November 3, 2020
From PM Press

Zukowska grew up undocumented in the US, an experience that politicized her. Today, her writing and organizing centers on immigrant rights.

By Marzena Zukowska, interviewed by Lucy McKeon
October 31st, 2020

On October 27, 2020, we published Marzena Zukowska’s “How ICE’s Bail Bond Scheme Lets Corporations Profit Off Migrants,” adapted from her contribution to Asylum for Sale: Profit and Protest in the Migration Industry, a collection of essays about how every aspect of asylum and immigration processes is increasingly profit-driven.

her essay, Zukowska reports on Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) bail bonds, a growing trend, parallel to the criminal bail system,
in which corporate interests extract profit from detained immigrants.
Bail is regularly denied by immigration judges to those they deem a
danger—frequently, a judgment of coded racial bias. “For those who do
manage to obtain bail, later securing a refund can take years,” Zukowska
writes. “As of July 31, 2018, ICE held a staggering $204 million in
unreturned bond money.”

Siobhán Mcguirk
Marzena Zukowska

I asked how Zukowska, whose writing and organizing
centers on immigrant rights, came to focus on bail bonds, not often the
subject of mainstream reporting more focused on the detention facilities
run by private companies like CoreCivic and GEO Group. “Even I, who
have been active in the movement for a long time, had to do significant
research, interviewing activists like Jamila Hammami, founder of Queer
Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP) and Gabriela Marquez-Benitez of
Detention Watch Network (DWN), to bring this article into fruition,” she
answered by email. “The topic of people seeking asylum, as I learned
from Asylum for Sale’s co-editor Siobhán McGuirk, tends to be
dominated by questions of morality and deservingness. Bail bonds
sidestep this by revealing people with deep financial interests finding
creative (and perverse) ways to profit from immigrant communities.

like DWN and QDEP,” she continued, “as well as Mijente and the
#AbolishICE movement, have been ringing the alarm bells about bail bonds
for a long time, calling on universities, churches, and philanthropies
to divest from these corporations.”

Understanding the connection
between the prison-industrial complex and the newer migrant detention
industry is essential, Zukowska said: “There’s a reason why Angela Davis
declared immigrant rights one of the most important struggles of our
time. It’s not just abolishing prisons, it’s about abolishing all cages,
including those that come in the form of a $60,000 bail bond or a
$3,950 ankle monitor.”

After working as director of media at the
National Domestic Workers Alliance—“NDWA has always been close to home
for me,” Zukowska told me, “because my mom was a domestic worker and did
housecleaning for more than twenty years”—she remains on the leadership
team of the Radical Communicators Network, founded by Shanelle Matthews
with, Zukowska said, “the recognition that the progressive movement or
‘the left’ needs to tell better stories if we’re going to actually win

Zukowska moved to London in 2018, following the US
midterm elections, and intended to take a step back from organizing.
“But then I met this amazing group of Polish feminists, and it felt like
a homecoming,” she said. With Magda Fabianczyk, Zukowska founded Polish
Migrants Organise for Change (POMOC), a grassroots nonprofit that works
to foster collaboration and solidarity between Polish women living in
the UK and other migrant communities and communities of color. Last
year, ahead of Poland’s parliamentary elections, they worked as part of
the larger Polonia Głosuje  coalition on a “Get Out the Vote” campaign.
Today, POMOC is campaigning against the abortion ban in Poland.

Angela Christofilou
Zukowska at a protest against the abortion ban in Poland, London, October 24, 2020

If Joe Biden is elected president, immigration rights
activists will need to apply pressure on the new administration. Besides
an end to the detention of migrants, Zukowska’s second recommendation
would be to reverse a Trump administration policy currently underway
that moves to outsource deportation to foreign states labeled “safe
third countries.”

“Ironically, the states in question are
Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico, all places where US
foreign policy interventions (from supporting military coups to trade
deals) have forced millions to flee,” she said. “Adrienne Pine, one of
the editors of Asylum for Sale, talks a lot about this
dangerous pattern of international deportation outsourcing, which we’ve
seen in other places like Australia and the UK.”

Zukowska grew up
undocumented in the US, an experience that politicized her. “It’s the
reason I do the work that I do,” she said. “I immigrated to Chicago from
Poland with my mom and my brother when I was six. For the next fourteen
years, I lived in a sort of limbo, as more than eleven million people
still do in the US. I was lucky enough to get a Green Card and then
citizenship through my mother, who is my biggest inspiration. I also
recognize that being white and undocumented came with a different set of
privileges from those for people who are Black or Brown or living at
the highly militarized southern border.

“My brother is still
undocumented,” she went on, “and it’s one of the most painful realities
to be an immigrant rights activist and feel powerless to help your own
family.” Her stepfather, who was active in Poland’s Solidarity Movement
and had to flee the authoritarian regime in the 1980s, is a US Green
Card holder. “He was born in Germany after the war, as the child of a
white Polish woman and a Black American soldier,” Zukowska said. “And in
the 1940s, both the Polish and US government determined that it was
safer for a Black child to grow up in war-ravaged Poland than in Jim
Crow America. He’s been in the US for forty years and still can’t get

“This is why organizing and collective action, to me personally, is so critical. It’s how we fight back.”

Siobhan McGuirk – In addition to her academic
publications addressing gender and sexuality, migration, and social
justice movements, McGuirk is an award-winning filmmaker, curator and
editor for Red Pepper magazine. Her writing has appeared in Teen VogueRewire News, and Australian Options.
She received her Doctorate in Anthropology from American University in
2016 and holds a Masters in Visual Anthropology from the University of
Manchester. She is a Postdoctoral Researcher in Anthropology at
Goldsmiths, University of London. 

Adrienne Pine is a critical medical
anthropologist whose work has explored the embodiment of structural
violence and imperialism in Honduras, cross-cultural approaches to
revolutionary nursing, and neoliberal fascism. She has served as an
expert country conditions witness in around 100 asylum cases over the
past fifteen years. Adrienne is an assistant professor at the American
University and author of Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras

Check out Adrienne Pine and Siobhán McGuirk’s Author Pages & new book: