How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Missouri adoption ruling illustrates how easily deportees can lose their kids

Photo by jrodmanjr/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The proponents of measures aimed at keeping the children of deportees with their families now have a sad development to point to in the case of Guatemalan immigrant Encarnacion Bail Romero, her 5-year-old son, and the Missouri couple that took the boy in while she languished in custody and eventually moved to adopt him.

A judge in Missouri ruled this week that the couple, Seth and Melinda Moser, may proceed with the adoption of Romero's son and that Romero has no parental rights because she "abandoned" him. It's the lower court's second such ruling; a similar ruling in 2008 was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, which called the decision then to terminate Romero's parental rights a "travesty of justice" and kicked the case back to the lower court for a new trial.

The resolution this week is one of those worst-case scenarios that can befall immigrant families in which one or both parents faces deportation. Romero, who is undocumented, was picked up during a 2007 immigration sweep at the poultry plant where she worked. At the time, Bush administration officials were charging immigrants arrested during some of these these operations with additional violations like identify theft, for using falsified papers to obtain work. Romero was sentenced to two years in prison for identity theft, to be later deported.


Posts of the week: Shahs of Sunset, a 'civil detention center,' coming out undocumented, when people of color go missing, more

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A student activist's t-shirt, December 2010

The past week brought us an ethnic reality TV show that had some readers fuming, a "civil detention center" for immigrants in Texas and a growing movement of undocumented young people going public with their immigration status, among other things.

In case you missed any of the week's highlights, here are a few:


See 'Shahs of Sunset?' Share your thoughts The controversial Bravo reality show that debuted last Sunday has been infuriating many Iranian Americans. The show is the latest of a series of ethnic reality series similar to "Jersey Shore," following six wealthy Iranian Americans in and around Beverly Hills. The cast members' flashy lifestyles depicted on the show have offended viewers who say the show promotes negative stereotypes. Comments posted by several readers - including a few who defended the show - were posted in a follow-up.


Civil immigrant detention: Kinder and gentler, but still a boon for private prisons

Almost three years ago, after a flurry of lawsuits alleging overcrowding, shoddy medical care and the unlawful detention of children in one former prison-turned-immigrant detention center in Texas, Homeland Security officials announced they'd be reforming the immigrant detention system.

The jury is still out on how much of those planned reforms have taken root; last fall, a report put out by an international human rights organization suggested that in spite of promises to make detention centers more liveable, "the overwhelming majority of detainees are still held in jails or jail-like facilities."

Enter what U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is calling its "first-ever designed-and-built civil detention center." It's in Karnes City, Texas and is owned by Karnes County, with the county acting as middleman between ICE and The Geo Group, a private prison company. As is standard practice, counties contract with these companies to develop immigrant detention centers for the government, receiving a cut of the revenue in exchange.


'Lost in Detention' online: Government documents on sexual abuse allegations, more

Photo by Mauricio Rabuffetti/AFP Getty Images

A guard stands outside one of the tent-like structures at the Willacy Detention Center in Texas, May 2007

PBS Frontline has followed up last night's "Lost in Detention" special on the immigrant detention system - and the policies landing a growing number of immigrants in it - with additional materials online.

The Frontline website has posted a series of government documents related to more than 170 allegations of sexual abuse in the last four years, with the largest number of abuse compliants coming from the Willacy Detention Center, a privately operated detention center in Raymondville, Texas that has been nation's largest. Built from Kevlar domes and commonly referred to as a "tent city," it was announced in June that the facility was losing its U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, and will instead be housing foreign-born "criminal alien" inmates for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.


Frontline examines immigrant detention in 'Lost in Detention' (Video)

What happened to immigrants held in the nation's spreading network of detention facilities began getting on the radar toward the end of the last decade, when reports of overcrowding, shoddy health care and detainee deaths began surfacing as a series of lawsuits hit the federal courts.

Slower to make the news, but highly relevant, was the story of the profits being made by private prison companies. Once on the verge of bankruptcy, the private prison industry rebounded after 9/11 as the federal budget for detaining immigrants - people awaiting or fighting their deportation, or held while seeking asylum - skyrocketed, as did the number of detainees held.

Since then, blogs like The Business of Detention and Texas Prison Bid'ness have reported on the money side of locking up immigrants, while advocacy organizations like the Detention Watch Network and Cuéntame have mounted awareness campaigns, often focusing on abuses reported by detainees and other problems.