is forcing people to leave their homes? What is making them want to come here? Economic, political, and ecological problems that the US causes are never discussed.

So the last part of the workshop was talking about ways we could battle this rhetoric. We looked at examples of pro-immigrant propaganda that showed the ‘immigration problem’ from different perspectives. We were given large paper and markers and instructed to try and design our own pro-immigrant poster. The exercise helped us think more in depth about what messages are out there and how to effectively combat them.

Our group came up with the idea of a poster which was split in half between two images: on the left a scene of a family at a dinner table eating together, looking surprised and frightented as ICE agents burst into their home, unhinging the door. The image on the right was of folks at work – it could have been folks serving food, writing an editorial for a newspaper, or fixing a car. The headline in bold letters across the bottom of both images read “Which looks like an invasion to you?” This is a confrontation of the language of ‘invasion’ that is used to describe the actions of immigrants who actually come here to work and support themselves and their families.

The facilitators were folks from the Detention Watch Network, (from detentionwatchnetwork.org)

“A national coalition of organizations and individuals working to educate the public and policy makers about the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for humane reform so that all who come to our shores receive fair and humane treatment.

They are lawyers, legal workers, activists, doctors, psychologists, national advocates, social workers, community organizers, artists, clergy, students, formerly detained immigrants, and affected families from around the country. They are engaged in individual case and impact litigation, documenting conditions violations, local and national administrative and legislative advocacy, community organizing and mobilizing, communication and messaging, popular education, teaching, and social service and pastoral care.”

I am grateful for their work in the Network and in creating and facilitating this enlightening and inspiring workshop. Collectively, KCCA activists (especially those of us who are white, documented US citizens) must be are aware of the enormity of the oppressive and inhumane actions of the US government and various law enforcement agencies, as well as the blatant racism and hate that is constantly directed at our immigrant comrades, both documented and undocumented. We must support immigrants in our community, whether by providing free childcare at meetings and events for groups fighting back in the war on immigrants, sharing food and camaraderie, or simply showing our support and solidarity at rallies, marches, and other acts of resistance led by our comrades on the front lines. Our friends and families suffer under capitalism and state fascism in countless ways. The exercise of formulating our own rhetoric, our own media, our own propaganda that represents our struggles and realities is so important. A topic on the agenda for the next meeting is formulating workshops for kids and/or adults that KCCA can facilitate, and I think something similar/related to this workshop is a great idea.

Sorry for the lengthy post, thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

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