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The New Juan Crow: Who Benefits from Immigration Detention?

“Who benefits?” That’s the a question critical sociologists such as Karl Marx, C. Wright Mills and more recently William Domhoff have explored. Instead of just observing the social world, critical sociologists evaluate society and work to create social change. Let’s take a look how critical sociologists apply the, who benefits question, to contemporary immigration detention in the US.

Immigration Detention

Immigration enforcement has become a top priority in the US. When non-citizens, including legal and undocumented immigrants (adults, families, and children) are picked up, they are placed in confinement until the US determines what will happen to them (i.e., deportation, asylum, etc.). Like the prison system, the US is also number one in immigration detention, detaining nearly half a million individuals each year. In the US alone, it costs around 2 billion per yer to detain immigrants and people seeking asylum.

Immigration Industrial Complex

The immigration industrial complex is the joining of the “public and private sector interests in the criminalization of undocumented migration, immigration law enforcement, and the promotion of ‘anti-illegal’ rhetoric” (Golash-Boza 2009: 295). The immigration industrial complex stems from the prison industrial complex (PIC) and the military industrial (MIC) complex. Tanya Golash-Boza (2009: 306), a sociologist who studies race and immigration explains that all three of these complexes perpetuate fear, bring together powerful interests of the public and private sector, and blame disadvantaged groups. She explains:

With the military build-up during the Cold War, the ‘others’ were communists. With the prison expansion of the 1990s, the ‘others’ were criminals (often racialized and gendered as black men). With the expansion of the immigration industrial complex, the ‘others’ are ‘illegals’ (racialized as Mexicans).

Sociologists, Martinez and Slack (2013: 15) also take note of the similarities of the “mass incarceration of African Americans and the criminalization of largely brown Mestizo and indigenous undocumented migrants from Latin America. “Juan Crow” appears to be riding in on the tail feathers of Jim Crow.”

Who Benefits from the Immigration Industrial Complex?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) manages the immigration detention system and hires private companies, such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and country jails to maintain detainees. Beginning in 2009, Congress implemented a yearly detention bed quota, which is currently up to 34,000 beds per year. No other law enforcement agency in the US operates on a quota system.

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On The Ocean Social Class Can Be A Matter of Life and Death

Recently multiple stories of migrants and refugees being stranded at sea or dying in the Bengal Bay and the Mediterranean Sea. In this essay, Stephanie Medley-Rath shows us how social class has always affected who lives and dies when accidents happen on the ocean.

Sociologists argue that social class–or more accurately, socioeconomic status–can be a matter of life and death. Socioeconomic status is a measure of a person’s or household’s income (and wealth), education, and occupation.

Socioeconomic status is correlated with health outcomes (overall health, cigarette smoking, and unhealthy behaviors), education outcomes (SAT scores, college graduation, and undermatching), and even marital outcomes (getting married in the first place and staying married).

If you are early in your sociology class, you might be thinking something like this: “But really? Socioeconomic status is a matter of life and death? That seems a bit dramatic and besides, everyone dies eventually.”

Let’s explore this a bit more by examining the influence of socioeconomic status (or SES) on maritime travel[1].

How Social Class Affected Who Survived The Titanic Disaster

In 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. The ship only had enough lifeboats to accomodate slightly more than half of the number of passengers and crew onboard. Approximately one-third of the passengers and crew survived the sinking. Survival, however, was not left purely to chance.

A person’s likelihood of suriving the sinking was correlated with social class. Of the 324 first class passengers, 201 survived (62.35%). Of the 277, second class passengers, 118 survived (42.45%). Of the 708 third class passengers, 181 survived (25.56%). In short, the wealthiest had a greater chance of surviving compared to the poorest on the ship (see Titanic Fast Facts)….

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