Introduction: Immigration Detention of Children in the US
Currently 80 percent of the world’s population internally displaced due to social unrest, detrimental effects of globalization, and natural calamities are women and children. In the United States the controversy surrounding immigration detention has been ongoing since the 1890s with the establishment of the first federal immigration detention center in Ellis Island, New York (23). However, immigration policies and laws were not strictly enforced until after New York City’s September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The tragedy of these attacks combined with a strong sense of threat against “American Freedom” intensified the US government’s concern regarding immigration control and the protection of its national security interests (17). From 2011 to 2012, the population of asylum, refugee, and undocumented migrant children in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers in the United States has grown substantially; from 6,855 in 2011 to approximately 14,000 in 2012 (18). These children journey from their homelands to escape social unrest, gang violence, abuse, torture, are victims of human trafficking, or are in search of better lives and opportunities within the United States (21).
Poor management, lack of preventative medical services, poor sanitation, and an influx of immigrants within the Immigration Customs Enforcement centers has led to the spread of infectious diseases, creating a public health disaster (1). Due to these factors and the human rights violations associated with immigration detention; the United Nations and the International Detention Coalition have launched a global campaign on March 21, 2012 to end immigration detention of children globally. This paper aims to critique the campaign’s effect on the immigration detention of children within the United States and propose an alternative method to immigration detention that will promote Social-Behavioral theory and human rights frameworks.
Criticism 1: The Campaign Fails to Engage the Public & Generate Public Support
The Intervention that aims to increase public awareness and advocate for the undocumented children across the world, including the US is the UN and International Detention Coalition Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children. However, since its initiation in 2012, there has been very little media addressing the conditions and human rights violations of undocumented children within US detention centers. According to the National Immigration Forum, the public is largely unaware that immigration detention even exists in today’s society (20). The undocumented children are detained within the Immigration and Customs Enforcement centers in the US, which are usually located away from the metropolitan areas and in remote areas such as Hutto, Texas, which is 75 miles east of Houston (14). This makes it difficult for “legal service providers, human rights observers, [the public], and families to access (14). Majority of the pro-bono law firms and lawyers are also underfunded and hours away from the immigration detention centers, which makes legal care and knowledge of the conditions of child detention difficult (8). Thus instead of promoting a society of awareness, fairness, and justice; this influences the “out of sight and out of mind” mentality that prevents the public from engaging and support the mission to improve the conditions within the Immigration and Customs Enforcement centers and end the immigration detention of children.
The UN and International Detention Coalition Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children fails to engage the public and generate public support because US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) have framed the issue of immigration detention of children as “an immigration problem,” fighting “a new war,” and a “law enforcement problem.” “People concerned with immigration detention have tended to see it as an issue mainly involving government policy makers, detainees and immigration officers” (3). This not only gives ownership of the definition of the issue to US Department of Homeland Security and Immigration Customs Enforcement but also the control of the debate. Utilizing a strong core value such as security and portraying the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement as the societal heroes preventing undocumented children from fleeing from the government, using the nation’s resources, and turning to a potential life of crime-as often happens to homeless youths” (17). Another issue with the campaign’s effectiveness to engage the public and generate support is that the campaign “is asking States to stop detaining children for sole immigration reasons” (13). However, it is the state governments that are involved in the detention of children as an administrative immigration solution.
The UN and International Detention Coalition Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children does not address the principles of Social Learning Theory, which hinders its effectiveness. Social or Observational Learning Theory has three principles a) “attempts to explain how individuals observe other people’s actions and how they come to adopt those patterns of action as personal modes of response to problems [or] conditions,” b) individuals such as actors or messengers who portray real people in the media such as TV, radio, or print can be utilized as models for others to emulate, and c) provides an understanding under which conditions people may observe and adopt specific coping behaviors in group settings” (5).
Post- 9/11 anti-immigration rhetoric supported by anti-immigrant laws and mass media have fueled US anti-immigration sentiment and “veiled racism” (10). The mass media portrayals of the detainees within the Guantanamo Bay as “potential or suspected terrorists,” as well as the Department of Homeland Security’s main mission to stop criminal acts and protect national security have evoked the principles of Social Learning theory. In 2007, ICE began ACCESS INITIATIVE (agreements of cooperation in communities and enhance safety and security) to create more programs aimed at greater cooperation between state and local law enforcement & increased interior enforcement (12). These initiatives have contributed to the socialization of the public to thinking that it is the duty of all Americans to aid the government and law enforcement in this new “War on Terror” because it will not only help protect the public against future terrorist attacks but also by redefining social norms and what it means to be an American in the post 9/11 era. Societal and peer influence on issues such as health, security, and economy are important indicators of how individuals respond to problems and situations, especially if their freedoms are threatened. With the government and law officials as the actors the public utilizes as models for emulation, the impact of mass media on anti-immigration slogans, and anti-immigration laws; the UN and International Detention Coalition Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children is ineffective in its aim to engage the public and generate support against the practice.
Criticism 2: The Campaign does not incorporate a “Newsworthy & Relatable” Messenger
The UN and International Detention Coalition Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children is carried out by organization bodies such as the UN, International Detention Coalition, and the Detention Watch Network, which is ineffective. “The source’ of campaign messages combines both the sponsor (the sender who is responsible for placing the messages, typically an organization) and the messenger (the model appearing in the message who delivers information, demonstrates behavior, or provides a testimonial)” (5). The UN and International Detention Coalition Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children in the US has an international sponsor, which is a well-respected organization and entity but does not have a likeable nor newsworthy messenger that the public can relate to. Messengers help personalize difficult concepts through modeling, and enhance the formation of beliefs and retention (5). “Celebrities help draw attention to a dull topic, experts enhance response efficacy, ordinary people heighten self-efficacy, victims convey the severity of harmful outcomes, and victims who share similar characteristics of the audience can help to augment susceptibility claims” (5). The UN and International Detention Coalition Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children in the US does not incorporate mass media with a victim or celebrity messenger to help generate public awareness of the critical issue, human rights violations, and detrimental impact of immigration detention on a vulnerable population. Also this campaign fails to generate support from Congress because it fails to fuel public outrage and action.
Law reviews and reports on the effects of immigration detention on child well-being and health throughout the past few years have highlighted cases of children detained within the US Immigration Customs Enforcement centers. However, the mass media such as newspapers, TV, and radio have failed to tell the stories of the invisible children. Recently, the New York Times has generated articles on the issue of solitary confinement in the US immigration centers but not much media nor press has been generated accounting the stories of the lost children. Where are the children and who will speak for them? The UN and International Detention Coalition Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children is invisible just like the children are in the US society. In order for the campaign to be effective, it needs to come out of hiding, highlight the human rights violations of child immigration detention, and promote America as a human rights leader and not a human rights outlaw. To be able to achieve this, the campaign against the immigration detention of children in the US needs to have a newsworthy and relatable messenger.
Criticism 3: Cognitive Dissonance & Psychological Reactance Theory: The Vaccine against the “New Kind of War”
In 1996, Congress established the Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which dramatically prolonged obligatory immigration detention, established an immigration detention budget for the US Department of Homeland Security, and developed new expedited removal procedures (17). However, in 2001 the Bush Administration established the US Patriot Act after the 9/11 Terrorist attacks on the NYC Twin Towers, which codified into law that “any alien…who has not been removed…and whose removal is unlikely in the reasonably foreseeable future, may be detained for additional periods of up to six months only if the release of the alien will endanger the national security of the United States or the safety of the community or any person” (17). The Patriot Act also gives the Attorney General the power to indefinitely detain undocumented immigrants if he/she reasonably foresees them as a threat to national security (17). To address some of the harsh conditions under which children were detained, the Flores Agreement was created in 1997 with specific obligations on Immigration Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security to: a) eliminate indefinite detention, b) provide reasonable time limit during post-removal detention period for children, and c) place children in least restrictive environments (17). However, because the Flores agreement is not mandated into law, the Department of Homeland Security does not have to follow its provisions (17).
The UN and International Detention Coalition Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children is not in accordance with current US immigration Policy. Instead, the campaign evokes cognitive dissonance and Psychological Reactance Theory. Cognitive dissonance is “A condition of conflict or anxiety resulting from inconsistency between one's beliefs and one's actions” and the actions an individual takes to alleviate his/her inner conflict (18). However, Psychological Reactance Theory is the “aversive affective reaction in response to regulations or impositions that impinge on freedom and autonomy” (19). For example when a group of individuals were asked if free speech was a privilege rather than a right; 19 % agreed when asked individually and 58 % agreed when asked in a group (11). Thus, it is not uncommon for people or a society to temporarily give up their free speech or rights in general when their freedom or security is threatened. If an individual feels that immigration detention of children is unethical but perceives that their security may be threatened by releasing undocumented child immigrants into the community; they will agree to the “collective conservatism” of Congress and US immigration policy than give up the ownership of their own security and freedom. To reduce cognitive dissonance, a person may support the detention of children within immigration detention centers by “establishing that other people reacted the same way” as well use the current immigration policy and Congress as justifications (4).
Although the UN and International Detention Coalition Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children is the best long-term approach to the protection of the fundamental human rights and well-being of all undocumented children within the US Immigration Customs Enforcement centers, it is not practical. That is because US society is shielded heavily by anti-immigration policies and instilled with fears of “potential terrorist attacks,” which people may utilize as their justification to allowing the continuation of immigration detention of children. The campaign would need to reframe their slogan so that it will not evoke fear or threat to security or violation of US freedoms.
Alternative Model to Immigration Detention
The new Alternative Case-Management & Community Centered Model utilizes a case-management approach and community monitoring process, which allows children to be detained within a non-punitive environment during their immigration and deportation process (16). Although some children are currently detained within the foster care system or placed into the community by the Office of Refugee Resettlement; which places children within various forms of housing once released from Immigration Customs Enforcement or Department of Homeland Security custody. The problem with the current system is that there are still many more children detained within Immigration Customs Enforcement centers due to the significant growth of the population in the last two years. To accommodate these children, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has had to open detention units in former army bases (21).
The new Alternative Case-Management & Community Centered Model would work best if the Flores Agreement was also codified into US law (17). This would force the US Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration Customs Enforcement to follow the provisions under the Flores Agreement, which mandates the use of Best Interest model, least restrictive means of detention, and eliminates indefinite detention (17). The alternative model to immigration detention with the codification of the Flores Agreement into US law will promote the fundamental human rights of the undocumented children, protect them from the abuses faced in immigration detention, and uphold the American core values of justice, autonomy, equality and freedom for all.
Defense of New Intervention Campaign 1: Engages the Public through Mass Media
Unlike the UN and International Detention Coalition Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children in the US, the new Alternative Case-Management & Community Centered Model campaign will change legislation and codify the Flores Agreement into US law by utilizing the Agenda Setting Theory. Agenda Setting Theory developed by Maxwell and Shaw in the 1970s to assist “the public to understand the pervasive role of the media. The theory necessitates salience transfer, which is the ability of the news media to transfer issues of importance from their news media agendas to public agendas” (2). Incorporating the Agenda Setting Theory in the new campaign for the use of the alternative model to immigration detention of children in the US, addresses the flaws of social learning theory in the UN and International Detention Coalition Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children as well as reframes the issue of immigration detention from “a national security interest” to “US freedom and autonomy interest.” The theory addresses the flaws created by the UN campaign by increasing mass media coverage of the alternative model to child detention, which will increase public awareness of the issue and influence public action.
Unlike the UN campaign which invoked Social Learning Theory and strengthened the “collective Conservatism” and “Veiled Racism;” the new Alternative Case-Management & Community Centered Model campaign will address this by using the Agenda Setting Model, which will change media, public, and policy agenda. By altering the social agenda will also help to reform social norms in relations to the immigration detention of children within the United States. By reframing the issue of immigration detention of children to give ownership to the communities and to the vulnerable population, as was done with the “I’m Here for Immigrant Women” women’s immigration detention campaign, will help change the media agenda (15). Changing the media agenda, an individual or group is able to change the public and policy agenda. The media agenda will be changed by utilizing slogans such as “I’m Here for Immigrant Children “All Children are Humans,” and “For Every Child and For Us.”
The Agenda Setting Theory will help to humanize and rid the conception that undocumented children are all criminals and a threat to national security in the US. By changing the media agenda and increasing media coverage through new slogans, TV, radio, and newspaper; will help draw the public to a population of children that were once invisible. By stating “Join America in Revealing its Invisible Children” and “We are all Human Faces,” will influence the public agenda and outcry. A flaw within the UN and International Detention Coalition Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children is that it does not bring the lost children back into the society. However, the new alternative model for detention with a new campaign model will not only bring the children back into the communities but also increase public awareness of their existence, their stories, and human rights abuses. The new alternative model will place children into the communities, help them to connect with resources such as legal counsel, housing, guardian ad litem, medical care, and education. Once the public agenda and the media agenda are empowered to promote the new model of alternative detention, the policy agenda will be easier to change. Therefore, influencing Congress that the only way the new Alternative Case-Management & Community Centered Model will work is with the codification of the Flores Agreement into US law.
Defense of New Intervention Campaign 2: The Face of Fairness & Equality for All Children
The new Alternative Case-Management & Community Centered Model and campaign will incorporate an effective, newsworthy, and relatable messenger, like Angelina Jolie. Unlike the UN and International Detention Coalition Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children, the new campaign for the alternative model to child detention will empower its mission and increase its effectiveness by utilizing a messenger like Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie. She is a newsworthy actress that is respected within US society and refugee populations, as well as expert in the area of refugee rights and advocacy. Due to Angelina Jolie’s success and well-known status, she is also an individual that may evoke the Social Learning Theory in a positive direction; by influencing the public to follow her role as a human rights leader and child refugee right advocate.
Media-Attractive celebrities like Angelina Jolie will help the media draw attention to important issues such as immigration detention of children and influence public awareness of social problems that need advocates who will rally for change. The new Alternative Case-Management & Community Centered Model campaign will be more successful compared to the UN End Immigration Detention of Children campaign because by utilizing a messenger like Angelina Jolie, will further enforce the strengths of the Agenda Setting Theory; utilizing the media agenda to influence both public and policy agenda. In addition to having a celebrity like Angelina Jolie as the messenger of the campaign, it is also important to incorporate a victim of child immigration detention, who will tell his or her story. If the victim relates to all children within the US and adults are able to visualize and conceptualize this child as if he/she were their own; this would prove to be an effective approach to fueling public agenda.
Defense of New Intervention Campaign 3: Disregarding Dissonance & Reframing the “New Kind of War”
The new Alternative Case-Management & Community Centered Model and campaign will disregard cognitive dissonance and promote US immigration policies, laws, and core values. Campaigns are governed by “psychological principles that [direct] human behavior and, in so doing, [give] the [campaign tactics] their power” (6). Child immigration detention will exist as long as anti-immigrant sentiment, discrimination, racism, anti-immigration policies, and anti-immigration laws exist. Therefore, even though the concept of ending child immigration detention is desirable; it is also idealistic and will most likely never occur.
The Broken Windows Theory addresses this very concept; that “small acts of deviance -- littering, graffiti, broken windows -- will, if ignored, escalate into more serious crime.” To be able to advance to campaigns that end immigration detention of children permanently in the US, society must first fix its broken windows such as broken immigration detention systems that violate child fundamental human rights. The alternative model to detention and campaign is the start of a long-term solution, which will promote child fundamental rights by enabling them to be detained and monitored during the immigration process in a safe community setting as enforced by the codification of the Flores Agreement into law. This will allow children to attain education, be monitored until they either achieve legal status or are deported, and reduce the costs of detention.
The new Alternative Case-Management & Community Centered Model campaign will reduce cognitive dissonance because through the use of new slogans, Agenda Setting Theory, and Framing Theory; criminalization of undocumented children and “New War” mentality will be refocused to address the core values American’s value most, which are freedom and autonomy. The new campaign will state “denying fairness and human rights to some puts all of our freedoms at risk” and that violating the human rights of undocumented children will not protect the US from terrorism nor abridges to national security (10). Unlike the UN End Immigration Detention of Children campaign, which is not accepted in this post 9/11 society; the new alternative will be because it does not guarantee citizenship to everyone, is more cost effective, and promotes US as a leader of human rights internationally. It is estimated that it 122 dollars per individual per day to be detained within the Immigration Customs Enforcement Centers in the US compared to less than 22 dollars per individual per day with a program like the Lutheran Immigration Service (24). The new Alternative Case-Management & Community Centered Model campaign does not contradict with current US immigration Policy because it still allows for the detention of those who are viewed as serious threats to national security, while maintaining the protection and human rights of children arbitrarily detained. The new Alternative Case-Management & Community Centered Model campaign will give the US government and its public the ownership of their own security and freedom by promoting and protecting international human rights.
Immigration Detention of undocumented children globally has become a controversial problem in recent years. Over the past few years, there has been a significant increase in undocumented children within the Immigration Customs Enforcement centers in the US at risk for psychological, physical, and emotional abuse; but has not raised enough public outcry nor media. The UN End Immigration Detention of Children campaign was established to target the detention of the vulnerable child population globally but has not been very successful in raising nor changing media, public, nor policy agenda. However, the new Alternative Case-Management & Community Centered Model campaign addresses the flaws of the UN campaign by utilizing alternative social theory models as techniques to enhance public awareness, persuasion, and action.
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