Roylan Hernandez-Diaz crossed the border in El Paso in May this year, requesting asylum. He was handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and placed in detention to await processing of his asylum claim. In August he “passed” a credible fear interview, meaning a review of his case indicated that there was enough reason to believe that his life would be under threat if returned to Cuba to warrant continuing with the asylum process. Yet, ICE continued to keep him in detention.
In August, ICE was holding more than 55,000 people in detention. At the same time, the agency was decrying a lack of resources and the Department of Homeland Security was shifting money from other accounts in order to pay for ICE’s over-budget detention priorities. And yet, Roylan was just one of close to 9,000 asylees still in detention after passing a credible fear interview.
Roylan began a hunger strike to protest his continued detention. He was placed in solitary confinement, and yesterday he is reported to have hung himself in an apparent suicide while still in solitary confinement at the Richwood Correctional Facility, a private prison run by LaSalle Corrections in Louisiana. From Buzzfeed:
In September, Hernandez-Diaz again sought to be released from US detention. On Oct. 8, the ICE office in New Orleans denied his release once more, the report stated. A day later, his case in immigration court was reset to January. Advocates sued ICE earlier this year… over its low rate of release for asylum-seekers in the southern region.
Two days after he was denied his release from ICE custody, the detention center segregated Hernandez-Diaz from the other inmates after he threatened a hunger strike.
While officers at the detention center noticed he had been eating meals on Oct. 11 and 12, by Tuesday they told ICE officials that Hernandez-Diaz had missed his “ninth consecutive meal and declared a hunger strike, citing his frustration with the immigration process.”
Then, on Tuesday just after 2 p.m., medical staffers at the detention center declared him dead of suicide in the cell.
The case needs to be investigated independently.
Hernandez-Diaz’s wife, Yarelis Gutierrez, 43, said she last spoke to him on Oct. 9 after an immigration court hearing. She described her husband as angry and disappointed after being asked to provide more evidence about his persecution in Cuba because it was difficult to obtain, especially from within ICE detention.
“He told me he was going to participate in a hunger strike because of the abuse he endured in detention,” Gutierrez told BuzzFeed News. “He never said he was going to hurt or kill himself. This is all news to me and I don’t believe it’s true.”
Roylan is the second person to die in ICE custody in the last two weeks. On October 2, Nebane Abienwi, a 37 year old asylum seeker from Cameroon died at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility in San Diego. Otay Mesa is also run by a private company – CoreCivic.
Last fiscal year (Oct 2018 to Sept 2019), eight adults died while in ICE custody and another eight children died during, or immediately after release from detention by Border Patrol or the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
There is no reason that Roylan should have still been incarcerated, certainly not after his affirmative credible fear finding. Now he is dead.
On both the northern and southern international borders of Mexico a human rights disaster is evolving in large part due to the Trump administration’s war on asylum seekers from Central America. On the northern border with the United States, the U.S. “migrant protection protocols” are forcing tens of thousands of people to wait in Mexico border towns for a chance to make asylum claims before a U.S. immigration judge. On the southern border with Guatemala, migrants are being denied the ability to cross through Mexico. New regulations regarding the issuance of travel documents have particularly impacted migrants from Africa and Haiti. Between the two borders, the journey remains deadly – as enforcement measures push migrants even further into the shadowy world of coyotes and gangs in order to get across the country.
Below we highlight a few stories from the last week that make clear the crisis.
A year ago Trump lost his mind over a caravan of refugees making their way to the U.S. border with Mexico, many hoping to seek asylum in the U.S. Since then, his administration has sought every mechanism it can to block asylum seekers from even making it to the U.S. border – and for those that do make it, this administration has sought to make it nearly impossible for them to enter the U.S.
One of the mechanisms employed is the Migration Protection Protocol – or the “remain in Mexico” policy. Under this policy people register their intent to seek asylum with immigration authorities but are forced to wait in Mexico until they can see a judge. There are an estimated 40,000 MPP cases – people waiting in Mexican border towns, many under threat of criminal gangs and all living with a general insecurity as they face an unknown future. The Latin America Working Group has extensive background materials on the policy and its impact.
Over the last month asylum trials have gotten underway. The process is a mockery of justice. Proceedings are held in tents, with immigration judges video conferenced in. The Department of Homeland Security oversees the trials, which is outside of their jurisdiction. This week a group of volunteer attorneys attempting to represent people in these proceedings published their experiences in The Hill, noting that the whole enterprise is designed to fail.
At every step of the way, refugees and the handful of attorneys who represent them are reminded that this “system” is designed to fail. There are no marked entrances to the Brownsville court, which resembles a concentration camp in its design and layout.
Instead, attorneys must already know where the entrance is and ask to be let in by privately contracted guards who monitor it for DHS. Forms with client signatures are required to gain entry. Attorneys are escorted by guards from the front gate to client meetings, to attend court and even to access the restroom.
Attorneys are not allowed to bring electronics into the tent complex, which means they cannot access their calendars or legal research. Meanwhile, DHS lawyers maintain access to their technology as they sit off-screen. Only the immigration judge and interpreter are video streamed into the port courtroom.
In order to even schedule the next hearing, the attorney must request a recess so that they can leave the court complex, go to their car to access their calendar on their phone and go through the security process all over again to get back to their hearing.
The authors conclude:
The harms refugees suffer due to our official U.S. government policy of rendering them homeless includes deaths by drowning in the Rio Grande (even while bathing), multiple documented instances of kidnappings within minutes or hours of being returned from the U.S. The toll of surviving on the streets of Mexico is amplified by the due process farce refugees face in post courts.
As tempting as it is, we cannot give in to our exhaustion and cynicism: We must hold this administration accountable for the ongoing illegality that is engulfing the border. It may take decades or longer to repair what we have lost under this administration and there is no time to waste. (emphasis added)
As Mexico has escalated its crackdown on immigration under pressure from the United States, new regulations are leaving African and Haitian immigrants at the Mexico/Guatemala with no place to go. Central American migrants who are caught up in the expanded dragnet in southern Mexico are typically repatriated quickly – Mexico has departed far more Central Americans than the United States in recent years. People from Africa and the Caribbean are not as easily repatriated. As noted in The Guardian, until recently, migrants from Africa would be issued temporary 21-day visas in order to sort out their status or leave the country. In many cases they gave people time to cross the country to seek entry to the United States. Now, these temporary visas require people to leave from the southern border – effectively denying them the ability to seek asylum in the United States.
Migrants are particularly angered by the perception that they are being coerced into applying for asylum in Mexico – where few feel safe and almost none want to stay. “Mexico is playing games with us,” said a 36-year-old engineer from Eritrea who identified himself as Mr Testahiwet. “This is the way to get to America and we want to go to America. Mexico is the wrong place to ask for asylum.”
This weekend a caravan of hundreds of people attempted to make the journey north anyway, and were halted. From ABC News:
Hundreds of migrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Central America found themselves corralled in a migrant detention facility in southern Mexico on Sunday after a futile attempt to head north as part of a caravan aiming to reach the United States.
The group set out before sunrise Saturday from the town of Tapachula, where many had been marooned for months unsuccessfully trying to get transit visas. They carried heavy backpacks, babies and parcels on their heads.
Just before dusk, after having trudged more than 20 miles north, they were surrounded by hundreds of National Guard agents and police who persuaded the exhausted migrants to board vans back to Tapachula. Children cried, and women complained angrily about waiting months for papers. It was unclear if any would be deported.
For migrants fleeing violence there are fewer and fewer places to go – and too many are trapped waiting.
Migrants from conflict-wracked African countries set their sights on the Americas after doors began to shut in Europe. A typical journey from Africa involves a flight to Brazil, which has been amenable to granting visas, followed by a long and perilous trip north. The worst patch, many African migrants say, is the trek through Panama’s Darien Gap, a dense tropical forest inhabited by venomous snakes and ruthless robbers.
Now, southern Mexico has become a frustrating waystation for thousands of Africans, most of whom would prefer to start anew in the U.S. or Canada because of language and cultural barriers in Mexico.
“These are individuals that have gone through numerous horrors both in their home countries and then on their journey,” said Meyer.
Most of the Haitians arriving at Mexico’s southern border, meanwhile, have lived in South America for several years after some nations granted them protected immigration status. Now such policies are less favorable, propelling the Haitians to seek a new home at a time when their country is mired in an intense political crisis. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Mexico has offered refugees the possibility of obtaining work and residency permits to stay in southern Mexico, far from the U.S. border. But those asylum permits are slow-coming in an overstretched immigration system. Also, southern Mexico is the country’s poorest region, so job opportunities there are scarce.
Mexico has gone along with U.S. immigrant enforcement policy for a long time. Trump, however, has clearly upped the ante for Mexico with the predictable result that conditions for migrants at Mexico’s borders, north and south, are deteriorating rapidly. Mexico is facing two border crises – both of them the result of U.S. policies targeting people seeking asylum.
Today the Dispatch is focusing on a few updates of news items and campaigns we have written about recently. The first is a big win in California. On Friday we joined a bunch of folks – many of whom have put in years on this campaign – in encouraging our network to pressure California’s governor to sign law AB32, which ends the use of private contractors in immigrant detention in the state beginning on January 1st, and begins the process of phasing out existing contracts.
The governor signed!
I share an update from California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance’s statewide director, Sandy Valenciano in order give a shout out to some of the groups that did all of the heavy lifting on this campaign.
I am filled with so much joy in sharing with you all that AB32 has been signed by Governor Newsom thanks to all of your support!🎉
A special thanks to CIYJA’s youth and leadership along with, ILRC, CCIJ, ICIJ, IM4HI, Pangea, Resilience OC, IDP, Freedom for Immigrant, Human Rights Watch, Free SF, CCIRA, SIREN, Bay Resistance, and so many others!
We owe this victory to Floricel, Raul, Ny, Valeria, Mario, and so many individuals who despite being targeted by the state continue to fight for our collective liberations!
Please continue supporting us in these next steps as we begin our fight to #FreeThemAllCA For now we celebrate and hold our loved ones closer and continue ensuring each other that a world without cages is possible!
If you made a call, shared a post or took other action, THANK YOU!!!
Three separate judges issued an injunction Friday against the Trump administration’s new Public Charge rule. Good news first:
Federal judges in three states on Friday temporarily blocked changes to the so-called public charge rule, which would make getting permanent residency more difficult for immigrants deemed likely to seek public assistance.
Abbey Sussell, of the New York Immigration Coalition, said that confusion over the measure already has spurred some immigrant New Yorkers to drop benefits — even ones not specified in the new Department of Homeland Security policy.
“It’s still going to be really complex” to explain to immigrant communities what exactly the court rulings mean, given “a lot of damage that has been done,” Sussell said.
New York Attorney General Letitia James secured an injunction Friday temporarily blocking the federal rule changes, which were to have gone into effect Tuesday. Federal judges in California and Washington issued similar decisions.
The Bad News is that the State Department issued a separate rule that takes effect today, directing consular officers to apply public charge ineligibility more broadly to people seeking visas to come to the United States.
More worrying for advocates are separate rules from the State Department — published one day before Friday’s injunctions — which, as of Tuesday, will affect some green card and visa applicants who live outside of the U.S.
The State Department rule could hinder applicants abroad who have family petitioning for them in the U.S. — all based on the same 20-point public charge test.
“I think the Department of State thing is really big,” said Jessica Young, an attorney at Make the Road New York, an immigration advocacy group. “And I think that’s not being discussed right now.”
Young noted the State Department rule could affect up to 13 million people.
So, good news, the public charge definition Trump was pushing is blocked for now regarding people already in the United States seeking permanent residency. However, the new definition currently still applies to people trying to get here – with the same discriminatory impact against people who have less economic means.
In July the story broke about a U.S. citizen, 18 years old Francisco Erwin Galicia, who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for three weeks, despite having a U.S. birth certificate clearly showing him to be a citizen. The issue was that he also had been issued birth record from Mexico (issued three years after his birth in the U.S.). His mother had sought this so that he could attend public school in Mexico where they had relocated after Francisco’s parents separated. This birth record was later used to secure a visitors visa to the United States – and this raised a red flag for ICE. Whatever one thinks of the decisions made by the mother (and before passing judgement know that her situation is something faced by thousands of Mexican nationals who move back to Mexico with U.S. citizen children), these were not decisions made by Francisco, who was three years old at the time, and is a U.S. born citizen.
Nevertheless, ICE still has Francisco in removal proceedings, and earlier this month issued him a notice to appear before an immigration judge in 2020. From Dallas Morning News
Two immigration attorneys specializing in deportation defense told The News that based on the fact that Galicia received this most recent notice, he remains in deportation proceedings until a judge cancels the proceedings or ICE terminates the case based on prosecutorial discretion.
Prosecutors for ICE, the agency charged with removing unauthorized immigrants from the U.S., may believe that they have enough evidence to continue pursuing Galicia’s case, said Sui Chung, an immigration attorney who focuses on removal defense and serves as chair of the national ICE committee with the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“It is ICE’s burden to prove that he is deportable, but if you as his attorney want to kill the case, then you have to show evidence to question why the case is still moving forward,” Chung said.
Chung added that the visitors visa that was issued to Galicia was sufficient enough proof for Border Patrol to hold him for a few hours. But the 23 days he spent in detention seemed like an excess and the current removal proceedings should probably have already been stopped, she said.
So why haven’t they? U.S. citizens end up in removal proceedings at an alarming rate already. It is just one factor evidencing the broken system run by ICE, which prioritizes removals above all else. (“We are in the removal business,” as an ICE officer recently said in relation to a different case). #AbolishICE