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American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons

Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 426
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  • Book Info
    American Gulag
    Book Description:

    Before September 11, 2001, few Americans had heard of immigration detention, but in fact a secret and repressive prison system run by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has existed in this country for more than two decades. InAmerican Gulag,prisoners, jailers, and whistle-blowing federal officials come forward to describe the frightening reality inside these INS facilities. Journalist Mark Dow's on-the-ground reporting brings to light documented cases of illegal beatings and psychological torment, prolonged detention, racism, and inhumane conditions. Intelligent, impassioned, and unlike anything that has been written on the topic, this gripping work of investigative journalism should be read by all Americans. It is a book that will change the way we see our country.American Gulagtakes us inside prisons such as the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami, the Corrections Corporation of America's Houston Processing Center, and county jails around the country that profit from contracts to hold INS prisoners. It contains disturbing in-depth profiles of detainees, including Emmy Kutesa, a defector from the Ugandan army who was tortured and then escaped to the United States, where he was imprisoned in Queens, and then undertook a hunger strike in protest. To provide a framework for understanding stories like these, Dow gives a brief history of immigration laws and practices in the United States-including the repercussions of September 11 and present-day policies. His book reveals that current immigration detentions are best understood not as a well-intentioned response to terrorism but rather as part of the larger context of INS secrecy and excessive authority.American Gulagexposes the full story of a cruel prison system that is operating today with an astonishing lack of accountability.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93927-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PROLOGUE: “Let This Be Home”
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    “She tells it so much better than I do,” says the director of a human rights organization, introducing the woman with her on the church podium. The audience consists mostly of immigration advocates, along with a few journalists. “She’s asked me to interview her rather than just tell her story.”

    The first question is about the young woman’s reasons for leaving her country. The speaker explains quickly that the military kidnapped her older sister, then came looking for her brother and her. The narrative is so rote it sounds as if she were reading from a script. The interviewer asks...

    (pp. 1-18)

    The letter begins with elaborate politeness and without question marks:

    I must thank you for your kind understanding. How are you doing. How was your health. As for me, I am here by the grace of God. Monday at 2 o’clock in the morning I was upset by the action of officers who came in with batons in their hands and threatened the detainees to stay in their beds without moving a muscle and not to look and to close their eyes. Then they deported 34 Haitians who didn’t even get to say a word to their friends because the...

  5. 2 SEPTEMBER 11: Secrecy, Disruption, and Continuity
    (pp. 19-47)

    Start with the unusual suspects: eleven young Israelis selling toy helicopters in rural Ohio malls. In the United States on valid tourist visas, they thought that their employer, Florida-based Quality Sales, had arranged for their work permits, but they were wrong. Early one October morning FBI and INS agents arrived at the apartment building in Findley, Ohio, where the Israelis were living. Oren Behr and Leran Diamant laugh when they mention Findley to me as we sit in Diamant’s Tel Aviv apartment five months after their arrests. “It’s a hole,” says Behr. “It’s fucking nowhere.” The local residents were friendly,...

  6. 3 ANOTHER WORLD, ANOTHER NATION: Miami’s Krome Detention Center
    (pp. 48-67)

    Edward Calejo is the first prison guard I saw cry. Actually, he was no longer a guard. He was standing in the air-conditioned courtroom of Judge Federico (Fred) Moreno, Southern District of Florida, downtown Miami. Judge Moreno had simply asked him, before imposing sentence, why he had done it. Calejo, a light-skinned Cuban American, age twenty-nine, was wearing a blue blazer and wire-rimmed glasses. In the courthouse coffee shop, Calejo’s mother told me her son should have made a speech, should have defended himself, should have told the judge about his patience coaching Little League baseball. Instead Calejo choked and...

    (pp. 68-88)

    The “nigger roast” took place in the office parking lot. An INS supervisor was frustrated by the number of Somalis applying for political asylum in his district. These were “affirmative” applicants, meaning that they were not being detained but were presenting themselves voluntarily at the INS office to apply for asylum. The supervisor decided “to make an example” of one Somali to discourage others from applying. He handcuffed the applicant and forced him to sit for about half an hour in a locked car, with the windows shut, in the midday heat. The car was parked in front of the...

    (pp. 89-109)

    Warden Charles Martin invited me to join his staff for a lunch of fried fish and cole slaw prepared by inmates in the kitchen of the INS’s Houston Processing Center, owned and operated by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America. We ate in the conference room, where the walls were decorated with faded photos of other CCA facilities. Directly across from me sat a man named Jimmy Cook. When we introduced ourselves, I asked if he worked for the INS or CCA. He said he couldn’t tell me that.

    He was kidding. Cook was a CCA employee and the assistant...

  9. 6 “KEEPING QUIET MEANS DENY”: A Hunger Strike in Queens
    (pp. 110-136)

    Like plenty of other people at their jobs first thing in the morning, the Wackenhut employees were griping about bad coffee. They were also commiserating about their prisoners. A maintenance man had just come from a bathroom: “[They’re] fuckin’ pigs. . . . I don’t do sanitation. I tighten toilet seats. But if it’s dirty, I don’t tightenshit.” An officer added, “They don’t know how to sit properly. . . . They make a fuckin’ mess.”

    I was sitting on a plastic chair in the lobby of the INS “contract facility” in Queens, New York, waiting for a Ugandan...

    (pp. 137-155)

    In late spring 1995 immigration detainees in Elizabeth, New Jersey, engaged in a situation, an uprising, a melee, a riot, or a disturbance, depending on your terminology. They broke a lot of glass and destroyed furniture. The contract guards, none of them harmed, fled to the parking lot and called for local law enforcement backup. The most surprising part of this milestone in INS detention history is the Service’s own postmortem of it.

    The three-hundred-bed facility housing primarily asylum seekers was owned and operated for the INS by the Esmor Corporation. INS Commissioner Doris Meissner directed the Headquarters Detention and...

    (pp. 156-170)

    Trucks loaded with fresh-cut timber still roll through southwestern Louisiana, though much less frequently than they used to. Today they pass fewer pulp mills and plywood plants and more prisons and jails, as well as a sprawling casino complex that lights up one rural stretch just south of Oakdale. The Santa Fe railroad terminated here and connected to the Missouri Pacific, and nearby river mills built in the nineteenth century made the lucrative timber industry possible. “Oakdale’s frontier character has served it well,” wrote a local historian.¹

    In the 1980s the region’s largest employer was a paper mill; it has...

    (pp. 171-196)

    Laurie Kozuba looked at the built-in china cabinet in the dining room of her Mesquite, Texas, home and started to cry. Things whose permanence she had long taken for granted suddenly seemed fragile. It had never occurred to her that her husband of eleven years, a legal permanent resident and U.S. military veteran, couldbedeported. But Laurie Kozuba is a U.S. citizen, and her husband, Danny Kozuba, is not. A reporter had called to ask what Laurie would do if her husband lost his case and was, in fact, deported. She was sitting at her computer and staring at...

  13. 10 “SPEAK TO EVERY MEDIA”: Resistance, Repression, and the Making of a Prisoner
    (pp. 197-226)

    “All prison reporting is a lie,” writes Jennifer Gonnerman in her account of a rare journalistic tour of Rikers Island.¹ Her point is that neither prisoners nor guards can speak freely. But her observation is true in another sense as well. Often when prisoners do talk, they have only one thing to talk about: being imprisoned. This prison within the prison can create distortions of its own.

    Rose Livingston of theBirmingham Newswrote a story about a Cuban detained by the INS in the federal penitentiary in Talladega, after which the Cuban was released. “Mohammad found me [after] he...

    (pp. 227-243)

    At the Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama, Chief WesWilliamson kept pinned to his staff bulletin board an article fromCorrections Technology and Managementabout a jail in Manchester, New Hampshire. “Where Did All the Immigrants Go? Jail Profits Leave with INS Detainees”¹ is a true-life parable about allegations of prisoner mistreatment and the resulting revenue losses. The Hillsborough County House of Corrections, the subject of the article, is run by Superintendent James O’Mara, who urges me not to rush when trying to understand his facility and warns me what happens when journalists take immigration lawyers’ complaints at face value:...

  15. 12 OUT WEST: Philosophy and Despair
    (pp. 244-262)

    A pair of snow skis, a saddle, and a box of ashes are some of the things that have been kept in the property room of the INS’s Wackenhut-ownedand-operated detention center in Aurora, Colorado, just east of Denver. The saddle belonged to someone who was apprehended by the Border Patrol while on horseback. The ashes are the remains of a detained Czech woman’s husband. I didn’t see these things, but INS Assistant District Director for Detention and Removal Douglas Maurer good-naturedly tells me about them—little “human interest” stories, because jail tours quickly become predictable. The tour guides hold up...

  16. 13 DEAD TIME
    (pp. 263-284)

    Poet Joseph Brodsky, a survivor of the Soviet gulag, once told an interviewer that prison was preferable to the psychiatric asylum because in the latter one might be subjected to “monstrous experiments . . . no different from opening a clock with a hatchet. . . . Whereas prison—well, what is it, really? A shortage of space compensated for by an excess of time. That’s all.” Brodsky later extended his space-time ratio to explain why incarceration has been so integral a metaphor to literature. It is because “literature is in the first place a translation of metaphysical truths into...

  17. 14 MARIEL CUBANS: Abandoned, Again and Again
    (pp. 285-302)

    “He would be the one to talk to,” Lieutenant Gary Viator said of Jesus Abreu. “Anything that happens, we look to him for help.”

    Abreu, forty-four years old, came to the United States from Cuba in 1980. After selling drugs to an undercover police officer, he served three and a half years in an Illinois prison. In 1992 he was convicted of assault on a police officer, and in 1995 he served twenty months in Florida for violating a restraining order against his wife. In December 2000 he was taken into INS custody. In Abreu’s INS custody reviews, the immigration...

    (pp. 303-306)
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 307-372)
    (pp. 373-382)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 383-413)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 414-414)