National Conference

Abbe Miller ’13 presented her research at the DePauw University Undergraduate Ethics Symposium on April 11-13, 2013. Miller’s paper, “Nomadic Ethics: Addressing the For Profit Immigrant Prison System,” was chosen from submissions by students at leading colleges across the United States. One of only 32 students invited to the conference, Miller had her expenses paid to attend the event. As part of the conference, she had the opportunity to interact with peers from other institutions and learn from leading experts in the field of ethics.

For the Love of Justice

Miller has always had a thing for justice.

When she was three or four, she loved watching the television show “Judge Judy” so much, her mother had to limit her viewing. When it came time to share something significant with her kindergarten class, Miller’s classmates laughed when she told them she wanted to be Judge Judy.

But it was the small-claims arbitrator’s common sense approach and dedication to fairness that first led Miller to pursue justice.

Immigrant Prisons

Her award-winning paper grew out of her Peace and Global Studies senior thesis. She chose her topic after a summer internship at a law firm in Texas.

While interning at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Miller learned about injustices that occur in the for-profit immigrant prison systems, which were initially created as holding facilities for immigrants without the proper paperwork.

“There are three or four companies or groups that operate a whole slew of immigrant prisons and that number is growing extremely rapidly,” explains Miller, who hopes to eventually attend law school. “These places were initially intended to hold immigrants until they had their trial; they were not meant to be a penalizing type of system.”

Nomadic Ethics

Miller says the original idea for the facilities has been lost, and the ensuing system presents a unique ethical dilemma.

“Now these people are imprisoned for a long time without representation and with numerous human rights abuses,” she says. “The gravest things you can imagine happen in these places because this is such a vulnerable population. They have no space to say what is going on.

“Their desire to be [in the U.S.] is so strong that they are willing to suffer these abuses in hopes of someday getting home to the children they have here. They want to stay to be reunited with their family.”

“Nomadic ethics moves away from moral relativisms and moral universalism toward an ethical system that invokes accountability and implications and interconnectedness of all people; it is no longer simply a set of rules to follow,” she says. “Is it ever ethical to make a profit off of the detention of human beings? Nomadic ethics looks at historical memory like the Holocaust and genocide in Rwanda, and says we can’t forget.”

Abbe Miller
Abbe Miller 2013

Hometown: Lexington, Ky.

Major at Earlham: Peace and Global Studies

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