Student Reflection: Crimmigration and Immigrant Detention in South Florida

October 14, 2015
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Guest Post by Yoselyn Paulino, Student at University of Miami

CCA Go Away Campaign, University of Miami Special Collections, Florida Immigrant Coalition Collection

On the first day of class, I had no idea what detention centers were. I loosely knew about immigration and deportation, yet never considered what stood between the two. I honestly was under the impression that once immigrants were identified by authorities, they were immediately sent back to their countries of origin. In South Florida alone, there are two immigrant detention centers. Krome Detention Center, located about thirty five minutes west of my university, is run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Broward Transitional Center, located about forty minutes north of my university, is owned and run by GEO Group. The concept of privatized detention centers was what came as the biggest shock to me. I had no idea that the same companies who build and run private prisons are also building and running private detention centers, yet in retrospect easily could have guessed that they were. These detention centers enjoy contracts and funding from the government as long as they adhere to a mandatory number of beds that must be kept full daily.

Organizations that fight against anti-immigrant measures in Florida were equally as new to me as the anti-immigrant measures themselves. The Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC) is an organization based in Florida that dedicates itself to developing campaigns against the different manifestations of xenophobia. In Florida we see these mainly in the form of discriminatory laws and, of course, detention centers. In 2011, FLIC organized the CCA Go Away campaign after finding out that Broward County signed a contract with Southwest Ranches, one of the most important names in the detention center “business”. FLIC mobilized the Broward community and through media, meetings, and protests was ultimately able to pressure the local government to terminate their contract with the proposed detention center.

I think that this example can lead the national discource by presenting realities of detention centers (my class will be conducting visitation at both of these centers) as well as the ways that different organizations and groups are resisting them. Given more recognition and resources, it is crazy to think how much more power and successes FLIC could be able to have. South Florida is frequently touted as and even fetishized for its diversity. For this reason, I think that we offer a valuable case in the national discourse on detention. Brutality, abuse, and isolation in detention occurs and is hidden from the public despite us being the Sunshine State and being a mecca for diversity. I think it is interesting to consider how these very conservative and inhumane processes still manage to occur even in “liberal” and “diverse” areas.



  1. Carmen Wilson November 30, 2015 5:06 am

    What most people assume about immigration and deportation is what SHOULD happen in the United States. [Yoselyn] assumed that immigrants living illegally in the U.S., once caught by authorities, were deported immediately. This is what should occur, as to save the government money for funding immigration detention centers and for some, their private owners. It is my belief that the only reason this should not be the case is if an immigrant is rightfully suspected of being a threat to the United States and its allies. In this scenario, potential terrorists should be questioned and turned over to the proper authorities of their native country. We must work together as a global community to keep it safe.

    However, most of the detainees are not possible threats and some even have families and children who are legal aliens. Nonetheless, human incarceration has become a business. Both prisons and detention centers are being bought out by private companies, who receive government funding for maintaining a mandatory number of detainees. This causes people to be unnecessarily detained or detained for longer periods of time to meet this quota. This is called institutionalized prejudice, or as [Yoselyn] calls it, “manifestations of xenophobia”. Put this into perspective – a young black man is arrested, given a harsh sentence, and imprisoned. He has no prior convictions and is working to obtain his college degree. People in his community are outraged over the harsh sentencing and even fight for his freedom. This compared to a young Haitian man with permanent residency in the United States. He has small children and works hard to provide a better life for his family. A minor traffic violation draws the immigration authorities attention and he is detained for 5 years without due cause. No one fights for his freedom. The difference is that man #1 is a citizen. The general public does not care about non-citizens living in the U.S. simple as that. We can see this happening now with Syrian refugees, who a lot of ignorant Americans believe are terrorists in disguise. Xenophobia is a serious problem in the United States. Donald Trump is capitalizing on it.

    I agree with [Yoselyn] in that we must bring light to and educate about these immigrants being unfairly detained and treated poorly. However, the sad truth is that many Americans do not and upon education still will not care about non-citizens in the United States. Many Americans are fighting for fair and just treatment – with the Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wallstreet movements – and so they may feel that advocacy efforts should be directed elsewhere. We must make it known that a lot of these detained immigrants do not have country’s to fight for them. As citizens of the world we must stand up for those who are constantly being shoved down by oppression. The same people fighting against police brutality and for income equality should realize that the oppression that exists in the U.S. goes way, way deeper; so deep that many detainees living in the “Sunshine State” go months without ever seeing the sun.

  2. Caitlin White-Parsons November 30, 2015 3:39 pm

    I was also taken aback by what went on regarding immigration. Being from another country (legally) I still felt worried in a way, because a lot of what goes on in these detention centres is uncalled for and illegal (or should be). Overall I too was just very surprised that a country like America would do that to those that don’t deserve it, however I do have less sympathy for the rapists and murderers.

  3. Eric Schriesheim December 2, 2015 2:02 am

    I agree with Yoselyn that recognition of the fact that these detention centers exist and commit human atrocities is a necessary first step in bringing justice to the privatized prison/detention system. This course educated me on the specific atrocities that undocumented aliens may be subjected to, which has provided further motivation to one day fight for justice. I desire to one day be a lawyer in order to help people by uphold the law in a fair, just, and moral way. I believe in attacking a problem at it’s source, because it does more than simply acknowledging a problem.

    I am still unsure of the specific field of law in which I will go into, but as an attorney I will be looking forward to any and all legal challenges that I may face. I have a newfound interest in immigration law, especially after listening to Ms. Josephs talk in class. Similar to her family history, my grandmother was also a holocaust surviver who was granted a new lease on life after arriving in the United States. I thought her words were inspirational for an aspiring lawyer, such as myself.

    I think that one revelation I had after learning more about the authority these detention centers have is that more United States citizens should have a better knowledge of the law. The fact that these privatized organizations can operate above the law is setting a dangerous precedent for other large corporations. They simply have too much power, and that must change. If more people were knowledgeable about the law, and the power they can wield through it, I think that this can be accomplished. The fact that private businesses are taking control over institutions in our society that the government should run can lead to a country that is firmly in the pockets of corporations, if it is not already.

  4. Francisco Alustiza December 2, 2015 3:26 am

    I agree with Yoselyn 100%! I believe that its really important to start educating ourselves more about this injustice that these immigrant detainee go through. Many people are detained unfairly and treated terribly.The sad part about this is that many people don’t educate themselves and many have an awful/inhuman view on immigrants.

  5. Mercury Liu December 2, 2015 3:35 am

    Let’s talk about facts, but emotionally support one or another. As old well-known saying “What is real is rational.” The problem is why we are so mad or upset with these detention centers. The existence of detention center is for foreign criminals, but they are not the only reason. The main reason is our policies have problem now. Even three-year-child knows that the criminals should be locked in jails. We are taught that we cannot send these “unwelcome” foreigners back to home because we do not have repatriation with their original countries. The officials claim they are danger to us and our society. Therefore, we have to lock them in somewhere. However, in my textbook, I read that after they finish their services in jail, they will be caught by US immigration agents. These agents send them to detention centers. Are they guilty for punishment twice just because of they are not U.S. citizen? Think about what kind of person migrate to U.S., they usually face starvation, poverty, pollution and danger when they live in their country. If we label our country as liberal, freedom and diversity, how can we so brutally send them back to death.

    From humanity view, it is easy to figure out the solution. We just treat them as us, and there won’t be many organizations who resist it. I am not offering a solution. I don’t know how to solve it perfectly, and I guess president Obama does not know either. Nevertheless, I do know why we cannot solve it. The powerful men will not let this lucrative legal flaw sneak out. The government have to spend a large amount of money to detain these each year. The groups, companies and persons will make a lot of money if they get bid. There is no need to mention how hard to make a new law. Whoever takes advantage of this flaw, she/he would use everything to thwart changing.

  6. Alex Sommese December 2, 2015 2:14 pm

    That’s such a great point about how the abuse that occurs in the South Miami detention centers completely escapes the public eye despite the fact that we are supposed to be the Sunshine State, liberal, diverse and whatnot. It goes to show that no matter where an immigrant detention center is located around the U.S, they are operated pretty much in the same inhumane manner despite the state’s reputation. My class has been reading “American Gulag” by Mark Dow and I guess I’ve been trying to come to a conclusion about everything I’ve read. I’ve come to the conclusion that the government is ultimately to blame for the abuse that goes on in these centers. Like you said, “These detention centers enjoy contracts and funding from the government as long as they adhere to a mandatory number of beds that must be kept full daily.” The fact that the government views immigrants as “quotas” is despicable to me. They are still individual humans and still deserve basic human rights wherever they are. I was so shocked reading some of the horror stories about what really goes on in these detention centers. From what I read, it almost felt like the victims with these brutal testimonies were talking directly to me and desperately seeking help from me. I felt so bad about being in he dark about this issue for so long and I felt responsible to do something to help the cause. Unfortunately, there is not much any individual can do to make a significant change. The government needs to realize that their funding is causing human suffering in a country where we are supposed to be free and at least civilized. If the government wants to keep the centers up and running, they really must have the detention centers 24/7 monitored so that the unnecessary abuse never takes place.

  7. Kenya Tay December 2, 2015 2:52 pm

    I absolutely agree with you. When I moved here from Europe, I was given the idea that the US was a country that welcomed diversity with open arms, only to find out it was one of the most racist countries I had ever visited. I realized that there was just an acute awareness of the diversity around and it divided people rather than united them. It creates fear, intensifies racism and ignorance.

    We are dealing with a broken system where there is an exploitation of power against the less powerful. My knowledge of immigration and deportation was very limited and I honestly paid no attention to it prior to reading American Gulag. I had no idea atrocities like this could take place in America, let alone in the city I go to school to. This country is exploiting human lives, destroying families, and making money off of people’s misery. This is happening right under our noses but because most of us do not feel concerned by this issue, not many people are trying to change the situation. There needs to be a revision of the law, there needs to be a change of mindset as well. I think America needs to detach itself from its capitalistic values, distance itself from the ideas of ownership and possession. Innocent lives are being ruined at the hands of money hungry America and it’s important that the general public knows this.

    Yes, the individuals detained are not US citizens but they are not criminals. Most have families born in the US, do not have criminal records or do but only have minor convictions, and are held indefinitely waiting for their hearings that never seem to happen. This happens to men, who then get physically, mentally and sexually abused by guards and inmates. This also happens to women, pregnant women who are also neglected and abused. The cases range from medical abuse, medical neglect to physical and sexual assault. Detention centers like Krome, right here in South Florida, are being paid by private businesses to fill up these jails. That’s putting a price on a human life, once again. The immigration laws must be revised and the possibilities for integration must be considered.There needs to be an improvement in the treatment of the detainees. It’s also important to note that most of the charges against the detainees are unfounded.

    The conversation needs to blow up. People who pose zero threat to the US National Security are being intimidated, indefinitely detained and tortured. It’s human abuse. And, I think most of us are touched when we read about this, so if more people become aware of this problem, the greater the chances we have for a change. As students, we are the future, we have power, we have access to all this information and we need to work together and learn how to utilize it.

  8. Annie O'Connell December 2, 2015 3:50 pm

    I was like Yoselyn in which I had no previous knowledge of what exactly happened to illegals and assumed they were just deported back to their original country. However, after reading “American Gulag” I became aware of the brutal lives illegals have to endure in the detention centers. It’s sickening to think that our country went from proudly welcoming immigrants at Ellis Island to the passing of The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act in 1996, which truly eliminated INS discretion to release illegals and required the detention of large numbers of illegals. The detention centers have become more like a prison to the illegals while the government and INS are profiting off it.

    A main part of the problem for the abuse of power is that the public does not have a clear understanding of what goes on. The detention centers are a secret prison, on the outskirts of cities away from the public eye, run by the INS whose secrets are only exposed by a few people who have personally witnessed the maltreatment. I agree with Yoselyn in that there should be more campaigns similar to the CCA Go Away campaign. Once the public is aware of the mistreatment and abuse that goes on behind doors people will stand up to defend the illegals.

    In no means am I suggesting we let all illegals in, however the way they are treated in the detention centers are by no means humane. The illegals should be sent back to their country immediately. Things have to change, and the only way they are going to is if the American people stand up to the government and tell them that what they are doing is not right. Illegals aren’t good guys nor bad guys, they just are unmistakeable victims, but anyone who is detained against their will is technically considered a prisoner.

  9. Christine deSilva December 2, 2015 3:56 pm

    Before learning about privatized dentition centers in class, I was under much the same impression as Yoselyn. I knew about a “secret” plane that takes illegal Mexican immigrants back once a week from my home town, but it never occurred to me what happened to those immigrants who were caught but not sent back. In addition, i do not think that I knew just how many immigrants there are. Upon reading American Gulag by Mark Dow and talking about it in class, I was, and still am, greatly disturbed by the crimes and bullying that goes on these detention centers. Not only are the detainees suffering, but so are those who work there, thus causing both to either take it out on one another or, at least, continue the depressing circumstances. However, what amazes me the most is how well covered up the issue is. I do not think that a single person that I have spoken to about this issue has been fully aware of it or known that the Krome Detention Center is so close to our school. It may be because it is out of sight out of mind for the average American citizen or due to a campaign by both the government and these centers to keep them quiet. Most likely, it is a combination of both. However, with the current influx of immigrants, especially from Syria and neighboring countries, this issue will be hard to ignore.

  10. Austin Peraza December 2, 2015 8:52 pm

    I was also shocked when I found out that all this disgusting and vile treatment of human beings were happening in America. We’re suppose to be the land of dreams and American Gulag exposed the Night mares we brought to life for these people. Not all of them are completely innocent but the one’s whose only crime was being undocumented they do not deserve this type of imprisonment.

  11. Kejun Li December 2, 2015 9:21 pm

    As a foreigner it is true that we come to America for the liberty, the fair and justice that this country can provide. But it is sad to learn about how documented or non-documented foreigner to be treat differently with other citizen live in United States. After learning the facts of the detention center located in Florida, it is hesitate for people to think will they be treated the same as people in the prison if they make mistakes as a foreigner in this country. We do need to solve this problem to have confidence for this country . People who are not US citizens take America as there ideal place to live and change their lives. For those people who are unfairly treated and detainted in a prison or the center with minor mistake Americans should have someone fight for their rights and help them. I am totally agree with Yoselyn which her statement about America should pay attention to what is really going on in the prison and try to bring justice for those people. America should be a country that not only attracting on the outer side but welcome people in the inner one.

  12. Marwan Alenezi December 3, 2015 12:42 am

    No one in our class had read or heard about the book “American Gulag” before it was introduced in the course. That being said, no statement rings more true than Yoselyn’s comment on companies running private detention centers. “In retrospect, (I) could have easily guessed that they were”. While the atrocities and human rights violations come as a disheartening shock, the systematic dehumanization of individuals for a greater capitalistic gain does not. One of the biggest themes in the book was this idea of a “country within a country”. This term is accurate, and goes hand in hand with other works (be they books or documentaries that expose significantly large, serious, and compelling issues. Similar titles that use equally powerful analogies include “Food, Inc”. Both that title and “American Gulag” both shed light on an almost uniquely American form of oppression, all of whose first ‘symptom’, as it were, was deindividualization. Everything was to be measured and calculated in units. Beds, dollars, and heads when it came to the detention centers highlighted in American Gulag, and calories, farms, and dollars in Food, Inc.
    Both these stories seem like a downward spiral of oppression and hopelessness in the face of the massive nameless of extreme capitalism. But the discussion sparked by American Gulag, trigged by the initial horror of detainee treatment and extended by the multiple different attempts at attacking this massive quagmire, is beginning to spread. And if an issue like this can be tackled at least somewhat successfully, that bodes well for other serious issues of similar nature, both domestic and international.


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