News & Views

Why We Need to #SavePAIFUP

“I want to share an excerpt of testimony that I submitted to City Council today to support the restoration of funding for the Pennsylvania Immigrant Family Unity Project – a project to provide universal representation to detained immigrants in Pennsylvania. Before I do, let me make it clear that as of this moment, detained immigrants are not entitled to council if they cannot afford it. They are jailed here, often for months or even years, without access to council. The reasoning for this violation of due process that the courts provide is that immigration is a civil, not a criminal matter, and therefore not worthy of taxpayer funding for counsel. Nevermind that while immigration is civil, the detention of immigrants is the same as any other incarceration. Liberty is taken away.

And why rant about this in this moment? Because make no mistake, mass incarceration is about mass incarceration of all people of color.

“The pandemic and Mr. Floyd’s murder by a police officer are just two recent reminders of the cost of institutionalized racism. We have heard it over and over again in articles and from protesters, the fact that the pandemic has hit communities of color the hardest and the murder of Mr. Floyd by police officers are not isolated incidents. They are even not part of a recent pattern. They are evidence of what communities of color have repeatedly stated – that racial inequity and racial inequality are inherently part of every system that we design. The plight of detained immigrants is part of this system. Who are, after all, detained in York, PA, in Pike County, in Cambria, in Berks in any of the immigrant detention facilities in our State? Are they white Ukranians? No. They are people of color – from Sierra Leone, from Ghanna, from Eritrea, from Guatemala and from Honduras, from Haiti and the Cote D’Ivoire. Every policy in the name of enforcing our laws – from immigrant detention to mass incarceration, to keeping people out and letting some people in to granting driver’s licenses to providing work authorization to allowing the vote and taking it away – is permeated with the racist foundation that our country has built.

The U.N. has rightfully condemned the United States for its on-going human rights abuses against people of color. These abuses include what is happening to incarcerated individuals – whether American or seeking refuge from persecution in America. Distinguishing between Americans and immigrants when it comes to due process is both a violation of the Constitution as well as a continuation of the systemic racism that has brought us to this moment.

The funding for PAIFUP should be part of a new era in law enforcement in Philadelphia – one that funds justice rather than the continuation of an unjust system. Access to counsel for immigrant and black defendants is a critical part of ensuring that reforms are made and implemented. Counsel are the ones that hear the stories first hand, that provide the mechanism for shining a light on the twisted threads that combine and result in injustice. Please don’t perpetuate injustice by failing to fund counsel for detainee. Recognize this as one piece of the law reforms that must be made on the road to Justice and must be made now.”

I hope you all will join me in connecting the dots and continuing to fight injustice everywhere. #SAVEPAIFUP

-Cathryn Miller-Wilson, Executive Director