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

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

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Co-published by International Business Times

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Breaking News: Study Shows Spike in Federal Immigration Prosecutions While White-Collar Cases Plunge

A spike in immigration prosecutions comes only a few months after Justice Department data showed that the Trump administration has overseen a 20-year low in white-collar criminal prosecutions.

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David Sirota

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (DoD photo by Dominique A. Pineiro)

The Trump administration’s immigration crackdown appears to be crowding out other law enforcement priorities, according to a new analysis of Justice Department data.

A study released Monday by Syracuse University researchers showed that federal immigration prosecutions in June comprised 94 percent of all cases in the five U.S. Attorney districts along the southwest border. That is up from 86 percent in March. The report noted that federal officials in those border areas are moving forward with more prosecutions that are being referred by the Customs and Border Protection. In June, prosecutors moved forward with more than 11,000 of those cases – up 74 percent since March.

The spike in immigration prosecutions comes only a few months after Justice Department data showed that the Trump administration has overseen a 20-year low in white-collar criminal prosecutions. (See graph below.)

Graph: Syracuse University

Syracuse researchers noted that the immigration focus appears to have come at the expense of prosecutions in other areas that U.S. Attorneys oversee.

“Federal prosecutors are responsible for enforcing a wide range of important federal laws – designed to combat narcotics trafficking and weapons offenses, battle those polluting air and water, counter corporate and other schemes to defraud the public, and much more,” they reported. “Unless crimes are suddenly less prevalent in the districts along the southwest border, the odds of being prosecuted for many federal offenses have declined.”

The simultaneous increase in immigration prosecutions and decline in white-collar crime prosecutions followed Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ April 2018 announcement of a “zero-tolerance policy” and his demand that U.S. Attorneys focus on immigration.

“To those who wish to challenge the Trump administration’s commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you: Illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice,” Sessions declared. “To the department’s prosecutors, I urge you: Promoting and enforcing the rule of law is vital to protecting a nation, its borders, and its citizens. You play a critical part in fulfilling these goals, and I thank you for your continued efforts in seeing to it that our laws—and as a result, our nation—are respected.”


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California Lawyers Strategize to Save Targeted Immigrants

Attorneys are gearing up for an intensification of a brutal, two-year fight to protect immigrant communities from an increasingly punitive federal government and its enforcement agencies.

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Sasha Abramsky

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Photo: Joanne Kim

Since Donald Trump’s election in 2016, immigrant-rights attorneys have been waging a furious rearguard action to protect immigrants and would-be immigrants from a race-baiting federal administration. The last couple of months have been particularly ferocious.

In April, the Trump administration embraced a “zero tolerance” policy against those crossing the southern border without papers, a decision that resulted in the separation of thousands of children from their parents. It also slowed to a crawl the processing of asylum claims, locking out thousands of asylum seekers who have been left encamped in Mexico. It continued to largely shut U.S. doors to refugees – barely a few dozen Syrian refugees have been admitted into the U.S. in the first half of 2018. It continued the roll back of temporary protected status for more than half a million U.S. residents. And it has made clear it intends to lock legal immigrants out of a vast array of public services. In June, the Supreme Court upheld Trump’s Muslim travel ban, paving the way for the president to claim a national security prerogative for an array of anti-immigrant and discriminatory policies.

Here in California, attorneys across the state are gearing up for an intensification of an already brutal, two-year fight to protect immigrant communities from an increasingly punitive federal government and its enforcement agencies.

Capital & Main interviewed five leading immigrant-rights attorneys about their legal strategies and their predictions as to how these struggles will play out in California, and nationally — with California continuing to take the lead in efforts to resist the swing to xenophobia — over the coming months and years.


Capital & Main: Are we at the nadir now, nationally, vis-à-vis immigration policy?

Judy London, directing attorney for Public Counsel’s Immigrants’ Rights Project in Los Angeles: How low can our government get? It keeps getting lower than anyone thought. The meanness, the complete disregard for human rights is staggering. And the sophistication in trying to eliminate every remedy. The illegality of what they’re doing is stunning. Pre-Trump, we could advocate and reach out to human beings in government. We didn’t always prevail, but we prevailed a lot.

Kevin Johnson, Dean of the University of California, Davis Law School: We’re seeing a series of skirmishes on immigration that reveal some fundamental problems with our immigration laws. We still haven’t been able to come to a consensus about the kinds of compromises immigration reform might entail. It has to deal with the undocumented, with legal immigration and with some kind of enforcement devices – like workplace enforcement. I view all these things as part of the bigger problem and inability to agree on reform. We’re currently at a place where we can’t have rational and unemotional discussions about the hard issues.

C&M: Let’s not forget that many of the harsh government actions towards immigrants, especially those without documents arriving from Central America, began under President Obama. Is this simply more of the same or is it qualitatively different?

Holly Cooper, co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at UC Davis, and co-counsel in Flores v. Sessions (a case that limited the amount of time children caught crossing the border could spend in detention facilities): We had predictability under Obama. Now there’s just a huge level of unpredictability. Obama was very hard on women and children arriving as asylum seekers. He had family separation; we had to litigate that. [But] we could kind of tell what his priorities were and develop strategies for the long term. Now, it’s a war on everything, and we never know when the next executive order will come down.

DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] was beneficial, but a limited recourse for young people. Trump’s tried to take that away. It’s still under heavy litigation. There’s also the travel ban. Immigration advocates are under a constant hyper-vigilance. I never felt like I was always responding to a massive crisis under Obama.

Judy London: Post-2014, there [has been] a great deal of success getting foundations to fund legal services for unaccompanied minors. Right now we represent 180 unaccompanied minors. And we’ve done a lot of work around protections for immigrant children, both in the DACA context and [with] asylum seekers amongst the unaccompanied children. They have more access to lawyers than families released from detention, who land in L.A. and literally are sleeping on Skid Row. We have a team of about 12 people serving unaccompanied minors released from shelters.

C&M: How do you respond to the huge crisis created not only by neglectful treatment of unaccompanied minors, but also by the recent deliberate wholesale separation of parents from children along the border?

Judy London: We’re going to see all kinds of different lawsuits. The scope is new — there’s going to be a lot of law created. It’s just a matter of time before a child dies in custody or is raped. There is absolutely no plan for how to manage detaining families and children. They have no idea what they’re doing. There’s very much the banality of evil. It is breathtaking.

C&M: There are so many fires to try to put out at the moment. What, for you, are the most urgent?

Holly Cooper: For children’s detention, in the short term we have a plan to defend the Flores settlement agreement. There’s been an executive order where Trump has told the government to modify it so he can create internment camps. [On June 21] they filed an ex parte motion to modify the agreement, even though the judge already decided the issue in 2015. It was upheld by the Ninth Circuit. Now they’re saying things have changed and the decision has led to more immigration. We don’t believe it has. They don’t provide any evidence. Most people are telling me they are migrating to protect their children from death. I’ve never met an immigrant who said, “I migrated with my child so I wouldn’t be detained.” To say someone from the highlands of Guatemala understands the Flores settlement is pretty far-fetched.

We have one girl, a client, [who] crossed the border, was traumatized when she was separated from her siblings, had a psychotic breakdown and was put in a residential psychiatric treatment center. At the time, she was 15. We’re even hearing reports there are kids as young as 6 this is happening to. We’ve had reports from the American Bar Association that the kids are so traumatized they’re being sedated. The government has told us they believe they have the authority to medicate children. We’re getting reports 300 parents can’t find their children in Texas. There may be more. It’s the kind of stuff that keeps you up at night. I can’t sleep.

Stephen Kang, detention attorney with the American Civil Liberties Immigrants’ Rights Project, based in San Francisco: There’s so much work to be done. There’s been such activity in this administration to roll back protections for immigrants and take an extreme enforcement-oriented position to immigration. We’re in year two, and it doesn’t look that much better than year one. My role as a litigator is mitigating this. I view it as part of a broader movement of folks mobilizing around immigrant-rights issues. It’s important to remember the Muslim ban was an executive decision. Congress still has the power to override it. I think there’s hope in the sense that there’s going to be individual and potentially systemic cases.

C&M: Does being in California, with a legislature and an attorney general sympathetic to immigrants, help you here?

Kevin Johnson: The attorney general of California understands that the more [federal] policies are at the edge, the more lawsuits you’re going to see. Over the next six months we’ll see challenges to the legality of indefinite detention; it’s an issue the Supreme Court recently bounced back to the Ninth Circuit, in Jennings v. Rodriguez. We’ll return to DACA rescission and a lot of fights over sanctuary legislation.

Holly Cooper: When you put the state in as well, that’s helpful. We can pool our ideas — the more brains behind something, the better your legal case is. That can have an effect on the judiciary. Judges are now very, very receptive to granting more creative forms of relief.

Anoop Prasad, senior staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus’ Immigrant-Rights Program: One of the biggest challenges is the Justice Department lawsuit against California’s sanctuary policy — the series of laws putting limits on the way California cooperates with immigration officers.

C&M: Do you think the Justice Department challenge will succeed?

Anoop Prasad: It seems like it is going to get dismissed, [though] I’m sure they will appeal it up. It’s going to be a fairly slow process working its way up to the Supreme Court. We’re looking at three-plus years of litigation. It seems unlikely the district court judge will issue an injunction. So, the laws will stand. State and local jurisdictions have a lot of tools [with which] to push back on deportations – because the deportation machine has been built on state and local law enforcement.

The primary driver of internal deportations is local law enforcement. ICE is picking up most people because they have some contact with local law enforcement, and there is a very high level of electronic information sharing. California’s sanctuary policy says it’s up to them to say, ”No, we’re not going to cooperate.” Also, ICE’s detention system is spread over hundreds of facilities; very few are federally owned. California passed a law restricting the abilities of local sheriffs to rent future space to ICE. The goal is to make it as hard on ICE as possible, to push back. Long-term, we must think about chipping away at, and dismantling, this really awful system of deportation we’ve built over the past couple of decades.

C&M: Does the Supreme Court’s upholding of the travel ban, which uses national security arguments to bar visitors and immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries, open the door to broader bans? And if so, how will immigrant-rights attorneys in the state respond?

Kevin Johnson: This president likes to poke the bear every day on immigration. Just this weekend, he tweeted something about deporting people without hearings. It’s not legal — you can’t just summarily deport people. This is a time when lawyers can really make a difference – organizations, and the attorney general of California, who understand that the only way to deal with ignorance of the rule of law is to file lawsuits. Resort to the courts — bring lawsuits, get injunctions stopping illegal executive orders going into place. The next step will be to challenge them [national security executive orders] and show they are not legitimate. They are arbitrary and capricious, possibly motivated by discriminatory intent. We’re going to see things being slowed down. The public outrage with pictures of family separations really touched a chord and got this president to change his mind. The thing with this president, it took him three times to get the travel ban maybe right. It’s not like they’re technicians who take the time to get things right.

Anoop Prasad: It’s very important for lawyers to bear witness. In terms of the ban, there are challenges that are still available. It’s not a complete blank check he has. [But Trump] may try and abuse his power even more, and inch toward broader and broader bans. It’s quite possible he’ll attempt to add more countries to the ban. I’d assume he would be sued again.


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The Zombie Guest Worker Bill

Co-published by Fast Company
Republican immigration reform proposals may be dead, but Republican guest worker proposals live on.

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David Bacon

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Co-published by Fast Company

On Wednesday, June 27, Republicans’ effort to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill went down in flames for the second time in a month, due to divisions within their own party. The Republican attempt to create a vast new guest worker program, however, has not ended.

That effort has been headed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and is supported by many growers around the country, particularly on the West Coast. Originally Goodlatte introduced a stand-alone bill in 2017, the Agricultural Guestworker Act. Although that bill didn’t receive a vote in Congress, its main provisions were folded into a much larger, comprehensive bill Goodlatte tried to pass this spring, the Securing America’s Future Act. That bill failed by a vote of 193 to 231. Goodlatte then incorporated his guest worker provisions into the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act (H.R. 6136). That fared even worse, 121 to 301.

Nevertheless, House Speaker Paul Ryan made a promise to Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-WA), a cosponsor of H.R. 6136, that he would hold a vote on agricultural worker issues before Congress adjourns at the end of July. After noting his minority votes for the two comprehensive immigration bills, and criticizing fellow Republicans for torpedoing them, Newhouse said in a statement, “the House has yet to address the crisis facing agriculture producers who cannot find enough workers, and I will not stop advocating for improvements to create a reliable legal guest-worker system. If our nation’s farmers are to continue providing food for America and the world, it is incumbent on Congress to act to address labor needs. I thank the Speaker for committing to hold a vote on this matter in July.”

Goodlatte’s guest worker bill has not yet been reintroduced, but when it is, the contents will undoubtedly be the same as in previous iterations. The latest guest worker provisions, in the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act, are a window into what’s to come. Those provisions would create a massive new guest worker program, based on a new visa category called H-2C. This would take the place of the current H-2A visas, whose numbers have increased from 44,619 workers in U.S. fields in 2004 to 200,049 last year – a growth of about 450 percent in a little over a decade.

Critics of H-2A visas have two chief complaints: First, that workers in the program are exploited and often cheated, and second, that resident farm workers are displaced by growers who see H-2A workers as easier to control, and potentially less expensive. The proposed H-2C program would put the H-2A program on steroids, according to Bruce Goldstein, president of the Washington, DC-based farm worker advocacy group, Farmworker Justice.

“Over the last year,” Goldstein charges, “Rep. Goodlatte has made it his mission to create a massive new guest worker program of millions of captive workers who have even fewer labor rights than the current workers they would replace. His new guest worker program would convert an entire industry, from the farms and ranches to the packing houses and processing plants, from lettuce and grapes to dairy cows and poultry, into a labor force of exploitable temporary guest workers with virtually no workplace protections and with no opportunity to join the communities they are helping to feed.”

Goodlatte’s H-2C provisions might result in two million visas issued in the first two years, Farmworker Justice predicts, supplying contract labor to meatpacking and food processing, in addition to agriculture. Growers would be able to employ workers year round, and continuously from one year to the next. Current H-2A workers have to return to their home countries within a year, and can come back the following year if they receive a new contract. In either program, workers have the same vulnerability. If they fail to meet grower production demands, if they complain or organize, or if they simply get on the wrong side of a foreman, they can be fired, and must leave the country immediately.

Today each state has to calculate a wage rate for H-2A workers that, in theory, doesn’t undermine local farm worker wages. H-2C worker wages, however, would be set at 115 percent of the federal $7.50/hour minimum wage, or applicable state or local minimums. This locks in farm labor wages at the minimum-wage level, since local farm workers who demand more could be replaced with contract workers. Workers’ fear of replacement by H-2A labor is already affecting strawberry wages in Santa Maria, for instance.

Further, 10 percent of each H-2C worker’s wages would be withheld and could only be claimed by going to a U.S. embassy or consulate after returning to their country of origin. This was a feature of the old bracero program, which brought hundreds of thousands of guest workers to the U.S. from 1942 to 1965. Millions of dollars in withheld wages went missing, and braceros are still trying to recover them.

Today growers who want to recruit H-2A workers have to be certified by the Department of Labor and local unemployment offices, and show that they first tried to hire workers locally. In reality, this provision is not strongly enforced. Legal aid offices around the country have brought many cases on behalf of local workers who were either replaced or not hired to begin with. But the H-2C program would eliminate certification entirely. Growers could simply promise that they’d made a local hiring effort, and that they would obey labor laws.

The legal aid organizations that today file cases on behalf of guest workers would be barred from doing so. H-2C workers wouldn’t even be able to go to court against a grower, and would have to agree to private mandatory arbitration, a system that favors employers.

“These temporary workers have no other access to attorneys,” says Cynthia Rice, litigation director for California Rural Legal Assistance, which currently provides legal services to H-2A workers.  “They are left intentionally unaware of the state and federal enforcement agencies who could take their complaints; and those agencies are severely understaffed.  Prohibiting legal services from representing them will leave them unprotected and without anyone to recover the wages stolen from them.  It will eliminate any real threat that unscrupulous employers will be held accountable, and will create an incentive to replace local workers, who have access to legal representation, with contract workers who do not.”

Growers would no longer be required to provide housing to guest workers, or provide transportation to the job location or back home when the work is done. Today, in many parts of the country, farm workers sleep in cars or under trees because of the lack of rural housing for migrants, and rents run high for what housing is available. H-2C workers arriving from another country would simply be thrown onto this already-inadequate and expensive housing market. Growers, meanwhile, would have no responsibility.

Goodlatte’s bills have all contained heightened enforcement provisions, especially a requirement that employers use the government’s E-Verify database to identify and fire workers without papers. In his H-2C program, Goodlatte would require undocumented workers to return to their home countries, and then apply to come back to their homes in the U.S. with H-2C visas. They would have to leave their families behind, however, since his bills specifically prohibit issuing visas for family members.

According to Farmworker Justice, “Rep. Goodlatte’s [H-2C program] would harm the hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers employed in agriculture, fails to take steps to stabilize our nation’s experienced agricultural workforce, and instead creates a labor system that treats workers as commodities, with a revolving door of temporary exploitable workers.”

Many Republicans rejected their own party’s comprehensive bills because they oppose any legal status for Dreamers (young people granted temporary status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) and want a bill that simply erects a border wall and increases enforcement. They might, however, be willing to give agribusiness a new guest worker program because it favors employers and denies workers a permanent legal status. During the June debates other Republicans, like Jeff Denham (R-CA), stated their public support for the Dreamers. But Denham, Devin Nunes, Kevin McCarthy and David Valadao are all San Joaquin Valley Republicans, and are either growers themselves, or come from communities where growers are politically very strong. Depending on a fractured Republican Party, therefore, would not be a sure way to avoid new guest worker programs.

At the same time, some conservative Democrats have historically voiced concern over agribusiness complaints of “labor shortages” and support for guest worker programs. California Senator Dianne Feinstein, in particular, has a long record of support for guest worker programs. In a 2009 speech, after introducing a guest worker bill, she said, “There is a farm emergency in this country, and most of it is caused by the absence of farm labor.” In 2013 she introduced a bill to help legalize undocumented farm workers, but which also proposed 336,000 guest worker visas.

While Republicans debated their comprehensive bills in June, progressive Democrats introduced a measure that provides a political alternative, the Fairness for Farm Workers Act. The proposal, authored by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to remove its discriminatory denial of overtime pay to agricultural workers, as well as end their exclusion from many minimum wage laws.

The bill would enact on a federal level the overtime provisions for farm workers that the California legislature passed this year, and has attracted many Democratic co-sponsors. While it stands no chance in the current Republican Congress, it may serve as a vehicle for pro-worker Democrats to call the question on their own colleagues: Is the road to improving the lives of farm workers the expansion of guest worker programs? Or is it providing the existing workforce with the same benefits enjoyed by most other workers, but denied to agricultural laborers by Congress 80 years ago?

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Supreme Court Enforces Muslim Ban

This week the high court upheld the Trump administration’s travel ban that barred nearly all travelers from five mostly Muslim countries.

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Deadly Detention

The Rise and Fall of an Immigration Detention Empire

Co-published by Newsweek
In a rush to create detention space, ICE has used opaque noncompetitive contracts called Intergovernmental Service Agreements to quickly bring beds online. A result has been the government’s inability to impose accountability standards on its sprawling immigrant-prison system.

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Robin Urevich

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A guard employed by Emerald Correctional Management enters one of the company's detention centers in 2014. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

Lawyer: Without private prison companies to warehouse thousands of immigrants, the federal government would face “an existential crisis.”


Co-published by Newsweek

In 2016 two immigrant detainees died after receiving care at facilities run by Emerald Correctional Management, a small Louisiana-based for-profit prison firm that at the time managed detention centers for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A Russian asylum seeker, 46-year old Igor Zyazin, died of a heart attack several days after medical staff at Emerald’s San Luis Regional Detention Facility near Yuma, Arizona failed to adequately treat his severe chest pain. (See “Could an Undocumented Russian’s Life Have Been Saved?”) Olubunmi Joshua, 54, passed away after enduring eight months of medical errors and treatment delays at the Rolling Plains Detention Center in Haskell, Texas. (See “Anatomy of an ICE Death.”)

Emerald operated three ICE detention centers and a county jail before going out of business in early 2017. A Capital & Main investigation has found Emerald took in millions of government dollars as it skimped on essential expenses and damaged detainees, its own employees and, likely, taxpayers while ICE officials looked the other way. Like other for-profit prison companies, Emerald did business with ICE through secretive no-bid contracts using city governments as middlemen. Critics charge these contracts allow ICE to avoid legal responsibility—for deaths, injuries and sexual abuse that occur in detention—and play a role in the government’s see-no-evil approach to detention abuses. Since 2003, 183 detainees have died in ICE custody.

The federal government depends on profit-driven prison companies, including smaller firms like Emerald and corrections giants, such as CoreCivic and the Geo Group, to run its sprawling, 200-plus-prison detention network.

At Emerald, chaos reigned in the form of wage theft, poor medical care and crowded, unsanitary conditions. But ICE officials didn’t intervene, and it’s rare that it does at other facilities with serious problems. Between 2010 and 2017, just two of more than 200 detention centers received failing or “deficient” ratings from ICE inspectors.

The government’s failure to act against these facilities is partly the result of an insatiable hunger for lockups, said Mark Fleming, an attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center. Fleming contended that without the capacity to warehouse thousands of immigrants in facilities run by private prison companies, the government would face “an existential crisis.”

In a rush to create detention space, ICE has used opaque noncompetitive contracts called Intergovernmental Service Agreements to quickly bring beds online.

Now, as ICE seeks to expand family detention, it is likely to turn to IGSAs just as it did in 2014, when a wave of Central American children and families sought asylum in the U.S. It is reportedly planning to house families at the Fort Bliss Army base in Texas.

Critics argue that the sole purpose of some of these agreements is to avoid public protest and federal contracting rules that officially are aimed at ensuring transparency and avoiding overpayment by the government.

Immigration detention has expanded fivefold in the past 23 years, and with the Trump administration’s deportation surge, is growing larger.

But when Emerald got its start in 1997, the immigration detention system was just ramping up, and immigration detention contracts were a reliable source of business for the company – even as Emerald’s blunders were getting it ousted from county jails and knocked out of the running for state and local bids to operate jails and prisons nationwide.

The company drummed up some of its business by convincing small towns that jails and prisons would revive their dying economies.

In the 1980s and ’90s, Raywood J. LeMaire, one of the company’s four partners, learned firsthand as the five-term Vermilion Parish sheriff that there was money to be made in renting out jail beds to relieve state-prison overcrowding. Louisiana sheriffs like LeMaire generated money and power for their offices by housing state prisoners in their jails—often on the cheap and in poor conditions.

“As long as you didn’t feed them too well – grits and beans and cold bologna — you could make some money,” alleged Keith Nordyke, a Louisiana attorney who has long represented prisoners.

Asked about his partnership in Emerald, LeMaire, now in his late 70s, told Capital & Main, “I got out of it in January,” before refusing to talk further and hanging up the phone. Emerald’s other partners, Glenn Hebert, who also once worked for the Vermilion Parish Sheriff’s Office, Clay Lee, W.T. Lee and former CEO Steve Afeman couldn’t be reached for comment. Hull Youngblood, an attorney who represented the company, didn’t return calls or answer emails.

Red flags had warned of trouble inside the company at least since 2003, when Emerald took over operations at the Rolling Plains Detention Center from another private firm.

“We saw things go to hell,” said Judy Morrell, who worked as a guard at Rolling Plains. Food for detainees was scarce, she alleged: “They would feed these people chicken bones and rice. If you don’t feed them, they’ve got to get money to buy [from] the commissary.” Morrell noted that Emerald profited from its in-prison store. “But you take people who didn’t have money, by God, they didn’t eat. They’d get to stealing and thieving.”

Now 70, Morrell said that when she started with Emerald she knew how prisons were supposed to run, having put in five years with the Texas prison system.

Morrell publicly complained about bad food and overcrowding, and quit her job in 2004. Federal officials were quoted in local media at the time as pledging to investigate her accusations. Three years later, a habeas corpus petition filed on behalf of five members of a Palestinian family alleged they were the victims of sexual harassment, inadequate medical treatment, excessive use of solitary confinement and religious intolerance.

Over the years at Rolling Plains, Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspectors found repeated incidents of overcrowding, unsafe and unsanitary conditions, failure of medical staff to follow doctors’ orders, understaffing and failure of staff to perform regular checks on detainees. (ICE inspectors became more critical of the facility only in its later years, noting dozens of violations of its standards but, based on available inspection reports, never appears to have given Rolling Plains an overall deficient rating.) Cases of egregious neglect by Emerald have included:

— The 2016 suicide of a 77-year-old county inmate, Kennie Moore, who hanged himself using his boxer shorts as a noose.

— Emerald’s 2012 ousting, by a Louisiana sheriff, from the Riverbend Detention Center when his officers discovered a mother lode of drugs, cellphones and shanks during a shakedown.

— A lawsuit filed by workers at the West Texas Detention Facility against Emerald that alleged they were forced to work off the clock and weren’t paid for overtime; it was eventually settled out of court.

By 2016 the company had abandoned or been fired from more detention contracts than it maintained. As early as 2005, local and state governments in Florida, Vermont and Texas began to turn down the company’s bids to house prisoners or build facilities, citing its record. What’s more, the prison building boom was winding down as states tried to reduce their prison populations.

But ICE was Emerald’s ace in the hole. In 2016, Emerald finished construction on the $60 million Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas and began managing the 700-bed facility for the agency. Prairieland replaced Rolling Plains, whose location was too remote for adequate staffing and transportation of detainees, said one former ICE official.

Perhaps ICE could overlook the company’s checkered history because technically the federal agency wasn’t in business with Emerald. Emerald’s contract was not with the government, but rather with Alvarado, a town of 4,000 near Fort Worth, which has no actual role in running the detention center.

ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok didn’t address Capital & Main’s questions about whether it reviewed Emerald’s record before approving it as the operator of the Prairieland facility. He wrote in an email that new facilities contracts must meet the latest ICE standards, which require that all facilities “vigorously investigate all claims of abuse, and mistreatment of detainees by staff and other detainees.”

Like all Intergovernmental Service Agreements, the deal was made without the transparency that federal contracting rules dictate. ICE signed the agreement with Alvarado city officials, but city officials have no role in operating Prairieland.

“If you told me today that I’d have to start running the jail tomorrow, that wouldn’t work,” said Rick Holden, Alvarado’s city manager. “We’re not set up for that.” Holden is new on the job, having arrived in early May. Still, he said that after six weeks in office he hadn’t visited Prairieland.

“We don’t manage it from here. Nobody out there reports to me,” Holden said. “ICE is the agency that has the facility.”

If Holden would find it daunting to manage a detention center in his backyard, imagine the task that would face city officials in Eloy, Arizona. On paper, Eloy manages the 2,400-bed South Texas Family Residential Center, which is located more than 900 miles away in Dilley, Texas. But last February, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found that Eloy doesn’t actually run the detention center, and didn’t even negotiate the agreement with ICE. Private prison operator CoreCivic did.

CoreCivic appears to have engineered the whole deal by asking the Eloy City Council to modify an existing ICE contract to also include the South Texas facility.

The town of Eloy was simply a middleman that was paid more than $400,000 annually by CoreCivic for the job, the inspector general concluded.

The IG noted that a lack of accountability is built into this particular contracting arrangement: “Because ICE’s agreement and legal relationship is with the city of Eloy, CCA’s [Core Civic’s] performance is effectively insulated from government scrutiny.”

The absurdity of a small city like Eloy overseeing a massive detention center in another state may be apparent, but the basics of its contract don’t differ much from a number of other IGSAs between ICE and local governments: Cities are routinely paid fees to act as middlemen between ICE and private companies.

Still, for the most part, the inspector general’s office limited its criticism to the Eloy agreement. But it did express its disapproval of ICE’s handling of IGSAs in general.

“ICE has no assurance that it executed detention center contracts in the best interest of the Federal Government, taxpayers, or detainees,” the report observed.

Eloy isn’t the only city supposedly overseeing detention operations from afar. In California, the city of Adelanto, in San Bernardino county, signed a 2014 agreement to provide guard services for a family detention center in New Mexico for a year. The services were provided by the for-profit prison firm, the GEO Group, not the city of Adelanto. The small San Joaquin Valley town of McFarland has a long-standing IGSA with ICE to operate the Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield, nearly 30 miles away.

The legitimate purpose of IGSAs is to allow government agencies to fill urgent needs by piggybacking onto services a local government already offers. In many cases, ICE does exactly that by signing an agreement with a local sheriff to rent beds in a county jail.

However, in other cases, ICE has used IGSAs only to rapidly bring detention facilities online by skirting federal contracting rules, which require an open bidding process that ensures transparency and competition.

About a third of all immigrant detainees are housed under these sort of agreements between ICE and cities.

Attorney Mark Fleming believes these are sham contracts, especially in cases where the city doesn’t even own the facility, much less operates it.

“These are fraudulent contracts to allow ICE to float money to a private company to avoid federal procurement laws,” Fleming said. “That’s a fraudulent contract because the locality has nothing to offer.”

For example, the Adelanto Detention Center in San Bernardino County is operated under an IGSA between the city of Adelanto and ICE. The city, however, doesn’t run the detention center. The for-profit GEO Group does.

Fleming said that even in cases like Prairieland, where the city of Alvarado owns the facility, its operations are controlled by the for-profit subcontractor, now LaSalle Corrections.

“The actual performance is happening between the private contractor and ICE,” Fleming said. “Yet, because there’s a private subcontractor, there’s no direct accountability that ICE can assert.”

Because of these contract arrangements, it’s difficult to hold ICE or local governments responsible for detention center abuses, Fleming noted.

Alvarado City Manager Holden and Mayor Tom Durington declined to comment on their city’s contracts with Emerald and ICE because neither was in office when they were signed. City councilmembers Jacob Wheat and Shawn Goulding, who, from its inception, served on the board of the Prairielands Public Facilities Corporation (PPFC), the economic development entity that operated the facility, couldn’t be reached for comment.

One former high-ranking Department of Homeland Security official, who asked not to be named in this story, disagreed with agency critics that IGSAs are a means by which ICE shirks its responsibility for detainee welfare, but he would not comment on whether IGSAs are legitimate contracts. However, he expressed concerns about the process of granting them.

“I think the way some of these contracts are done is troubling,” the former DHS official said. “It gives a lot of authority to bypass procurement rules and be selective about who benefits.”

Could Emerald have won a competitive bid under federal procurement standards? It officially obtained ICE approval to operate Prairieland after responding to a request for proposals issued by the city of Alvarado. It was the only firm to submit a bid, city officials said. Furthermore, the company appeared to have enjoyed an unusual advantage: In July 2011, CEO Steve Afeman, a Louisiana resident, was appointed by Alvarado city officials to serve as a governing board member of the PPFC. Afeman resigned his post the following month.

Then, less than a year after Prairieland was built, Emerald announced to each of the local governments with which it held contracts that it could no longer honor them, reportedly because of financial problems.

Emerald seems to have remained out of the detention business; at least two of its creditors have gone to Louisiana courts seeking to collect the company’s debts.


Note: This story was updated July 5.

This reporting was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

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Deadly Detention

Anatomy of an ICE Death

The medical care Olubunmi Joshua received for high blood pressure, anemia, anxiety, dental pain and other conditions was delayed, denied or mishandled by her detention center’s staff, ICE reported.

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Rolling Plains Detention Center, Haskell, Texas

Olubunmi Joshua, a 54-year-old dual citizen of the United Kingdom and Nigeria, died at the Rolling Plains Detention Center in Haskell, Texas on October 24, 2016 after nearly nine months in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The cause of her death was a heart condition caused by high blood pressure.

On the night of Joshua’s death, a mouse ran loose among the bunks in her housing unit, and a chase ensued. Rolling Plains, which was operated by the for-profit firm Emerald Correctional Management, had been repeatedly cited for health and safety violations, so perhaps it’s not surprising that it fell to the detainees to trap the rodent. Amid screams and laughter, Joshua killed the mouse, and asked for a plastic bag to deposit it. She shook the bag open, then suddenly fell backwards on the floor. She never regained consciousness.

Joshua, who was born in the United Kingdom and raised in Nigeria, came to the U.S. on a student visa when she was 22, and remained for 32 years. She lived in Texas and raised two children — a son who is a student at the University of Texas at Arlington, and a daughter who is a certified public accountant in Washington, DC.

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Joshua entered detention after she was arrested in Flower Mound, Texas, about 30 miles from Dallas, for driving without a license.

The medical care Joshua received for high blood pressure, anemia, anxiety, dental pain and other conditions was delayed, denied or mishandled by Rolling Plains’ medical staff, according to the official ICE report on Joshua’s death, known as a Detainee Death Review (DDR).

Among its findings:

— Blood pressure checks, ordered daily on two occasions, were done only sporadically.

— Nurses failed to check for cardiac problems when Joshua’s blood pressure was high, as protocol dictates.

— A psychologist suggested Joshua be prescribed psychiatric meds for anxiety and depression. Rolling Plains didn’t offer anti-anxiety drugs, and a medical doctor decided she didn’t need them.

— Joshua was anemic, but wasn’t given iron supplements until two months after her diagnosis.

An ICE spokesman didn’t address specific questions about Joshua’s care; he wrote in a statement that the agency is committed to maintaining high standards “for the safety and well-being of the detained aliens.”

The ICE review also found the detention center lacked sufficient medical staff, and that nurses performed tasks for which they weren’t licensed or trained.  The reviewers further discovered that the facility’s emergency medical kit was missing a defibrillator, delaying the proper emergency response when Joshua fell and lost consciousness on the night of her death.

However, ICE reviewers failed to identify another serious error in Joshua’s care, said Dr. Marc Stern, a physician and correctional health expert, who previously served as health services director for the Washington State Department of Corrections, and examined Joshua’s DDR.

Two months before her death, Joshua reported that her legs were swollen. “This is a new problem and makes me think her heart was starting to fail,” Stern said. “The swelling could have been caused by the heart’s inability to pump sufficiently. This is a critical moment.” But medical staff didn’t investigate whether cardiac issues caused the swelling. Instead, a nurse advised Joshua to elevate her legs – standard advice for swelling caused by standing for long periods of time, but potentially dangerous if swollen legs are the result of a bad heart. In that case, raising the legs would send additional fluid to the heart, placing greater strain on it.

Stern said the reviewers’ comments indicate they failed to understand the complexity of her case, and thus, to get to the core of what went wrong. “Someone else is likely to die at that facility because they never adequately figured out the problem. You can’t fix what you can’t identify.”

But known issues were also a factor in the inadequate care Joshua received. More than a decade before her death, the Rolling Plains facility failed two state inspections. Violations included failing to provide prescribed medicines. And, as recently as May, 2016 ICE inspectors discovered, along with other deficiencies in health care, that a Rolling Plains detainee whose blood pressure reading met American Heart Association guidelines for hypertensive crisis had not received medication. The inspectors reported they’d solved the problem; the detainee in question would receive medication and chronic care treatment.

Joshua, however, did not. Rolling Plains medical staff continued its on-again, off-again treatment of her high blood pressure and other health problems.

In the final 24 days of her life, she received only a little more than half of the blood pressure medication she was prescribed, ICE reviewers said. Several of Joshua’s requests for medical care went unanswered. The dental pain she’d reported in January had been ignored for eight months; the dentist she finally saw, four days before she passed away, discovered broken teeth and two gum abscesses. The pain and the infection, along with her poorly treated anemia, would have placed additional stress on Joshua’s heart, Dr. Stern said.

“It’s hard to tell,” said Stern, if the inadequate care Joshua received contributed to her death because of insufficient information in the ICE review.

“I see smoke. I don’t know if there’s fire. If I were the next of kin, I’d say I should try to get more information,” he said.


This reporting was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

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Deadly Detention

Could an Undocumented Russian’s Life Have Been Saved?

After complaining of chest pains and dizziness, Igor Zyazin was given an EKG, but not a blood test to determine if he had suffered a heart attack. The next day he was dead.

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San Diego's Otay Mesa Detention Center

In late April 2016, Igor Zyazin and his wife Lyubov, both Russian citizens, approached the line that divides the United States from Mexico, presented their passports to U.S. Border Patrol agents and requested asylum in America.

Zyazin, who wore his hair in a long gray ponytail, didn’t have a visa to enter the U.S. and was detained, along with his wife. The two were sent to separate detention centers.

On May 1, the 46-year-old was found unresponsive in his bunk at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, a bottle of nitroglycerin within reach. Efforts to revive him failed and paramedics pronounced him dead, according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detainee Death Review.

Zyazin had become ill a few days before his death while at the San Luis Regional Detention Center near Yuma, Arizona. The facility, at the time operated by the for-profit prison company, Emerald Correctional Management, is an ICE way station from which detainees are transferred to more permanent detention sites.

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Zyazin, who had survived a heart attack the year before, felt chest pain and dizziness, and banged on the door of his housing unit to summon a guard. The guard didn’t call a medical emergency, she later told ICE investigators, “because he didn’t say specifically that his heart hurt.” Instead, she alerted a nurse, who instructed the guard to bring Zyazin to her.

Zyazin told the nurse his pain was six on a scale of one to 10. His heart rate was elevated and he had a loud, audible heart murmur. The nurse gave him nitroglycerin, which indicates she thought Zyazin’s pain might be coming from his heart, said Dr. Marc Stern, a correctional health expert and the former health services director of the Washington State Department of Corrections.

“At this point, it’s an emergency,” Stern said. “One of the major concerns is he might be having a heart attack. Giving nitroglycerin is an appropriate first emergency step. Among the next appropriate steps is picking up the phone and dialing 911.”

But the nurse didn’t take that step. An hour later, Zyazin’s pain had subsided somewhat. An ICE detention officer said that Zyazin’s heart issues could be better addressed at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, and recommended he be transferred as soon as he could make the trip. ICE reviewers write that the nurse completed a transfer form. Zyazin was placed in restraints and packed into a van for a four-hour ride from Yuma to San Diego.

“It was just so horribly wrong,” Stern said, explaining that he should have gone to a hospital, not on a four-hour road trip.

Dr. Michael Puerini, former president of the American College of Correctional Physicians and a retired chief medical officer at an Oregon prison, also read the Detainee Death Review in Zyazin’s case and said, “That guy needed to go to the ER.”

The transport officer told ICE consultants that Zyazin was awake and didn’t complain of pain during the trip. However, when he arrived, he held his chest and said it hurt. Zyazin was examined by a doctor at Otay Mesa, who diagnosed him with hardening of the arteries and an enlarged heart. ICE reviewers report that the physician ordered an EKG, but didn’t order a blood test to determine if Zyazin had suffered a heart attack.

The day after seeing the doctor, Zyazin was dead.

Stern found the decision to transfer Zyazin rather than provide emergency care so egregious that he reported the two nurses involved to the Arizona State Board of Nursing.

Stern asked that Capital & Main not to use the nurses’ names, because the detention death review could contain errors and because the nursing board investigation is still ongoing. However, the nurse who appears to have authorized Zyazin’s travel was disciplined by the nursing board in 2007. The allegations against her included improper care of a critically ill cardiac patient and substance abuse issues, and resulted in two years’ probation.

It’s unclear whether Emerald was aware of the nurse’s record when the company hired her. Emerald no longer operates the San Luis detention center; the company went out of business last April. An ICE spokesman didn’t address specific questions about Zyazin’s care. He wrote in a statement that the agency is committed to high standards “for the safety and well-being of the detained aliens while they progress through the removal process.”

In the Detainee Death Review, ICE flagged relatively minor concerns, but never addressed the failure of San Luis staff to obtain emergency care for Zyazin, which for Stern calls into question the legitimacy of the government’s investigative process in detention death cases.

“Part of the sadness and total ineffectiveness is they found four errors and none were related to his death,” Stern said. “How can you miss these serious errors that contribute to his death and say that the process is valid?”


This reporting was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

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Immigration

“The Opposite of Nazis” — Wiesenthal Center Calls Out Trump Critics for “Slandering” Border Guards

The Wiesenthal Center called on “our leaders to solve the humanitarian crisis at hand” — without naming Donald Trump or Jeff Sessions.

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The Simon Wiesenthal Center has entered into five contracts worth $315,500
with ICE since 2014.


 

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s mission is to “[promote] human rights and dignity,” and teach the “lessons of the Holocaust for future generations.” So it was surprising to see the Los Angeles-based center issue a statement last week that avoided assigning blame for the Trump administration’s policy of tearing children away from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

I wish that my colleagues [at the Simon Wiesenthal Center] had had the courage to call the moral mess at our Southern border an ‘injustice’ because we are commanded to constantly be in pursuit of justice,” Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, of Beth Shir Shalom wrote to Capital & Main after reviewing the statement.

In January 2016, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s founder and dean, delivered the invocation at President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The center has received donations from the family of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and its board of trustees chairman, Larry Mizel, raised money for Trump’s presidential campaign. Capital & Main has also learned that the center has had training contracts with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as recently as May.

Still, the issue at hand was the forcible separation of 2,300 children from their parents, a policy that Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced April 6 as part of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that has been condemned and actively protested by religious leaders, including by many prominent Jewish organizations.

True, the Wiesenthal Center, which has a budget of more than $25 million, issued a statement that called on “our leaders to solve the humanitarian crisis at hand” because it is “unacceptable to separate small children from their parents. . . . Those are not our values.”

“Our Center’s main concern with the evolving immigration crisis on the border was the treatment of children,” Michele E. Alkin, the center’s communications director wrote in an email that referenced a June 17 tweet that focused exclusively on the child separation issue.

“The Museum of Tolerance, the Center’s educational arm’s mandate on contentious social issues is discussion, debate, and education. It never lobbies on legislative initiatives,” she wrote.

But the later, June 19 statement did not name Trump or Sessions, and its headline tasked “our elected officials” with solving the crisis. It called on Congress and the administration “to finally take the necessary steps to end this problem long-range.” The day before, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, at a press conference untruthfully claimed, “Congress is the one that needs to fix” a crisis that has been widely described as being of Trump’s own making.

The statement did call out by name two media personalities—MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and former CIA director Michael Hayden, now a CNN analyst, for the “wholesale misappropriation of the Nazi Holocaust.” The press release spent more than twice as many words on the topic of the misuse of the Holocaust as a historical analogy as it did on the conditions of migrant children.

To say that “images from America’s Southern border” are “the same as the Holocaust” is “definitely unfitting from many perspectives,” Rabbi Comess-Daniels agreed. However, he said it’s important to point out when “a slippery slope might be manifest,” because “later will be too late.”

Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League has brought together stories of Holocaust survivors who were separated from their parents as part of a campaign of opposition to Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. “Instead of learning the lessons of the past, our leaders are intentionally and regrettably repeating its cruelest moments,” the ADL said in a June 19 statement.

The Wiesenthal Center’s press release calls for the “amelioration of the suffering of children” and also expresses concerns for the dehumanization of ICE personnel. “Our border guards and Homeland Security personnel are the opposite of Nazis. Critics should stop slandering them.”

The Wiesenthal Center, which runs the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, has educated millions of visitors, including 160,000 law enforcement officials, according to its June 19 press release. A review of a federal contract database shows the center has entered into five contracts worth $315,500 with ICE since 2014. The most recent ICE contract, for $35,700, was for “law enforcement training services” and ended May 24, 2018.

ICE reached out to the Museum of Tolerance a few years ago with a request that it adapt a long-standing training program for law enforcement for the agency’s senior managers, according to Alkin. The center typically provides leadership and professional development training to two or three cohorts of ICE managers from around the country a year.

The center is “uniquely positioned to offer such a program,” wrote Comess-Daniels. But he added that the center should “acknowledge the nature of their association with ICE” when commenting on the agency, or the center risks compromising its “moral clarity.”


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Video: This Is What ‘Zero Tolerance’ Looks Like

Scenes from a chaotic week in the Trump administration’s border crackdown.

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Immigration

Stephen Miller’s Former Rabbi Speaks Out About Trump’s Adviser and Immigration

Co-published by International Business Times
Before Stephen Miller, who is said to be an architect of Trump’s zero-tolerance border policy, began espousing far-right views as a teenager, his family belonged to Santa Monica’s progressive Temple Beth Shir Shalom.

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January, 2017: Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels at Los Angeles International Airport. (Photo: Judith Lewis Mernit)

Co-published by International Business Times

White House speechwriter and senior adviser Stephen Miller did not grow up poor in a rural town, anxious over his father losing a manufacturing job to a trade agreement — a popular origin story for the nativist movement led by Miller’s boss, President Donald Trump. Before reportedly devising the plan to separate immigrant children from their parents, Miller, 32, grew up in socially liberal Santa Monica, a beach city that is whiter and wealthier than the rest of the United States.

According to a Los Angeles Times profile, it wasn’t a bad economy but the “culturally sensitive environment” that “infuriated and ultimately shaped” a young Miller. High school announcements in Spanish as well as English, for example.

Before he began espousing far-right views as a teenager, Miller’s family belonged to liberal places of worship, the Jewish Journal reported, including Beth Shir Shalom, a progressive Reform temple.

“The Judaism that we teach here is a liberal, progressive Judaism based on longstanding, Reform Jewish values. That of course includes respect for all human beings, respect for families and respect for children,” Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, organizer of a planned Thursday protest against the Miller-Trump policy of separating and detaining foreign children, said in an interview. “The message was clear,” he said, and it was the opposite of what Miller espouses today.

What follows is a lightly edited transcript of a phone interview with Comess-Daniels.


Capital & Main: As an educator and a man of faith, what lessons do you take from the fact that maybe some of the people you teach grow up to be Stephen Millers? Does that make you hopeless at all?

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels: Oh, it doesn’t make me hopeless at all. What it continues to underscore is that I have a lot of work to do. We teach people to have respect for other people — by respecting them and respecting their perspectives and their input. I don’t really remember anything about Stephen Miller as a kid — I have no recollection of him being part of who we are. That may tell you a lot too, that he sort of kept it under wraps or it wasn’t even really developing yet.

But the reality is that when you tell kids their opinion matters, and you take that risk of allowing their perspectives to flow forward, you have to be able to give that respect to them so that they can give it to other people. That may well be part of the lesson that he didn’t pick up.

Do you think bigotry, or anti-immigrant sentiment, manifests itself differently in a wealthy, socially liberal environment?

There are people in Santa Monica who have been here quite a while, and people who are here as rather newbies. There is a certain degree of NIMBYism that’s going on here, and a certain resistance to growing this little city literally, physically upwards, because it’s really the only place it can go, and also to being inclusive of people at many levels of the economic ladder. Those of us who are working on that are doing everything that we can to try to make that happen.

People who have been here for a while and see it as a haven and very nice place to live, they hear of people coming from other economic levels and they get frightened. It’s not just xenophobic — in a lot of ways, it comes out racist too. And fear is easily stoked among people. That’s what we’re experiencing on a national level and it takes a lot to combat it.

I live not too far from Santa Monica and it’s my sense that some of these nationally progressive people that live there might support the idea of a wall — around Santa Monica. There was some opposition to even building out the Expo [light rail] Line to the beach for fear it would bring a bunch of people from a different economic class.

I think the progressive work that people try to do has to base itself in the reality that every single one of us is prone to pull inwards and prone to self-select our friends and neighbors. But for the sake of an American model, and a Santa Monica model and an L.A. model that we want for the future, this is something that we have to deal with every day. A future, inclusive America means we’re going to have to get comfortable with something else.

White people are going to be a minority, despite this administration’s current efforts. Is this the last-gasp backlash of a minority that has, for now, power?

I don’t think that this is any kind of a last gasp. We constantly have to be vigilant to make sure that all of our institutions, from the bottom up, are transparent and treat their neighbors, their workers fairly. People need to have a living wage and have a decent standard of living. And like I said, intolerance is very easy to unleash; it’s always waiting in the background.

What’s happened is that this xenophobia, this racism, this anti-Semitism, has been let loose from the top down and people who have been hanging on to it more secretly have felt bolder over the last two years. But it is going to ebb and flow. It’s never going to go away. That’s what humanity is, unfortunately.

What is your reaction to a powerful person claiming their reactionary politics are a product of everything you stand for and have done?

You catch me having just seen the movie about Fred Rogers. That happened to him, from Fox News. They went after him for acknowledging the specialness and wonderfulness of each individual, and saying, “that’s not America. In America, kids need to earn that — and he’s destroying that American value of earning your place in society.”

That whole conservative cliche of “everybody getting a merit badge for participation, and that’s ruining our children.”

Look, I get that. But I’m going to respond the same way [Rogers] did: It’s very, very sad. And the kids who grow up under that cloud need my outreach. The baton has been passed to those of us who are going to take care of these kids who are being separated from their parents. I’m involved in creating an action downtown on Thursday morning, a prayer vigil, at the Department of Homeland Security. What we are going to do is just let these people know there are values and perspectives that are deeper and more important than theirs, and we will never go away. We’re just not. And we’re not going to become them, in terms of their tactics. We’re going to hold on to our integrity and do this the right way.

What are you doing in reaction to what is going on in our country?

Number one, sign every petition you can. When you sign a petition, give a small donation to that organization to keep them going. Constantly call your senators and congresspeople, even if they agree with you. They count up those emails and they count up those phone calls.

But also we should march every time there’s a march…. We all need to “pray with our legs.” We all need to just do something and set that example for our kids and grandkids. That’s really, really important, that they pick up this baton.

The other thing is to personalize it. There is this story of a rabbi who was on his deathbed — there’s all these stories of rabbis on their deathbeds in literature — and students are gathering around and he’s starting to cry and they ask, Why? He says, “Well, when I was a young rabbi, I thought I could make change all over. I tried to do it in our region. I tried to do it in our city. I tried to do it in our little community. I tried to do it in my family. And then I realized I should have started with myself and worked outwards.” We need to do that.

Without falling into solipsism.

Right. I know so many people who, unfortunately, have just become cynical about all of this. And I don’t blame them. My tradition says when you doubt, climb out of it. We need to climb out of it and get to work. That’s again what my tradition teaches: We’re not expected to complete the work, but we’re not free to desist from doing it.


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