Episode 45: Cruel by Design: Enduring and Resisting the U.S. Immigration Detention System

December 23, 2021

Joseph Thompson, a green card holder from Jamaica, came to the United States in 1985. After an encounter with police in Dalton, Georgia, Joseph was transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  So began his nearly three years in ICE captivity.

Joseph is one of the people featured in “Cruel by Design: Voices of Resistance from Immigration Detention,” a forthcoming report from the Immigrant Defense Project and the Center for Constitutional Rights. In this episode of the Activist Files, Joseph speaks with the report’s authors, Samah Sisay, and Mizue Aizeki, about his harrowing experiences in six immigration detention centers in the south. Guards once tased and beat him after he refused to eat, and ICE put his life in danger by denying him heart surgery. Joseph also details more routine forms of cruelty, from spoiled food to retaliatory transfers to the separating of friends. Joseph’s story makes clear that the cruelty is no accident but the goal of a system designed to inflict harm and break people’s spirits in order to facilitate mass deportation. But it is also a testament to the tremendous capacity of people to resist oppression: released from ICE custody earlier this year, Joseph is fighting to change the system. “I hope I’m some kind of shining beacon to others, I try to be anyway…,” he says “If I can help anybody, I’m willing to. Even when I was in there, I was helping people.” 

For further information:

The Center for Constitutional Rights’ work opposing ICE

The Immigrant Defense Project’s work fighting back against ICE policing

Podcast Transcript PDF