ONE EVENING LAST July, I walked up to the Port Everglades U.S. border checkpoint in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to intentionally turn myself in to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. My mission: to get into Broward Transitional Center, a privately run U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility, to expose the stories of those held there. It's categorized by ICE as a model facility. But as I witnessed firsthand, it is nothing short of a prison where, as in the other 250 immigration prisons across the U.S., immigrants are arbitrarily held and exposed to all kinds of human rights abuses.
The total number of undocumented immigrants detained in the U.S. each year is sky-high—ICE detained 429,247 people in 2011 alone. In August 2011, the administration announced that it would focus its deportation efforts on people with criminal records. "Obama is only deporting gangbangers and felons," established immigrant advocacy organizations said. "He's our guy for immigration reform!"
But that is far from true. In my work with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), I keep hearing the real stories of immigrant prisoners and the loved ones from whom they're torn.
Getting detained was part of a strategy of civil disobedience that fellow activists and I have been pursuing since 2010: In order to pressure ICE and the government, we have to put ourselves on the line. I was one of two Youth Alliance activists who sought to infiltrate the Broward Center to find out the inside story. We also set up a telephone hotline, funded by donations from the community, to take calls from people detained in the center.