May 10, 2022
For decades, advocates and organizers have been fighting to defund Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency plagued by inhumane conditions, a lack of accountability, and a culture of violence. In a major win for the immigrant justice movement, President Biden's fiscal year 2023 budget includes a reduction in immigration detention beds and in funding for ICE enforcement. But even with this victory, there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that the federal government's investments align with what our communities truly need. President Biden's budget includes more than $500 million for ICE's "alternatives to detention" (ATD), simply e-carceration, like ankle monitors. For many immigrants like myself that have experienced the horrors of both immigration detention and surveillance through ankle monitors, this is yet another reminder that we are still not free, we are bound, and shackled long after leaving a detention center.
As we reduce ICE funding and move away from the use of immigration detention, we cannot replace this cruel and immoral system with detention simply by another name. According to the Transactional Records Access ClearingHouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, there are over 225,000 families and individuals being intrusively surveilled by ICE. Members of Congress now have the opportunity to change course and cut the proposed funding for ICE's ATDs. Next week, the Senate will need to submit their priority request to appropriators. Instead of increasing resources for ICE's deadly detention system and surveillance dragnet, they can invest in the vital programs and services that respond to the real need of our communities such as housing, healthcare, environmental protections, and education.
President Biden has justified his proposed investment as "reinventing detention"--dramatically increasing e-carceration like ankle surveillance of immigrants as a "humane alternative" to detention. The reality is that detention by any other name still deprives immigrants of our freedom, and the only entities that stand to benefit from this are the private prison companies scaling up their e-carceration technology under the guise of detention reform.
The constant monitoring I've experienced under ICE's Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) eats away at my mental health voraciously. I spent almost two years with an ankle shackle attached to one of my feet, which did nothing but hurt and shock me. Pre-pandemic, ISAP would visit my house on Tuesdays, and I couldn't leave from six in the morning until six at night--even if they never showed up. I lived in constant fear of getting re-detained. These ankle monitors reduce your existence to a constant state of panic: Is it fully charged? Is it working ? What kind of socks should I wear to prevent this device from hurting me? Can I go to school? I felt constant anxiety about being followed and watched. I carefully coordinated my return to my college campus to make sure I had enough battery to complete my school day, and revised my schedule to make sure classes would not interfere with ISAP calls and check-ins. It greatly impacted my class concentration, and I fell behind on my studies.
Even during the pandemic, the Biden administration has funneled billions into immigration enforcement and exposed thousands of community members inside detention to a deadly virus. In the same breath, ICE's so-called "alternatives" to detention (ATD), which are rapidly increasing under the Biden administration, have only proven to be another framework to restrict, surveil, and harm immigrants, and has not resulted in fewer people in detention. Thousands like me have been ostracized because of ICE's "alternatives" to detention. People pointed at me and stared at my ankle monitor when I was in public. I lost friendships because people didn't feel safe around my ankle monitor, fearing ICE might come for them. From the daily wear and tear, the ankle shackle began to "Beep" sporadically because I couldn't take it off to shower. ISAP replaced it multiple times because it would shock me, and gave me bruises and a skin rash.
This is not the humane approach to immigration President Biden promised on the campaign trail. It's time for Congress to stop writing a blank check to agencies that waste taxpayer dollars and undermine our values and safety. We need to hold our elected officials accountable for funding the abuse of immigrants. In the US, every person should be treated with dignity and respect. But ICE gets billions every year to jail, abuse, and deport immigrants. We all deserve humanity and dignity while navigating our immigration cases in our communities.
I have not lost hope. Communities across the country, like those in the Defund Hate Coalition and the California Youth Justice Alliance (CIYJA), are demanding the Biden administration divest from both ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and instead, invest in our futures. This fall, I will be graduating from community college with an associate's degree in sociology and transferring to a university to complete my studies. I was accepted into Calpoly Pomona, Cal State LA, University of California Riverside, and Cal State Long Beach. But while celebrating, I remember that my ISAP Case Manager and my ICE officer need to approve my move. All I can think is how is this the fair, just, and humane immigration system the Biden administration promised? Aren't I deserving of dignity and respect?
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