Writing Sample

Sierra Meredith

JLC 308 Justice, Morality, and the Law

Fall 2020

Morality and Justness of Immigrant Detention Centers

What makes law so challenging is the differing theories on justice and morality. I argue that what makes a law moral is preserving an individual’s dignity. Moreover, justice is found when the punishment reflects the act or crime that was committed. Meaning the punishment should not be more extreme than what is necessary to prevent future crime. With this view of justice and morality in mind, I argue that Immigrant Detention Centers are unjust and immoral as a whole not because of what they were created to do, but because of the way they are currently being operated. The policies they use are unjust and immoral, which in turn makes the whole practice unjust and immoral.

Immigrant Detention Centers have been a ‘hot topic’ in recent politics due to the human rights issues it brings to light. As of now there are no regulations in regard to medical issues, transfers, communication standards, or religious obligations. Kant’s theory of right states that law is built around rights meaning law defaults to morality. If this is the case, there are certain rights that every human being has which must be abided by for these detention centers to be moral and just. As it stands, there are few rights actually given to illegal immigrants, which leads us to question the justness and morality of many acts that occur there. 

The detention center as a concept may be implemented morally and justly; however, as they are currently run, this is not the case. One immoral policy is the family separation aspect that has been occurring since 2018. Morality is founded from the sentiments of mankind; this insinuates that ‘the people’ would call for a family to be separated. The majority of individuals wouldn’t call for the separation of families especially in such conditions. Therefore, if morality truly comes from the majority’s sentiments, such an act would be immoral. Dr. King’s evaluation would also find such an act to be immoral because it doesn’t “respect the dignity and worth of human personality”. These immigrants pose no physical danger to US citizens, but by separating families they are treated as if they are criminals who need to be separated and isolated even from each other. As humans, morality would demand they be treated as individuals with dignity and the right to be together. This leads into how the act is unjust; separating families for illegal entrance into the country is a punishment that isn’t proportionate to the crime. Punishments should only be what is necessary to create conformity to the rules. The punishment, in this case the separation while in detention, is far more severe than what is necessary to prevent this crime in the future. All that is necessary is a brief period of detention while the immigrant is being removed from the country; therefore, the act of separating children from their families is an unnecessary step in the process. This also doesn’t speed up the process in any way and therefore, is an additional stressor on the detainee that has no legitimate reason. Due to this evidence, I argue the separation policy is unjust and immoral. 

Secondly, mass hysterectomies are another example of procedures done at the Immigrant Detention Centers that make their function immoral and unjust. Just this summer a whistleblower came forward with accusations of mass hysterectomies being performed on unwilling immigrant women in a detention center. An unwanted hysterectomy has no connection to the laws or crime committed, and the process of justice is determined by proper punishment being given to those who have been convicted under the law. Beccaria and Kant understand this justice and discuss the importance of punishment being in proportion to the laws. This punishment makes an irreversible change that has no correlation to the crime instead of creating a punishment in proportion to the crime committed. And, since this act is unjust it cannot be moral because a just law is created from the code of moral law. Morality is an obvious concern because these acts ignore human dignity and deprive immigrants of their rights. As Kant stated no man is without dignity unless he commits a crime that takes it away, and no moral policy will have a punishment that ignores women’s dignity. A bodily mutilation certainly is a deprivation of a common dignity. Every individual has the fundamental right to be treated as a person, which starts with the right to one’s own person. And since the right to one’s own body certainly affects one’s dignity, it is immoral to deprive women of this right in general. In summation, this practice ignores the foundations of just punishment and basic human dignity that we are all entitled to. Therefore, making the entire center unjust and immoral by the acts they tolerate.

Immigrant Detention Centers are designed to be holding facilities to detain people while they are in the process of prosecution and removal from the US. While the government has the job of using punishment as a means to show there is justice, that doesn’t mean the implementation of the punishment is always just and moral. The means pursued within the Immigrant Detention Centers, when put under scrutiny, are seen as unjust and immoral because they ignore punishment in proportion to the law and disregard dignity and basic rights.

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