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Harsh laws burdening immigrants in the U.S. and the issue of mass incarceration is on the agenda for Silky Shah, co-director of Detention Watch Network, this week at the Fairhaven College World Issues Forum.

At the event held Wednesday, April 8, in Haggard Hall 253, Shah will focus on the U.S. detention system, current immigration policies and the injustices of the deportation regime, Shah said.

Currently Shah works with a national coalition of organizations and individuals that focus on federal immigration policy and its impact on detention and deportation, she said.   

These organizations include community organizing groups, legal service providers and policy organizations in Washington, D.C., such as the American Civil Liberties Union and faith-based groups such as United Methodist Women.

“We come together in our vision for a world without detention and we don’t believe anyone should be detained for an immigrant violation,” Shah said.

The U.S. has more than 200 detention facilities across the country, Shah said.  In Tacoma, Washington, the Northwest Detention Center, which is the biggest in the region, holds 1,500 immigrants, she said.

“The U.S. is the world’s leading incarcerator with over 2 million people in prison,” Shah said.  “The U.S. has 25 percent of the world's prison population and only 5 percent of the world’s population.”

Shah said the U.S. is incarcerating and detaining people at unprecedented rates.

Shirley Osterhaus, the World Issues Forum director, said immigrants are attracted to the U.S. by reasons ranging from reuniting families, work opportunities and safety.  The factors pushing them out of their countries include moving away from violence and poverty, she said.

“There’s no need for [unjust laws] to be there other than punishment,” Osterhaus said.  “This is not honoring human rights.”

Poverty has heightened due to U.S. trade policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Osterhaus said.

Shah said over the last two decades people have migrated here in part due to the role of U.S. foreign policy abroad, such as free trade agreements such as NAFTA, the Central American wars and the war in Iraq.

The World Issues Forum occurs weekly on Wednesdays from noon to 1:20 p.m. and is open to the community. Presentations are meant to supplement topics covered in the World Issues class taught and directed by Osterhaus.

“It’s a wonderful class, very fascinating," said Saba Sarwell, a Fairhaven student who took the class last quarter. "[The forum] gives you exposure to writers and thinkers.”

Western’s World Issues Forum helps get people energized about social activism and consciousness, Sarwell said.

“It helps one realize how connected we are as a global community regardless of where you are from,” she said.


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