Immigration: Can we really “fix” this system?

Migrants lie head to foot on a cement floor with no blankets or padding.

(Image Source: Huffington Post)

Earlier this month, a Texas reporter released photos he had taken of immigrants — many of them children — being warehoused along the border in crowded, windowless, cement cells. The photos depict these temporary detention centers as the worst of what we might imagine of prison cells — no where but the cold hard ground to sit on, if there is even enough space to sit among all the other bodies around you. has started a petition — which you should sign — demanding that the Obama administration grant asylum and legal representation to children being held in these detention centers. The fact that even children are being held in what look like dog kennels is terrifying, and is a testament to just how broken our immigration system is — for women, for children, for everyone.

But this particular issue does not matter only because it’s children who are being affected. Or even because immigration is an inherently gendered process where women’s work and worth as human beings are consistently devalued. This issue doesn’t matter because it hurts certain undeserving populations. There is no such thing as a “good” immigrant who deserves to be treated with dignity, and a “bad” immigrant who is not owed their basic human rights. The “good” vs. “bad” migrant dichotomy was created so that those we construct as “other” can never have the capital, power, or security to fight back. This is a lie we are told in order to justify a system that creates economic conditions forcing black and brown people to migrate, then exploits them and criminalizes them. 

I’m tired of giving politicians brownie points for supporting immigration reform for DREAMers, or STEM workers, or those few victims of heinous hate crimes who have the money, luck, and education to “prove” that they are telling the truth. These conversations hurt us more than they help us by reinforcing the idea that certain people deserve protection by the state while others face violence from that same state.

I want our lawmakers to end racist and imperialistic immigration policies not just because it’s the right thing to do but because the distinction between who “belongs” and who doesn’t was never theirs to make. In my world, no group of powerful human beings can decide that because of the color of someone’s skin, their gender, or the side of a socially-constructed border they were born on, they do not deserve equal protection under the law.

So do I care that since last October almost 50,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended trying to cross the border? Or that many of these children are detained for months, and provided no legal counsel, before being deported?

Of course. But these are not anomalies in an otherwise functioning system. The Obama administration may be working to find more housing (or warehousing) for the huge influx of child migrants that are being called a “child migration crisis,” but they are addressing the wrong crisis.

The way the state of belonging is parceled out in this country like plots of land given to white colonizers is flawed at its core. Before we can make headway for immigrant women, or underaged migrants, or DREAMers, we should consider the institutions we are trying to fix.

We have to question the use of a system that will so readily deny the basic humanity of a person in order to preserve itself. And then we have to build something better.


Juliana no cree en fronteras. Yo cruzaré, yo cruzaré, yo cruzaré.

Bay Area, California

Juliana is a writer, a speaker, and a consultant. Her blogging work focuses on feminist and racial justice movements lead by Latinas throughout the Americas, touching on issues such as environmental justice, immigration, colonization, land rights and indigenous movements. She has been a regular Contributor to Feministing since Spring of 2013, and also been published on the Huffington Post, Mic, and the Feminist Wire. Juliana studied Latin American and Latinx Studies at the University of California and is now based in the Bay Area where she has worked with various organizations on social media and communications strategy. In her free time, she likes to dance salsa and tango and practice Portuguese with her cousins via Skype.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and digital communications specialist living in California.

Read more about Juliana

Join the Conversation