Jailing Undocumented Immigrants Is Big Business (VIDEO)
by Gabriel Lerner
LOS ANGELES — At dawn on July 19, nearly 40 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Immigration (HSI) agents burst into the home home of Carmen Bonilla, 44. The agents were searching for “Robert” an alleged drug dealer, but ended up terrifying Bonilla and her son Michael, 16, daughter Josefina, 23, daughter-in-law Leticia, 28, and two of her granddaughters.
According to Jessica Dominguez, the family’s lawyer, and Jorge Mario Cabrera, spokesperson of the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), the family was subjected to “different levels of physical and verbal abuse,” including screaming, “kicking, beating and aggression.” Their treatment was documented last week by HuffPost LatinoVoices’ Jorge Luis Macías.
What happened to the Bonillas has happened to thousands of immigrant families. Immigration authorities — both local police and federal ICE agents — have embarked on a program to seek out “criminal illegal aliens” and, whether they find them or not, have often rounded up entire families for deportation.
Even though the Bonilla family members do not have criminal records, they face removal proceedings before an immigration judge. The family was able to find legal representation and general public support, enabling their release from ICE custody, but undocumented immigrants who are less lucky are routinely sent to prisons and detention centers where ICE will process their paperwork and decide whether they may be released.
“If they have a criminal record, particularly a drug or security-related conviction, or a felony or violent crime, or crime of moral turpitude, they will likely have to remain in custody until their trial before the [immigration judge],” explained Aggie R. Hoffman, an immigration attorney.
The Department of Homeland Security pays between $50 to $200 per day per person to local, county and state prisons to house apprehended aliens. A few years ago, a series I wrote for La Opinión showed how prisons in general, and California’s prisons in particular, benefit from the largesse of the federal government and vie for a piece of this lucrative business. At that time, I visited a detention center in Lancaster, Calif., run by the Sheriff of Los Angeles, where immigrants rounded up in raids were housed until their deportation or legal proceedings. The process is supposed to take just a few days, but some of the detainees rushed to tell me that they had been kept there for more than two years.
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