Thursday, April 5, 2018

Q and A on "When Migrants are Treated Like Slaves," New York Times

For those who have seen the opinion piece in today's New York Times, here's a quick Q and A.

Q.  The work is not at gunpoint.  People are signing up for $1/day.  Why isn't this "volunteer" labor, like GEO and CoreCivic claim it is?
A.  First, some of it is coerced, e.g., the crews for janitorial cleaning of showers or ad hoc work ordered by guards on threat of punishment.  Second, the paid work doesn't meet the definition of a "volunteer" in our labor law.  A federal regulation defines a "volunteer" as someone who is donating time for no pay to a government organization or a nonprofit.  Nothing about people working to earn money to pay for phone calls or food in a private prison meets this definition.

Q.  Who are the 18 Republicans who favor forced labor?
A.  Here's the letter they sent.  See for yourself.

Q.  Why is this happening now?
A.  Because a brilliant team of civil rights attorneys and nonprofits took a risk and initiated this laborious and expensive litigation, beginning in Aurora, Colorado.  For the appeal, a number of organizations wrote amicus briefs.

Q.  Why am I just learning about this now?
A.  There has been a smattering of press coverage about this but our country suffers from chronic legal illiteracy.  This makes it tough for most journalists to cover the nuts and bolts financing of private prisons, and kleptocracy in general.  Reporters may not understand the law and the lack of public common sense on these matters means a lot more details are required to explain the litigation.  Matt Casler and Anya Patel, Eva Jefferson Paterson Fellows at the Deportation Research Clinic, will be writing a letter responding to the one signed by the 18 Republicans and explain their errors in more detail, as well as the relation between investment firms and private prisons.

Plus, ICE has most of the information and is not eager to share.  It took years of FOIA requests and litigation to obtain the information presented in the opinion piece.  (Thanks to Andrew Free for all his work on this, and on these cases.)

Q.  Is it really "slavery"?
A.   The labor typically is not outdoors and people are not being lashed with whips. That said, guards do round up details of those in ICE custody to work under grim conditions (back-breaking manual labor, toxic chemicals, no breaks) and refusals elicit punishment.  Also, most of the history of slavery was not plantation slavery.  There was early modern prison work, work deported vagrants performed in the colonies, e.g., building fortresses in Georgia, and, of course, the Nazi labor camps readers have mentioned in email to me today.  Until the fifteenth century, slavery was the work required of captured foreigners.  This form of slavery was practiced pervasively and for most of the history of the world.

Q.  Where can I read more about the harms of birthright citizenship, and the connections among nation-state, slavery, and war?
A.  For a critique of birthright citizenship, see Citizenship in Question: Evidentiary Birthright and Statelessness (Duke University Press, 2017).  You can download it courtesy of Knowledge Unlatched at no cost.  For a critique of intergenerational identity politics, especially nationalism, and analysis of the connections among the nation, slavery, and war, see States Without Nations: Citizenship for Mortals (Columbia University Press, 2009).
And if you're into political theory and want to understand political membership -- in the nation, ethnicity, race, the family, and religion -- see Reproducing the State (Princeton University Press, 1999).

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