By David Breakspear

After its debut screening in February of this year at the National Film Festival in Utah, USA, the main source of information for the documentary The Infiltrators, Claudio Rojas, was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials – just days before the documentary was due to be screened at the Miami Film Festival. Friends and colleagues of Rojas claim this act is political persecution.

This highlights, once again, the corruption, lies and cover-ups that are becoming a regular occurrence in the USA’s private prison industry.

Argentine immigrant Rojas was first held by ICE in 2010 for overstaying his visa. This was when relatives of the detained Rojas first contacted the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) for assistance in stopping the then 53-year-old Rojas from being deported. The information that Rojas was providing to NIYA inspired the making of The Infiltrators. The National Immigrant Youth Alliance is an undocumented youth-led network committed to achieving equality for all undocumented youth.

The documentary is about a “rag-tag group of undocumented youth – Dreamers – who deliberately get detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for profit detention centre.” The documentary synopsis goes on to say that it uncovers “awful conditions immigrants face while unfairly detained and holding no power over their future.” The events in the documentary took place in 2012.

Also in 2012, on September 13, 26 members of Congress signed a letter drafted by Florida Democrat Rep. Ted Deutch – which was delivered to ICE director John T. Morton – calling for ICE to investigate the GEO Group-managed Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, Florida. Deucth said the letter was created after allegations from groups such as NIYA had “enough significant information to warrant an investigation,” adding: “This is not just an immigration issue, it’s a human rights issue.”

Currently, there are over 200 facilities throughout the US that ICE uses to detain immigrants. The department responsible for reforming ICE policies on sexual abuse was closed down on day two of President Trump’s administration, the staff being incorporated elsewhere. Between 2013-2017, ICE recorded over 1,300 complaints of sexual abuse and sexual assault. The table below shows how many complaints were recorded by ICE in that fiscal year, with the percentage of complaints that ICE decided were unsubstantiated or inconclusive.

Complaints recorded by ICE
Fiscal Year Number of complaints Amount unsubstantiated
2013 204 57%
2014 254 58%
2015 257 60%
2016 299 65%
2017 237 54%
Source: New York Times 

In an interview given to the Miami Herald, one of Rojas’ lawyers, Sandy Pineda, said, “They called Claudio’s name and then three agents just grabbed him”, when explaining what had happened to Rojas when he arrived for his annual visa check-in. His lawyers have said he is now facing immediate deportation, even though Rojas, has a pending T visa application. (Editor’s note: In very brief terms, a T visa allows certain trafficking victims to remain and work in the USA.) ICE policy states people with T visas pending are protected from deportation. Obviously not!

In more controversy surrounding the documentary, moments before the film’s premiere at the Miami Film Festival (early this month), festival organisers withdrew support of the film – refusing to introduce it and then moderate a Q&A session at the conclusion of the film. A director of the festival said it had been a misunderstanding; however, Viridiana Martinez, one of the original ‘infiltrators’, along with the filmmakers, believe Rojas was arrested and detained in retaliation for his activism. A spokesman for Rep. Deutch has said that the congressman is aware of the situation and his office is looking into it.

There are over 42,000 immigrants detained across America – a number that is expanding rapidly under the zero tolerance approach of the current administration. ICE have already earmarked a further 15,000 new beds.

Not only does the future not look bright for prisoners incarcerated in private prisons managed by Core Civic and GEO, it would appear that the fate for detained immigrants is all the more bleak. We must keep Core Civic and GEO away from our shores.

Featured image: Photo by Nitish Meena via Unsplash

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