Thursday, August 20, 2009

Obama: Don't Stop at Gitmo

In 1942, somewhere around 110,000 Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans were either coered to relocate, or underwent internment in the United States.

As you know, it was by executive order issued by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt that anyone of Japanese ancestry could be excluded from the entire West Coast, including all of California. We were at war at the time, and the Japanese were the equivalent of what we now call "enemy combatants."

Now, think about this. Over 400,000 so-called illegal immigrants a year are being held in hundreds of county jails, private prisons, and federal detention centers pending deportation, that is four times the number of Japanese we interned here one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. We may infer from this that the undocumented, and in some cases long term residents whose visas have expired, are now being seen as an enemy of war, only the battlefield is corporate profit.

And, as if it were possible for anything to be more egregious, according to an article in the New York Times, more than 1 in 10 of immigrant fatalities that have taken place in detention, over the past half dozen years, has gone unreported, and has been "overlooked," or left out of the official roster of detainee deaths given to Congress last spring.

Since assuming office, in January, the Obama administration has already added another 10 deaths to the more than 100 that have been recorded since October, 2003, not including that of a young Ethiopian whose bungled suicide attempt, in a Florida correctional facility, resulted in his early, and needless demise.

But, the larger, and obvious question is how is it that a muscular government agency like Immigration and Customs Enforcement which has been so steadfast, and meticulous, in rounding up hundreds and thousands of men, women, and children, can miss as many as 10% of those who have died in their custody?

Last weekend, the new head of ICE, John Morton, reportedly demanded that his field offices "make sure that other deaths had not been overlooked." If you happen to be the father of that Ethiopian youngster, or a Cuban, Mexican, or Iranian who disappeared from the roster of those immigrants who have died while in U.S. custody, I think you might find the notion that their death might have been overlooked outrageous, and offensive.

How much more dehumanizing can it be than to overlook the collateral damage of a corporate complex which has come to include prisons, but which also includes illegal sweatshops.

It is fair to say what has been called a "war on terror" has really been a war on immigration.

While all the focus lately has been on closing another eyesore of a detention center, in Cuba, that currently holds fewer than 100 men, the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of immigrants passing through our prison system, many held for months at a time, without federal oversight or regulation, boggles the mind.

We understand that President Obama is said to be working on changing the detention system. It is hoped he will consider that, in any given year, we are incarcerating 400% as many immigrants in the United States as Japanese we interned during World War II.

The president might also want to think about investigating, and abolishing, illegal immigrant sweatshops, including garment factories in Los Angeles and elsewhere, as well as slapping hefty fines on any corporation that profits from the labor of those whose relatives may well be stranded, awaiting deportation, in a federal prison in Louisiana.