ICE Uses the Failed ‘Broken Windows’ Mentality, With Deadly Consequences

ACLU of Pennsylvania
4 min readJun 12, 2020
(Credit: Michelle Frankfurter/ACLU)

By Muneeba Talukder, Immigrants’ Rights Legal Fellow

A few weeks ago, Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, a 57-year-old man who had diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems tested positive for COVID-19 and died in immigration detention shortly after. Mr. Escobar Mejia had lived in the United States for four decades. He came to the U.S. as a teenager, fleeing from El Salvador with his mother and siblings after one of his brothers was killed in the civil war. He was in ICE custody since January and had been complaining about his symptoms for weeks before he was given medical attention.

In its short press release about the death, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) chose to dehumanize him by listing out his decades-old criminal convictions. They made sure that anyone reading the release would know that Mr. Escobar Mejia was someone who needed to be kept in civil detention: a criminal alien. Labeling people “criminal aliens” is one way ICE perpetuates the monstrosity of the U.S. immigration detention system, which is the largest in the world. How did it get that way? By expanding who can be detained and deported.

The term “criminal alien” has become an important cover, “a legal violence” for ICE to justify the expansion and intensification of its enforcement regime. ICE often justifies its actions as part of an effort to make communities safer by ridding them of “criminal aliens.” But what ICE’s narrative fails to acknowledge is that the people that they detain are “criminal aliens” because they get caught up in the broken criminal legal system.

It fails to acknowledge how the U.S. maintains the largest carceral system in the world because of the over-policing of Black and brown communities.

It fails to acknowledge racist police practices like stop-and-frisk.

And it fails to acknowledge that the people caught in the dragnet of immigration enforcement are often from these same communities that have a long history of being overpoliced, prosecuted, and put into cages.

The past few months, I’ve spoken to dozens of people like Carlos in immigration detention who are medically vulnerable and who are fighting to be released because they are in jails…

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