The PBS Frontline special entitled “Lost In Detention” represents a scathing indictment of the administration’s immigration policy. The yearlong investigation did an extensive and deep dive into the U.S. immigration enforcement system and stories of hidden abuse in detention centers.
The nearly hourlong report makes for harrowing viewers: Women who have been detained complaining about being harassed by guards for sexual favors, sexually assaulted by guards, and guards threatening to kill the women they are harassing if they talk. A single mom with two daughters who overstayed a visa gets deported back to Mexico just because she changed lanes without signaling. Cops describe patrolling neighborhoods with significant number of illegal immigrants, where people instinctively run from the sight of a police car. A mother of five American-born children being deported over a speeding ticket.
The report describes, “a vast network of 250 detention centers, from county jails to large centers run by private prison companies, where immigrants facing deportation are held until they can be removed from the country. In the past decade, three million immigrants have been detained in the system.” The report shows white-domed tents surrounded by barbed wire, and are described as overcrowded warehouses of people. Those who have been through the detention centers describe beatings, racial slurs, official coverups, and threats to deport anyone who complains. The problem is described as more than a few “bad apples,” but more of “barrels of bad apples.”
A full transcript of the report can be found here.
In the Frontline report, the administration insists the current enforcement policies are necessary to protect the American people. The report shows the president traveling to El Paso and boasting, “We have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible. We now have more boots on the ground and we are deporting those who are here illegally.” The deputy director of ICE boasts of “record-breaking numbers in terms of criminal alien removals” that include “1,000 murderers, 6,000 sex offenders, 45,000 serious drug violators. As we expand the deployment of Secure Communities, focus on criminal aliens, you’ll see that number continue to go up and up.” Officials from the administration boast that they’re finally taking enforcement seriously, a contrast with their lax predecessors.
One of the president’s immigration advisors callously declares, “At the end of the day, when you have a community of 10 million, 11 million people living and working in the United States illegally, some of these things are going to happen. Even if the law is executed with perfection, there will be parents separated from their children. They don’t have to like it, but it is a result of having a broken system of laws.”
Critics complain that the administration’s policy is just “enforcement on steroids.” The report warily details how ICE has extended its reach by enlisting the help of local law enforcement to better identify illegal immigrants who have committed crimes — turning local cops into a de facto enforcement branch of federal immigration law.
Wait, wait, I’m sorry, this Frontline special is from October 2011, and describes the immigration policies of the Obama administration. Clearly, these policies do not warrant a heated national conversation, are not a national scandal, outrage, or embarrassment, and do not deserve furious denunciation all across the political spectrum. If they did, we would have heard all of this eight years ago. While the allegations of abuse are repulsive, they simply didn’t seem to interest the media or the public on a large scale back in 2011.
And regarding the way illegal immigrants are being hunted, arrested, and deported, clearly the president knew what he was doing and this was simply tough enforcement of the immigration laws on the books. If it wasn’t, surely all of the current Democratic presidential contenders who are furious about the current policies would have noticed. I mean, Joe Biden was vice president when all of this was going on.
Or is it just that these longstanding enforcement policies are acceptable under President Obama but not acceptable under President Trump?