Detaining immigrants has a more profound effect than many realize

It's easy to be concerned about the United States' practice of detaining immigrants, even women and children. It's easy to be upset, even angry about imprisoning people who are fleeing violence and oppression.

But even for those of us who are concerned and upset, it is still easy to forget what a profound effect mass detention is having.

But a new video from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service called "Locked in a Box" is a powerful reminder. The 18-minute video interviews former detainees, who not only describe the prison-like conditions they were subjected to, but the horror they were fleeing that led to their detention.

"It seems to me that detention robs a part of us," says one former detainee, who spent 447 days behind barbed wire and fences. "Every day we spend detained is like dying alive in a detention center."

But the video also shows the profound effect detention is having on those who visit the detainees.

"I knew absolutely nothing about immigration detention, and then I made my first visit," says Melanie Johnson, who was so moved by what she saw that she eventually became the visitation program manager for Lutheran Services of Georgia. "I had a range of emotions — you know, compassion for this person, but anger at the system — and that began to fuel this unexpected passion."

Several volunteers talk about how they were the first visitor some detainees had in months. Others were their first visitor ever.

"I thought I was coming as a volunteer, but I left realizing that no, this is a friend," says one volunteer. "We connected very quickly."

Later, as she talks about leaving and knowing the person she visited is still locked up in a box, words fail her.

I saw firsthand how detention changes people when I spent some time at the hospitality houses run by the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants in Chicago.

But the real question, one that cannot yet be answered, is: How is it changing our society? Will the practice of building fences, walls and prisons to keep others away from the freedoms we enjoy profoundly change us, as well?

The truth of immigration

Because it is the season of political conventions, there are a lot people trying to influence public perception, but often with a shortage of actual facts — especially on topics such as immigration.

Enter The Atlantic's City Lab, which features the work of Max Galka, who created video maps to show the actual movement of people around the world. Not surprisingly, the truth of immigration is often very different than what people think.

Making a profit off detained women and children

In June, we told you how British security firm Serco, which has been implicated in numerous detention scandals in the United Kingdom and Australia, has been lobbying the U.S. federal government to open a third detention center in Texas, which Serco would run.

If you're wondering why a private company would want to run a detention center, ThinkProgress has the answer: Locking up kids lets them lock in massive profits.

Both the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group told shareholders that their 2016 first-quarter profits soared thanks to running detention centers that hold women and children, according to ThinkProgress.

"CCA saw a revenue of $447.4 million, a 5 percent increase from last year's first quarter," ThinkProgress reported. CCA runs the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. "The company's press release attributed much of that increase to a federal contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency."

"The GEO Group reported a 17 percent increase, or $136 million, from the previous year, in part because of a 626-bed expansion at the Karnes residential center, another family immigration detention center located in Texas," Think Progress said.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.] 

Like what you're reading? Stay in the know, sign up for Global Sisters Report email alerts.