Reentry: Two Starkly Different Meanings

By Olga Tomchin, NDLON

In the criminal system, the term “reentry” means very different things depending on whether you are a citizen or non-citizen. According to the White House, “Reentry programs are designed to assist incarcerated individuals with a successful transition to their community after they are released. . . . [The Federal Interagency Reentry] Council’s main purpose is to make communities safer, assisting those returning from prison and jail in becoming productive, tax-paying citizens and saving taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.” The use of “citizen” is not an accident or oversight. While, at least in rhetoric, the President and Department of Justice claim to believe in giving citizens with convictions second chances and reducing mass incarceration, non-citizens with convictions and undocumented people generally are treated as either disposable or as a source of profit for prison companies.

Many people who are banished from their beloved families and communities through deportation and then try to return to them (including many asylum-seekers) experience the other version of “reentry”: The most frequent type of prosecution by the federal government, often in groups of up to 40 people at one time through Operation Streamline. The U.S. government then sentences people to an average of 18 months but sometimes up to 20 years in prison, often at special for-profit prisons that incarcerate only non-citizens and have almost none of the protections that the federal Bureau of Prisons generally provides. In order to fill these prisons and make money for the companies that run them, the federal government has increased prosecution for reentry by 183% since 2005, mostly under President Obama.

One of the people currently being prosecuted for an alleged reentry from 15 years ago is Portland-area labor leader Francisco Aguirre. He is likely being targeted in retaliation for publicly seeking sanctuary at a church after ICE attempted to raid his home and separate him from his three children, two of whom are U.S. citizens.  Francisco is an influential leader of the immigrant rights and labor movements, and he is a pillar within the community. He was the worker center coordinator for the VOZ Workers’ Rights Education Project in Portland, which is a worker-led organization that empowers immigrants and day laborers to gain control over their working conditions through leadership development, organizing, and community education. Through his work as an organizer, he has helped workers collect $500,000 in stolen wages, has helped improve health and safety labor standards, and organized neighborhood clean-ups. He is a passionate advocate for people’s rights and is a musician who sings for social justice causes. Francisco is also a trailblazer of the national movement advocating for the rights of day laborers and has worked closely with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).

However, as an undocumented person, the federal government sees his worth merely in terms of filling a bed in a private prison. Francisco, along with VOZ, NDLON, Not1More, and many others have been fighting back against his prosecution. We ask you to join our campaign and sign the petition demanding that the charges be dismissed. #DropReentryCharges

Olga Tomchin

Deportation Defense Coordinator & Staff Attorney

National Day Laborer Organizing Network