Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reflections on the Intersections of Flawed Drug and Immigration Policies

The criminalization of immigrants continues to reach new heights and enforcement programs expand and justify themselves in the mainstream by saying they are going after “criminals”. In CFIR we have been having some intense discussion on challenging this view that it is ok to target and deport people labeled as “criminals”. The discussion has been challenging at times because there is often pressure both within and outside the movement to highlight the worthiness of “good immigrants”. This perspective ignores that more and more basic activities (like working and driving) have been criminalized, that all groups of people have members who engage in a range of activities and that people should not be labeled and targeted their whole lives for a misstep.

To help us explore this issue of criminalization and how to counter it, last week we brought in Art Way from the Drug Policy Alliance to discuss the intersection between flawed drug and immigration policies. We explored how
labels have been used to dehumanize both immigrants and people who use drugs (words like: “Illegal” and “addict”). We explored how militarization of the drug war is deeply connected to militarization of the border. The eighteen participants in the skill share found it powerful to learn about how historically drug laws have mirrored immigration law to maintain power and are not actually about the substance or “public safety”. Drug laws were targeted against different immigrant and ethnic groups (e.g. anti-opium den laws targeted Chinese immigrants and anti-marijuana laws targeted Mexican workers). Both immigration and drug laws throughout the US’s history have criminalized everyday behavior, but are selectively enforced and target only certain populations for doing these things. The fact that people of color comprise 13% of drug use, but are 78% of drug convictions deeply highlights this point. Tens of thousands of legal residents and other noncitizens are deported every year on drug-related grounds. In 2010, 25% of all deportations of people with criminal records were for drug charges of which the vast majorities were due to minor possession of marijuana. Deportees often are held in for profit detention centers miles away from family members without adequate due process for a drug conviction that may have occurred years ago. The disproportionate emphasis placed on targeting illicit drug use and distribution in communities of color and urban environments where noncitizens are concentrated increases the likelihood of interaction with law enforcement authorities. The imposition of drug sweeps and zero tolerance policies in schools, drug-free zones and the high prevalence of public drug selling invite a heightened law enforcement presence in communities of color, where noncitizens reside in great numbers. Once a noncitizen enters the criminal justice system, there is a substantial risk that the outcome of prosecutorial proceedings will have immigration consequences.

We ended the discussion with what we can do to make change. This discussion included looking internally and addressing the shame and stigma around drug use; to support drug policy based on science compassion, human rights and health; educating ourselves and others on the consequences of guilty pleas for deportation and push for pre-plea judicial programs and paying a fine for drug use rather than criminal conviction; raise awareness around drug propaganda; work to end the war on drugs and militarization of the border.

-Gabriela Flora, American Friends Service Committee
To learn about our future skill shares and other activities, please visit us on facebook https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/AFSC-Coloradans-for-Immigrant-Rights/113045722068217


King Downing, American Friends Service Committee said...

Thanks for your post. The link between the tactics used in mainstream drug enforcement and immigration detention is critical.

The tactics used, the rights violated and even the isolation of the targeted groups as "the other" are honed and increased in each succeeding "war:" on "crime ," "drugs," "terrorism," "immigration" and now "gangs." Who's next?

I would add to your list of solutions and nexr steps, the need for all targeted groups to come together, organize together and demonstrate/agitate together in a "ninety-nine percent" way.

G Flora said...

Thanks, King, for your important comments on the ever expanding group of "the other" that is being dehumanized and then turned into corporate profits through incarceration. You are right on about the essential step of all targeted groups coming together to learn from and organize together. It is the 1% that benefits by keeping us all separate. -Gabriela Flora, AFSC