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Daily Dispatch 12/14/18


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Daily Dispatch

December 14, 2018


Top Stories:

CBP is investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of a 7 year old girl from dehydration while in CBP custody. The girl arrived last week with her father, who remains in El Paso. More coverage from WaPo here.

The Office of the Inspector General released scathing report on CBP’s contract with Accenture, which was paid $13.6 million to provide the agency with thousands of new hires, but so far has only hired 2 people.

Other Stories:

After ankle monitoring, bi-weekly ICE check-ins, and threats to be put on a plane to El Salvador without her U.S. citizen children (one of whom has Downs Syndrome), Rosa Gutierrez Lopez decides to seek sanctuary in Unitarian church in South Kensington, MD.

Lawmakers pack-up for the holidays with no indications of solving border wall showdown.

Trump tweets that USMCA = Mexico pays for border wall.

Friday Bonus: Tucker Carlson rants about immigration.


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Daily Dispatch 12/13/18


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Daily Dispatch

December 13, 2018


Top Stories:

Nancy Pelosi responds to White House meeting on government shutdown and Trump’s obsession with the border wall:

It’s like a manhood thing with him — as if manhood can be associated with him.”

In FY 2018, ICE workplace arrests increased 666% over FY 2017 and employer audits increased 361%.

Due to the information sharing rule that uses kids as bait, ICE has arrested 109 people with no criminal records after they came forward to sponsor unaccompanied or separated children.

68 judges send letter to ICE Acting Director Ronald Vitiello asking that courthouses be off limits to ICE arrests.

Letter From Former Judges -… by on Scribd

Other Stories:

From Politico:  “How the Migrant Caravan Built Its Own Democracy”

From NYMag: “Why Do Libertarians and Left Have Such Similar Views on Immigration”

From the New Yorker: “Trump’s Ongoing Disinformatin Campaign Against Latino Immigrants”

From Vox: “The hypocrisy of Trump’s immigration agenda is getting harder to ignore”

From the Atlantic: “Trump Keeps Invoking Terrorism to Get His Border Wall”

 


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Daily Dispatch 12/11/18


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Daily Dispatch

December 11, 2018


Top Stories:

General John Kelly will be freed from the White House through Trump’s early-release program (aka Twitter), having served only 18 months of his 3-and-a-half year sentence as White House Chief of Staff. With Kelly out, most expect DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to be next on the chopping block. While Kelly made his fair share of derogatory comments about America’s immigrant population, he and Nielsen represented the less extreme faction in the administration, butting heads with Stephen Miller on issues like deploying military to the US-Mexico border. Trump has never been a fan of Nielsen (e.g., this infamous encounter) and despite her recent efforts to placate the “president,” Kelly was likely solely responsible for her remaining in her post at DHS. Odds are good she’ll also be gone by the end of year.

Remember our buddy Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III – also recently fired by tweet? His likely replacement, William Barr, has been to this rodeo before, serving as AG in the early 1990s. Vox looks at his record on immigration during his first go ‘round in the DOJ.

Trump met with “Chuck and Nancy” yesterday, the latter hoping to avoid a government shutdown over border wall funding. Let’s just say, things got heated. Despite the cameras, Pelosi complained that open debate and transparency could not take place if both parties don’t accede to a set of facts. Afterwards, Pelosi told Trump to “pray about it” before shutting down the government, while Schumer talked of Trump’s “temper tantrum.” 

 

Public comment period has ended for the “public charge” rule. 210,889 comments were received (17,073 are available to view), including these, signed by 28 sitting Senators.

Local Papers:

From ABC7 (Denver, CO): “Judge: Sheriff can’t hold people for immigration authorities”

From the TimesUnion (Albany, NY): “Albany County receives millions for immigrant detainees”

From the News & Observer (Raleigh, NC): “New sheriffs in Wake and Durham will no longer cooperate with immigration agency”

From the Boston Herald (Boston, MA): “Maura Healey, Brigham and Women’s protest proposed immigration rule”

Other Reads:

From NYT: “Life in Tijuana Means Negotiating ‘La Linea,’ an Always Present Wall”

From WaPo: “Is the UN’s new migration compact a major breakthrough?”

From Bloomberg Businessweek: “This Obama-Era Agency Is Trying to Speed Immigration Under Trump’s Nose”

From Politico Magazine: “How Atlanta Is Turning Ex-Cons Into Urban Farmers”


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Texas Tribune: Report highlights the trauma that thousands of Texas families have experienced with incarceration


The following was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.


 

Report highlights the trauma that thousands of Texas families have experienced with incarceration

With more than 200,000 people in Texas jails and prisons, and nearly half a million children in Texas who have experienced a parent getting locked up, a new national report highlighted something Texas families are well aware of: family incarceration leads to potentially devastating emotional and financial effects.

Half of American adults — 113 million people in the country — have had a family member incarcerated, according to the report, which was released Thursday by the bipartisan advocacy and policy organization FWD.us and Cornell University.

“This report is about us, it’s about the families,” said Jennifer Erschabek, the Austin executive director of Texas Inmate Families Association. “When it comes to the stress, when it comes to the financial hardships imposed on families, when it comes to visitation, everything about the prison system and how it affects families, it’s all there.”

In the study, researchers analyzed prison data and surveyed more than 4,000 adults this summer in a quest to determine the financial and emotional ripple effects on those who experience incarceration secondhand. The United States incarcerated more than 1.5 million people in prisons and another 740,000 in jails in 2016, according to a Bureau of Justice report, contributing to a desperately swollen prison system.

FWD.us was founded in 2013 by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg with a focus on immigration, eventually expanding to include criminal justice reform.

The report’s authors said they wanted to measure how the overwhelming impact of the criminal justice network spreads into American homes and touches the people nearest to the prisoners.

“Nobody knew how many families were touched by it,” said Felicity Rose, research and policy director of criminal justice reform at FWD.us, and lead researcher for the study. “You can’t talk about the impact and understand what it means for families in America unless you understand how many people are affected.”

The study discovered that there are currently 6.5 million people who have an immediate family member in jail or prison, but that almost half the population has experienced family incarceration.

While the researchers acknowledge the difference between a single night spent in county jail and a 10-year prison sentence, Rose said that even a brief brush with the system can be destabilizing and traumatic for families.

The analysis also highlighted the racial and socioeconomic disparities within the criminal justice system. The researchers determined that black adults are imprisoned at six times the rate of whites, and that individuals who make less than $25,000 per year face a 61 percent greater risk of having a family member serve time than those who earn more than $100,000.

Rose said the demographic disparities mean that for poor inmates and prisoners of color, along with their families, even a three-day jail stint could lead to a downward spiral of economic instability that comes with job loss, legal fines, and court and lawyer fees that quickly pile up.

Around 90 percent of adults in jail or prison are men and a third of the women in the study reported that they lost their household’s primary source of income due to a male loved one’s incarceration. Then there are the long drives to the prisons, the fees associated with background checks for visitation, and the anxieties that come with juggling life as a single parent or caretaker.

In the last two and a half years alone, Child Protective Services removed approximately 19,500 children each year because of parental incarceration. A May 2018 budget report revealed that more than 60 percent of the women in Texas prisons have at least one minor child, which comes with an annual taxpayer price tag of $30,960 for each child in the foster care system.

These daunting facts are what Marc Levin, vice president of criminal justice policy at the conservative Austin think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation and a leader on TPPF’s national reform campaign Right on Crime, says Texas needs to work on.

“We obviously need to continue to reduce both crime and incarceration in Texas,” Levin said. “And we have a lot of room to do that. We still have more than 16,000 people in Texas in state prisons and jails for drug possession.”

Levin said that Texas should focus on pushing legislation that supports drug courts and reducing the disparity of who is arrested and booked into jail, as well as rehabilitation efforts.

“We need to look at the total cost of the criminal justice system, including the child welfare system costs, the loss of productivity, and the generational impact of children of incarcerated parents going on to be incarcerated themselves,” Levin said.

And with Texas legislators preparing to flock to the Capitol for the 86th legislative session, Erschabek said she hopes the report sets the table for further reform in Texas.

“Families are also crime survivors,” Erschabek said. “They didn’t buy into this. This isn’t because of what they did, but they are still suffering the consequences of what has happened.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Public Policy Foundation have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/12/07/family-incarceration-texas-prison-system/.


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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.


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With contract set to expire, still no word on what’s next for immigration center at Tornillo


The following was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.


 

With contract set to expire, still no word on what’s next for immigration center at Tornillo

With just weeks before a federal contract to operate a West Texas detention center for undocumented immigrant minors is set to expire, there is still no word whether the Trump administration plans to keep the site open into 2019.

But the shelter operators maintain that another contract extension would be just one more short-term solution to a larger problem that needs a permanent fix.

The contract between the federal Health and Human Services’ Offices of Refugee Resettlement and San Antonio nonprofit BCFS to operate the controversial detention camp at Tornillo is due to expire at the end of this month after being extended several times since the original 30-day contract in June.

“The ball is in their court,” said BCFS spokeswoman Evy Ramos. “We have said to them just recently this week, we can’t just keep extending this, this is not a permanent solution. Something else has to be figured out.”

The facility — a collection of dozens of military-grade tents on the grounds of a federal port of entry surrounded by acres of farmland — has swelled from a few hundred immigrants in June to about 2,300. Its capacity was expanded to about 3,800 after the administration realized the flow of unauthorized minors seeking asylum in the United States did not dwindle despite efforts to deter asylum seekers by turning them away at the international ports of entry and urging the Mexican government to block Central Americans from traveling through that country.

If the government didn’t extend the contract for Tornillo, it would have to build or find another facility that’s designed for long-term detention, Ramos said. But that decision is ultimately up to ORR officials. She said the company, which as of Nov. 30 had received just over $144 million from the government to run the facility, doesn’t know what the government plans to do. But it “will not just abandon the children in Tornillo,” Ramos said.

HHS spokesman Mark Weber said late Wednesday that children in the agency’s care would continue to be “provided critical services in a safe and compassionate matter,” no matter where they are placed.

“Just like we have in the past, we will make a public announcement when/if operation at Tornillo are extended,” he said.

Ramos isn’t the first BCFS employee to question the Trump administration’s handling of undocumented immigrant children. In June, the incident commander at the facility said the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy — which resulted in thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents — was a mistake that prompted building the makeshift shelter in Tornillo. The president ended the policy about two months after it was initiated after a public outcry over the family separations.

“It was an incredibly dumb, stupid decision,” the incident commander said at the time, adding that he hoped to never again conduct a similar operation. He added that he thought the facility wouldn’t be needed past the middle of July, when the first contract was set to expire.

That was almost six months ago.

When the facility first opened, a small number of children at the facility had been separated from their parents under zero tolerance. Ramos said Wednesday that all the children currently in the facility are minors who arrived to the country without a parent or guardian, and the large majority are from Central America.

Tornillo holds youths age 17 or younger. Before they can be released to a U.S. sponsor, those adults need to be vetted. Ramos said that process has slowed considerably since the summer, when minors were released after only a few weeks in the facility.

“I support the fact that they need to do fingerprinting and background checks on every adult in the [sponsor’s] home in order to ensure the safety of the children,” she said. “It’s just the speed at which they’re doing it, it’s just taking too long.”

Last week, a report from the Office of the Inspector General confirmed media reports that employees at the facility did not undergo FBI background checks. The issue was first reported by VICE News last month.

Ramos said that at BCFS’s long-term care facilities that are licensed by the state, access to the FBI database is allowed because the state acts as BCFS’s government sponsor. But because Tornillo is a federal project on federal land, that access hasn’t been granted.

“We’re wondering why ORR couldn’t have been our sponsoring agency in order to be able to process those FBI fingerprint background checks,” she said. “It’s not that we don’t want to, or wanted to go around it. We could not do it.”

After the OIG report was released, U.S. Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif. and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., called for HHS and the Department of Homeland Security to immediately close the facility.

“It is clear the administration’s actions are putting thousands of children in danger,” they wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

Weber said the Office of Refugee Resettlement is working with the FBI and Texas Department of Public Safety “to conduct FBI fingerprint background checks as quickly as possible for current and future employees at Tornillo.” He added that BCFS has conducted other pre-employment background checks, including standard state felony and misdemeanor checks and multi-state sex offender registry checks.


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/12/07/future-tornillo-immigration-center-unclear-after-contract-expires/.


Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.


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Daily Dispatch 12/7/18


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InAlienable
Daily Dispatch

December 7, 2018


Top Stories:

The one everyone’s talking about: Undocumented immigrants talk about working for Trump.

Related (sort of): WaPo article on “unlawful immigrant” soldier deployed on southern border.

White House wants another $190 million for HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement to deal with detained children, but one Dem says “over my dead body will we provide another nickel.” New leadership in House Appropriations Committee plan to increase oversight of detention facilities.

Related: Tornillo tent city contract between HHS and BCFS soon to expire, but no one knows what happens next.

As New Jersey creates new rules limiting local cooperation with immigration enforcement, ICE responds with threats: “As a result of limited cooperation with local and state authorities, ICE will have no choice but to conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at worksites.”

Massachusetts church puts a baby Jesus (a doll, not the real one) in a cage for a nativity scene that highlights family separation, immigrant detention, and deportation. Fox News reacts in typical end-is-nigh fashion, claiming “CHRISTMAS IS UNDER SIEGE.”

Nativity Scene at Saint Susanna Parish, Dedham MA

Other Stories:

From In These Times: “The Troubling Link Between Attacks on Immigrants and Repression of Labor Activists”

From Reuters: “Trump, without evidence, says Arizona ‘bracing’ for surge of immigrants”


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Daily Dispatch 12/3/18


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InAlienable
Daily Dispatch

December 3, 2018


 

Top Story:

Expose of Southwest Key and its Executive Director, Juan Sanchez (from the New York Times): “He’s Built an Empire, With Detained Migrant Children as the Bricks.”

House Dems hop on board with calls to censure Steve King (R-IA). (Note: Quixote Center is among the 140 signing organizations mentioned in this report.)

House and Senate Democrats battle over border wall funding. Meanwhile, the government shutdown showdown has been delayed, according to comments made by the president to reporters on Saturday.

DHS head sends memo to State, Labor, Energy, Transportation, Interior, and Justice departments asking them to send “any available law enforcement personnel… to the Southwest Border.” This is in addition to the active military troops deployed to the border area last month.

Federal judge rules against Trump’s intention to withhold federal grant money from sanctuary cities.

Other Stories:

In depth piece from the New York Times: “Hazing Humiliation, Terror: Working While Female in Federal Prison”

From HuffPo: “Texas Sues San Antonio In First Test Of Sanctuary City Immigration Crackdown”

 


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Daily Dispatch 11/30/18


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InAlienable
Daily Dispatch

November 30, 2018


 

Top Stories:

Reporters Report that Other Reporters Are Reporting on Deporting by Resorting to Exporting from ICE’s Own Distorting Purporting:

Audio from NPR’s On the Media: “many news outlets are reporting on deportations simply by lifting text verbatim from I.C.E. press releases.”

Baltimore files suit against Donald J. Trump, Michael R. Pompeo, and the U.S. Department of State over the now-infamous “public charge” rule change, saying that “Baltimore is left to sort through the mess Defendants have made.” The city of Baltimore’s “Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief” can be found here.

Quixote Center joins with 140 national and regional organizations in sending a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy requesting censure of Rep. Steve King (R-IA) for his use of incendiary and racist rhetoric and his endorsement of white supremacist and other far right causes.

 

Other News:

Texas’s 3rd Court of Appeals issues a ruling that forbids challenging “a state agency rule that permits unrelated adults to be assigned to children’s bedrooms” after advocacy groups attempted to prevent jails from being licensed as child care centers. Ruling here.

Churches react against ICE arrest of undocumented immigrant taking sanctuary in NC church.

A Very Sad Tweet From the Border:

More Recommended Reads:

From Mother Jones: “A Private Prison Company Says Georgia’s Investigation Into a Detainee’s Death Must Stay Secret”

From CityLab: “What Border Security and Police Violence Have In Common”

From The New Yorker: “The Long Wait for Tijuana’s Migrants to Process Their Own Asylum Claims”

 


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Daily Dispatch 11/29/18


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InAlienable
Daily Dispatch

November 29, 2018


 

Top Stories:

Congressional Hispanic Caucus sends letter to House and Senate Appropriations Committees, demanding (a) a decrease in ICE detention beds, (b) reduced funding for ICE agents, and (c) zero funding for the border wall.

Chief agent for San Diego CBP has asked Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate use of tear gas at the border.

The Texas Tribune and Reveal report on the gag orders placed on those allowed inside Tornillo tent city.

With cotton fields in the foreground and the border fence in the back, young boys walk with staff
inside the tent city in Tornillo on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018.
Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre for Reveal.

Detainee Deaths:

ICE and GEO Group claim another victim, as detainee on hunger strike dies after hanging himself with handmade rope and being placed on life support.

Private autopsy reveals transgender asylum seeker, in custody of ICE and CoreCivic, was shackled and beaten with ASP baton before dying of dehydration.

Other News:

From the BBC: “Six charts on the immigrants who call the US home”

Opinion piece from NBC News: “Trump’s border wall is both the cornerstone of his immigration policy, and the dumbest thing about it”

From Vox: “The US has made migrants at the border wait months to apply for asylum. Now the dam is breaking. By limiting the number of asylum seekers allowed to come legally, Trump made his own immigration crisis”

 


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No one on the inside can talk about what’s happening at the tent city for migrant kids


The following was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.


 

No one on the inside can talk about what’s happening at the tent city for migrant kids

With cotton fields in the foreground and the border fence in the back, young boys walk with staff
inside the tent city in Tornillo on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018.
Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre for Reveal.

TORNILLO – About 40 miles southeast of El Paso, past the billboards for fast food joints and rugged desert hills, residents of this small community sometimes can see the lights of the nearby detention camp glowing in the night.

Some of them have brought gifts for the roughly 2,300 children inside, only to be turned away by guards.

Months after the government erected a tent city in the desert, most of what happens inside the encampment remains hidden, even from curious neighbors in the nearby town of 1,600 residents. The only images of the minors in the camp, standing outside in an orderly line or playing soccer, have been released by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“We have the same access that the whole world has,” said Tornillo schools Superintendent Rosy Vega-Barrio, “which is none.”

There is one local organization that gets inside the camp regularly: Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services. The El Paso legal nonprofit is among dozens of groups funded by the government to provide legal services to immigrant children in custody.

But lawyers at Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, known locally as DMRS, can’t speak publicly about the children at Tornillo. Their contract prohibits them from talking to the media, Executive Director Melissa Lopez said in an interview. It’s another aspect of the conflict of interest built into the funding for legal aid, which also prevents lawyers from taking the government to court to get children released.

She referred questions to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. “It’s better for the details to come from them,” she said. The agency has not responded to a request for comment.

When it opened over the summer, the camp was meant to be a temporary home for children ages 13 to 17 caught crossing the border alone. But with a growing population and a contract to keep it open at least through December, the camp is taking on a role similar to the government’s permanent shelters for unaccompanied migrant children. It can now accommodate up to 3,800 minors.

The secrecy surrounding the camp has frustrated longtime residents of Tornillo and alarmed lawyers and advocates who question its conditions. After a tour of the tent city Sept. 24, advocates left with concerns that children were given only workbooks, but no other education, and less access to mental health counseling than found in other shelters.

There is also evidence that children aren’t getting the legal representation they need.

The town’s representative in the Texas Legislature, Democratic state Rep. Mary González, said she is particularly concerned that the children aren’t receiving adequate legal help. During a recent morning at immigration court in El Paso, she saw several minors from the camp appear before a judge without a lawyer, González said.

“DMRS is a nonprofit organization. They’re doing the best that they can,” González said. “But think about it this way: They were already overwhelmed with the services they had to provide in the local community. Now there’s a thousand kids in Tornillo.”

However strained the group has been, its contract prevents officials from complaining publicly if children aren’t getting representation.

“I don’t want the government telling anyone they can’t speak to the press,” González said. “Transparency, particularly in a situation as sensitive as this, is such a vital tool.”

***

There is someone who can talk about life inside the tent city.

Over the summer, a 17-year-old boy named Bruno left Guatemala and traversed 1,800 miles on buses, semitrailers and trains until he reached an El Paso port of entry in July.

After more than a month at another Texas shelter for immigrant children, Bruno was transferred. No one told him why, he said. Reveal is not using his full name due to concerns that his decision to speak publicly about Tornillo may affect his pending immigration case.

Bruno arrived at the Tornillo camp at night. He saw the tents and asked a worker where he would be sleeping. “Here,” the worker told him.

His friends called the camp “el infierno,” because of the sweltering summer temperatures. The teens were allowed to play soccer only early in the morning when it was cooler outside, Bruno said. He remembers one week when the air conditioning in his tent stopped working.

“My friends would tell me that maybe we would never get out,” Bruno said. “And I told them we would leave one day. But then I started to think, ‘I’m in the desert. I’m never leaving.’ ”

Children sent here were supposed to move through Tornillo quickly, on their way to placement with family in the United States while they awaited a court date. But the government’s placement process has stalled. Roughly 90 children have been held at the camp for more than three months, according to recent court filings.

BCFS Health and Human Services, the contractor running the camp, has said many of the teens stuck at the camp for months were awaiting fingerprint results for their prospective sponsors, according to a court declaration from Leah J. Chavla, a visiting attorney from the Women’s Refugee Commission.

In her declaration, Chavla said hundreds of children “were not far along in the reunification process,” including more than 150 who had no viable sponsors.

During his seven weeks at Tornillo, Bruno remembers seeing an attorney who asked him and other teens about conditions at the camp. But he never met with a lawyer about his case or his legal rights, he said.

He tried to stay hopeful and followed orders from the staff. Bruno slept with 19 other boys in a tent lined with bunk beds. Workers taught the teens how to make bracelets. He went to church services at the cafeteria.

Bruno was released from the shelter Sept. 22 and reunited with family. He searches Facebook for the friends he left behind at Tornillo, hoping some may have been released and have access to social media.

So far, he hasn’t found them.

***

As sweltering summer days at the tent city have given way to freezing fall desert nights, more and more of the children living there are going to court.

Iliana Holguin, an El Paso immigration attorney, said her understanding was that, since Tornillo was a temporary shelter, children weren’t supposed to face immigration court while being held at the camp.

“We always were under the impression that the Tornillo kids were not going to be appearing in court here in El Paso because it was considered a temporary shelter,” Holguin said.

Today, that’s all changed. Children are hauled from Tornillo to El Paso’s downtown immigration court as many as four days a week. Without their families and, in many cases, without the legal help to which they’re entitled, they’re forced to make major decisions like whether to return to their home countries or whether to seek asylum.

Detained migrant children are entitled to legal representation under federal law. Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services’ federally funded legal aid contract includes doing that work.

But on Oct. 11, according to a BuzzFeed report, 11 children from Tornillo faced a judge with no legal help, only a representative from BCFS Health and Human Services, the contractor that runs the shelter.

The following week, González, the state lawmaker, went to court to see for herself. This time, she said there were about 10 children, most in their mid-teens.

“The kids walk in, they’re asked their name and age, they’re told how important this hearing is,” she recalled. “They’re told, ‘We advise you to get a lawyer.’ ”

González said there was an attorney from Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services present – but only to give advice as a “friend of the court,” not to represent the children. Instead, she said, they were given a list of pro bono legal resources – in English only – which includes DMRS and five other groups, one of which won’t take clients who are in detention.

It was clear, González said, that children weren’t getting the help they needed. Most were making their first court appearance and asked the judge for later court dates to prepare their asylum claims.

One of the minors was a 12-year-old boy from Guatemala, González said. It was his fourth court hearing, but the first in which he had access to a translator who spoke his indigenous language. Rather than seek asylum, she said, the boy agreed to be sent back to Guatemala.

“He was so little, he was so adorable. He came all this way from Guatemala not even speaking Spanish,” she said. “I don’t know, maybe that kid wanted to go home. I know he had already been in our system, detained for a significant time. I don’t know his story. All I know is that in the little bit that I saw, he wasn’t given full access to the United States justice system.”

“I’ll be honest,” she said, “I walked out and I cried.”

Without answers from DMRS or the federal government, it’s unclear how many of the children at Tornillo are getting legal representation in court.

Another group on the list of pro bono legal providers that children are given is the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. Its director, Linda Rivas, said in an email that she has not received calls from children at Tornillo seeking representation. But she’s not surprised, because she knows that DMRS has a contract to represent them.

“DMRS is passionate about their representation of unaccompanied children and always has been,” Rivas said. “If they were to need our help, I know they wouldn’t hesitate to ask, and we would help them as much as we can.”

But Holguin believes that DMRS only recently got approval from the government to begin representing kids from Tornillo directly, and not only appear with them as a “friend of the court.”

Holguin was the legal aid group’s executive director from 2006 to 2012. She said DMRS will have to hire more lawyers to do the job. “I’m sure they didn’t have staff members to absorb that demand,” she said.

If lawyers with the group already are frustrated by the sudden increase in clients, they can’t say so without risking their government funding.

“The attorneys at DMRS are very hesitant to disclose something that would cause ORR (the refugee office) to potentially risk their contract, leaving these children without representation,” Holguin said.

Back then, Holguin said, there was less of a concern about speaking out of turn. “I never felt like if I said something I was going to lose my ORR contract,” she said. “I get the sense that it’s a very different kind of threat now.”

***

González, the state legislator, is one of the few people who tried to bring attention to Tornillo before the summer. She tried to extend natural gas service to homes and clean up its arsenic-laced drinking water. (The $1,000-a-day cost of housing each child at the tent camp includes delivery of water from the outside.)

“This is a beautiful, humble, loving community, and this is really antithetical to what the community stands for,” González said. “It’s family separation, just by another name. All these kids have a place to go, have a family to be with.”

When Alfredo Escalante first heard about the encampment, he headed to the shelter with a few other residents and hauled goods, such as soccer balls and home-grown watermelon, for the children. But a guard at the gate told them to leave.

“They turned us away,” Escalante said. “We were just rejected from the door.”

Escalante and other Tornillo residents joined protests outside the shelter at the height of the Trump administration’s policy that separated roughly 2,600 immigrant children from their parents at the border.

In conversations with school staff, Superintendent Vega-Barrio said the camp comes up often. The district has requested access to the shelter through local lawmakers, but hasn’t received a response.

“We need answers – as the public, as the community, as a nation. I think that’s what’s really frustrating at this point in time,” Vega-Barrio said. “I don’t want Tornillo to be seen or to be remembered as a place where kids – underage kids – were detained. It’s just not who we are.”

Vega-Barrio described the town as quiet and family-oriented. There are reminders of the town’s new neighbor. The lights illuminating the tents at night can be seen from the high school stadium. Large white buses heading to the camp sometimes cut through Tornillo.

Surrounded by desert and cotton fields, the town with no traffic lights has one mom-and-pop grocery store and a gas station. On a recent afternoon, Escalante’s mother waited for customers to arrive at her hair salon, which she runs out of a small brick house in her backyard.

People in town talk about the shelter, Maria Escalante said. Many are sympathetic to the children because they’re separated from their families and living in a strange place. Some residents, she’s heard, now are working at the camp.

“It came out of nowhere,” she said of the shelter. “If it was a good thing, we would feel good about it. But what’s happening is just sad.”

Editor’s note: This story is by Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting.


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/11/28/tent-city-texas-migrant-children/.


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