• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 7:01am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 May, 2014, 4:32am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 May, 2014, 4:39am

US immigration detention system just doesn't work

You have read about how Chinese prisons and labour camps exploit inmates to produce commercial products. It turns that all over the United States, detained immigrants are being used as cheap labour at detention facilities.

At least the Chinese inmates are convicted criminals. But according to The New York Times, roughly half of immigrant detainees would eventually be released because they have been wrongfully held, granted permanent stay on humanitarian grounds or because authorities stop pursuing the case. But "detain and ask questions later" seems to be the policy. And to put it in context, the US puts more of its own citizens in jail than any other country.

Washington knows well how the immigrant detention system has become an inhumane bureaucratic monster of institutionalised abuse against the innocent and guilty alike, with anyone whose immigration status is unclear liable to be detained and deported. Yet, exploiting their cheap labour - paying them US$1 a day or not at all - in a system run largely by private profiteers must stand as a new low and disgrace for the land of the free.

A Times investigation estimates that on any given day, about 5,500 detained immigrants have been given such work. The authorities and companies claim they are all volunteers happy to help. Duties involve cooking, cleaning and other essential routines to keep the facilities going. But inmates have been put in solitary confinement for refusing to work. Others have privileges such as free television time and extra food taken away.

By paying between US$0 and US 13 cents an hour, the US federal government and its private detention contractors save more than US$40 million a year, according to the Times. A cook from Guatemala lamented how he went from making US$15 an hour to US$1 a day after being picked up by immigration agents. After being detained for 19 months, the authorities decided he had been in the country legally all along. Even by Washington's own admission, the detention system picks up many innocent people and keeps them in detention for months though they should never have been detained in the first place.

Barack Obama promised to reform the system when he was a presidential candidate. Sad to say, it has been a singular failure.


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This article is now closed to comments

The US can certainly do a better job of treating non-US citizens on its soil.
The CCP can certainly do a better job of treating PRC citizens on its soil.
Boy, I sure hope Mr. Lo isn't trying to dismiss one travesty simply by making note of another one. SCMP columnists wouldn't employ bald-faced tu-quoque logical fallacies now, would they?
What's the matter, Alex--not enough problems at home to write about? Stick with what you know and what concerns you directly la!
"At least the Chinese inmates are convicted criminals." Yes, and ALL self confessed, freely so, I'm sure.


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