Saturday, July 13, 2019

Agamben's Camp and the Incarceration of Immigrant Children

In 2010 I published a book on American childhood titled Governing Childhood.

On pages 172-177 in a section titled "Childhood Innocence, Containment and Population Flows" I addressed how the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) led to increased emigration from Mexico because the trade agreement flooded the Mexican economy with cheap agricultural goods and the Mexican open-air mercados could not compete against the convenience of Walmart and Costco.

Relying on sources from 2007 and 2008, I described how children, poor immigrant children, were caught up in the rising security discourse and for-profit "corrections-detention" apparatus that criminalizes children despite their failure to commit any crimes.

However, the difference between the reports that surfaced in 2007 and 2008 and today's concerns is marked: In 2007 separation of children from parents was the exception. In 2018, separation of children from parents became normative.

Today's detention of immigrant children and immigrants has much more fully realized the DEBASEMENT of American institutional values in the treatment of "outsiders" as bare life, devoid of the rights of citizens and the basic right to life itself fundamental to western liberal values (see my discussion here).

Accounts of incarcerated immigrants, including children, by politicians, activists, and religious leaders of failures to provide basic conditions necessary for life - including the conditions for eating, sleeping, and bathing safely - demonstrate the extent of our debasement.

The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben warns us against this debasement that is inextricably linked to camps.

Incarceration of immigrants is not the solution to the refugee flows produced by decaying empires and ruined eco-systems.


Growing numbers of immigrants are subject to incarceration before deportation. Paromita Shah, associate director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, argued in 2008 that “Homeland Security is one of the largest jailers in the world, ‘but it behaves like a lawless local sheriff’'' (cited in Bernstein B3). Since 2004, 83 immigrants have died in retention centers: critics claim detainees are routinely denied basic rights, such as medical care, visitation, and legal materials (Bernstein B3; Bernstein and Preston A18; Gorman B5).

The Homeland Security Department Inspector General reported in 2006 that an audit of 5 publicly and privately operated detention centers found all were out of compliance with general standards on health care, disciplinary procedures, and access to legal materials. Inexplicably, the 5 had been rated “acceptable” in the immigration agency’s annual reviews (cited in Bernstein B3).

A separate report criticizing practices of immigrant detention issued in 2007 noted that at the privately run Hutto detention center in Texas, women received inadequate prenatal care, children received only 1 hour of schooling daily, children as young as 6 were separated from their parents, and threats of separation were used as “disciplinary tools” (Swarns B17).

Detention facilities have followed the trajectory set by the outsourcing of U.S. prisons. The Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group have successfully contracted with the federal government to provide immigration detention services (Gorman B5). The federal government also contracts with state and local jails and criminal detention centers to hold immigrant detainees. Private contractors are not subject to the same freedom of information (FOI) provisions applicable to government run agencies and private criminal detention cen  ters treat immigrants as if they were criminals.

Consequently, a GAO report concludes, "Without sufficient internal control policies and procedures in place, ICE is unable to offer assurance that detainees can access legal services, file external grievances and obtain assistance from their consulates" (cited in Hsu “No Phone” A2). Immigrants continue to be denied basic rights and due process because of the lack of universal, enforceable standards governing detention (Bernstein B3).

Dickerson, C. (2019, June 21).‘There Is a Stench’: Soiled Clothes and No Baths for Migrant Children at a Texas Center. The New York Times,

A chaotic scene of sickness and filth is unfolding in an overcrowded border station in Clint, Tex., where hundreds of young people who have recently crossed the border are being held, according to lawyers who visited the facility this week. Some of the children have been there for nearly a month.

Children as young as 7 and 8, many of them wearing clothes caked with snot and tears, are caring for infants they’ve just met, the lawyers said. Toddlers without diapers are relieving themselves in their pants. Teenage mothers are wearing clothes stained with breast milk.

Most of the young detainees have not been able to shower or wash their clothes since they arrived at the facility, those who visited said. They have no access to toothbrushes, toothpaste or soap.


We must peacefully demand the camps be ended.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.