Toward Peace and Justice, Feb. 2014

Shan Cretin, AFSC's general secretary, in her monthly update to supporters: "Stop deportations so that not one more person, not one more family falls prey to this unjust system"


The number of people deported since President Obama took office will soon reach 2 million. The President and most members of Congress agree on the need for immigration reform, but have not been able to come together to draft—and pass—legislation. While action on reform is repeatedly delayed, the U.S. continues to invest billions of dollars in detention and deportation with tragic consequences for immigrants, their families, and our country.

Newark, N.J. is one of the places where the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) provides legal assistance to people held in immigration detention centers. Every day, staff in Newark see the toll this unjust system exacts on individuals and on their families. 

Despite its heartbreaking impact on families, despite widespread agreement that our immigration system wastes tax dollars without strengthening our security or benefiting our economy, immigration reform has gone nowhere. Why? Working every day with immigrants being detained and deported, AFSC’s Newark staff has come to understand that the current system may fail at nearly every level, but it does benefit some very important players. 

From the point of view of the prison industry, the system is not broken. It is working just as intended—producing ever-increasing demand for detention facilities and extraordinarily profitable federal contracts awarded to for-profit prison companies and public jails. 

Amy Gottlieb, director of the Newark program, exposed the complex network of those who profit from detaining immigrants in a recently published op-ed at Al Jazeera America. Her article raises provocative questions about just why our government continues to drag its feet on implementing humane immigration reform. She makes a powerful case for reform that puts the needs of families and communities above the profits of the prison industry—profits that now extend beyond private prisons, to local jails and other companies serving detention facilities:

County jails contract with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency] at an average rate of $120 per bed per day, and often push to get the contracts. For example, the Essex County jail in New Jersey signed a $250 million five-year contract in late 2011. Currently, they also benefit from commissions on telephone calls out of jails. Essex County earns 54 percent commission on each phone call made from the jail, reaching close to $1 million in 2012. The other 46 percent goes to a private phone company, which charges exorbitant rates to inmates.

While New York and several other states don’t allow the practice, the system is legal in New Jersey. Prison companies and their contractors hold detainees and provide cover for the administration to show that they are cracking down on what they see as the immigration “problem.” Read more.

The billions of taxpayer dollars funneled into immigrant detention is harmful to our economy—but just as harmful to our humanity is the denial of basic human rights.

People in detention include recently-arrived asylum-seekers, undocumented immigrants arrested solely due to their lack of status, and long-time lawful residents of the U.S. facing deportation for a prior criminal offense. There is little or no assessment of whether the person is actually a danger to the community or a flight risk.

But outreach like Amy’s gives us hope! AFSC’s message to invest in just and humane immigration reform is reaching a wide audience across the U.S., amplifying AFSC’s work in Washington, on the U.S.-Mexico border, and in cities like Newark—bringing a human face to conversations about immigration policy.

Fourteen years ago, the man who asked Amy to write the op-ed was himself an asylum-seeker detained in New Jersey. AFSC represented him then, and today he is a U.S. citizen and an associate producer with Al Jazeera America in New York.

Please join AFSC in advocating for just and humane reforms that strengthen our communities and the economy. Ask President Obama to stop deportations, so that not one more person, not one more family falls prey to this unjust system.

In Peace,

Shan Cretin
General Secretary