(Note: this is an updated version of an article originally posted on We’re Hir We’re Queer here.)
In the wake of a five day hunger strike over conditions of confinement at Karnes family detention center in South Texas, many are beginning to look critically at family detention. But this practice, and the struggle against it, is nothing new. Groups in the southwest, including Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families have been struggling to end family detention for almost a decade. Most recently, these groups are struggling around a new facility in Dilley, Texas, the largest family detention project since Japanese internment. In developing a strategy against immigration detention, we must consider how capital and the working class is composed and why there is a renewed emphasis on women’s and family immigration detention.
Immigration detention has been steadily climbing over the past few decades. Some cite the prison boom as a 1980s-90s phenomenon, since the U.S. saw massive rates of incarceration of primarily black men due to draconian drug laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, and other strategies for criminalizing the black working class.
At a certain point in the early 2000s, prison rates tapered off. However, this is also around the time that immigration detention as a national phenomenon began to dramatically increase. While Grassroots Leadership, and many other advocacy and community groups will argue that this shift toward detention expansion is parallel to the expansion of the private prison industry, I believe this is only one side of the story. Why, in the middle of the deepest economic crisis in the U.S. since the Great Depression, is the federal government expanding the immigration detention system, and why are women and children being particularly targeted in this effort? I will attempt to answer this question; but first, some background info.