Introduction

by Janelle Tupper

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This issue of the Washington Memo explores how harsh immigration enforcement policies have impacted families, including a first-person story of a mother separated from her children. We also hear about how Mennonite Central Committee works with immigrants and how government policies can and must be changed to keep families together.

The immigration debate is often ugly, full of heated rhetoric and hateful speech. Beyond fear-mongering and misinformation, there is another factor driving the push for harsh enforcement of immigration law: profits.

The figures are shocking. Companies such as Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Halliburton, and others have received contracts from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol ranging from tens to hundreds of millions of dollars over the past few years. These contracts are aimed at “securing” the border through fencing, surveillance, and weapons.

As borders become increasingly militarized in the face of men and women seeking economic opportunity, these numbers give us pause to consider what is really necessary and how much of the “border threat” is imagined in order to serve corporate interests.

The figures are no more palatable for immigrant detention. Half of the full-time detention centers used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are run by two private companies, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group.

CCA and Geo Group each reported billions of dollars in profits in 2009, with significant portions coming from contracts with ICE. Stock prices for both companies soared in 2007, when President Bush increased funding for immigration enforcement.

Reports are growing of corporations pushing for harsher immigration enforcement, or even helping lawmakers craft laws in their favor, such as Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, which greatly increased demand for centers to hold individuals detained by local police.

The consequences of our immigration system are clear: a family torn apart, a bright student unable to attend college, a young man sent back to dangerous conditions in a country he has never known. We gain nothing from such practices.

Immigration policy should not be designed with the interests of corporations at heart, but of people: U.S. citizens and immigrants alike. The human suffering caused by border enforcement and immigrant detention is not justified by impressive stock prices or rising corporate executive salaries.

The Hebrew prophets cried out against those who oppress the vulnerable to increase their own wealth, and we should do the same.

 

Janelle Tupper is an intern in the MCC Washington Office.

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