It’s Time to Look at Human Cost of Immigration System
By Lindsay Marshall. Reposted from azcentral.com
It is impossible to get into the mind of someone who chooses to take his or her own life and understand what led to that decision.
Suicides leave everyone asking questions with very few answers. And when a suicide takes place in a more public arena, these questions become broader and more urgent for us all.
Earlier this month, in the space of just a few days, two people in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement separately took their own lives by hanging themselves.
Elsa Guadalupe-Gonzales, 24, and Jorge Garcia-Mejia, 40, were detained at Arizona’s remote Eloy Detention Center, run by Corrections Corporation of America, and were in legal proceedings relating to their right to stay lawfully in the United States.
Both were from Guatemala and approaching their 40th day in detention.
The Florence Project had not met with Guadalupe-Gonzalez but was scheduled to meet with Garcia-Mejia, on the day he took his life, to screen him for legal relief and orient him to the Immigration Court process.
While it’s intrusive to try to create a narrative around the deaths of these two people, suicides in detention can symbolically force us to look at the larger issues around them because they both were in federal custody as a part of our immigration-enforcement practices.
If we can’t figure out why they may have taken their own lives, we at least have a moral obligation to ask what treatment and conditions may have made their situations worse.
The dark truth is that I am surprised more men and women don’t take their lives in immigration detention.
Whether inside the Eloy Detention Center or in any of the other hundreds of prisons, county jails and detention facilities that ICE uses to detain immigrants around the country, there are human beings who are suffering every day.
They are locked up and separated from their families, and they don’t know when their time in detention will end. They are facing deportation, often to a place where they have been victimized, abused, persecuted or tortured and, if they are longer-term residents in the United States, they face permanent exile from their families and lives in this country.
None has the right to legal counsel, despite facing complex legal proceedings. They have very little power to advocate for their interests.
It is long past the time when we should collectively examine the immigration detention system in the United States and ask whether it is worth the cost.
There are incredibly persuasive arguments that the detention system is not worth the financial cost to taxpayers, but these deaths underscore that we must also recognize the human cost.
Not only are these two suicides devastating for the victims and their families, they impact the other immigrants locked inside, the officers who work in the detention centers, the staffs of organizations like the Florence Project who are trying to help them, and the medical responders who come to their aid.
If we don’t have answers, let’s at least ask the question of whether this is necessary and whether it reflects the kind of country we want to be.
Lindsay Marshall is executive director of the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project and a member of the national Detention Watch Network.