Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, a national sorority recognized by the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organization, held a panel based on immigration detention in the U.S., titled “Jailed Without Justice,” at the Stamp Student Union on Dec. 3.
Astrid Diaz, the public relations director of the sorority, said the issue of immigration detention is close to this university.
“Our university is unique in that it is an institution of higher education surrounded by predominantly low-income neighborhoods that have large immigrant populations,” she said. “We are a short distance away from the nation’s capital where policy is formed and implemented on a national scale.”
Also one of the moderators for the panel, Diaz talked about the financial costs and conditions in immigration detention centers in the U.S.
“It costs $164 a day to keep an individual in a detention center,” she said. “Organizations like Correction Corporations of America profit from cutting expenses that would improve the living conditions of these detainees.”
Conditions in immigration detention centers include inadequate healthcare, physical and sexual abuse, overcrowding, discrimination and restriction to legal aid, she said.
Immigration detention centers specifically put individuals in rural places so that they cannot get access to counsel and attorneys, said panelist Amy Fischer, who works with RAICES.
“RAICES is headquartered in Texas,” she said. “Our attorneys normally leave their homes at 5 a.m. to travel hours in order to help these under-represented detainees.”
Most of the individuals who are put in immigration detention centers, whether discretionary or mandatory, are simply not risky, said panelist Robert Koulish, director of this university’s MLaw programs.
“If you are dangerous, then you should be detained,” he said. “Most of these people are detained because of discriminatory perspectives on risk.”
Undergraduates can bear witness to what is going on in immigration detention centers, he said.
“You students can document what you see – you can impact on policy, litigation and help release people who shouldn’t be detained,” he said.
Working with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, Pierre Thompson said reaching out to others who can be active citizens is important.
“We need to reach out to people who are able to change the injustices in these social institutions,” he said. “These issues are silent crises because they’re stigmatizing – they’re not something people would normally advertise.”
Working with Catholic Charities DC, panelist Isabel Saavedra finds issues on immigration detention personal.
“I was undocumented for two years,” she said. “The conditions and discrimination I’ve experienced made me want to be an attorney.”
Working with Detention Watch Center, panelist Aurea Martinez also shared similar experiences with Saavedra.
“When I was undocumented, I had to face a lot of injustices,” she said. “I continue to involve myself in immigration to expose the injustices through my organization’s educational events and Voices from Detention.
Audience member Akeel Alleyne, a senior Chinese major and brother of Alpha Theta Sigma Multicultural Fraternity, was intrigued by the entirety of the panel.
“The entire panel was informative. It was interesting to know how little exposure there is to the issues tied with immigration detention centers,” he said. “The oppression has so much overlap with the injustices present in the criminal justice system.”
“It is important for student organizations to have a duty to take issues close from the classroom to the real world and educate broader audiences,” Diaz said.
We need to have these conversations and institutions of higher education are great places to talk about them, Thompson said.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of WikiCommons.
Jennifer Pham is a junior multiplatform journalism major and may be reached at email@example.com.