Study shows immigrants in Pierce County are worse off with ICE

The UW Human Rights Center study looked at prisons throughout Pierce County and the impact of ICE presence in the lives of detained immigrants — Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Big news: Trump is at it again. On Friday, Feb. 15, he declared a national emergency in order to try to secure funding to build the wall he promised in his campaign — a wall that is ineffective, a waste of money and does more harm than good.

I’ve discussed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) before and I am sure that I will be writing about immigration policy in the weeks to come — it’s an important topic after all.

This week, I am going to synthesize a recent study done by the University of Washington Human Rights Center and discuss the legal rights of immigrants who have been detained.

The UW Human Rights Center recently published a study about the length of stays in Pierce County prisons. Tacoma Weekly covered the recent controversy that followed the study’s publication. Researchers found that immigrants with ICE detainers stayed 3.7 times longer than the average population.

According to the National Immigrant Justice Center, when a person is arrested and there are questions about whether or not they can legally stay in the country, ICE issues a detainer. This allows law enforcement to continue detaining that person for 48 hours during which time ICE can take the steps to arrest the person and begin the deportation process.

People can be arrested for a variety of reasons, ranging from very minor misdemeanors to felonies. Furthermore, an arrest does not mean someone actually committed a crime.

In this country, we are innocent until proven guilty. We have due process to protect people. This protection extends to immigrants; after all, the constitution does not say “citizen,” but rather “person” when discussing legal rights.

So, with the current system, people can be arrested for something minor or something they didn’t even do. While in the process of being detained, they can be turned in to ICE. Their detainer keeps them in custody for longer than they otherwise would be, cutting down on their ability to assist in their own defense (a legal right!).

The UW study explains that it has been demonstrated that being in custody before a trial begins makes a conviction more likely. It also negatively impacts many people beyond the person in custody, including their families, friends and employers.

When it comes to actual trials for immigration and deportation, people are not always guaranteed the right to an attorney, making fighting deportation a near impossible battle. Even worse, many times immigration/deportation trials are completed en masse, with each person being lucky to get a few minutes to present their case. That’s not justice.

Why is Trump so insistent on building a wall when we could instead be making productive changes to the immigration process and upholding all people’s legal rights? Instead of funneling billions of dollars into ICE, detention centers and the declaring a national emergency to usurp government agencies’ budgets to build the wall, our government could work to make positive changes to the immigration process.

It is a convoluted, difficult, expensive and long process. Make no mistake, American immigration policy is and always has been racist.

At the end of the day, unless you are a Native American, you come from immigrants. We are a country built on immigration. How can we try to refuse entrance into a country when our own families arrived as immigrants?