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The Inside:

"Bad Hombres" or Targeted Immigrants?

A Collaboration between Unis Human Rights Project & Proof: Media for Social Justice

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best... They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

President Trump launched his presidential campaign with these words in June 2015. 

Immigrants have long been scapegoated for many of America’s problems. They’re often dubbed criminals -- but it is a myth that immigrants increase crime in the U.S. Immigrants are incarcerated at a lower rate than native-born Americans and as immigration has increased in the U.S., crime has decreased.

But immigrants find themselves targeted by laws and policies that make it much easier for them to come in contact with the criminal justice system and be detained or deported. The mass criminalization of immigrants as we know it is often traced back to 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and later the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). These laws greatly expanded upon the range of criminal convictions – including relatively minor, nonviolent ones – that could lead to the deportation of non-citizens. Consequently, deportations increased 42%, from around 72,500 in 1998 to 103,000 in 2006. Under President Barack Obama, more immigrants were deported than under any president in US history: over 2.5 million. This gained President Obama the title of “deporter in chief” by immigrants’ rights activists.

The U.S. maintains the world’s largest immigration detention system through a federal agency called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Under the Trump administration, this system has grown exponentially. In 2019, ICE detained an average of 50,000 people each day. This was the third year in a row that the number hit a record high. For 20201, the trump administration requested an increase in the federal ICE budget in order to expand detention capacity to 60,000 people per day. ICE’s mission is to “find and remove illegal aliens who are criminals, fugitives or recent arrivals.” However, Amnesty International reports that detainees also include long-time permanent residents, asylum seekers, survivors of torture, children and parents of US citizen children. 

ICE operates over 200 detention centers throughout the U.S. and the majority of its facilities are subcontracted to private prison corporations that profit from the detention of immigrants. Since 2017, ICE has opened 40 new detention centers, 91% of people detained in these new detention centers are housed in facilities operated by private prison corporations. 

Immigration detention can be worse than prison. Many use the term “ice box” to describe immigration detention centers, as it is common practice to detain immigrants in frigid cells to pressure them to agree to deportation. Being deported is a civil proceeding, not a criminal one. But unlike those accused of crimes, immigrants can be held indefinitely and do not have the right to a lawyer. Detention Watch Network reports that many in immigration custody are also denied family contact and access to adequate medical care. 

Under the Trump presidency, ICE has expanded its deportation priorities, including a crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Arrests of undocumented immigrants without criminal records have more than tripled. In April 2018, a new zero-tolerance policy was announced to increase criminal prosecutions of people caught illegally entering the US. As a consequence, over 5,400 children were separated from their parents at the border, which has led to devastating and irreversible consequences for these families. 

In January 2019, the Department of Homeland Security began implementing a policy known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, which allows US border officers to send non-Mexican asylum seekers to Mexico to wait for their cases to close. Under the policy, asylum seekers are often forced to wait in dangerous locations and conditions and almost always do not have access to legal assistance. Over 56,000 asylum seekers had been sent to wait in Mexico as of November 2020. In March 2020, the Supreme Court ruled to continue the policy indefinitely.

We are America. America is us.

Chapter 10 — Question 01

Which U.S. President launched his campaign with the following words: “When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best... They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Correct! Wrong!

The correct answer is President Trump.

Chapter 10 — Question 01
Chapter 10 — Question 02

Which U.S. President deported more immigrants than all other presidents combined?

Correct! Wrong!

More immigrants were deported under President Barack Obama than all other presidents combined.

Chapter 10 — Question 02


Fled from Honduras to the US in 2014 with her two children.

One day when the gangs came to collect the tax, we couldn’t afford to pay. They left a note saying "you and your sister will die if we don’t get our money." The gang members had already threatened my son with a gun and shot my husband. I marched to the police station to file a complaint. They said that my home was unsafe and that I should leave immediately. At that moment I made the decision to flee to the United States. When I got here, they put an ankle bracelet on me and saw me as a criminal. People made fun of me every time I went out. God only knows why I had to leave my country and now they’re laughing at me. And here I am, fighting, because we too have rights, as human beings. And I am fighting more than anything for my kids.

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Fifteen Days to Social Death