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American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons First Edition Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520239425
ISBN-10: 0520239423
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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

Long before Abu Ghraib, and even before September 11th, detainees in America's immigration prisons were being stripped, beaten, and sexually abused. Dow has spent years interviewing inmates, guards, and officials, and he gives a jarring account of a dangerously arbitrary system. Alien inmates—from political refugees who present themselves at airports to permanent residents convicted of misdemeanors—can be locked up for years, in harsh conditions, with no real recourse. Dow argues that the practices of the I.N.S. (which was folded into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003) laid the groundwork for the indefinite detentions and the muting of civil liberties after September 11th. By "blurring the distinction between alien, criminal, and terrorist," detention takes on its own brutal logic. After a Somali man is left to bake in the sun in a sealed car to discourage others from applying for asylum, an immigration official explains, "I'm not trying to prosecute them. I just want them to quit coming here."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker


""American Gulag stands in the best tradition of muckraking journalism. . . . Dow traveled from Bakersfield to Houston to Brooklyn to hear the stories of detainees and concerned BICE employees. He points to our government's failure to practice its most basic values, such as the presumption of innocence, the right of habeas corpus and the right to decent treatment. . . . Dow shows us that what we are discovering to our horror and shame in Iraq, our government has built right here at home."--"San Diego Union-tribune" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 426 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition edition (2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520239423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520239425
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #463,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Sam I Am VINE VOICE on September 26, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book was a multi-year project. The author visited INS holding facilities, privately run prisons, and local city and county jails, all of which provide beds for illegal immigrants, criminal aliens and legal residents who have committed crimes and are awaiting the result of their deportation hearings.

Some are criminals who deserve to be incarcerated, while others are caught up in minor disagreements over the length of a tourist visa. A group of Israeli young people who were arrested while they sold toys at a local mall, all of whom were in the US legally, and claimed they were told by their employer that they had work visas. The young women in the group were interrogated while in the custody of the INS for approximately three weeks, by law enforcement officials who demanded to know what mosques these Jewish girls visited while they were in Toledo.

The situation is far more dire when the detainees aren't highly educated, don't speak or read English, or are recent-enough arrivals to America that they believe every interrogation by police will end with them being executed. Cultural mannerisms and faith-based requests are not well-understood, especially by the guards who work in local and privately-run jails and prisons, and this leads to a great deal of conflict, including physical and verbal abuse of detainees.

Some people won't believe that the author is reporting the truth. However, much of what Mark Dow writes has been corroborated by other researchers, especially about the inherent dangers of a privately run, for-profit prison system.
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Format: Hardcover
Given the current focus on the mistreatment and torture of detainees in Iraq, Guantanamo and elsewhere and the debate over the origins of this abhorrent behavior, this is a very timely book. As well as describing the Kafkaesque intricacies of recent Immigration law, Dow documents the mistreatment of non-criminal detainees, showing that the abuse of human beings in detention has a long and institutionalized history within the United States. This book is further argument against the Bush Administration's insistence that the recent prisoner abuses in Iraq are isolated incidents, perpertrated by a few low-level prison guards. In fact, it is a reflection of common practice in a penal system that is as much out of control as the Iraq war situation. Dow writes with remarkable clarity, while treating both the incarcerated and their guards with humanity and respect. It is long past time that this secret world of incarceration has been brought into the light. Congratulations to Mr. Dow!
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By A Customer on May 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
immigration practice and policy is america's deep, dark secret. people are detained indefinitely for reasons that are often trivial and sometimes non-existent. this book shines a light into immigration policy and the detention facilities where noncitizens are held. everybody interested in how our justice system treats noncitizens should read this book. democrat or republican, conservative or liberal, this book will outrage you.
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Format: Paperback
This book is investigative journalism at its best. The author marshals facts, interviews detainees and prison officials alike, and evaluates the economic incentives for crossing borders and for building private prisons. What results is a nuanced presentation of how a flawed system can continue to grow multiple heads and club feet even when those involved are just "doing their jobs." As the author suggests, the abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib are not the result of evil individuals; rather such abuse is a necessary corollary of treating people as less than human and permitting private prisons to lobby for lucrative contracts to warehouse non-dangerous "criminals" with little oversight and every incentive to cut corners. It is said the best way to bury the truth is to hide it in a book. That so few people are outraged by what is commonplace in immigration detention centers suggests the truth of that statement: the facts can become invisible based on our collective desire not to see them.
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