Daily Dispatch 1/9/2020: Asylum seekers show up to court, even as denials increase

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Daily Dispatch

January 9, 2020

The primary justification for detaining people who are seeking asylum in the United States is the dubious argument that, if released, they will simply disappear into the population and never show up for court cases. Trump has claimed this many times, in one speech claiming that only 3% of people released show up for court. This, like so many other Trump statements on immigration, is completely false.

In 2019, 98.7% of the people seeking asylum went to EVERY court date. This, despite the fact that denial rates are increasing (see more on trends below). Most of the people who are clearing cases this year started the process in 2015 or 2016. Of these 80% were not detained, or detained and released early in the process. In other words, detention had no bearing on their attendance in court. So detention is demonstrably proven to be a complete waste of resources. This is one reason why ICE’s own operational guidelines dictate that people be released from detention once they have established a credible fear of torture or persecution, a first step in seeking asylum (a guideline they are currently violating).

Detention, as practiced in the United States, has also been shown to be cruel and degrading, comparable to torture. People are denied access to sufficient health services, mental health support, and in their vulnerability, often become victims of abuse. People die in immigrant detention. Three people in ICE custody and at least four in Customs and Border Protection custody since October 1, 2019. Detention is not supposed to be criminal punishment. It is intended as an administrative hold. Yet, as report after report shows, the conditions are prison like – and usually takes place in actual prisons. 75% of the people in detention are held in facilities that operate under contracts with private companies – all of which are private prison companies. Prisons are what they know – and how they treat people.

The Trump administration has increased the use of detention in this country – reaching over 50,000 people held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention on average each day in FY 2019. A near 40% increase over detention rates when he took office. He was not authorized to hold that many people. He went over budget. And then, he simply transferred money from other accounts without congressional authorization to cover the shortfall.

As of January 4, 2020 there were 41,631 people being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Of these, 9,884 people have established a credible fear of torture and/or persecution if returned home. They are still being held. 

TRAC Report on Asylum number/trends

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) issued a report yesterday on asylum court procedures that offers a look into recent trends. A few important takeaways:

The number of asylum cases heard has increased pretty significantly over the last five years, with last year totaling 67,406 cases heard, well over twice the number in 2014. 

The average length of time people wait for a determination of their asylum case is 1,030 days, or close to three years. However, one-fourth waited nearly 4 years 1,421 days. 

The rate of denials has skyrocketed under Trump. The current denial rate is 70% overall. Of people who have no representation, 16% are granted asylum. Of those who have representation, 33% are granted asylum or other relief. There is an increase this year in the percentage of cases where asylum seekers have representation, a tend that TRAC credits to efforts to mobilize pro bono representation around the country. However, overall denial rates continue to increase. 

Part of the reason, is expedited processes. Almost half of the cases decided where the people were not represented by an attorney were completed within a year and almost all of those were denied.

Important reminders:

Over the last year the Trump administration has begun to dismantle access to asylum procedures. For example, not included in this report, but discussed elsewhere, the denial rate of those placed in the Migrant Protection Protocol (“Remain in Mexico”) is extraordinarily high, with only 117 people granted asylum out of the first 24,000 cases heard.

The administration’s current Transit Ban denies people the ability to even apply for asylum if they have crossed a third country prior to arrival at the border, unless they have applied for asylum and been denied in that third country. As we’ve noted this means that only people from Mexico can apply for asylum at the U.S./Mexico border. [Worth noting here that the Trump administration has begun discussions about sending Mexican asylum seekers to Guatemala under its Orwellian “safe third country” agreement!].

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Daily Dispatch 1/8/2020: Stand-up for Refugees: Resources from LCWR

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Daily Dispatch

January 8, 2020

Last night Beltrami County became the only county in Minnesota, and only the second county in the U.S., to deny entrance to refugees under Trump’s new executive order. Image: RICHARD TSONG-TAATARII – MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE
Gallery: Those in attendance who favored a motion against refugee resettlement stood in the back and made their opinions known.

LCWR has assembled some helpful information and resources to assist communities in organizing to push back against the Trump administration’s efforts to close off this country to refugee resettlement. Today the District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland is hearing arguments in a case about one of the administration’s efforts (an Executive order requiring states and localities to offer written consent before refugees can be resettled there – more detail immediately below).  The hearing is the inspiration for the list of resources being shared below. So here it is, from LCWR:

As you may recall, on September 26, the President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO 13888) that could drastically reduce, if not entirely end, the resettlement of refugees in your community. It requires state and local officials to provide written consent in order for refugee resettlement to continue in their states and localities. This means that refugee resettlement will stop in an entire state unless the governor sends a letter providing consent. County executives or their equivalents, depending on each state’s setup, must also provide consent in order for refugees to be resettled in their localities. We are urging governors and county officials to sign letters allowing refugee resettlement to continue, ASAP and by January 17th at the latest so the State Department has them when making decisions about where refugees can be resettled.

This EO is already creating chaos and confusion about where refugees can be resettled, which will lead to family separation for refugee families, and will leave refugees, former refugees and U.S. citizens without necessary supportive services. To make matters worse, the administration has set a refugee admissions cap of 18,000 refugees for the next year, an abysmal number that stands in stark contrast to the historic average annual resettlement goal of 95,000 refugees. Together, these actions are likely to destroy the bipartisan refugee resettlement program. It’s critical that we work together to demonstrate nationwide, bi-partisan support for refugees and ensure our state and local officials publicly declare welcome for refugees. We need you to make your voice heard and reach out to your members of Congress, governors, mayors, and county officials and ask them to support refugee resettlement. 

On Wednesday, January 8th – the District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland will hear oral arguments about this anti-refugee executive order and consider a preliminary injunction to block its implementation. LCWR is one of many faith-based organizations supporting the injunction against the Trump administration’s EO. This could decide the fate of the refugee resettlement program and impact thousands of refugees and their families.

We’ve created a Toolkit for Action: Support Court Intervention to Save the Refugee Resettlement Program—which contains background information about the EO and the court case, talking points, sample letters-to-the-editor and opinion pieces, sample social media posts, and an action alert that you can share with your folks.

We’ve also suggested other ways that you and your community can support refugees and refugee resettlement.

    1. Share Stories: Dedicate prayer, testimony, or a message to your faith community to welcome refugees.
    • Share the stories of refugees to move your congregation and community to action in support of welcoming refugees.
    • Invite a refugee member in your community to come and share their story. Record the activities via video, blogs, newsletters, or social media posts to spread the word more broadly.
    • Click here to share and use prayer resources.
    • Click here to sign up your congregation so that we know who is taking action and would like additional resources.
    1. Engage Local Media Outlets: Write an Opinion Editorial or Letter to the Editor.
    • Writing for your local newspaper or your church newsletter is a great way to both educate your community members and demonstrate support for refugees.
    • Click HERE for background, talking points, and sample letters.
    • Host a public narrative training to help refugees learn how to tell their stories with the media, elected officials, and community members – and pitch stories to the media for those who are separated from their families because of the harsh anti-refugee policies of this administration.
    1. Amplify: Use Social Media
    1. Activate: Elected Officials
    • Members of Congress: Call your 2 Senators and 1 Representative and tell them to protect refugees and restore the resettlement program.
      • Join us to tell your Members of Congress to protect refugees and restore the refugee resettlement program! Please make your voice heard so that all members of Congress hear loud and clear that their constituents care about refugees. The Trump administration has reduced the refugee resettlement program by 80% and set this year’s refugee admissions goal at 18,000 – the lowest level in U.S. history. Given that there are more than 25 million refugees worldwide — more than half of whom are children — these numbers are shockingly low.
      • Call Congress: 202-858-1581 Please call three times to be connected with your 1 Representative and 2 Senators

“I’m your constituent from [CITY/TOWN], and [as a person of faith] I urge you to protect refugees & asylum seekers and to be bold in choosing moral, just policies that provide refuge for vulnerable individuals seeking protection. I call on you to:

          • Co-sponsor the GRACE Act (S.1088 and H.R.2146), which would set a minimum refugee admissions goal at 95,000 (the historic average since 1980).
          • Co-sponsor the Refugee Protection Act (S.2936/H.R.5210), which would protect and strengthen protections for refugees and asylum seekers, modernize the resettlement program, and make it easier for families to reunify. 
          • Hold the administration accountable to meeting this year’s 18,000 refugee admissions goal and urge them to commit to resettling 95,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2021.
          • Join the bipartisan Congressional Refugee Caucus (for Representatives only).

My community welcomes refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants, and I urge you to do the same.”

Please spread the word—Send this alert to your networks!

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Daily Dispatch 1/7/2020: Expanded DNA Collection at the Border has begun

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Daily Dispatch

January 7, 2020

Attorney General William Barr announcing new Justice Department DNA rule in Oct. 2019

The Trump administration has launched a pilot programs at Eagle Pass, TX and in Detroit to begin DNA collections of immigrants held in custody. As we wrote in October when the rule was announced, what the new rule does is remove a provision of current law, The DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005, that allowed the Department of Homeland Security to waive requirements to collect DNA samples from certain classes of immigrants. Only the Attorney General can waive collection now. What this means is that virtually anyone detained by the U.S. government will be subject to DNA screening. From CBS News:

Border Patrol officers in the Detroit sector of the border with Canada and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel at the Eagle Pass, Texas port of entry along the U.S.-Mexico frontier have been instructed to collect DNA from certain migrants. The samples are from cheek swabs. The biometric information would be used to create profiles in a massive national criminal database run by the FBI. 

The move is the first phase of a five-part, three year Department of Homeland Security initiative to obtain DNA profiles from virtually all migrants in U.S. custody, whether or not they’ve committed crimes.

In theory, people have to agree to the DNA swabs, but the context in which the tests are being done compromises any credible claim to consent. Stephen Kang of the ACLU notes, “You’re keeping people in custody and then saying to them, ‘We need to collect DNA sampling from you.’ And they’re in no position to refuse to consent to that because they are in a custodial situation.”

Further, the CBS report cites a Department of Homeland Security official’s privacy assessment, “that those who refuse to consent to the new DNA collection efforts could be referred for criminal prosecution.” 

The officials also recognized in the assessment several risks that have been raised by advocates, including the possibility that migrants won’t know they have to consent to have their DNA collected or that some detainees, particularly children, could be unaware that the information will be sent to the FBI “in perpetuity.” These risks, the official added, could be “partially” mitigated by posting notices in ICE facilities and by CBP officers providing “verbal notice.”

The point of the program is still murky. In theory the collections are to support “law enforcement” but the way the system works does not really support this motive

In the privacy impact assessment dated January 3, Homeland Security officials said the biometric information collected through the program could be used for law enforcement purposes and to generate investigative leads. But they conceded it’s “unlikely” that U.S. immigration authorities will be able to use the data for “public safety or investigative purposes” before the migrants are transferred to different agencies, released into the interior of the country or deported.

The ACLU noted in its comment on the plan, “that there is no evidence that the plan will help solve crime. Rather, the plan seeks to miscast the hundreds of thousands of individuals in immigration detention as violent criminals and will exacerbate harms to people and communities of color.”

Any effort by the government to streamline the mass collection of biometric data like this is suspect. As advocates noted, this is the kind of program, if shown to be “cost effective,” that could easily be generalized to citizens pressured to give DNA samples if detained by law enforcement for any reason. 

Absent a meaningful investigative justification, the whole point seems to be adding another layer of persecution and humiliation that treats migrants as criminals first. As Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, writes, “This unjustifiable step towards full population surveillance threatens to subvert our foundational values of freedom, autonomy, and presumed innocence…Under this dehumanizing plan, immigrants who already have no control over their movements, their health, or their futures would also lose control over their genetic blueprints. The administration should heed the calls of the thousands of people demanding it abandon this dangerous and xenophobic plan.” 

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Daily Dispatch: 1/6/2020: History lessons, preview of 2020 and Take action

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Daily Dispatch

January 6, 2020

History lessons on immigrant incarceration

Professor César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández has an interesting op-ed in the Los Angeles Times today concerning historic lessons about the politics of immigrant incarceration. Specifically, he discusses the Eisenhower administration’s decision to end immigrant incarceration in 1952, shuttering Ellis Island and 5 other detention sites. The United States was hardly a bastien of racial tolerance in 1952. Indeed, a massive round up of people from Mexico a couple of years later would end in the deportation of close to a million people – many of whom were U.S. citizens. But cold war political calculation and budgetary concerns made closure the right move. Wanting to distinguish the US as a “beacon of freedom” in contrast to the Soviet Union “it was more valuable to let migrants live freely in the United States than it was to keep them behind barbed wire.” The article is also a good reminder that the United States did not detain immigrants, except in very rare circumstances, between 1952 and 1982.

Though professor García Hernández does not focus on the current political moment in this article, there are clear connections to be made. The Trump administration has been continually over budget for detention, and has moved money around to cover shortfalls – without Congressional authorization and thus possibly in violation of the law. As federal criminal incarceration overall is falling it makes sense that those who profit from incarceration would seek to raise the unjustified and unnecessary expenditures for incarcerating immigrants. While there is a clear humanitarian crisis here, sadly that will not move many members of Congress- we shouldn’t hesitate to raise these other issues as well.

Professor César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández is the author of Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession With Locking Up Immigrants, released last year. I am currently reading this, and it is an excellent overview of immigrant imprisonment. He is doing speaking events around the country in support of the book. You can see a list of upcoming events here.

What does 2020 look like?

Stuart Anderson, writing in Forbes, has a highly detailed overview of immigration issues coming up this year. Forbes has done a surprisingly good job of covering immigration- especially, as one might suspect, changes in policies covering authorized immigration. This is largely thanks to Anderson’s regular reporting.

In the review, Anderson covers issues related to H1B and L1 visas, H-4 employment authorization documents, state of play on the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (a Silicon Valley friendly effort to scrap country caps for visas), DACA, new restrictions being put forth for international students, lingering issues on the public charge rule change, temporary protected status, workplace enforcement, and USCIS fee increases. All worth a look. On Refugees and Asylum seekers, he writes:

Refugee and Asylum Policies: In September 2019, the Trump administration announced a historically low annual refugee admission ceiling of 18,000 for FY 2020, a reduction of 84% from the 110,000-limit set during the last year of the Obama administration. “The administration betrays our national commitment to offering refuge and religious freedom to persecuted Christians and other religious minorities,” said World Relief in a statement. There is no reason to anticipate the administration will raise the refugee ceiling for FY 2021. 

In response to an executive order mandating consent from state and local authorities to resettle refugees, more than 30 governors have written letters to the State Department pledging their states will continue to resettle refugees. Three organizations have filed a lawsuit over the executive order.

Numerous lawsuits have challenged the administration’s asylum policies toward Central Americans. In one respect, the administration has already “won” on asylum, since the policies to block most asylum seekers and send them to Mexico and other countries have been allowed to remain in place while litigation has continued. Any court decision that compels the administration to stop its current policies would be the most significant events on asylum in 2020. (See here for an analysis of asylum-related lawsuits.) In 2020, the administration will need to deal with an increase in Mexican asylum seekers fleeing violence in Mexico.

As Anderson also notes, the biggest immigration policy event of the upcoming year is the presidential election in November….

Courthouse Vigil in Greenbelt, MD

For those in the Washington DC area, there will be a vigil at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, MD as the court hears arguments on challenges to the Trump administration’s executive order allowing states and localities to opt out of accepting refugees. Get there early to get inside, or join people in vigil outside. Details:

“Pack the courtroom – show support for refugee resettlement” as the Federal Court in Greenbelt hears arguments against a Trump administration Executive Order that allows states and localities to block refugee resettlement in their jurisdictions. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Federal Courthouse, 6500 Cherrywood Ln, Greenbelt, Maryland 20770

8:30 AM – Vigil outside the courthouse

9 AM – Begin lining up to enter the courtroom

10 AM – Oral arguments begin

After oral arguments – Press conference by the organizations that are bringing the lawsuit

Sponsors include:

Interfaith Immigration Coalition

Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Franciscan Action Network

the Jewish Council for Public Affairs

T’RUAH.(a Jewish human-rights organization)

The lawsuit against the executive order was filed by: 

HIAS (a 130-yr-old international refugee support group with HQ in Silver Spring)

CWS (Church World Service, a 70-yr-old interfaith group to act on the biblical works of mercy)

LIRS (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, an 80-yr-old group with HQ in Baltimore)

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Celebrating Haiti’s Independence

On January 1, 1804 Haiti became the second independent republic in the western hemisphere, and the first to abolish slavery. Unlike the U.S. war for independence, in Haiti there was a true revolution of social forces. People who had been enslaved in Haiti rose up against the French colonial authority and won their freedom and with it the country’s independence. The only successful rebellion of people enslaved known to history came with the defeat of the military super-power of the time – France under Napoleon Bonaparte. The ultimate defeat of France’s forces in Haiti forced Napoleon to sell colonial possessions in North America to the United States to meet expenses from the failed expedition. The resulting Louisiana Purchase more than doubled the size of the United States.  The revolution in Haiti was, however, not otherwise welcomed by the United States. Rather than celebrate another independent republic in the western Atlantic, the U.S. joined with European colonial governments in blockading Haiti. The goal was to strangle the revolution and the example of freedom it represented to those enslaved in the United States and throughout the colonial Caribbean and Latin America. Haiti’s independence survived but at a price of isolation and international indebtedness. The United States did not recognize the independent government of Haiti until 1865. In 2020, Haiti is still fighting for independence. The current government is widely viewed as an instrument of U.S. policy-makers, as both a bulwark against more popular democratic forces and wedge for unencumbered investment for the pillaging of Haiti’s resources. Protests against the government, which have shut down the country intermittently since July 2018, have slowed in recent weeks. But things are far from settled, as Parliamentary tenures expire and no agreement on new elections seems to be forthcoming.  President Moise, not surprisingly, used the Independence Day address to once again call for unity and establishment of a national dialogue. “This January 1 should be an opportunity for us to reflect…to define together the path to take the country.”  It is an invitation he has been repeating for months now, with few takers. We’ll see what the new year brings. The United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo issued a statement congratulating Haiti on its independence that read, “The story of the founding of Haiti, from the uprising of slaves to the creation of a Republic based on democratic principles, testifies to what can be accomplished when individuals are determined to work together for the greater good.” It was a message clearly speaking to the present moment – the U.S, as noted, hardly welcomed this fight for the “greater good” 216 years ago. Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic, in anticipation of new protests, sent an additional 1,200 troops to the border. There are now 11,000 Dominican troops on the border with Haiti attempting to stop the movement of people fleeing insecurity, looking for work, or simply returning from holiday visits with relatives. What the new year has in store is hard to read at this point. The United Nations is estimating that 4.5 million people – nearly half of the population – will be in need of humanitarian assistance in the coming year as the economy continues its collapse. The Associated Press reported last month,

Haiti’s economy was already fragile when the new round of protests began in mid-September, organized by opposition leaders and supporters angry over corruption, spiraling inflation and dwindling supplies, including fuel. More than 40 people were killed and dozens injured as protesters clashed with police. Moise insisted he would not resign and called for dialogue.

The United Nations World Food Program says a recent survey found that one in three Haitians, or 3.7 million people, need urgent food assistance and 1 million are experiencing severe hunger. The WFP, which says it is trying to get emergency food assistance to 700,000 people, blames rising prices, the weakening local currency, and a drop in agricultural production due partly to the disruption of recent protests.

In the last two years, Haiti’s currency, the gourde, declined 60% against the dollar and inflation recently reached 20%, Chalmers said. The rising cost of food is especially crucial in the country of nearly 11 million people. Some 60% make less than $2 a day and 25% earn less than $1 a day.

A 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag of rice has more than doubled in price in the local currency, said Marcelin Saingiles, a store owner who sells everything from cold drinks to cookies to used tools in Port-au-Prince.

The fight for independence today is in the economic realm – particularly food production. Haiti was self-sufficient in food production forty years ago, and now is deeply dependent on imports, and even where domestic production exists, transportation costs impact prices dramatically. Much of this is the result of tariff reductions demanded by the U.S. government and enforced through international financial institutions lending requirements.  The work in Gros Morne we are doing with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center continues to focus at the intersection of food and ecological renewal through reforestation. Our work and similar work by Haitian groups throughout the country, is committed to the regeneration of the agricultural sector, a necessary precondition for economic independence, and long-term stability. The other precondition is limiting U.S. intervention. That remains the bigger struggle.
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Daily Dispatch 1/3/2020: GEO Group Sues California

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Daily Dispatch

January 3, 2020

Last week I wrote a bit about how Immigration and Customs Enforcement was helping the GEO Group avoid a new law in California that banned future contracts with private companies for the incarceration of immigrants. The new law went into effect January 1, 2020. During the last week of December 2019, ICE extended 15-year contracts to GEO Group for the management of several facilities in California.

When the solicitations for those contracts were originally posted, members of Congress expressed concern that the solicitations were in violation of federal procurement law.

U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), on Thursday [November 14] led a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland (DHS) Chad F. Wolf and Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Matthew T. Albence questioning whether ICE has complied with federal procurement rules to award contracts for new detention facilities in California in the wake of California’s new law eliminating private prisons, including immigration detention facilities. Following the passage of the new California law, ICE officials posted a solicitation for numerous federal detention facilities around the state—an apparent attempt to undermine the spirit of the new law before its effective date on January 1, 2020. 

In the current environment, the fact that a letter from members of Congress was ignored by this administration is hardly surprising. 

Now, the GEO Group is taking the next step in its effort to push back against current efforts to limit profiteering from immigrant incarceration. The GEO Group is suing California. At issue is Law AB32 which was passed earlier in the fall. The law bans all new contracts with private firms for immigrant detention, and allows no changes to existing contracts. All private contracting is to end by 2028. The GEO Group suit alleges that the AB32 is an attempt to undercut federal enforcement of immigration laws, and that the state of California has no authority to block the federal government or the work of its contractors. This case, if it moves forward, could prove significant nationally, as parallel efforts to limit or eliminate private contracting for incarceration are underway in a number of states – and in Illinois, have led to similar bans on future contracts.

The Dignity not Detention Coalition responded to the lawsuit with the following statement this Tuesday (Dec. 31, 2019):

Dignity not Detention coalition condemns GEO lawsuit: “A shameless attempt to protect profits”

2019.12.31 – In response to the lawsuit filed by the GEO corporation against California’s AB 32 just two days before the law goes into effect, the Dignity not Detention Coalition issued the following statement: 

This lawsuit is yet another shameless attempt by the GEO group to protect its ill-gotten profits, safeguard illicit contracts which violate state and federal law, and to undercut the will of the people. Our tax dollars should not pay for immigrants’ suffering.  

In court, GEO and its shocking track record of abuse and in-custody deaths will be exposed to the light of public scrutiny. This unscrupulous corporation will face the legal prowess of California’s Attorney General and the full weight of the Constitution and federal law.  It is fully within California’s power and responsibility to protect all residents from abuse. 

AB 32, passed with bipartisan support, is a crucial step toward making our values of compassion and respect for human rights a reality. Nationwide, for-profit detention puts billions of taxpayer dollars in the pockets of private prison companies, while our schools, infrastructure, and communities suffer. 

Yet there is growing consensus that detention, like all mass incarceration, is inhumane and unnecessary — community-based case management is a powerful and effective alternative. From every corner of California and from coast to coast, we will continue to raise our voices for justice. 

The coalition includes California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Immigrant Defense Advocates (IDA), Immigrant Defense Project (IDP), Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), Resilience Orange County, Freedom for Immigrants, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN), and others.

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Daily Dispatch 1/2/2020: Another death in custody amidst a flurry of reports on conditions. When will Congress Act? Support HR 2415

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January 2, 2020

Another person died while in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The identity of the person has not been released yet, pending contact with relatives. What is known is that he was a forty-year old man from France who was being detained at the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico until December 11 when he was transferred to Torrance County Detention Facility. A day later he was taken to the hospital where he died on December 29.

This is the third person to die in ICE custody since October 1, 2019, the beginning of the current fiscal year (which governs reporting cycles for government agencies). ICE issued a News Release about this death January 1 – two days after Buzzfeed News reported on it.

The other two people to die in ICE custody this year are, Roylan Hernandez-Diaz, asylum seeking from Cuba and Nebane Abienwi, asylum seeker from Cameroon. Both of whom would most likely still be alive if they had been granted parole to pursue their asylum cases outside rather than incarcerated. 

4 people have died this year while in Customs and Border Patrol (CPB does not report names):

A 49 year old man from Mexico died shortly after being detained by Customs and Border Patrol in Arizona from apparent cardiac failure.  CPB notification here. October 21, 2019

A 22 year old man from Honduras died in CPB custody after being struck by a vehicle on I-35 while running from a border patrol stop. October 22, 2019

A 42 year old man from Mexico held in the East Hidalgo Detention Facility, apparently committed suicide – though the case is under investigation. December 21, 2019

A 41 year old woman from Democratic Republic of Congo died on December 25, 2019. From CPB:

Early in the afternoon of December 24, 2019, a 41-year-old national from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and her family arrived in the United States, presenting themselves for admission into the U.S. at the Gateway to the Americas Bridge in Laredo, Texas. During initial processing, she was medically screened to include a review of paperwork she provided highlighting a previous medical condition, cleared by on-site contracted medical personnel, and transferred to the Lincoln Juarez Bridge for additional immigration processing and overnight holding. In the early morning of December 25, 2019, while awaiting final processing and release, the individual notified CBP officers that she was suffering from abdominal pain and had vomited.

She died at the Laredo Medical Center a few hours after being transferred.

Following the death of Roylan Hernandez-Diaz at a Richwood, Lousianna facility, USA-Today launched an investigative report documenting what is already widely known – that ICE detention facilities, many, though not all, contracted to private companies, are the sites of abuse and poor access to health services. From the December 22 report,  

The USA TODAY Network uncovered the Richwood episode during an investigation of the rapidly growing network of detention centers used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The investigation revealed more than 400 allegations of sexual assault or abuse, inadequate medical care, regular hunger strikes, frequent use of solitary confinement, more than 800 instances of physical force against detainees, nearly 20,000 grievances filed by detainees and at least 29 fatalities, including seven suicides, since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017 and launched an overhaul of U.S. immigration policies.

Combined with an analysis by a government watchdog, the USA TODAY Network analyzed inspection reports since 2015 and identified 15,821 violations of detention standards. Yet more than 90% of those facilities received passing grades by government inspectors. Network reporters interviewed 35 former and current detainees, some conducted using video chats from inside an ICE detention center. They reviewed hundreds of documents from lawsuits, financial records and government contracts, and toured seven ICE facilities from Colorado to Texas to Florida. Such tours are extremely rare.

The week and a half before the USA Today report was released, Buzzfeed published a scathing report on health conditions at ICE facilities following the leak of a memo written in April 2018 from a whistleblower from ICE’s Health Service Corp:

The memo describes what happened to 17 different immigrants who were held at nine facilities across six states, from Georgia to Washington. The allegations include:

    • That immigrants received incorrect medications. One man was given an antidepressant instead of an antipsychotic drug, likely worsening his condition. Another was given aspirin despite having thin blood — he nearly died.
    • That four immigrants endured severe withdrawal symptoms while in ICE custody. One man addicted to opioids was the subject of a “medication error”; two men with a benzodiazepine addiction saw delays in treatment; and one man “went into severe alcohol withdrawal and delirium and was admitted to the hospital in the intensive care unit.”
    • That IHSC leadership was unresponsive or even dishonest when confronted. They “failed to take appropriate action” when told of policy violations in 10 of the cases; “did not respond” to concerns about one case in which a detainee with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma died under “deplorable” conditions; and were “erroneous” and told others to “hold off” when looking into several cases.

Overall, the memo says, the whistleblower alleged that IHSC “has systematically provided inadequate medical and mental health care and oversight to immigration detainees across the U.S.” The memo also says the inspector general will investigate the whistleblower’s allegation that they were retaliated against for raising the issues.

Politico released a report on December 1 that demonstrates how poor record keeping concerning immigrant health has contributed to deaths. 

The Department of Homeland Security’s inadequate medical technology and record-management for the thousands of migrants who pass through its custody are contributing to poor care and even deaths, according to lawsuit records reviewed by POLITICO.

A review by POLITICO of 22 deaths of detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody between 2013 and 2018 revealed malfunctioning software and troubling gaps in use of technology, such as failure to properly document patient care or scribbling documentation in the margins of forms. Those reviews echo persistent complaints from experts and advocates for migrants rights who say attention to the medical needs of asylum seekers is indifferent at best. Recent reports indicate that Customs and Border Patrol rejected a CDC recommendation to administer flu shots to people in its custody; two children later died of flu in the agency’s facilities.

There have been at least 7 children who have died in, or shortly after release from, CBP detention under the Trump administration – the first children to die in custody in over a decade. The American Immigration Lawyers Association tracks deaths in CBP custody here.

In response to reports, most directly the Buzzfeed News report from leaked memo, The House Oversight and Reform Committee announced an investigation into the provision of health services at facilities housing immigrant detainees. While we are glad to see action at the Congressional level, these conditions have been reported on for years now – previous to Trump and now worsening under his leadership and expansion of detention. It is time for action.

There is a bill in Congress that would phase out the use of private contractors, as well as outsourcing detention to state and local authorities. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to keep civil detention in house, mandates restricted use of detention as a strategy, and extends significant oversight over the whole process. It is exactly what is needed, and thus, conventional wisdom says, it will go nowhere, especially in an election year. We need to confront the logic that treating people humanely is considered bad politics during elections in this country.  But that is a separate post. For now, read more about and push your member of congress to support H.R. 2415. 

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Daily Dispatch 12/31/2019: Trump has come close to dismantling asylum this year

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Daily Dispatch

December 31, 2019

Honduran asylum-seeking children pass their time in an encampment near the banks of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, on December 7, 2019.VERONICA CARDENAS / REUTERS

CBS News’ online news platform has been surprisingly in depth in its reporting on immigration. Today they published a valuable retrospective on the year that details the many ways that the administration spent the year unraveling the asylum system and sought to limit other avenues of authorized immigration. On the dismantling of asylum, one of the most important points of departure from humanity for this administration has been the Remain in Mexico program. From the review:

The most effective policy, from the administration’s point of view, has been the so-called “Remain in Mexico” program, through which the U.S. has returned about 56,000 asylum-seekers to Mexico to wait for the duration of their U.S. immigration proceedings.

Tens of thousands of asylum-seekers from Central America, Cuba, Venezuela and other Latin American countries who would otherwise be in the U.S. are stranded in overcrowded shelters and squalid makeshift encampments in northern Mexico, including in crime-ridden cities like Ciudad Juárez and Matamoros, located in a region the U.S. government warns American travelers not to visit due to rampant violence. 

Advocates and even some of the asylum officers implementing the program have been withering in their criticism of Remain in Mexico, saying it violates international obligations against returning migrants seeking refuge to dangerous places. The group Human Rights First has denounced hundreds of reported kidnappings and assaults. Last month, an asylum-seeking father from El Salvador was killed and dismembered in Tijuana after he and his family were placed in the Migrant Protection Protocols, the administration’s official name for the policy.

The report notes that forcing people to wait in Mexico limits their access to attorneys, less than 4% of the people who cycle through the makeshifts court system – temporary facilities under tents in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where judges participate via tele-conference – are represented. One result of this sham process is that only 117 people of the 24,000 closed cases have received asylum.

An attorney working with people in Ciudad Juarez offers some perspective:

“Remain in Mexico has definitely affected and reduced apprehensions,” Taylor Levy, an independent immigration lawyer based in El Paso, told CBS News. “However, I don’t think that’s a good measure of success, because the program has seen utterly horrific humanitarian consequences.”

Levy said Remain in Mexico has also depleted the morale of the relatively small cohort of immigration lawyers in the area willing to represent asylum-seekers returned to often dangerous cities like Ciudad Juárez, which she frequently visits to assist migrants.

So many of us thought that family separation was the worst things could possibly get,” she said. “Remain in Mexico is exponentially worse. It is so much human suffering that we have to confront every single day that it’s very draining and it’s been very difficult psychologically for both myself and for most of my colleagues.”  

The summary also details the third country transit ban – which denies people who have crossed through a third country before arriving at the U.S. southern border the ability to apply for asylum (unless they have applied and been denied in that third country). This effectively shuts down asylum applications for anyone other than Mexican nationals at the U.S./Mexico border. The policy is being implemented in one sector after the Supreme Court allowed it to go forward pending litigation.

There are also the agreements signed with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to receive asylum seekers from the U.S. – a pretty insane policy that treats these three countries as “safe third” countries, even though most asylum seekers are actually coming from one of these three countries. Guatemala is the only country where the program has launched – the administration is now considering sending Mexican asylum seekers there.

Of the cumulative impact of these policies, Lee Gelernt of the ACLU sums it up this way, “The policies now effectively eliminate asylum — which is a historic moment in this country.”

The review then takes on the vast number of policy changes that the administration has put into place to limit other authorized paths to immigration. This has been particularly true under the leadership of Ken Cuccinelli at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – who has yet to be confirmed to this position, but is dramatically reshaping the agency anyway, effectively turning a service agency into another enforcement arm to limit immigration overall.

The only thing missing in this otherwise comprehensive review is what the last year has meant for immigrants in detention -many of whom are in fact asylum seekers who have already established a credible fear of torture or persecution if returned to their country. Which is to say, while Trump has done everything he can to keep asylum seekers from even getting into the United States – if they make it, most recent arrivals are locked up for the duration of their cases. 

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Daily Dispatch 12/30/2019: Liberians Gain access to permanent residency; Trump and Evangelicals…

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Daily Dispatch

December 30, 2019

Mohamed A. Sanoe, left, a Liberian national, stands with his daughter, right, in front of a US flag after taking the oath to become a US citizen at Citizenship and Immigration Services in New York on November 13, 2015.
 Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Liberians can transition from deferred enforcement to Green Card holders

Tucked into an otherwise immoral mess of a defense appropriations bill, was a provision that will allow Liberians who have been in the United States since 2014, but are currently under a temporary immigration provision, Deferred Enforced Departure, to apply for green cards. This is at once both great news, and a sad reminder of how absurd the legislative process is – e.g. the only way to do the right thing for Liberians was to bury it in a defense appropriation bill that is considered sacrosanct, and thus untouchable at vote time by both parties. Indeed, we’ll recall from two weeks ago, that the Department of Homeland Security budget was bundled with the Defense appropriations bill to keep some Democrats in line who would have otherwise voted against the DHS bill (some still did, of course, but as DHS was bundled with Defense it did not matter for the final outcome [it passed by a huge margin], which was the point). On the other hand, do Republicans know they voted for the first expansion of eligibility for green cards and a path to citizenship in decades? Probably more than a few surprises in store for Congresspersons in a 2,400-page budget package delivered a day before the vote.

Conceding the mess that is our legislative process, we can still pause for a moment and celebrate a pretty significant victory for the nearly 4,000 Liberians living in the United States.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Thursday that it started accepting green card applications for Liberians who have lived in the US since November 2014, as well as their spouses and unmarried children. After holding a green card for five years, eligible Liberians can apply for US citizenship.

Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Tina Smith (D-MN) had originally proposed the legislation offering green cards to Liberians as an individual bill, before it was tacked on to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In an era of deadlocked immigration policy, this marks the first time in decades that Congress has offered a pathway to citizenship to a new group of immigrants.

“Separating and uprooting hundreds of Liberian-American families from their jobs and homes and forcing them to return to a country that is unrecognizable for many of them would not have been in America’s best interests,” Reed said in a statement in March.

Civil war drove thousands of Liberians to seek refuge in the US from about 1989 to 2003 under a program known as Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) that gave them temporary protection from deportation. About 4,000 Liberians continue to live in the US with DED status, which Trump threatened to end last year before deciding to extend the wind-down period to March 30, 2020.

In principal, the same arguments for extending a path to permanent residency, and then citizenship, to Liberians under DED would also apply to other deferred action programs – such as Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. TPS is extended to people from countries following extreme natural disasters or political conflicts. Currently there are 300,000 + people living in the U.S. (well over half from El Salvador and Haiti), who are allowed to work provisionally if they are registered TPS holders. DACA protects at least 700,000 people who came to the U.S. as children – usually brought with parents who were not authorized to enter the country. The House passed a bill this summer that would extend a path to citizenship for people registered under TPS and DACA – but that bill is not expected to see much daylight in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Trump’s efforts to end TPS for most countries, and to rescind DACA are currently tied up in courts. So, we are probably heading for an election year showdown on both. The Supreme Court heard arguments on Trump’s decision to end DACA in November, and is expected to issue its ruling this summer. On DACA, however the courts decide, it is important to remember that Trump has the authority to end the program. The issue before the court is how he did it. Which means a legislative solution is required for the program, or some variation of it.

Meanwhile, for Liberians living in the United States the insecurity of living with a deferred enforcement label is over, for now. We can only hope the same will hold true for the many other people living in this country with a status that subjects them to the whims of our deeply divided political process.

“White” evangelicals are said to love Trump, Why?

Since candidate Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women on tape, faced several lawsuits over rape allegations, and likley paid off women and reporters to keep affairs out of the media (turned out to be a bad strategy), people have wondered why conservative Christians still love the guy.

I haven’t. 

First, not all concervative Christians like Trump. Which is not unimportant to keep in mind when reading headlines like, “One surprisingly simple reason evangelicals love Trump.” That said, Trump is undeniably more popular with white Evangelicals that any other combined race/ethnic/religious demographic. Not 100%, mind you, but he does have a 75% approval rating among white evangelicals, compared to a 42% approval rating overall. 

Second, the reason why most white evangelicals like Trump is clear. They dislike immigrants even more. And so Trump is their guy. They are “conservative” or “nationalists” before they are “christians.” This shouldn’t be so hard to understand as these other values often trump the more challenging Christian ideals of compassion and non-violence (how many Christians in Congress voted for that Defense bill?). This is also why trying to give them gospel lessons won’t matter. They often don’t read the bible anyway (at least nothing between Deuteronomy and Revelations). 

To the point, Ryan Burge, a professor at Eastern Illinois University, reviewed the data, and yes, white evangelicals support harsh immigration laws, and are typically far outside the mainstream:

I grabbed the 2018 wave of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, and took a look at the five questions that they ask about immigration. Then I calculated three things for each question: the share of white evangelicals who are in favor, the share of the entire population that is in favor, and then I found the group that was the second most conservative on each issue (because white evangelicals were always the most conservative). The results are visualized below.

The gap between white evangelicals and the average American is humongous. In fact, on four of the five issue areas the total distance between the two groups is at least twenty percentage points. And, when compared to the next most conservative religious groups, there’s still a decent amount of daylight. For three issues, it’s at least ten percentage points, but it’s never less than five points (on the issue of DACA).

It is worth pointing out that even a majority of white Evangelicals  support DACA. So, there is that. 

This is Trump’s base – and he built it demonizing immigrants. That it has worked, despite his other well publicized moral failings, should be a warning. It is not enough to call people hypocrites, bigots or whatever. We have to out organize them. The religious right figured this out a long time ago. Which is why they exercise far more power than their overall numbers would suggest. 

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Daily Dispatch 12/27/2019: “Handle with Care”

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Daily Dispatch

December 27, 2019

“Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” George Orwell

In July of 2018, the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice sent a certification team to the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center to investigate reports of abuse against immigrant teens being detained at the facility under contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. Shenandoah Valley was one of three facilities with contracts to hold children deemed to be behavioral problems – most of whom, according to staff who testified before Congress, were suffering from mental health issues resulting from trauma they suffered in the places they were fleeing. 

The certification team was sent to the facility on direction from newly elected governor Ralph Northam following an investigative report by the Associated Press into conditions at the facility. The AP story presented evidence based on dozens of interviews with children who had been held at the facility, all of whom reported widespread abuse. The AP story was one of dozens of reports about the conditions of children in detention to emerge in the wake of Trump’s child separation policy, as reporters began to track where children were ending up. In this case, the AP caught wind of a lawsuit against the facility filed in 2017 and followed up. There were a number of issues identified, but among the most abusive was the use of a “restraint” chair. From the AP story:

“Whenever they used to restrain me and put me in the chair, they would handcuff me,” said a Honduran immigrant who was sent to the facility when he was 15 years old. “Strapped me down all the way, from your feet all the way to your chest, you couldn’t really move. … They have total control over you. They also put a bag over your head. It has little holes; you can see through it. But you feel suffocated with the bag on.”


A Guatemalan youth sent to the center when he was 14 years old said he was often locked in his tiny cell for up to 23 hours a day. After resisting the guards, he said he was also restrained for long periods.

“When they couldn’t get one of the kids to calm down, the guards would put us in a chair — a safety chair, I don’t know what they call it — but they would just put us in there all day,” the teen said in a sworn statement. “This happened to me, and I saw it happen to others, too. It was excessive.”

A 15-year-old from Mexico held at Shenandoah for nine months also recounted being restrained with a bag over his head. “They handcuffed me and put a white bag of some kind over my head,” he said, according to his sworn statement. “They took off all of my clothes and put me into a restraint chair, where they attached my hands and feet to the chair. They also put a strap across my chest. They left me naked and attached to that chair for two and a half days, including at night.”

From the lawsuit, filed in October of 2017 by “John Doe,” unidentified Mexican teen on behalf of himself and others held at Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center (SVJC):

Doe and other children have suffered serious physical and emotional harm from Defendant’s use of restraints. The restraints are very tight, often leaving bruises and cuts on the children’s wrists after they have been taken off. Doe has complained about this and shown his injuries to SVJC staff and to ORR’s on-site representatives, but they have taken no actions to remedy it.

Doe and other children have also been confined to their rooms for 24 hours or more at a time. On some occasions the children are stripped of their clothes, including their underwear, during such lengthy periods of confinement.

Doe has also been tied to a chair, on multiple occasions, as a form of punishment. He has remained tied to a chair for several hours at a time.

There is no legitimate penological justification for using confinement or restraints in this manner, as they are used long after control of the subject child has been secured and there is no threat of further violence. Defendant’s conduct is motivated by a desire to harass or humiliate the detained children in their care or to provoke a response that justifies the use of force by staff. 

Further, reporting earlier this year on systemic problems of sexual abuse of children in ORR facilities – over 6,000 claimants between 2014 and 2018 – included abuse at SVJC:

In October 2016, a child at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Virginia said a staff member grabbed his crotch area and squeezed after he had been physically restrained. The incident was reported to child protective services, but not investigated, and the staffer was moved to another housing unit.

In testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about this case one of the lawyers representing youth at SVJC wrote,

Between November 2015 and November 2017, the restraint chair was used over 40 times on immigrant children, often in excess of SVJC’s two-hour limit policy; on one occasion, one youth suffering from serious mental health problems was placed in the restraint chair for over 6 hours in a day and for nearly 9 hours the very next day, while John Doe 1 was put in the chair 11 times over a 16 month period for between 25 minutes and 2 hours at a time. Such use of force and/or isolation deviates from professionally accepted standards in the medical (AMA) and psychologist communities and has been rejected by governmental and private commissions that guide standards for juvenile facilities.

Handle with Care….

The Certification team published its account of conditions at the facility in August of 2018, and found no evidence of abuse – or more specifically, no evidence of actions that met the legal threshold for abuse. In part, because the use of a restraint chair and placing of a bag over a child’s head is permitted. From their report:

Review of training records indicated that all staff are trained in the use of restraints through a behavioral management system titled “Handle With Care.” Per regulation, mechanical restraints shall not be used as punishment; however, they are used for the protection of resident and staff. The regulation requires that SVJC train staff in the use of mechanical restraints including but not limited to the restraint chair and mesh spit guards. The restraint chair is used for out-of-control residents who cannot be safely restrained by less intrusive methods. While in the chair, a mesh spit guard can be placed on the resident’s head to prevent spitting or biting.

Interviews with children were also conducted on-site, where they are under supervision, and not likely to be forthcoming.

On the release of the report, the facility deputy director released a statement, “”The report confirms our long-standing dedication to being a well-run facility that treats our residents with respect and dignity.” The report, though giving a pass on abuse below the legal threshold, did offer recommendations for improvements, including expanding training for staff on de-escalation techniques. 

However, in the midst of the investigation, the Department of Juvenile Justice “discovered” that its, Certification Unit and Quality Assurance Unit had “no legal access to the youth in the federally-run ORR program.” As part of the expanded oversight, the Board of the Department of Juvenile Justice voted to require agency oversight on any new contract for detention of children held in Virginia. That the Department was unaware of this lack of access, and had not actually inspected the facility to this point is a sad testimony to the concern exhibited toward immigrant youth detained in this country. 

The Federal Lawsuit against Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center was dismissed in July of 2019. It was not dismissed on the merits of the case, but because there were no plaintiffs left willing to testify

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center last week that accused the facility of abuse against undocumented minors

Filed in October 2017, the suit initially detailed alleged use of excessive force and solitary confinement of immigrant children as young as 14.

It included claims that children were beaten while handcuffed and locked up for long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in concrete cells. Lawyers for the detention center denied any wrongdoing.

However, those who filed the lawsuit steadily lost any of the complainants willing to testify about the accusations. They were given until January to substitute a new representative of the claims to “pursue a claim of constitutionally inadequate mental health care,” but were unable to do so, requiring them to withdraw their claims of excessive force, restraints and isolation.

The original John Doe withdrew from the case – I could not find a verified reason – though he would have turned 18 by this point and faced immediate deportation. He was replaced by two other John Does who stepped-in as plaintiffs, both of whom were actually then deported. A fourth John Doe came forward to speak to the inadequate mental health treatment, narrowing the focus of the case significantly from the original filing. He eventually withdrew as well, leading to court to dismiss the case.

If there is an upside to this story, it is that local officials in Northern Virginia turned down the Department of Health and Human Services when it came looking for a site for a new 440 bed facility to detain immigrant youth long-term in August 2019. The public outrage over Shenandoah Valley was enough for officials to find some courage and keep DHS at arms-length. It is not clear that the new facility will even get built at this point – though ORR was still looking at potential sites in Texas and Arizona.

The reality, however, is that the abuse of children in custody is excessive and systemic, and continues. And this must change. From May 2019 testimony to U.S. Civil Rights Commission on SVJC:

it is critical to note that current regulations or laws in the state of Virginia were insufficiently stringent to prevent many of the egregious violations experienced by the immigrant children at SVJC. Unlike many states and facilities that have outlawed its use, Virginia permits the use of the restraint chair. It permits extended solitary confinement of children, including those suffering from trauma or mental health needs, for 72 hours at a stretch and up to 5 days with proper notification to facility administration – far beyond the time period countenanced by any medical, psychological or juvenile detention best practice. Experts (even including the SVJC psychiatrist), advocates, and detention staff members all agree that these punitive measures result in lasting harm to youth. Stringent federal standards are needed to ensure safe and humane conditions in those states where the regulations are lax. We urge the Commission to study the extent to which immigrant children in ORR custody are in facilities which are adhering to weak state regulations, and, consistent with the Attorney General’s Report and well- established professional standards, to advocate for alternatives to detention and, where that may not be possible, for federal policies and practices that require immigrant children to be placed in trauma-informed environments that strictly limit the use of restraints, solitary confinement or other essentially punitive and harmful approaches. (emphasis added).

This seems like the least we can do.

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