On Thin ICE: A look into the Federal Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

by Rachel Lee

It is difficult to discuss immigration policy without mentioning illegal immigration, and, more recently, family detention. Family detention is the practice of placing whole families who have entered the country illegally into specialized detention facilities while they await a verdict on their ability to remain in the United States. Families spend between 15 to 548+ days in detention.    While detaining illegal immigrants is an old practice, the number of immigrants in U.S. detention centers has recently swelled. Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) operates the largest prison system in America (Martin, 2012), and spends more money than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined (González Fernández, 2013). This paper is an extension of a panel discussion on family detention that took place on campus in November 2016. Utilizing primary resources, such as interviews and government resources, as well as secondary sources, the paper explores reasons for the recent swell in illegal immigration, the U.S. governments’ responses, and why several influential groups are attempting to end the family detention and close the Berks County Detention Center (BCDC) in Leesport, PA.

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About the Author

rachel lee.pngRachel Lee is a non-traditional Senior Psychology Major whose calling in life is to pursue social justice for children and adolescents. Rachel chose to study immigration detention after finding out that one of the U.S.’s family detention centers is located in her home county of Berks. When asked why she felt the need to research family detention, Rachel replied, “The way this country treats fellow humans who we have judged as “less than” is deplorable. Just look at how we treat our own who have broken the law at some point, become homeless, or just happen to be “different” in some way.  The abuses that children and families in immigration detention suffer is unacceptable and something needs to be done about it. Educating others is the least I can do.”

Rachel will graduate in December 2017, and plans to pursue graduate studies in order to work with children and adolescents in a clinical capacity. If she could do anything, Rachel claims she would “re-write our social and legal laws so that every child is valued for ‘who they are’ and are provided with all the resources that they need to develop into conscientious, accepting, and healthy citizens. Too many people fail to realize that today’s children are tomorrow’s adults. The least we can do is value them and support them equitably.”

Rachel was not always this open and motivated for social justice. Having grown up on the outskirts of Reading, PA during the 1990’s, Rachel feared the crime-ridden city and the diversity that existed there. As a child, she simply absorbed the racist rhetoric adults spouted about immigrants taking US jobs and refusing to learn English. Rachel’s views towards Latinos began changing in her early 20s as she attended Reading Area Community College, worshipped in city churches, and worked in a local factory. As she “rubbed shoulders” daily with Latino/as, she quickly learned that Latinas/os are simply more people—people who happen to have beautiful skin, eyes, and hair! LATS 201 further changed Rachel’s views. At the beginning of the semester, she still feared the Latinos who weren’t quite like her: the ones who lived in rougher conditions, survived off of food stamps or pantry donations, or moved from place to place: those Latino/as were somehow “too other.” This service learning experience—which led Rachel to read and hear about many different Latina/o migrants’ stories, their hopes and dreams, and their fight to just survive—helped her bridge some of that divide and re-conceptualize immigrants and their children as people who are “just like me.”

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