Monday, February 12, 2007

Circus of Detention

“Ringed by barbed wire, a futuristic tent city rises from the Rio Grande Valley in the remote southern tip of Texas.” The $65 million camp is a sprawling squat of inflatable domes plopped down on top of massive concrete slabs. It is the largest camp in the U.S. federal system’s archipelago of immigration detention, quietly deployed last summer between a federal prison and a county jail where, as we are told by the Washington Post, “illegal immigrants are confined 23 hours a day in windowless tents made of a Kevlar-like material, often with insufficient food, clothing, medical care and access to telephones.”

[Image: Border Policy's Success Strains Resources, Washington Post 2007. Photo by Kirsten Luce.]

Subtopia has actually covered the “detention market” before, but recent news has a way of joggling loose much needed reminders. So, for anyone who doubts that the real spatial translation of all this border militarization and enforcement is a hyper expansion of prison space and absolute boom for the real-estate moguls of incarceration, then I have a few articles you should check out.

[Image: A detention center in Raymondsville, Tex., that can be built in 24 hours as needed. (NYT-2006)]

260 miles south of Austin in Willacy County, one of the country's poorest, we are told, the ICE has set up 10 huge circus-like tents, surrounded by 14-foot-high chain-link fences looped with barbed wire. The sprung structures hold about 200 men or women in each and are divided into four pods. It’s no surprise that “similar temporary buildings were used for troop recreational facilities in Iraq,” the article points out.

“About 2,000 illegal immigrants, part of a record 26,500 held across the United States by federal authorities, will call the 10 giant tents home for weeks, months and perhaps years before they are removed from the United States and sent back to their home countries.”

[Image: Detainees at the Willacy County Immigration Detention Center in Raymondville, Texas, are escorted back to their housing from a recreational area earlier this month. The detention center holds nearly 500 illegal immigrants. Associated Press Photo, 2006.]

From a prison investment standpoint, the blow-up jails are not only cheap but are obviously faster to construct, move and dismantle. There is a spooky air of stealth about them now that in itself is rather frightening. Think about a flexible urbanism of immediate captivities. Mobile prisons. Nomadic detention centers. Nocturnal parachutes that hail from the sky and imprison you. Football field-sized flying nets with self-mounting structures designed to end global migration as we know it.

While perfect for field deployment they’re a nightmare for captives, go figure. The article in the Post says “the tents are windowless and the walls are blank, and no partitions or doors separate the five toilets, five sinks, five shower heads and eating areas. [..] Lacking utensils on some days, detainees eat with their hands.” And if that isn’t bad enough, the lights are left on 24-7 and a visitor “finds many occupants buried in their blankets throughout the day.”

It’s the lobotomization of illegal immigration. Migrant families reduced to communities of sleeping bag larvae. Sounds like torture to me. If we go back to Nancy Duff’s vision of the entire North American continent forming a singular massive body, say, if Canada were its eyes and mind, the USA its beating heart, and Mexico its pumping legs - then these border crossers have been ingested and now fester somewhere in the sun-stretched bowels tucked behind Texas’s prison belt – literally consumed by giant pneumatic architectural stomachs keeping fat prison operators fed. Jodi Goodwin, an immigration lawyer from nearby Harlingen calls it 'Ritmo' - the Gitmo in Raymondville, Texas.

With an increase in stricter immigration laws and Washington's push for tighter enforcement, comes the early signs of a new alien jowled pop-up landscape in rural America – the instaburbs of inflatable detention sprawl.

“With roughly 1.6 million illegal immigrants in some stage of immigration proceedings, ICE holds more inmates a night than Clarion hotels have guests, operates nearly as many vehicles as Greyhound has buses and flies more people each day than do many small U.S. airlines.” Craziness.

[Image: The T. Don Hutto Correctional Center would hold up to 600 detained immigrants and would be suited for families with children. (Source: Austin-American Statesman). Spotted at Latina Lista.]

Also, in Texas just outside of Austin, sits the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center, operated for the government by none other than the Corrections Corporation of America, according to the New York Times, “under a $2.8-million-a-month contract with Williamson County. It is named for a founder of the company, which runs 64 centers in 19 states. It now holds about 400 illegal immigrants, including 170 children, in family groups from nearly 30 countries. […] There is only one other family detention center in the country, the Berks Family Shelter Care Facility in Leesport, Pa.”

[Image: Gary Mead, an Immigration and Customs official, speaking Friday at the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center for illegal immigrants. Pool photo by L.M. Otero, New York Times, 2007.]

The facility was recently opened up to the media for the first time last week since it has come under intense scrutiny for having a reputation as a prison that locks up children. You can watch a video here (thanks Nick!). From recent reports, it seems the facility had been quickly doctored and dolled up with cheap plants and fresh paint jobs to make it “presentable.” The operators claim it is the most humane response to dividing families, while most agree, children under no circumstances should be locked up.

[Image: Photo by Sarah L Voisin, Washington Post, 2006.]

Mother Jones produced a great piece on the TDH Center despite the fact that not much is really even known about the place, telling us that “it is the only detention center housed in a former prison, and agency officials say it has been extensively renovated into "a modern, state-of-the-art facility." The government has taken the position that family detention centers are generally the most effective ways of managing hordes of migrant families,” and according to MoJo, in March, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he plans to open more of them.

On down the road, the ICE recently added another 512-bed center in Taylor for immigrant families, run of course by Corrections Corp. All part of a chain of facilities in South Texas reported to have 6,700 new immigration detention beds available now. Every day since July, “six officers have manually tracked and transferred detained immigrants among 24 regional offices, matching bodies to vacant beds and airplane seats in a Detention Operations Coordination Center.”

In Georgia, the ICE recently added a 1,524-bed facility in Stewart County. Then, just check out Florence, Arizona. This article on CorpWatch breaks down the numbers behind illegal immigration in terms of the kinds of dollars and stock values that are at stake in the privatized prison industry. Beyond the numbers and dollars, though, the article talks about how these new immigration detention zones are reviving old communities leftover from the mining industry that now thrive around the replacement industry of operating prisons; truly a carceral urbanism. Florence hosts Arizona’s state prison, two privately run prison complexes, and one Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration jail. Read on and we find out that it was, who else, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) who built the two prisons in Florence. Recently, with immigrants in prison garb coursing through America’s rural veins, the INS began renting bed space, “and then built its own prison out of a town's old World War II prisoner-of-war camp,” Deepa Fernades writes. It was the revitalization of prisons and internment camps that have brought back Florence to life.

[Image: Photo by Sarah L Voisin, Washington Post, 2006.]

There, as a new mantlepiece, the DHS-run Special Processing Center “is a massive one-stop-shop, where immigrants can be jailed, tried in an immigration court, appealed before an immigration judge, and ordered deported—all without leaving the self-contained complex.” Remind anyone of the new project being built outside Gitmo? Self-contained state-of-exception rapid trial sentencing centers? Even though the DHS denies that their facilities are jails, Hernandes doesn’t let us escape the fact that the Special Processing Center in Florence “is ringed by concertina wire, surrounded by chain-link fences, with inmates locked into cells, […] facing zealous prosecution and in many cases are left to languish for weeks and months without trial or sentencing.”

Map of DHS Detention Facilties. (Click Image to Enlarge)

The complex in Florence is part of a 300-facility-strong network of immigrant incarceration facilities.

[Image: Border Policy's Success Strains Resources, Washington Post 2007. Photo by Kirsten Luce.]

Get ready America, if you see a crowd of tents popping up on the outskirts of your town, don’t mistake them for a new circus – it’s just a few hundred migrants performing some little detention act to an invisible audience. Nothing to be concerned about, just move along.

Also worth reading:
Immigrants Held in U.S. Often Kept in Squalor
Forgotten Prisoners: The Problem With Our Immigrant Deportation System
Eye on Williamson: Keeping An Eye On Williamson County, Texas
South Texans Opposing Private Prisons (STOPP)
Architects of Nebulous Detention


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would be so much better then just to build a big fence and make it quite clear that no-one gets in.

9:08 PM  
Blogger Bryan Finoki said...

building a fence not only doesn't work, it exacerbates migration. have you seen this post: Orwellian Wormholes?

The effects of border security thus far really only seem to stem the tides in precise locations, and to push and displace them to others that are more dangerous, that are more removed from public view, like into the desert, the underground tunnels, etc.
the cumulative effect is the further clandestinzation of illegal immigration. the U.S. seems to have little real desire to build a massive fence (which is fine with me, and for a number of reasons: it's proven ineffective, there are land use issue to work out, private property disputes, ecological concers, not to mention whether fencing off our biggest neighbor is a wise decision or not geopolitically. there are many other reasons why a fence will do very little to stop illegal immigration) - but the government knows all of this. and it seems almost as if they are using the strategic bits of fencing to funnel them into places where they can be apprehended and placed into far flung detention centers like these and others that line the border, but, it also allows the government to import exploited labor now further under the radar. by building a theater of security the public is convinced that something is being done, while the majority of border corssers either rot in a detention bed, die in the rio grande, or get through and add to the illicit labor economy here in the U.S., for which this country is largely dependent. the current situation seems to only be increasing the numbers of incarceration, border violence, migration deaths, and possibly just maintaining the influx of informal slave labor, now cleverly pushed to further peripheries of view and management.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

The photos remind me of the layout of barracks at Dachau near Munich, Germany. Concentration camp, anyone?

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was thinking too how that reminds me of concentration camps. I think that's a horrible way to treat any human being!!!

7:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice post!

5:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight: you come to this country, largely to escape poor living conditions in your home country, which often consists of dirty drinking water, scarce food, and in some cases disease and possibly detention by government or rebel forces. In your own country, you probably sleep in a hut with 20 of your closest relatives. And here’s the problem I have with this.

You expect once you get here to take advantage of many of the benefits that some hard-working Americans don’t often have, such as free health care and state-supported college education for you and your children, as well as free legal advice and representation. The problem is that you get caught because you’re in this country illegally, and you complain when you get detained. You want America to pay to keep you in a manner better than you are accustomed to, and/or ship you back to your home on their dime so you again can come back to the country illegally.

The real problem here? My tax dollars are going to fund your illegal life style here! So, if you want to enter the country by illegal means, don’t complain when you’re detained and kept here on my tax dollars, cuz either way if you’re not operating on par with the law here, you’re a criminal, plain and simple, and you should consider yourself lucky that Uncle Sam doesn’t just put a bullet through your thick skull and be done with you.

-- Jim Michaels, Alexandria VA, USA

3:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not going to touch on the subjects of migration, illegal entry, deportation, refugees, the confinement and segregation of those without ID/health documents or even the imprisonment of children.

Nor am I going to touch upon the issues of a humanity deluge and labour exploitation, protectionism, border control & monitoring, mass internment, prisoner space or exclusive movement corridors and zones. All those subjects are too important and sometimes too troubling to pick apart in such a short comment block.

However I do also find it troubling that the imagery of the past can superimpose itself so completely on images of the present (ex: lined up tents equated to Nazi barracks).

Images are a powerful force and en mass they do their unintentional best, especially the terrible ones, to efface the nuances and differences in time, in place or even in state. A knife is always a knife but it shouldn't be mistaken for our own archetype of a knife.

11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm looking for pictures of this 'camp' in florence. 19 yr.old LEGAL immigrant being detained. bogus arrest. Her family in AZ have been getting the run around to dead ends to get her out. Been there for 3 weeks. Can anyone help me out??
Thank You :)

11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

La raza necesita ser unida ahora.
Break down these barriers. Let our people free! Estados juntons beware. The time va a llegar soon. When la eagle va estar muerta con la mano de los Americanos del sur.

12:35 PM  

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