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Changing Systems, Changing Ourselves session 2 Facilitator's Guide

Criminalization & Immigration Detentions place in the Prison Industrial Complex

CSCO Session 2: Criminalization & Immigration Detentions place in the Prison Industrial Complex


Homework check-in 

Can you share 1-2 key takeaways/learnings from the homework?

  • What resonated with you in the articles?

  • What was challenging/hard to receive? 

  • What did you learn that you did not understand before?

  • What moved you?



As you prepare your breakfast, think of others

   (do not forget the pigeon’s food).

As you conduct your wars, think of others

   (do not forget those who seek peace).

As you pay your water bill, think of others

   (those who are nursed by clouds).

As you return home, to your home, think of others

   (do not forget the people of the camps).

As you sleep and count the stars, think of others

   (those who have nowhere to sleep).

As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others

   (those who have lost the right to speak).

As you think of others far away, think of yourself

   (say: “If only I were a candle in the dark”). 

 Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian poet


  • Name and acknowledge the demands of the POC group, how we lift them up and ground ourselves in them

  • Throughout this course we will be offering direct teaching in accompaniment

  • This is a really simple, but deep way to accompany others: ask them what they need from you?

  • Platinum rule is core to accompaniment - do unto others as they would like done to them, you have to ask!

Invite reflection on the demands from the group.


Language Justice

  • Before we get started, we want to go over some vocabulary that it will be helpful for us to be thinking about in this course and as we all do immigration accompaniment work. This will be a lot - don’t worry, we are sending out  l on all of it that you can explore if you’d like!

  • The words that we use to talk about people and actions matter, and the language we use should espouse the values that we hold. Alex Kapitan, who runs a site called “Radical Copyeditor” which explores language use, talks about how a exists not just as “good” or “bad,” but on a spectrum: violent, coded, unquestioned, minimizing, and liberatory. We are striving for liberatory language as much as possible! 

  • As a reminder, during this course we will have real-time consecutive Spanish interpretation. This means we will speak in English, then pause to allow our interpreter, Lina, to share what we have said in Spanish. Even if there are not many people on this webinar who need Spanish interpretation, in immigration work English is not always a common language between everyone. Taking the time in conversations to make sure that everyone receives content in their primary language can help remind us of all the complexities of this work. 

  • We are also offering text captioning for accessibility; there are a number of different reasons people might want or need access to text instead of or in addition to spoken words. 

  • You’ll notice that when the facilitators introduce ourselves, we share the pronouns that we use, and that if we ask you to introduce yourself we will likely ask you to do the same. A pronoun is a word that we use to talk about someone instead of using their name - “This is Heather, she works for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.” In English, like in many languages, we use pronouns ALL THE TIME. Often, we guess what pronoun to use for a person based on our assumptions when we look at them or listen to them. But those assumptions might not always be right, and making the wrong assumption can be hurtful and harmful. By sharing our pronouns, we let people know how we want to be referred to. By using the pronouns people have told us they use, we show that we respect them and their identity. There are various reasons people might not want to share their pronouns, and people should never be forced to, but if you’re not sharing simply because it’s unfamiliar to you, we invite you to practice it alongside us. 

  • The phrases “alien” and “illegal immigrant” are meant to dehumanize the people they are describing, are deeply tied to the criminalization of immigration, and collapse the complicated nuances of the circumstances. You can use the word undocumented to talk about people who are in the US without documentation. You can also ask yourself - does it matter in this situation I’m talking about whether someone is documented or not?

  • In this country, we often use the term “minorities” to talk about folks who don’t hold a dominant identity, mostly to talk about people who are not identified as white. Referring to people of color as “minorities” is very United-States and white centered - throughout much of the world, white people are not, in fact, the majority population. Because of this, many people have started using the term “global majority” to talk about non-white folks. When talking about someone, if it is necessary that you clarify or mention their race or ethnicity, the best thing to do is simply to name the race or ethnicity they hold that seems relevant: of Mexican descent, Nigerian-American, etc. If you are talking about a group of non-white people, people of color is a good descriptor. 

  • Instead of using the term “third world” to describe countries that are quote-unquote “less economically developed” than countries in the United States and western Europe, talk about the specifics you’re actually trying to convey. Some people refer to “over-developed” countries to recognize the issues that capitalism has caused in those places that we might typically think of as “developed”

  • The phrase “worthy migrant” conveys the idea that some folks are deserving of documented immigration to the United States. While the term itself might be less used, it is a very common conception that many people hold, either consciously or unconsciously  

  • We will try to model a best practice for when you use a word that you wish you hadn’t: pause, briefly apologize, restate the sentence with word you would like to use instead, and move on. Spending a lot of time dwelling on the mistake can lead to those with more marginalized identities taking on a large burden to either educate or comfort. If a facilitator or participant uses a word that we are trying not to use, we will try to give a written and verbal reminder. We are not trying to catch you or make an example of you - changing our language and our habits takes practice, and it takes people helping to hold us accountable in a loving way. 

Prison Industrial Complex 

  • Today we will be talking about the criminalization of immigration, and immigration detention’s place in the prison industrial complex. To do that, we first need to talk about the Prison Industrial Complex. I will not share all there is to share about this. Criminalization is connected to the detention/deportation system. Criminal justice system is about crime and punishment, not harm and healing. 

  • Prisons are about separation and control. They often include enclosures, walls, cages, but often the culture maintains the criminalized perceptions that make separation and control possible. People are classified, discriminated against and dehumanized as steps to make the genocide that carceral control engenders possible. This is not hyperbolic.  It's a system that makes way for the oppression and genocide of peoples. 

  • The organization Critical Resistance gives a very concise definition of the Prison Industrial Complex: “The prison industrial complex (PIC) is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.”

  • Here is a very brief history of the PIC in the United States

    • Indigenous control: As what we call the United States was colonized, in addition to displacement and dispossession, colonists also used carceral control as a method to segregate and concentrate indigenous folks across the land which would become the U.S. Two examples of carceral control of indigenous folks were Fort Snelling (1862 Dakota wars, 38 men executed, 1700 held in concentration camps, then forcibly marched elsewhere, 300 died) and Indian Boarding schools.

    • Slavery and slave patrols - the enclosure inside the enclosure. Incarceration also has its roots in slavery in which the whole system was an enclosure in which to hold people in bondage for their labor. Slave patrols would enforce the system and chase after and re-enslave those who fled the system, the modern policing system derives from these slave patrols. 

    • 13th amendment - abolished slavery except in the case of incarceration. This set up a system of targeting folks for behaviors and lifestyle as a way to keep people in control 

    • The first prison in the United States designed to be used as longer-term punishment as well as rehabilitation was Walnut Street Jail, followed soon by Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia in part by the Quakers, who were fighting against crowded prison conditions in which people were just warehoused and saw solitary confinement, penitence in solitude, as a better option to the crowded prisons. Now Quakers work to end solitary confinement.

    • Jim Crow: black codes The defining feature of the Black Codes was broad vagrancy law, which allowed local authorities to arrest freedpeople for minor infractions and commit them to involuntary labor. This period was the start of the convict lease system, also described as "slavery by another name" by Douglas Blackmon in his 2008 book on this topic.

    • After the Civil Rights movement, we had the 14th and 15th Amendments passed.  There were no more Black Codes for the government to use, so the War on Drugs started.  You could criminalize people for their lifestyle. The War on Drugs targeted and massively incarcerated people of color.  This number of incarcerated people of color is now eight times that of people incarcerated in Apartheid South Africa. This happened despite white people and people of color showing no real difference in drug usage.

    • Between 1970 - 1999, there was a 500% increase of incarceration.  Prisons used to be run by the state and federal government. Now, often private companies run the prison.  It is often about making money off poor people's bodies.

    • Really important to acknowledge the system is not about justice, but about control and separation.


Criminalization of immigration 

  • Narrowing our focus from the whole Prison Industrial Complex, we’re going to talk about the criminalization of immigration. An action is criminalized when it becomes illegal when it was not before. We can talk about a system or society becoming criminalized when more and more pieces and parts of it become illegal. 

  • I’m going to share a VERY BRIEF timeline that shows some of the key points in the criminalization of immigration. We won’t be sharing this particular timeline with you, because it is a very pared down version of the immigration detention timeline made by Freedom for Immigrants, which we will share. I’m not hitting every point here, but trying to help you understand the trajectory.

    • 1790 Naturalization Act allows US citizenship to be given to “free white persons” of “good moral character”

    • 1798: Alien and Sedition Acts allow for the deportation of people deemed to be “dangerous to the safety and security of the United States”

    • 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act: first group of immigrants excluded by race, creates a process of deportation

    • 1892: Ellis Island opens; it is the first dedicated immigration detention facility in the world

    • 1924: US Border Patrol officially created

    • 1929 Immigration Act: unlawful entry into the US becomes a misdemeanor punishable by $1000 fine or up to 1 year in prison; re-entry is $1000 fine or 2 years in prison

    • 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act establishes grounds for blocking entry or deporting non-citizens, including criminal history or political views; allows release from detention on bond depending on community ties

    • 1954: Ellis Island closes; until 1983, only about 30 people are in immigration detention on any given day

    • 1983: Corrections Corporation of American/CoreCivic is the first private prison company in the world; they have a contract with the federal government to house immigrants in TX

    • 1996: The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) “The 1996 Laws” expand the list of “crimes of moral terpitude” which can lead to detention and deportation of immigrants, regardless of documentation status; also include bans on returning from 3 years to lifetime

    • Today, 40,000 people are held in immigration jail in the US every day

  • As the timeline illustrates, over time immigration into the United States became intertwined with the legal system. The act of entering the United States without documentation became a crime punishable by jail time. Immigrants living in the United States, both with and without documentation, are subject to detention and deportation for various non-violent acts, such as minor drug charges or driving without a license.

  • These laws are not just the immigration acts of history. Arizona’s SB1070, the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, passed in 2010, made it a state misdemeanor for non-citizens over 18 to not carry identification documents. Similar laws have been proposed and passed around the country. 

  • So many pieces of this are intertwined with the Prison Industrial Complex. As more folks in the immigration system are incarcerated, more facilities are needed in which they can be detained. Private prisons arise to be immigration detention facilities, and local prisons enter contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house people in immigration detention. Immigration detention is a multi-billion dollar industry. Local jails and private prison companies are paid by the government for each person incarcerated in their facilities, which gives them an incentive to have more immigrants detained. Private companies become very involved in lobbying for bills that criminalize immigration more and more. For your homework, we’ll ask you to watch a short documentary that explores this profitization much more deeply. 

Criminalization and you 

  • So now that we’ve talked about some of the basics of the Prison Industrial Complex and the criminalization of immigration, let’s talk about how it affects us, the organizations and groups we are part of, and the work we do. 

  • We live in a society where the Prison Industrial Complex is a reality, and we live into it in ways that we often don’t even realize. The first step is to recognize the ways that we are entwined with it. 

  • Raise your hand if:

    • When something happens like petty cash is stolen, your church’s first step is to call the police  

    • Your church has invited the local police host active shooter trainings

    • Your church has security provided by local police or a private security firm

    • You would be suspicious if someone you believe to be unhoused or homeless entered your place of worship or job, and would feel the need to alert someone on staff

  • At first glance, these things might seem fairly innocuous. However, involving the police in our organizations and groups contributes to a heightened police presence, and exposes people with marginalized identities to the legal system. 

  • Once we’ve recognized the ways in which we are implicated in criminalization, we can work to disrupt it. I won’t pretend that disrupting is easy. When we’re doing things differently than the norm, we have to be very intentional about it, and it can take more time, energy, and effort than just going with the flow. But, if we are coming from a place where we understand that we are all inherently connected to one another, and responsible for the well-being of others, then we must commit to doing the work to take care of one another, even when it is difficult, time-consuming, and frustrating. 

  • One crucial way to disrupt our implication in criminalization is to talk about it and make clear plans for people to follow. If a church has a commitment to not calling the police, but doesn’t have a plan in place that someone can follow if the petty cash is stolen, it’s likely that someone will default to the norm of calling the police. Working within your organization, and with various partners, to make plans for a wide variety of scenarios gives people a way to follow through.

  • Another tool for disruption is Bystander Intervention Training, which trains people in how to intervene if they witness harmful or potentially harmful situations or interactions. Providing training allows people to feel empowered and equipped to intervene in many different situations. 

  • In the event that something harmful is done, consider entering into a restorative justice process. This can take different forms, but it is a process steeped in community accountability which involves helping a person own up to their actions, and making it right for the person who was hurt. Again, undertaking a restorative justice process takes much more time and effort than simply calling the police, but committing to divesting ourselves from the Prison Industrial Complex is going to take time and effort.

  • I invite you to take a minute to reflect on these modes of disruption. Has your group tried any modes of disruption? What went well? What would you change? Feel free to share your reflections, remembering to step up or step back depending on your inclination to share!

Take several minutes to reflect on these questions as a group.

Specific ways criminalization disrupts accompaniment work

  • We’re going to move now into talking about some of the ways criminalization disrupts our accompaniment work. accompaniment work takes a lot of different forms, and the reality is that the criminalization of immigration can disrupt our work in all its many forms. As I describe some ways this happens, I invite you to share a brief example in the chat that you or your group has dealt with. We’ll call on a few people to share. 

  • Sometimes accompaniment work involves supporting people who are in immigration detention. Communicating with or visiting people who are detained is often made incredibly difficult by the facilities where they are jailed. Each jail or prison makes their own rules about who is able to visit and what the process is.

  • Accompaniment work can also mean supporting people who are not currently in immigration detention but who have court appointments, bond. Making sure people are able to get to their hearings, understand what is happening, are able to pay for lawyers, etc can be quite difficult.

  • Another piece of accompaniment work involves supporting those who are in sanctuary, whether your group is providing the physical sanctuary space or is offering support with other resources. 

  • In all the work we do, criminalization often leads to an increased sense of risk to the work. We might get caught up sometimes in whether our insurance will get more expensive or even go away if we do certain forms of accompaniment, or worry that we or our organization will be “unsafe” doing this work. 

  • We’re going to have a few people share. If you’re called on, please share your name, pronouns, and then briefly share your story. 

Invite two-three people to share.

  • Thank you all so much for sharing these stories. I know there are probably many more like these among you all. Discuss and reflect together about what these stories look like for you, and how you might work against these trends. 


  • We are getting towards the end of our time together, so I want to let you know what the homework is, and then we will end with a moment of grounding. As a reminder, we will be sending out a list of resources if you want to learn more about any of the things we talked about. It won’t be an exhaustive list but we hope it will allow you to take a deeper dive into the wide range of things we have talked about

  • Journal: What ways have you, personally, been implicated in the Prison Industrial Complex or the criminalization of immigration? Reflect on specific examples from your life and within groups you are a part of. What might be done differently to move away from this implication? If you’re part of a group, we invite you to discuss together the ways your organization has been implicated. 

  • Decentering written word as the only place we get expertise

    • Watch Immigrants for Sale, a 2015 documentary about criminalization and the profitization of immigration. Because it is about 5 years old, some of the specific information is outdated, but in general it is still a very good overview. The documentary is about 30 minutes long. We recommend watching it once, reflecting and processing, and then watching again. 

    • Reflect, in your journal or in discussion with your group: What feelings came up while you watched Immigrants for Sale? What was new information for you? 

    • Research: Is there a bill like Arizona’s SB1070 in your state? What is the text of the bill? What implications has it had? What do those in favor of the bill say about it? What do those against the bill say about it?

    • Does your city or state have a Sanctuary law in place? Look it up, does the law have teeth?

Closing grounding 

  • I invite you to ground yourself, whether that means your feet on the floor or your body on a seat, connecting yourself in some way to the earth below you.
  • If you are comfortable doing so, I invite you to close your eyes, or to allow your gaze to go soft. Take a deep breath in, and out. 
  • Take another deep breath in, and out. 
  • As you continue breathing deeply, I invite you to acknowledge all that you have heard and learned today. 
  • It is a lot. It is important. Some parts of it you may have known, and some will be new. You will try over and over again. You will make mistakes. You will learn more.
  • Take one more deep breath in, and out. Feel yourself grounded in reality, and in community. 


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