When did the "land of the free" become "the land preventing freedom"?

 The Restore Fairness Campaign  recently posted a video describing the horrific plight of Esmeralda.

Esmeralda: A Transgender Detainee Speaks Out from Breakthrough on Vimeo.

Esmeralda, a transgender asylum seeker from Mexico who came to the United States seeking protection and liberty found herself in immigration detention, in conditions as terrifying as those she was attempting to flee.   Upon arrival at the US border, Esmeralda applied for asylum on the basis of persecution because of her identity as a transgendered person.  Like all asylum seekers seeking protection at US borders, Esmeralda was put into immigration detention. 

There was no reason to think she was a security threat.   There was no reason to think she was a flight risk.  She did not try to escape.  She did not cause trouble in the detention center. 

But according to her testimony: 
She was segregated. 
She was discriminated against. 
She was threatened. 
She was sexually abused and forced to perform oral sex on a prison guard. 

Even more horrifying is that Esmeralda’s experience of being detained at the border while trying to seek asylum was not an anomaly .  By law, all asylum seekers who arrive at the US border and declare that they intend to apply for asylum are immediately placed into detention, in jails all over the US.  When did the American ideal of providing a safe haven for the persecuted and oppressed really come to mean that we place persons fleeing even the most horrific persecution in detention facilities like prisoners with disregard for the often physically and psychologically traumatic situations that they have fled?

Esmeralda’s story ends on a more positive note—she was released from detention and now works as an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. The Obama administration has committed to a more humane immigration detention system, and releasing asylum seekers from detention who pose no danger to the US is an important benchmark for reform.  Legislation introduced in the House and Senate provides this consideration.   Until law and policy are changed, however, Esmeralda and courageous immigrants and asylum seekers like her serve as a voice for the tens of thousands behind bars.

Joanna B. Hurlburt contributed to this post.

AIUSA welcomes a lively and courteous discussion that follow our Community Guidelines. Comments are not pre-screened before they post but AIUSA reserves the right to remove any comments violating our guidelines.

10 thoughts on “When did the "land of the free" become "the land preventing freedom"?

  1. Well, I think using prisons to house asylum seekers is probably more a matter of practicality and convenience from a government standpoint. Where else are we going to house them? It would probably be a costly thing to set up and maintain a facility just for asylum seekers, and we can't really place most of them with neighboring families. What alternative would you suggest? I'm not saying, of course, that the treatment of this person was fair or that we should expect it.

  2. Well, I think using prisons to house asylum seekers is probably more a matter of practicality and convenience from a government standpoint. Where else are we going to house them? It would probably be a costly thing to set up and maintain a facility just for asylum seekers, and we can’t really place most of them with neighboring families. What alternative would you suggest? I’m not saying, of course, that the treatment of this person was fair or that we should expect it.

  3. Hello Joe,
    You raise a great point. In fact, there are successful safe and secure alternatives to detention that cost a fraction of the price and ensure the appearance of people at immirgation court hearings without undermining their human rights. In Jailed Without Justice, AIUSA discussed some of these alternatives in detail. See page 27 of the report: http://www.amnestyusa.org/uploads/JailedWithoutJu…. The Obama administration has committed to the expansion of alternatives to detention and is currently developing what it calls a "risk assessment" tool. In the meantime, unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers continue to be detained, regardless of whether they pose a flight risk or danger. In fact, many are subject to arbitrary detention, and don't even have the right to a hearing to determine whether detention is warranted. Detention should always be a tool of last resort, and everyone should be considered for an alternative to detention before the government takes the drastic step of depriving someone of his liberty.

  4. Hello Joe,
    You raise a great point. In fact, there are successful safe and secure alternatives to detention that cost a fraction of the price and ensure the appearance of people at immirgation court hearings without undermining their human rights. In Jailed Without Justice, AIUSA discussed some of these alternatives in detail. See page 27 of the report: http://www.amnestyusa.org/uploads/JailedWithoutJu…. The Obama administration has committed to the expansion of alternatives to detention and is currently developing what it calls a "risk assessment" tool. In the meantime, unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers continue to be detained, regardless of whether they pose a flight risk or danger. In fact, many are subject to arbitrary detention, and don't even have the right to a hearing to determine whether detention is warranted. Detention should always be a tool of last resort, and everyone should be considered for an alternative to detention before the government takes the drastic step of depriving someone of his liberty.

  5. Hello Joe,
    You raise a great point. In fact, there are successful safe and secure alternatives to detention that cost a fraction of the price and ensure the appearance of people at immirgation court hearings without undermining their human rights. In Jailed Without Justice, AIUSA discussed some of these alternatives in detail. See page 27 of the report: http://www.amnestyusa.org/uploads/JailedWithoutJu…. The Obama administration has committed to the expansion of alternatives to detention and is currently developing what it calls a "risk assessment" tool. In the meantime, unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers continue to be detained, regardless of whether they pose a flight risk or danger. In fact, many are subject to arbitrary detention, and don't even have the right to a hearing to determine whether detention is warranted. Detention should always be a tool of last resort, and everyone should be considered for an alternative to detention before the government takes the drastic step of depriving someone of his liberty.

  6. Hello Joe,
    You raise a great point. In fact, there are successful safe and secure alternatives to detention that cost a fraction of the price and ensure the appearance of people at immirgation court hearings without undermining their human rights. In Jailed Without Justice, AIUSA discussed some of these alternatives in detail. See page 27 of the report: http://www.amnestyusa.org/uploads/JailedWithoutJustice.pdf. The Obama administration has committed to the expansion of alternatives to detention and is currently developing what it calls a “risk assessment” tool. In the meantime, unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers continue to be detained, regardless of whether they pose a flight risk or danger. In fact, many are subject to arbitrary detention, and don’t even have the right to a hearing to determine whether detention is warranted. Detention should always be a tool of last resort, and everyone should be considered for an alternative to detention before the government takes the drastic step of depriving someone of his liberty.

  7. Dear Sarnata,

    Since when, since when, did the land founded on greed become "the land of the free" ?

    Tell that to the Indians.

    Tell that to all Natives.

    Tell that to all natural beings once free as the wind.

    The invader from Europe brought borders, brought boundaries.

    And he brought us his invention — the cold house of iron.

  8. Dear Sarnata,

    Since when, since when, did the land founded on greed become “the land of the free” ?

    Tell that to the Indians.

    Tell that to all Natives.

    Tell that to all natural beings once free as the wind.

    The invader from Europe brought borders, brought boundaries.

    And he brought us his invention — the cold house of iron.

  9. I am afraid that I must agree with a.savage. Enough can not be said about the fact that this country ,''despite the fact that we profess to value freedom more than any other'' has an extensive history of collectivly denying freedom to all but the aristocratic upper classes.The sad fact of the matter is that even our so called founding fathers sought to form a nation in which the upper class excercised dominion over the affairs of the country,while only allowing the common people a rudimentory degree of freedom.The founders of this country were far more interested in their own personal freedom,and the newly won freedom from English rule,than they were the freedom of the common people.It is a fact that the founders feared democracy,and held the view that the common man was not capable of self governance.This is why they devised a represenitive democracy,or republican form of government,this is also why we have electorial colleges which can negate popular elections.I would go as far as to argue that our represenitive form of government is exactly why our government does not abide by the will of the people,legaly our so called represenitives are not obligated to promote the will of the people !

    Untill we Americans find the courage and spirit of honesty, to both own up to our history of depriving others of their rights,and admit that our present culture is one contrary to the cause of freedom for ''all'' we will continue to be just a nation adept at paying lip sevice to lady liberty.

    Economic growth and or effeciency of production can occour even in the most unfree of nations. The Nazi war machine and the rise of China as a major economic power, attest to this fact.capitalist argue that so called economic freedom is desirable largly because such freedom supposedly leads to greater productive effeciency and overall economic succsess.I submit that those that make such an argument,as evidenced by the fact that they offer such a postulation, have no true understanding nor respect for human freedom.Lovers of freedom understand that commercialism is not liberty, while we also know that FREEDOM IS SUCCSESS !

  10. I am afraid that I must agree with a.savage. Enough can not be said about the fact that this country ,”despite the fact that we profess to value freedom more than any other” has an extensive history of collectivly denying freedom to all but the aristocratic upper classes.The sad fact of the matter is that even our so called founding fathers sought to form a nation in which the upper class excercised dominion over the affairs of the country,while only allowing the common people a rudimentory degree of freedom.The founders of this country were far more interested in their own personal freedom,and the newly won freedom from English rule,than they were the freedom of the common people.It is a fact that the founders feared democracy,and held the view that the common man was not capable of self governance.This is why they devised a represenitive democracy,or republican form of government,this is also why we have electorial colleges which can negate popular elections.I would go as far as to argue that our represenitive form of government is exactly why our government does not abide by the will of the people,legaly our so called represenitives are not obligated to promote the will of the people !

    Untill we Americans find the courage and spirit of honesty, to both own up to our history of depriving others of their rights,and admit that our present culture is one contrary to the cause of freedom for ”all” we will continue to be just a nation adept at paying lip sevice to lady liberty.

    Economic growth and or effeciency of production can occour even in the most unfree of nations. The Nazi war machine and the rise of China as a major economic power, attest to this fact.capitalist argue that so called economic freedom is desirable largly because such freedom supposedly leads to greater productive effeciency and overall economic succsess.I submit that those that make such an argument,as evidenced by the fact that they offer such a postulation, have no true understanding nor respect for human freedom.Lovers of freedom understand that commercialism is not liberty, while we also know that FREEDOM IS SUCCSESS !