Co-published by Fast Company
Late last March, Osmar Gonzalez Gadba, a 32-year old Nicaraguan immigrant, was found hanging by a bedsheet at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Adelanto Detention Facility. About two weeks later, ICE reported that a second detainee, Sergio Alonso Lopez, 55, of Mexico, had died in a nearby hospital of internal bleeding – the fifth detainee death since Adelanto opened in August 2011, and the sixth fatality to occur in ICE custody so far this year. The California facility is run by the country’s number two for-profit prison company, the Florida-based Geo Group.
Now, a 41-year old woman detained at Adelanto tells Capital & Main that she has lost full use of her right arm and leg after suffering stroke-like symptoms, and alleges that her treatment has been poor.
The Geo Group’s stock has soared on news that the Trump administration plans to greatly expand the ICE detention system, as has that of Core Civic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America), the U.S.’s largest for-profit prison company. Human rights groups, however, are concerned about the already poor quality of health care for detainees across the country and worry that expansion will make it worse. After the 2015 death of 44-year-old Raul Ernesto Morales of colon cancer, the Adelanto facility was pressured to improve care. But the company that Geo hired to do so has a poor record in jails, prisons and detention facilities across the U.S. What is more, a report scheduled for release in early May by Human Rights Watch and Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) will show that in ICE detention, health-care services nationwide are still substandard, and perhaps dangerous.
Last year Human Rights Watch examined 18 in-custody deaths in facilities across the country that occurred between 2012 and 2015, and concluded that substandard care likely contributed to the death of Morales and six others.
Morales, who was from El Salvador, had been in ICE custody for four years at the time of his death, three of them at an Orange County jail, with his last year at Adelanto. An ICE detainee death review showed he had complained of gastrointestinal symptoms for two years before his cancer was diagnosed. ICE investigators noted that three days before Morales’ death, guards shackled and transported him to a hospital emergency room in a passenger car instead of an ambulance, after an outside doctor who’d been treating him said he was “bleeding out.” The investigators called the move “highly risky.”
Investigators also noted that half the nursing staff at Adelanto was inexperienced and untrained in conducting clinical assessments of patients. Off-site medical appointments were at times canceled or delayed because lab understaffing meant test results were sometimes unavailable when expected.
ICE investigators didn’t determine that poor care contributed to Morales’s death. Last year, however, a review of the ICE investigation by Human Rights Watch concluded that it probably did.
“Had Mr. Morales’ gastrointestinal symptoms been evaluated much sooner as was clinically indicated, it is possible that the malignancy from which Mr. Morales died might have been caught at a time when it was still treatable,” the report noted, quoting a medical consultant who analyzed the records.
Human Rights Watch researcher Clara Long said her group’s new report will show that health care in immigration detention has not improved. The study reviews medical records of detainees who died, as well as those who have survived but who said they had received poor care.
Long added that Trump administration plans to build more detention facilities will mean “more deaths due to subpar care and more serious medical issues undetected and untreated.”
In late April, ICE Los Angeles field director David Marin led reporters on a tour of the Adelanto lockup. It sprawls across 108,000 square feet of high desert 40 miles north of San Bernardino. It is the state’s largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, with some 1,700 people from 70 countries living behind its bars. It’s run under a contract arrangement with the city of Adelanto.
Inside the walls, Marin showed off medical-examination and X-ray suites, a psychiatric observation area, and a dental suite. Carlos Deveza, health services administrator for Correct Care Solutions, the Tennessee-based for-profit that provides health care at Adelanto, said the facility is fully staffed with a physician and mental health personnel. Marin told Capital & Main that CCS came on board in 2016 when ICE made it clear to Geo that its health-care services must improve in the aftermath of Morales’ death. But ICE declined to provide the agency’s most recent Adelanto oversight reports that would show whether its own inspectors have found that health care, especially in the areas it criticized, had gotten better.
The company is among the largest for-profit providers of prison medical and mental health care in the country, with 11,000 employees in prisons, jails, ICE detention centers and community corrections facilities in 38 states. Like other for-profit prison health-care providers, it faces a deluge of lawsuits alleging wrongful deaths and denial of care. Currently more than 260 such claims are pending against CCS alone in more than 30 states.
For example, attorneys for the family of 38-year-old Jennifer Lobato alleged in a 2015 complaint that she died a preventable death of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance as she withdrew from methadone in a Colorado jail cell, and received no medical attention from CCS staff. In California, Armando Vargas, a jail inmate with a long history of mental illness and suicide attempts, hanged himself in the Mariposa County Jail, allegedly after being denied his medication while in CCS care at the jail. His attorneys further allege that no one attempted to administer CPR when they found him hanging in his cell last August. And, last year, the Nation magazine reported that the parents of Nestor Garay sued CCS and the government for wrongful death after their son suffered a stroke in a Texas prison and later died. They alleged their son was forced to wait five hours before being transported to the hospital after his stroke.
In Adelanto, detainee Norma Gutierrez shuffles slightly, dragging her right leg as she enters a tiny interview room on the women’s side of the massive facility. The right side of her mouth droops and her right arm seems weak and trembles.
“I look in the mirror and I’m not the same,” she says tearfully.
She recalls the time she awakened on the floor of her dorm, after collapsing into the arms of her dorm-mates last January. She couldn’t move her mouth or her eyes, and she felt stunned and disoriented.
She was taken to a San Bernardino hospital where, she said, she had blood tests, an MRI and X-rays, but claimed hospital nurses refused to answer any questions about her condition, simply telling her she was fine. The next night, she said suffered another collapse. Gutierrez claims her roommates reported that nurses called her episode a “freak show,” while a guard with the rank of lieutenant also reportedly made inappropriate comments about Gutierrez.
This time, she says, she wasn’t hospitalized. Instead, she was taken in handcuffs to a cold room with a bed, a toilet and two blankets. Gutierrez says she remained alone there for four days. The only medical attention she received was from a nurse who took her pulse and brought her previously prescribed medication for depression and anxiety. Later, a psychologist told her that her attack had been psychosomatic. She was returned to the dorm where she suffered a third episode. This time, she says, she didn’t bother to report her symptoms.
One detainee defended the care CCS has provided recently. He told Capital & Main that in the past there were long delays before detainees could get appointments with nurses and doctors. It’s better now, he said.
But Gutierrez says she’s no longer requesting care at Adelanto — she’ll wait to see a doctor on the outside.
Geo Group vice-president Pablo Paez declined to comment on the issues Gutierrez raised and responded to questions by Capital & Main with a statement expressing confidence in the care CCS offers:
“GEO provides high quality, around the clock medical care at Adelanto in partnership with its healthcare subcontractor Correct Care Solutions. Medical care at Adelanto and all other GEO ICE facilities is provided pursuant to mandated, performance based national detention standards set by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and also adheres to guidelines and standards set by leading third-party accreditation entities including the American Correctional Association and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.”
Likewise, CCS spokesman Jim Cheney declined to answer questions, both about Gonzalez’s case and the company’s policies and practices, and instead provided a statement identical to Geo’s.
David Marin, the ICE field director, said he and his colleagues are proud of the facility and the care it offers. In an email, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said that her agency will review the Adelanto deaths, and cited the thousands of medical, mental health and dental visits conducted at the facility, and the fact that ICE covers the cost of treatment in the community when it’s necessary and approved.
Denver-based civil rights attorney Dan Weiss, however, said CCS makes it a practice to deny care, understaff its facilities and assign medical staff to duties beyond the scope of their professional licenses.
“Among civil rights lawyers, everybody knows what they do — they kill people for a living,” Weiss said, pointing to cases like that of Jennifer Lobato. “But outside that narrow slice of America, people don’t know. People assume they’re providing a valuable service. People don’t realize how dangerous it is to go to jail and get sick.”
Health care at Adelanto and other ICE facilities, however, may draw greater scrutiny in coming months as the state legislature considers a bill by State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens).
Lara’s Senate Bill 29, which passed the senate judiciary committee in late March, would require detention centers to meet the latest ICE standards for medical care and other conditions of confinement, and give detainees the right to sue in state court. The bill would also prohibit California cities like Adelanto from acting as intermediaries between ICE and for-profit prison providers.
“Immigrants bear the brunt of a business where profit often trumps care,” Lara said as he urged judiciary committee members to move SB 29 to the appropriations committee, where it currently awaits a hearing.
Human Rights Watch’s Clara Long said Lara’s bill could help ensure that detainees in California get humane treatment. “It might prompt ICE to change their ways,” she said.
In Washington, DC, Mexican Embassy spokesman Ricardo Alday said his government also plans to investigate Sergio Lopez’s death. While problems in ICE detention have existed for years, he said, now any abuses might be a result of the “perception that anything goes because of the current [political] climate.”
Conditions Worsen for ICE Detainees Following Hunger Strike
Conditions at Adelanto Detention Center, a privately operated prison currently used to detain undocumented immigrants, are said to be grim. Nine detainees, all of whom came to the U.S. seeking asylum, were so fed up that they staged a hunger strike. Guards responded with violence and pepper spray.
Adelanto, Calif. – Nine Central American immigrants sat at a table in their dormitory at the troubled Adelanto Detention Center and asked an officer to deliver a list of their demands to higher-ups. The officer at the for-profit facility in the high desert, north of San Bernardino, refused and ordered them to return to their bunks for an inmate count. Instead, the men linked arms and refused to budge.
“We wanted to be heard,” said Josue Lemus Campos, 24, from El Salvador. He said he and his fellow protesters had been quiet and peaceful during their June protest. But when the men refused to move, the officer immediately called for reinforcements who rushed in armed with pepper spray. They began shouting orders in English, a language the men don’t fully understand. Minutes later, the guards doused the nine with pepper spray, aiming at their faces.
“We were crying and the guards were laughing,” said Omar Rivera Martinez, 37, also from El Salvador. “I felt like I was going to die. We were suffocating. They pulled us out, beating us, scratching us, throwing us against the wall.” His nose was broken, he said, and a tooth and gold dental crowns were knocked out. “They threw me against the wall four times,” he said. “The most terrible part was they put us in the shower.” He said he was the only one of the nine who refused to bathe in the scalding hot water, which intensified the pain of the pepper spray. The other detainees “were jumping and shouting,” he said. “They were afraid.”
Rivera Martinez said he visited the detention center’s clinic where a doctor refused to treat him. Lemus Campos said he saw a practitioner for a shoulder injury he said guards inflicted during the incident. Several weeks ago, he was told he needed X-rays, but as of mid-July, he hadn’t had them yet.
Lemus Campos said the men now face retaliation and fear for their safety inside the facility operated for Immigration and Customs Enforcement by the Geo Group, one of the two largest for-profit prison companies in the United States. Eight of the nine immigrants who launched the protest remain in custody. One has been deported.
All are asylum seekers who had hoped to fight their cases on the outside. But they say their bonds, between $15,000 and $35,000, are too high for people with no money and few connections in the United States. The steep cost of bail led the list of issues the men had hoped to raise with ICE officials, along with political asylum, better food, and clean water.
Following the pepper spraying incident, the men were placed in two-person disciplinary segregation cells for 10 days. Hussain Turk, an attorney who visited Rivera Martinez and Lemus Campos a week after the incident, described what he saw in a sworn declaration.
He said he saw at least 30 scratches on Rivera Martinez, who was brought to the meeting in handcuffs. “His nose is visibly fractured and off-set to the left side of his face by several millimeters,” Turk wrote in his statement. “He appeared frightened and in pain.” Turk said when he asked an officer why his client was handcuffed, the guard made “an exaggerated air-quote gesture” and said. “For inciting a group protest.” Turk wrote that he “perceived his tone and gesture to imply a skepticism regarding the underlying violation for which Rivera Martinez was being disciplined.” Turk was also concerned that he wasn’t permitted a private visit with Lemus Campos. The two men spoke by phone and were separated by a glass pane with a guard present on Lemus Campos’ side.
GEO Group spokesman Pablo Paez declined to comment on the detainees’ allegations, and in an email referred questions on the incident to ICE.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice acknowledged that Rivera Martinez lost his dental crown in the incident, but wrote in an email that the nine men involved were examined by medical personnel and none were injured. “The claim a detainee suffered a fractured nose is simply untrue,” she wrote. A required review of the use of force was conducted, she wrote, and “it was determined that proper policies and procedures were followed.”
Still, Rivera Martinez insisted that he and his fellow detainees were mistreated during their protest and in its aftermath. He said guards have hurled profanity at him, and he and Lemus Campos say phone calls to their attorney are blocked, an action the men’s attorney maintains is illegal. On July 19, Rivera Martinez reported the blocked calls to the ICE officer who escorted him to an interview with Capital & Main inside the facility.
Lemus Campos and Rivera Martinez say they need to confer with their lawyer about their pending asylum cases. Rivera Martinez said he fears for his safety inside the facility, and he and Lemus Campos have expressed fear of returning to their country.
Rivera Martinez, who worked paving roads in San Salvador, said he saw MS-13 gang members murder his brother and sister-in-law. Last fall, he and his wife were kidnapped and held for about 29 days before their captors released them, he said. His daughter had been raped by gang members, became pregnant and had a child by her attackers, he said. Lemus-Campos declined to have his interview videotaped because he fears for himself and family members who remain in El Salvador, a country he fled to avoid pressure to join criminal gangs.
“I don’t want any of that,” he said. “I don’t want to get involved in bad things. I came here to find peace.”
Lemus Campos said he made a nearly month-long trek from his country through Guatemala and Mexico before arriving in Tijuana in mid-May. He said he and Rivera Martinez joined a large caravan of migrants in Tapachula, Mexico – on the border with Guatemala –for safety on the journey.
The two men are among the fortunate detainees who are represented by counsel. Many asylum seekers, including some of the former Adelanto hunger strikers, are not. Several immigrant rights groups have championed their cause. However, calls to investigate the protest and the alleged retaliation, including detainees’ inability to communicate with their lawyers, have largely fallen on deaf ears.
Attorney Nicole Ramos, who represents Rivera Martinez and Lemus Campos, complained in July to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties protesting that her clients’ telephone access to her had been blocked. She wrote that GEO officials didn’t respond to her calls, but she noted that TelMate, the company that provides pay phone service to Adelanto, confirmed that the detention facility blocked the calls. She argued that the detention center’s actions violate a court order that specifically requires the Department of Homeland Security to protect the rights of Salvadorans, like her clients, who are eligible to apply for asylum, including their right to adequate telephone access.
She wrote that she was concerned that the calls were blocked “after counsel filed a civil rights complaint against ICE and the facility” in connection with the guards’ attack on Rivera Martinez and Lemus in June.
ACLU of Southern California attorney Michael Kaufman wrote to the director of ICE’s Los Angeles office citing case law and the agency’s own detention standards to argue that GEO guards used excessive force in violation of ICE’s policy and the constitutional rights of the detainees. Kaufman also wrote that the guards have engaged in a pattern of retaliation against the detainees, including blocking phone calls to their attorney, for exercising their First Amendment right to peacefully protest. He called for an end to the “ongoing retaliation” and for the staff to be disciplined for assaulting the detainees and continuing to retaliate against them. He also asked for a meeting with GEO, ICE, the detainees and their lawyers to discuss the mistreatment and the grievances that led to the hunger strike.
ICE has not answered his letter, Kaufman said.
“It’s troubling now that ICE doesn’t want to respond to serious allegations,” Kaufman said. “We just hope the agency would take these concerns more seriously and be more transparent about what they’re doing to address them.”
Kice didn’t directly address allegations that detainee calls to their attorneys were blocked, but said detainees have 24-hour access to call anyone they choose, including attorneys and reporters.
Immigrant rights advocates say working on behalf of detainees has always been tough, but it may be even harder under the Trump administration. Alejandra Gonza of the University of Washington law school has been helping detainee advocates take their cases to international bodies like the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights when they’ve received little response from ICE and other U.S. authorities. The international groups have no enforcement power, but they do bring public attention to alleged abuses, Gonza said.
In California, the state government may soon be the best hope for both challenging detention conditions and making them more transparent. The legislature is considering Senate Bill 29, which would give the attorney general and local district attorneys the right to enforce ICE detention standards. Additionally, in June the governor signed Assembly Bill 103, a budget bill that requires the attorney general to review ICE detention conditions and report to the governor and legislature. AB 103 places a moratorium on expanding immigration detention facilities and prohibits California counties and cities like Adelanto from entering into new detention contracts with ICE. SB 29 would prohibit cities from renewing or entering contracts with for-profit detention centers.
Inside Adelanto, Rivera Martinez vowed to continue pushing for an investigation into GEO Group’s officers’ use of force against him and other detainees, noting that the facility’s cameras likely caught all of it on tape.
“We’re not lying,” he said. “We’re not exaggerating. We want the video.”
Fire and ICE: Inside California’s Fight Against the Trump Immigration Crackdown
Many California officials have fought hard to oppose the new anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric. That power is limited, however, presenting a painful challenge to immigrants caught in the cross-hairs, and to those trying to defend them.
When Donald Trump was elected president last November, California leaders responded quickly and defiantly, vowing to resist Trump’s policies at every turn. For many, the most visceral issue demanding a line in the sand was immigration, following a campaign in which Trump had inflamed nativist passions and vowed to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
In the months leading up to, and following, Trump’s inauguration, many state and local officials across California have indeed fought hard to oppose the new anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric. Many of these efforts have been fueled by the furious advocacy of grassroots groups determined to push lawmakers to do everything in their power to protect immigrants from arrest, detention and deportation.
That power is limited, however, presenting a painful challenge to immigrants caught in the cross-hairs, and to those trying to defend them. While sanctuary policies can slow down the work of federal immigration officers, they ultimately can’t stop them. No state or city has the legal jurisdiction to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, from enforcing federal immigration policy, no matter how extreme it may be.
Capital & Main’s new series examines how Trump’s immigration crackdown is playing out in California, from the impact on one undocumented family to conditions at the state’s largest detention center to the surge of community resistance against the new administration’s hardline policies. A new video takes readers inside the Adelanto Detention Facility, where two detainees have died in the past several weeks, while a second video explores how leaders of radical anti-immigrant groups have assumed influential positions at the top levels of immigration and border enforcement in Washington, DC.
In the months ahead, we will continue to provide in-depth reporting on California’s immigration wars. As always, we welcome your comments.
Fire and ICE: Hiding in Plain Sight
Co-published by The American Prospect
Juana was on a train headed to work when she saw a Facebook post about ICE’s presence at Union Station – a stop she wasn’t headed toward but which, nevertheless, is on the same line she was riding. She avoided public transportation entirely for the next five days.
Co-published by The American Prospect
It’s Monday afternoon in Bellflower, a small suburb in southeastern Los Angeles County, California. Juana, 34, and a neighbor from her apartment complex are watching their sons. (All names in this story have been changed to protect undocumented people’s identities.) It’s one of Juana’s two days off per week from the luxury hotel she works at in Beverly Hills as a housekeeper. The two boys, both 3 years old, are playing on the couch in the small living room that doubles as a dining area, with a kitchen tucked into a corner. Aside from helping watch over the children, Juana’s neighbor holds a gaze through an opening in the front window curtain, and eventually spots someone outside. “That’s the man with the gas company,” she tells Juana in Spanish. “It’s fine if you want to open the door when he knocks.”
Both women are originally from El Salvador. They help one another with ordinary neighborly tasks like saving a washer in the building’s laundry room for a load of clothes. As women from Central America who are terrified of Donald Trump, they watch one another’s backs the way immigrants and refugees would under a new administration that partly came into power on the promise of mass deportations. These days, the women say, every knock on the door, every step outside, and every ride on public transit merits scrutiny.
I spent the better part of a week with Juana – morning, noon and night – to try to make sense of her life under Trump, watching her calculate and recalculate even the smallest decisions in her life.
The man at her door, it turns out, works with an energy-savings assistance project and he’s here to let Juana know she’s eligible for a free, brand-new refrigerator. He just needs to confirm she qualifies for the program, which rewards low-income residents with energy-efficient appliances. He enters the tiny one-bedroom apartment to inspect the existing refrigerator, as Juana explains there are three others living here: her husband Roberto, her 9-year-old daughter Bella and her son Bobby. The man jots down some notes and leaves.
Juana’s friend – who currently has an open asylum claim after fleeing El Salvador with her then-toddler son two years ago – is part of an informal support network that helps keep Juana safe as an undocumented immigrant in Los Angeles, the place she’s called home since shortly after arriving here in 2006. Conversations between the women persistently return to the issue of immigration; Juana’s husband, Roberto, is undocumented, while her children are both United States-born citizens.
Later, she tells me that had her friend not been there to inform her that the man wasn’t an agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, she wouldn’t have opened the door. Instead, she would have hidden inside all day and into the night.
ICE employs what it calls a sensitive location policy, which dictates that agents should take considerable measures to avoid enforcement actions at hospitals, schools and churches. Yet since Trump assumed office, ICE has detained a woman at a hospital, a father a few blocks from his daughters’ schools and a group of men leaving a church shelter where they were keeping warm.
“Did you hear about the young woman who entered on a visa from Argentina and talked to the press?” Juana asks me one evening. She’s referring to Daniela Vargas, who was detained by ICE moments after speaking at a news conference. Juana knows the story of every high-profile detention and deportation since Trump took office. Although ICE’s policy discourages agents from targeting people at the site of a public demonstration like the one Vargas addressed, that didn’t stop her from being detained. “It’s a risk for us to talk to reporters,” Juana reminds me.
A few weeks ago, Juana was on her way to work on a Metro train when she saw a friend’s Facebook post about ICE’s presence at Union Station – a stop she wasn’t headed toward but which, nevertheless, is on the same line she was riding. When her shift ended, she asked her friend at work for a ride back home, rather than risk the train. She avoided public transportation entirely for the next five days.
In addition to verifiable news about ICE’s enforcement, and warranted warnings from her network of supportive friends, false rumors have also taken root in Juana’s life and have caused her to drastically alter her decision-making. She’d long planned to send her daughter, Bella, to visit El Salvador for the first time, either during winter or spring break, but heard that immigration agents – with vicious dogs – were swarming LAX. Although there’s no evidence of this, the rumor alone is enough for Juana to completely avoid an airport she’s visited in the past. Juana’s fear means Bella can’t visit her parent’s homeland – at least until Trump leaves office.
Juana does have rights as an undocumented immigrant, but she’s not sure what those rights are. The labor union she belongs to holds know-your-rights workshops, but she’s terrified that if she attends, her co-workers will figure out her status. Only one friend at work knows Juana is undocumented; she fears if more find out, it could all be downhill from there.
Aside from the psychological toll the constant vigilance since Trump’s election has taken on her, Juana is also risking her physical health. While she has employer-based health insurance through Kaiser, she canceled an annual physical because the fake document (which contained her real name and birthday) she was previously using to identify herself, has expired. “There are a lot of racist people,” she tells me. “What if one of them starts questioning me about my documentation?” Although she’s been struggling with digestive issues and poor circulation, she’s willing to forgo a doctor’s visit because of her uncertainty.
I explain how she can use another form of identification to go to Kaiser, like a passport. Sometime later, she shows me her Salvadoran passport and wonders why her initial panic stopped her from thinking about using it as a different form of ID. What Juana knows about this administration hurts her – but what she doesn’t know about her rights under Trump harms her, too.
Juana came to the United States in 2006, when she was 23. El Salvador’s civil war had ended in 1992, but the vast rift between the haves and have-nots that largely fueled the war lives on – and it continues to inform the country’s violence.
Juana had done especially well in mathematics in school but her family couldn’t afford to send her to college to prepare for her dream of becoming an accountant. Instead, she worked factory jobs after graduating high school. She came to the U.S. at a time when there were no real options for her to escape poverty at home. In the decade she’s been gone, El Salvador has exploded with a kind of violence that scares her far more than the threats from Trump’s administration.
“The first tragedy we lived through was in 2011, when my mom’s older brother couldn’t pay the rent,” she says. The rent she’s referring to isn’t a payment made to a landlord, however, but payments extorted by local gangs. Her uncle was killed. Then, in 2012, a second uncle was killed because he, too, couldn’t pay the rent. That left one uncle behind, who came to the U.S. that year and was granted asylum here. In 2013, her aunt came to the U.S. and was also granted asylum along with her two children. That year, however, Juana’s father was shot in the legs but can apparently still walk. “I can’t really tell you how well my dad is doing,” shrugs Juana. “I haven’t seen him since before he was shot.”
In 2015, her brother-in-law, an undercover cop who had helped put away several gang members, was killed after his boss set him up for a pay-off. His wife, Juana’s sister, became a target after it was rumored that she was a police informant. Her sister went into hiding along with her 11-year-old daughter before fleeing north. They were apprehended just over this side of the U.S. border but were soon released pending an asylum hearing.
But there’s no such process that Juana thinks is currently available to her – she can be an undocumented immigrant, but not an asylee. This, despite the fact her family has consistently been hunted down in El Salvador, a place she’s seen grow increasingly violent from a distance. “I can’t imagine myself back there,” she says.
Juana wakes up at 5 a.m. on her workdays, Wednesday through Sunday. Roberto does custom construction work six days a week and has Sundays off – which means the two rarely get to spend a day together. Roberto drives and has a license under California’s undocumented driver program. The license, which is part of a database, is marked to distinguish his undocumented status, but Roberto says it’s better to be licensed and insured than to fly under the radar. Juana never got a license and the car she was using for short errands started acting up recently; instead of getting it fixed, she’s opted to stop driving. It’s too risky now, anyway.
It’s still dark out and Roberto yawns while he puts his boots on. “There’s no rest here,” he tells me, adding that it’s all work and bills in the United States. He works 48 hours a week earning $12 an hour as an independent contractor. The pay could be worse but it’s challenging every April when the couple forks over their share of taxes to the government.
By 5:35 a.m., Roberto is warming up the car. Bella is walking with her backpack on as Juana carries a sleeping little Bobby in a blanket. They all get into the car and drive a few minutes over to the friend who will watch the children; she’ll walk Bella to school and back, and watch Bobby all day. By 6:10 a.m., Roberto drops Juana off at a rail stop.
Juana works the 8 a.m. shift cleaning rooms. She likes the union job and its perks – but as with any job, it comes with its challenges. People who can drop a thousand dollars a night on a hotel stay tend to be demanding. Some can say inappropriate things. There was a fistfight between two guests at the hotel several months ago and the police were called. She didn’t think much of it then, but is terrified of being near police since Trump got elected.
After an eight-hour shift, Juana walks back to the bus to begin her commute home, along with her friend from work – the one who knows she’s undocumented. This afternoon we’re all walking down a posh but ill-designed residential Beverly Hills street that’s become a throughway for heavy traffic, when the driver of a new sports car almost runs us over. Juana and her friend keep walking as if nothing happened. She tells me later that some Beverly Hills residents assume that because of our skin color, we’re all housekeepers and are therefore not worthy of common courtesy. Confronting the driver could result in further scrutiny from law enforcement – so rather than say anything to him, the women ignored the incident.
On the last train back home, I spot a sheriff’s deputy quickly board the car in the front of us. As soon as I let her know, Juana calmly puts her phone away and tries to distinguish the deputy through the shadows caused by the sun beginning to set on Los Angeles. For the next three stops, Juana trains her eyes on him without flinching. If I didn’t know what she was doing, I’d guess she was zoning out. She’s not.
When we detrain, Juana asks me to look back and confirm the deputy’s not following us. He’s not, I assure her. She explains she was extremely alarmed because he was alone when he should have been with a partner, since that’s how they always patrol railcars. Even for people terrified of law enforcement, one deputy shouldn’t garner more trepidation than two deputies, but in Juana’s case, it makes sense. There was something out of the ordinary and it required closer examination – this time, her complete attention to make sure the deputy wasn’t an ICE agent.
Immigration enforcement is a system – abstract and difficult to put your finger on. Sure, Juana fears the system, but that fear has also caused her to fear individuals, too: the obliging appliance man, the imaginary Kaiser receptionist, the obnoxious sports car driver – they all present a potential danger to an undocumented woman surviving the Trump era.
Fire and ICE Video: Whitehouse Supremacy
For decades white nationalists were a fringe element in American politics. But now anti-immigrant extremists with ties to white supremacists hold key positions at the highest level of government.
Fire and ICE: California Gets Ready for Workplace Immigration Raids
Co-published by The American Prospect
In California, the potential impact of workplace raids is enormous. Of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, over 2.6 million live in this state – almost one in every 10 California workers is undocumented.
Co-published by The American Prospect
At the end of February immigration agents descended on a handful of Japanese and Chinese restaurants in the suburbs of Jackson, Mississippi and in nearby Meridian. Fifty-five immigrant cooks, dishwashers, servers and bussers were loaded into vans and taken to a detention center about 160 miles away in Jena, Louisiana.
Their arrests and subsequent treatment did more than provoke outrage among Jackson’s immigrant-rights activists. Labor advocates in California also took note of the incident, fearing that it marked the beginning of a new wave of immigrant raids and enforcement actions in workplaces. In response, legislators have written a bill with legal protections for workers, to keep the experience from being duplicated here. At the same time, training sessions have started to ensure that undocumented employees know their rights during any job-related immigration enforcement action.
In California, with many times the immigrant population of Mississippi, the potential impact of workplace raids is enormous. Of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, over 2.6 million live in this state – almost one in every 10 California workers is undocumented. They make up almost half of its farm workers, and over 20 percent of its construction workers. The National Restaurant Association says that of the country’s 12 million restaurant employees, nine percent are undocumented, while the Restaurant Opportunities Center estimates that in large cities they make up almost half of that industry’s workforce.
Agustin Ramirez, an organizer for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in California, told Capital & Main the Mississippi raids have heightened fear here. “What we have seen in the past, and the threats from Trump, tell us this is coming. We may not have had a raid like this here yet, but we can see the sky is dark, and we know it’s going to rain. We just don’t know when.”
The legislative response in California came from United Service Workers West, the union for janitors, security guards and airport workers affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. “We want to lead the nation with the strongest resistance efforts to protect workers, not just in the community, but in the workplace,” explained David Huerta, USWW’s president.
In cooperation with labor attorney Monica Guizar, USWW worked with San Francisco Assemblymember David Chiu to craft Assembly Bill 450. The measure, called the Immigrant Worker Protection Act and introduced March 24, addresses workplace immigration raids in four ways:
- AB 450 requires employers to ask for a judicial warrant before granting access to a workplace by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
- The bill prohibits employers from sharing confidential information, like Social Security numbers, without a court order.
- If there is an immigration raid, or if an employer is told by ICE to hand over information that employees provide on I-9 immigration-status forms, the bill requires the employer to notify the state labor commissioner, the workers themselves and their union representatives.
- AB 450 authorizes the labor commissioner to certify workers who report claims against their employers, prohibiting employers from retaliating against them, and helping them to gain visa status as witnesses in legal proceedings.
Assembly Bill 450 was co-authored by Bay Area Assemblymembers Phil Ting and Rob Bonta, and State Senator Scott Weiner. “Trump’s threats of massive deportations are spreading fear among California workers, families and employers,” Chiu told a news conference, adding that the bill “goes beyond California’s existing defense of immigrants to offer new legal protections for individuals in our workplaces.”
Alameda County Industries workers re-enact a moment during a strike protesting their dismissal. (Photo: David Bacon)
In a highly publicized April 11 event on the Arizona-Mexico border, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions emphasized the Trump administration’s hard line on enforcement. Chiu cited Sessions’ previous statements and orders as a reason for the bill’s new measures of protection. Sessions told the press in Arizona that enforcement would now prioritize identity theft among other factors. “And it is here that criminal aliens, and the coyotes, and the document-forgers seek to overthrow our system of lawful immigration,” he announced.
By using phrases like “identity theft” and “document-forgers,” Sessions is treating as a criminal offense the means used by every undocumented worker to get a job. Like all other workers, undocumented immigrants must supply Social Security numbers to employers to get hired. But since the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, they have been prevented from applying for them. Workers therefore invent Social Security numbers or use numbers belonging to others.
In the past, the federal government has occasionally interpreted this as not only a reason for deportation, but as a federal crime. Sessions is threatening to make these occasional charges mandatory in every case. The irony is that undocumented workers, using those bad numbers, contribute about $13 billion annually to the Social Security Trust Fund, and are disqualified from receiving any benefits that those contributions are supposed to pay for.
Heavy immigration enforcement against workers is hardly new. Under President George W. Bush, large-scale raids led to the detention and deportation of thousands of workers, especially in meatpacking plants. At Smithfield Foods in North Carolina and Agriprocessors in Iowa, 389 immigrants were jailed, charged with felonies for using bad Social Security numbers. Under President Barack Obama, ICE agents audited the information provided by workers on I-9 forms, comparing it with the Social Security database. ICE then told employers to fire those immigrants whose information didn’t pass muster. The government developed an enormous database, called E-Verify, for rooting out undocumented workers. Thousands were fired, and in 2010 alone ICE audited about 2,000 employers.
Anger over these enforcement actions has a long history in California. Los Angeles janitors, members of USWW, sat down in city intersections to protest firings by Able Building Maintenance in 2011. The union fought similar firings in Stanford University cafeterias, and among custodians in the buildings of Apple and Hewlett-Packard. Two thousand seamstresses protested their firings at Los Angeles’ American Apparel. Members of UNITE HERE, the union for hotel workers, mounted a hunger strike outside the Hyatt in San Diego over the same issue. In the Bay Area, 214 workers at the Pacific Steel foundry fought firings for almost a year, while at the Alameda County Industries recycling plant in San Leandro, they even went on strike to try to stop them.
Over the years, unions have charged that employers use the firings when workers try to organize, or when they are negotiating contracts. Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, says “raids drive down wages because they intimidate workers — even citizens and legal residents. The employer brings in another batch of employees and continues business as usual, while people who protest get targeted and workers get deported. Raids really demonstrate the employer’s power.”
Dramatizing the relationship between Homeland Security and employers, Leon Rodriguez, who formerly headed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, recently left to take a job with the Seyfarth Shaw law firm in Washington, DC. In response to the Mississippi raid, Rodriguez stated that “the administration has been very clear about its intention to broaden the classes of individuals who could be subject to deportation.” In other words, workers.
To help workers protect themselves in the workplace, the ILWU, Filipino Advocates for Justice and several other groups organized a training session about actions workers can take on the job, in the face of a raid or I-9 firings. Workers from Alameda County Industries acted out a teatro-based sketch about their own strike to stop the company from terminating them for not having papers. In another skit, they dramatized the way workers might demand that their boss bar ICE agents from the workplace if the latter have no court order. Other unions described their experiences over the past decade in organizing workers to fight off raids and firings.
“Our experience tells us that workers can resist raids at work, and the more they do that the better off they are,” Agustin Ramirez says. “We are getting prepared, trying to give people as much information as possible. We’re trying to spread this idea that in addition to AB 450, workers can take action on the job to protect themselves.”
Fire and ICE: Blurring the Border Between Immigration and Crime
Co-published by Newsweek
Some California cities are rethinking their law-enforcement relationships with ICE, but others are likely to continue their joint operations with the agency because of the additional personnel, intelligence-gathering capacity and cash that it brings to crime fighting.
Co-published by Newsweek
California’s local sanctuary policies vary from city to city, but most seek to prevent undocumented immigrants from being arrested and deported, as well as to ensure that these immigrants feel safe reporting crimes, acting as witnesses and testifying in court. To do that, most policies attempt to create a firewall between local law enforcement agencies and immigration authorities by barring police officers from asking about immigration status or enforcing federal immigration law.
Just under the public radar, however, police in many sanctuary cities work closely with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on operations targeting drugs, gangs and human trafficking. Many law enforcement agencies argue the federal-local collaborations are essential.
But at times the lines between criminal investigations and immigration enforcement have blurred during these joint operations, spreading panic in immigrant communities and outrage among city officials.
For example, earlier this year ICE agents helped local police in Santa Cruz arrest 10 alleged members of the transnational MS-13 gang. ICE spokesman James Schwab was unapologetic when the raid also netted about 10 more undocumented local residents who weren’t targets of the criminal investigation.
“It’s ICE’s authority,” Schwab told Capital & Main. “If we’re going to do a targeted operation, we’re going to be checking the other people in the targeted location.”
Schwab contended that Santa Cruz officials knew all along that immigration arrests would be part of the operation. But in an interview, Deputy Police Chief Dan Flippo vehemently disagreed. He said he had ICE agents’ agreement that immigration enforcement wouldn’t be a part of the operation.
“Where I’ve felt disgust is [that] I’ve never had another law enforcement agency look me in the eye and tell me something was not happening when it was. That’s very disconcerting,” Flippo said.
ICE’s investigative branch, Homeland Security Investigations, is the second-largest investigative organization in the federal government. ICE became part of the Department of Homeland Security two years after 9/11, and brought immigration and customs enforcement together. This has created a law enforcement agency that includes both deportation officers who arrest undocumented immigrants, and HSI, which in addition to targeting gangs and drugs, also focuses on money laundering, Internet crime, human rights violations and international art and antiquities theft.
On the agency’s website, ICE touts its so-called dual criminal and administrative immigration enforcement authority as a crime-fighting asset. It can simply take an individual off the streets if he’s undocumented without proving a criminal case against him. The agency says that its anti-gang unit has arrested some 32,000 gang members and associates since 2005, more than a third of whom were detained on immigration violations.
ICE’s investigative reach is so long and broad that it is virtually impossible to find a big law enforcement task force with which it’s not involved.
But, Flippo said, the city of Santa Cruz will no longer join ICE in large-scale operations, because it can’t trust the agency.
After the immigration arrests, Flippo claimed, ICE refused to disclose who was detained in Santa Cruz and who authorized the agents to go outside the scope of the operation. The city has asked local Congressman Jimmy Panetta and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris to investigate. (Panetta is scheduled to meet with ICE’s acting director next month on the issue.)
Some California cities are also rethinking their relationships with ICE. Pasadena, citing its sanctuary status, opted out of an agreement whereby ICE paid overtime costs for local officers while they worked on joint operations. San Francisco recently ended its participation in the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force, which also includes ICE. In Oakland, also a sanctuary jurisdiction, the police department works on joint task forces with ICE, and has signed agreements to allow some of its officers to train as Homeland Security Customs Agents and carry out some of their duties. It also entered into another pact similar to Pasadena’s for overtime reimbursement by ICE. Now the city is reconsidering its participation with ICE, as well as its membership in the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Many cities, however, are likely to continue their joint operations with ICE because of the additional personnel, intelligence-gathering capacity and cash that the agency brings to crime fighting. Grants are available to police agencies that work on some task forces, and overtime reimbursement for local officers is commonplace.
State Senate President Pro-Tem Kevin de León may have headed off some law enforcement opposition to his sanctuary state bill, Senate Bill 54, which recently passed the senate on a strict party line vote, when he amended it to specifically permit joint law enforcement task forces, despite a general prohibition against sharing information and resources with immigration authorities.
Los Angeles Police Department Director of Constitutional Policing and Policy Arif Alikhan cited ICE’s wide-ranging investigative responsibilities as a valuable tool for his department.
“It’s important that we leverage those resources to help protect the community,” Alikhan told Capital & Main. “There certainly is a challenge in that.”
In March, the department reported to the Los Angeles City Council that its joint operations with the agency include:
•The Border Security Task Force.
•The Financial Investigative Seizure Team that combats money laundering.
•A group that investigates Internet crimes against children.
•The Los Angeles and Long Beach Maritime Anti-Smuggling team.
•A team that protects intellectual property.
The LAPD website shows the department also takes part in a group of anti-drug task forces, known as the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas task forces, alongside ICE and other federal and local agencies.
The LAPD declined to provide Capital & Main with a full list of the task forces on which it works with immigration authorities, but the agency is deeply embedded in policing across the state. In February, public radio station KPCC reported that in some 50 cities in Los Angeles County, ICE has agreements similar to the one Pasadena ended for overtime reimbursement to local law enforcement agencies for officers while they work on joint operations.
ICE also works with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and dozens of local law enforcement departments on a task force that addresses white collar and organized crime, identity theft and computer crime. The sheriff’s office received a $2 million federal grant for its participation. The Contra County Sheriff’s Department signed a deal with ICE to train deputies for customs-enforcement work so that the department could share asset forfeiture proceeds with the feds, said Assistant Sheriff Elise Warren. Although the agreement remains in effect, Warren said ICE trained only one deputy, and that was before the contract was signed. ICE has also conducted drug operations with the California Highway Patrol and partnered with the San Francisco Police Department on human trafficking issues.
In Los Angeles, a coalition of attorneys and immigrant rights activists are urging the LAPD to opt out of participation in joint task forces altogether, and update the city’s policy on immigration enforcement, known as Special Order 40, which was created in 1979. The policy bars local police from inquiring about immigration status or enforcing immigration law, but activists argue that it’s antiquated and refers to teletype machines, “aliens” and requires officers to note the arrests of undocumented immigrants and forward the information to immigration authorities, a practice that no longer exists. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Executive Directive 20 extends Special Order 40 to the fire department, and the port and airport police, but doesn’t alter the original order’s substance.
“Special Order 40 needs to conform to present-day reality with how LAPD works with federal agencies,” said Victor Narro, the project director of the University of California, Los Angeles’ Labor Center, and a longtime immigration rights activist.
In L.A., that collaboration has proved disastrous for some longtime residents, argued attorney Emi McLean, a member of the Los Angeles immigration coalition who works with the National Day Laborers Organizing Network. Last summer, MacLean said, single mother and grandmother Xochitl Hernandez was erroneously labeled a gang member and arrested while LAPD and ICE officers served a search warrant at a home she was visiting in East Hollywood. Another single mother of four, Isabel Mejia, was also picked up by ICE as agents joined the LAPD to raid what they thought was a human trafficking operation in South Los Angeles in late 2015. Actually, the officers broke up a house party and MacLean claimed Mejia was among eight people arrested for immigration violations.
“People were ripped away from their families, ripped away from their communities because of police action in partnership with ICE,” MacLean said.
“It’s really hard to regulate what happens in the street,” noted Victor Narro. “The best possible scenario is not to have cooperation.”
MacLean argued that the LAPD has sufficient resources to fight crime without ICE, but she contended if the department thinks joint task forces are essential, it is powerful enough to exact a pledge from the agency to refrain from immigration arrests while working with L.A. police officers.
She and others have asked the LAPD for a full accounting of its cooperation with ICE, along with a list of those who have been arrested for immigration violations during the LAPD’s joint operations with ICE.
The Los Angeles activists claim police brass are currently not inclined to alter Special Order 40, and that they plan to press their case with the L.A. Police Commission.
“It’s a way of holding our leaders accountable,” Narro said. “The more we know about what’s happening and what’s not happening as far as collaboration and enforcement, the more we’re able to bring together LAPD and city officials to have a dialog about about protecting the rights of immigrants and immigrant families.”
Fire and ICE: Images of Immigrant Activism
A photo essay by Joanne Kim.
Fire and ICE Video: Adelanto — Rendered Invisible
Co-published by Newsweek
The Adelanto Detention Facility, operated by a private, for-profit prison company for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is California’s largest immigrant detention center. Recently two detainees died within weeks of each other there.
Co-published by Newsweek
The Adelanto Detention Facility, operated by a private, for-profit prison company for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is California’s largest immigrant detention center. Recently two detainees died within weeks of each other there.
Also: Read Robin Urevich’s “Detention Deaths in the High Desert.”
Fire and ICE: Beyond Sanctuary
Co-published by Newsweek
California citizens have declared they will defy the federal government to protect the estimated 2.6 million undocumented immigrants woven into the state’s civic, economic and spiritual life. Here the nationwide wave of resistance to President Donald Trump has become a tsunami.
Co-published by Newsweek
On a recent Saturday, “the resistance” gathered in the parish hall of Christ the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Leimert Park. “This work we’re doing right here is what we call ‘sacred resistance,’” said the Reverend Francisco Garcia, the visiting rector of Inglewood’s Holy Faith Episcopal, addressing about 40 representatives from various Episcopal churches around Southern California. As Garcia helped direct questions to two invited attorneys, the room buzzed with ideas for protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation by agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
Scenes like these are happening in churches, union halls, community centers, grade schools and colleges across the country, but here in California the nationwide wave of resistance to President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant executive orders has become a tsunami.
“Many of you will want to engage ICE agents, but don’t do it!” said longtime L.A. civil rights attorney Mark Kleiman. “Keep the door closed and don’t talk to them.” Under what’s called the “Plain View” doctrine, an open door can give a police officer probable cause to investigate, based on immediate observations. Five or six more hands flew up.
“What if ICE walks through the doors of the church – they’re already in the building and they want to show me a warrant? Am I toast?” asked a newly ordained reverend, looking sharp in a new suit.
“Not if you designate private space,” replied attorney Cynthia Anderson-Barker. “You have to post signs in the church that clearly indicate ‘Private.’ That differentiates your rectory or private areas from the public areas of the church.”
In California citizens have declared they will defy the federal government to protect the estimated 2.6 million undocumented immigrants woven into the state’s civic, economic and spiritual life. The state legislature is currently arguing Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, which would declare California a “sanctuary state” and prohibit committing local police resources to federal ICE investigations. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland and other cities have already passed similar resolutions, as has every county other than San Diego, though these city and county motions have vastly differing degrees of implementation on the ground.
In a written reply to questions from Capital & Main, ICE Western Region communications director Virginia Kice wrote, “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) believes local law enforcement’s cooperation with the agency is crucial in promoting public safety. It’s unfortunate that current state laws here in California to a great extent tie the hands of local law enforcement agencies that want to work with us.”
Local communities, however, have to live with the results of deportation: local businesses, schools and churches disrupted and children, who are often American citizens, left behind. The Rev. Garcia, who is part of a task force implementing a Sanctuary Resolution passed by his diocese in December, broke down the various responses to the idea of “sanctuary.”
“Not every congregation is going to embrace physical sanctuary,” he said. “But there’s so many ways to show our love and solidarity.” Those tactics include:
- Lobbying and demonstrating in favor of bills like SB 54 or passing “safe haven” resolutions in local school districts.
- Accompaniment programs that help immigrants, who often don’t speak English, navigate immigration and deportation proceedings.
- Legal work such as Know Your Rights meetings (like the one in Leimert Park), webinars and connecting immigrants directly to pro bono representation.
- Basic support such as food, clothing, housing or school transportation for families of deportees; or helping families create plans in case a parent with children who are legal residents is deported on short notice.
- Sanctuary funds.
- Physical sanctuary for those who are resisting detention or deportation.
- Setting up hotlines and rapid-response teams to react to arrests and detentions.
“The administrators in schools know, and there’s been training of teachers, that ICE immigration agents are not welcome on campus and can’t ask to see students or their records unless they have a court order,” said California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a separate interview. Over 60 school districts have now passed “safe haven” resolutions declaring their campuses off-limits to ICE agents after Torlakson sent a December letter pressing all 1,100 state school districts to do so.
This policy has taken on special urgency after 48-year-old father of four Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez was arrested under a deportation order February 28 by ICE agents who staked out the drop-off lane of his daughter’s school in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park.
“I have been organizing around immigration issues and housing for the last 17 years and never have I seen it like this,” said Lorena Melgarejo, coordinator for human life and dignity at the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco. She said at least 2,500 American citizens have shown up for what she calls “community defense” training since the inauguration. “We’ve been working around the clock to try to capture all this energy!”
Like the U.S. sanctuary movement that sheltered Central Americans from right-wing death squads in the 1980s, this work has found its spiritual heart in places of worship, but it has quickly grown beyond religions and beyond protecting only Latin Americans. Labor organizations like the National Day Laborer Organizing Network have joined immigrant groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration in performing Know Your Rights outreach and advocacy efforts; the National Lawyers Guild has started a project that sent Anderson-Barker and Kleiman to the Leimert Park meeting and others; Los Angeles created a $10 million fund for legal aid to immigrants; people are organizing to support Muslim immigrants arriving at airports.
“In my congregation, we have a diverse community including Africans and Afro-Latinos, as well as people from Central America and Mexico,” said Rev. Garcia. “So we also stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter because that’s what it means to do the work of sanctuary in my congregation.”
Joanne Leslie, an archdeacon with the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, took the mic at Good Shepherd to describe her Acompañero program and her work with a girl named Patricia, whose parents sent her to the U.S. alone as 12 year old to escape gang violence in El Salvador. Patricia was finally granted asylum in the U.S. and, Leslie said, “I see Patricia’s face in every one of these other people. I owe it to her … to put my shoulder to the wheel and do this work.”
Reverend Zach Hoover took some heat when he revealed in a February 26 CNN website piece that his interfaith community organization, L.A. Voice, was preparing safe houses around Southern California to hide immigrants from deportation. “Yeah, I’ve had a few trolls here and there, and accusations of things, but thank God nothing too serious,” Hoover said.
No one from ICE has contacted him, he said, and the work continues. ICE spokesperson Kice declined to comment on the legality of the safe houses. The LA Voice network now has homes and rooms to hide about 150 people, though Hoover would not say whether this was currently being done. This, Hoover and others say, is a move “beyond sanctuary,” expanding the accepted notions of sanctuary normally associated with places of worship. As an example, he referred to the story of undocumented immigrant and activist Jeanette Vizguerra, a mother of four in Denver who resisted a deportation order by taking sanctuary in First Unitarian Church on February 15, 2017. In Vizguerra’s case, ICE knows exactly where she is. Under an informal memorandum issued by ICE, agents have agreed not to make arrests in “sensitive locations” such as churches and schools. But Hoover and other members of LA Voice are preparing to move undocumented persons into private homes, as searching those homes would require a detailed warrant under the Fourth Amendment.
“We’re interested in building longer-term organizing power and infrastructure,” said Hoover. “If we don’t develop leaders out of this, then shame on all of us, you know? We’ve got to actually nurture their development. Walk with people.”
One of these rising leaders may be Jose Luis Hernandez Cruz, who was invited to speak to the gathering at Good Shepherd. An immigrant from Honduras, Cruz urged the attendees to look past building walls and deportations to understand why people leave their home countries in the first place. A handsome, athletic 20-something, and a powerful speaker, Cruz has a prosthetic leg, is missing his right arm and has only one working finger on his left hand – the result of falling off a train in Mexico on his way to the U.S.
“In Honduras there is rampant unemployment, poverty and corruption and violence, and the jobs that are available don’t provide a living wage or sustenance, so why aren’t all governments taking a look at this situation, to really address these conditions?” Cruz said.
Spurred by the urgent humanity in these migration stories, community infrastructure is taking shape in the form of rapid response teams. Like a neighborhood watch, they keep an eye on ICE and are increasingly focused on hotlines, which have been set up in many counties, including San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Santa Clara and Los Angeles. They are often created by local member organizations of the PICO National Network, a faith-based community organizing group that has set up hotlines and rapid response teams in 17 states and 39 major cities in the last two months. If someone reports ICE activity to the hotline, the teams are dispatched to act as legal and moral observers, and then legal and material resources are activated.
“Our volunteers can get to places within three to four minutes, because we have around 700 rapid response volunteers around [San Francisco] and in San Mateo, also. And these are American citizens, they’re not immigrants,” said Lorena Melgarejo. “I’ve never seen so many regular American folks being really motivated or called to step into this moment and respond!”
Melgarejo admits that all this action is motivated by fear: In the first few months of the Trump administration, ICE enforcement actions have increased from what was seen under President Obama, although not in California. The biggest increase has been in Texas and Georgia, including a large increase in arrests of immigrants with no criminal records.
ICE’s Kice forwarded a link to a fact sheet on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website detailing which immigrants are priorities for enforcement actions, but then added, “That said, while criminal aliens and those who pose a threat to public safety will continue to be a focus, DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”
This leaves the streets charged with a fierce new energy. And that has Melgarejo, like Hoover and others, thinking beyond sanctuary. The next phase of this work, she says, is to get to a place where it won’t take an existential threat to gin up this kind of action.
“The question is: How do we become the sanctuary?” said Melgarejo. “Not just sanctuary legislation or sanctuary churches, but how does the community create sanctuary by the way that it acts toward each other?”
For instance, she noted, it’s not okay for ICE to show up at someone’s door at 6 a.m. and deport them. How do the neighbors themselves make sure that doesn’t happen?
“Legislation is a piece of paper unless we enact it,” she added. “And a church is just walls. So we’re encouraging people to step into it and to live it.”
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