Knowledge is Power: Understanding and Challenging Inhumane Immigration Policies

In light of the Trump Administration’s continued attacks on immigrants’ rights, it is of the utmost importance for United for a Fair Economy (UFE) and other social justice organizations to stand in solidarity with immigrants in the US. As a supporter of living wages, wealth-building opportunities, and equal justice for all workers, UFE has a history of standing up for immigrants’ rights and is committed to securing equal rights for documented and undocumented workers alike. For example, after the election of Donald Trump, UFE published State of the Dream 2017: Mourning in America,[1] which included a chapter highlighting the size of America’s immigrant population and the contributions immigrants make to the US economy. UFE conducts trainings on the connection between immigrants’ rights and economic justice,[2] which provide information, analysis, and strategies for action to establish solidarity between foreign-born and domestic workers.

However, while UFE recognizes that immigrants are an integral part of the American economy, they are first and foremost our friends, family members, and the pillars of our communities who deserve fundamental rights and respect. The Trump Administration’s immigration policy is built on a foundation of xenophobia and racism. As Trump threatens our communities with ICE roundups and inhumane detention centers, we are fearful for our friends and family. We must take action now. In order to do that, we must understand the history that has brought us here, the policies that are being proposed, and the many communities and organizations that are at the forefront of this struggle.


Family Separation

Among the Administration’s most abhorrent policies is the family separation policy which, since it was instituted in April 2018, has led to the separation of more than 2600 children from their parents.[3] The Trump Administration used Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which treats undocumented border crossing as a criminal offense rather than a civil offense, to justify its zero-tolerance policy. While Section 1325 became law in 1929, the Trump Administration has been more forceful than previous administrations in using it to criminalize border crossing and separate families. Under the Obama Administration (which deported 3 million immigrants),[4] for example, families were only ever separated as a measure of last resort (for example, if parents posed a danger to their children or had been convicted of a serious crime). 

With the power of Section 1325, the Trump Administration has justified an irrational zero-tolerance policy that treats undocumented border crossing as a criminal offense rather than a civil offense, criminalizes undocumented adults who are detained in jails to await trial, and forces children into the custody of the Department of Homeland Security. Under federal law, children can be kept in DHS custody for 72 hours before being transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Many children, however, including both those who have been separated from their families and those who arrived at the border unaccompanied, have been housed in CBP detention facilities for weeks,[5] in clear violation of the law.

Under immense bipartisan pressure, Trump signed an executive order in June 2018 that supposedly ended family separations and mandated that the Department of Homeland Security detain families together. But aside from the fact that detaining migrant families together in substandard living conditions is cruel and inhumane, this executive order has also failed to stop family separations. According to an article published on July 1, 2019 by NBC News, more than 700 families have been separated[6] since Trump’s June 2018 executive order. The Trump Administration has exploited a loophole in Section 1325 to justify separating families in cases where parents have committed only minor crimes, a practice used to criminalize and deter immigrants from coming to the US.

In addition to separating families at the border, the Trump Administration has detained both children and adults in deplorable conditions. Immigrant detention centers are woefully overcrowded, and immigrants frequently don’t have access to nutritious food, water, or healthcare. A pediatrician who visited the Ursula detention facility in McAllen, Texas[7] and a team of lawyers who visited a detention center in Clint, Texas[8] detailed malnutrition, psychological trauma, and the spread of infectious diseases among immigrants detained there. Detained immigrants also have extremely limited access to healthcare, and the healthcare they may receive is substandard, as has been documented in the past few months in California,[9] Colorado,[10] and throughout the country.[11] Immigrants with chronic, manageable conditions like diabetes, for example, are frequently not given their medications on time or at all, while immigrants with mental health conditions are frequently put on antipsychotic medications with a host of side effects and receive little or no care from mental health professionals. 


For-Profit Prisons

Many of the detention centers housing immigrants in squalid conditions are run by for-profit prison companies, including Geo Group and CoreCivic. These companies have an incentive to maximize their profit margins; in order to maximize profits, for-profit prison companies drastically reduce the amount of money they spend on providing immigrants with food, water, personal hygiene items, and healthcare. This focus on profit maximization endangers the lives of immigrants. The federal government, which is supposed to regulate for-profit detention centers, has failed miserably and is complicit in the exploitation and deaths of immigrants at the hands of for-profit prison companies.

In addition to skimping on necessities, for-profit prison companies have a clear interest in keeping undocumented immigration illegal. To further their business interests and maximize profits, these companies engage in lobbying and contribute to congressional and presidential candidates who oppose immigration reform and support the criminalization of immigrants. In the 2018 election cycle, for example, CoreCivic donated $341,700 to Republican candidates and just $20,000 to Democratic candidates.[12] GEO Group, meanwhile, donated $733,900 to Republican organizations and $80,600 to Democratic organizations during the same election cycle.[13]


Immigration as a 2020 Election Issue and Immigration Reform Proposals 

Immigration has already proven to be one of the most important issues of the 2020 elections. Several measures have been proposed to immediately end family separations, reunify currently separated families, and treat migrants humanely. Some Democratic presidential candidates support repealing Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and returning undocumented border crossing to being a civil offense. Others have proposed establishing a pathway to citizenship for recipients of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), DED (Deferred Enforced Departure), and TPS (Temporary Protected Status); so far, all efforts to establish pathways to citizenship for beneficiaries of these three programs have been stymied, despite the fact that a clear majority of Americans[14] supports these efforts. Among the most radical proposals to have gained mainstream attention is the proposal to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security. Formed after the passage of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, ICE has jurisdiction over the interior of the country (all areas >100 miles away from a land or maritime border) and is charged with deporting undocumented immigrants in these areas. Meanwhile, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) (another agency of Homeland Security) has jurisdiction over all areas of the country within 100 miles of a land or maritime border.

Organizations around the country, including several in Massachusetts, are taking action. Many have pushed for an end to the 287(g) program, whereby local law enforcement agencies sign agreements with ICE allowing them to act as federal immigration agents. Drive Without Fear campaigns, which support legislation to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented people, are active in many states. Movimiento Cosecha[15] is active in the Drive Without Fear campaign in Massachusetts, as well as campaigns to pressure institutions, employers, and individuals who engage with and support ICE to cut their contracts.  TPS Committees[16] are working to make it possible for TPS recipients to apply for permanent residency – something that is currently not possible. These policy campaigns are paired with local community care and emergency response networks, legal services, local organizer empowerment efforts, border support and direct action. All of these efforts can be supported monetarily or through volunteer action which is outlined in detail at the end of the article.   


History of US Immigration Policy and UFE’s Proposed Solutions

UFE supports all of the efforts described above, but we believe that a humane solution to the immigration crisis must go further. As part of any solution, it is necessary that the US accept its responsibility in creating the migrant crisis.[17] For centuries, the US has destabilized Latin America by overthrowing democratically elected governments and replacing them with autocratic ones, intervening in regional affairs to aid US corporate interests, and sheltering powerful people involved in the drug trade. Instead of accepting its responsibility for the current immigration crisis and welcoming immigrants who have been displaced because of its destabilizing policies, the US has closed off its borders and criminalized immigrants. 

The securitization of the border must be stopped. Successive administrations have wasted billions of dollars constructing walls and fences, deploying National Guard troops to the border, and expanding the budgets of ICE and the Border Patrol. ICE must be abolished, and it must not be replaced with another agency tasked with the criminalization, apprehension, and deportation of undocumented immigrants. The billions of dollars that ICE receives annually should instead be allocated to more efficiently process asylum claims and clear immigration court backlogs. In Fiscal Year 2018 alone, $4.8 billion was allocated to ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations Directorate,[18] which is charged with arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants. If ICE was abolished, these billions of dollars could instead be allocated to lighten the administrative load of the overburdened US immigration system and help newly-arrived migrants integrate.

The defunding of ICE must go hand in hand with the reassignment of responsibility for setting immigration policy from the Department of Homeland Security to another cabinet-level department which isn’t responsible for national security and doesn’t treat immigrants as criminals or terrorists. From the early 1900s to 1940, the Department of Labor was responsible for setting immigration policy. From 1940 to the early 2000s, the immigration policy was in the Department of Justice’s purview. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the newly-created Department of Homeland Security (DHS) gained authority over immigration policy, primarily under the purview of ICE.[19] These transferrals of authority over immigration policy represent changes in how immigrants have been perceived. While xenophobia was alive and well throughout the early 20th century, immigrants in the early 1900s were seen as workers contributing to the US economy. With the transferral of the responsibility of setting immigration policy to the Department of Justice, immigrants came to be seen as criminals. By the time immigration policy was shifted to DHS, immigrants were seen as potential terrorists. In 2019, responsibility for setting immigration policy needs to be taken from DHS and given to a cabinet-level department that respects the fundamental rights and dignity of immigrants. 

In addition, UFE recognizes that a pathway to citizenship must be established, not only for recipients of DACA, DED, and TPS, but also for family members of these recipients. To date, there have been no significant legislative efforts to provide family members of DACA, DED, and TPS holders with legal status. This must change, as it is cruel to rip apart kinship networks based on the arbitrariness of the US government in granting legal status to immigrants.



  1. State of the Dream 2017: Mourning in America. By Mike Leyba.
  2. Immigration Workshop. United for a Fair Economy.
  3. Family Separation by the Numbers. American Civil Liberties Union.
  4. The Obama Record on Deportations: Deporter in Chief or Not? By Jessica Bolter, Muzaffar Chishti, and Sarah Pierce.
  5. Hundreds of minors held at U.S. border facilities are there beyond legal time limits. By Abigail Hauslohner and Maria Sacchetti.
  6. Trump’s family separation policy never really ended. This is why. By Nila Bala and Arthur Rizer.
  7. What a Pediatrician Saw Inside a Border Patrol Warehouse. By Jeremy Raff.
  8. Attorneys: Texas border facility is neglecting migrant kids. By Cedar Attanasio, Garance Burke, and Martha Mendoza.
  9. Watchdogs Cite Lax Medical and Mental Health Treatment of ICE Detainees. By Sarah Varney.
  10. Medical Care for Immigrants Is Only Getting Worse At An ICE Detention Center, Advocates Say. By Adolfo Flores.
  11. Immigrants are suffering in detention. They need adequate healthcare now. By Altaf Saadi.
  12. CoreCivic Inc. Center for Responsive Politics.
  13. GEO Group. Center for Responsive Politics.
  14. Public backs legal status for immigrants brought to U.S. illegally as children, but not a bigger border wall. By Alec Tyson. 
  15. No Business With ICE. and Drive Without Fear. Movimiento Cosecha.
  16. About the National TPS Alliance. National TPS Alliance.
  17. How US Foreign Policy Helped Create the Immigration Crisis. By Jeff Faux.
  18. US Department of Homeland Security. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Budget Overview: Fiscal Year 2018.
  19. Origins of the Federal Immigration Service. US Citizenship and Immigration Services.


What Can You Do to Help?

Boston Area Immigration Resources

There are many organizations in the Boston area that provide legal services, maintain emergency response and community care networks, empower local neighborhood organizers, and engage in the local and national immigrant rights movement. 

Explore the organizations listed below or view our longer list that outlines their programs and how you can get involved.

Resources and Organizations >

Beyond Bond and Legal Defense Fund
Centro Presente
TRII - The Right to Immigration Institute
Movimiento Cosecha
The Chelsea Collaborative
Massachusetts TPS Committee


State-Based Resources 

Communities and organizations all over the country are fighting on a daily basis for survival against the powerful structures that are shattering our communities. They are building power and fighting back. These are a few of those organizations that we have had the honor of working with over the years.

Poder in Action
Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice
Puente Movement
Familias Unidas en Accion
National TPS Alliance
National Day Laborers Organizing Network
Florida Immigrant Coalition
Casa Maryland


National Partners

United for a Fair Economy is a proud member of the following national organizations.

Alianza America

  • Alianza America is a network of Latin American and Caribean immigrant organizations in the US that works to improve the quality of life for immigrants in the Americas. 


  • Mijente is a movement, an organizing hub, a political home that is pro-latinx, pro-Black, pro-women, pro-queer, pro-poor and more, lifting leadership and voice in the Latinx community.


Know Your Rights

It is important to know what policies and agreements are in place in your area, and how to respond in a case of emergency.

According to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department, and the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office all have 287(g) agreements with ICE. Undocumented people in these jurisdictions are vulnerable to being detained by local law enforcement agents and handed over to ICE. Once handed over to ICE, many immigrants are detained in for-profit prisons.

Make sure friends, family, and people in your community know their rights and how to react if confronted by law enforcement both as immigrants and allies. The ACLU provides Know Your Rights information on their website and local immigrant organizations can provide resources in multiple languages to be used if confronted.

Watch these videos to learn more about your rights and how to react and prepare for a confrontation with ICE or police (English / Spanish).




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  • neklein martinova
    commented 2019-12-07 08:30:13 -0500
    But this challenge serves as a reminder that not only is indefinite detention abhorrent, but the conditions in detention put the nation to shame. Forget 28 days. One day defecating in front of strangers is one too many.


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