More enforcement is often touted as a remedy for America’s hobbling immigration system. Is that really the direction our country should go? Just ask Ocilla and Uvalda, two Georgia towns.
Just outside Ocilla, the Irwin County Detention Center is bearing witness to a not-so-spectacular attempt to bring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) dollars into the local economy. This was done, in part, by offering to house ICE detainees at a cut rate.
But as Hannah Rappleye and Lisa Riordan Seville recently wrote for The Nation in “How One Georgia Town Gambled Its Future on Immigration Detention,” the relationship between the town and the detention center has “gone sour.” In fact, the company running the center recently owed about $1.6 million in back taxes and penalties, and detainees were holding hunger strikes to protest conditions. Ocilla’s experience has turned into one more example of why we need alternatives to detention.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s town of Uvalda has its own set of woes tied to harsh enforcement. Its mayor, self-described “conservative Republican” Paul Bridges, has been fighting extreme legislation that, in his own words, “runs counter to America’s greatest values and threatens to run my town’s economy to the ground.”
Bridges, who’s concerned that his town’s crops are rotting in the fields thanks to a state climate hostile to immigrant laborers, has the data on his side. Studies by the Georgia Restaurant Association and the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association suggest that the negative impact on the state economy from HB 87, the anti-immigrant legislation, could reach $1 billion.
Two towns, two outcomes — both bad.
It seems critical that the rest of America learn the lessons of Ocilla and Uvalda. Our Supreme Court will have the opportunity to show those “lessons learned” when it comes to Arizona. The state’s extreme law, SB 1070, has drawn fire from many sides for, among other things, requiring local police to determine the immigration status of people they arrest and suspect are undocumented immigrants.
The justices will hear oral arguments about SB 1070 on April 25. Over 350 individuals and organizations, including LIRS, have joined 22 amicus briefs supporting the U.S. government in its legal challenge to SB 1070.
At LIRS, we’re optimistic that the justices will listen to the facts and do the right thing. But outcomes are never certain, and there is always something you can do to make a difference. In fact, here are a few. Please take them up as you are able and willing, in hopes that Ocilla, Uvalda, and Arizona will one day be remembered more for problems overcome than for unhappy lessons.
Learn about SB 1070, which is the front line of this battle. The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) has done a spectacular job of arraying the arguments against SB 1070 in a single document that’s truly worth a look. You can read the brief itself here. The LIRS “mythbusters” guide to U.S . immigration also dispels common misconceptions.
Contact your representatives in Congress through the LIRS Action Center. Our senators and representatives don’t have power over the Supreme Court decision on SB 1070. But it’s critical to ask Congress to pass comprehensive federal-level immigration reform, and it never hurts for them to hear more public dissatisfaction with SB 1070.
Write a letter to your newspaper. Letters to the editor are read carefully by everyone from your neighbors to the staff of your representatives in Congress. Your letter criticizing SB 1070 and calling for comprehensive immigration reform can have a tremendous impact! Click here to learn how to make your letter the most well-informed, powerful, and likely to be published.
Join other people of faith at the Supreme Court for a 48-hour prayer vigil from 10am Monday April 23 – 10am Wednesday April 25. A Jericho Walk will take place the morning of Wednesday, April 25, when the justices will be hearing oral arguments about SB 1070. Click here to learn more about events that day.
Spread the word about the need for comprehensive immigration reform and SB 1070. Your neighbors and members of your church may be unfamiliar with the facts. Join the LIRS Stand for Welcome campaign. Tweet your opposition to SB 1070 using the hashtag #vigil4justice Join the LIRS Stand for Welcome campaign to hear of ways you can get involved in advocacy with refugees and migrants. This blog is a good place to updates on the struggle against SB 1070-style laws — please sign up to have posts delivered to your mailbox!
Image credit: dbking