Award-winning investigative reporter Margaret Regan will talk about her new book, “Detained and Deported,” which is about the people ensnared by the US detention and deportation system.
TED SIMONS: Margaret Regan is a Tucson-based award-winning investigative reporter who focuses on the personal stories behind America's immigration system. Regan's new book is titled "detained and deported: stories of immigrant families under fire." the book profiles people and families caught up in the U.S. detention and deportation system. Joining us now is Margaret Regan. Good to have you here.
MARGARET REGAN: Great to be here Ted. Thank you.
TED SIMONS: Now you have written before a similar type area here, "The death of Josseline," how does that book differ from that one?
MARGARET REGAN: Well, my first book, "The death of Josseline" as the title suggests, chronicled the many deaths of migrants especially in the southern Arizona deserts. As you know, I'm in Tucson. And uh, back around the year 2000, it started to become routine for these bodies to be found in the desert. So I wrote about those over several years for the Tucson weekly and eventually gathered those stories in a book. Very tragic stories, the death of a child, and many others. And, you know, obviously many people get through, but it was about the difficulties of the journey. This book, detained and deported, is what happens to those who successfully arrive in the United States. And there are many, as we know. The estimate is about 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States right now. Many of these people have established laws. There was a big immigration push in the 1990s and the early 2000s, they have lived here for a long time. Many of them have children, U.S. citizen children. What happens to them when suddenly they get caught and they get caught up in the detention and deportation systems.
TED SIMONS: What happens to them? You have some examples here. Alana Santiago and Yolanda Fontez are among the names that seem the most prominent in the book. But in general, what happens to these people?
MARGARET REGAN: Well a lot of people end up in the detention centers. Some people are deported immediately. If they want to fight their case, they normally end up in the detention center. Because we don't trust them to appear in their detention hearings. Many people apply for asylum, we all know about the many, many Central American immigrants who came last summer, the women and children. Most of them are applying for asylum. And many of the people in the Eloy Detention Center, a very large detention center here in Arizona, are Guatemalan people pleading for asylum and we keep them incarcerated for all of their years it takes for their asylum request to go through the appeals system.
TED SIMONS: And yet of them it seems like they are incarcerated minutely. And this Alana Santigo story is absolutely amazing, lived in the United States for years, deported in the morning, by the evening see is in Senora, out of the country, and her two kids are in foster care. I mean, that's a busy day.
MARGARET REGAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's how I start out the story about her. She is a single mom. Living in Glendale. She had a job at a store. She is getting the kids ready to get up and out. A boy 15, a little girl only two. Ice shows up at her door. You know these raids are as though they are after a big drug criminal. I have heard this from other immigrants too. This hugely humiliating police action where all of the cars come up early in the morning and they have a bull horn, Alana Santiago, come out of your house, that kind of thing. She had two minor children. She was a single mom. She had no one in place to give the children to. So, they said well what do you want us to do call CPS? She said what choice do I have? CPS took the children. They landed in foster care. And she landed, as you said, in Nogales Sonora by that evening. She didn't see the little girl again for more than a year. And she still hasn't seen the boy and this is about three years now.
TED SIMONS: Where is she now?
MARGARET REGAN: She is still in Nogales Sonora. She never got back. But she did fight with the help of a pro bono attorney to retain custody of her little girl. CPS moved to sever her parental rights on the ground that she was an unfit parent parent because she wasn't available to parent the child because she was living in Nogales Senora and the little girl is here. And that's a U.S. citizen by the way. You have to think of it from that angle what about these kids? What are their rights to be raised by their own parents?
TED SIMONS: Interesting. You mentioned the detention center there in Eloy, describe that facility. It's kind of off of the beaten path. Isn't it?
MARGARET REGAN: It is and probably all of us coming up and down the road between Tucson and Phoenix you see the sign, the turn off for Eloy, don't usually go there, you know. Many of these detention centers are hidden away. I think it is by design. It is about eight miles off of the highway. It's an astonishing sight if you ever get a chance to drive out there. It is an enormous, an enormous prison. There is no other word to use for it. In fact, I was told it was a prison at one time and it was, you know, rehabbed into a detention center. The thing is, it is not supposed to be a prison. Some of these prisoners for sure they've had crimes in their past that got them caught. But they have taken care of that, they have been in jail. Others are just people who are there for immigration reasons. But once they're in the detention center, they are merely being detained. They're not there for punitive reasons. But it is run like a prison. They use solitary confinement as punishment. It is run by the corrections corporation of America. Only allow visitation on Saturday and Sunday. The food is bad. Immigrants complain of health care. I was researching the book, two Guatemalan migrants committed suicide within a couple of days of each other two years ago. And its turned out the corporations corrections of America was not complying with ice's own standards for suicide prevention at that time.
TED SIMONS: All right so, and again, the story, you document very well the individual people, and these are sad stories. This is sad stuff. We will get emails and we will get mail, these people, they broke the law. They knew the risks they were taking. Why isn't this a more balanced profile of what is going on out there?
MARGARET REGAN: In terms of balance, I think I'm providing balance. Because how often have any of us talked about something like Alana or Yolanda, another women separated from her children. We have an angry political debate going on in the country, it obviously will be an issue in the presidential campaign next year. These are people at the top of the totem pole talking about it. We very rarely hear about what happens to the people at the bottom of that whose real lives are being disrupted by these political decisions. Yes, they came here unlawfully, but you know, the United States welcomes their labor, certainly in the early 1990s, after Nafta was established in 1994, we displaced many, many immigrants, millions of people in Southern Mexico who could no longer make a living because American products displaced their products so we are in a global economy now. And these are people that are coming, you know, to follow the labor market really and basically we have welcomed these people for 20 years. And it is only you know as time went on that we started cracking down on them. They still do a lot of the work for us. But, you know, really as a journalist, you know the old saw, comfort, the afflicted, afflict the comfortable. I take that seriously. I'm trying to talk to the people at the bottom who don't get a chance to speak for themselves.
TED SIMONS: And you've been to detention centers, you've been to the border, you've talked with these people one on one. And this is a story, my goodness, everyone and their brother has--we've talked about this in so many different angles for this. But for someone like you, did anything surprise you in writing this book?
MARGARET REGAN: I guess I was surprised at the harshness of the detention center. You know, the first time I went up there to visit a woman named Yolanda it was a Sunday afternoon, it crowded with little children coming to visit their parents. The guards were harsh to everybody. I didn't see any instance of somebody saying to a little child, oh, are you hear to see your mom or your dad today? I saw a guard really yell at a little boy for swinging on a gate. Just the extreme harshness and disrespect and these are families, these are not the people who are being detained. Absolutely treated as though they themselves were prisoners, that surprised me and I guess really finding out about so many mothers and children separated.
TED SIMONS: Yeah you mentioned Yolanda, and she had
MARGARET REGAN: She had three little children.
TED SIMONS: She hasn't seen them at all.
MARGARET REGAN: She didn't see them--she was in ELOY for two years and during that period she did see them five times. Because they're American citizens they could come but she had to wait until somebody--they were living way north of Phoenix. She had to wait for some kind person, on rare occasions, who could drive them down and drive them up.
TED SIMONS: Has anything changed from when you started reporting on the story that wound up the book to where we are now?
MARGARET REGAN: Yeah, there are some interesting things that have changed. Federal judge overturned the Arizona law that automatically denied bail to people suspected of being undocumented immigrants. A number of people, including Yolanda that we mentioned, who were held in a prison without bail simply because she was undocumented. Because the whole purpose of bail is to ensure that you appear for trial. It is not supposed to be punitive. And a Federal judge overturned that. I wrote about a dreamer whose sister was an American citizen and she was a Mexican citizen and they were only two years apart. One born in Mexico. One in the United States. Her sister has all of these opportunities. She went to the University of Arizona with in-state tuition. Now she's going to graduate school. The other girl the family couldn't afford to send her to college. As we know just about a week or two, the Regents declared that there will be in-state tuition for all students who graduated from Arizona high schools.
Where we are now, economy is gradually improving. It seems like this particular debate, this particular issue ebbs and flows with the economy. And once the economy starts, if it ever does, it seems like it is heading in a strong direction. You just know we will have this issue again, especially with so much as SB 1070 knocked down. Where do you think we're headed in all of this?
MARGARET REGAN: Yeah I mean I think the political tenor right now seems to be harsher, and harsher. You know, it will be really interesting to see how the presidential election goes. Because so much depends on that. You know, right now we have a Senate and Congress and republican and a president who is democratic and there is a lot of conflict as you know Obama's initiative to help people exactly like Yolanda and Alana, that is being held up in appeal. So, I don't know, I don't feel optimistic that we will come to some kind of peaceful and equitable solution.
TED SIMONS: Let's hope for the best. Thank you for joining us. Congratulations on your book.
MARGARET REGAN: Thank you so much. Thanks, Ted.
Margaret Regan:Investigative Reporter