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Ann is the name I’ll use for my friend who was recently detained at her immigration check-in in August in Charleston.

Ann is the single mother of four children ages 14, 11 and twin girls that just turned 6. Ann is not accused of assault, rape or murder, as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claims their targets to be. She is not a gang member.

But Ann got a DUI a few years ago. So when she reported to her check-in, agents seized her phone and identification papers, then bused her to a detention center hours away in Ocilla, Georgia.

She didn’t get to talk to her children to tell them what happened. The kids were at their first day of school after summer break. I imagine them getting off the bus after school, the little ones eager to tell Ann about their day, and then waiting for their mother to return as they anxiously called her unresponsive cell phone.

Ann’s children are bright and curious. Ann left my house the day before being detained, taking the sneakers I’d given the kids as back-to-school gifts. She thanked me and added, “You are like family to me.”

And she is like family to me. She has a sister here in Charleston, but no husband. She had an abusive relationship that ended. She doesn’t want him around the children. He was deported for assaulting someone else.

This past year Ann paid a lawyer thousands of dollars to help her make things right with immigration. She’d entered the United States illegally 14 years ago, walking across the border with her brother. She got her driver’s license and “working papers.” She worked every day to pay for her home, to meet the needs of her kids, to pay a lawyer. The property in South Carolina is all she has.

Where will she go in Mexico? ICE said the kids could go with her. They are U.S. citizens. Is it humane to drop off four children in Mexico with no home or source of income?

Her children are devastated. Her teenager was recently diagnosed with depression, hospitalized in July. I wonder if the news headlines about deportations caused him to worry then? What will be the consequences of deporting his mother? How much more will he suffer?

I think Ann was taken because she was an easy target, low-hanging fruit, a fast addition to the quota. Was a DUI so serious that she was separated from four children? As a mother of a teenager, I can’t imagine being pulled away from my child. Her sister is taking care of the children for now. But what will become of her home and car? Who takes over the assets (or liabilities) when deportations occur?

When I told my son what happened to Ann, he said, “The law is the law.” Yes but doesn’t it count that she had a lawyer and was trying to become legal? She’d done what ICE asked, even though ICE made countless appointments during the summer and canceled at the last minute.

Ann had scrambled to find a babysitter, lost days and income when she could have worked. She tried to do the right thing. And for what?

And about this lawyer she hired. He won’t even take her calls now. My husband contacted him months ago to ascertain if he was doing the work he promised. He replied, “If you think you can do better, go for it.” We decided not to interfere, but I hope the lawyer did what he was hired to do. I’m left wondering what kind of legal help immigrants get.

I’ve also learned that detainment facilities have evolved into major for-profit enterprises complete with their own lobbyists. According to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, ICE has a mandate to fill 34,000 beds in some 250 facilities across the country, per day (Center for American Progress: How For-Profit Companies Are Driving Immigration Detention Policies). According to Anita Sinha, law professor at American University, fulfilling this mandatory bed quota leads to unnecessary and arbitrary detentions in violation of constitutional rights and international law. (Duke Journal of Constitutional Law and Policy).

I’m no immigration expert, but I have become informed. The annual detention budget is more than $2 billion. This country is spending money hand over fist to create wealth for detention companies like Corrections Corporations of American and the GEO group. In fact, it appears Congress is supporting their profitability with quotas. This mandate started five years ago and is financed by taxpayers. The profit-driven motivation to keep detention centers occupied means people like Ann will continue to be ensnared.

How does this support homeland security? I’d prefer to spend my tax dollars addressing real issues of security, as well as infrastructure, drug abuse and mental health.

“Don’t get involved. It’s not your problem.” This I’ve been told countless times about human rights or public health issues. If we all had that attitude, what kind of country would this be?

I want everyone to know what happened to Ann and the motivations behind detentions. Is it legal? Yes. Is it humane? Hardly. Congress needs to stop mandatory detention quotas.

Lavonda Miley, PhD, is from Charleston.


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