We all know that, if you get caught breaking the law, you risk getting arrested and a trip to jail.But we’ve got a pretty fair system, right?You can make a free phone call, talk to a lawyer, and get a hearing in front of a judge, pretty much right away, don’t you?The bad guys go to jail, and the good guys go free, right?We all know how this works, if only from what we learned in school or just watching too much TV.

Unfortunately, that’s not true for immigrants in this country.A person can be arrested and detained by ICE on the most basic suspicion that there’s something not quite right with their immigration status, and we treat them worse than criminals. That’s the rule for anyone who’s not a citizen (and even some who are, but might have trouble proving their citizenship).And the process doesn’t look anything like it what they told us in school or what you learned from reruns of Law & Order: immigrants face death-penalty-like consequences with only traffic court-level protections.

Those arrested often spend hours without knowing why they were arrested, where they will be taken, or whether there is any hope of release, with no way to contact their loved ones.Worse yet, many are pressured to sign away their rights on the threat that they might otherwise spend months in detention before inevitable deportation. Others spend weeks—yes, weeks—shuffled from state to state, before they can make their case for release to an immigration judge.The lucky ones might be able to buy their freedom until their case can be heard, but many can’t afford to pay $10,000 or more for a bond.And that’s cash, mind you:no 10% down or personal recognizance bonds here.Those that can’t pony up the money face months of detention until a judge can decide their fate.Some are detained for years.

And about that lawyer? Well, that doesn’t look like what you learned in school either: there’s no such thing as a public defender for immigrants, and about two thirds of immigrants face the prospect of deportation without a lawyer to help them understand what’s been called the most complex and arbitrary area of the law.

Who are these immigrants?Are they criminals, are they dangerous?Rarely.The overwhelming majority of those arrested by ICE have no criminal history—and those that do were involved with relatively minor offenses, not violent crimes, and even those with the most minor criminal history are rarely eligible for release. So who are tax payers detaining at $100 or more a day? Mostly, we’re talking about families trying to get ahead, people fleeing injustice and persecution, victims of domestic violence and other crimes, hardly a good place to be spending money in such a tight economy. It’s no surprise that the Department of Homeland Security has been criticized for telling Congress that the agency is going after dangerous criminal aliens, but in reality netting only bus boys, construction workers and nannies.

DHS, through its enforcement arm, ICE, claims that detention is necessary to protect the public and prevent immigrants from absconding, but the facts show that just isn’t true.So why does it continue? Because only a small percentage of the population has had to confront the realities of this system, and those that have suffered through this decidedly un-American gulag, are shocked.Somewhere along the way, it became normal and acceptable to lock up immigrants.Strikingly, that was around the same time detention became big business.And the lines between the business interests and government interests have become so blurred that we’ve lost sight of the public interest.tyle=””>It’s time to reevaluate the system.