LIVE BLOG: Abolition Democracy: What it Means to Criminalized Latina and Latino Migrants

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

8:05: Panteon Rococo playing softly in the Scheuer Room as Martha Escobar of California State University, Northridge prepares to give a lecture on the incarceration of immigrant women of color in the prison system. The lecture was organized by Enlace, the Intercultural Center, the President’s Office, Dean’s Office, and the Latino/a American Studies program as a part of Latino/a Heritage Month.

8:09: “There had to be something structural here,” Escobar remembered thinking when she met with women set for deportation who had all had their children put into the foster care system without their permission or knowledge.

8:10: “How do we create a world without prisons, where prisons become obsolete?”

8:12: When Escobar asks how many in the room know someone who has been incarcerated, nearly every hand goes up. Over 2% of the U.S population is under some form of state correctional supervision. Over 50% of those incarcerated are black.

8:15: Escobar references Angela Davis’s work stating that prisons are a continuation of slavery. An aspect of the Thirteenth Amendment, which ostensibly ended slavery, allows for it in cases of punishment for a crime.

8:19: Laws passed particularly in Ex-confederate states denied Blacks the right to own or rent land, and some allowed white citizens to arrest any black person for such offenses as “insulting gestures.” The Convict Leasing System allowed for people jailed by these laws to be hired out for their labor, sometimes working on the very plantations they had been freed from.

8:20: “Associating crime to particular bodies and particular actions becomes a useful way to reorganize society” after slavery, says Escobar.

8:26: Slide with pictures of the American Indian Movement and Black Panthers. White suburban communities found these movement’s use of violence threatening, says Escobar. Barry Goldwater, 1964 Republican Presidential candidate and Richard Nixon capitalize on the perceived threat of “domestic violence” from people of color. In 1971, Nixon uses a crackdown on drugs to criminalize communities of color.

8:28: The ‘Moynihan Report’ (1965) was influential in shaping the discourse around black motherhood, claiming that the family structure is the the root of the problem, rather than structural racism.

8:31: The ‘welfare queen’ trope of the free-loading woman of color gains traction, as evidenced by Reagan’s 1978 presidential campaign speech. Welfare had previously been only available for white women, particularly widows.

8:38: The end of the Bracero program yields the label of “undocumented” for migrants working in the US. The IRCA (1986) allowed some migrants amnesty, but also led to the militarization of the border. A lot of women begin to migrate, whereas prior to 1986 it was mostly men. Women, says Escobar, are seen to represent settlement, permanency, and reproduction.

8:39: “Public charges” were introduced to prevent immigrants who were perceived as reliant on state support from naturalizing–this began to be used on immigrant women.

8:42: The 1994 “Save Our State” Proposition 187 denies education for children of undocumented immigrants and healthcare access. Traces of earlier constructs of the state-dependent black ‘welfare queen’ emerge around Latina women and families.

8:52: Slide: Latinas/os are the largest ethnic group in the federal prison system. Women are being incarcerated at a larger number. 17% of those incarcerated in California are set for deportation.

8:54: “Immigrants’ actions are not changing, it’s how the state chooses to define these actions,” says Escobar.

8:58: From 1986 to 1998, due to expanding definitions of what constitutes crime, there was a 2805% increase in the number of migrants deported for criminal violations. In 1995, 6% of all removals were women, while in 1998, 39% of all removals were women.

9:06: Escobar concludes by making the point that the carceral “fix” is being used against immigrants to restructure society in ways similar to the way it was and is used against African Americans. Mainstream immigrants rights groups state that “no human being is illegal,” but the abolition framework that Escobar proposes states that “no human being is criminal.”

9:18: Students raise questions about mainstream immigrants rights organizations shying away from doing abolition work in favor of the “good immigrant/bad immigrant” stereotype, “Orange is the New Black” and its depictions of women of color, and alternatives to incarceration. “I don’t know all the answers,” says Escobar, “but I know that what we have is not working.”

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