“They look at you like trash,” said a former detainee who had been a hunger striker at the Adelanto Detention Center.
Last month 100 people from states as diverse as New York, Texas, Maryland, Kansas, Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada and Illinois met in a Malibu retreat center to plot nothing less than the end of the U.S. immigration detention system. Brought together by CIVIC (Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement), participants included interfaith activists, immigration lawyers, recently released asylum seekers and academics, nearly all of whom were women. Meeting for three days in scorching heat, they discussed how to effectively challenge the system of incarceration and deportation that is now part of our nation’s immigration infrastructure.
Many Americans, myself included, are the children, grandchildren or other descendants of people who came to the U.S. to escape religious persecution, starvation, tyranny or political violence. We would not be alive were it not for America’s past immigration policies. Current asylum seekers are often treated like criminals, mandatorily imprisoned in isolated immigration detention centers after turning themselves in to immigration officials at the border. Many face bail requirements as high as $250,000 and sometimes more to get out, and often endure life-threatening conditions while incarcerated.
“They look at you like trash,” Emmanuel, a former detainee, told conference attendees. He and another speaker, Isaac Lopez, had been hunger strikers who were recently freed on bond from the Adelanto Detention Center near Victorville, California after advocacy on his behalf by a coalition of immigrant rights organizations. Among nine Central Americans (who were later joined by over 20 Haitian asylum seekers), Isaac participated in the hunger strike to dramatize the lack of medical attention, spoiled food and the provision of used, dirty underwear to the detainees. Once the hunger strike began, said Lopez, the strikers were subject to pepper spray, solitary confinement and other abuses.
CIVIC supports a network of volunteer-run visitation programs to America’s 210 detention facilities, whose inmates usually have no legal representation or contact with the outside world. The group also organizes stakeholder inspection tours and runs a national hotline through which detainees can report abuses experienced in the system. A pen-pal program and the sharing of stories of those finally released after months or years of incarceration also help get the word out that these facilities exist, supported by taxpayer money.
CIVIC’S volunteer network conducts over 54,000 visits to detention facilities each year. Workshop presenter Paula Kahn of CIVIC and CODEPINK suggested that the goal of volunteers is to be “radical accomplices.” Rather than “impose our own conclusions about conditions inside the detention facility,” Kahn emphasized that “people are experts on their own experiences” and the job of visitors is to understand their lived experience in detention.
Other workshops discussed recruiting and retaining volunteers, monitoring conditions for detainees, getting their personal stories out to the broader community, raising funds for bail and post-release support. Once released from detention, asylum seekers are often prohibited from working yet have to find a place to live and continue to pursue their asylum requests through the immigration court system.
As a result of CIVIC’s work in collecting data on conditions in California’s immigrant detention centers, the state legislature this year passed the first bill in the country to put a moratorium on the expansion of future immigration centers in California and to give the state attorney general the power to monitor the facilities for the next decade.
A closing session run by CIVIC founders Christina Mansfield and Christina Fialho asked retreat attendees to visualize a time when the 210 detention centers across the U.S. are closed and, instead, non-profit organizations are funded to provide housing and support services for those in the asylum pipeline.
The U.S. immigration detention system is the largest in the world and influences the infrastructure of detention systems in other countries, Fialho and Mansfield explained. By changing the ways immigrants are treated here, the U.S. can be part of an international movement to reshape state responses to asylum seekers by welcoming migrants rather than imprisoning them.
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The Haitian Women Who Live in California’s Golden Purgatory
A clash between two Americas can be seen in the story of Haitian immigrants. One is a welcoming, pluralist America; the other is the nativist country that birthed Donald Trump.
Haitians from Brazil who trekked through jungles and waded rivers were truly the huddled masses of Emma Lazarus’ Statue of Liberty poem. Then came Donald Trump.
Nadia Aly, aged 26, sits at a table in San Diego’s Catholic Charities office, elegant in a silvery-gray chain-link sweater. Her daughter, just shy of 1 year old, rests in a stroller, a bow in her hair, a pacifier in her mouth.
In December 2015, Nadia left her impoverished home country of Haiti for Brazil. There was a growing Haitian community there, which over the previous years had been lured by a booming economy and the prospect of jobs — especially in construction– in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup and, later, the Olympics. Many had left their children behind with relatives, hoping to be able to financially support them from afar. In Brazil, Nadia and her boyfriend, Franky Jean Simon, whom she had met at university in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, worked, saved and planned their futures.
By the time Nadia got settled in her new home, however, the Brazilian economy had hit the skids. Most of Haitians found themselves jobless. With no income in Brazil and no prospects back in Haiti, large numbers began heading north, without papers, hoping to eventually resettle in the United States. Nadia and Franky were amongst them. It was an extraordinary odyssey. For those with money and visas, a flight from Brazil to California takes half a day. For those without, it’s a months-long journey. It involves cutting through jungles, fording rivers, traipsing from one country to the next, bribing border guards, paying smugglers. They left Brazil in small groups, friends and strangers brought together by desperation. They walked north, sometimes meeting other groups, caravanning, pooling resources (food, money, information, Spanish words picked up here and there) – modern day wagon trains of Creole-speaking migrants looking to wend their way to El Dorado. Sometimes there would be as few as five or 10 people; other times, perhaps a hundred.
Haitian men who present themselves at crossing checkpoints are promptly locked away in detention facilities. They will likely spend the next several years there unless they agree to be repatriated to Haiti.
Brazil. Peru. Ecuador. Colombia. Panama. Costa Rica. Nicaragua. Honduras. Guatemala. Mexico… and, finally, months later, the United States.
They were, truly, the tired, poor, huddled masses of Emma Lazarus’ poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty. Their stories were the stories of so many Americans’ immigrant ancestors– heartache, pain, poverty, exposure to violence, lack of schooling, disease, flight from dysfunction and brutal government. And they had heard rumors that once at the U.S. border, if they presented themselves to officers, they would be dealt with humanely and admitted into the country. Nobody understood quite how or why, but they knew what they had heard, or read on Facebook, and they were willing to give it a go.
“People were saying there was a way for Haitians to enter the U.S.,” Ivonnia Jean Baptiste remembers, as she fusses with her 2-month-old daughter. “I wasn’t sure about it, but I was willing to take the risk to try.”“We didn’t have any type of information,” says 39-year-old Nounoune Jules. “We were relying on our faith.”
“It was really hard,” adds Gertha Bordeleus, 28, sitting in the small San Diego apartment she now shares with three other women and their children, her infant swaddled in a blanket against her shoulder. She recalls the six days that she, her husband, and their 2-year-old son walked through the jungle on the Colombia-Panama border, with only candies to eat, some Gatorade and very little water. “It was really scary. You had to walk through the forest. It was raining. We were wet; we were cold. I was too weak to carry my child.”
When Gertha’s family finally reached Tijuana in the first months of the Trump administration, however, they heard that the border was now largely closed, especially to Haitian men. For months, they lived in a refugee camp, taking on day-labor jobs, trying just to survive. Gertha became pregnant. Rumor had it that pregnant women were still, even in Trump’s America, being allowed over the border. She decided to attempt the crossing. Her husband stayed behind with their son in Tijuana.
Since Trump’s inauguration, the women and their young children are indeed still allowed in, but the door has been shut on the men. Haitian men who present themselves at crossing checkpoints and request “parole” into the country while they await their day in court are now promptly locked away in immigration detention facilities. There they will likely spend the next several years unless they forgo an immigration hearing and agree to be repatriated to Haiti; others have decided not to risk it, and are living in squalid, informal, refugee camps in Tijuana.
In December 2016, heavily pregnant, Nadia had presented herself, without papers or visa, at the Mexico-U.S. border checkpoint in Tijuana. She stated that she feared what would happen to her if she returned to Haiti and requested admission into the country. Under nearly 40-year-old programs intended to help Haitian migrants, she was “paroled” in – meaning she was allowed entry, and access to certain benefits and to a work permit, while her immigration case wended its way through the courts. Her boyfriend Franky was also admitted.
Once in the country, they were evaluated to see if they were eligible for some cash benefits for a security deposit and the first months’ rent, as well as fees for work permits, administered by Catholic Charities of San Diego, with federal funds from the Cuban Haitian Entrant Program (CHEP) established in 1980.
Four months later, however, amidst a growing crackdown on undocumented migrants, Franky was arrested and deported to Haiti. He lives there now, penniless, reliant on what little money Nadia can send him from her earnings as a cleaner at a Marriott Hotel.
“We didn’t know we were going to live without each other,” Nadia, deeply depressed, anxious, and having problems with her memory, explains. “If I need to see his face, I have his pictures in my phone. This is where I go.”
Over the last couple of years, several thousand Haitians, claiming a credible fear of harm if they are returned to Haiti, have come through the Tijuana-San Diego border crossing. Once “paroled” in, many were given tickets by Catholic Charities and flown to Boston, New York and Florida. Many others took buses and trains to other points in California and the country. But large numbers stayed in the San Diego area. In 2016, 328 people received CHEP benefits – mainly cash assistance, administered by Catholic Charities, that was used to put security deposits on apartment rentals and to pay first-month’s rents — in San Diego. Hundreds of others in the city were paroled in, but denied the benefits. The following year, however, that number plummeted. In 2017, according to Nadine Toppozada, director of refugee and human trafficking services at Catholic Charities San Diego, only about 200 people in San Diego received CHEP benefits; this year that number is slated to fall below 90. The decrease is largely due to the fact that the men are no longer being admitted into the United States.
As a result of this new policy of dividing families at the border, San Diego now has large numbers of young, extremely poor, and frequently illiterate, Haitian women and children living in over-crowded communal apartments in low-end rental units. Those who qualify for CHEP benefits are helped financially and with navigating government bureaucracies, by Catholic Charities and other groups. Despite the help, the road they travel is miserable.
Ruth Monexil said she would not have tried to enter the country last fall had she known that her husband and teenage son would be detained. “When I live without my family, I don’t live well. I am depressed. I am not working. I don’t know where my son is, what’s going on. Last week, I was doing really bad, I felt like I was losing my head. I’m always feeling sad inside of me.”
These days, Ruth lives with strangers, in a small gray-stucco apartment complex. Their living-room walls are entirely bare, the room’s only furniture a small TV on a little wooden table. Their kitchen is crowded with donated toys for the babies and toddlers. The bedrooms are cluttered, lived in by too many people.
The Cuban Haitian Entrant Program was begun in the 1980s to help Cuban and Haitian migrants, who met criteria laid down in the 1980 Refugee Education Assistance Act, to navigate life in the U.S.
Like so much of America’s immigration and welfare system, CHEP – described by Toppozada as “the Cuban Haitian welfare program” — was as much the result of happenstance as careful planning. For years, desperate Haitian boat people had been fleeing the kleptocracy, political violence and almost unimaginable poverty of their homeland. They had been washing up on Florida’s coastline and had, routinely, been rounded up, held in detention centers, and earmarked for fast-track deportation. Then, in the spring of 1980, Fidel Castro opened the port in Mariel to Cubans seeking to leave their island. In the months following, tens of thousands of Cuban boat people arrived in Florida.
Trump didn’t bother to hide his distaste for Haitian immigrants. They all had AIDS, he reportedly told advisers.
For geopolitical reasons (Cuba being a communist nation, with the Cold War in full bloom), Jimmy Carter’s administration felt it had to let the Cuban boat people stay in the U.S. But, the juxtaposition, one highlighted by the media and by human rights groups, was jarring – Cubans fleeing communism were being granted admission; Haitians fleeing the U.S.-backed Duvalier dictatorship, a dictatorship far worse than Castro’s, were being arrested and deported. To avoid a series of messy court cases and a public opinion battle they feared they couldn’t win, the administration included Haiti in the program. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Office of Refugee Resettlement would process the vast number of boat people arriving daily in Florida during the early 1980s, the Haitian portion of which was “paroled” in while awaiting immigration hearings.
Until 2016 most Haitians were paroled in on the East Coast, if they managed to skirt aggressive Coast Guard patrols intended to stop them before they reached U.S. soil. All that changed in early 2016, when the Brazilian economy imploded and Haitian migrants there were cast adrift. Soon afterwards, Catholic Charities workers in California noted a large uptick in the numbers of Haitians requesting help on the land-crossings from Mexico. Immigration and Custom Enforcement numbers suggest somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 Haitian entrants arrived at the San Ysidro border crossing in 2016.
While the Obama’s administration sought to stem this influx, it also believed in keeping families together – and so men and women with children were paroled in, even while the administration made it clear it would seek, ultimately, to deport them. They were given the precious I-94 documents that allowed them to live and work in America, and to claim financial assistance through CHEP while their asylum cases wound through the courts. Under President Trump, however, the policy immediately tightened.
Trump didn’t bother to hide his distaste for Haitian immigrants. They all had AIDS, he reportedly told advisers in the run-up to his decision to roll back Temporary Protected Status for another group of Haitian migrants who had entered the country following the 2010 earthquake, and who had been able to avoid deportation because of the widespread devastation in Haiti.
Many of the women arrive in San Diego psychically broken and separated from their husbands and boyfriends, overwhelmed by having to care for newborns without help.
The new administration begrudgingly honored the government’s commitment to “parole” in the case of women and children, and to provide them documents allowing them access to benefits and work. The men, however, were detained.
“After we crossed the border, they released me and my child,” recalls Nounoune Jules. “But my husband is still in the detention center. I never knew they would keep him this long. He is sick; he cannot be in detention.”
Many of the women arrive in San Diego psychically broken. They are separated from their husbands and boyfriends, overwhelmed by having to care for newborns without help. Many of them are illiterate in their home tongue, unable to speak the new language and without the time or energy to enroll in ESL classes. They often wait for months for work permits from increasingly hostile federal agencies. Helped by Catholic Charities, they have been housed with other women migrants and their children, the crowded apartments rapidly becoming hubs for uniquely Trump-era “Modern Families” of female strangers and their children cast together by circumstance.
“I’m by myself,” says Marie Darline Remy of her loneliness. “On Wednesday, my child was sick. I had to go to the hospital. I spent the whole night awake. I came back home; no-one asked me, ‘How is your baby?’ Things like that make you feel alone.” She can’t even phone her husband in Tijuana. His phone isn’t working and she doesn’t know of any other way to contact him. He has never met their infant son.
A clash between two Americas can be seen in the story of these Haitians. One is the welcoming, pluralist America of Emma Lazarus’ Statue of Liberty poem, willing to take a chance on impoverished and vulnerable new arrivals. The other is the nativist America that birthed Trump and, in turn, has been nurtured by his presidency.
The Haitian women and their children are the lucky recipients of a last-gasp generosity, beneficiaries of a stupendous humanitarian impulse that is now under assault. They are able to access cash, food and medical benefits; their children who are born after their arrival are U.S. citizens. But the men left behind in detention or in Tijuana are amongst the first victims of the new closed and narrow vision of how America treats those desperate migrants seeking succor on its shores.
And by separating the men and women, the government has condemned the women to a cruel purgatory – admitted into the country, but unable to see their partners, unable to envision a possible future in which their families will one day be made whole again.
Hermaine Pierre, jobless and adrift in San Diego, explains how her 2-year-old daughter has lost her appetite as she pines for her detained father. She herself struggles to sleep at night, terrified her husband will be deported to Haiti. One of Hermaine’s roommates also talks of not being able to sleep, as she worries about her boyfriend left behind in Tijuana.
Back in Haiti, Franky Simon puts on a brave façade when he talks to Nadia. He tells her he will find a way to get back to the United States to be with her and their child. He tells her he will one day be able to watch out for her again. But, in her heart of hearts, Nadia no longer believes in happy endings.
“I don’t think he’ll ever be able to come back here,” she admits softly. “I’m just living day by day. With no hope.”
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Climate of Fear Could Lead to Huge California Census Undercount
Co-published by The American Prospect
An undercount will lessen California’s political clout.
Could a proposed “citizenship question” drastically cut response rates among immigrants — and sabotage the counting of California’s population?
Co-published by The American Prospect
The U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in December, asking that a citizenship question be added to the 2020 Census because citizenship data was needed to protect minority populations from “racial discrimination in voting.”
Advocates who know the difficulty of getting communities of color to participate in the census find the DOJ’s logic confounding.
“It’s disingenuous,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO). He noted that the American Community Survey, the modern version of the census “long form,” asks whether the respondent is an immigrant (though it doesn’t ask about immigration status). “Not a single civil rights litigator has said the American Community Survey is not sufficient in getting data on immigration,” Vargas said.
The survey, developed in 2005, is sent randomly to three million households every year. A question about immigration was asked on the 2000 long form sent to one of six households, but was discontinued for the 2010 count. No citizenship question was asked in the general 2010 census form.
Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau, will ultimately decide whether to add the citizenship question. The DOJ has not said how it would like the question to be stated.
Civil rights groups and many public officials say such a question on the census would sabotage the count by dramatically reducing response rates among immigrant communities.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and a coalition of U.S. mayors have denounced the DOJ request. Last week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with attorneys general from 18 other states, including New York and Massachusetts, sent a letter to Ross stating that such a question would depress immigrant participation in the count.
New questions must be submitted to Congress for review two years before the census, in this case by the end of March. Questions must also be field-tested to determine whether they will depress turnout by being too confusing or intimidating.
“If the bureau adds the citizenship question without field-testing, it will clearly be a political move,” said Phil Sparks, the spokesperson for the Census Project, which describes itself as a network of national, state and local organizations that supports a fair and accurate 2020 census and comprehensive American Community Survey.
Census data collected every 10 years affect how federal funds are allocated to state and local governments, and determine the distribution of $400 billion in federal funding for roads, schools, senior services, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and job training, among other services. For example, in 2016 California received $2.4 billion for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The Manassas, Virginia firm Election Data Services uses the census to determine whether states will gain or lose seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The data also influence the allocation of members of state legislatures and many city councils.
“If the citizenship question is on the form, California will have such depressed numbers it will lose one or more congressional seats,” predicted the Census Project’s Sparks.
An undercount could cost California more than $1.5 billion. A 2017 report from George Washington University estimated that for every resident not counted in the 2010 census, California lost more than $1,000 in federal funding. The California Department of Finance estimated that the 2010 census failed to count 1.5 million state residents.
Latinos, 39 percent of California’s population, historically have been difficult to count. In 2010, 1.5 percent of the Latino population was undercounted nationwide, according to Census Bureau estimates. The rate of undercount for Latino children was even higher, according to the NALEO Educational Fund, which estimated that the 2010 undercount rate for young Latinos was 7.1 percent, compared to 4.3 percent for non-Latinos. Those estimates suggest that the overall Latino census undercount was probably much higher, according to Vargas.
The goal of the census, since it began in 1790, has been to count all people, not just citizens. In 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that election districts could be based on total population, rather than on the number of eligible voters.
Questions about immigration and mistrust of the federal government’s use of data affect census participation beyond undocumented immigrants, Vargas said. “Millions of Latinos live in mixed immigration households,” he said. “They’re reluctant, quite rationally, to fill out forms for fear of putting family members at risk.”
Paul Mitchell of Norwalk, California-based Political Data Inc. said the impact of a question about citizenship would go beyond personal fear of a crackdown by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the undocumented.
“Addresses are geocoded, and the government would know which areas have the highest rates of non-citizens, including apartment complexes,” Mitchell said. “Anyone with census data could draw a map” for law enforcement to target undocumented immigrants. “It could be a local activist group or city council saying, ‘Look how many non-citizens are in that part of town.’ It’s crazy to think that they wouldn’t use the data if they had it.”
Even before the possibility of including a citizenship question arose, the Census Bureau had been facing several problems. It has no permanent director, field tests have been canceled, and funding has been cut.
Underscoring the importance of an accurate count, California Governor Jerry Brown last month proposed spending more than $40 million on census-related outreach efforts.
Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of the nonprofit California Endowment, told Capital & Main that whether or not there is a citizenship question, it will be “monumentally more difficult” getting people of color to respond to the census this year.
“There is a general climate of fear,” he said. “When there is the [American Civil Liberties Union’s] Know Your Rights campaign saying don’t open your door to ICE, how do you tell the same people that they should trust the government regarding the census?”
The 2020 census will be the first to include an online option, something the bureau says could increase participation. But even that might miss Latinos, according to Christian Arana of the San Francisco-based Latino Community Foundation. “There is a digital divide in the Latino community,” Arana said. “We don’t know if online will lead to a more accurate count.”
Arana and other community advocates say the onus for reaching California Latinos falls on them. “And what motivates people to respond is an understanding of why the census count is important,” Arana said. “They have to want to participate, and the messenger is important.”
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Trump: Make Immigrants’ Use of Public Health Benefits A Deportable Offense
Co-published by The American Prospect
New proposed restrictions mean that immigrants are more liable to be turned away at points of entry, or have their applications to extend their stays in the country be denied.
“There’s no doubt that we’re seeing on a national level what we saw in California in the Pete Wilson era.”
Co-published by The American Prospect
The Trump administration is making new rules that would prevent immigrants from settling in the country or receiving a green card if they or their families have received benefits from a wide array of federal, state and local programs — even if the benefits were for an immigrant’s U.S.-citizen children.
The language in the administration’s rule change, first reported by Reuters, shows that immigrants who enroll their children in public programs like Head Start or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) risk having their visa applications rejected.
The same goes for immigrants who apply for health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, along with Women, Infants and Children (WIC) assistance for poor pregnant or nursing women and their children.
“There’s no doubt that we’re seeing on a national level what we saw in California in the Pete Wilson era,” said Alvaro Huerta, referring to the get-tough policies of the former Republican governor in the 1990s. Huerta is a staff attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, which defends and advocates for the rights of immigrants with low incomes. “It’s the same over-the-top reaction to immigrants coming in, and the always-present scapegoating of immigrants for the economic woes of the country.”
Under Wilson, state health officials enthusiastically cooperated with the U.S. Department of State’s ill-fated Public Charge Lookout System. Initially touted as an anti-fraud program aimed at immigrants bilking the state’s Medi-Cal system, the program was discontinued after reports that state investigators and immigration agents were pressuring legal immigrants and even citizens to repay millions in Medi-Cal benefits to which they were legally entitled, or risk having their relatives’ visa applications rejected.
Federal guidelines passed in 1999 require immigrants seeking to become lawful permanent residents to demonstrate that they will not rely on government services. This nearly two-decade-old rule has been narrowly interpreted as reliance on government-funded long-term disability payments or government cash-assistance programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and state unemployment programs.
As a result, public charge is an element of federal immigration policy rarely invoked or enforced. According to State Department records, the denial rate for applicants on public charge grounds from 2005-12 was less than one one-hundredth of one percent.
The new restrictions that Trump is proposing mean that immigrants who have received any public benefit to which they were legally entitled are liable to be turned away at points of entry, or have their applications to extend their stays in the country be denied.
“We’ve already seen chilling effects at our health center since last January,” said Thu Quach, an administrator at Asian Health Services in Oakland, referring to the month when a draft executive order, directing the Department of Health and Human Services to change its policies so that use of health benefits could constitute a public charge, leaked from the White House.
Though the order was never issued, its message was clear. Immigrant-rights advocates say Trump’s new restrictions on government benefits are likely to trigger widespread fear in immigrant communities and frighten many legal immigrants into avoiding prenatal care and dropping their children from Medi-Cal rolls — to avoid having their or their family’s visa applications rejected.
“We have stories from staff indicating people are not signing up for food stamps or Medicaid, even though they’re eligible,” Quach said. “These are green card holders, not undocumented people. They will pay out of pocket so as not to be listed in records. They’re worried about whether the government will go after them and worried about their sponsors having to pay this back.”
Madison Hardee, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, DC, sees other consequences: “It’s a proposed rule that could force families, including citizen children, to choose between getting the help they need and reuniting with those who they love.”
The draft rule from HHS states the issue as one of legal immigrants placing an undue burden on American taxpayers.
“Non-citizens who receive public benefits are not self-sufficient and are relying on the U.S. government and state and local entities for resources instead of their families, sponsors or private organizations,” the document states. “An alien’s receipt of public benefits comes at taxpayer expense and availability of public benefits may provide an incentive for aliens to immigrate to the United States.”
A 2016 report by the National Academy of Sciences found the annual net cost to state and local budgets of first-generation adult immigrants is, on average, about $1,600 each. Second and third generation adults, on the other hand, annually provide a net positive of about $1,700 and $1,300 each, respectively, to state and local budgets.
Randy Capps, research director for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, an independent think tank in Washington, DC, says the administration is cherry-picking data to imply that immigrants as a group are dependent on the government or not working as much as they could be.
“We think of things like health insurance coming as support for initial integration, not long-term dependency,” Capps said. “If you look at the trajectory of benefits use it’s lower over time. That’s something not mentioned by the administration.”
A new rule change will require a lengthy review process before it can take effect. Jonathan Withington, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said, “No decision about public charge is final until the rulemaking process is completed.”
Immigration advocates say they are also preparing a legal challenge, if necessary, which could further delay implementation.
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Mentors Under Siege: California’s DACA Teachers
Of California’s roughly 223,000 DACA recipients, an estimated 5,000 are working teachers, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank.
“I don’t understand why they’re trying to kick us out and recruiting people with our same qualifications when we’re already here.”
— San Bernardino math teacher
“Students were crying,” says Cristian Aguilar, recalling the Wednesday after Election Day, 2016. “Parents were calling me; there was just a lot of tension, a lot of emotions. … Because whether or not they were born here, they still felt threatened. They knew someone — either their families, their friends or their neighbors — that were [going to be] affected.” The man who had famously launched his candidacy by slurring America’s Latino immigrants was now the president-elect.
Most of all, the students of San Jose’s nearly 80 percent Latino Hoover Middle School were acutely aware that if Donald Trump made good on his threats to revoke DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), Aguilar, their 25-year-old public school teacher, would soon again be living under the murky cloud of deportation. Ironically, he had long made it a point to share his own immigration tale with his kids as a means of inspiring them and to connect with their families.
For a melting pot like California, his story is far from unique. Of the state’s roughly 223,000 DACA recipients, an estimated 5,000 are working teachers, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. But with a March 5 deadline looming, California’s DACA teachers may soon find themselves locked out of jobs and careers.
Trump has lately rejected bipartisan immigration compromises that would have granted eventual citizenship to young immigrants like Aguilar, but which didn’t provide any funding for the president’s proposed border wall, or include White House demands for the termination of the current visa diversity lottery and deep cuts to the country’s traditional family reunification priorities.
“[Trump] wants to decrease legal immigration by about half, which is not something that’s ever been done in our country’s history,” pointed out California Sate University, Los Angeles anthropology professor Beth Baker, who specializes in immigration. “That’s very disconcerting, particularly because immigrants are really the motor of the economy.”
But for California’s DACA educators, losing their right to teach would be a crippling setback to a public school system in the throes of a chronic teacher shortage and in which one in eight school children have an undocumented parent. It would also mark a bitter reversal to what has been a quintessentially American odyssey of immigrant resolve and aspiration. Here are three of those 5,000 DACA teacher stories.
Aguilar was 10 when he crossed the border from Mexico with a brother in order to join his parents, who had been drawn here by the promise of a better life. Despite growing up without the legal rights and expectations taken for granted by birthright Americans, he quickly distinguished himself as a math prodigy after a bilingual teacher recognized his ability and tutored him, in Spanish, after school.
“It wasn’t until junior and senior year that I really found out what that meant, being undocumented,” he recalled. “Not being able to drive; not being able to apply for financial aid when it came to college applications. … I started noticing the discrepancies between my peers’ and my education.”
Despite having the grades and being accepted by California State University, Stanford University and the University of California, he settled for De Anza, a two-year community college in neighboring Cupertino. That’s when fate and Sacramento Democrats intervened with the introduction of 2011’s California Dream Act, which extended state financial aid to undocumented students at public universities and colleges. As battle lines formed over the contentious measure, Aguilar threw himself into the political fight, organizing students throughout Northern California as part of a campus immigrant-rights group that also lobbied the legislature.
Though the new law paved his way into UC Berkeley, it was the 2012 implementation of DACA by the Obama administration and Aguilar’s winning of temporary legal status that enabled him to set his sights on giving back to his community: “That’s when I knew I wanted to be there for students, especially other students of color, who have been marginalized and who have been under-represented for so long. Knowing [first-hand] the difficulty of being part of an educational system that really pushed us out — students who ‘don’t belong.'”
The Object Lesson
Ever since being brought from Mexico as a young child to Southern California by a mother determined to leave behind a nightmarish marriage and secure the best possible future for her daughter, Elysa Chavez (her real name has been withheld at her request), a third-year DACA high school math teacher in San Bernardino County, has been preparing for the best but girding for the worst.
“I can’t even believe that this is happening,” Chavez said of the immigration impasse. “The administration talks about getting rid of chain migration and bringing in people based on their merits and degrees, and the basic language — but I have a degree in math, which not a lot of people like. I teach math in a low-income community. I have a master’s degree. I speak the language. I pay my taxes. Everything that Trump is looking for, [DACA teachers] have. I don’t understand why they’re trying to kick us out and recruiting people with our same qualifications when we’re already here.”
She is not alone. In the months since Donald Trump announced the elimination of DACA and began threatening to abandon its recipients, Chavez has seen a pall of fear fall over her school’s 85 percent Hispanic students, particularly among the freshman and even some sophomores, who were too young to make DACA’s 15-year-old age threshold before it was canceled.
“What I have seen is students that are reluctant to share that they’re undocumented, when a couple of years back it wasn’t such a big deal,” she explained.
To offer them hope and encourage them to open up, Chavez tells them her own up-by-her-bootstraps story of attending Cal Poly Pomona at a time when there was no DACA or chance of a teaching career, or even financial aid for undocumented college hopefuls. (Chavez graduated just before DACA came online.)
“It’s tough, but it’s something that can be done,” she asserted. “So whenever they have questions, they come and they ask me. I have a feeling that I comfort them, but they do the opposite for me. They just make me worried, because I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, what’s going to happen with them, and are they going to see education as something that is valuable?’ Because I have a feeling that they might think, ‘What’s the point of me getting good grades if at the end of the day I might get deported?’”
Like many California DACA teachers, 25-year-old Angelica Reyes, who is a first-year Advanced Placement history teacher in South Los Angeles, traces her decision to become an educator to the inspiration provided by her own high school history teacher.
“I grew up in East L.A. and I saw a lot of disparities, both in the education that we were receiving, but also in huge wealth inequity,” she remembered. “This teacher used to engage me in a lot of really interesting conversations and challenged me to go beyond just inquiring, to try to change something in my community. So, I was involved in the project that brought in a grocery store to the community.”
Reyes said this campaign transformed the way that she saw herself and her relationship to the community. “I felt like the best way to make folks feel empowered and like they mattered was through education.”
So, that’s what she did. She was at Pasadena City College when she received DACA protections soon after the program came into being. That enabled her to do what had previously been unthinkable: complete both her undergraduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles and enter a master’s program in UCLA’s school of education.
“There wasn’t ever a question in my mind of whether I was going to go to college,” she recalled. “I knew that I was going to be more … My mom would always remind me that folks who have an education have more power, more agency and they’re able to better advocate for themselves and for folks like them. Of course, I was worried about not being able to work in the field that I’ve chosen, but that’s still a fear today.”
It hit home in September with Trump’s decision to rescind DACA. Like the other teachers in this story, Reyes came to school that day to find her kids terrified both for her sake and by the specter of the uncertainty and instability it would bring if she were removed as their teacher.
“That day,” she remembered, “it was a lot of validating their existence, their feelings, and also making sure that they understood that DACA in the first place wasn’t something that was granted to us. It’s something that a lot of folks fought for, and that’s where our communities get their power from, from advocacy and from grassroots organizing. I let them know that our federal government is very strong, but our communities are strong, too, when we come together. We can stop deportation.”
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DACA Dreamers Vent Rage at Senate Deal
Each day that Congress fails to find a solution for Dreamers, another 122 DACA recipients lose their legal status, according to the Center for American Progress.
Photos by Joanne Kim
Undocumented youth called Republicans “racists” and Democrats “cowards” at a Monday evening rally in downtown Los Angeles. They were angry that the U.S. Senate reopened the federal government without resolving the legal status of more than 800,000 immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
“To the Democrats in Congress, we want to tell you that we are outraged,” said a young woman, Diana, who was born in Peru and brought to the U.S. as a toddler. She was once protected from the threat of deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), but President Donald Trump rescinded that program last fall, setting a March 5, 2018 deadline for it to expire — unless Congress acts.
Each day that a legislative solution fails to materialize, another 122 DACA recipients, popularly known as Dreamers, lose their legal status, according to a study by the Center for American Progress.
Earlier on Monday, Democratic Senate leaders announced they had agreed to vote for a resolution funding the government for another three weeks in exchange for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-TN) promise that the chamber would soon take up the issue of immigration. More than 2,500 DACA recipients risk losing their legal status by the time funding runs out again.
Democrats “didn’t hold the line for us,” Diana said. “So we’re really, really furious. They don’t care about us. The Republicans as well. They’re heartless.”
Both California Democratic senators did vote against the move, which was acknowledged by speakers at the rally, organized by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). Senator Kamala Harris is rumored to be a 2020 presidential candidate, while Sen. Dianne Feinstein is facing a progressive primary challenge from California State Senate President Pro Tem, Kevin de León.
Manny J., a young man who’s had DACA protection since 2012, would like to stay in the country in which he grew up after his parents fled Central America — but not at the expense, he said, of other immigrants. “What we’re fighting for is a clean DREAM Act,” he said, meaning a bill that restores DACA without, among other things, funding a border wall.
“In every negotiation there’s a give and take,” Pablo Morales, political director at CHIRLA, said in an interview. “But we feel the conversation’s gone way beyond what’s been discussed in the past. In the past, when [Republicans] talked about a wall or more enforcement or changing the visa system, that was in exchange for 11 million undocumented immigrants having a path to citizenship. So now [they] want all that, and . . . to limit it to the Dreamers. And that seems to be not negotiating in good faith.”
CHIRLA is calling for a mass mobilization to demand a “clean” DREAM Act on February 3, five days before funding for the federal government runs out again.
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Scenes From Tijuana’s ‘Little Haiti’ Refugee Center
Photographer Ted Soqui documents life in a Haitian refugee center on the outskirts of Tijuana. Barred from entering the U.S., the Haitians live near a polluted stream but are building new living spaces on a church’s property.
Some 3,000-plus Haitians have become refugees in Tijuana, Mexico. Most had worked building and servicing the venues of Brazil’s 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Later they worked their way north to Tijuana, where they hoped to enter into the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
False rumors spread through the traveling community that President Obama would allow them to immigrate, as long as they made it to the U.S. before Trump was to take office. Some say they tried to enter the U.S. illegally, while others paid coyotes as much as $20,000 per person to help them cross the border. Most found themselves quickly deported back to Tijuana.
Then, last November, the Department of Homeland Security rescinded TPS protections for Haitians living in the United States that had been in place following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. The protections are scheduled to end July 22, 2019.
Immigration relief centers in Tijuana, originally constructed for Mexican deportees sent from the U.S., are now filled to capacity with the Haitians. Many sleep side by side on wooden shipping pallets covered with donated blankets in a recently converted parking area. Several centers fear a humanitarian disaster if the U.S. begins deporting more Haitians back to Mexico via Tijuana.
A small group of evangelical Haitians have decided to remain in Tijuana on a church site located in Cañón del Alacrán (Scorpion Canyon), where these photographs were taken. They say they have tried to find work in Tijuana, but jobs are scarce and wages are so low they barely break even after a day’ s work. (Along their perilous, two-year journey to Mexico, the Haitians developed a hybrid language of French-Creole-Spanish-Portuguese, which makes it difficult to communicate with the locals.)
The large church now serves at capacity as a dormitory for the Haitians, who are sustained by food and clothing donations. The pastor has begun to build small shacks nearby for the refugees, and the locals refer to the area either as “Little Haiti” or “Haitijuana.”
Deadly Detention: The Lonely Death of Moises Tino Lopez
The death of an undocumented laborer raises questions about detention translation protocols for non-English speakers, delays in providing needed care and inadequate medical staffing.
It’s an open question whether Tino Lopez would be alive if he hadn’t landed in the Hall County Jail. But it was clearly bad luck that got him locked up in the first place.
Co-published by Newsweek
In late August of last year, Moises Tino Lopez, 23, drove his wife, Petrona Juarez Tino, to an appointment with immigration authorities near their Grand Island home in Central Nebraska. Officers questioned Juarez Tino about her husband as he and the couple’s 2-year-old daughter waited in a nearby parking lot. Before Juarez Tino’s appointment was over, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested her husband on a previous deportation order. They delivered the toddler to her mother and booked Tino Lopez into the local jail, which also houses ICE detainees.
Less than a month later, Tino Lopez lay in a hospital bed, brain-dead and completely dependent on a ventilator to breathe.
On September 27, Tino Lopez’s family gave doctors permission to disconnect him from life support; the official cause of death was a brain injury brought on by seizure-related cardiac arrest, during which the brain was starved of oxygen.
“We don’t know what happened to him in jail,” said Juarez Tino. “He wasn’t sick, he was working in construction.” She noted that he had headaches, for which he took over-the-counter medication, but no history of seizures.Moises Tino Lopez and wife Petrona appear at left, with daughter Juana Jennileth.
In a Hall County Department of Corrections mug shot, Tino Lopez, who was short and slight, looks straight at the camera with a serious expression. His head is shaved on both sides in a fade and a shock of black hair falls over his forehead. “He was friendly. He was never rude,” Juarez Tino recalled. She said the two had settled in Grand Island with Tino Lopez’s sister just two months before her husband’s arrest. Grand Island’s large meat-packing plant and generally healthy job market has drawn scores of new immigrants here—mostly from Latin America and Somalia.
The couple had grown up as neighbors in the small town of Joyabaj in Guatemala’s highlands, and married four years before Tino Lopez’s death. Juarez Tino speaks Spanish with the accent of her native K’iche, the Mayan language of her region. Her husband was a saxophone player who loved making music and singing. “But what he loved most,” Juarez Tino said, “was his daughter.” She’s 3 and a half now, and will start preschool in January.
It’s an open question whether Tino Lopez would be alive if he hadn’t landed in the Hall County Jail. But it was clearly bad luck that got him locked up in the first place.
According to Rose Godinez, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, Tino Lopez would have had a chance to fight his case with a competent immigration attorney. He hadn’t committed a crime in the United States; he was ordered deported simply because he had entered here illegally, was caught and later failed to check in with immigration authorities, possibly because he didn’t understand the requirement.
He probably had a case for asylum, according to Godinez. Tino Lopez and his wife claimed they had been threatened by gun-wielding supporters of a mayoral candidate they had opposed in Guatemala, and said they feared for their lives. Juarez has since been granted a work permit in her asylum case on the same grounds, and has been told by her attorney that she’ll likely prevail.
Tino Lopez’s death triggered a criminal investigation by the Nebraska State Patrol and a grand jury proceeding, both required by Nebraska law following inmate deaths. The grand jury determined no crime was committed in his death. But an ICE review concluded that the Hall County Jail, which currently houses some 80 immigrant detainees, violated a number of ICE federal detention standards on medical care, and took other questionable actions that concern the agency.
All told, the documents raise questions about the jail’s ability to properly care for medically vulnerable detainees.
“The first [seizure] should have prompted a high level of concern and attention,” said Dr. Marc Stern, a correctional health-care expert. “And if the first one didn’t, the second one should have.”
In recent years ICE has come under fire for alleged substandard medical care in detention centers and in county jails. In a Human Rights Watch report released earlier this year, two physicians who reviewed 18 ICE detainee deaths found that poor care probably contributed to seven of them.
At the Hall County Jail, as in many ICE detention facilities, health care is provided by a for-profit contractor. Advanced Correctional Healthcare, based in Peoria, Illinois, serves over 250 jails and prisons in 17 Midwestern and Southern states and, on its website, states the company is saving thousands of dollars for local governments. But in the past 12 years, more than 150 inmates or their families have filed suit against the company and the local jails it serves, alleging they were hurt or their loved one killed as a result of poor care from ACH. Three wrongful death suits have been lodged in federal court against the company in the past six months alone.
ACH nurses began caring for Tino Lopez when he suffered a sudden seizure after about two weeks in jail. A nurse practitioner prescribed Tylenol and an anti-seizure drug, and noted that Tino Lopez should see a neurologist. Eight days later, he was taken to a lab for a CT scan, which revealed a possible abnormality but not the cause of his seizure.
The lab recommended a follow-up MRI to check for possible brain lesions, but ICE found the jail took no action to order the test, and never arranged for him to consult with a specialist.
After his seizure, jail documents show, Tino Lopez’s headaches continued. He complained of vision issues and told his wife that the anti-seizure medication was making him sicker. He was placed in solitary confinement after arguing with a fellow inmate and reported to a guard that the inmate had pushed him. Such disputes don’t warrant disciplinary segregation, according to the jail’s handbook. On September 16, Tino Lopez began refusing his medication altogether, even though nurses had switched to a different drug the day before. He was warned that refusing his meds could result in another seizure or even death. It’s unclear whether Tino Lopez, who spoke only Spanish and K’iche, understood the warnings or could adequately and openly explain his symptoms to jail nurses.
The grand jury testimony revealed that jail nurses simply continued to offer Tino Lopez the second medication to no avail, and the ICE review noted that they failed to notify their supervising nurse practitioner of his refusals. Three days after he stopped taking his meds, an officer found Tino Lopez unconscious and seizing in his cell. This second time, he was weaker and slower to come to. He had vomited after his seizure and again as officers attempted to walk him to a first-floor cell. He was so unsteady that officers carried him down the stairs to his new bunk.
In the minutes that followed this second seizure, jail nurse Angela Barcenas, a licensed practical nurse, considered sending him to a hospital. She consulted with Tammy Bader, the nurse practitioner who oversaw health care at the jail from her Omaha office and in weekly visits. Bader approved the hospital visit. But after Barcenas reviewed Tino Lopez’s medication refusals, she consulted Bader again. “She’s like, ‘That’s probably why he’s having seizures. We need to monitor him,’” Barcenas told the grand jury.
“The first [seizure] should have prompted a high level of concern and attention,” commented Dr. Marc Stern, a correctional health-care expert who formerly served as health services director for Washington state’s Department of Corrections. “And if the first one didn’t, the second one should have.” Stern, who consulted on Human Rights Watch’s ICE report, noted that seizure can be a sign of something more serious — even potentially fatal — caused by trauma, aneurysm or infection.
But Barcenas opted not to send Tino Lopez to the hospital. It’s unclear why she decided to keep him in his cell, but shortly afterward met with him a final time and, with a fellow inmate interpreting, Tino Lopez agreed to take his medicine later that evening.
About four hours after Tino Lopez’s second seizure, however, corrections officer Steven Greenland found him lying face down on his mat. Believing he was asleep, Greenland went to check on other inmates, but realized something was amiss and knocked on the detainee’s window moments later. There was no reply. Nor did Tino Lopez respond when Greenland entered the cell and shook him. “I tried rolling him over on his side and that’s when I noticed his face was blue and then all the vomit . . . came out of his mouth,” Greenland told the grand jury. Tino Lopez had no pulse and wasn’t breathing. Greenland radioed for help, and he and other officers began CPR, brought oxygen and the jail’s defibrillator.
“I know these people were doing everything they could to save his life. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be.”
No one knows exactly when Tino Lopez’s final seizure began – another officer had checked his cell 15 minutes before Greenland found him unconscious. But, had he not been in solitary in violation of jail policy, fellow inmates could have called for help at the moment he began seizing, said former Hall County Jail sergeant Debb Rea, who retired in 2015 after 30 years. Rea sued the Hall County Department of Corrections in 2016, alleging she’d been pushed out, in part, because she’d complained about unwarranted use of solitary confinement.
The ICE report found no justification for placing Tino Lopez in solitary.
A six-minute delay also occurred in calling 911. Jail policy is to call 911 immediately, according to Hall County Department of Corrections director Todd Bahensky. “We act as quickly as we can,” he said. “I know the officers here and I watched them giving CPR and I know these people were doing everything they could to save his life. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be.”
This story touches on some of the same issues that have appeared in other detention-death cases, especially regarding translation protocols for non-English speakers, delays in providing needed care and inadequate medical staffing.
ICE’s review noted that its findings “should not be construed in any way as indicating the deficiency contributed to the death of the detainee.”
But ICE reviewers document a series of missteps that call into question whether Tino Lopez’s life could have been saved if he’d received proper care.
The jail didn’t use qualified Spanish interpreters. Instead, they relied upon guards, a fellow inmate and even Google Translate to communicate with Tino Lopez.
ICE’s review found the detention center’s nearly exclusive use of LPNs supervised by a nurse practitioner who is available by phone, but present just one to three hours per week, falls short of the requirement that its medical staff be “large enough to perform basic exams and treatments for all detainees.”
The reviewers noted that Tino Lopez was warned of the consequences of refusing his medicine, but because of the language barrier, they wrote, “it remains unclear if Tino understood the potential consequences of non-compliance.” ICE inspectors, who interviewed jail and hospital staff, found that Tino Lopez, whose first language was K’iche, spoke no English and limited Spanish.
But the Hall County Jail didn’t even use qualified Spanish interpreters. Instead, they relied upon guards, a fellow inmate and even Google Translate to communicate with Tino Lopez.
“It’s grossly inadequate,” said Dr. Marc Stern, who reviewed parts of the grand jury transcript and exhibits. “It’s totally in violation of ICE detention standards, HIPAA [the medical privacy law] and it’s just wrong.”
Todd Bahensky said that officers or medical staff felt they could get information from Tino Lopez without using professional interpreters.
Interpreting snafus can cause big misunderstandings, said Cynthia Peinado, who offers classes for fellow medical interpreters in Nashville, Tennessee. She recalled that a surgeon with whom she had worked expressed pride in her use of Google Translate — until she learned that the app had instructed her patient to pour salad dressing on a wound, instead of re-applying a bandage.
The ICE report further found that medical staff failed to properly monitor Tino Lopez after deciding not to send him to the hospital and did not properly document many of its actions. It didn’t give Tino Lopez an adequate medical exam or ask him questions about any history of seizure, and it doesn’t have a written seizure protocol.
Tino Lopez’s death also poses questions about the care that detainees receive across the country, said Victoria Lopez, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project.
“We should be paying attention to each of these deaths because they bring up problems and deficiencies in this sprawling system,” noted Lopez, who reviewed some of the documents in Tino Lopez’s case. “It raises questions about continuing to fund this detention system and the need to continue detaining so many people.”
An ICE spokesman declined to comment for this article in time for publication. Officials at Advanced Correctional Healthcare did not return phone calls requesting comment.
Petrona Juarez Tino, Tino Lopez’s wife, now works at the local meat packing-plant and plans to rebuild her life in Nebraska. She said she has to stay strong and keep going for her daughter, and she wants answers about what happened to her husband. “He was still young,” she said.
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Deadly Detention: Why Are Immigrants Dying in ICE Custody?
Capital & Main has launched a new investigative project examining detention deaths, just as ICE signals a move toward even less openness than it has previously displayed.
Inspectors found that detainees in some centers are illegally strip-searched, housed in filthy conditions and segregated or placed in solitary confinement for trivial reasons.
Since 2016, 23 men and women have died inside Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers. They came from 15 countries in Latin America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Caribbean, and ranged in age from 23 to 65. The detainees included Osmar Gonzalez Gadba, a Nicaraguan national who hanged himself in his cell at the Adelanto Detention Facility near San Bernardino; a Panamanian named Jean Jimenez Joseph, who also committed suicide, in Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center; and Moises Tino Lopez, a young Guatemalan who died of “cardiac arrest” in a Nebraska jail. They were not prisoners serving criminal sentences, but immigrants who existed in a legal twilight without the freedom to leave their places of incarceration — in at least one case, because the detainee couldn’t afford the cost of bail.
Capital & Main has launched a new project, Deadly Detention, to give names and faces to these 23 dead, and to explain how they met such sad fates in the country most had come to in search of better lives. It is a counterweight to ICE’s secrecy and comes as the Trump administration expands an already sprawling detention system to accommodate the growing number of immigrants caught up in its deportation surge. (In September and October of this year, the Department of Homeland Security issued notices to potential bidders that it was interested in establishing new detention centers near Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul, Salt Lake City and one in South Texas that would hold some 1,000 detainees.)
We have petitioned for detailed information about each detainee death since 2016 under the federal Freedom of Information Act. ICE publicly released 13 of these detainee death reviews this month. Although far from conclusive, the reviews aim a rare spotlight on poor and often delayed care at the nation’s nearly 250 detention centers and county jails that house immigration detainees, many of which are in remote locations and largely hidden from public view.
Capital & Main has dug deeply into how and why these and other deaths occurred, whether or how they could be prevented, who is responsible and how the system can function more humanely.
This project begins as ICE signals a move toward even less openness than it has previously displayed. The agency has received preliminary approval from the National Archive and Record Administration to destroy records of detainee deaths and in-custody sexual assaults after 20 years, and solitary confinement documents after just three years.
At the same time, the plight of some detainees has recently attracted high-level attention: Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has called for an investigation into conditions for immigrant detainees at Contra Costa’s West County Detention Facility in Richmond, where they have reportedly been denied permission to use bathrooms. The DHS’s Inspector General conducted unannounced inspections at five detention centers and released a report this month that finds that detainees in four of them are illegally subject to strip searches, housed in filthy conditions without adequate water for bathing, and placed in solitary confinement or segregation for trivial reasons.
The Inspector General also discovered that medical care was delayed and detainees weren’t provided competent interpreters. (The IG visited the Hudson County Jail in New Jersey, Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico, Santa Ana City Jail in Orange County, California — which no longer houses ICE detainees — and Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. The IG had previously visited and reported on a number of abuses at the Theo Lacy Facility, also in Orange County.)
In the meantime, detainees continue to die, often far from family or friends. Their official obituaries — terse news releases written by government clerks following each death — are heavy on the details of individual criminal records and far less instructive about the detainees as people, or the circumstances surrounding their passing. Beginning today, we will fill in the gaps and shadows, and later, with the help of an interactive map, will provide thorough investigations of detainees’ lives and deaths. In those endeavors, any help from readers would be welcome. If you’d like to share information, please contact us at email@example.com, using “Deadly Detention” in the subject line.
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After the Inferno, Undocumented Workers Find Themselves Without Federal Help
Co-published by Newsweek
Undocumented laborers who worked in Wine Country vineyards are now finding the only assistance they can hope for, following Northern California’s recent wildfires, is mostly private charity.
For undocumented immigrants who have lost jobs or homes in the Northern California fires, the road to stability will be especially steep. Many are ineligible for federal aid of any kind.
Co-published by Newsweek
By 11 o’clock in the morning, as smoke billowed down a nearby hillside, Tesorito began to wonder if he ought to be in the vineyards. It was Monday, October 9, and he was harvesting wine grapes near the town of Sonoma. He was accustomed to the challenges of the job: the cold mornings, the snakes that hid beneath rocks and the double shifts during harvest time, when he could labor upwards of 90 hours a week. But when he paused to look north, he saw something he’d never seen before: a wall of flames.
Tesorito pointed the flames out to his friend, Lalo, a row over. Though both men could feel the heat on their faces, they turned back to the grapes. This was la pisca—the harvest—when they were paid by the amount of fruit they clipped, so every second counted. They had left for work at 5 a.m. and hadn’t heard about the fires that had begun to spread across Sonoma and Napa counties. At one point, Tesorito realized that the flames threatened to encircle the vineyard. In an instant, he and the rest of the panicked crew bolted for their cars and raced down the bumpy country road, using their windshield wipers to push away the falling ash.
“It was crazy, absolutely crazy,” Tesorito said in Spanish. He cleared his throat, which had gone raspy. He had picked up a hacking cough from the smoke, which he couldn’t seem to shake. It was a Saturday in late October, and he and Lalo were seated on folding chairs in the middle of a school gymnasium in Santa Rosa, attending a Spanish-language meeting about resources available to people affected by the fires. They hadn’t worked in two weeks, because roads to the fields were closed.
“My rent’s due soon and I don’t have it,” Tesorito told me. The 37 year old is short and stocky, with broad shoulders and callused hands. Lalo is 58, though he looks at least 10 years younger. Collectively, the friends have spent more than two decades in California’s famed Wine Country, part of an immigrant workforce that props up the state’s $57 billion a year industry.
“Everywhere we go, people have told us, ‘If you don’t have papers, we can’t help you.’ There is nothing for us.”
Both men are undocumented Mexican immigrants, but tell me that until recently their status hasn’t been much of a concern. (“I don’t cause problems and I do good work,” said Lalo.) The fires changed that. Neither man is eligible for the various forms of federal disaster aid, which ranges from unemployment benefits to housing assistance. This was their fourth meeting in eight days of searching for anyone who might be able to help.
After sitting through the 90-minute forum, the men approached a table staffed by a representative of a local Legal Aid office and explained their predicament, but while the woman listened politely, she had no advice for them. “Everywhere we go, people have told us, ‘If you don’t have papers, we can’t help you,’” Tesorito said as he walked out. “There is nothing for us.”
The Nuns Fire that nearly engulfed Tesorito and Lalo was the largest of the recent California wildfires, consuming 54,000 acres, destroying at least 1,300 buildings and killing two people. But it wasn’t the most destructive. The Tubbs Fire, which began outside of Calistoga and roared south into Santa Rosa, killed at least 22 people and transformed entire neighborhoods into surreal hellscapes. The various Wine Country fires turned the sky black for days and rained ash across the Bay Area, sending folks scurrying to the nearest hardware store in search of protective masks.
For undocumented immigrants who have lost jobs or homes, the road to stability will be especially steep. Many are ineligible for federal aid of any kind. Others may qualify for assistance if they have children who are U.S. citizens, but that would require turning over personal household information to the federal government.
At the forum, one audience member asked an official from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to promise that it wouldn’t share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The official stated that FEMA had never done so in the past, but that he couldn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t happen in the future. Several days earlier, ICE’s acting director, Thomas Homan, released a statement that appeared to link the wildfires to the unrelated arrest of an undocumented immigrant. In response, Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano slammed Homan’s statement as “inaccurate” and “inflammatory.” (Breitbart News also reported — then retracted — that the undocumented immigrant was suspected of starting the wildfires.)
The forum, which was attended by about 100 people, was held in Roseland, a neighborhood just south of downtown Santa Rosa. This is the heart of Sonoma County’s Latino community, and although the fire didn’t reach Roseland, the neighborhood has been deeply impacted. A day earlier, I had visited Roseland’s library, where dozens waited to speak to representatives of the Mexican consulate. One woman, Trinidad, said that her husband was a gardener and that the homes of half his clients had burned down. Another woman, Nayeli, cleaned five large homes; all five had burned down. It went like this down the line: dishwashers, hotel housekeepers, landscapers and nannies, all without work because their workplaces no longer existed.
Less than a mile from the library, Jonathan Bravo sorted through food donations at Bayer Farm, a community garden that has become a refuge for immigrants during the fires. “The tragedy has been immense,” said Bravo, a 63-year-old former math teacher in Mexico. “People are scared, especially our undocumented residents. We try to tell them: Don’t have fear. We are all together on the same boat.”
Several days after the fire started, Bravo and a group of volunteers began feeding meals to anyone who showed up. “We couldn’t just watch the smoke—we needed to respond,” said Bravo. On the first day, they served eggs, beans and handmade tortillas to 30 people. The next day, they fed 80. Since then, they’ve dished out three meals daily to an average of 250 people, all cooked by volunteers. As word about the meals spread, donations started to arrive: organic produce from the food bank, bread from a local bakery, checks to defray the costs of running what amounts to a restaurant for the unemployed.
One recent donation came from the Graton Day Labor Center, located in the small town of Graton, west of Santa Rosa. “We serve the people who fall through every safety net—the day laborers and the domestic workers,” said director Christy Lubin. On the other side of the office, a group of men chatted quietly in Spanish, hoping to be sent out. “We’ve only dispatched 12 folks today, when we’d normally send out 25 or 30,” Lubin said.
Donations soon began to arrive from people who knew that the day labor center could get money into the hands of people who needed it. “We gave out about $5,000 in cash—just money for cellphones, gas and food,” said Lubin. “But people wanted to give more, and so I thought, ‘What are we going to do?’” Together with the North Bay Jobs with Justice and North Bay Organizing Project, Lubin launched UndocuFund to provide disaster relief to undocumented immigrants. Within 24 hours they had raised more than $100,000. To date, they’ve brought in $750,000. The fund, whose advisory committee includes undocumented immigrants, will soon begin to accept applications for financial assistance.
At Bayer Farms, about 50 people were seated at picnic tables eating dinner. This was the 11th day that the garden had provided free meals to the community, but with school starting back up soon, it wasn’t clear how much longer the experiment would run. Jonathan Bravo had also started to get pressure from the city, which wasn’t entirely pleased about the unlicensed operation.
Not that he had any regrets. “We say that we don’t grow tomatoes or lettuce, we grow people,” he said. The fire had provided a chance to prove it. He picked up a walnut from the ground, cracked it open, and handed me a piece. The nut was from a black walnut tree that rose high above the garden. Bravo told me that last year, nearby construction had damaged the roots of the tree, and an arborist had suggested that they cut it down while the wood was still salvageable. Instead, they decided to see if they could nurse the tree back to health. Each week, classes of schoolchildren work in the garden, and when they learned that the tree was sick, a few made a habit, before leaving, of speaking words of encouragement to the tree and giving it a hug.
“There is hope,” Bravo said. “We can’t minimize the suffering that the fire caused. Twelve of our garden teachers lost their homes. Four of our volunteers lost their homes. But we still have families and we still have children and we are still here. So there is hope.”
Copyright Capital & Main
The Art of the Border: Searching for Kikito
Co-published by The American Prospect
Kikito, an enormous photograph of a 1-year-old child, pasted onto plywood sheets, stands 65 feet high on Mexico’s side of the border. Viewed from the U.S., he is a giant black-and-white toddler, his chubby hands appearing to grip the top of the border wall as he looks over it, into the mysterious United States.
All Photographs by David Bacon
A French artist’s colossal installation on Mexico’s side of the border may make the invisible visible, but other subjects carry a sharper critical edge and pose deeper questions.
Co-published by The American Prospect
For almost an hour Laura, Moises and I drove through the dusty neighborhoods of Tecate, looking for Kikito. Tecate is a small border city in the dry hills of Baja California. It’s famous for a huge brewery, although today most workers find jobs in local maquiladoras.
When we asked for directions, a couple of people had heard of Kikito, but couldn’t tell us where he was. Most didn’t know who we were talking about.
We figured that if we kept driving along the border fence we’d find him. In these neighborhoods the second stories of large comfortable homes, mostly built in the 1940s and ’50s, rise above adobe walls enclosing their courtyards. But unlike downtown, with its colorful bustle, there was no street life on the hot streets here, hardly anyone on the sidewalk.
Finally we passed the one man who could surely tell us how to find Kikito — the cable guy. He even volunteered to lead us in his van part of the way. Using his directions, we bumped along a dirt road next to the border fence, up and down a couple of hills where the city fades into scrubland. Then we found Kikito.
He was much larger than I’d imagined.
Kikito is an enormous photograph of a 1-year-old child, pasted onto plywood sheets. The assemblage is mounted on a huge, complex metal scaffold, 65 feet high, much like what painters erect to embrace the buildings they work on. Kikito’s scaffolding, however, doesn’t embrace anything. Instead, it pushes the enormous photograph towards, and above, the border wall’s severe vertical iron bars.
The structure is so big that to bring the photo into position, part of the hillside had to be excavated, and a hole dug deep into the ravine at the bottom. I felt like Dorothy going behind the curtain to confront the Wizard as he manically pulls levers to present his fierce, disembodied face to the world. Like the Wizard’s, you can only see Kikito’s visage the right way from the other side of the curtain — in this case, the metal fence separating Tecate from the U.S.
Virtually every family has a member or friend who’s crossed to the U.S., where over nine percent of the country’s population now lives.
Viewed from the U.S. side, Kikito becomes a giant black-and-white toddler, his chubby hands appearing to grip the top of the border wall as he looks over it, into the mysterious United States. He has a slight smile.
If we’d been on the U.S. side, driving east from San Diego, we could have followed the directions Kikito’s creator, the French artist JR, posted on his website. There you can even see JR’s photograph of two U.S. Border Patrol agents staring at the baby. Apparently they often help visitors find the right spot.
We now have 20,000 Border Patrol agents, whose parked vans dot the desert all along the border wall from California to Texas, as they wait to grab someone trying to cross. Helping visitors find Kikito must provide a welcome break in the tedium of watching and waiting, and sweating in vans on shadeless hills, where the temperature climbs to 105 degrees and above.
At this spot along the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., Border Patrol agents fired through the wall and killed Ramsés Barron-Torrés. His portrait and a cross are on the wall of the building in Mexico below, where he fell. Agents say they were justified in shooting because people were throwing stones at them, but the street is far below and there is little danger that a stone could even pass through the iron bars at such a distance.
It’s obvious that Kikito’s audience is located in the U.S. “The piece is best viewed from the U.S. side of the border,” JR’s website explains. In fact, the optical effect can only be seen from that side — Mexicans standing in Tecate, where it’s actually located, can’t see it the right way. JR says Kikito is looking “playfully,” but then admits, “Kikito and his family cannot cross the border to see the artwork from the ideal vantage point.”
I took a photo of Laura on a nearby hummock, just to give an idea of the structure’s immense scale. She seems diminutive next to it. In her classes at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF) in Tijuana, and in her books and research about the migration of Mexico’s indigenous people to Baja California and eventually to the U.S., Laura Velasco is hardly dispassionate. She advocates for migrants, and has no love for the wall and its unsubtle messages of “Keep Out!” and “Stay in Mexico!”
“We are the invisible people. In this life, no one counts for less than a deported Mexican.”
That’s one reason she liked Kikito. “He shows us to be human beings,” she said, looking up at his half smile. “That’s a good message for people in the U.S. And he does it without shouting, just by being who he is.” If people in Mexico can’t see him properly, she thinks, they’re not the ones who need to get the message anyway.
When the installation went up, President Trump had just issued his threat to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA ) program, withdrawing the legal status of 800,000 young people brought by their parents to the U.S. without visas as children. Many of those youth — the Dreamers — saw a baby looking over the border wall as a symbol of their own humanity in the face of fear and possible deportation.
Yet my visceral reaction, as I looked down the hillside at this immense toddler, was more skeptical. In a desert where hundreds of people die every year of thirst and exhaustion, trying to dodge Border Patrol agents, trekking on foot across the wall in the intense heat, is it enough to simply say, “Immigrants are human beings”? Why such a soft message in such a harsh context?
Migrants found dead on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, in the area of the Imperial Valley and Colorado River, are buried in a potters field graveyard in Holtville. The identities of many are not known, and are buried as “John Doe” or “Jane Doe.” Immigrant-rights and religious activists have made crosses for many of the graves, most of which say “No Olvidados,” or “Not Forgotten.”
The wall, and the border militarization of which it is a part, is exacting a terrible cost. It’s paid by uprooted Oaxacan farmers needing work and money to send home, by parents and children desperate to reunite families fractured by earlier migrations, by Honduran refugees fleeing violence. When many die crossing the desert (232 in the first seven months of 2017), they’re buried in the Holtville cemetery, 89 miles east of Kikito in the Imperial Valley.
Successive U.S. administrations have beefed up the Border Patrol’s numbers, built multiple walls, handed out contracts for high-tech surveillance devices, detained hundreds of thousands of people in for-profit detention centers and then deported them. It’s a big media story, and produces a fascination with the border among U.S. photographers and artists, who then create photodocumentaries and art projects currently popular in the mainstream media. The border sells, in other words. Kikito is part of a growing genre.
Richard Misrach, a well-known photographer, produced a large book of photographs, Border Cantos, which shows the absurdity of a wall of iron bars that suddenly stops at a golf course, allowing real estate agents to play through. He communicates an atmosphere of violence in images of spent shells on the range where Border Patrol agents practice shooting, and the possibility of death from thirst in images of flags signaling the water cans left by immigration activists and Good Samaritans along the migrant trails. But like Kikito, his audience is in the U.S. The photographs, almost all without people, look at the border wall from the northern side.
Some projects are less documentary. In the New Yorker, writer Jonathan Blitzer recounts how Magnum photographer Carolyn Drake “set out for the U.S.-Mexico border just after Donald Trump won the Presidency.”
“Where is Drake taking us?” Blitzer asks. “This is an American project, she told me. She’s less concerned with who’s crossing to or from Mexico than she is with who’s already on the American side, living alongside the border as though wedged between two worlds.”
The New Yorker labeled Drake’s work “Haunted Photographs of America’s Borderlands,” a phrase that signals that we’re only looking at the border from the U.S. side. “Our obsession with the border has a lot of fantasy involved,” Drake explained to Blitzer. ”You’re searching for something, but it’s not really there.” Her 22 photographs on the magazine’s website are all taken in the U.S. — Mexicans only exist once they’ve arrived in the north.
“When did this contemporary diaspora become a ‘fantasy’?” asks Don Bartletti, who in his years at the Los Angeles Times probably took more photographs of the border than any other U.S. photographer. “The border is certainly clearly defined for millions of people searching for something better on the other side.”
Another New Yorker writer, Alexandra Schwartz, calls JR “a magician who conjures people onto walls.” She notes that he’s done other photographic projects on the same scale, pasting black-and-white portraits of immigrants onto buildings and walls in Europe and elsewhere. He too got his impetus from Trump. “When Trump started to talk a lot about a wall along the Mexican border, one day I woke up and I saw a kid looking over the wall,” JR told Schwartz. “We know that a 1-year-old doesn’t have a political vision, or any political point of view. He doesn’t see walls as we see them.”
I’m sure JR doesn’t see Mexicans as 1-year-olds. But the way the border is objectified and used can make people in Mexico suspicious about how people on the other side of the wall see them, when they see them at all.
“The subject of the border is profitable for artists,” Enrique Botello, a photographer in Ensenada and founder of Galería 184, told me. “I think most U.S. photographers don’t understand the price we’re paying on the border, in terms of the number of people dying. They’re motivated mainly by self-interest because the subject of the border is easy to sell. A lot of photographers only want to come and take pictures without being very critical — just exploit the subject.”
A fter looking at Kikito, we drove over to Tecate’s new municipal art center for the presentation of a book about California farmworkers, published jointly by COLEF in Tijuana and the University of California Press in Oakland. Afterwards we went to drink wine at a local restaurant with friends — poets and artists.
“Kikito means nothing to me,” announced Francisco Morales, Baja California’s celebrated poet and activist. (See his poems that follow this article.) His partner, Rocio Hoffmann Silva, is a portrait painter. Between them, they live project to project, book to book, and often have a hard time putting together the income to pay the bills. “I look at the resources needed to create Kikito, and think about what we could use them for here,” she said. “There’s so much available in the U.S. When we want to create art that looks at our lives here, support is hard to find.”
Oscar Contreras, a sociologist at COLEF born in Tecate, thought Kikito didn’t have to make an overt political statement. “It can exist in its own right,” he argued, “and we can appreciate it or not based on how well it communicates its aesthetic ideas.” Kikito, however, and photographs of the wall and the “borderlands” are created as social documents, not just art abstracted from reality. That’s the basis for their media popularity — why photographers and artists get the funding needed to create them. “If they’re measured against social reality, I think that’s fair,” he added. “After all, can Kikito exist without the wall?”
Morales isn’t angry at Kikito in particular, but like many of his colleagues believes Tijuana’s vibrant culture is ignored in U.S. media coverage of the border. Mexican artists create their own art about the migration experience, because it is such a fundamental aspect of Mexican life. Virtually every family has a member or friend who’s crossed to the U.S., where over nine percent of the country’s population now lives. One famous work mounted crosses on the border wall’s metal plates, where it runs along the road past the Tijuana airport. Gallon jugs symbolizing the water carried by border crossers were stacked against it, each with the name of someone whose body had been found in the desert.
At the ironically-named Friendship Park (Parque de la Amistad) in Playas de Tijuana, the graffiti on the wall’s bars is itself an art project. The wall, both there and on the fence leading to Mexicali’s crossing gate, has become a venue for photographers and artists. Their art is sharp, critiquing mass deportations and the hard lives of migrants on the other side. And these works can only be shown on the Mexican side — the Border Patrol will not allow art installations on the side they control.
Much of the Mexican art about the border focuses on the wall and its human cost, but photographers like Botello also insist that the coverage has to include the roots of migration. “The problem of the border is bilateral,” he says. “U.S. policy toward the border is becoming very radicalized, causing the death of so many migrants. But the problem of the border is also that of the countries exporting those migrants.”
To Enrique Botello, the problem of Kikito is that he is too distant, both from the deaths at the border and from the reasons people risk it — what they are migrating from. “JR says that he has no political position!” he exclaims. “His interest isn’t in making a commitment, just in his art.”
Bartletti is angrier. “Many photographers who parachute in to the U.S.-Mexico border portray its cultural anthropology as simple theater,” he argues. “‘The Border’ has become a convenient stage, with little documentary evidence of the causes and consequences of migration for survival. But it’s probably good for their bottom line.”
Art or photography can help change the world, if it arises from the political commitment and involvement of the artist and photographer. “We should strengthen solidarity on all the borders of the world,” Botello urges, “so that that someday all those borders will disappear.” Therefore photography projects, he believes, should be produced in cooperation across the border, in active solidarity.
While there are few examples of this today, it is an idea with historical precedent. In the 1930s and ’40s Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco came to the U.S. and created radical murals that were cultural weapons of that era in movements for social change. They inspired a generation of radical U.S. painters in the process. Rivera’s Rockefeller Center mural, “Man at the Crossroads,” was viewed as so dangerous that its patron, Nelson Rockefeller, had it demolished. Tina Modotti, born in Italy and raised in San Francisco, and Mariana Yampolsky, born in Chicago, created photographs that became part of the revolutionary cultural upsurge in Mexico from the 1920s to the 1950s.
In making Kikito, a Mexican child visible to the United States, JR has created a border-focused project. But if part of its purpose was to make the invisible visible, other subjects carry a sharper critical edge, and pose deeper questions about the reality people experience on the border. What happens, for instance, to those pushed back through the gate in the border wall, once they’re deported from the U.S.?
Today scores of young people live in the concrete channel built to contain the floods of the Tijuana River, which runs through the middle of the city near the border between Mexico and the U.S. Like the Los Angeles river channel, it is mostly a featureless cement expanse, but in Tijuana it is filled with deportees with no money and no homes.
Juan Manuel Barragan Corona, recently expelled from the U.S. and living in the river bottom, has a wife and two teenage children in Las Vegas. “We are the invisible people,” he says. “In this life, no one counts for less than a deported Mexican.”
Two poems from San Ysidro Zone, by Francisco Morales
Translated by Iliana Hernández Partida
words had left me dry
the hate helicopter flies again
looking for migrants through the wired.
at the crackling corner of hunger
a patched tunnel
fears and mastiffs are after feeble dogs.
The coffee and the chipping bowl got cold
Ah, these men! :
How many fences they build!
how much misery
for so many nomadic skeletons!
More common than shadows and noise
a wall rises upon us.
That humidity scented wall
does not scream nor crackles
no groans come from it.
It cuts maliciously
the Psalms history that we traced
our elucubrations fiercely built
like a coastline without sowings
or a private lilies swamp.
The silence wall.
The seed growing missing a life seed
along the sunset working as a watchman
and the stubborn eyes browsing
from the chiaroscuro grid.
The seven vigils bitch
giving birth to new sarcasms.
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