Immigrants prepare to be unshackled at a detention facility on Nov., 15, 2013 in California.
Photo by John Moore/Getty

There is no such thing as humane immigrant detention


On the morning of March 30 in 2011, I woke to find four men hauling my husband away in an unmarked vehicle. That was my introduction to our country’s horrendous immigration detention system: a sprawling, inhumane, for-profit behemoth that locks at least 34,000 men, women, and children up every night. 

As Hillary Clinton said in her roundtable last week, many people don’t know that our detention system is profit-driven by major companies, or that there is actually an immigrant detention quota that requires tens of thousands of people be locked up at any given time.

RELATED: Hillary Clinton on immigration: ‘We can’t wait any longer’

When my husband Naz disappeared, I didn’t know what a “bed quota” was, or that it works against families trying to free loved ones because they can’t release one person without detaining another.

But Mrs. Clinton seems to misunderstand the system in one way: she called for a more humane detention system. After a year away from my husband, I can tell you truly and surely that there is no humane way to put a person in a cage. 

Naz is a shining example in our community of what rehabilitation and restoration look like. He was the poster child — literally, he was on billboards! – for the local, faith-based nonprofit that took him into their drug treatment program in 2006. “I used to be on crank, now I’m on the payroll,” they read. Hundreds of men entering that program after him have been inspired by Naz’s story.

“After a year away from my husband, I can tell you truly and surely that there is no humane way to put a person in a cage.”
Hope Mustakim
By the time he was detained by ICE, Naz was working full-time at a call center and mentoring recovering addicts on his own time. I was a full-time social work student at Baylor University.

What we didn’t know was that when Naz went to court in 2007 for a drug related arrest that took place in 2005, the plea bargain he accepted changed his immigration status, despite the fact that he’d been a legal permanent resident since his arrival in 1992. Naz made a mistake in becoming addicted to drugs, but he changed his life around after.

By 2009 when we met, he was long recovered and had graduated from college, and we fell in love. We married a year later and purchased our first home in Waco. We were invested emotionally and financially in the restoration and redevelopment of one of the poorest areas of Waco. We did so because we felt second chances were the theme for our lives, and the heart of our faith.

But there is no room for redemption if you are an immigrant in America. The immigrant detention quota is focused only that: meeting quotas, regardless of the pain caused or cost incurred. My husband’s one year detention cost taxpayers more than $48,000. 

To make matters worse, people were making money off our misery. Today 62% of immigrant detention beds are for-profit – mostly run by GEO Group or Corrections Corporation of America. And the companies make record profits off of us: nearly $478 million from immigrant detention alone in 2014. Unsurprisingly, those same companies reinvested a large chunk of that profit to lobby congress to keep the bed quota in place so they could continue detaining people like my husband for profit.

RELATED: Feds to shutter controversial immigrant detention center

They turn record profits by providing little to no medical care, zero mental health or social services, exorbitantly priced phone calls so that people are unable to contact their families, and by forcing detainees to work menial jobs for slave-like wages, at $1-3 per day.

We were lucky – after thousands of dollars and extensive legal help, we got Naz’s original felony drug charge dismissed for lack of evidence. As a result, DHS had to drop his case as well, and Naz came home. 

This was nothing short of a miracle. Fewer than 16% of immigrants in detention have access to legal counsel, and even fewer have someone able to commit the hefty time and finances to bring their loved one home.

So Hillary Clinton is right: We cannot allow prison corporations to drive decisions on who and how many people end up behind bars. But she needs to take it a step further: There is no such thing as humane immigrant detention, and there is no reforming an industry that is built to profit on pain. Clinton, and every candidate for president, should commit to ending immigration-based detentions once and for all.

Hope Mustakim lives in Waco, TX with her husband and their son. She is an active member of her community and church, and of the Detention Watch Network, where she advocates to end the bed quota.

Immigration Policy and Immigration Reform

There is no such thing as humane immigrant detention