On Immigration, Detention And Individual Action

Written By: Ben Coaldrake

ACP Member

On Saturday, the 13th of July, around 4am, a 69 year old man named Willem Van Spronsen attacked a privately owned Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centre near Seattle, Washington. The centre was housing immigrants that had been detained by ICE as part of the US government’s recent crackdown on ‘illegal’ immigration and immigrants in the United States. Van Spronsen used flares and Molotov Cocktails in an attempt to set the facility on fire, he also set his car on fire and was carrying a rifle during the attack. He was killed by police when they confronted him and he allegedly refused to put down his weapon.

Willem van Spronsen is a hero.

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More specifically, he is a tragic hero. A tragic hero is an archetype that appears in many stories across many cultures. A tragic hero is a character that is met with an undeserved misfortune, brought on not by a vice or depravity, but by an error in judgment, a mistake, or a fatal flaw. Van Spronsen’s flaw was one of idealism. He thought he could go up against the state and free unjustly imprisoned people, alone, without support, and relied on the ideal that he was morally right and that that would see him through. Van Spronsen committed suicide by cop.

“The detention of ‘illegal’ immigrants by Imperialist powers across the world is nothing more than a disgusting attempt to preserve the power of capital and the liberal institutions that protect that power by appealing to fear”

His plan not only put his own life at risk, but the lives of every single person detained in that facility. If the facility had caught fire, many could have died in the blaze or in a panicked evacuation. He could have killed detainees if he had opened fire inside the facility and not paid attention to what lay beyond any targets he was firing at. His plan was dangerous, stupid, and ineffective.

But I cannot blame him for acting.

Faced with the beginnings of what can very easily develop from concentration camps into death camps, I cannot blame him for despairing and taking it upon himself to act. Van Spronsen grew up in post WW2 Holland, being told stories of how the Holocaust began, and it began much like what we see happening in the United States and even Australia, today. With the division of society into ‘Us’ and ‘Them’, with the raids and arbitrary detention of the ‘Them’, the concentration, exploitation, and transport of the ‘Them’.

Refugees detained on Manus Island

Refugees detained on Manus Island

“Despite government claims of fiscal responsibility, the current, inhumane process is also the most expensive way to handle ‘illegal’ immigration”

Reactionaries and Liberals alike scoff at the comparison of ICE and the detention of immigrants to the Holocaust. They tell us we are overreacting with comparisons to Anne Frank, because Anne Frank was not killed in a death camp like Auschwitz-Birkenau. No she did not die in a death camp; she died in a concentration camp while awaiting deportation. She contracted typhus because of the unsanitary conditions in that concentration camp. Immigrants in detention centres in the US, Europe, and Australia have been dying of easily treatable diseases for years. We think the comparisons are accurate.

The detention of ‘illegal’ immigrants by Imperialist powers across the world is nothing more than a disgusting attempt to preserve the power of capital and the liberal institutions that protect that power by appealing to fear. The capitalist state seeks to make immigrants the scapegoat for the ever worsening conditions of the working class and blames them, for all society’s woes. They seek to divide us, because united we pose a threat to their power and control over our society. Members of the ruling class also receive direct financial benefit from this policy. Many of these immigrants are fleeing the effects of US and Allied Imperialism, which sustains the profit margins of the Military Industrial Complex and wider capitalism at the cost of working class lives. They even double dip, and profit not only off the creation of these refugees, but off their detention as well.

Detention centers in America where they detain “illegal” immigrants in harsh and inhumane conditions

Detention centers in America where they detain “illegal” immigrants in harsh and inhumane conditions

“The logic of capitalism means that scapegoating, fear mongering, and racketeering is the path of least resistance for politicians”

In the US, most of the detention facilities are privately operated, and receive anything from $200 to $775 US per day per person from the government as payment for the detention of these refugees. In Australia, offshore detention costs approximately $400,000 per year per refugee. This money goes to running facilities where children are left to sit in their own waste, where people are driven to suicide, and refugees enter catatonic states? The profit motive encourages these facility operators to cut corners, and spend as little as possible on the detention of people who have not committed any crime other than to seek a better life away from the death and destruction wrought by the class of people that now profit off making them want to kill themselves.

Despite government claims of fiscal responsibility, the current, inhumane process is also the most expensive way to handle ‘illegal’ immigration. Billions could be saved by stopping the wars and housing refugees in the community, which would solve the problem permanently. This would however, cut the profits of their masters, and lose them the support of their reactionary base, making their post politics job prospects more sparse, and their work while in politics more difficult. The logic of capitalism means that scapegoating, fear mongering, and racketeering is the path of least resistance for politicians and is inevitable as capitalism itself is the root cause of all these issues. Capitalism is a system that encourages the hate, the fear, and the death, because it is profitable.

This brings us back to what to do. Willem Van Spronsen was ineffective because he acted alone. Those of us on the left must commit to organising the masses, educating them about what these ‘detention facilities’ really are and agitating them to take organised, mass direct action against the system that encourages these atrocities. And to show the masses, that so long as capitalism, the system that enables and encourages these crimes against humanity, exists they can and will happen again and the only way to stop them, is to smash that system and move on to the next stage of human development: Socialism.

Ray O'ShannassyComment