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Corporations Profit From Killing DACA

President Trump has jeopardized the lives of 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who came here seeking better opportunities. There’s not much more to be said than that—except that it’s also a big moneymaker for a handful of private investors and corporations.

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Ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is flat out wrong and inhumane.

President Trump is jeopardizing the lives of 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who came here seeking better opportunities, often fleeing tough or dangerous conditions at home.

There’s not much more to be said than that—except that it’s also a big moneymaker for a handful of private investors and corporations. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are leading the charge, but it’s those that profit from immigration deportation that will gain the most.

Private prison corporations already detain nearly two-thirds of the undocumented immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, but ending DACA will surely give them more.

See, the two biggest private prison corporations, GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly CCA), are actually legally structured as real estate companies. In their words, they provide the public with “real estate projects,” not incarceration. They see policies like ending DACA as an “opportunity” to build more immigration detention centers “throughout the country rather than only clustered along the southern border.”

(By the way, their status as real estate companies also gives them a massive tax break. In 2015 alone, the corporations used their status and other avenues to avoid a combined $113 million in federal income taxes. Taxpayers are essentially paying them a bonus to cut corners, hurt prisoners, underpay workers and make it harder for us to send less people to prison and jail.)

Beyond GEO Group and CoreCivic, a whole host of corporations that provide prison health care, food services, phone calls, bail bonds and other services stands to profit from more people being deported. Even Wall Street and the airline industry could get in on the action.

And who knows how many of Trump’s friends will profit? In just one example, this spring ICE opened an office in the same building as the headquarters of Buffalo power broker Jeremy Jacobs’ corporation, Delaware North. The Jacobs family donated more to Trump’s campaign than anyone in Western New York and last year hired a former U.S. Attorney who had just led the largest workplace immigration raid during the Obama administration.

We need mass action to force congress to act before the DACA program ends in March. We also need to keep shining the light on who profits from racism. That’s how we win.


This feature is cross-posted from the Huffington Post.

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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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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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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

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Vietnamese immigrants thought they were safe. Now they fear deportation.

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Charles Davis

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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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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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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: Self-Portrait of a Tragedy

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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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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: 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

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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

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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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A Detention Center Vigil Defies La Migra

Over the years, vigils at one immigrant-detention center in Richmond, California have changed, with some churches providing sanctuary to migrant families threatened with deportation, and raising funds for bonds and other forms of emergency support for detainees.

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Paola, after the phone call


All Photographs by David Bacon


 

Paola was standing outside the West County Detention Facility, a prison in Richmond, California for 150 to 300 people awaiting deportation, when she got the phone call.  She’d been fearing it for days.  Florencio, her husband, was in another detention center in Arizona, calling to tell her that la migra (immigration agents) had caught him in the desert, walking north with a dozen others.

Paola (not her real name) hadn’t spoken to Florencio for several weeks, not since the day before he crawled into the luggage compartment of a bus in Puebla in southern Mexico.  The bus, he hoped, would take him close to the U.S. border.

It had already been a harrowing journey for himself and Paola’s brother Lorenzo.  “After we left Guatemala and crossed the river into Mexico, we wound up in a kind of camp in Chiapas,” Florencio recalls. “There were hundreds of people there.” When the day to leave on the long trip north finally arrived, the coyotes running the camp organized a kind of shape up.  It was not that different from the stories told by an earlier generation of migrants, the braceros (contract farm laborers), who remember being herded together at Mexican way stations, inspected and shipped to the border between 1942 and 1964.

Vigil participant

“Different coyotes called us by numbers, separating us into groups,” Florencio says.  “Then they put 80 or 90 of us into the back of a truck.  There was so little space we had to stand pushed up against each other like sardines.  It was a bumpy ride, and soon people began to get sick and faint, especially the pregnant women.  They stopped the truck and gave us pills and lemons, but people were already throwing up and the smell was terrible.”

The ride resumed, but after 12 hours the people inside began to bang on the walls.  Hearing the noise, the driver pulled over.  “He let us out and told us to run around a little,” Florencio says.  “Then we got back in, and it was another 12 hours.”  When the truck got to Puebla, Florencio called Paola to tell her he was coming.

During the vigil organized by Mujeres Unidas y Activas

He got through the next stage from Puebla hidden in the luggage compartment of a bus.  That took him to Sonora.  There, in a house near the border, the group faced another obstacle.  “The mafia guys came and told us they controlled this territory, and we had to pay another $1,000 to get to the line to cross,” Florencio says. “Some of us knew this would happen, and we’d already paid the coyote. I don’t know what happened to the others.  Soldiers came, but they didn’t see any problems, and let us keep moving.”

Not having money to pay at this stage could have been fatal.  In the last decade mass graves of migrants have been discovered across the desert of Mexico’s northern states.  Many guess that these were migrants too broke to pay the toll.  Perhaps others were robbed and then killed.

For Florencio’s group, actually crossing the line wasn’t the big problem.  It was getting to a place north of it, where they could get picked up by a van to take them to Phoenix.  To get to the meeting place, they had to walk three days in the heat through rocks, sand and sagebrush.  “On the third day one boy from my hometown got pains in his stomach, and began fainting,” Florencio says. “At first I said we had to stay with him, but the coyote said we had to leave him and that the Border Patrol would find him.  If we stayed we’d all be caught.”

Paola and Teresa

In the end, that’s what happened anyway.  The group passed across a freeway, but then Florencio began hearing helicopters.  They all ran.  He tried hiding under a bush, but an agent on a motorcycle found him.  He was taken to a detention center close by.  When he called Paola, it was the day of the monthly vigil in front of the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, nearly 900 miles north.

“I was there with people from the church who were helping us,” Paola remembers.  “We’d been praying for people they knew who were inside, and we began singing.  Then my cell phone rang.  I was so afraid of getting that call, but I knew what it would be.  Then they were praying for me.”  She collapsed into the arms of a church member next to her, both of them weeping.

Teresa

At the end of the detention center vigil, the people assembled there clap, shout and make enough noise that the detainees inside can hear them.  “We want them to know we’re here, that someone knows they’re inside, and that our community cares what happens to them,” explains Reverend Deborah Lee, director of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity (IM4HI).  “When we started in 2011 our idea was to put out a call to people of faith and conscience concerned about what was happening to immigrants, to bear witness and provide a way for them to act on that concern.”

On the first Saturday of the month, a church or congregation brings its members to the center to bear witness.  For an hour they speak out, much in the style of a Quaker meeting, remembering migrants who’ve suffered as a result of U.S. policies of detention and deportation.  They sing, pray, make impassioned political speeches condemning the immorality of the center looming behind them, and talk about the reasons why people are forced into migrating to begin with.

As the years have gone by, the vigils have changed.  At first they were made up mostly of congregations from progressive, middle-class churches. Then some of those churches went from hosting vigils to providing sanctuary to migrant families threatened with deportation.  Churches have raised funds for bonds and emergency support, found housing and rides for released detainees, and accompanied newcomer families.  “Accompaniment,” a term used by faith and solidarity activists, came out of efforts to protect activists in El Salvador from the death squads in the 80s.  People show their solidarity with those who are in danger by accompanying them, physically or by helping them survive.  Today it’s applied to migrants as well – activists support a family by giving them sanctuary, helping them find food and shelter, getting them legal help.

As sanctuary congregations have multiplied to 32 throughout the Bay Area, migrants themselves have increasingly participated in the vigils.  “We always include testimony from directly impacted families as well as a call to action,” Lee adds.  “We started very small–15 to 20–and now it’s averaging 100 people.”

Rev. Deborah Lee

Berkeley’s St. John’s Presbyterian Church helped Paola and her mother, who fled violence in Guatemala in 2014, gain refugee status.  The family then came to the vigil at the West County Detention Facility to speak out.  “Because these families are with us, they provide a first-hand account of why they were forced to leave home,”Lee said at the vigil, urging other congregations to get involved. “We hear the pain of the separation of their families in their voices and see it in their eyes.”

St. John’s was one of the first churches to give sanctuary to immigrants.  “In the early 1980s we saw people fleeing the wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and felt we had to do something to help them,” says Fred Goff, a member of the congregation who brought Teresa and Paola to the vigil.

The vigils have grown to involve more than people of faith.  Some have been organized by immigrant community organizations, like Mujeres Unidas y Activas, which organizes immigrant working women in San Francisco and the East Bay.  Local high schools and colleges have organized others, and a Jewish congregation, Kehilla Community Synagogue, has started its own vigil on second Sundays.  When workers at a local foundry were fired for not having immigration papers, Lee and the East Bay Interfaith Immigration Coalition began meeting with them in the Lutheran Church near the University of California, Berkeley campus, working with a labor/community coalition called the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE).  A few workers came to a vigil, and people of faith helped organize a community march and hunger strike to protest anti-immigrant firings.

During the vigil organized by Mujeres Unidas y Activas

After hearing from people like Teresa and Paola, Rev. Lee and IM4HI began holding meetings throughout the Bay Area to talk about the reasons for forced displacement and migration, and for the growth of the detention and deportation industry.  For two years she’s organized delegations to Central America together with La Fundación SHARE, to support social justice movements there, and to give congregations in California a first-hand experience of the reasons why people leave home.

Over many Saturdays, the vigils have provided a way for activists to reach out to people inside the center as well.  On a recent Saturday, Lourdes Barraza and her daughters Sofia, Isabel and Anna, waited to hear news of Fernando, her husband and the girls’ father.  The following Tuesday would be Fernando’s birthday, and he’d already spent three months inside, staring at the concrete walls of his cell.

Reverend Pablo Morataya gathered members of his congregation at the First Hispanic Presbyterian Church in east Oakland, a sanctuary congregation, as well as other pastors and lay ministers serving immigrant congregations throughout the Bay Area.  They went to the detention center to hold a vigil for Fernando.  “There are risks,” Pastor Morataya says, “but for us it is a calling of our faith.”

Rev. Pablo Morataya comforts Lourdes Barraza

At the vigil for Fernando, one of Lourdes’ daughters had written birthday greetings on a large card, and placed it on an overturned milk crate covered with a cloth.  First one boy stepped forward and signed it.  Then two older congregants did the same.  Finally a line stretched out of people adding their names and greetings.

Despite the support and greetings for Lourdes and her daughters, it was still an awful experience to think of Fernando inside.  They’d tried to arrange bail for him so that he would be able to come home.  “But they told me he didn’t qualify because he’d already been deported once,” Lourdes explained. “He’s been living in this country for many years.  He is not a threat to society. All he does is work, and all I do is work, too.  I don’t know how we’ll survive without him.  I need my husband and the girls need their father.”

She broke down and began crying.

Lourdes Barraza speaks out in front of the detention center

In October Fernando was dropping off the youngest of their three daughters at her daycare center in San Jose.  As he pulled away from the curb, he saw he was being followed by the vehicles that figure in the nightmares of millions of immigrants–the green cars of la migra.

He must have wondered whether he could run for it, and what that might mean for his family.  He decided instead to pull into a shopping mall parking lot.  The ICE agents jumped out of their cars, put him in cuffs, and took him to a detention center.  When he was finally able to call his home, all he could do was leave a message:  “Don’t worry. I am not going to get deported right away; just stay calm.”

Children of a detainee

Quick deportation was indeed a big danger.  Fernando had been deported in 2012, Lourdes recalled. He was picked up on a Friday and in Tijuana by the following Sunday.  But he came back because she was here.  His family, his life — all were in San Jose, not Tijuana.  Like Paola and Florencio, the bonds of love and life would not and could not be denied.

To ICE, however, being deported once before makes you a criminal subject to jail and to their euphemism for deportation–“removal.”  Since October Fernando has been imprisoned in the West County Detention Facility, nearly 60 miles from San Jose.  When he appealed to be released on bail, ICE field director David Jennings refused.

“I could not believe it was all happening again,” Lourdes told Cindy Knoebell, a volunteer for Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).  “I told our daughters that their father had been detained and they completely broke down sobbing. My oldest is now on an independent study program because she can barely get out of bed in the morning. It is tough because I am alone now and have to take care of my daughters’ needs without any help.  I am completely consumed by fear and anxiety. I worry constantly about how long I’ll be able to keep a roof over our heads.”

A daughter thinking about her father

Knoebell reports that Lourdes debated for a long time whether to come to the vigil and speak.  She’d heard about many other families facing the same disaster.  “But we have nothing to be ashamed of,” she said.

Inside the detention center the monthly noise has not only let Fernando know there are supporters outside.  It has also encouraged detainees to begin protesting what they say are terrible conditions.

The West County Detention Facility is housed in a much larger jail, one of four Contra Costa County lockups.  Its official capacity is 1,096 people, of whom 150 to 300 are detainees in the facility run by ICE, which pays $6 million a year to the county for using it.  Some immigration detainees are held because ICE says they’re in the country illegally.  Others are asylum seekers who are detained immediately on arrival in the U.S. or legal residents with past offenses (often very minor ones) that makes them deportable.

So they await a hearing before an immigration judge.  That hearing, however, is not the normal courtroom procedure one might imagine.  The judge sits in a room in the ICE building on Sansome Street in San Francisco.  The immigrant sits in a room at the detention center in Richmond.  The hearing takes place over the Internet.  If immigrants have a lawyer, their chances of staying in the U.S. are better, but odds are not good even then.

A vigil participant shows support for the people inside

People like Fernando wait, while weeks stretch into months and even years.

In October the immigration detainees went public about what that waiting is like.  In a letter written to CIVIC by one of the prisoners, Nancy Meyer, and signed by 27 others, women described being held in cells for 23 hours a day.  While regular inmates in the county jail section of the facility get classes and other resources, the immigration detainees don’t.

The cells are grouped in pods, with a bathroom that is supposed to serve them all.  There are no toilets in the cells.  If the cell door is locked, a prisoner has to ask to be let out in order to go to the bathroom.  While Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston says doors are normally open, the women signing the letter denied this.  Instead, they charged, they’re told to “hold it” and have to urinate or defecate into plastic bags.

Lourdes Barraza

One detainee told immigration Judge Joseph Park in October that she that she preferred being deported to staying in the jail.  In a phone interview with San Francisco Chronicle reporter Otis R. Taylor, Dianny Patricia Menendez said detainees put the plastic bags over a trash can in order to go to the bathroom.  Their one hour of free time to make calls to family or take a shower is often canceled, she added.

ICE did not respond to the allegations of bad conditions.  However, Taylor wrote that the detainees who spoke with him were later punished by being denied soap, shampoo and the chance to brush their teeth.


Immigrant women supporting each other

Senator Dianne Feinstein was one of several elected officials to protest.  She wrote acting ICE director Thomas Homan in December, saying, “It has been reported that the conditions are so deplorable that detainees are requesting deportation over pursuing claims in immigration court.”  Criticism also came from U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Richmond), State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia and Richmond Mayor Tom Butt.

Outside the West County jail, a few minutes after Paola got the call from Florencio saying he’d been caught, she got a second one that frightened her even more.  Her brother Lorenzo was hiding in a small community between Tucson and the border.  He’d been traveling with Florencio, but the coyotes separated them in northern Sonora.

Holding hands is part of the vigil ritual

Once across the border, Lorenzo lost his own group, and a friendly resident gave him temporary refuge in a garage.  Terrified that the Border Patrol, which was constantly circulating in the area, would find him, he called Teresa.  At the vigil, church members began making calls to Arizona, trying to find help.  Finally a person was contacted who drove down from Tucson and rescued him.

It was only a temporary respite, however.  Not long afterwards Lorenzo was picked up and deported.  When he calls Teresa and Paola these days, it’s from Guatemala once again.

Paola is comforted after getting the call

Since Florencio had tried to cross the border twice before and had been caught, he wasn’t deported immediately when he was picked up in Arizona.  Instead, he was charged in the special court for immigrants in Tucson, Operation Streamline.  Afterwards he spent seven months in an Arizona prison before finally being released on bail while he appeals his deportation order.

To Rev. Lee, the stories of Florencio, Lorenzo and Fernando, with their repeated attempts to cross the border to reunite with their families, are a natural human response to separation.  She cited another example in an opinion piece she cowrote with Bob Lane, a faith leader at EBASE, for the San Jose Mercury News.  “Consider the story of Alfonso Martinez Sanchez, a 39-year-old father of five U.S. citizen children and his family’s main breadwinner, she wrote. “Five years ago, a trip to a store to buy milk led to a senseless deportation. Alfonso repeatedly tried to come home to his family.  Wouldn’t you?  The Border Patrol arrested Alfonso several times, but he never gave up on his family. He died of heatstroke in the desert trying to reunite.”

“We are at your side!”

When Rev. Lee thinks about what’s happened to Paola and Teresa, to Florencio and Lorenzo, to Lourdes and her three children, to Fernando, it’s clear to her that for them to survive people have to act.  “We can’t just watch the immigration policy of this country play itself out and do nothing, while ICE and the Border Patrol hunt people down and tear their families apart,” she said at a recent vigil.  “The administration talks about our efforts to protect people and fight this detention system as though this was just a state or a city passing a law to defy their enforcement efforts.  What they don’t understand is that these laws exist because our community is making a moral commitment and acting on it, and our representatives are responding to that.  Sanctuary isn’t just a law.  It’s our community defending people in danger.”

Sanctuary is a vigil in front of the detention center.

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