The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation: Impactful or Nah?

When we’re done pontificating, what’s really going to be done?

*I use Black and African American interchangeably.

This week the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) held its annual legislative conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The 2019 theme is “400 years: Our Legacy, Our Possibilities…” If you’re not familiar with the CBCF, it’s a “nonprofit nonpartisan public policy, research and educational institute that seeks to improve the socioeconomic circumstances of African Americans and other underserved communities.” There are many panel discussions on a variety of issues affecting African Americans including affordable housing, the 2020 Census and economic equality. It’s also a huge networking opportunity to meet Black legislators and other professionals who care about and are in a position to affect public policy.

This wasn’t my first time attending the CBCF. I’m a Maryland native, and CBCF week is a highly-anticipated event in the college-educated, middle class Black community. I say “college educated” because the event does target a specific demographic. Many, including myself, call their target audience the “Black Bourgeoisie.” The Root senior writer, Michael Harriot penned a hilarious description of CBCF week; however, I have to warn you – if you’re not Black, many of his references will go over your head. I laughed all throughout his piece because Harriot is accurate in his description of the stark class differences between most CBCF attendees and us regular Black folk. There is an air of elitism and privilege at CBCF.

However, I respect that the CBCF seeks to find solutions to systemic issues. There were many informative panels seeking to educate and raise awareness about pressing concerns in African American communities. They talked about the spread of misinformation through social media that disproportionately targets African Americans; apparently, over 50 percent of people of color get their news from Facebook. They talked about the 2020 Census, affordable housing, education and the condition of Black men and boys. The panelists and experts shared a great deal of information to wrestle with and consider when trying to build a world more justly loving. There was also a huge exhibiting hall with vendors sharing resources. Several government agencies had tables in the exhibit hall.

But despite the major networking opportunities and the chances to speak face-to-face with Black legislators and lobbyists, the most moving part of the CBCF for me was when I left the convention center to add more money to my meter. A Black man I assume is homeless asked me for money. I gave him a couple of dollars I had in my purse, fed the meter and went back to the conference, but couldn’t help thinking about the dichotomy of the homeless Black man and the conference attendees carrying Prada bags, wearing silk suits and Christian Louboutin shoes while exchanging business cards hoping for their next “come up.” Some Black people have seats at the proverbial table, but many of us are still scraping for the crumbs that fall from it. Many Black people view the CBCF as an opportunity for the Black Bourgeoisie to pat each other on the back, flaunt their wealth and titles, and party to put it simply. Despite their success, there still is a huge wealth gap in the Black community. Gentrification has forced many Black people out of the former “Chocolate City.” Police still target and violate the rights of Black people in Washington, D.C. at disproportionately higher rates than other demographics. Trump pulled Rep. Elijah Cummings card, when he challenged Cummings on his effectiveness in Baltimore and then had his people interview residents in Cummings’ district about their living conditions. I’m no fan of Trump, but you can’t ignore the testimonies shared online of the people Rep. Cummings serves. I’m sure there are many poor Black people like the man I encountered who want to know exactly how the CBCF affects them and if the CBCF cares about their experiences.

CBCF can be a good time, but I hope that “we” haven’t gotten so far removed from the people we claim to be trying to help. I know the homeless man outside of the conference reminded me of why I do the work I do. I’m there to speak for him. I represent him and many others who don’t have conference passes to make their voices heard. I hope others remember this as well while they’re rubbing elbows with their political idols.

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Daily Dispatch 9/13/2019: There are no natural disasters

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Daily Dispatch

September 13, 2019


The Mudd after Dorian

In the area of Marsh Harbor on Abaco Island in the Bahamas was a small, impoverished community that was mostly home to Haitians. The Mudd, as it was known, was wiped out during Hurricane Dorian. We do not know how many people perished. Lack of communication and lack of options meant there was no coordinated evacuation of the area. There is little left now. Those who did survive have nothing but the clothes they are wearing. Some have been relocated to Nassau. Others are still in the ruins Marsh Harbor trying to decide what to do next. From AP:

Some dazed survivors of Hurricane Dorian made their way back to a shantytown where they used to live, hoping to gather up some of their soggy belongings.

The community was known as The Mudd — or “Da Mudd,” as it’s often pronounced — and it was built by thousands of Haitian migrants over decades. It was razed in a matter of hours by Dorian, which reduced it to piles of splintered plywood and two-by-fours 4 and 5 feet deep, spread over an area equal to several football fields.

A helicopter buzzed overhead as people picked through the debris, avoiding a body that lay tangled underneath a tree branch next to twisted sheets of corrugated metal, its hands stretched toward the sky. It was one of at least nine bodies that people said they had seen in the area.

“Ain’t nobody come to get them,” said Cardot Ked, a 43-year-old carpenter from Haiti who has lived 25 years in Abaco. “If we could get to the next island, that’s the best thing we can do.”

Migration from Haiti

Following the earthquake in 2010, and in the face of the slow, but continuous economic decline since, more and more people are leaving Haiti. They have gone to Brazil and Chile, and more recently walked thousands of miles to seek asylum at the U.S./Mexico border. Hundreds have relocated permanently in border towns like Tijuana, with little or no chance of ever getting into the United States. Many more people have boarded onto small boats and sought refuge in other countries of the Caribbean. In the Bahamas, and elsewhere, these more recent migrants from Haiti join with communities established during earlier periods of exodus – especially the period from the fall of Duvalier in the mid-1980s through the coup d’etat against Aristide’s first government in 1991 and the reinstatement of the elected government in 1995. 

The Mudd was one of these communities. People fleeing the violence of the late 1980s and early 1990s, settled in the Bahamas, where Haitians had been engaged with the local economy for decades. From the 1980s forward, though, resentment against Haitian migrants began to grow more pronounced. As a result, communities like the Mudd were isolated socially, even as the labor of the people who lived there was utilized in the hotels of Marsh Harbor and other tourist businesses. There have been very few formal studies of the Haitian community in the Bahamas. Indeed, several different news stories in the last week all cite the same study (without mentioning it is 11 years old) from the College of the Bahamas Research Journal in reference to the historic marginalization Haitians have experienced in the Bahamas. As the research shows, Haitians that resettled in the Bahamas from the 1980s into the 1990s were working in the lowest paying jobs, were separated by language, and, as happens to migrant communities everywhere, were blamed for crime and poor health conditions. By the time of the 2000 census in the Bahamas, Haitians made up 7.1 percent of the population, though most lived on New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco or Eleuthera. Overall, Haitians accounted for 56 percent of foreign-born persons in the Bahamas.

Since the earthquake in 2010, migration from Haiti has increased, and has diversified. Nearly 100,000 Haitians moved to Chile, for example, which has more recently begun its own crack down on immigrants. In the Bahamas, the push back against Haitians living there has been severe, set against this history of marginalization. In 2014, for example, a new law required everyone to carry a passport with them – a law everyone knew was targeting Haitian migrants. Even Haitians born in the Bahamas faced deportation – as citizenship is not conferred upon birth, but must be applied for as an adult. As a result, the government:

stepped-up immigration raids in predominantly Haitian shantytowns, where people who lacked passports or work permits were apprehended. When illegal immigrants ran from officers, the agents knocked down doors and took their children, and the photos of toddlers being carried away circulated widely on social media.

Since the policy took effect Nov. 1, children born in the Bahamas have been deported with their parents, and others with Haitian-sounding names have been pulled from school classrooms, human rights observers said. The government acknowledges that even Bahamian citizens with French surnames are frequently arrested by mistake. 

As we have come to see in the United States and elsewhere, enforcement measure even target children as a means to track down families.

The Bahamian government announced that the new policy would go a step further: By next fall, schools will be asked to ensure that every child has a student permit. The annual $125 permit and a passport with a residency stamp will be required even of children born in the Bahamas who do not hold Bahamian citizenship.

The tough new policy echoes similar stances around the region, where new citizenship policies and anti-immigration measures have overwhelmingly affected Haitians, who are fleeing the hemisphere’s poorest country and are the most likely group to migrate illegally in great numbers. The top court in the Dominican Republic ruled in 2013 that the children of illegal immigrants, even if they are born in the country, did not have the right to citizenship.

Dorian

Since the hurricane struck the Bahamas, there have been quite a few articles about the situation of Haitians on the islands. In part, because the communities where they lived, like the Mudd, were among the hardest hit. This is no accident, or course. “Natural” disasters have a way of manifesting the grave inequities that humans create. The poorest die in the largest numbers, are the least likely to access services and find shelter after a storm, and are, for lack of resources, the least likely to be able to move on – though many may be forced to anyway.  

There are thousands of people missing – many are from communities like the Mudd that were washed away. The final death toll will no doubt be much higher than we can imagine at the moment. In the wake of this storm, the struggle to rebuild lives is already generating conflict, as scarce resources highlight existing tensions. At least that is the story being told. The international media is well known for finding the most sensational stories of conflict and tension – ignoring the many, many acts of cooperation and mutual support. We can hope that such stories will emerge in the coming weeks as well.

In the United States, especially Florida, where many people are relocating from the Bahamas, there are also stories of support. Organizations have mobilized to provide shelter and offer other assistance to refugees from the storm. Emergency response and support are important and help build bonds of friendship and support. But we also have to get better at addressing the ongoing structural violence that makes these disasters so much worse.

Postscript

Our president is still Trump. From Salon:

At first it appeared that citizens of the Bahamas, an archipelago nation just 110 miles from Florida, would be free to enter the United States, as has been the case in the past. Then an apparent decision by a private maritime operator to avoid trouble with U.S. Customs and Border Protection over the weekend was compounded by President Trump’s pronouncement that hurricane survivors included “some very bad people” who should be left stranded. Trump’s comments on Monday made clear that a policy change, initially sold as a miscommunication by his administration, was actually another capricious act of cruelty, a needlessly inhumane move to block natural disaster refugees.

“We have to be very careful. Everyone needs totally proper documentation,” Trump said in front of the White House after he returned from a weekend of golf on Monday. “I don’t want to allow people who weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.”

The president then suggested that these very bad people are likely to exploit humanitarian assistance. “The Bahamas has tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas who weren’t supposed to be there,” Trump said before adding that, “believe it or not,” some parts of the Bahamas were not hit hard by Hurricane Dorian.

According to Trump, the 70,000 people displaced by the hurricane should simply move to other parts of the Bahamas. If they want to come here, they must have proper documentation, because “bad people” may take advantage of the situation.

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Daily Dispatch 9/12/2019: The farce is strong with this one…

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Daily Dispatch

September 12, 2019

Migration Protection Protocol Hearing Tents in Laredo, TX (Image: Ricardo Santos / AP)

Supreme Court Allows Trump Asylum Rules to Stand

Yesterday the Supreme Court gave Trump a “huge,” “big” victory by allowing his new rule limiting the number of people who can seek asylum in the country to stand – at least for now. Trump’s proposed rule would deny migrants the ability to pursue asylum in the United States if they passed through a third country first and failed to pursue asylum there before coming to the United States. In effect, this would deny everyone seeking asylum at the U.S./Mexico border from applying, unless they are from Mexico. The rule shreds current asylum law and practices, and was immediately challenged in court. From the Associated Press:

The legal challenge to the new policy has a brief but somewhat convoluted history. U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco blocked the new policy from taking effect in late July. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals narrowed Tigar’s order so that it applied only in Arizona and California, states that are within the 9th Circuit.

That left the administration free to enforce the policy on asylum seekers arriving in New Mexico and Texas. Tigar issued a new order on Monday that reimposed a nationwide hold on asylum policy. The 9th Circuit again narrowed his order on Tuesday.

The high court action allows the Republican administration to impose the new policy everywhere while the court case against it continues.

It’s unclear how quickly the policy will be rolled out and how exactly it fits in with the other efforts by the administration to restrict border crossings and tighten asylum rules.

Importantly, the Supreme Court ruling only overturns a lower court injunction – it does NOT support of the merits of the policy directly. Legal challenges against the new rule will continue, and it is hard to see how it can survive as it is a clear violation of current law. Mexico is not legally identified as a “safe third country” under U.S. law, and the U.S. effort to get such an agreement with Mexico has not gone forward. The only country the U.S. has such an agreement with is Canada. A separate effort for an agreement with Guatemala has been slowed with legal challenges in Guatemala – and as the single largest group of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. right now are from Guatemala, it is clearly not a “safe” third country.

Noah Feldman, writing for Bloomberg, emphasizes that this was a ruling on process – not the legality of the rule:

But reversing the lower courts that blocked the regulation, pending litigation, isn’t the same thing as upholding it as lawful. The court of appeals still has to issue a final ruling on whether the rule violates federal immigration statutes and whether the government was authorized to issue it without first seeking notice and comment from the public.

Then, after final rulings from the appellate court, the Supreme Court will surely weigh in — and still might strike it down.

Asylum hearings, in tents, without judges

Meanwhile, immigration courts were set up in tents along the border to hear asylum claims from people ordered to “remain in Mexico” pending a court date.

At this point we have to pause and note the absurdity. Not only are people denied the right to seek asylum from within the United States – even those who present themselves at a port of entry have been told to stay in Mexico – but they can’t even get a real court hearing. Asylum seekers are patched through to a judge in San Antonio via teleconference while sitting in a tent in Laredo, TX, after sitting in a shelter or refugee camp for months to make their asylum claim.

There are currently 42,000 people awaiting hearing dates on asylum claims in Mexico. 42,000!!!

As the hearings began yesterday, no legal observers, media, or pro bono attorneys were allowed to view the proceedings. From Buzzfeed:

Ashley Huebner, associate director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center, was able to enter the tent facility briefly before being told to leave because she didn’t have a client appearing before the court. She said the lack of access to court observers and reporters was concerning.

“It’s particularly critical here because the entire process is taking place with such a lack of transparency,” Huebner told BuzzFeed News. “The entire setup confirmed how absurd it is to call this a courtroom and court proceedings.”

As of early September, more than 42,000 asylum-seekers have been forced to wait in Mexico while their immigration proceedings play out, according to acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan. Asylum-seekers in MPP [Migration Protection Protocols], also known as “Remain in Mexico,” have reported being assaulted, kidnapped, and extorted while being forced to wait in Mexico. With limited shelter space, some have to rent apartments or rooms, while others are homeless and relying on donations.

You may recall that the administration was under some heat for repurposing funds appropriated by Congress for other accounts in order to pay for enforcement measures. This court fiasco is paid for, in part, by funds appropriated originally for FEMA.

NPR Runs segment on Democratic candidates and immigration policy

NPR reached out to Democrats running for the presidential nomination to find out where they stand on immigration policy. Though a pretty select filter in terms of questions (nothing difficult on detention, “Remain in Mexico,” asylum law, or the movement to abolish ICE). But still worth a look. From lead in to story:

Donald Trump’s immigration stances — family separation, a ban on immigrants from several majority-Muslim nations, the cancellation of the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program, to name a few — have given Democrats much to criticize as the 2020 presidential election approaches.

It means that the Democratic candidates are pretty uniform in coming out hard against the president on immigration. However, they differ on the particulars of what policies they would like to put into place instead and, in many cases, have not articulated what they would do specifically.

To get a sense of what exactly the candidates would like the immigration system to look like, we asked them some basic questions about legal immigration levels, border security and what kind of a crime crossing the border illegally ought to be.

Full article here.

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Daily Dispatch 9/11/2019: September 11 Never Ends

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September 11, 2019


18 years ago today, I was in a bagel shop in College Park, Maryland with my friend Dave watching the world come apart on television. We didn’t say much to each other, we just stared at the T.V. as the twin towers fell and watched the fire rage at the Pentagon not too far away. There was not any sense of immediate danger to us personally, but the deep feeling of unease and overwhelming sadness at the loss of life was suffocating. We left, walked around campus and eventually met up with other grad students. Everyone was in shock. Later that day I had to teach a class. Lots of students at the University of Maryland are from New Jersey and New York. Several of the young folks in my class had not been in touch with family members and were worried. There was no lesson to speak of, just a conversation. What had people heard? What do you think happened? Why? There was already talk of revenge. “What of the risk of killing civilians?” asked a student. “None of them are innocent,” was the reply. One student was cautious. He was not talking about war, but a measured response that treated the act as a crime to be investigated and dealt with accordingly. Bombing another country in response to this would sink us to the level of the terrorists, he said, and probably backfire in the long run.

Classes were cancelled for the rest of the week, and we all settled in to see what came next. Over the last 18 years, as the wars and death tolls have mounted due to the U.S. government response to that day, I have wished many times that this one student had been sitting in the White House instead of my intro to political science class. 

In November of last year, the Cost of War project at Brown University reported:

The United States has appropriated and is obligated to spend an estimated $5.9 trillion (in current dollars) on the war on terror through Fiscal Year 2019, including direct war and war-related spending and obligations for future spending on post 9/11 war veterans. This number differs substantially from the Pentagon’s estimates of the costs of the post-9/11 wars because it includes not only war appropriations made to the Department of Defense – spending in the war zones of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and in other places the government designates as sites of “overseas contingency operations,” – but also includes spending across the federal government that is a consequence of these wars. Specifically, this is war-related spending by the Department of State, past and obligated spending for war veterans’ care, interest on the debt incurred to pay for the wars, and the prevention of and response to terrorism by the Department of Homeland Security.

The current trajectory of costs would lead the total up to $6.7 trillion by 2023.

To put further perspective on this, the U.S. currently has counter-terrorism operations in 80 countries, including a network of bases and training programs. The creators of the map shared above note, “Because we have been conservative in our selections, U.S. efforts to combat terrorism abroad are likely more extensive than this map shows. Even so, the vast reach evident here may prompt Americans to ask whether the war on terror has met its goals, and whether they are worth the human and financial costs.”

What of the human costs? Of the places where U.S. ground troops have been present in significant numbers, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, the total number of direct deaths from combat operations is estimated at between 480,000 and 507,000, including U.S. personnel. Half of those killed are civilians. Indirect deaths, or those who die as a result of collapsing infrastructure, lack of access to health case and so on, are harder to measure. The Geneva Secretariat has argued that the number of indirect deaths in global conflicts can be estimated at 4:1 the number of direct deaths. In just these three countries then, the total number of people who have died as a result of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and parallel fighting in Pakistan, is likely between 2 to 2.5 million.

The conflict in Syria, the invasion of Libya, and the ongoing counter-insurgency campaign in Yemen each represents another tragic episode, with tens of thousands more direct deaths in conflict. Each of these wars has its own domestic roots to be sure, but the overflowing of these fights into regional, and even global alliances at war is directly related to the collapse of the tenuous balance of power that existed in the Middle East prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. That balance of power was itself predicated on support for autocratic and murderous regimes by the U.S. government, and hardly something to be celebrated. But the collapse of Iraq set in motion a process of regional realignment that we are still witnessing – that became a bloodbath.

There are 70 million people displaced in the world today. At least 18 percent of those are from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Syria. As we have written about elsewhere, many of the rest are fleeing conflicts or other circumstances set in motion by the global war on terror.

Was any of this worth it? This is often the question I hear asked – indeed there are polls that indicate 43 percent of U.S. Americans (41 percent of military service members) think we are less safe today than on September 12, 2001. Is that the appropriate measure? National Interest has a very good article from January that surveys impacts of the war on terror, and asks this question. Without giving a direct answer, the author writes

All of this begs the question: is Washington’s counterterrorism strategy having the desired effect of enhancing the security of Americans? Or is the strategy simply creating more terrorists than it is killing, throwing more taxpayer money down the toilet, and further straining the U.S. military’s limited resources?

We won’t know the answer until President Donald Trump orders his administration to conduct an honest, impartial, whole-of-government appraisal of the current policy. When he does, perhaps Trump will be more likely to overrule his conventional national security advisers who continue to argue for an unconditional and timeless American military commitment in Syria and Afghanistan.

While I have no faith that this administration in particular, or really any other, will conduct an honest, objective appraisal, I might offer a different framework for the question. Is there ANY outcome, or benefit to the United States that is worth the death of close to 3 million people outside our border? What security could ever result from such means? Ever?

On September 12, 2001, the country’s leadership had a choice. They chose badly. An 18 year old honor student in my political science class saw the alternatives, as did many other people who were in the streets within weeks protesting the wars we all saw coming. Sadly too few listened. Nationalism run rampant, fear and loathing of the “other” became the justification for war, and a dramatic shifting of power to an “imperial” presidency. 

And yet, the beat goes on. The Pentagon’s budget request is $738 billion for Fiscal Year 2020. How much will be appropriated in the end? Who knows? China’s defense budget is, by comparison, $167 billion. The Department of Homeland Security is requesting $51.7 billion – including provision for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain 54,000 people a day.  

For most of the world, September 11 never ends.

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Daily Dispatch 9/10/2019: Detention and mass incarceration in Louisiana

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Daily Dispatch

September 10, 2019


LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, LA

Louisiana is quickly becoming ground zero in Trump’s effort to expand detention capacity – mostly behind the back of congressional budgetary oversight (not that Republicans seem to mind). In the last year, Louisiana went from having two ICE detention facilities to having eleven! It is an incredible expansion and accounts for almost half of the increase of the daily average of people held in ICE detention over the last year – from 45,000 by the end of last year, to the current 55,000. Louisiana detention facilities now incarcerate 6,500 detainees making it the second largest detention site after Texas. From Mother Jones:

ICE had the capacity to detain only about 2,000 people in Louisiana and Mississippi at the start of Donald Trump’s presidency. But contracts signed with private prison companies in the past year have pushed ICE’s capacity in those states above 10,000 people. The horrifying conditions uncovered by Mother Jones at the Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana and by The Nation at Adams County helped push Barack Obama’s Justice Department to move to end its use of private prisons. Since June, ICE has started sending asylum seekers to both of those prisons.

Sadly, the expansion in Louisiana seems to be partially driven by the success of criminal justice reform measures that led to rewriting sentencing guidelines in the state. The new guidelines were part of an effort to cut incarceration rates (and the cost of incarceration). Not too long ago, Louisiana had the highest incarceration rate of any state in the United States. In 2014 Louisiana’s incarceration stood at 816 per 100,000 – one of the highest in the world. The fiscal impact was significant. From a Pew study on the reform effort:

These high levels of imprisonment came at great cost to Louisiana taxpayers. In fiscal year 2017, lawmakers appropriated $625 million for adult corrections—the state’s third-largest expenditure behind education and health care. The consequences of these high costs can be best understood by comparing Louisiana with other states. For example, had Louisiana’s 2014 imprisonment rate been the same as Oklahoma’s—the nation’s second-most-imprisoned state—Louisiana would have spent roughly $49 million less annually.

In 2015, Louisiana’s legislature put together a task force to study the situation and come up with solutions, with the “modest goal of no longer having the highest incarceration rate in the country.” The task force found a host of problems, from much higher average prison sentences for non-violent offenses than other states to jury rules that allowed convictions based on the votes of only 10 of 12 jurors. On the other side of the process, there was a marked failure of reentry efforts – as many people left prison in debt to the state, and, with a felony record had a very difficult time securing employment to pay off these restitution debts. Recidivism was predictably very high.

In June of 2017 Governor Edwards signed into law ten bills that were the result of the task force’s work:

The measures steer people convicted of less serious crimes away from prison, strengthen incarceration alternatives, reduce prison terms for those who can be safely supervised in the community, and remove barriers to re-entry. Over 10 years, the reforms are projected to reduce the prison and community supervision populations by 10 and 12 percent, respectively. Lawmakers also committed to reinvest 70 percent of the estimated $262 million savings in local programs that reduce reoffending and support crime victims.

A year later, in June of 2018, Louisiana no longer had the highest incarceration rate in the country – at 712 per 100,000 it fell below Oklahoma’s rate of 719 per 100,000. Both are still well above the national average of incarceration. But in Louisiana this reflected a 7.4 percent fall in the number of people behind bars and $12.2 million in savings in one year. Great news. Right?

However, for the people on the other side of the budget equation – those who receive funds to incarcerate human beings – savings for the state means a decline in revenue for them. So, it seems there has been an intersection of interests between private contractors and local law enforcement in need to revenue replacement as state incarceration rates in Louisiana decline, and the Trump administration’s quest to detain more and more people. From the Times-Picayune back in May:

“It seemed that Louisiana was ready to move away from its dependence on mass incarceration through its efforts at justice reinvestment,” said Jamila Johnson, a senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s disheartening to see that it continues to rely heavily on it through its switch to the mass incarceration of civil detainees.”

This year, ICE began using River Correctional Center (500 beds), Jackson Parish Correctional Center (1,000 beds) and Richwood Correctional Center (1,000 beds) to house detainees, said Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman.

Johnson said these efforts began in September after the agency contracted with Bossier Medium Security Facility in Bossier Parish to house up to 240 detainees.

The largest facilities in Louisiana are privately run. Pine Prairie Processing Center and LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena are both operated by the GEO Group, and have been the sites of demonstrations against conditions in recent weeks. 

A specific case that has gained attention in the last few days is that of Yoel Alonso Leal, a Cuban asylum seeker who has been shuffled back and forth between Louisiana and Mississippi detention facilities while awaiting his asylum case. Yoel has lost his most recent appeal and is facing deportation at any time now. Yoel did everything by the law – he presented himself at a port of entry and declared asylum. He was put into detention immediately anyway, where he has been for 11 months. Yoel is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the New Orleans ICE office and the illegal detention of asylum seekers. Yesterday, 10 people protesting Yoel’s pending deportation were arrested in New Orleans.

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Daily Dispatch 9/9/2019: Visa required to flee storm devastation? Yeah…

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Daily Dispatch

September 9, 2019


GREAT ABACO, BAHAMAS – SEPTEMBER 5: Aerial view of damage after Hurricane Dorian passed through on September 5, 2019 in Great Abaco Island, Bahamas. Hurricane Dorian hit the island chain as a category 5 storm battering them for two days before moving north. (Photo by Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)

Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas last week hard – leaving at least 43 people dead and displacing tens of thousands more. In the wake of the storm, many people are trying to get off the islands – especially Grand Bahama and Abaco which were hit very hard – Abaco may have lost as much as 60 percent of its housing. But where to go? For many, the obvious choice is Florida, which is nearby and there is regular plane and ferry services. However, to enter the United States from the Bahamas requires a visa – and thus far, the Trump administration has not waived this requirement. Which means, anyone seeking to come to the United States must first make their way to Nassau to obtain a visa at the U.S. consulate there.

Confusion about this requirement – as well as good ol’ profiteering in times of crisis – has led to some pretty horrible outcomes. Over the weekend one ferry company forced over 100 people off their ship because the passengers did not have a proper visa for entry into the United States. Customs and Border Patrol’s office in Florida stressed that this decision was made by the company. CBP told the ferry company that the passengers would have to go to Nassau first, and once that was done, all – or almost all – of the people would be allowed in. Apparently the company did not want to be bothered with the extra leg of the trip.

That said, there is increasing pressure on the administration to waive the visa requirement. People would still be processed at ports of entry, passports stamped and so on. But skipping the extra step of requiring a visa would ease the process considerably. As a point of reference, if you are from the United States you can travel almost anywhere in the world without a visa. You simply get an entry card or stamp that denotes your approved time. That’s all people ask for. There is not a request for Temporary Protected Status or other deferred action for people from the Bahamas already here.

With Republicans Marco Rubio and Rick Scott pushing the issue, there may be some action on this front. It would be a fairly simple and clearly more humane approach.

Study of asylum seeking families shows more problems with detention

Last week, the San Diego based U.S. Immigration Policy Center released a report about conditions facing asylum seekers at the border. The report was based on a survey of intake forms at shelters run by the San Diego Rapid Response Network and focused primarily on the experiences of families.  The lead author, Tom K. Wong, offered a summary view of the report in an Op-ed in the LA Times:

In a report released last week, we found that approximately 35% of the asylum-seeking heads of households we studied reported problems related to conditions in immigration detention, treatment in immigration detention, or medical issues. This finding is alarming since it’s very likely an underestimate, because the SDRRN was focused on providing needed services to the asylum-seeking families, not administering questionnaires. Moreover, abuses or problems in detention may be underreported by asylum seekers who are afraid that raising complaints may negatively affect their asylum case.

The summary from the full report offers some important insights on conditions in detention. Though the report does not specify, the conditions noted here would be in border detention facilities run by Customs and Border Protection. 

  • For the asylum-seeking heads of households, the average length of time spent in immigration detention was 3.4 days.
  • 8.3 percent of the asylum-seeking heads of households reported spending 5 days or more in immigration detention.
  • Over 1 out of every 3, or 34.7 percent, of the asylum-seeking heads of households reported issues related to conditions in immigration detention, treatment in detention, or medical issues.
  • Conditions in detention:

○ Among those who reported issues in immigration detention, 61.8 percent reported issues related to food and water, including being fed frozen or spoiled food, not having enough to eat, not being given formula for infants, not being given water, and having to drink dirty water, among others.

○ Among those who reported issues in immigration detention, 34.5 percent reported issues related to hygiene, including not being able to shower, dirty bathrooms, and not having a toothbrush or toothpaste to brush their teeth, among others.

○ Among those who reported issues in immigration detention, 45.6 percent reported issues related to not being able to sleep, overcrowded conditions, confinement, and the temperature being too cold in La Hielera.

  • Treatment in detention:

○ 232 asylum-seeking heads of households reported verbal abuse, including being told “go back to your fucking country” and “you’re an ape,” among other examples.

○ 40 asylum-seeking heads of households reported physical abuse, including being thrown against a wall, among other examples.

○ 18 asylum-seeking heads of households reported having their physical property taken, including their passports and travel documents, among other examples.

○ 577 asylum-seeking heads of households reported other issues related to their treatment.

  • Last, 10.9 percent of the asylum-seeking heads of households that the SDRRN has assisted reported medical issues in immigration detention.

The full report can be read here. Professor Wong’s op-ed discussing the report is here

One of the impacts of Trump’s effort to get around the Flores settlement agreement would be extended detention for families. For example, instead of being released to family or community sponsors, most of the families in this report would be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to wait out their asylum process while in custody. Because the Flores settlement agreement includes provision for regular inspection, conditions in these facilities have come to light. If the Flores settlement agreement is bypassed in favor of Trump’s new executive order, such regular, independent, investigations would not happen. 

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Daily Dispatch 9/6/2019: Amateur Hour in D.C.

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Daily Dispatch

September 6, 2019


Unconfirmed, acting head of USCIS Ken Cuccinelli. Image/The Hill

James Fallow has an interesting thought piece in the Atlantic this week about what life might look like if the (U.S.) American empire were to collapse. The answer is that things might come out okay. Indeed, the collapse of the western Roman Empire set in motion a period of localized innovation that established the foundation of the modern age. The Dark Ages were not really so bad.

I’m still pondering all of that. However, a passage from the article really stood out to me, and though not about immigration policy or criminal justice issues specifically, it could be:

At the national level, “policy work is increasingly being done by people with no training in it, and who don’t care about it, because they’re drawn into national politics purely as culture warriors,” I was told by Philip Zelikow, of the University of Virginia, who worked as a national-security official for both Presidents Bush. “There’s a fiction that mass politics is about policy.” The reality, he said, is that national-level politics has become an exercise in cultural signaling—“who you like, who you hate, which side you’re on”—rather than about actual governance.

Today we look at a couple of examples of the impact of turning immigration policy over to people with no experience and no interest in actually governing. Has governing become the practice of virtue signaling to a political base rather than problem solving? It sure seems that way.

More Turnover at USCIS

The head of the asylum office at U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services, John Lafferty, was forced out – demoted to another post – by acting head of USCIS Ken Cuccinelli this week. Lafferty oversaw the work of 500 asylum officers. According to the Washington Post, Lafferty’s demotion was done under pressure from Stephen Miller, who is the chief architect of Trump’s hardline immigration policies.  

For years, Miller and others in the administration have argued the officers who screen migrants seeking safe refuge are often too sympathetic during initial screening interviews and too credulous while evaluating their stories of persecution and hardship. Tightening the asylum process has been a priority for the White House, which argues the humanitarian program is being abused by a flood of Central American migrants filing meritless claims to gain easy entry to the United States.

A pilot program launched this year with Miller’s backing has trained Border Patrol agents to conduct screening interviews in place of asylum officers, with the assumption that they will take a more skeptical and adversarial approach.

Earlier this year the union that represents asylum officers sued in federal court to block the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

Lafferty’s replacement will be Andrew Davidson who currently runs the USCIS’ fraud detection unit. Davidson is also a career officer, but the symbolism of this transfer tells us much about Trump’s view of the asylum process. 

Another Look at Remain in Mexico

(Video from Washington Post. To view, click on the post link to our website.)

Interview with Human Rights First Attorney

The Atlantic ran an interview with immigration attorney Hardy Vieux who directs the legal team at Human Rights First. The interview is framed around the impact of threatened changes to the Flores Settlement Agreement – which Trump has sought to sideline through an executive order that would in effect replace Flores. The executive order goes into effect mid-October if the courts agree. There are also 19 states seeking to block the rule changes in various lawsuits. 

The interview provides an interesting look at what attorneys are telling clients and the challenges they face at the moment. You can read the full interview here. A particularly important theme throughout:

I would certainly make the argument that there is a lot to be said for comprehensive immigration reform. But what the Trump administration is doing is, one, legislating by fiat. They’re arrogating onto themselves rights that Congress did not give them. And, second, the rule of law be damned. A lot of the policies that we’re seeing from this administration have nothing to do with respecting people’s rights. It’s simply seeking to marginalize and demonize. And it’s marginalizing and demonizing in a way that we think is really destructive to the norms that we’ve respected in this country, which is to embrace those who are fleeing something far worse in their homeland, and to give them a process by which they could lawfully make their case and stay here.

ICE’s main tool for tracking people in detention doesn’t really work

ICE is currently detaining 54,744 people as of August 24. This is just a few hundred less than the record number of detentions set two weeks before when ICE hit 55,000 detainees for the first time. When people are incarcerated by ICE, it can be extremely difficult for family, friends, and even attorneys to find them, and then keep track of them. ICE is notorious for moving people around and failing to inform anyone on the outside what has happened. Given the number of people incarcerated by ICE, failing to keep track of their movement in custody is a crisis of enormous proportion.

The primary way to track someone in ICE custody is the agency’s Online Detainee Locator System. Only it doesn’t work…at least not well. The Sun Foundation published a report this week based on analysis of the Detainee Locator System. What they found is not heartening. 

The Online Detainee Locator System (ODLS), run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is a vital lifeline for detained immigrants and their families. When it functions well, it’s often the best way to find where immigrants detained for immigration matters — those facing deportation for various violations or challenging decisions by immigration authorities — are being held. But the system is slow to update, and its basic structure leaves it vulnerable to data entry mishaps and other technical glitches, attorneys and others who spoke with the Web Integrity Project (WIP) say.

“Sometimes the issue is that the locator just won’t load, and I can’t even input any information to find someone,” says Leah Barr, an attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, recounting a common experience with the locator. “And sometimes people aren’t showing up in the locator who actually are in custody. Everything loads, and it tells me ‘no results found.’”

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Daily Dispatch 9/5/2019: Separate and Unequal Justice

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Daily Dispatch

September 5, 2019


Insurrection at Willacy CAR/Image: Fusion

Most people are unaware that there is a network of prisons – all privately operated under contract with the Department of Justice – that only incarcerate non-citizens convicted of federal crime. The people in these prisons are almost all facing deportation, but under U.S. law, must complete their sentence first. The very fact that they will be deported at the end of their prison sentence alleviates these prisons of most requirements to provide rehabilitative services to the prisoners. They will not be released into the United States, the argument goes, so their rehabilitation is not our concern. Which is to say, the federal government has created a parallel prison system for non-citizens that is inferior by almost any measure. Practices that would appear to be clear violations of the constitutional requirement of equal protection are allowed to continue because the courts in this country give deference to prison administration over practices within prisons, and also give deference to the executive branch over immigration policy.

The existence of these prisons is slowly coming into public consciousness. Over the last five years there have been several investigative pieces about them (see list of resources at end of this article), and this past March (2019) the Harvard Law Review published the first legal analysis of these institutions, written by Emma Kaufman, currently a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. Kaufman’s article is the primary focus of this dispatch. You can read the full text here – and I encourage everyone interested in the topic to do so. I can only hit a few points in this review. 

Kaufman’s article begins with a historical overview of the intersections of federal incarceration and immigration policy. It is a sobering reminder that what we fashionably call “crimmigration” now has been the de facto framework of the U.S. government since at least 1875. Indeed, the history of the institutionalization of federal incarceration is deeply intertwined with an obsessive focus on the “criminal alien” throughout our country’s history. Sadly, what has accompanied this focus on criminality is the casting of suspicion over all who would migrate here – using criminality as a rhetorical attack on all immigrants. What Trump is doing now, in short, has been done throughout our history – and it is very important for people to come to grips with that.

In relationship to federal incarceration specifically, Kaufman’s article does a good job of examining how federal incarceration grew alongside immigrant detention. Indeed, law enforcement was generally viewed as an authority and responsibility of state and local governments, not the federal government. To this day, the number of people in federal incarceration is a small portion of overall incarceration – less than 10 percent. From Kaufman (p.1389-90):

This national effort to document the prison population coincided with the birth of federal immigration law. For the first century of American history, immigration was regulated by states. With the exception of the Alien Friends Law of 1798, a short-lived statute that authorized the President to deport any noncitizen “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States,” there were no federal laws restricting immigration or authorizing deportation before the end of the Civil War. That changed when Congress passed the first federal immigration statute — a law intended to bar the entry of Chinese women — in 1875. Sixteen years later, as immigration from southern and eastern Europe increased, Congress enacted the first federal deportation law, which authorized removal of people “likely to become a public charge” and those convicted of felonies or crimes of “moral turpitude” before entering the United States.

The federal government then began to build an immigration control apparatus. In 1891, a year before Ellis Island opened, Congress created the office of the Superintendent of Immigration, the first federal immi- gration enforcement agency. Congress authorized the purchase of land for the first federal prisons the same year. Both projects grew quickly in scope and ambition. By the early 1900s, there were three federal prisons, and the newly created Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization had started to “canvass . . . all penal institutions in the United States for the purpose of discovering the number of alien prisoners detained therein.”

However, it was not until 1999 that the federal government went so far as to create separate, foreign-only, prisons. Yes, another Clinton gift to the infrastructure of mass incarceration. These prisons are called “Criminal Alien Requirement Facilities” (Kaufman, p. 1401).

The Bureau of Prisons created all-foreign prisons in 1999. In April of that year, the Agency announced that it was considering “housing [the] criminal alien population in [private] low-security” prisons called “Criminal Alien Requirement” — or CAR — facilities. The Bureau then began to solicit bids from companies interested in operating prisons for noncitizens. In June 1999, Corrections Corporation of America won the first contract and started to construct CAR prisons in California City, California, and Milan, New Mexico. BOP planned to fill these facilities with noncitizens transferred from federal prisons in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Twenty years later, this model of incarceration is entrenched in the federal prison system. There are now ten CAR prisons, all of which are low-security institutions run by for-profit corporations. CAR prisons are located in seven states: California, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Conditions in these prisons are particularly bad.  

The three best sources on conditions in all-foreign prisons are a four- year study by the DOJ Inspector General; articles by an investigative journalist who obtained 9000 pages of BOP medical records after a FOIA suit; and a report by the ACLU National Prison Project, which conducted twelve site visits and 270 interviews at CAR prisons in 2013 and 2014. Each describes all-foreign prisons as institutions with unusually poor healthcare; overcrowding; higher rates of solitary confinement, lockdowns, and deaths in custody than comparable BOP institutions; and a dearth of rehabilitative programs such as drug treatment and education courses, which are offered in other federal prisons. An immigration attorney who has represented clients in two all-foreign prisons told me that CAR facilities lack law libraries, training and educational programs, and recreational equipment.

The facilities also tend to be violent spaces – in part because of the lack of services and poor conditions. From Detention Watch Network:

Shadow prisons, largely due to the deplorable conditions and extreme sentences, have also experienced organizing and rebellion on the inside. In February 2014, 2,000 of the 3,000 immigrants held at Willacy County Correctional Center — a former detention center converted into a shadow prison — led an uprising that not only dismantled the structure of the facility itself, but led to its closure. (In 2018, the Trump Administration re-opened this facility—albeit under a new name—as an immigration detention center yet again.)

Another dynamic about CARs is that, though they represent legal segregation based on alienage (not race), they ultimately lead to ethnic segregation as the vast majority of prisoners are Latinx. Again, from Kaufman, p. 1415:

As of January 2018, 89% of CAR prisoners were born in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, or Central or South America. In 2016, GEO Group, the company that runs the largest number of all- foreign prisons, described CAR facilities as “very homogenous, with 72.1% being from Mexico and the majority of the rest being from a few Central American countries.” The same year, another prison contrac- tor reported that “90% of the inmates in [all-foreign prisons] are Mexicans,” and in contract solicitations, the Bureau has stated that CAR prisoners are “primarily Mexican.”

The ACLU issued a lengthy report on CAR facilities in 2014, which increased pressure on the Office of Inspector General to actually review BOP monitoring of these facilities. The review happened in 2016, with findings of multiple problems:

We found that in a majority of the categories we examined, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP institutions. We analyzed data from the 14 contract prisons that were operational during the period of our review and from a select group of 14 BOP institutions with comparable inmate populations to evaluate how the contract prisons performed relative to the selected BOP institutions.

In 2016 the Obama administration announced that it would begin phasing out contracts between private prison companies and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. This would have shuttered CARs – which are run by Geo Group, CoreCivic, or the Management and Training Corporation (MTC). However, Trump reversed this executive order upon taking office.

Multiple candidates for President support ending contracts with private prison companies within the federal system. Indeed, almost all of the frontrunners except Biden have raised this (Warren, Sanders, Booker, Harris). Most of these same candidates also support decriminalizing migration – repealing 8 USC 1325, which makes improper entry a federal misdemeanor and 8 USC 1326 which makes improper re-entry a felony. This would dramatically decrease the number of immigrants in federal custody. These immigration convictions make up one third of BOP immigrant incarcerations (over 50 percent of US Marshall Service detainees).

Read more

ACLU (2014) Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System

Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General (2016) Review of Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Monitoring of Contract Prisons

Detention Watch Network, Shadow Prisons

Emma Kaufman (2019) “Segregation and Citizenship” in Harvard Law Review

Fusion (2014) Shadow Prisons (Interactive web page/report)

 

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Daily Dispatch 9/4/2019: Climate Change and Migration

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Daily Dispatch

September 4, 2019


ABACO ISLAND, BAHAMAS – SEPTEMBER 3: In this handout aerial photo provided by the HeadKnowles Foundation, damage is seen from Hurricane Dorian on Abaco Island on September 3, 2019 in the Bahamas. The massive, slow-moving hurricane which devastated parts of the Bahamas with Category 5 force winds and heavy rains is expected to now head northwest and travel parallel to Florida’s eastern coast, according to the National Weather Service. (Photo by the HeadKnowles Foundation via Getty Images)

Over the weekend Hurricane Dorian slammed into the Bahama islands, causing extensive damage to Grand Bahama and Abaco islands. At least seven people have died. By one early estimate 60 percent of the homes in sections of Abaco suffered extensive damage. 60,000 people could be displaced for some amount of time as a result of this storm – and it has not yet made landfall in the United States.

As we read every day, such storms and other weather related disasters are more common, or at least hit with a greater intensity, than 20 years ago, and one clear reason is the warming waters of our oceans that fuel these storms. Since 2008 an average of 24 million people have been displaced by natural disasters each year. In 2017 the number was 18 million and just over 17 million in 2018. Combined with the number of people displaced by violence and conflict, global displacement reached 68 million people last year.

Natural disasters get our attention, and the immediacy of hundreds of thousands of people displaced by a monster typhoon hitting India or China is shocking. However, climate change impacts migration in far subtler ways. For example, by impacting the spread of diseases that affect agriculture, decimating fish stocks in increasingly acidic ocean waters, shifting rain patterns and temperature fluctuations that impact planting seasons and harvest yields. All of these cumulative impacts of climate change can undermine livelihoods and force people to migrate. 

Another example, part of the story of migration from Guatemala right now is related to climate change and economic strains in local coffee markets. From the Washington Post: 

Guatemala’s coffee farmers are at the mercy of one of the world’s most volatile commodity markets. Over the past two years, the price has been pushed down by the increase in cheap, mechanized coffee production in Brazil — the Saudi Arabia of coffee — the strength of the U.S. dollar and increased production in Vietnam, Honduras and Colombia. It’s a perfect storm that has eaten away at the value of the beans even as the price of lattes and Americanos in U.S. shops has risen.

Meanwhile, production costs for Guatemala’s 120,000 small-scale coffee farmers have increased as they’ve been forced to buy chemicals to combat the growth of coffee rust, a fungus believed to be associated with climate change.

Guatemala’s dependency on coffee exports is itself that historical legacy of a development model that has failed to serve the interests of the people of the country. This same commitment to unfettered global capital accumulation is also making it nearly impossible to achieve binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions. 

We are in a downward spiral. Climate change is undermining livelihoods and creating the scarcity that spark conflicts. Both shifting climate and violence drive people to migrate. As they cross borders, resource scarcity in receiving countries is driving a nationalist backlash, accompanied by a rightwing shift in political coalitions. This only makes the climate crisis worse and creates the potential for further violence.

The ironies abound here – as the U.S. is abandoning its environmental commitments one after the other, while going to war against the people displaced by environmental destruction. In Brazil, Balsonora is letting the Amazon burn, to make land available for unsustainable agricultural use – largely cattle raising – and displacing tens of thousands of people in the process. We are losing time at a pivotal moment in the climate crisis. 

Where are we headed? No one really knows. A summary of the potential:

There are no reliable estimates of climate change induced migration. But it is evident that gradual and sudden environmental changes are already resulting in substantial population movements. The number of storms, droughts and floods has increased threefold over the last 30 years with devastating effects on vulnerable communities, particularly in the developing world. In 2008, 20 million persons have been displaced by extreme weather events, compared to 4.6 million internally displaced by conflict and violence over the same period. Gradual changes in the environment tend to have an even greater impact on the movement of people than extreme events. For instance, over the last thirty years, twice as many people have been affected by droughts as by storms (1.6 billion compared with approx 718m).

Future forecasts vary from 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis, with 200 million being the most widely cited estimate. This figure equals the current estimate of international migrants worldwide.

The question before us all is if we can adapt our economic and social institutions to mitigate the impact of climate change, while also maturing politically to the point where our leaders can no longer successfully scapegoat migrants as a way to deflect from the systemic underpinnings of the crisis we are facing. 

I think our future requires both. And we are running out of time to get this right.

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Daily Dispatch 9/3/2019: Death in Detention

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Daily Dispatch

September 3, 2019


Cover of Human Rights Watch report on death in detention.

José Olivares has written several powerful articles on immigrant detention, mental health, and the abuse of solitary confinement. Last week, on August 29, he published a new piece that focuses on the death of Efrain Romero de la Rosa, who committed suicide while in detention at the Stewart Detention Facility in Georgia last year. A year before Romero killed himself, Jeancarlo Jimenez-Joseph took his own life after being placed in solitary confinement for an extended period at Stewart Detention Facility – the results of an investigation into his Jeancarlo’s death was released just two weeks ago finding that the staff did not follow appropriate procedures. Stewart Detention Facility is operated by CoreCivic. A campaign to #ShutDownStewart is ongoing.

Olivares latest article is excellent in weaving the personal story of Efrain Romero de la Rosa together with systemic issues that shape conditions at Stewart and elsewhere in the landscape of the U.S.’s ever evolving incarceration nightmare. From the article:

Romero’s case stands as a tragic exemplar of an immigration detention system gone off the rails. Solitary confinement is frequently used by corrections staff as a means to punish detainees; a Bangladeshi man told The Intercept in 2018 that guards at the CoreCivic-run Stewart Detention Center — the same facility where Romero was held — sent him to solitary confinement because of a dispute over $8 for prison labor.

The use of solitary confinement in immigration detention is growing and has, in tandem, become a political issue. An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and The Intercept, which included testimony from a whistleblower, found that the use of solitary was a go-to practice to discipline detainees and deal with troubled cases, rather than the last resort prescribed by detention standards. After the release of the investigation, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., condemned the use of solitary and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called for congressional hearings on the practice.

While there has been recent focus on immigrants deaths related to failure to provide appropriate care for people with documented mental health problems, there are many other deaths in detention, most ultimately shown to be related to abusive conditions or lack of access to health services.

In January 2018, Yulio Castro-Garrido, a 33-year-old father, died after being held in the facility. He had no health problems when he first entered Stewart but succumbed to pneumonia, a lung infection, and viral influenza. Castro-Garrido was working at the facility’s kitchen while waiting to be deported to Cuba.

“I believe the conditions inside have to be so bad that a flu can turn into pneumonia very quickly,” Frank Alain Suarez, Castro-Garrido’s brother, told The Intercept last year. “And I guess the medical care is so horrible, no one could catch it in time.”

In June, attorneys with Project South provided The Takeaway with a copy of ICE’s Detainee Death Review for Castro-Garrido’s case. According to the record, even after reporting his illness to staff, Castro-Garrido worked food service duties under CoreCivic supervision, potentially transmitting his illness to others. He even worked in the kitchen on the day he was taken from the facility in an ambulance. Eventually, Castro-Garrido had to be carried out by his roommate, another detained migrant, because he could barely walk.

This August, Pedro Arriago-Santoya died in ICE custody, after being taken to a hospital from Stewart. Little is known about the 44-year-old migrant’s death, other than that he died of a cardiopulmonary arrest.

At least 25 migrants have died in ICE detention during the past two years. Last summer, a report by Human Rights Watch documented systemic problems in the medical care provided at ICE detention facilities. In 14 of 15 detainee deaths analyzed for the report, Human Rights Watch’s experts found evidence of “subpar and dangerous practices” by medical staff. (The report mentions two deaths at Stewart, but they were not included in the analysis because little public information was available about those deaths at the time the report was being complied.)

Romero died just 20 days after the Human Rights Watch report was release

Say their names….

Deaths in detention are increasing. Since January of 2017, at least 25 adults have died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Several others have died in the custody of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). 

Adults who died in ICE custody since April 2018 (Table from ICE website, names link to official reports on their deaths):

April 10, 2018

MIRIMANIAN, Gourgen

May 16, 2018

ROMERO, Ronal Francisco (aka Cruz, Ronald)

May 25, 2018

HERNANDEZ, Jeffry (aka HERNANDEZ, Roxana)

June 12, 2018

TRAN, Huy Chi

July 10, 2018

DE LA ROSA, Efrain Romero

July 25, 2018

RAMIREZ-ARREOLA, Augustina

November 1, 2018

PADRON, Wilfredo

November 18, 2018

AMAR, Mergensana

November 30, 2018

VOLKOV, Guerman

April 3, 2019

REYES-CLEMENTE, Abel

May 3, 2019

SINGH, Simratpal

June 30, 2019

BALDERRAMOS-Torres, Yimi Alexis

At least six children have died over the last year during, or shortly after release from detention by CBP. Their stories, briefly, from NBC News:

The most recent known case is that of Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez. The teenager died in CBP custody this month after being diagnosed with the flu, an infectious disease.

In December, medical examiners concluded that 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, who also died in CBP custody, succumbed to “a rapidly progressive infection” that shut down her vital organs.

Seven months before Jakelin’s death, 1-year-old Mariee Juarez died after being released from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. (Note: her mother testified before Congress in July about conditions at CBP facilities).

Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, a 2½-year-old, died this month (June) after being detained by Border Patrol in early April and spending about a month in a hospital, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia.

Carlos, 16, had been held in such a facility before being diagnosed with influenza A. He died May 20. The teenager had spent one week in CBP custody, even though legally he should have not been there for more than three days.

Felipe Gómez Alonzo, 8, also was held in CBP custody for nearly one week before he died on Christmas Eve. Medical investigators later determined the boy had been suffering from the flu while he was under the agency’s care.

Two other children have died in Office of Refugee Resettlement custody.

Darlyn Valle, 10, died in September after entering ORR custody, but her death was revealed to the public nearly eight months after it had happened.

Juan de León Gutiérrez, 16, died of health complications under ORR care on April 30 after officials at a detention facility in Texas noticed he was sick.

Of course, throughout the entire enforcement apparatus people die – in federal prisons, along the border, and even those shot across the border by Border Patrol. Our enforcement machine has killed hundreds of people in the last two years, thousands since the 1990s. But we know these names, and can say them, honor them, and fight to change the conditions that led to their deaths.

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