EDITORIAL: York County profiting on immigrants' misery

The York Dispatch Editorial Board

York County has become a leading mercenary in the federal government's shameful, potentially unconstitutional war on immigrants.

The county prison is among the country's leading detention centers, housing 695 detained undocumented immigrants on an average day. That's 17th highest in the U.S., dwarfing facilities in substantially larger municipalities. 

Put simply, York County has a jail it can't fill on its own. And it's more than willing to do Immigration and Customs Enforcement's dirty work.

And the county is paid well for its exploitative profiteering. In 2018 alone, more than $27 million poured into its coffers from the federal government for its service to a broken, racially motivated assault on asylum seekers and would-be day laborers.

But that cash helps keep taxes down, county officials will undoubtedly protest. The new contract with ICE, which is now being negotiated, means jobs at the county jail for local residents, they will say. 

No tax break is worth local policy that traffics in human misery. No number of jobs at the county jail, existing solely because of the volume of federal detainees, can offset the ethical price tag of the commodification of human beings. 

York County Prison in Springettsbury Township, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016.

More:Decades after Golden Venture, York County is an immigration detention hub

Take the case of Abel Perez and Pablo Alvarez, two men who fled Cuba in 2017 and claimed asylum citing political persecution, only to find themselves locked up in York County Prison for more than a year, according to PennLive.com.

Historically, asylum seekers, especially from Cuba, benefited from federal policy that understood the geopolitical realities of poor and despotic nations throughout the western hemisphere.

No more.

In 2018, a federal judge ruled that Pennsylvania-based ICE agents have flouted legally required case-by-case evaluations of asylum seekers. Instead, U.S. District Court judge James Boasberg ruled, ICE and the Trump administration are near-universally locking people up, regardless of the merits of their claims of persecution.

Boasberg's conclusion shouldn't shock anyone.

More:AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s follies on immigration, health care

More:OP-ED: Vengeance drives Trump immigration policy

More:‘Our country is full’: Trump says migrants straining system

This is a White House that, out of sheer cruelty, decided caging children like livestock was reasonable, workable immigration policy. It's an administration that didn't bother tracking those children nor their parents so they could be reunited, action that effectively amounts to state-sponsored kidnapping. It's from an executive branch that's shuttered asylum centers and values placating its right-wing political base above all else. 

Enter York County Prison, where, on any given day, nearly 700 of its beds are slept in by someone whose only crime was entering the country outside the proper channels. Some, such as Perez and Alvarez, could be there for months.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling reversed a lower court's decision and broadened the government's power to detain immigrants without a court hearing.

More:Under Trump, ICE is face of hard-line immigration policy

Justice Stephen Breyer, incensed by the conservative wing's attack on due process, read a portion of his dissent from the bench.

"In deciphering the intent of the Congress that wrote this statute, we must decide — in the face of what is, at worst, linguistic ambiguity — whether Congress intended that persons who have long since paid their debt to society would be deprived of their liberty for months or years without the possibility of bail," Breyer wrote. "We cannot decide that question without bearing in mind basic American legal values: the Government's duty not to deprive any 'person' of 'liberty' without 'due process of law.'"

That deprivation of liberty is York County's stock-and-trade.