Daily Dispatch 10/4/2019: Home is Here and D.C. Action

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Daily Dispatch

October 4, 2019

Home is Here Video

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Home is Here Campaign Launch

We want to use the Dispatch today to lift up the launch of the Home is Here campaign because of the importance of this issue to so many people (the Quixote Center is not a member of the coalition). Home is Here has been organized to educate and do advocacy in support of DACA’s extension leading up to the November 12, 2019 Supreme Court hearing that will likely determine the future of 700,000 people currently here under DACA. The campaign launched on October 2. Below is information abridged from a press release from coalition member, the National Immigration Law Center, which outlines the campaign and provides a host of valuable resources about DACA.

WASHINGTON, DC — Ahead of the November 12, 2019, U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments in three consolidated cases regarding President Trump’s unlawful termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, DACA recipients and a broad coalition of immigrants’ rights organizations today launched the Home Is Here<http://homeishere.us/> campaign to highlight what is at stake for 700,000 DACA recipients, their families (including 256,000 U.S. citizen children), our communities, the economy, and our country if the Court overturns the lower court rulings currently allowing DACA renewals to continue.

“For the past seven years, DACA has been an incredibly successful program, providing temporary protection from deportation and peace of mind to nearly 800,000 young people who have lived in the U.S. for most of their lives. These Dreamers are part of the fabric of our country, but their futures are once again hanging by a thread as DACA heads to the Supreme Court,” said Karen Tumlin, founder and director of the Justice Action Center, manager of the Home Is Here campaign, and part of the counsel team for McAleenan v. Batalla Vidal. “Ending DACA was both immoral and unlawful, as multiple courts across the country have found. We will continue to fight for DACA recipients and their families whose home is here, in the United States.”

Organizations participating in the campaign include CASA, the Center for American Progress, Community Change/FIRM, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), FWD.us, Justice Action Center, Make the Road New York, NAKASEC, National Immigration Law Center (NILC), and United We Dream (UWD).

The Home Is Here campaign tells the stories of and commits to protect DACA recipients who arrived in the United States as children and their families. Over the past seven years, more than 700,000 immigrant youth have been able to work, attend school, better support their families, and make even greater contributions to our communities and our country because of the temporary protection from deportation granted by the DACA program. If DACA ends, DACA recipients would be added to the list of those targeted in the deportation dragnet and threatened with deportation to a country that they may not remember and where they may not even speak the language, sparking a new wave of family separation crises nationwide. Their homes are here in the United States.

The campaign will underscore why DACA is legal, constitutional, and highly successful through events across the country over the next six weeks, including DACA renewal clinics and other efforts to encourage DACA recipients to renew their protections as soon as possible, digital storytelling, paid advertising, organizing, and rallies at the Supreme Court and in multiple cities across the country on November 12.

On November 12, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in McAleenan v. Batalla Vidal, Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, and Trump v. NAACP. The lower courts in each of these cases ruled that the Trump administration’s September 2017 termination of the DACA program is unlawful. Nationwide injunctions and other court orders in place have allowed DACA renewals to continue since early 2018; however, no new first-time applications have been considered or granted since the attempted termination. A decision from the Supreme Court is expected between January and June 2020.

The deputy solicitor general of California, Michael Mongan, and noted Supreme Court advocate Ted Olson, solicitor general of the United States under the George W. Bush Administration, will argue on behalf of a number of individual DACA recipients and the other plaintiffs in these cases, including the regents of the University of California, Microsoft, Princeton University, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Current DACA recipients are encouraged to consult with an attorney as soon as possible to consider their renewal options. More information is available at www.RenewMyDACA.com. Americans can also contribute to a DACA recipient in need of the $495 renewal fee by visiting www.GoFundMe.com/DACA.


– DACA recipients, on average, arrived in the United States at the age of 7 and have lived here for 20 years. More than a third arrived before age 5. They are our classmates, our coworkers, and our friends. Most know no other country as home.

– DACA recipients are parents to nearly 256,000 U.S. citizen children, and nearly every DACA recipient is part of a mixed–immigration status family. Ending DACA would rip apart hundreds of thousands of families.

– DACA recipients contribute significant federal, state, and local tax revenues that help provide important benefits to millions of Americans:

Additional DACA Resources

For more information, visit the Home Is Here website, HomeIsHere.us.

In D.C.? Take Action this Week. From Sanctuary DMV

The DC Council will introduce a bill to end all cooperation between D.C. and ICE. The Council was given notice of the emergency bill today and will vote on it on Tuesday, October 8. If passed, it will take effect for 90 days while the D.C. Council works to pass a permanent version of the bill.

We need your solidarity to make this a reality. Please contact DC Council members to vote for the bill and canvass this weekend to gather community support.

The Sanctuary Values Emergency Amendment Act of 2019 would:

  • Ban D.C. from notifying ICE when someone is being released;
  • Ban D.C. from allowing ICE agents inside its jails and facilities;
  • Ban D.C. from holding someone in its custody for ICE to pick up;
  • Ban D.C. from sharing information about an individual with ICE; and
  • Apply to all D.C. agencies, including the DC Jail and MPD.

In August, Washington City Paper revealed that the D.C. jail has been helping ICE detain D.C. residents by notifying ICE when immigrants are being released so ICE can come and detain them – and by giving ICE agents special access inside the jail. Since 2016, the D.C. jail has transferred 43 of our neighbors to ICE and made it possible for ICE to detain many others directly outside the jail. We have also seen other D.C. officials such as MPD officers help ICE tear immigrants away from our communities.

The Sanctuary Values Act would ban all of these practices so that D.C. stops turning over its own residents to immigration authorities.

We are working in coalition with Many Languages One Voice, United We Dream, the Congregation Action Network, Just Futures Law, and other groups to address serious violations of D.C.’s sanctuary status and build a future without cages or deportation.

Join us in the fight by making your voice heard to D.C. councilmembers and reaching out to the community this weekend.

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Daily Dispatch 10/3/2019: Prison companies feel the squeeze of campaigns

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Daily Dispatch

October 3, 2019

Five of the biggest financial corporations in the world can’t stomach funding the private corporations that profit from incarcerating immigrants anymore – and yet, the U.S. government still wants to give those same private corporations lots of your money. From Forbes:

All of the existing banking partners to private prison leader GEO Group have now officially committed to ending ties with the private prison and immigrant detention industry. These banks are JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, SunTrust, BNP Paribas, Fifth Third Bancorp, Barclays, and PNC. 

This exodus comes in the wake of demands by grassroots activists — many under the banner of the #FamiliesBelongTogether coalition — shareholders, policymakers, and investors. Major banks supporting the private prisons behind mass incarceration and immigrant detention have now committed to not renew $2.4B in credit lines and term loans to industry giants GEO Group and CoreCivic. 

This shift represents an estimated shortfall of 87.4% of all future funding to the industry, which depends on these bank credit lines and loans to finance their day to day operations. 

While capitalism functions on debt in general, GEO Group and CoreCivic are particularly vulnerable here. Both companies, which between them control 75 percent of the private prison market, are registered with the Internal Revenue Service as Real Estate Investment Trusts. One of the requirements of REITs is that 90 percent of company income must be delivered to shareholders in dividend payments. This means more value for shareholders and the REIT designation means lower taxes – and bigger profit for the companies. It also means there is less cash on hand for day-to-day operations, and thus, compared to other corporate structures, a greater dependence on regular infusions of money from new borrowing. 

As both GEO Group and CoreCivic operate contracts with the Federal government that guarantee them bed space and thus income, this has not been a challenge until recently. Indeed, from 2009 until 2017, Congress required that a daily minimum average of 34,000 people be held in detention – a requirement that translated into a guarantee of hundreds of millions of dollars to both companies. By the time this minimum was dropped the daily average number of detainees had reached 40,000 – and has skyrocketed since. Outside of the legislative process, minimums are written into individual contracts as well, minimizing risk to the companies. At the end of 2017, for every 100 people in detention, 32 were in a GEO Group managed facility and 21 were in a CoreCivic facility. 

Then came Trump’s war on immigrants. Both companies saw the bottom line benefits to their work in Trump’s campaign rhetoric, and each gave $250,000 to his inaugural committee. Both have been paid back many times over in new contracts. However, as daily news about the horrible conditions that people are detained in (the conditions themselves have been horrible for many years prior to Trump), public pressure against detention has increased. The current media environment combined with savvy campaigners ready to go after the money flow to stop GEO and CoreCivic led to effective calls for banks to cut financial ties with the prison industry. And it is obviously working.

Meanwhile, the Federal government wants to detain even more immigrants, and, for now, this means giving GEO Group and CoreCivic more money. As we write, Trump is requesting an expansion of detention funding for next year to 52,000 beds a night from the current 45,000 (a budget limit this administration blew early in the fiscal year). Indeed, Immigration and Customs Enforcement was holding 55,000 people in August. GEO Group and CoreCivic won’t receive all of this increase – but they will get a healthy chunk of it, as they have already benefited from Trump’s expansion of new facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi over the past year.

How slimy are these companies? Consider the GEO Group. In 2016 a Texas court blocked GEO Group and CoreCivic from registering as child care providers with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Such a designation would have allowed the companies to detain immigrant families with children indefinitely. In response, a GEO Group lobbyist worked with a member of the Texas legislature to introduce a bill to weaken child care licensing requirements. The new bill did not pass, but the effort illustrated the reach of the company’s lobbying efforts at the state level (private prison companies spent a quarter of a million dollars or more lobbying the Texas legislature that session), not to mention the utter lack of moral accountability that guides their business decisions. Outside of a small state-run facility in Pennsylvania, all of the government’s current family detention capacity is in Texas and run by either CoreCivic or the GEO Group. Not long after the Texas decisions, Trump’s administration promoted changes in the Flores Settlement Agreement that would allow the government to license its own facilities. A federal judge just shot that down on Friday.

The irony is that JPMorgan, Barclays and Bank of America, who collectively helped sink the global economy behind fraudulent lending practices in 2008 and suffered not one indictment between them, now find it is not in their interest to be associated with the immoral practices of the private prison industry. The U.S. government, however, is all too happy to stand with these companies – using your money. Indeed, to pay for its overspending on immigrant incarceration the Department of Homeland Security had to raid other accounts from the Coast Guard to FEMA this year. 

On the one hand there is nothing shocking about this. Everyday the U.S. government hands out billions of tax dollars to really horrible companies that do everything from hold children in immigrant detention facilities to build the bombs that were dropped on those kids homes thereby forcing them to become immigrants in the first place. But there is something particular maddening about the dense layers of hypocrisy that buttress the U.S. government’s policy of immigrant detention and mass incarceration more generally. None of it is necessary. The people in ICE detention are not there on criminal charges. They are awaiting determination of their immigration status. If let out of detention, people will show up for their immigrant court cases. Under community supervision, well over 90 percent do. If one steps back and looks at the entire edifice of the criminalization of migration, detention serves no purpose outside of the value it gives to political posturing and private companies’ stock margins.

For now GEO Group and CoreCivic are feeling the pinch. There is legislation before congress that would phase out the use of private companies (the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act) and nearly every Democrat running for president supports ending private prison company involvement in immigrant detention (and by extension, for federal incarceration). For now, however, that legislation is not moving and Trump is still president. With current income streams in place, one broker, at least, expects GEO Group’s stock to significantly rebound from its current low over the next 12 months. If it does, it will only be because our government has a weaker moral compass than Wall Street. Sobering. 

Postscript: On October 1st, the first day of the fiscal year 2020, a man from Cameroon died in Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego after experiencing a brain hemorrhage during a “hypertensive event.” Otay Mesa is operated by CoreCivic.

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Daily Dispatch 10/2/2019: Enforcement matters at the local level

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Daily Dispatch

October 2, 2019

An immigration activist holds up a sign calling for the abolishment of ICE, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, during rally to protest the Trump Administration’s immigration policy outside the Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts – RC115555BB50

Immigration policy has become the partisan political football of the season, and nowhere is this clearer than in the battle between local law police, who mostly do not want to become enforcement officers for ICE, and elected officials in GOP controlled states who take offense at the idea of “sanctuary cities.” In a few states, like California and New York, the tensions run the other way, where elected officials are pushing back against ICE enforcement measures and are seeking to restrict cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement from the state level. Of course, some local police officers do support ICE measures – and even in self-identified sanctuary cities, will violate local procedures and share information with ICE anyway. 

What is clear is that trying to pull local and state police into the ICE enforcement machine has been a disaster, creating confusion about police responsibilities and deepening tension across levels of government. It also puts up a barrier between communities and police that result in people reluctant to come forward to report crimes and stand as witnesses. We take a look at a few stories from this last few days that illustrate the problem. 

Florida requires all state law enforcement to cooperate with ICE

Yesterday we reported on a federal court limiting Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s use of detainers – specifically detainers issued solely on information from databases. The ruling applied only to the 9th Circuit in California – though significant in that this area includes one of ICE’s most active processing centers. In light of the multiple problems identified with ICE’s issuance of detainers in the court ruling – including orders to hold people for removal who are U.S. Citizens – it is sad to know that starting tomorrow, all state police and local officials in Florida will be required to cooperate with ICE.

This summer, Florida’s legislature passed law SB 168, which forbids sanctuary cities in the state. Though there is no formal definition of a sanctuary city, in most cases the framework of sanctuary involves non-compliance with ICE’s efforts to use local police as immigration enforcement officers. The most common way enforcement cooperation happens is information sharing between ICE and local police about people in custody, as well as ICE issuance of detainers – or requests that local law enforcement hold someone in custody for up to 48 hours so that ICE can arrest them on immigration charges. As noted yesterday, ICE issued 160,000 detainers last year. 

Florida’s new law requires law enforcement to comply with detainer orders and to make their “best effort” to cooperate with ICE. The law allows state officials to take action against local leaders who do not comply, including their removal from office. From the Miami Herald:

To stay in compliance with the new Florida law, law enforcement offices in all 67 Florida counties will be required to enter into formal agreements with ICE. In the agreements, ICE promises to pay local governments $50 for holding an immigrant up to an extra two days. A group of Florida sheriffs were the first in the nation to reach these kinds of agreements with ICE in 2017. Under the new law, they are mandatory.

This part of the law has drawn protest from some departments that feel they were pressured into entering into agreements with ICE. Before the law was passed, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office did not honor requests from ICE to detain people, because it felt the requests do not meet the “probable cause” threshold needed to keep someone in custody.

In June, the department entered into a formal agreement with ICE.

“We felt that we would get sued,” Art Forgey, a spokesman for the Alachua Sheriff’s Office, told WLRN at the time. “I don’t believe we would have entered into this agreement without the governor and Legislature doing this.”

The law was challenged in court after passage. However, yesterday a Federal District Court in Miami allowed the law to go forward, though the judge blocked one provision of the law that required Florida law enforcement officers to transport suspects across state lines if requested by ICE.

[U.S. District Judge Beth] Bloom ruled that local police cannot transport undocumented immigrants across state lines at the request of the feds, saying it is strictly the job of the federal government. Her ruling can be appealed.

However, her ruling maintained that local police departments would still be required to hold arrested people in jail for an extra two days until ICE picks them up.

She cited laws passed by Congress as opening the door for that kind of local and federal cooperation, shooting down a core argument of the lawsuit, filed by immigration advocates and the city of South Miami.

“Congress gave a clear indication that it sought to facilitate, not preempt, the type of cooperation that SB 168 mandates,” Bloom wrote in the order.

Meanwhile in Virginia….

A police officer in Fairfax County was suspended this week after turning someone over to Immigrant and Customs Enforcement during a traffic stop. Fairfax County has a long standing policy (from 2007) that forbids police from confirming an individual’s immigration status and taking them into custody solely on civil immigration violations. From the Washington Post:

“This is an unfortunate issue where the officer was confused,” [Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin C.] Roessler said. “We have trained on this issue a lot. This is the first time we’ve had a lapse in judgment, and the officer is being punished.”

Police said the incident began when the officer was called to a traffic accident in the Groveton area the afternoon of Sept. 21. The officer discovered that one of the drivers did not have a Virginia driver’s license and obtained the person’s information to run a check with the Department of Motor Vehicles, police said.

The check showed that ICE had issued an administrative violation to the person for failing to appear for a deportation hearing.

The officer verified the warrant through the Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications’ teletype section, which is responsible for checking on all warrants with originating agencies, police said.

Fairfax County has been one of the localities pushing back against the Trump administration, though issues remain restoring trust between the community and law enforcement.

Fairfax County has taken steps to help immigrants and cut ties with ICE in recent years as controversy has grown over President Trump’s immigration policies.

This week, federal authorities scrapped plans to put a center for unaccompanied minor children in Northern Virginia, after protests. In May, Fairfax County approved a legal fund for undocumented immigrants fighting deportation. Last year, the Fairfax County sheriff dropped an agreement with ICE to hold inmates suspected of being in the country illegally past the end of their sentence.

Luis Aguilar, the director of CASA in Virginia, applauded Roessler for quickly investigating the incident and publicly releasing details, but he said the relationship between immigrant communities and authorities remains fragile, potentially leading to fewer people coming forward to report crimes and serve as witnesses.

And Georgia…

In Decatur police issued new guidelines that restricted cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week. The policy, for example, included the passages “Officers shall not inquire into the immigration status of persons encountered during police operations” and “an individual may not be detained or arrested solely for a suspected violation of immigration law.” 

The mayor of Decatur, however, disagreed with the new policies, or at least was miffed at the suggestion that Decatur was becoming a “sanctuary city.” He took to social media over the weekend to demand changes and went to work with the City Council to make them happen. A new set of policies were issued yesterday that rewrote the provisions of the policy.

For example, “Assisting ICE in enforcing civil immigration laws is not permitted unless approved by the Chief of Police,” was changed to, “In the event that ICE requests non-emergency assistance from DPD to further the enforcement of civil immigration laws DPD will make every effort to assist as it would with any federal or state agency seeking such assistance provided such request is approved by the Chief of Police and such assistance can be provided without undue hindrance of the provision of police services to the City at large.”

The passage that states an “Individual may not be detained or arrested solely for a suspected violation of immigration law” was expanded to read, “Individual may not be arrested solely for a suspected violation of immigration laws and will only be detained for immigration law violations if they are already in custody for a non-immigration charge and a detainer is requested by ICE. Such detainer may be requested by DPD whenever the suspect is in custody at the request of ICE but the detainer may only be valid for a period of up to 24 hours beyond the time the other charges were holding the suspect in custody.”

A section-by-section breakdown of the changes in the law is here.

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Daily Dispatch 10/1/2019: Bad day in court for Trump

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Daily Dispatch

October 1, 2019

Friday the Trump administration had a bad day in court, which generally means good (or at least promising) news for everyone else. Yesterday the Los Angeles Times broke down three main rulings that all went against the administration. I’m using their framework here with a few added details.

Huge: The Flores Settlement agreement is still standing. Probably the biggest news is that the federal judge overseeing the Flores Settlement agreement lambasted Trump’s team for trying to kill Flores with new rules that violated the intent of the agreement. Quoting at length here:

In the first setback Friday for the Trump administration, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee said new rules it planned to impose violated the terms of the Flores settlement. Gee issued a strongly worded order shortly after, slamming the changes as “Kafkaesque” and protecting the original conditions of the agreement.

Gee wrote that the administration cannot ignore the terms of the settlement — which, she pointed out, is a final, binding judgment that was never appealed — just because leaders don’t “agree with its approach as a matter of policy.”

Barring a change in the law through Congressional action, she said, “Defendants cannot simply impose their will by promulgating regulations that abrogate the consent decree’s most basic tenets. That violates the rule of law. And that this court cannot permit.”

The new regulations would have eliminated minors’ entitlement to bond hearings and the requirement that facilities holding children be licensed by states. They also would have removed legally binding language, changing the word “shall” to “may” throughout many of the core passages describing how the government would treat immigrant children.

What was at stake? The Flores Settlement agreement, among many other very important things, does not allow the government to hold children for more than 20 days in unsecure facilities. Which means, within three weeks of being detained, a child must either be released to family, a community sponsor, or placed in a facility licensed by state agencies for taking care of children. In 2016 federal court determined that this standard applied to children even if they are still with parents. This means, for example, that Immigration and Customs Enforcement cannot hold families with children for more than 20 days. Trump does not like this. The administration had offered a new set of rules that would allow the federal government to establish its own licensing procedure as a way to get around this provision of the Flores agreement. The judge, obviously, did not agree.

Another important feature of the settlement agreement that has emerged over the last two years is the extra oversight it provides to federal detention of children within that 20-day time frame. From Human Rights First:

In June 2017, the district court found that the government was failing to comply with its obligations under the Flores Settlement agreement. Some children and their parents were being held in family detention in secure, unlicensed facilities for up to eight months—well beyond the five-day time limit or the exception of 20 days previously authorized in times of emergency or influx. Additionally, the district court found that the government had failed to meet other obligations regarding Border Patrol facility conditions, including:

    • inadequate provision of food;
    • inadequate access to clean drinking water;
    • unsanitary and unsafe conditions;
    • freezing temperatures, and;
    •  inadequate sleeping conditions.

The district court therefore ordered the government to appoint a Juvenile Coordinator to oversee compliance with the Agreement. Additionally, the order established that if conditions had not improved to reach substantial compliance with the Flores Settlement Agreement one year after the appointment of the Juvenile Coordinator, the judge would reconsider the plaintiff’s request to appoint an Independent Monitor.

As a result of this oversight, conditions in Border Patrol facilities came to light this past June as part of the mandated inspections of these facilities. It would be better, of course, if the administration would simply abide by the standards in place. Absent such a commitment, not likely under Trump, it is important to keep Flores in place because of the court mandated oversight.

The second ruling that went against Trump involved the Immigration and Customs Enforcement use of detainers – orders issued to local law enforcement to hold someone in custody for up to 48 hours so ICE can come arrest them. At issue was ICE’s reliance on databases – which has led to faulty arrests. From the LA Times:

In the second decision Friday, U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. issued a permanent injunction barring ICE from relying solely on databases when issuing so-called detainers, which are requests made to police agencies to keep people who have been arrested in custody for up two days beyond the time they would otherwise be held.

ICE is also blocked from issuing detainers to state and local law enforcement in states where there isn’t an explicit statute authorizing civil immigration arrests on detainers, according to the judge’s decision.

The decision affects any detainers issued by an ICE officer in the federal court system’s Central District of California.

That designation is significant because the Pacific Enforcement Response Center, a facility in Orange County, is an ICE hub from which agents send out detainer requests to authorities in 43 states, Guam and Washington, D.C. It is covered by the Central District.

The implications of the ruling are significant. ICE issued 160,000 detainers last year, and, as the article reports, a majority (70 percent) of ICE arrests are of people who have been detained by police (though not necessarily charged, much less convicted of a crime). So, limiting ICE’s ability to use local law enforcement in this way is significant.

Limiting the use of database-only information as the basis for detainers is important as well. For example, in a seven-month period, ICE issued detainers 42 different times against U.S. citizens from its databases.

Finally, a federal court blocked the administration’s efforts to expand expedited removal proceedings.

In a third defeat in less than a day for the Trump administration, a federal judge blocked it from vastly extending the authority of immigration officers to deport people without first allowing them to appear before judges.

The decision late Friday came before the policy, which was announced in July, was even enforced. The move would have applied to anyone in the country less than two years.

More detail from NPR:

The procedure, known as “expedited removal,” has previously been used to deport undocumented immigrants who cross into the U.S. by land without an immigration hearing or access to an attorney if they are arrested within 100 miles of the border within two weeks of their arrival. In July, the administration expanded the rule to include undocumented immigrants who couldn’t prove they had been in the U.S. continuously for two years or more, no matter where they were in the country.

In a 126-page report issued just before midnight on Friday, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson issued a preliminary injunction on the policy change. She stated that the administration did not follow the correct decision-making procedures, such as the formal notice-and-comment period required for major federal rule changes, and likely violated federal law in failing to do so. She said that “no good cause exists for the agency to have not complied with these mandates in this instance.”

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Daily Dispatch 9/30/2019: Prison to deportation pipeline

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Daily Dispatch

September 30, 2019

WASHINGTON, USA – DECEMBER 30: Protestors march along Pennsylvania Ave. to speak out against news that the Obama administration plans to forcefully carry out deportation of targeted illegal immigrants outside of the White House in Washington, USA on December 30, 2015. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

For many immigrants in this country, a criminal conviction or even minor offenses can lead to removal proceedings and deportation. This is largely due to the expanded basis for criminal removal initiated under Clinton-era immigration laws:

In 1996, the Clinton administration signed into law two key pieces of legislation: the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which both served to retroactively tie immigration status to criminalization. Congress expanded what fell under its “aggravated felonies” classification when it came to deportable offenses, and standard deportation protocol could now be circumvented for “fast-track” removal proceedings.

Under the new guidelines, relatively minor offenses became the basis for removal proceedings. Under George W. Bush, the biggest expansion in “criminal removals” were for traffic violations – 43,000 in his last year in office.

The result of the interaction between criminal justice and immigration systems means that the discriminatory aspects of domestic policing become manifest in immigration enforcement – especially for black immigrants. Black immigrants are estimated to be 7.2 percent of the unauthorized immigrant population, but make up 20 percent of criminal removals. 

Today, Vox has a fascinating and important article by Shamira Ibrahim on the “prison to deportation” pipeline told in part through the story of Ousman Darboe, a 25 year-old Gambian immigrant, who was brought to the country at age 6. Ousman grew up in a tough neighborhood, and like many of his black and Latinx neighbors, had many run-ins with the police as a youth. Ousman’s story is important to lift up because it is far more typical of the challenges many immigrants face in this country than the “immigrant success” stories that get bandied about and have become the basis of Democratic approaches to policy. Ousman would not qualify for DACA, for example, because of youthful encounters with police and not being college bound. Where is the policy for him? As of now, simply deportation.

Ousman had done time on a juvenile conviction for stealing a purse, after which he enrolled in a re-entry program in the hopes of turning his fortunes around. Then (quoting at length here from the story),

In September 2014, less than six months after Darboe’s release, a neighbor in his parents’ building was walking when she had her gold chains robbed from her neck. Given that he was recently paroled, Darboe was identified as a person of interest by the NYPD. Darboe says on the day of the incident he was at Getting Out and Staying Out (the organization was only able to confirm his regular participation but not his specific whereabouts that day, according to court documents).

When police searched his belongings, they were unable to find any items that tied him to the description given by the neighbor. However, the victim identified him in a police lineup, both recognizing him as a resident in the building and perceiving him to be the assailant: “She thinks that he did it because it was a ‘big black man,’” Adama says, “and [that’s who] Ousman was.”

Darboe was charged with multiple offenses — three counts of robbery plus assault, criminal possession of stolen property, and harassment. He was now considered an adult. At his arraignment, he entered an initial plea of not guilty and was released on bail after 60 days.

But his release was turbulent: He had multiple police interactions for a variety of unrelated charges, such as gun possession and possession of a false check, both of which were dismissed (they were committed by an associate of his, according to court documents). He then landed back in Rikers because the robbery charges were a violation of his parole. While in jail, he was accused of illegally possessing a razor, an offense of which he was acquitted.

Worn down from being in and out of detainment and solitary confinement — and fearful that the NYPD, in its persistence to obtain evidence, would generate a second witness willing to corroborate the alleged robbery story to better their own circumstances — Darboe made an about-face in February 2017 and took a plea deal of one count of felony robbery for time served. According to court documents, Darboe said he took the deal because he was disappointed in himself — not because he had committed the crime, which he maintains he did not, but because of his past. “I had to blame myself for my previous cases, because if I would have never caught [charges in] those previous robberies, I would have never been a target for [the gold chains] robbery.”

While pleading under duress is a common scenario for black men with extended stays in pre-trial detention, doing so has significant implications for immigrants.

Five months later, Darboe was at his parents’ apartment in their new Bronx neighborhood of Kingsbridge when ICE knocked on the door. Even though his recent case dismissals meant he was supposedly no longer under threat of incarceration, ICE officers gained entry to the apartment saying they were police, under the pretense of having a warrant for someone else in the neighborhood, says Gurulé. This tactic is reportedly used by some agents to get immigrants to let them in a residence: ICE officers announce that they’re law enforcement and that they have a “warrant,” even though the warrant is only administrative and not signed by a judge.

Once inside, agents proceed to make arrests after they validate that the person in the home is the same person who may be already flagged on their watchlist as a target, with a particular emphasis on undocumented persons. (ICE has not responded to Vox’s request for comment on its arrest or warrant process, or Darboe specifically, but an ICE spokesman denied to Documented in 2018 that they pose as local law enforcement; however, he said ICE “may use the universally recognized ‘POLICE’ when initially making contact with someone during a field operation.”)

Oursman has been in ICE detention ever since, and could be deported to Gambia any day. Read the full story here.

Also, check out the Black Alliance for Just Immigration for more information on the impact of criminalization and policing on black immigrants.

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Haiti Update 9/27/2019

On Wednesday morning at 2:00 a.m. Haiti’s President, Jovenel Moïse, addressed the country on television – yes, a.m. Moïse is once again under intense pressure to step down. The point of his early morning address was to make clear he was not going to step down and to ask for unity.  He said

“We have a responsibility to assume our responsibility in front of the nation and history…It is because of this I am extending my hand to all of the forces of the nation, for us to sit together to form a national unity government that has the capacity and legitimacy to address together the urgent problems the country is undergoing.” 

The context for the address has many layers. The most immediate was the failure of the Senate to affirm his appointment for Prime Minister, Fritz William Michel, earlier this week. Michel’s confirmation has been contentious following a variety of allegations of corruption. 

The tensions in the Senate session on Monday spilled over in the street as people gathered to protest the confirmation vote. From The Guardian

The senate president, Carl Murat Cantave, had given instructions to the police that only senators would be allowed into the senate precinct with one driver and two police-appointed security agents. 

Within hours he was criticising the police on Radio Magik9, saying they could not contain the crowds and there was chaos in the yard. Separately the senator Jean Rigaud Belizaire complained the senate’s rooms had been smeared with a liquid resembling faeces.

Senators, realising that the session would not happen and the ratification would have to be delayed again, began trying to leave to shouts of “thief, thief, thief.” Cantave himself was reported to be confined to parliament, having to retreat in his car under a barrage of rocks.

In the midst of the protest, Moïse ally Senator Jean Marie Ralph Féthière opened fire with a handgun outside the Senate building as he tried to get in his car, shooting a reporter and bodyguard. 

The Wednesday morning address did not specifically say Moïse would withdraw Michel’s nomination, but suggested it was likely (blaming the Senate for failing to act). From the Miami Herald:

Moïse did say that after multiple attempts by the Senate at a ratification vote, he had concluded that the chamber was not up to the task of fulfilling its constitutional duty to give Haiti a legitimate government. Two successive governments, Moïse noted, had failed to win Senate confirmation over the past six months and six hearings had to be aborted. One government was headed by Michel, and the other by Prime Minister Jean Michel Lapin, who resigned prior to Michel’s naming on July 22.

Another layer to the current iteration of crisis is the lack of fuel in the country. The fuel shortage is enough on its own to garner anger. However, the entire structure of the fuel delivery system in Haiti simply serves as a reminder of the cronyism at play throughout the economy.

For nearly 11 years Haiti was able to access subsidized fuel shipments from Venezuela. By purchasing at a discounted, concessional rate, the government could resell the fuel with a mark up to fuel distribution companies within Haiti, using the “profit” to fund investment in development projects. The “PetroCaribe” framework had some promise, but last year Venezuela was forced to stop the program under increasing sanctions from the United States. In the wake of that disruption, evidence came to light that much of the PetroCaribe money was simply redirected to government friends given contracts for projects that were never finished, or, in some cases, never started. PetroCaribe money was not a grant – but in essence a loan, albeit at very low repayment rates. So, Haiti’s government has a large debt to Venezuela (which is not in a position to forgive much, if any of it at the moment), and nothing really to show for it in terms of new development. The anger around the PetroCaribe scandal has been a major factor in demonstrations against the current government – which has failed to indict anyone – for over a year now.

As the PetroCaribe program began to unravel, other energy traders have stepped in, but no longer at concessional rates. International energy traders sell fuel to the government, which in turn sells to domestic distributors. If the distributors get behind in payments, the government does not have the money to pay traders for new shipments. The government’s intermediary role is also complicated because of its policy of subsidizing fuel costs in an effort to keep prices down – which requires a reimbursement to companies. The government has not been able to keep up with these payments – leading to a suspension of the delivery of fuel by international traders back in February/March of this year, and again this August. 

There are a number of reasons for this: A decline in overall economic activity and limited collection of tax revenue – always a struggle in the best of times – is a big part of the problem. Also, the price of oil is increasing internationally due to a variety of crises, not least of which is ongoing tension in the Middle East, none of which have anything to do with Haiti. On top of this, the gourde continues to lose value against the dollar – currently trading at 96 gourde to 1 dollar. As fuel is sold in gourdes in the local market, but purchased in dollars on the international market, over time the state’s debt increases significantly. Gas prices have been forced up more than double the price in gourdes. The government will likely be forced to introduce some kind of rationing scheme to ensure that it is able to keep payments flowing. Both measures are obviously very unpopular. Undermining all of this is an “unofficial” market in fuel that is commanding much higher prices – and thus providing a huge incentive to cheat on the margins.

Stepping back a bit further, the fuel situation is replicated throughout the economy as the cost of basic goods continues to increase with the collapse of the gourde. Items are either traded from international sources, or fuel prices are putting upward pressure on domestic trade. Either way, costs are fast outpacing what people are making. This speaks to the importance of supporting local agriculture, as it can provide some stability in price and access to food. This is a chief benefit of the program we support in Gros Morne. But Haiti is a long way from achieving this level of food sovereignty on a national level. Indeed, under international pressure from the United States and international financial institutions, Haiti has become more dependent on food imports. Such restructuring of the economy over the last 30 years, not any specific Moïse policy, is what underlies the current crisis. 

Jane Regan writes in NACLA,

Haiti has seen its share of upheaval, but never a president who lasted this long in the face of such dire conditions, according to Haitian human rights advocate Marie Yolène Gilles. 

“At my age, I’ve seen a lot of crises,” Gilles, 59, explained. “This is the worst I have ever seen. This is the first time I’ve seen a completely ungoverned country. All of the state institutions are sick.”

The director of the human rights advocacy group Je Klere Foundation, Gilles is no stranger to political unrest, violent coups d’états, and foreign occupations. A former journalist, she remembers the end of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, the fall of interim governments, and two coups against Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 1991 and 2004.

“This is the first time I’ve seen a president successfully cling to power like this,” she said. “Even though people are dying, people are disappearing, people are suffering.”

As Regan reports, Gilles and others seem clear that Moïse is still in office because the United States wants him there. Officially, the United States has put its emphasis on elections as the way out of the crisis. But elections are not happening anytime soon. This leaves a huge question about what the United States will do. Prolonged periods of crisis in Haiti have often ended with the president put on a plane by U.S. government officials and/or the military being called out to “provide security.” For now the U.S. seems to be banking on Moïse riding out the crisis until new elections can be called, however long delayed. It doesn’t seem like much of a strategy. But then, the less the United States does at this point, probably the better.

As for the president’s early morning address – it was greeted with renewed protests Wednesday morning, and throughout the the week.

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Daily Dispatch 9/27/2019: War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength

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Daily Dispatch

September 27, 2019

The Trump administration hates the fact that the U.S. extends asylum to people fleeing violence and oppression in other parts of the world. He has characterized the people seeking asylum as collectively, a bunch of liars trying to game the system and has used executive actions to gut the asylum system completely. The latest news is that Honduras, one of the most violent countries in the world and with a president under investigation for drug trafficking, has signed an agreement that will allow the U.S. to send asylum seekers there. The Honduras agreement is part of a series of accords the U.S. has also established with Guatemala and El Salvador, and is seeking with Mexico, as the U.S. tries outsourcing immigration policy. From Alianza Americas:

Since Trump took office 32 months ago, the demonization of migrants and asylum-seekers has become a center-point of its policy agenda, driving an onslaught of measures to block people from requesting asylum, increase detentions, cancel humanitarian protections, and raid the federal budget to fund a border wall. A number of these efforts have been blocked by lower courts, but others have moved forward, such as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their asylum case is considered in the US. A new rule requires that asylum seekers attempting to cross at the southern border apply for protection in a country in transit to the United States, and for that application to be denied, before becoming eligible to apply for refuge in the U.S.

The administration’s argument is that if people are scared for their lives in one country, they should be willing to seek asylum in the first country they come to – regardless of the conditions in that country. Accordingly, the United States will not process asylum claims at the U.S./Mexico border unless people have first sought asylum and been denied in other countries they have passed through. This means that no one can file for asylum at the U.S./Mexico border unless they have first filed for asylum in Mexico and been denied, or they are from Mexico. With the new agreements, this extends further south. So, if you are from Nicaragua you need to apply for asylum in Honduras or El Salvador, before you will be considered for asylum in the U.S. What is not clear is whether that person, if denied in El Salvador, would have to also apply in Guatemala, and then Mexico, and be denied in all of those countries before the U.S. would consider an asylum request.

The latest on the Honduras agreement, from the Washington Post:

The Trump administration announced a migration deal Wednesday that will give U.S. immigration authorities the ability to send asylum seekers from the border to Honduras, one of the most violent and unstable nations in the world.

Department of Homeland Security officials reached the accord with the government of President Juan Orlando Hernández, who is embroiled in allegations of government corruption and charges that he and others have been operating the nation as a criminal enterprise — Hernández has been named as a co-conspirator in a major U.S. drug trafficking case.

The deal paves the way for the United States to take asylum seekers from the U.S. border and ship them to a nation with one of the highest murder rates in the world, a country with gang wars that have fueled waves of mass migration and multiple “caravans” to the United States that became a major irritant to President Trump.

Last week a similar accord was signed with El Salvador:

The Trump administration announced an accord Friday that will allow the United States to divert asylum seekers from the U.S. border to El Salvador, pushing migrants into one of the most dangerous countries in the world. The deal between the two governments is the latest measure aimed at creating new layers of deterrents to the influx of migrants applying for protection on U.S. soil.

Kevin McAleenan, the acting homeland security secretary, signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill in front of television cameras in Washington, but the two officials gave few details and no indication when their accord would take effect.

McAleenan, who traveled to El Salvador for talks last month with President Nayib Bukele, praised a “shared responsibility” on migration that was part of a broader deal to accelerate economic development in Central America with the goal of keeping migrants in their home countries.

Of course, it gets worse. If you make it to the United States and somehow manage to get across the border and apply for asylum – you will be sent back to Mexico. This includes families with children. Why? Monday, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would no longer release families during asylum processes.

“With some humanitarian and medical exceptions, DHS will no longer be releasing family units from Border Patrol Stations into the interior,” McAleenan said in his prepared remarks. “This means that for family units, the largest demographic by volume arriving at the border this year, the court-mandated practice of catch and release due to the inability of DHS to complete immigration proceedings with families detained together in custody — will have been mitigated.”

“If migrant family units do not claim fear of return, they will be quickly returned to their country of origin, in close collaboration with Central American countries,” the statement read. “If they do claim fear, they will generally be returned to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).”

At this point we have to remind everybody – everybody – seeking asylum is legal. It is guaranteed by international law, and it is guaranteed as an option for anyone, no matter how they enter the country, under U.S. law. Trump’s new initiatives all take provisions of U.S. law and warp them far beyond their intended meaning. The agreements with Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are stand ins for formal agreements to designate a country as a “safe third country” which, under current U.S. law, the administration could require people to first apply for asylum there. The only safe third country agreement we have is with Canada. Beyond that, the intent of the law clearly emphasizes “safe” not “third country.” Trump is mocking the whole concept and killing asylum in the United States as political theater for his base.  

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Daily Dispatch 9/26/2019: Support the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act

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Daily Dispatch

September 26, 2019

Today congress is holding two oversight hearings on detention practices in the United States:

  1. “The Expansion and Troubling Use of ICE Detention” — House Judiciary, Immigration & Citizenship Subcommittee, Thursday 9/26 at 10:30 am.
  2. “Oversight of ICE Detention Facilities: Is DHS  Doing Enough?” — House Homeland Committee, Oversight, Management & Accountability Subcommittee, Thursday 9/26 at 2 pm.

Reports of inadequate health care access, the extensive use of solitary confinement, lack of communication with family and attorneys, forced labor, overcrowding leading to disease outbreaks, and even deaths mount. As we wrote two weeks ago, since January of 2017, 25 adults have died while being held in detention, and at least six children have died either while in detention or from illnesses contracted during detention. None of this has moved this administration or congress to change. Trump has increased detention under Immigration and Customs Enforcement 40 percent since taking office – moving funds from other Department of Homeland Security accounts to pay for it in defiance of congressional budgetary mandates to slow the use of detention. 

The hearings today will help raise awareness about the horrible conditions that people are detained in, and the lack of oversight that detention facilities operate under. This is especially true for private contractors who act with impunity. GEOGroup and CoreCivic facilities are routinely cited for failing to provide services or adequate care, but never lose contracts or are otherwise held to account. DHS even treats their contracts as “sensitive” records immune from full disclosure under FOIA requests. All that said, aside from condemnatory statements to the press, there has been little response from Democratic leaders in congress that would actually force a change in detention practices.

With the hearings today we hope to build momentum for a more systemic response. There is a bill before the House of Representatives that would make a huge difference in the treatment of immigrants held in detention – and importantly would reduce those numbers as well. We need members of congress – your member of congress – to co-sponsor it.

HR 2415, or the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act of 2019 is currently before two subcommittees. It may not get a floor vote this congressional session, but it is still important for us to demonstrate broad support in congress for changes to this detention system. Currently there are 130 cosponsors, but we need more.

The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act would:

  • Require DHS to establish clear detention guidelines based on the American Bar Association’s Civil Immigration Detention Standards.
  • Hold all facilities accountable to those standards through more frequent unannounced inspections, and the cancellation of contracts to private companies or state and local facilities that fail to make improvements.
  • Phase out contracting with private companies over a three year period, as well as the use of other facilities not directly under Department of Homeland Security supervision.
  • Establish a variety of mechanisms to ensure transparency and public disclosure of information about detention facilities.
  • Ensure that determinations about detention are made within 48 hours, that immigrants have a probable cause hearing and that the guiding principle those held is placement in the least restrictive conditions possible. 
  • The bill includes a sense of the Congress statement, “that detention, even for a short period of time, inflicts severe, irreparable harm on children and should be avoided.” No one under the age of 18 can be held in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Facility (ICE). 
  • Mandatory detention is repealed. (Mandatory detention treats people as part of a “class” disregarding any due process concerning the specifics of their case, including asylum claims. Mandatory detention is a violation of international law).

This is the bill we need on detention. We may not get it this term, with this Senate and this president, but we can still push. With enough co-sponsors, we might even press a vote in the House and can certainly build momentum for further action in the next Congressional session.

Contact your member of Congress today, and ask them to co-sponsor HR 2415, the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act. The Congressional Switchboard is (202) 224- 3121.

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Daily Dispatch 9/25/2019: The externalities of Trump’s immigration policies

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Daily Dispatch

September 25, 2019

In economics, externalities are costs that are not born directly by a business, or not calculated as part of the cost/benefit analysis of a firm producing some product. Examples can be polluted waterways that have to be cleaned at public expense, or the cost of removing solid wastes accumulated in the soil near a plant, or the costs to individuals of health issues that result from polluted air, ground and water. The point is the firm makes decisions without considering the costs to the community that result from its actions. Trump is obviously well schooled in this foundational aspect of capitalism – as his immigration policies are creating enormous costs for other people to carry. 

Despite the fact that unauthorized border crossings were at an all-time low when Trump took office, he launched a full assault on immigration, ramping up enforcement measures at the border while also restricting authorized paths to immigration. These measures carry enormous costs for entities other than the U.S. federal government, including public costs carried by state and local governments within the U.S. as well as Mexico and other states outside our borders.

A few stories that highlight this dynamic. USA Today ran a long feature this morning on the costs of the Border Patrol’s practice of simply dumping people at bus stops and train stations in communities around the country with no warning to local governments or non-government support networks. From the lead in to the article,

When U.S. Border Patrol agents started dumping migrants at a San Antonio bus station in late March, sometimes in the middle of the night with no warning, Colleen Bridger didn’t know what to do.

The assistant city manager wanted to speak with the Border Patrol to figure out what was going on, how to coordinate the drop-off times and how to assess the volume of migrants San Antonio could expect in the future. But because the Texas city is 150 miles from the U.S. – Mexico border and had never dealt with an influx of undocumented immigrants before, there was a problem.

“I didn’t even know the right department or division or office to call,” Bridger said. 

Since then, San Antonio has received more than 31,000 migrants released by the Border Patrol after they requested asylum. The city converted a former Quiznos restaurant into a migrant processing center, gave them food and medical screenings, provided cellphones so they could call relatives in the U.S, and partnered with a local church to provide overnight bed space. All told, those efforts have cost San Antonio more than $540,000.

The USA Today report documents $7 million in expenses to local communities so far in 2019 to care for immigrants after their release from detention. Local governments are increasingly frustrated with the administration for its practices that are unnecessary and ultimately cruel to migrant families. The costs carried by non-profits, who provide most services, are much larger overall.

At the state level, spending priorities track along the same partisan lines as the rest of immigration policy:

The California Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, authorized $29 million to help nonprofit organizations caring for migrants. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, also a Democrat, announced a state grant program to help compensate cities for the work they’ve done caring for migrants.

But in the Republican-led capitals of  Texas and Arizona, the only funding approved this year was to bolster border security. Texas approved $800 million to provide new technology and equipment for its Department of Public Safety officers manning the border, and Arizona approved funding to hire 48 additional state officers to join the state’s Border Strike Force.

Outside our borders, the costs of Trump’s crackdown are also high. Mexico has been forced (threatened) to play an accomplice role in implementing the Migrant Protection Protocols, or “Remain in Mexico” program. Currently, 40,000 people seeking asylum in the United States have been returned to Mexico to await hearings. These hearings just started two weeks ago – and are being held in tents set up in Texas border towns, with immigration judges presiding on a television screen while sitting in San Antonio. While the courts fall under Department of Justice jurisdiction, the Department of Homeland Security is paying for its part of this debacle out of funds skimmed from the Coast Guard.

In Mexico, as in the United States, most of the costs of the MPP are being borne by non-governmental organizations who are scrambling to set up shelters and provide other assistance to migrants trapped at the border. It is a border crisis fully created by the Trump administration.

Mexico’s government also “agreed,” after Trump threatened a series of tariff increases on products from Mexico, to dramatically expand its internal enforcement system and add security forces to its border with Guatemala. There was, however, nothing new about Mexico carrying these costs for U.S. administrations. From the LA Times:

In the face of Trump’s bellicose border rhetoric, it is easy to miss the fact that since the 1990s, Mexico steadily has become the United States’ virtual wall keeping out Central American migrants. Four years after the North American Free Trade Agreement came into force in 1994, President Ernesto Zedillo carried out Operation Sealant to stymie the flow of migrants by deploying the armed forces to Mexico’s southern border. Shortly after Mexico’s democratic transition in 2000, President Vicente Fox adopted Plan Sur, which created security belts along the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, as well as along the Pacific and Gulf coasts. 

President Felipe Calderon further militarized efforts to deter, intercept and deport Central American migrants, including the 2006 Reordering of the Southern Border Plan. In 2014, President Enrique Peña Nieto adopted Plan Southern Border after there was a spike in unaccompanied minors reaching the U.S.

Though he doesn’t have a fancy-sounding plan, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration has also been cracking down on transitory migration. It’s been conducting raids to arrest undocumented migrants and intercepting caravans; now it says it will add 6,000 troops from its new national guard to the effort.

Last year the government of Mexico deported more – nearly twice as many – Central American immigrants as the United States, but Trump wants more. And Mexico will carry a big part of the cost of this enforcement obsession.

How to count the costs of all of this for immigrants is difficult. For authorized immigrants, there are increased fees, prolonged waiting times, and the stress of uncertainty as the rules seem to change daily under Trump’s USCIS. For asylum seekers – which is a legal avenue for entering the United States, or used to be – the costs are enormous. Finding shelter in Mexico to wait out time for an asylum hearing, trying to locate legal services – not provided, but almost required for a successful asylum application – is much harder from a border town in Mexico, and of course there is the personal cost of managing the uncertainty and safety for self and family. 

Immigration policy has been bad in the United States for a long time. Yesterday we profiled a Guardian piece that talked about this history of enforcement measures – with a focus on detention. Trump has taken this broken, ad hoc system and utterly destroyed it as part of the political theater that constitutes governance today. On Trump’s own terms, the policies have failed. By any measure of decency, they are a travesty. And they are very expensive.

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Daily Dispatch 9/24/19: Detained Documentary

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Daily Dispatch

September 24, 2019

Image from Guardian feature article – read here.

Today the Guardian ran a feature article on the history of immigrant detention in the United States. The article includes a number of video clips, including a documentary in four parts that covers the principle political moments in the evolution of detention. 

The documentary portion begins with the Reagan administration, but then details the series of laws and practices promoted by the Clinton administration that gave us the institutional and legal framework of detention that we still have: mandatory detention, expedited removal, expanding basis for criminal removal and deportation, denying access to most public services to immigrants, authorized or unauthorized, and expanded use of private contractors for immigrant incarceration. Built upon this foundation, is Bush era expanded prosecution for irregular entry at the border (“Operation Streamline”), along with post-9-11 restructuring. Specifically, the dismantling of Immigration and Naturalization Service and creation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Add to that Obama’s expanded use of deportation and initiatives like Secure Communities, that utilized local law enforcement on a large scale to identify unauthorized immigrants, and we have most of the pieces utilized today. 

By the time Trump is elected, the United States is more deeply polarized on immigration than ever (in large part thanks to his electoral strategy), with no clear path forward legislatively. In Trump we clearly have an executive willing to use immigration as a wedge issue, demonize people, and utilize the harshest techniques possible to punish and deter immigrants from coming to this country. But as the story makes clear, he is able to do this because of the last 40 years policies.

In addition to the documentary, there are several video profiles of individuals involved in this history. The first story is of a guard working in the early 1980’s at a detention facility in Port Isabel, Texas, who would become a whistleblower concerning conditions at this facility. There is nothing he experiences that is not still happening, but to even more people today. It is a sad testimony to the collective indifference of U.S. Americans to these conditions over the years.

Children in border patrol custody. Image/Associated Press

Detention Beyond ICE

Detention is discussed in this story through the lens of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention network. As the story notes, the daily average of ICE detention stands at 52,000 as of September 10 (it actually peaked just over 55,000 in late July). This is, as noted, the largest detention system in the world.

In addition to ICE detention, however, there is detention conducted by the Customs and Border Protection – which reached a 16,000 daily average in June this year. Though CBP detention is supposed to be short term (typically days, not weeks) it is among the worst conditions one might experience. The pictures of kids shivering under silver blankets is CBP detention (see above). The photos of families fenced in under a bridge in El Paso is CBP detention. The story that broke in June about kids walking around in dirty diapers, in overcrowded conditions and given horrible food. That was CBP detention. People are supposed to only be held for 3 days before either release or transfer to another agency by Border Patrol. In June people were being held for over three weeks. As the number of people coming across the border has declined in recent months, so has CBP detention, but they still hold thousands every day, making sure their first stop is the “ice box.” It is no surprise, or should not be, that CBP has recorded its first deaths in detention in over a decade, all within the last year. 

As the documentary notes, children who are unaccompanied, or become “unaccompanied” through family separation, are handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). ORR was holding 7,000 children at the end of August – down from close to 14,000 in December. ORR detention facilities run the gamut from small “non-profit” shelters to massive tent cities built on military bases that hold over a thousand kids at a time, like the “temporary” shelter in Homestead, Florida. ORR facilities are supposed to be licensed by the states they are located in to care for children, but this state oversight has been uneven. Texas, for example, has failed to shutter a facility order closed by a federal court last year for administering psychotropic drugs to immigrant children. 

The United States Marshals Service detained 12,000 immigrants a day last year while they awaited prosecution for irregular entry or re-entry. USMS does not have its own detention facilities, and so these detainees are held in local jails and/or federal prisons. 

Finally, there are over 10,000 immigrants in federal prison on any given day, serving time for irregular entry or re-entry. Some of these immigrants are held in special “Foreign-only” prisons, all run by private contractors, which are part of the Federal prison system.

USMS and BOP detention and incarceration is the result of criminal penalties introduced that target migration across the border with Mexico specifically. It is completely unnecessary in light of the massive civil enforcement system already in place. Most Democratic presidential candidates support ending criminal prosecution of irregular entry (a misdemeanor). Biden and O’Rourke are the exceptions.

So, the total number of immigrants detained in this country on any day is currently between 85 and 90,000 and was well over 100,000 in the spring.

Also worth mentioning, the other 100,000 people in virtual detention every day, as they live with ankle monitors. 

Finally, as these overall numbers have come down slightly in recent months, one reason is that the United States is now requiring close to 40,000 people to wait in Mexico before they can see an immigration judge to hear their asylum case.

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