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Climate of Fear Could Lead to Huge California Census Undercount

Co-published by The American Prospect
An undercount will lessen California’s political clout.

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Photo: Larry Buhl

Could a proposed “citizenship question” drastically cut response rates among immigrants — and sabotage the counting of California’s population?

Co-published by The American Prospect

The U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in December, asking that a citizenship question be added to the 2020 Census because citizenship data was needed to protect minority populations from “racial discrimination in voting.”

Advocates who know the difficulty of getting communities of color to participate in the census find the DOJ’s logic confounding.

“It’s disingenuous,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO). He noted that the American Community Survey, the modern version of the census “long form,” asks whether the respondent is an immigrant (though it doesn’t ask about immigration status). “Not a single civil rights litigator has said the American Community Survey is not sufficient in getting data on immigration,” Vargas said.

The survey, developed in 2005, is sent randomly to three million households every year. A question about immigration was asked on the 2000 long form sent to one of six households, but was discontinued for the 2010 count. No citizenship question was asked in the general 2010 census form.

Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau, will ultimately decide whether to add the citizenship question. The DOJ has not said how it would like the question to be stated.

Civil rights groups and many public officials say such a question on the census would sabotage the count by dramatically reducing response rates among immigrant communities.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and a coalition of U.S. mayors have denounced the DOJ request. Last week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with attorneys general from 18 other states, including New York and Massachusetts, sent a letter to Ross stating that such a question would depress immigrant participation in the count.

New questions must be submitted to Congress for review two years before the census, in this case by the end of March. Questions must also be field-tested to determine whether they will depress turnout by being too confusing or intimidating.

“If the bureau adds the citizenship question without field-testing, it will clearly be a political move,” said Phil Sparks, the spokesperson for the Census Project, which describes itself as a network of national, state and local organizations that supports a fair and accurate 2020 census and comprehensive American Community Survey.

Census data collected every 10 years affect how federal funds are allocated to state and local governments, and determine the distribution of $400 billion in federal funding for roads, schools, senior services, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and job training, among other services. For example, in 2016 California received $2.4 billion for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The Manassas, Virginia firm Election Data Services uses the census to determine whether states will gain or lose seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The data also influence the allocation of members of state legislatures and many city councils.

“If the citizenship question is on the form, California will have such depressed numbers it will lose one or more congressional seats,” predicted the Census Project’s Sparks.

An undercount could cost California more than $1.5 billion. A 2017 report from George Washington University estimated that for every resident not counted in the 2010 census, California lost more than $1,000 in federal funding. The California Department of Finance estimated that the 2010 census failed to count 1.5 million state residents.

Latinos, 39 percent of California’s population, historically have been difficult to count. In 2010, 1.5 percent of the Latino population was undercounted nationwide, according to Census Bureau estimates. The rate of undercount for Latino children was even higher, according to the NALEO Educational Fund, which estimated that the 2010 undercount rate for young Latinos was 7.1 percent, compared to 4.3 percent for non-Latinos. Those estimates suggest that the overall Latino census undercount was probably much higher, according to Vargas.

The goal of the census, since it began in 1790, has been to count all people, not just citizens. In 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that election districts could be based on total population, rather than on the number of eligible voters.

Questions about immigration and mistrust of the federal government’s use of data affect census participation beyond undocumented immigrants, Vargas said. “Millions of Latinos live in mixed immigration households,” he said. “They’re reluctant, quite rationally, to fill out forms for fear of putting family members at risk.”

Paul Mitchell of Norwalk, California-based Political Data Inc. said the impact of a question about citizenship would go beyond personal fear of a crackdown by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the undocumented.

“Addresses are geocoded, and the government would know which areas have the highest rates of non-citizens, including apartment complexes,” Mitchell said. “Anyone with census data could draw a map” for law enforcement to target undocumented immigrants. “It could be a local activist group or city council saying, ‘Look how many non-citizens are in that part of town.’ It’s crazy to think that they wouldn’t use the data if they had it.”

Even before the possibility of including a citizenship question arose, the Census Bureau had been facing several problems. It has no permanent director, field tests have been canceled, and funding has been cut.

Underscoring the importance of an accurate count, California Governor Jerry Brown last month proposed spending more than $40 million on census-related outreach efforts.

Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of the nonprofit California Endowment, told Capital & Main that whether or not there is a citizenship question, it will be “monumentally more difficult” getting people of color to respond to the census this year.

“There is a general climate of fear,” he said. “When there is the [American Civil Liberties Union’s] Know Your Rights campaign saying don’t open your door to ICE, how do you tell the same people that they should trust the government regarding the census?”

The 2020 census will be the first to include an online option, something the bureau says could increase participation. But even that might miss Latinos, according to Christian Arana of the San Francisco-based Latino Community Foundation. “There is a digital divide in the Latino community,” Arana said. “We don’t know if online will lead to a more accurate count.”

Arana and other community advocates say the onus for reaching California Latinos falls on them. “And what motivates people to respond is an understanding of why the census count is important,” Arana said. “They have to want to participate, and the messenger is important.”

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Blue State/Red District

Blue State/Red District: What Do the Suburbs Want?

Seven Republican congressional districts in California went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. CA-4 was not one of them but Democrats are hoping to unseat Tom McClintock in November.

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Kelly Candaele




Video and images by Kelly Candaele.


CA-4’s Gold Country counties are recipients of an urban exodus fueled by affordable housing, a desire for good schools and the expansion of high-tech jobs into suburbia.


On the day of her funeral, Barbara Bush’s image beamed down from an electronic billboard along Interstate 80 outside of Sacramento, along with a quote: “Believe in something bigger than yourself.” Her image and words lasted five seconds before an insurance ad flashed up.

As an unofficial welcome to California Congressional District 4, which includes suburban and exurban Placer and El Dorado counties, plus several other rural and sparsely populated counties, the former first lady’s image is apt. Her husband and son both carried the district by wide margins in the presidential elections of 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2004. While no friend of the Bushes, Donald Trump won the district with 54 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 39 percent.

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There are seven congressional districts in California with Republican incumbents that Clinton won but CA-4 is not one of them. What gives Democrats buoyancy here is the general chaos of the Trump presidency, along with positive results of special elections elsewhere in the country, and some solid-looking candidates running in the CA-4 Democratic primary. Conservative Republican Tom McClintock, who actually lives 15 miles outside of District 4, first won the seat in 2008, when his Democratic opponent got within 1,800 votes. In the last four races, he has beaten every challenger by at least a 20 percent vote margin.

If CA-4 is dicey as a flippable district, part of the reason is because of demographics (it has relatively few Latinos or Asians) and because, in many ways, McClintock’s hard-line anti-immigration policies and close hewing to President Trump fit the district’s conservative tilt. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, over 26,000 people in CA-4 were enrolled in an Affordable Care Act (ACA) health plan in 2017 and another 49,000 gained coverage from the expansion of Medicaid. McClintock voted against the January 2017 congressional budget resolution to repeal Obamacare – a resolution that Trump supported – only because it did not go far enough in repealing the ACA. The political analysis site FiveThirtyEight has McClintock, some of whose largest contributors are real estate developers with projects in his district, voting in line with Trump’s wishes about 86 percent of the time.

Main Street, Placerville.

McClintock has shown no sympathy for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students, describing the program as an “unconstitutional usurpation of legislative authority,” and he is a reliable vote against a woman’s right to have an abortion. The large mega churches that often accompany suburban sprawl, like Bayside Church in Granite Bay, with its 12,000 members, help anchor the district’s culturally conservative base with a mixture of Christian/New Age uplift and entrepreneurial flair.

On a recent Friday afternoon, while watching her son play Little League baseball at a Roseville park, Heather McCarthy reflected on why she has become increasingly active in politics. “I’ve never been concerned that our political system could be taken over by billionaires and corporate interests,” she said, “so it has been a wake-up call for me.”

McCarthy, a Roseville real estate agent, participated in the Sacramento Women’s March last January, but has not followed the congressional race closely. She has a college degree, is not particularly ideological and is concerned that the Trump tax reduction, which McClintock supported, will mainly benefit the wealthy and explode the deficit. “I don’t think the average person realizes how disproportionate the benefit is, or how the Republican Party that used to be fiscally conservative has abandoned that.” she added.

Two articulate women candidates, Jessica Morse and Regina Bateson, have experience in policymaking and have demonstrated an ability to attract supporters and raise money, and now lead a field of four Democratic primary contenders. In rural Calaveras County, where Mark Twain invented his story about jumping frogs, ordained minister and Democratic Party activist Mickey Williamson outlined the long-shot logic of her party’s campaign at a park in Angels Camp. Williamson says the political atmosphere feels different this year: “The [Democratic] candidates are moving up and down the district, events are happening, thousands of dollars are being raised. It’s just a different ball game than we have ever had before.”

Robin McMillan Hebert.

Williamson has a worry, however: That after the June 5 primary, supporters of the losing candidates will stay home, replicating some of the internecine fighting that characterized the Clinton/Sanders contest and which continues to roil the Democratic Party throughout the country.

While most of CA-4 is rural, the key geographic areas where the majority of voters live, and where elections are won or lost, are found along the I-80 and I-50 corridors — places whose dairy farms and orchards not too long ago reached to the outskirts of Sacramento. The cows have been replaced by “Tuscan”-style housing estates with names like Serrano Village, and by retirement communities, large retail centers, high-tech business parks — and relatively few people of color. Over 70 percent of the congressional vote will come from here.

Ricardo Calixtro holds a Bible as he stops to talk in front of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church after services one April Sunday. An anti-abortion banner hangs on the front of the church asking for prayers for the unborn. He says that the abortion issue is the first priority for him and that it would be difficult to vote for someone who does not share that position.

Calixtro, a registered Democrat who lives in Murphys, a town tucked in the Sierra foothills, works three jobs as a bartender, baker and house cleaner. “I don’t mind working hard,” he says, “but it’s hard for a regular Joe trying to make it on minimum wage.” Calixtro voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary and, later, for the Libertarian Gary Johnson for president.

When told that McClintock agrees with him on abortion but is opposed to raising the minimum wage because it would “hurt minorities,” Calixtro becomes speechless for a long half minute. “Wow, that’s a tough one,” he finally responds. He says he is contemplating leaving the area for better opportunities: “I’ve heard Oklahoma and Kentucky are good states to live in right now.”

Calixtro is not the stereotypical working-class voter duped by “cultural” issues instead of watching out for his own economic interests. Yet President Trump has triggered feelings and responses that are pulling many voters away from single issues like guns and religion that previously determined their vote.

Others are sticking with Trump and McClintock despite the president’s seemingly daily scandals. In Placerville, an old gold-mining town along the route to Lake Tahoe, Trump supporter and former correctional officer Robin McMillan Hebert was concerned that gun rights and public safety were under threat. “I believe in law and order, otherwise there would be chaos — and I don’t believe in chaos,” she said. “Sacramento is a good example. There have been a lot of recent protests there.” A registered Republican, she compares President Trump’s treatment of women to Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy’s. “I’m not going to expect someone to be perfect when I myself can’t be perfect.”

In Roseville, a man who works for the city utility company and is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, talked about the threat of outsiders.

“I’m tired of seeing cities burning down, and all the lawlessness,” he said, directing traffic for his crew of municipal workers. “It started with Occupy Wall Street.” He added that homeless people were like cats: “If you feed them they keep coming back.”

The man, who refused to give his name, said his wife is a vice principal at a local public school, and claimed she “got emotional” last January and went to the local Women’s March. He believes it was organized “not to defend women but to hate Trump.” He also thinks that homosexuality is morally wrong and is “pushed in your face” by liberals.

He said he supports McClintock but is reluctant to talk publicly about electoral politics because he thinks liberals will “throw a brick” at him if he expresses his opinions. “Now we have to accept transgender. Come on.”

Placer and El Dorado counties are recipients of the flight from cities — an exodus fueled by affordable housing, the desire for good schools and the expansion of high-tech jobs into suburban and exurban environments. Indeed, the suburbs surrounding Sacramento were among the top 25 growth areas in the country between 2015 and 2017.

Retiree: “Men have screwed it up a bit,
let’s put some smart ladies in there.”

The evolution of such suburbs is complex. In general suburbs are becoming more diverse and increasingly polarized economically, and more people are living in them today than in cities.

Following the June primary, Democratic frontrunners Morse or Bateson will have to work to attract significant numbers of Republican moderates and those with no party preference if Democrats are to pull off another Conor Lamb-type upset and topple McClintock. And since registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by over 60,000 voters, many Republicans will also have to stay home in November for such a reversal to occur.

Two local residents — former Republicans who intend to vote for a Democrat — explained why they think it’s possible for a Democrat to win here.

Jack Chittick stands on his front lawn in Sun City, a retirement community in Roseville built by Del Webb. Instead of carpool lanes, Sun City has lanes for golf carts. Chittick, an 84-year-old retiree who was a top executive at the Pirelli Tire Company, points to the hardcore Republicans who walk past his house to the golf course across the street. “I like the cleanliness of this place,” he says, “the golf course, the big homes, the shopping areas and the good hospitals.”

He doesn’t think McClintock represents the average person in the district and wants a congressperson who can make the tax structure fair for the middle class. Reflecting on his life, he admits he got “carried away” with his career as a corporate manager and the values that came with it. “I had achieved everything by myself,” he once believed, “so why couldn’t everyone?” But he had a change of heart when his wife started working with the homeless, and pointed out to him that the challenges they face were enormous.

“Democrats have a 50-50 chance,” he says, handicapping the race. “Men have screwed it up a bit, let’s put some smart ladies in there,” he adds, referring to Morse and Bateson. “I’m sure they couldn’t do worse, and they could do a lot better.”

Bob Toste is another Roseville retiree and former Republican, who “bought into the trickle down theory” before it registered with him that birth determines economic class more than any other factor. He is careful about who he talks to about politics in his neighborhood, especially on immigration issues. Toste wants someone who is sympathetic to the undocumented immigrant students called Dreamers and is angered by McClintock’s vote to repeal Obamacare. “I have good health insurance, having retired from a utility. But health insurance for our nation is very important for me. And trying to go back on that right now is horrendous,” he said.

If the Republican National Committee and its well-funded conservative political action committees pour money into CA-4 after the June primary to shore up McClintock, it will be an indication that the party brand is in deep trouble.

Come November here, Barbara Bush’s billboard admonition might come to pass. Sun City retiree Jack Chittick also wants voters to believe in something bigger than themselves – a change of political heart in District 4.

Video and images by Kelly Candaele.

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Lawsuit: Immigrant Detainees Forced to Work for $1 a Day

Co-published by International Business Times
Attorneys say private-prison company CoreCivic is engaged in a “deprivation scheme” aimed at forcing detainees to keep the detention center running at a fraction of the cost of hiring local workers.

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Robin Urevich




Photo: Robin Urevich

Co-published by International Business Times

CoreCivic, a for-profit prison company with annual revenues of nearly $1.8 billion in 2017, has further enriched itself by forcing immigrant detainees in Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center to work for as little as $1 a day under threat of criminal prosecution, solitary confinement or transfer to substandard living quarters. That’s according to three men – all current or former detainees — who have filed a federal lawsuit against the company, alleging they have worked at the detention center under such threats.

Some 1,700 men are held at Stewart as they await deportation, or fight for asylum or relief from deportation.

One detainee alleges a guard denied his request for toilet paper, saying the detainee could use his hands instead.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys say CoreCivic is engaged in a “deprivation scheme” aimed at forcing detainees to mop floors, scrub toilets, do laundry, cook and essentially keep the detention center running at a fraction of the cost of hiring local workers.

“CoreCivic deprives detained immigrants of basic necessities like food, toothpaste, toilet paper and soap — and contact with loved ones — so that they have to work in order to purchase those items at CoreCivic’s store (the Stewart commissary),” the complaint claims.

The alleged forced labor also denies Stewart County residents, who are among the state’s poorest, employment opportunities they could have if it weren’t for a ready supply of nearly free detainee labor, the plaintiffs’ attorneys allege.

Detainees told Homeland Security’s inspector general that they weren’t given mandated hygiene items promptly or that they weren’t replaced after they’d been used up.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement rules specify that work is to be voluntary and compensated at the rate of $1 per day. The regulations also state that detainees must be provided with hygiene supplies like toothpaste and soap.

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox wrote in an email that the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation. However, he noted that “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is firmly committed to the safety and welfare of all those in its custody.” Cox wrote that Stewart is subject to announced and unannounced inspections and has repeatedly been found to be in compliance with the agency’s standards.

However, a report released last December by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General noted that Stewart detainees reported that they weren’t given such items promptly or that they weren’t replaced after they’d been used up.

Wilhen Hill Barrientos, a 23-year-old asylum seeker from Guatemala, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, alleged that a Stewart guard once denied his request for toilet paper, saying Hill Barrientos could use his hands instead. The lawsuit notes that Hill Barrientos now uses his earnings to purchase such basic supplies from the detention center commissary.

Last February, Hill Barrientos, who works in the Stewart kitchen, told Capital & Main that he suffered a burn on the job, but wasn’t allowed to leave his post to seek medical help. He also claimed that forced work played a part in 33-year-old detainee Yulio Castro Garrido’s death of pneumonia last December. Castro, also a Stewart kitchen worker, became sick and weak, but wasn’t allowed to skip work to see a doctor, Hill Barrientos said.

Hill Barrientos alleged in his lawsuit that he’d been put in medical segregation for two months last year in retaliation for filing a grievance against a guard who forced him to work while he was ill. Another plaintiff, Shoaib Ahmed, an asylum seeker from Bangladesh, said he was punished with isolation for 10 days for threatening a work action.

A CoreCivic spokesman didn’t comment on the lawsuit in time for this story.

Core Civic segregation (solitary confinement) rosters obtained by Capital & Main show that seven detainees were placed in solitary at Stewart for similar protests, between June and October 2017. A Haitian man endured 26 days in solitary for encouraging others to participate in a work action. Six other detainees were punished for “inciting a group demonstration,” including three men who each spent nearly a month in isolation on that charge.

The plaintiffs seek class action status, and demand an end to the alleged forced labor regime, and disgorgement of CoreCivic profits that resulted from it, along with compensation and damages for detainee workers.

Attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Project South represent the plaintiffs, as do several attorneys who have made similar claims in cases on behalf of detainees in Colorado in 2014, and San Diego and Adelanto, California last year.

The Colorado case—against another private prison company, the Geo Group, was granted class action status this year, and a settlement conference is scheduled for May, while the California cases—against CoreCivic in San Diego and Geo in Adelanto — are in early stages of litigation. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson also filed suit on behalf of detainees at the Geo Group’s Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma last year, alleging unjust enrichment and violation of the state’s minimum wage law.

“I hope the fact that so many of these cases are pending will lead to momentum that will result in the end of forced-labor practices at detention centers nationwide,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Meredith Stewart, of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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Salinas Farm Workers March to Oppose Immigration Raids

Protest marches, which also commemorated the birthday of UFW co-founder Cesar Chavez, follow several months of UFW activity opposing immigration enforcement, and of organizing workers to defend themselves against it.

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David Bacon




All photos by David Bacon

In Salinas, California, last Sunday, over a thousand farm workers and allies filled the streets of its working-class barrio to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies, including an increase in immigration raids that, according to United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez, are “striking terror in rural communities across California and the nation.” It was one of six marches taking place this month in agricultural communities around California, Texas and Washington state.

Highlighting the cost of the immigration crackdown were the deaths last month in Delano of husband and wife Santos Hilario Garcia and Marcelina Garcia Porfecto. On March 13, the couple, both farm workers, had just dropped off their daughter at school on their way to work when two black, unmarked Jeeps with tinted windows, driven by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, stopped them. The couple drove off, but lost control of their car, hit a utility pole and flipped over, killing them both. They leave six children behind.

According to a police report obtained by the Los Angeles Times, immigration agents told police that they were not in “pursuit with emergency lights/sirens,” but that surveillance footage appears to show the ICE vehicles following the couple with emergency lights flashing. The Delano Police Department has asked Kern County prosecutors to investigate the discrepancies in the immigration agents’ accounts of the incident. On Monday, ICE spokesperson Richard Rocha sought to divert blame in a statement to the Times that sanctuary policies, “have pushed ICE out of jails,” and “force our officers to conduct more enforcement in the community — which poses increased risks for law enforcement and the public … It also increases the likelihood that ICE will encounter other illegal aliens who previously weren’t on our radar.”

The marches, which also commemorated the birthday of UFW co-founder Cesar Chavez, follow several months of UFW activity opposing immigration enforcement, and of organizing workers to defend themselves against it. The union has distributed fliers in the fields that tell workers, “Don’t sign anything and demand to speak with a lawyer. Take photographs, videos, and notes about what happens, including names, and license plates.” It lists a toll-free number to call for help.

Organizers are advised by the UFW Foundation to tell employers that ICE cannot enter the private area of their business without a signed judicial warrant, that in I-9 audits, employers have three work days to produce the forms, and that employers also have the right to speak to an attorney before answering questions or signing ICE documents.

In March, UFW protesters in Hanford, Visalia and Modesto picketed the offices of Republican Congressmen David Valadao, Devin Nunes and Jeff Denham, respectively. General meetings denouncing ICE actions were also held in Salinas and Orosi, and protests in Merced and Bakersfield.

“Do growers who supported and financed the campaign that put Donald Trump in office condone the climate of fear that is gripping farm worker communities?” a union statement asks. It points out that growers are currently supporting bills in Congress to remove protections from guest workers recruited in Mexico. “Such legislative schemes are aimed at driving down the wages and working conditions of all agricultural workers. We will fight them.”

The Center for Immigration Studies, an arm of the anti-immigrant lobby in Washington, DC, used Cesar Chavez’ birthday to announce the launch of National Border Control Day “in tribute to the late labor leader and civil rights icon’s forceful opposition to illegal immigration and support for strong border enforcement.”

UFW spokesperson Marc Grossman called that “an abomination.” A UFW statement in response said, “There are two separate and distinct issues — immigration reform and strikebreaking.” The union had a controversial history of trying to use immigration enforcement to remove undocumented strikebreakers in strikes during the late 1960s and ‘70s, but the statement says that from the first grape strike “the UFW welcomed all farm workers into its ranks, regardless of immigration status.”

It noted that the union opposed employer sanctions, which made it illegal for undocumented immigrants to work, and lobbied for the amnesty provision in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act that enabled one million undocumented farm workers to become legal residents. Given that the union’s membership reflects the composition of farm workers generally, most of whom have no papers according to Farmworker Justice, a farm worker advocacy group in Washington DC, it is possible that a majority of the union’s members are undocumented.

According to Rodriguez, protesting immigration enforcement is part of defending farm laborers generally, both union and non-union. At the Salinas rally, Rodriguez told workers and supporters “Santos Hilario Garcia and Marcelina Garcia Porfecto, and their six orphaned children, are casualties of the Trump administration’s targeting of hard-working immigrant farm workers who toil and sacrifice to feed all of us.”


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Trump’s No Immigrant Left Behind Policy Targets Vietnamese Refugees

Co-published by International Business Times
Vietnamese immigrants thought they were safe. Now they fear deportation.

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Charles Davis




Jack Cahill/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Co-published by International Business Times

They do not want to leave and they don’t have anywhere to go. The country where they were born refuses to accept them, and until just over 14 months ago, the country where they have spent at least the last 20 years had not tried to send them back to a place most of them do not remember.

But Donald Trump campaigned on leaving no immigrant behind, and since he became president, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has begun detaining refugees from Vietnam who have been long-time residents of the United States. And ICE has begun these detentions despite the fact it has nowhere to send them.

Since Trump’s inauguration, ICE has arrested at least 45 Vietnamese immigrants who came to the U.S. before 1995, when the U.S. and Vietnam restored diplomatic relations, said Phi Nguyen, litigation director for the Atlanta chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Nguyen’s organization filed a lawsuit in February challenging these detentions. Those detained have criminal convictions—often for minor offenses—and existing deportation orders but, according to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Washington and Hanoi, they cannot be sent back.

Those people are now being held in ICE detention indefinitely, Nguyen said, “stuck in this weird immigration purgatory where you don’t have legal status, but you’re not deportable.” She said her organization is working to get them out while the courts consider the group’s lawsuit.

“I have spoken to some people who have been there over a year now,” Nguyen added. The vast majority came as children, some airlifted out by the U.S. government itself after American troops were withdrawn in 1973. Many others escaped by boat in the years that followed. Some are the mixed-race children of U.S. soldiers, Amerasians who were widely discriminated against by a society that dismissed them as “children of the dust” — products of fraternizing with the enemy — often growing up on the streets.

Most of those facing deportation are now married, have children of their own and were, “up until recently, pretty secure in their future,” Nguyen said.

Katrina Dizon Mariategue, head of immigration policy at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center in Washington DC, said her group did not receive many reports about Vietnamese refugees being detained before Trump took office. But since then, there has been a flood.

“It just seems like they’re trying to deport as many people as possible, regardless of what the MOU says,” Dizon Mariategue said. And with improved U.S.-Vietnam relations, that MOU may not be long for this world. The U.S. and Vietnam have been growing closer in recent years. Last year Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc became the first Southeast Asian leader to visit the Trump White House, and Trump later visited Hanoi in November, where the two governments agreed to deepen their security cooperation.

The former U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, quit his job over the issue last fall. In a piece for the April edition of The Foreign Service Journal, published by the association that represents career foreign service employees, Osius recounted how he “was asked to press the government in Hanoi to receive from the United States more than 8,000 people, most of whom had fled South Vietnam on boats and through the jungle in the years immediately following the war.”

Osius wrote that he found the policy “repulsive,” fearing some of those returned would be subject to human rights abuses. “I voiced my objections, was instructed to remain silent, and decided there was an ethical line that I could not cross if I wished to retain my integrity,” he wrote.

ICE does not keep track of when Vietnamese immigrants it seeks to remove first arrived, said agency spokesperson Brendan Raedy. But it is deporting more of them. In fiscal year 2017, “ICE removed 71 Vietnamese nationals to Vietnam,” Raedy said, twice the number that was removed the year before. “As of December 2017,” he added, “there were 8,600 Vietnamese nationals residing in the United States who are subject to a final order of removal, of whom 7,821 have criminal convictions.”

Most of those Vietnamese nationals are not currently detained, but the prolonged detention of any who came before 1995 is a new development. Another change Dizon Mariategue says is that her group is no longer in the business of highlighting detainees’ individual cases for campaigns aimed at swaying ICE’s bosses in Washington. Now the thinking is that highlighting those cases will only serve to expedite their removal.

But the stage for refugees who arrived before 1995 to be deported to Vietnam had been set before Trump, during President Bill Clinton’s administration, shortly after Washington and Hanoi normalized relations.

In 1996, under Clinton, a Democrat, a Republican-controlled Congress made green-card holders automatically deportable if convicted of what is termed an “aggravated felony” under immigration law. Those offenses range from rape and murder to what would normally be misdemeanor petty theft or minor drug possession.

Under immigration law, an “aggravated” felony need not be aggravated or a felony in the jurisdiction where it was committed. All that is required is that Congress has labeled it an “aggravated felony” regardless of how trivial or non-violent the offense. And if Congress adds an offense to the list of “aggravated felonies,” that addition applies retroactively to convictions before the offense was added.

According to Human Rights Watch, the two relevant bills passed in 1996—the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act—contravene international law. Under the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Human Rights Watch notes, no one can be deported to countries where they face potential persecution unless they have been convicted of a “particularly serious crime” and still pose “a danger to the community.”

The 1996 laws changed that provision by allowing refugees to be automatically deported to places where their lives may be in danger, based on as little a drug offense — a change that legislators applied retroactively.

“It basically eliminates the ability for immigration judges to hear your case,” Dizon Mariategue said. “It is a very black-and-white policy: Sentence everyone to deportation no matter what their background or the circumstances are.”

Now, a judge cannot even hear about potential mitigating circumstances, such as having fled as a kid on a boat from a homeland devastated by the U.S. military and having grown up in poverty in a strange country. For those convicted of an “aggravated felony,” there is not even a hearing to air those circumstances. And once removed, the only way to ever come back is to obtain the consent of the U.S. attorney general.

Clinton signed those 1996 bills into law even though he and Congress were aware of the pain that would be caused. In a signing statement, Clinton accused Congress of making “a number of major, ill-advised changes in our immigration laws having nothing to do with fighting terrorism,” noting that lawmakers had chosen to “eliminate most remedial relief for long-term legal residents.” He pledged his administration would work to change that.

Twenty-two years later, no change has come, at least not for the better.

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ACLU to Greyhound: Keep Border Patrol Off the Bus

Greyhound allows U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents to carry out random searches for undocumented immigrants on their buses without a warrant. The ACLU wants passengers left alone.

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Charles Davis




Riding a bus while brown is not illegal, of course, but the letter of the law and how laws are actually enforced are not often the same thing. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, having skin that’s darker than pale is an increasingly common reason for U.S. immigration agents to interrogate a passenger — without a warrant, without probable cause — on private buses across the country, far from any border.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol would deny any bias, but it defends its practice of boarding Greyhound buses in an effort to detain undocumented immigrants. “For decades,” a spokesperson said, “the U.S. Border Patrol has been performing enforcement actions away from the immediate border” — per U.S. law, as many as 100 miles away from one, encompassing two-thirds of the U.S. population.

But the ACLU says that doesn’t mean anyone need consent to what it sees as unreasonable searches of people whose only crime, the group argues, is being perceived as foreign.

On March 21, the ACLU sent a letter to Greyhound imploring the company not to cooperate with CBP agents whose “intrusive encounters often evince a blatant disregard for passengers’ constitutional rights.” The letter cites news reports where passengers alleged bias — in Vermont, for example, a woman said CBP agents appeared to focus on “people who had accents or were not white.

A spokesperson for Greyhound did not return a request for comment. The company has previously said only that it is required to comply with federal law.

Outside a Greyhound station on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles, the ACLU of Southern California took the message to those riding Greyhound’s buses on Friday.

“We really want passengers to be aware of what their rights are,” Sandra Kang, a paralegal with the group, said in an interview. “They have the right to remain silent; they have the right to refuse consent to a search without a warrant; they have the right to record,” she noted. Behind her, ACLU volunteers held postcard-size enumerations of those rights that they planned to pass out for the next two hours.

The practice of boarding buses and quizzing passengers on their citizenship is not new, having taken place under the Obama administration as well. But, following criticism from immigrant rights advocates and civil liberties groups, the practice was reportedly ended in September 2011, according to the Associated Press.

The searches have begun again under President Donald Trump, and with renewed vigor, spurring allegations of prejudice around the country and in California, especially, where more than 10 million immigrants — and tens of millions of their descendents — reside.

In January, a man in Riverside County told the local CBS affiliate that CBP agents harassed him and demanded two forms of identification after they saw him filming their interrogations on a Greyhound bus; the man was a U.S. citizen targeted, he felt, over his Mexican heritage. In February, CBP agents told another local resident that they they had stopped him from boarding a Greyhound bus because his “shoes looked suspicious,” according to the ACLU.

Craig Byrnes, a local attorney, said he came out to the ACLU’s action on Friday because was outraged over such alleged incidents of bias on the part of federal law enforcement agents.

“Customs and Border Patrol is going on Greyhound buses and harassing people based on what they look like — what the color of their skin is — and that,” Byrnes said, “is not the kind of country I want to live in.”

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Astrid Has Her Quinceañera ICE’d

Co-published by the Daily Beast
Astrid, an eighth grader in Easton, Pennsylvania, awoke one morning last month to armed immigration agents standing above her bed. She’s been held in a detention facility ever since.

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Charles Davis




Define Urban

Co-published by the Daily Beast

Astrid turned 15 years old last week, but she spent her birthday not at the quinceañera she had been planning for months, but surrounded by strangers at a detention facility in rural Pennsylvania for immigrant families seeking asylum. Astrid and her father, Arturo, have been held there for a month now. She’s the only teenage girl in the lockup.

“This girl and her father were sleeping in their beds when they were woken up by ICE agents,” recounted Carol Anne Donohoe, the family’s pro bono attorney, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “It doesn’t sound like there was any due process, any warrant — anything,” she added in an interview. “The total lack of respect for the law that this agency is showing, it’s like open season on immigrants. It’s terrifying, and it’s terrifying entire communities.”

Astrid and Arturo (they requested that their last name not be mentioned) came to the United States in February 2015, fleeing state and non-state violence in Guatemala. They are members of the indigenous K’iche’ community, which faces the threat of displacement and abuse, often at the hands of their own government. Three years later, on February 20, they were arrested by immigration agents in their new home of Easton, Pennsylvania, where Astrid attended eighth grade at the Easton Area Middle School.

“This is a kid who was picked up expecting to go to school the next day, like normal, and instead she’s in this detention center,” Donohoe said. “It’s mind-boggling to me that someone made a decision to detain a 15-year-old girl.”

Astrid now shares a cell with her father. At night, a guard comes by every 15 minutes to check on them; some guards are more disruptive than others, according to Donohoe, who says that during the day, “[Astrid’s] in a classroom for kids 12 and up.” Many of those children are new to the country and do not speak English; a few only speak the indigenous K’iche’ language. Teachers stick to the ABCs, sometimes asking Astrid to translate for them.

“How on earth is that looking out for children?” Donohoe asked. Astrid, she added, spent last week trying to forget about her birthday. Some law students brought her cupcakes and nail polish, and some of her teachers came up from Easton to bring her a few cards.

Astrid and Arturo are being held in the Berks County Residential Center, a nondescript brick compound a 90-minute drive northeast of Philadelphia. The facility has been has been in operation since 2001, but saw its numbers swell back in 2014, when the Obama administration responded to a major uptick in refugee arrivals from Central America — over 28,000 unaccompanied children and nearly 20,000 families were apprehended that year — by expanding the practice of detaining immigrant families seeking asylum. In 2015, a federal judge ruled the practice “deplorable,” and illegal. More families were then allowed to pursue their asylum claims in freedom, but the practice did not end.

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“We cannot send a message that once families with kids cross the border, they are here to say,” a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security told The Washington Post in March 2016.

President Donald Trump inherited this system, and in February 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that even immigrants with permanent legal status can be detained indefinitely. But he has made it even more punitive — a Congolese mother was separated from her 7-year-old daughter for 16 weeks, according to a lawsuit — and he’s made it so families seeking asylum on the outside of a detention facility no longer benefit from being ICE’s lowest priority.

Now anyone who lacks secure legal status will routinely be detained in an ICE raid, even if they are not the target — even if they have a math quiz the next day. Donohoe said her clients are treated even more like criminals than they were before, their refugee hearings closer to interrogations than impartial interviews, staff taking their cues from the country’s leadership.

“This administration has made everyone a target,” Donohoe said, “and everyone in the country is going to be feeling consequences of that.”

Arturo and Astrid already have, experiencing first-hand the impact of a 30 percent surge in ICE arrests during Trump’s first year in office. Their case has attracted the attention of Amnesty International, which is calling for their release.

“It’s a jail in Pennsylvania that’s being used to imprison children,” said Sheetal Dhir, a senior campaigner with the human rights group. “It’s pretty unfair.” And for many of those detained, it won’t necessarily get any better when they get out. “If these families are forced to go home, they are facing incredibly dangerous situations — even death, upon their return.”

Adrian Smith, a public affairs officer with ICE’s Philadelphia field office, said in a statement that Arturo was “unlawfully present in the U.S.” and that “his immigration case is ongoing.” ICE did not comment on the detention of his daughter.

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Deadly Detention

Deadly Detention: Self-Portrait of a Tragedy

Co-published by International Business Times
The missteps and errors of ICE and its contractors have led to concerns about the safety of immigrant detainees with mental health issues.

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Robin Urevich




Photo: Robin Urevich

A suicidal detainee never got the mental health care he needed and was placed in a cell that contained a known suicide hazard,
a ceiling sprinkler head.

Co-published by International Business Times

Sometime after midnight in mid-May of 2017, 27-year old JeanCarlo Jimenez Joseph fashioned a noose from a bed sheet and hanged himself in his solitary confinement cell at the Stewart Detention Center, located in the pine woods of southwest Georgia. Stewart’s low-slung complex lies behind two tall chain-linked fences, each crowned with huge spirals of glinting barbed wire. Beginning in 2006, the facility began to house undocumented immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Jimenez’s fall sounded like a sledgehammer blow, said 20-year-old Abel Ramirez Blanco, who was also in segregation at Stewart that night. Another detainee, Miguel Montilla, had peered through the metal grate on his door and saw guard Freddy Wims frantically knocking at Jimenez’s cell door. “He got on the walkie-talkie and started screaming,” Montilla said.

“I looked in the door and I didn’t see him,” Wims would later remember. Wims scanned the small cell until, he said, “I looked over in the corner by the commode and he was hanging there by the sheet.”

Within hours, Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents descended on Stewart, about 140 miles south of Atlanta, to find out if foul play had been involved in Jimenez’s death. It wasn’t. But the investigation, which generated audio interviews of Stewart staff and detainees, along with recordings of Jimenez’s personal phone calls and official documents, revealed that CoreCivic, the for-profit prison company that operates Stewart for ICE, and ICE Health Services Corps, which provides health care at Stewart, cut corners and skirted federal detention rules. The organizations’ missteps and errors have led to concerns about the safety of immigrant detainees with mental health issues.

Also Read: “Hell in the Middle of a Pine Forest”

The probe disclosed that Jimenez repeatedly displayed suicidal behavior, but never got the mental health care he needed. He was also placed in a cell that contained a known suicide hazard, a ceiling sprinkler head, upon which he affixed his makeshift noose. Freddy Wims was assigned to check Jimenez’s cell every half hour, but didn’t do so. Instead, he falsified his logs to make it appear he had, and he was later fired. Stewart’s warden, Bill Spivey, retired after Jimenez’s death; a CoreCivic spokesman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the two events were unrelated. Spivey couldn’t be reached for comment for this article.

Psychiatrist: Placing a suicidal prisoner in solitary confinement is like placing someone with bad asthma in a burning building.

CoreCivic’s spokesman, Jonathan Burns, didn’t respond to questions about Jimenez’s death and detention. Instead, he wrote in an email, “CoreCivic is deeply committed to providing a safe, humane and appropriate environment for those entrusted to our care, while also delivering cost-effective solutions to the challenges our government partners face.” ICE spokeswoman Tamara Spicer wrote in an email that she couldn’t answer questions about the case because it is “still undergoing a comprehensive review that has not been released.”

Jimenez had been in solitary for 19 days at the time of his death — punishment for what his sister would tell investigators was an earlier suicide attempt. He had leapt from a second-floor walkway in his dormitory, and later repeatedly told detention center personnel, “I am Julius Caesar for real.” He was physically unhurt, but Stewart staff were aware he was suffering from mental illness and had a history of suicide attempts, documents show. Still, after his jump, Jimenez saw a nurse who quickly cleared him for placement in a 13-by-7-foot segregation cell alone for 23 hours a day. After that, his suffering seemed to intensify.

“Placing a suicidal prisoner in segregation is like placing someone with bad asthma in a burning building,” Terry Kupers, a Bay Area psychiatrist who has studied solitary confinement and who reviewed some of the documents in Jimenez’s case, noted in an email. He added that half of successful prison suicides occur among the three to eight percent of prisoners in solitary confinement.

Jimenez wasn’t put on suicide watch, or even ordered monitored more frequently than the normal half-hour checks. He continued to display alarming behavior. Montilla told the GBI that he and a guard had heard Jimenez screaming and banging on his cell wall two weeks before his death. “Man, I’m suffering from psychosis and I hear voices talking to me and they’re bothering the shit out of me,” Montilla recalled Jimenez saying.

Registered Nurse Shuntelle Anderson told a GBI agent that some five days before his death, she saw Jimenez banging the metal mirror in his cell. He told her, “These fucking voices, they won’t leave me the fuck alone …They’re telling me to commit suicide…but I don’t want to harm myself.”

See Interactive Map of U.S. Detention Deaths

Jimenez asked Anderson for a higher dose of the anti-psychotic drug Risperidone, which he’d previously been prescribed at a North Carolina mental health facility. It was at least the second such request he’d made at Stewart — where he received only a fourth of his normal dosage.

Anderson told investigators she left a note for the facility’s behavioral health counselor, Kimberly Calvery, saying that Jimenez wanted more medication. Calvery arranged for him to speak with the detention center’s psychiatrist but Jimenez didn’t live long enough to keep the appointment, which was scheduled later in the morning he died. Calvery later told investigators that Jimenez “never showed any suicidal tendencies at the Stewart Detention Center.”

Homeland Security reported that at the Stewart Detention Center solitary confinement, which  isn’t supposed to be punitive, appeared to be sometimes used to punish trivial offenses.


“He was such a good kid,” Anderson told investigators in the hours after Jimenez’s death. Earlier that night, she’d given him medication and he’d shared a self-portrait he’d been working on. “It was very nice, very detailed and last night, when I went down there, he said, ‘Look, I finished it.’” Anderson said. Guards and detainees also described Jimenez as mostly lucid and friendly, despite his occasional outbursts, quirky comments and a propensity to call himself Julius Caesar.

In a December 2017 report, “Concerns about ICE Detainee Treatment and Care at Detention Facilities,” the Homeland Security inspector general wrote that at Stewart and three other facilities (which are operated by county governments), “We identified problems that undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” The IG’s staff wrote that immigration detention isn’t supposed to be punitive, and noted that at three of the facilities, including Stewart, segregation or solitary confinement appeared to be sometimes used to punish trivial offenses. At Stewart, the inspectors also found that showers were moldy and lacked cold water in some cases, and some bathrooms had no hot water, and that medical care, even for painful conditions, had been delayed for detainees.

Since 2003, 179 immigrant detainees have died in custody, many from preventable causes, like pneumonia and alcohol withdrawal.

Additionally, despite Jimenez’s nonviolent crimes, he was classified as a high-risk detainee. He had been convicted of marijuana possession, petty theft and an assault charge that arose from an unwanted hug he gave a woman in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was issued a red jumpsuit to signal his danger level and housed with others who were similarly classified. The inspector general’s report flagged misclassification of detainees as a problem at Stewart. While there, Jimenez wavered between wanting to wage a court battle to stay in the U.S., and paying for his own return to Panama through a process called voluntary departure. But, before he could take the first steps to fight his case, he ran into roadblocks, including the failure of the detention center to send a set of documents that Jimenez’s attorney had requested.

Since 2003, 179 immigrant detainees have died in custody, many from preventable causes, like pneumonia and alcohol withdrawal. Human rights groups point to dozens of others who endure painful medical conditions and must wait for care or never receive it at all.

Like Jimenez, they’ve been dropped into a ballooning system whose rapid growth and diffuse nature would make it hard for the government to closely monitor, even if it attempted to do so.

ICE had fewer than 7,500 detention beds in 1995. Now the system is 500 percent bigger, with nearly 40,000 beds nationwide in 200 facilities that operate under three different sets of government standards. The Trump administration plans to add 12,000 more beds this year alone even as vulnerable detainees currently fall through the cracks.

JeanCarlo Jimenez completed his self-portrait and tied knots in a white bed sheet to shorten it. A guard  observed him jumping rope with it.

Federal officials largely maintain a hands-off approach, leaving it to private prison companies like CoreCivic and the GEO Group to run day-to-day affairs. The companies tend to run them like prisons and not as the civil detention facilities that the law says they are.

Photo: Robin Urevich

“Contractors operating facilities for ICE typically have backgrounds in corrections, and this shapes how they administer their ICE detention facilities,” said Kevin Landy, who led the Obama administration’s immigration detention reform efforts as the head of ICE’s Office of Detention Policy and Planning.

“Problems such as medical care, the way disciplinary proceedings are administered, the lack of sensitivity to detainee needs, and conditions generally reflect the problems writ large in our correctional system,” Landy said.

At Stewart, these problems have been particularly acute, said attorney Azadeh Shahshahani, whose group, Project South, monitors conditions at Stewart. “The facility needs to be shut down. It’s beyond redemption.”

Jimenez had come to the United States from Panama when he was 10, graduated from high school in Kansas, and considered himself American, even though he lived in the U.S. without documents most of his life. Public records show he even registered to vote in North Carolina — as a Republican.

“When I heard what happened, it blew my mind,” said Matt Schott, who was about four years older than Jean Jimenez and now works for an oil and gas exploration company in Kansas. Jimenez was 19 when he and his sister, Karina Kelly, came to Matt’s church, and they became friends 12 years ago. “He brought a lot of laughter to everybody,” Schott said, recalling Jean’s huge open smile. In photos, he’s beaming, showing a mouthful of teeth and wearing a big afro.

“Jean would just show up at the house. We’d play Christian worship music, and be up till 3 or 4 in the morning. We would get a bunch of food and go to a park,” Schott remembered. A video on Jean’s Facebook page shows him executing expert dance moves as friends play instruments outdoors.

Schott said when they began to share more of their lives, Jean tearfully told Matt he was undocumented and had to hide in plain sight. “He had big dreams. He wanted to start an architecture firm and had already named it — Eyes Design.”

Except for a few Facebook messages they exchanged, Schott lost track of Jimenez after the latter moved to North Carolina with his mother and stepfather about eight years ago. While there, Jimenez had obtained protection from deportation through the Obama administration’s DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

But, in the six months before he was detained, his mental health declined. He was hospitalized twice for psychotic episodes and lost his DACA status. Jimenez also had the misfortune of being arrested just as President Trump took office. The new administration had declared that anyone in the country illegally was fair game for immigration enforcement, even if they’d committed no crime or if their crimes were as minor as Jimenez’s. He was transferred to ICE custody.

For Jimenez the prospect of deportation to Panama, a country he had left behind as a child, was scary, his sister Karina wrote in a chronology of conversations with her brother that she sent to the family’s attorney. “Game is over,” Kelly recalled Jimenez saying. But before being shipped to Panama, he would be held at Stewart, arguably one of the most troubled detention centers in the country.

About six weeks into his detention a fellow detainee punched Jimenez in the groin and busted his lip. Jimenez was punished with his first stint in solitary — even though he was the victim in the attack and the detention center’s camera shows he didn’t fight back.

“I’m tired of this life,” Jimenez told his stepfather Gilberto Rodriguez in a recorded phone call soon after, his voice sounding uncharacteristically weary.

“Don’t give up, you can start over,” Rodriguez counseled. “In God’s name you’re getting out…we have to do this together.”

Just two days before his death, Jimenez’s mother, Nerina Joseph, and Rodriguez made the trip from Raleigh, North Carolina, to visit him. “She reported that he was so happy to see them, and they had the best 60 minutes a mother in her shoes could ever ask for,” Karina Kelly wrote.

Still, Jimenez’s mother was concerned about his well-being, and stopped by El Refugio, a hospitality center in Lumpkin, Georgia, where detention center visitors can find a meal and place to sleep. El Refugio volunteers also visit detainees, and Joseph requested that someone check on Jimenez. A volunteer attempted to see him the next day, but was turned away because Stewart personnel mistakenly said Jimenez couldn’t receive visitors. Records show there were no such restrictions on Jimenez’s visits.

Later that night, Jimenez completed his self-portrait, and tied knots in a white bed sheet to shorten it. A guard even observed him jumping rope with the sheet a few hours before he died and asked him about it. Jimenez replied he was staying in shape and the guard took no further action.

Ten days after Jimenez’s suicide, a fellow detainee, Abel Ramirez Blanco, told GBI investigator Justin Lowthorpe that he had listened in his cell as guards, nurses and finally paramedics labored over Jimenez’s lifeless body, and an automatic defibrillator blared robotic CPR instructions.

A videotape of the scene inside Jimenez’s cell shows nurses Shuntelle Anderson and Davis English desperately trying to resuscitate Jimenez. Anderson yells for guards to call 911. “I’m calling an ambulance,” a voice answers. Records from a regional 911 center show paramedics were called six minutes after Wims radioed a medical emergency, and arrived in Jimenez’s cell some seven minutes after they were called.

ICE inspectors haven’t yet weighed in on Jimenez’s case. But in studying a 2013 suicide, ICE reviewers criticized staff at a Pennsylvania facility for waiting four minutes to call 911, writing that the Mayo Clinic and the American Heart Association recommend calling 911 before beginning CPR.

Jimenez was eventually taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead less than 15 minutes after his arrival.

Red caution tape was placed in the shape of a large X on Jimenez’s cell door. Inside the cell, steel shelves held his art supplies, his artwork and a plastic instant-noodle soup bowl with some of the broth still in it. On his wall Jimenez had written, “The grave cometh. Halleluyah.”

A death like Jimenez’s “could have happened to me,” Ramirez told GBI agent Lowthorpe, because of his own anxiety and depression. Ramirez said Stewart staff didn’t help him when he reported those symptoms. Instead, he was thrown in segregation where he witnessed Jimenez’s suicide, and began to feel even more desperate.

Matt Schott struggled to reconcile his friend’s death with his Christian faith. “People believe you commit suicide and you go to hell,” Schott said. “I can’t believe that about Jean because I knew who he really was. I love the guy and I believe one day I’ll see him again.”

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Deadly Detention

Deadly Detention: Hell in the Middle of a Pine Forest

Immigrant detainees represent more than $38 million a year for CoreCivic, a for-profit prison company that is the largest employer in one of Georgia’s poorest counties.

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Robin Urevich




Photo: Robin Urevich

Former ICE Guard: “They’re always putting them in the hole — in segregation. And they manhandle people.”

Deep in a Georgia pine forest, two hours south of Atlanta, early morning mist rises in wisps over the Stewart Detention Center, a facility run by CoreCivic, one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison companies. The bucolic scene clashes with the tall, barbed wire-topped chain-link fences surrounding the center, and the echoing shouts, crackling radios and slamming doors inside the walls. Technically, the roughly 1,700 men here aren’t prisoners, but civil detainees being held for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as they plead their cases to remain in the United States, or as the government prepares their deportations.

Also Read: “Self-Portrait of a Tragedy”

The detainees represent more than $38 million a year for CoreCivic — the government pays the company nearly $62 a day per man. It is the largest employer in Stewart County, one of Georgia’s poorest.

Immigrant rights groups have charged that the conditions here are not only indistinguishable from those in prison, they are downright abusive. In fact, a December 2017 Homeland Security Inspector General’s report expressed concerns about human rights abuses and, last month, Joseph Romero, a retired ICE officer who served as a guard, told Capital & Main that he resigned a supervisor job at Stewart in 2016 because he didn’t like the way people were treated.

Guatemalan Asylum Seeker: “It is hell in here. I wouldn’t even recommend it to a person I hate.”

“They’re always putting them in the hole — in segregation,” Romero said. “And they manhandle people. They think they can take care of their problems like that.” Romero noted that few officers speak Spanish, so there is little understanding or communication between guards and detainees.

JeanCarlo Jimenez Joseph’s suicide by hanging while in solitary confinement last May and 33-year-old Cuban national Yulio Castro Garrido’s death from pneumonia last December have brought these concerns to the fore.

Jimenez was mentally ill and had been in solitary for 19 days when he died — four days longer than the United Nations Rapporteur on Torture considers torture.

See Interactive Map of U.S. Detention Deaths

“It is hell in here. I wouldn’t even recommend it to a person I hate,” said Wilhen Hill Barrientos, a 23-year-old Guatemalan asylum seeker who has been in detention — at Stewart, the Atlanta Detention Center and at the Irwin Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia — since 2015.

In addition to many other abuses that he alleges — rotten food, forced work and abuse by guards — Hill has also served 60 days in isolation. He said it was retaliation for a grievance he’d filed. He was placed in solitary, ostensibly because he’d been exposed to chickenpox; however, other detainees who, like Hill, reported they’d had the disease as children were released.

CoreCivic documents show that detainees were in isolation for such offenses as “horse playing.”

ICE detention standards specify that isolation is to be used only to punish the three most serious categories of rule violations, and only “when alternative dispositions may inadequately regulate the detainee’s behavior.”

But CoreCivic documents released after Jimenez’s suicide show that on the day that he died, detainees were in isolation for such offenses as “horse playing,” “refusal to obey staff” or “conduct that disrupts.” Four men had been in solitary for more than 60 days. One of them, Sylvester Smith, who was deported to Sierra Leone at the end of 2017, served at least four months in isolation. His charges were variously listed as “being found guilty of a combination of th…” (the word is cut off on CoreCivic’s restricted housing roster) and “failure to obey.”

After Jimenez died, however, then-warden Bill Spivey held weekly meetings aimed at reducing the number of people in solitary. By October 2017, documents show, there were just 10 people in isolation, but when Spivey retired and an assistant warden took over, the census more than doubled. CoreCivic spokesman Jonathan Burns didn’t respond to emailed questions about the current number of men in segregation.

Joseph Romero, the former ICE officer who worked at Stewart, is tall and graying with a full mustache and beard. He is proud of his ICE career but thinks the for-profit detention model the government has adopted has to go.

“They should go back and have these detention centers run by Immigration, not by private contractors,” Romero said. ICE officers treat people better, because they value their careers, Romero said. “You’re making a lot more money, you have retirement and better benefits. After 20 years, you can retire. At CCA [now known as CoreCivic], you have nothing.”

A detainee says guards call detainees “wetbacks” and “dogs,” and have greeted each other with Nazi salutes.

What’s more, Romero said, Stewart was understaffed: It wasn’t uncommon for officers to work double shifts and return to work eight hours later. “That’s why they’re so irritated,” he said. Equipment was also substandard, Romero claimed. He describes gun holsters that lack the safety snap that prevents a gun from being snatched by a thief or would-be attacker.

Romero said he wanted to try to change conditions for the better at Stewart, but found resistance from a tight, insular group that ran the place, and realized he could do little. Then he witnessed an incident that convinced him it was time to leave.

He saw two guards walking a handcuffed detainee to segregation. One of them “got in the guy’s face,” Romero recalled, and the detainee head-butted the guard. “The next thing you know the guard starting punching on the guy,” Romero said. He later watched a video of the beating with his co-workers, and Romero was taken aback by their reaction. “They said he asked for it, and I’m like wait a sec… If you’re in handcuffs why would I hit you? I have total control of you.”

The guard who threw the punch got fired, and a training session followed. But Romero doesn’t know if it had any effect because he left shortly thereafter.

Hill Barrientos said from his vantage point as a detainee, Stewart is worse than it was in 2016 when Romero was there. He believes Trump’s election signaled to detention officers that they could disrespect detainees with impunity.

Guards call detainees “wetbacks” and “dogs,” Hill Barrientos charged. He said that he’s even seen white detention officers greet each other with a Nazi salute. Health care is hard for detainees to obtain, Hill Barrientos said. He worked in the kitchen with Castro Garrido, who, he said, grew increasingly sicker because he was required to work instead of being allowed time to seek medical attention. ICE initially reported in its news release about Castro’s death that he had refused medical attention, an account that was widely reported. But the agency later corrected its news release to say that Castro’s case “was resistant to some forms of medical intervention.”

Hill’s lawyer, Glenn Fogle, thinks poor detention conditions are part of the government’s aggressive deportation strategy. “That’s the whole idea — to hold people in those horrible places to make them give up,” Fogle said.

Hill said he cannot give up — he would be killed by gang members who had threatened and extorted him if he is returned to Guatemala. His case is virtually identical to that of his two brothers and a sister, all of whom have already been granted asylum, Fogle said. Still, his case has been denied. Judges at Stewart grant asylum in few cases, so Hill Barrientos now pins his hopes on the Bureau of Immigration Appeals, which is currently considering his case.

“The people that give me strength are my mother and my daughter,” Hill Barrientos said. “So I keep fighting.”

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Deadly Detention

Deadly Detention: ICE and the Troubling Suicide of Immigrant JeanCarlo Jimenez

Co-published by International Business Times
A Capital & Main examination of Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center reveals new details about events surrounding the suicide of a young detainee, plus an interactive map providing information about each of the 179 immigrant detainees who have died in custody since 2003.

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Photo: Robin Urevich

In her latest coverage of America’s expansive network of immigrant detention centers, Robin Urevich reports on the fateful story of JeanCarlo Jimenez Joseph, an artistic 27-year-old who got sucked into the deportation machine of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Like many undocumented detainees who arrived in the U.S. as children, and now find themselves awaiting expulsion from the nation that raised them, Jimenez felt no connection to his birth country, Panama. In fact, he found the prospect of returning there “scary.” He was also haunted by other, more formidable demons, displaying signs of mental illness before his incarceration, which may have led to his suicide last year in Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center.

Urevich’s report, “Self-Portrait of a Tragedy,” co-published by International Business Times, reveals these facts for the first time:

  • Jimenez was given only a quarter of the dose of the anti-psychotic medication he’d been prescribed outside the facility, despite asking for an increased dosage.
  • The facility waited six minutes to call 911. In a review of a 2013 suicide, ICE evaluators criticized staff at a Pennsylvania facility for waiting four minutes to call 911.
  • Jimenez was likely misclassified as the most dangerous level of detainee, resulting in his being housed with other detainees with a high-risk designation.
  • Jimenez was placed in solitary for a fight in which he was the victim, even though prison officials were aware of his history of suicide attempts. Half of successful prison suicides occur among the three to eight percent of prisoners in solitary confinement.

Our examination of Stewart also includes photographs and video and audio recordings of Jimenez and the place his young life ended.

In a companion piece, Urevich speaks to both a former ICE guard at Stewart, and an asylum seeker from Guatemala, who describe a culture of brutality and racism at the facility, which is operated under federal contract by the for-profit prison company CoreCivic.

Capital & Main also launches an interactive map created by our multimedia editor, Marco Amador, providing details about each of the 179 detainees who have died in ICE custody since 2003. Amador additionally created a disturbing video composed of detention-center phone calls between Jimenez and his family, culminating in the chaotic moments following the discovery of his body.

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Sanctuary State: Jeff Sessions’ California Problem

State officials argue that the state’s sanctuary laws make Californians safer. The acting ICE director argues the laws have made immigration enforcement more dangerous.

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Robin Urevich




Jeff Sessions waves on Donald Trump's Inauguration Day. (Photo: DoD/Dominique A. Pineiro)

United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions attacked California on its own turf Wednesday, a day after he slapped the state with a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of three laws aimed at shielding immigrants from the Trump administration’s deportation surge.

“California, we have a problem,” Sessions told police officers at a meeting in Sacramento before publicly scolding Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for warning residents of imminent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids two weeks ago. “How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of our law enforcement just to promote a radical open-borders agenda?” Sessions said, noting that acting ICE Director Thomas Homan argued that by warning residents of raids, the mayor let 800 wanted criminals go free.

The Pew Research Center reports the deportation surge has meant a 30 percent jump in ICE arrests nationwide in fiscal year 2017.

But ICE statistics show that in 2017, the agency largely arrested people with minor convictions. Traffic offenses (including DUI and others) were the biggest category by far, followed by drug crimes, and immigration offenses, like re-entering the country illegally. The Pew Research Center reported that the Trump administration’s deportation surge has meant a 30 percent increase overall in ICE arrests nationwide in fiscal year 2017 from the previous year. Arrests in ICE’s San Diego region rose 24 percent, while they went up 10 percent in the Los Angeles area and nine percent in ICE’s San Francisco region.

State Senate Bill 54, the so-called sanctuary state law, largely bars state and local police, and other agencies from collaborating with ICE, while SB 450 aims to protect employees from ICE raids in the workplace. It requires employers to deny access to ICE officers who don’t have a warrant to inspect employee records and requires employers to notify workers if such an inspection is underway. Assembly Bill 103 gives the state power to oversee immigration detention facilities in California and bars cities and counties from contracting with ICE to house immigration detainees or to expand existing detention facilities.

“The pushback through SB 54 is [that] we’re not going to engage in this,” said Angela Chan, a Bay Area-based attorney with the Asian Law Caucus who worked closely with California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León to pass SB 54. “It doesn’t stop enforcement. But it does have an impact in reducing it because we’re not going to be complicit.”

State officials and immigrant rights activists argue that the state’s sanctuary laws make Californians safer. They argue that immigrants can report crime or testify in court without fear of being deported because local and state police are barred from immigration enforcement. They point out that the state cannot keep ICE from making arrests, but it can ensure that police and sheriff’s deputies keep an arms-length distance from immigration enforcement.

But acting ICE director Homan, in a declaration supporting the lawsuit, argued that California has made immigration enforcement more dangerous by forcing officers to make arrests in the community, rather than in the safer confines of local jails, and he offered of examples of undocumented immigrants who were released from jail only to re-offend. Homan also revealed the depth of previous cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement as he decried the denial of access ICE officers previously had to jails in San Diego and Monterey counties, and to lists of foreign-born inmates in San Joaquin, Fresno and Sacramento county jails.

The city of Escondido, Homan wrote, had discontinued a joint operation with ICE that led to more than 300 arrests in fiscal year 2017 alone, while Orange County no longer allows its sheriff’s deputies to be cross-trained and used as ICE officers. He also noted that an ICE effort to contract with seven California counties – Sutter, Solano, Placer, Shasta, Fresno, Stanislaus and San Mateo – to house ICE detainees and expand detention in the four counties that currently house ICE detainees in local jails “was totally frustrated by AB 103.” Requests to expand detention in the four counties that currently house ICE detainees in local jails were also declined.

The federal government is asking for an injunction to stop California from enforcing provisions of its sanctuary state laws. It argues that the state has illegally usurped the U.S. government’s authority on immigration.

Chapman University constitutional law professor John Eastman predicts the government will prevail because the state is “ interfering with federal law,” Eastman said. “Mr. Becerra missed part of Constitutional Law 101 – McCulloch v. Maryland.” In the landmark 1818 Supreme Court case, “The court held the federal government was supreme and couldn’t be interfered with,” Eastman noted.

Loyola law professor Kathleen Kim disagreed with Eastman’s analysis. She argued from a states’ rights position, claiming that California has the right to “allocate state resources in a way that optimizes public safety by reducing fear among our residents, whether citizens or non-citizens, and that goal is directly tied to the necessity to disentangle local police from immigration enforcement.”

State Senator Nancy Skinner, who authored SB 450, told Capital & Main that the state legislative counsel thoroughly vetted her bill and the others to ensure they’d pass legal muster.

“The governor didn’t sign bills he believed were unlawful. He signed them on the basis that lawyers that drafted and negotiated them were well aware of the respective powers of the federal government and the state,” Skinner said.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge John Mendez in Sacramento. Mendez is a former assistant U.S. attorney and California Superior Court judge who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2007, and confirmed by the senate the following year.

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