If you oppose mass incarceration, you should oppose empire. If you oppose imperialism and militarism, you should oppose the prison state. Empire and incarceration are two related institutions of brutal state violence, and they are mutually reinforcing.
A new article by my friend Henia Belalia argues that immigrants’ rights should be understood in a context where migration is often forced by America’s destructive policies of imperialist intervention. At one point, the article examines the case of the Cañenguez family, which I also briefly discussed in last week’s blog. Ana Cañenguez and her family fled violence in El Salvador, and ICE is demanding they self-deport back to that nation. In her article, Henia examines how the violence in El Salvador is largely rooted in U.S. imperialism. She writes:
Today, nearly one quarter of El Salvador’s population lives and works in the United States. The economy, which once relied on its coffee exports, now depends on the remittances of its workers abroad who send money back to their family. This exchange is expedited by the fact that since 2001, their official currency is the dollar. In other words, every deportation of a Salvadorean worker in the United States has a direct negative impact on the economy of this small Central American nation.
To understand this situation, it’s helpful to start with El Salvador’s 12-year civil war, which was to become the most costly U.S. intervention in Latin America.
The United States spent $1 million a day funding death squads and a far-right military government in efforts to ward off the spread of communism and “another Nicaragua.” As a result, the country was traumatized by massive human rights violations and the death of 75,000 people. But perhaps what really tipped the scales was the formation of U.S.-funded private development organizations like FUSADES, which furthered neoliberal programs inside the country. The United States has also meddled in elections and set preconditions for U.S. aid that incentivizes — one might say bribes — politicians to open up the country to foreign multinationals. The recent enactment of the public-private partnership law, for example, grants “the government the right to sell off natural resources, infrastructure and services to foreign multinationals.”
El Salvador has been torn apart, impoverished, and destabilized by violent intervention from the American state. Now, when people like Ana Cañenguez peacefully travel from El Salvador to America to support their families, the United States government seeks to use force to deport them and destroy their livelihoods. In other words, America’s policies of mass deportation are policies that re-victimize those who already face poverty and violence because of the American empire.
These policies of mass deportation are part of the larger prison industrial complex. As Henia explains, “The deportation quota is set at 400,000 a year, and the private-prison industry has a powerful vested interest in keeping detention centers filled. DHS has even conceded “detention bed mandates” to the for-profit industry, ensuring a certain number of migrants will be detained in order to maximize profits.” The same concentrated interest groups that profit off of mass incarceration and drug prohibition also profit from this border imperialism.
The prison-industrial complex and America’s military empire are mutually reinforcing pieces of a larger system of coercion. Let’s do all we can to understand this system, to build alternatives to it, and to resist it.