Claudia Munoz Castellano, who is part of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, tried to cross the U.S.-Canadian border at a checkpoint to get herself detained by federal authorities so she could experience what it is like to be an immigrant in a detention facility and learn the stories of the men and women held there.
The goal of the plan was to expose the detention and deportation practices and show government officials that they are not being carried out lawfully. Munoz Castellano came to the U.S. at the age of 16 and has lived here since as an undocumented immigrant. She knew that getting detained also posed as a threat to her being deported back to her native Mexico. “Part of me was prepared knowing that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in Michigan is so unpredictable,” Muñoz Castellano said.
Once she was detained, she spent three weeks in Calhoun County Jail in Battle Creek. While in custody she got to speak to various other detainees and documented their stories. Many detainees expressed confusion about proceedings and deportation procedures. Spanish speaking translators were rarely available to translate proceedings and many immigrants were pressured to sign voluntary departure releases to avoid deportation. Some also claimed that immigration authorities were not following policies and mistreating the immigrants. When asked about Castellano’s allegations, federal authorities denied the claims saying “ICE is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, recent border crossers and egregious immigration law violators, such as those who have been previously removed from the United States.”
Despite awareness that has been raised about horrible living conditions and maltreatment of immigrants, politicians choose to ignore the issue and the apparent disconnect between the law and the procedures taken in these detention facilities. With not enough oversight or immigration lawyers available to take on cases for each undocumented immigrant, detainees and their families are in danger of being abused. Munoz Castellano serves as yet another example of the individuals that fall through the cracks of a broken system.
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