Zero tolerance vs. human dignity

As it Turns Out By Marylin Olds

In early May, “zero tolerance” for illegal entry across the Rio Grande was declared, meaning every single person not using legal border crossings is automatically prosecuted.

People flee to America from countries like Mexico, India, and China seeking asylum because of physical danger to themselves if they stayed. Now each immigrant will be treated as a criminal first, charged with the crime of “illegal entry.” Note that many immigrants seeking asylum have been turned away at the legal border crossing.

Many immigrants come with their children, who are taken from them using lies and put into detention centers looking like dog kennels. Physical, mental and sexual abuse (all alleged) are threats to the safety and wellbeing of these children.

The Dept. of Health and Human Services recently told Congress that they had somehow lost approximately 1,500 children out of those moved. Where is the human decency?

In the past, if someone fears for their safety if returned to their own countries, they would not be prosecuted. Instead, the charges would be dropped, and the migrant would be put into the asylum system. Those not making these claims entered the criminal process, but almost always ended up with time served.

Male migrants are given orange prison suits and, because there are so many going through the criminal process, are tried en masse with sometimes 30 to 40 at one time. Handcuffs and waist and leg chains are mandatory for court.

The president mentioned favor for private prison companies. GEO and CoreCivic, the biggest private corporations working with detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), then began giving the president’s PACs big money.

“In the week following the 2016 election, stock prices for these two companies rose by around a third, largely on the promise that the new administration would reverse the Obama administration’s move away…

“ICE is forecasting that next year will bring a 23 percent increase over the already historic number of people it locked up daily in 2017,” writes Madison Pauly, Mother Jones.

To influence immigration (and criminal) justice, private prison companies are making more political connections. In addition to contributing to political campaigns, they also lobby and network.

Why are all immigration detainees being treated like criminals when most of them aren’t criminals? These people are “being held pending civil proceedings to determine whether they will be deported, not as a punishment after a conviction. In fact, unless they were deemed a flight risk or a threat to public safety, people going through deportation proceedings shouldn’t have been jailed in the first place.

“It is unconscionable that the government and its contractors abuse them further by effectively compelling them to work. It’s even more outrageous that they receive as little as $1 a day for doing jobs central to operating the detention centers and caring for the detainees,” writes the Los Angeles Times editorial board.

“Adding insult to injury, detainees at for-profit detention centers are often coerced into working for virtually no money. The for-profit companies that run the facilities have all the wrong incentives and a captive workforce at their disposal. The food they provide detainees is frequently so inadequate that detainees feel they have no choice but to work for $1 a day to buy additional food from the commissary, often at inflated prices,” writes Robert Greenwald, The Nation.

Washington state isn’t removed from all this. Mothers seeking asylum were recently transferred and being held in the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac in mid-June. Their children were taken away from them and they could hear them screaming for their moms in another room but weren’t allowed to interact with them. GEO runs the Tacoma Northwest Immigration Detainee Center, a private prison, and is one of the largest in the country.

In September 2017, state Atty. Gen. Bob Ferguson filed a suit against GEO for allegedly violating the state’s minimum wage law by paying detainees $1 per day.

Here’s what you can do to help fight this cruelty perpetrated by our government. Call your members of congress: Sen. Patty Murray 202-224-2621; Sen. Maria Cantwell 202-224-3441; and Rep. Derek Kilmer 202-225-5916. And remember to vote!

— Marylin Olds is a Kitsap opinion columnist. Reach her at