My Word: A broken and deadly system

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By The Staff

 By Stephen Bartlett, Brian Rich, Attica Scott

Several months after the death of a Salvadoran immigrant housecleaner Ana Romero in custody in the Franklin County jail, we feel the need to be clear about who we hold to be responsible for this tragic death.

 Ana, like many of her fellow undocumented immigrants migrating from south of the U.S. border, did not come to the U.S. with any criminal intent.  Her motivation was to carry the burden of providing for her family, including her aging mother and her two grown children, through hard and honest work. 

We unequivocally declare that --  although the specific persons who may or may not have been guilty of violating Ana's due process, or mistreating her in jail, or neglecting the needs of Spanish-speaking prisoners have yet to be identified --  no matter what the official cause of death is deemed to be, it was fundamentally the system that killed Ana Romero.

U.S. economic policy and intervention in El Salvador has severely impoverished the great majority of people in that country.  The penetration of U.S. transnational corporations has wiped out rural economies based on agriculture and small businesses of many kinds.

The North American Free Trade Agreement and more recently the Central American Free Trade Agreement are both part of a system of market domination harming working peoples to the south of our border. Such is the economic domination that remittances sent home from the U.S. by workers from these countries have become the major economic safety net for many of its people.

U.S. immigration policy is broken and unable to cope with the high level of economic refugees who have streamed into the country in search of work.  Instead of dealing with the economic causes of this migration, U.S. policy has stressed an enforcement-only response.

Mass raids, detentions, and deportations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been rapidly increased the past couple of years since the great immigrant worker rights marches during the spring of  2006. Ana Romero was the victim of such stepped-up sweeps. 

The new collaborations pushed by ICE get state and local law enforcement and jail officials to cooperate and act as agents of ICE. They also are to blame for Ana's fate.

Despite the documented threat to public safety that these programs have, many localities in Kentucky have been cooperating with them, leading to much human suffering and the victimization of honest, hard-working immigrants.

The privatization of jails and prisons turn them into profit-making businesses and lead to weakened accountability, in terms of due process and procedures for the treatment of immigrants and, for that matter, all other prisoners. They also lead to a conflict of interest in which prisons can make more money housing detainees whose upkeep is being paid by our federal government.

The discrepancies in the Ana Romero case are blatant and, we are learning, systemic and commonplace among immigrant detainees. 

Ana Romero was killed by this broken and deadly system.

How can we fix it?

By reversing policies that impoverish developing countries, particularly those in Latin America, which lead to desperation and the drive to migrate to the U.S. in search of employment.

By ending the enforcement-only immigration response to immigrant rights demonstrations of 2006 that amount to scapegoating and hate-mongering.

By stopping the way ICE implements these enforcement-only policies with 287 (g) collaborations with local police and prison entities.

 By better oversight and accountability for the treatment of prisoners in privatized jails with the involvement of the State Attorney General and Governor's office.

By calling attention to the public indifference and the lack of media attention to the plight of tens of thousands of immigrant detainees across the country.

By overturning policies that are racist and that encourage profiling and blaming immigrants for our broken economic and immigration policies.

By placing a moratorium on the ICE raids, detentions, and deportations until our immigration policy is comprehensively and humanely reformed.

Immigrant workers are a vital and necessary part of our economy (as major employer associations admit), and they can help build a strong labor movement to protect the living standards of all workers. Yet with the savagery of this broken and deadly system in place, we are literally biting the hand that feeds, houses, cleans, and fixes.

We can and should do better, to ensure no such tragedies ever happen again. 


Stephen Bartlett, Brian Rich, Attica Scott are part of the campaign Justice for Ana Romero/Stop the Raids and Deportations Campaign.