War on Immigrants

Megan Pociask 
Staff Writer

On Thursday, September 5 at 6 p.m., people from the local community gathered at College Park Baptist Church to witness an Immigration Policy Reform Roundtable, hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad. 

After giving a brief introduction to the history of the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad, co-president Viki White-Lawrence shared the great impact that the group has had on the Piedmont Triad community, stating, “our education of advocacy work is done by roundtables addressing issues like the environment, healthcare, voting rights, and public education…”. 

Dr. Whitney Vanderwerff, who serves as Chair of this roundtable which is titled, “Who Benefits from the War on Immigrants? Follow the Money.” She welcomed the discussion with the acknowledgment that “the increasing awareness of immigration issues, the separation and detention of children and families, the recent notification that seriously ill undocumented immigrants and their families, who had been granted permission to stay here for medical treatment, now have thirty-three days to leave… tonight, we’re going to view the immigration system through a different lens – financial gain”. 

Dr Vanderwerff then proceeded to introduce the other two panelists, Dr. Felicia Arriaga and Alissa Ellis.

Dr. Felicia Arriaga, a graduate in Sociology from Duke University, now works as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Appalachian State University. Dr. Arriaga is currently working on a book project with UNC Press that pays attention to “how federal immigration enforcement programs are implemented through local law enforcement in the new immigrant destination of North Carolina”. 

Alissa Ellis, a J.D. graduate of UNC Law, works as the Regional Immigrants’ Rights Strategist for the ACLU of North Carolina. Her work consists of “disrupting the deportation pipeline in the Southeast while focusing on building out a robust set of strategies and tools for affiliates based in the Southeast who are developing immigrants’ rights campaigns”.

During the panel, Dr. Vanderwerff noted that the more she researched, “the more it appeared that the pursuit of revenue by private businesses invested in the immigration enforcement industry might be [prior] to the federal governments’ immigration policies and expansion of immigrant detention in recent years, rather than the other way around or as a result of any actual need for expansion”. 

Dr. Felicia Arriaga and Alissa Ellis then began to discuss the various ways many public municipalities in our state are profiting from immigration reform and also made a point to recognize how their collaborative research also pertains to, “a larger system of mass incarceration, [because] we can’t have this conversation without having both of these conversations at the same time”.

Dr. Arriaga highlighted that the, “expansion of what people think about as immigration detention centers…really began around 1980 as a response to Haitian refugees coming into the country and so both of us [Arriaga and Ellis] come from an understanding that immigration policies are racialized from the onset to imprison and detain individuals”. 

Dr. Arriaga continued, “over the past few years the cost for immigrant detention has increased and some of the research that we’ve been doing is what are called SCAAP awards, which is a State Criminal Alien Assistance Program and we’ll [talk about] how local jails actually receive reimbursements for holding immigrants”. 

Comparing the numbers of incarcerated immigrants in 1980 versus today, Dr. Arriaga said that, “the increase in attention and expansion of local jails is a pretty recent phenomenon…local jails have become part of what we think about as the deportation pipeline”. 

Alissa Ellis added that the reason she and Dr. Arriaga are conducting this research is, “because we are in the midst of a huge humanitarian crisis and so CBP and border patrol and family separation at the border is a huge issue, as is interior enforcement and so family separation is happening in Guilford County and other counties where ICE is enforcing federal immigration law…and so research is needed to eliminate and understand how ICE is working with local jails and in particular, sheriffs – who administer local jails and understanding the financial flow between county money to ICE for reimbursement and support…”. 

She further pointed out that ICE is, “co-opting our local tax dollars and elected officials to promote deportation.”

After providing a multitude of graphs and statistics to prove their point of local businesses having a vested interest in collaborating with immigration deportation enforcement, they opened the floor for questions from the audience. 

One local man raised the question that, “contrary to distinction to the huge amount that’s being spent for detention, the asylum process is way underfunded and there’s a huge delay in everybody’s hearings before the asylum is actually decided…isn’t that just as important, to try and get that funded properly to have the decisions expedited?”

In response, Ellis stated that, “the national ACLU is keeping its eye on independence of the judges to administer cases. In North Carolina, we have one of the highest rates of denial…you have to balance money also going to the border that may go to militarize and undercut versus actually help folks who seek asylum. Some advocates…are weary of the appropriations process because they can sometimes further militarize and [implement] detention without helping facilitate asylum seekers because really the administration has demonstrated that it does not care…”. 

For further information on immigration profiteers, visit LWVPT.org and ACLU.org.

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