Daily Dispatch 12/26/2019: The Silence of Empire

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Daily Dispatch

December 26, 2019

US army soldiers fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in Panjwai district, Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan on June 12, 2011 [File: Baz Ratner/Reuters]

Something about silence makes me sick
‘Cause silence can be violent
Sorta like a slit wrist

Zack De La Rocha (Rage Against the Machine)

Last week Congress impeached the president. The day before Congress impeached the president for abuse of authority, they handed him a $1.4 trillion budget, half of which was for the military. Included was funding for the first new military agency authorized in decades – Space Force, and, of course, at least part of the bill for the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Remember that one?

A week before the impeachment, the Washington Post published a series of stories about the war in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Papers came from secret interviews commissioned as part of an internal study about war planning that the Post got wind of and then sued to get access to. The interviews make clear that three presidents have lied to us: Bush, Obama and now Trump have lied about casualties, lied about assessments of various strategies employed, and lied to us about the prospects of success (which most of the commanders apparently see as ill defined and probably not achievable by most measures – certainly not a military victory). For example,

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

No hearings have been scheduled. 

The war in Afghanistan has been going on for 18 years. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in this war – and civilian casualties have been increasing again in recent years. Afghan security forces are constant targets of the Taliban – who killed 15 members of the security force in a single attack on Tuesday in Balkh province of Northern Afghanistan.  Nearly 2,400 U.S. service members have died in the war – including Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Goble, a Green Beret killed this Sunday, the 17th U.S. service member to die this year. Over 20,000 U.S. service members have been wounded. There are 2.7 million people from Afghanistan living as refugees outside the country’s borders, 90% of whom are in Iran and Pakistan. Another 2.2 million people are internally displaced.  Most U.S. Americans act as though there is no war. Indeed, unless you’ve served, or a family member has, there seems to be no impact on your life. Certainly no one in office likes to talk about the war. The reception of the Washington Post stories, in substance, similar to the Pentagon Papers, has been a national yawn.

Meanwhile, in October, the United States admitted zero refugees. That is zero; not a single one of the 78 million displaced people on the globe at the moment, admitted as a refugee even though we are a participant in, if not primary instigator of almost every war these people are fleeing – including Afghanistan. Last month, we admitted the lowest number of refugees counted in any November since 2001.


I’ve been reading Shusaku Endo’s book Silence this week. The book is a fictional account of two Portugese priests in Japan during the violent suppression of Christianity in the 17th Century. Endo, himself a Christian, is critical of the missionaries. However, the central theme is not so much east vs west, but the silence of God amidst the suffering of the Christians being persecuted; a silence that tests the priests’ faith throughout.

Of course, the book leaves open the question of whether the silence is a product of God’s quietude, or the refusal of people to listen.

It seems that Christmas is not a bad time to reflect on this. The Jesus of history, and the earliest Gospel traditions, called into question the structures of domination that characterized Roman colonial rule in Palestine and challenged them. For this he was killed. If you believe that God was speaking through Jesus, who challenged the people then, and us today, to confront the violence of empire with non-violence, it seems correct to wonder if anyone was/is listening.

We live in the heart of a global empire, a massive system of domination under which millions of people are suffering. $700 billion for war and nothing for the refugees that these wars create. From positions of power in this country we are being lied to daily about all of it. To riff from Zack de la Rocha again, they fill the air with “silent sounds.” 

This particular system of domination will collapse or be torn down eventually. They always are. But how do we tear it down, and what replaces it?

I guess that depends on who you listen to. 

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Daily Dispatch 12/24/2019: ICE bails out GEO and CoreCivic

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Daily Dispatch

December 24, 2019

ICE is bailing out private prison companies

Imagine for a moment that you live in a democracy, a place where public policy has some referent to public opinion and to organized interests other than the NRA. In such a place, one might expect that a highly controversial policy, say using private prison companies to incarcerate people – for a profit – could lead to reform whereby, said companies would no longer receive contracts. Now, imagine that these companies, under current contracts, have a track record of abuse. They are businesses and spending extra money on the provision of health services, for example, cuts into the bottom line. These companies are currently being sued for using the forced labor of people detained in their facilities at $1 a day, rather than hire cleaning crews at even the local minimum wage. Imagine that these companies have become so controversial that leading banks will no longer lend them money following years of protest by both stockholders and people in the streets. Two states have decided to eliminate the use of private contractors for detention. Most candidates for the presidency have endorsed this idea. Legislation has been introduced to ban new contracts with these companies at the national level.

In this imaginary democracy, this would probably spell the end for said companies profiting from the incarceration of immigrants – which is civil NOT criminal detention to begin with.

In the democracy you live in, however, the results of all of this are new contracts for extended periods of time which lock in these companies for the next two or three presidents – assuming we keep having elections – or 15 years, in any event.

From the New York Stock Exchange yesterday:

GEO Group (NYSE:GEO) gets two new contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for five company-owned facilities in California totaling 4,490 beds.

The contracts will have terms of 15 years, including two five-year options, effective Dec. 20, 2019.

On a combined basis, they’re expected to generate more than $200M in annualized revenue for GEO and will support more than 1,200 full-time jobs.

GEO rises 0.1% in premarket trading.

The GEO Group and CoreCivic, the two giants of immigrant incarceration who hold, between them, at least half of all immigrants in custody, have a new plan to meet the controversies their practices have engendered. Longer contracts. And the U.S. government is going along, effectively bailing them out. 

You see, California was one of the two states that banned new contracts for private prisons. The ban goes into effect on January 1, 2020. GEO was well aware of the date. From the San Diego Tribune back in October:

A GEO Group spokeswoman said the company does not comment on government procurements. But in an earnings call Tuesday posted to the company’s website, Chief Executive George Zoley said he expects new long-term contracts in California to start in mid-December.

Zoley said that ICE’s solicitation “involves a rebid of existing contracts at our Adelanto and Mesa Verde ICE processing centers as well as other contractor-operated facilities in California. It also allows for other existing facilities to be proposed in those three areas of the state.”

In response to a question about how AB 32 will affect GEO’s operations, Zoley said that it restricts “any state or federal facilities to their contract terms effective January 1…. So if you have a contract that’s in place before the end of this year, it can go the full length of its contract term.”

Thus, the federal government helped the GEO Group evade new state regulations in California by issuing 15 year contract renewals before January 1 – which is frankly insane from the standpoint of accountability.

ICE is doing this in Texas as well. The Quixote Center (Houston office) signed on to letters opposing new contracts under the terms being offered by ICE for three facilities. From the Austin Chronicle:

The organizations point to the recent ICE notice of solicitation for three 10-year contracts for federal detention facilities, published on Nov. 21, that is “clearly” tailored to three existing Texas facilities: T. Don Hut­to, the South Texas Detention Com­plex in Pearsall, and the Houston Process­ing Center. In 2019, these three held almost 22% of the average daily population of detainees in the state. All three have records of mistreatment and abuse, including deaths and sexual assault. T. Don Hutto, for instance, has a long history of abuse including multiple sexual assaults by guards since 2010, as the Chronicle has reported, and forced-labor allegations that are currently the subject of litigation. The Houston facility has reported nine deaths since 2003, while the South Texas center is notorious for subjecting immigrants to solitary confinement. “We write with grave concern about both extending the operation of these facilities with long histories of abuse, and the dubious process by which ICE is seeking to acquire these contracts,” the groups write.

Williamson County, where T Don Hutto is located, cancelled its contract with CoreCivic earlier this year – but ICE immediately stepped in to offer a temporary extension. The ten-year deals would cement these companies into the landscape here, even as people are mobilizing to shut them down; which, of course, is the point.

As I said, imagine you live in a democracy. 

USCIS does not want to process your application

“‘This is all very petty and can only be designed to slow down the asylum process, and maybe discourage applicants who do not have representation…seeing this petty bullshit is bad for our blood pressure.”’

This is Michael Smith of the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant in Berkeley, California. The petty bullshit he is speaking of is that latest Trump administration maneuver to make asylum difficult to impossible to get. Remember – we always remind – that asylum is a perfectly legal process. Asylum seekers are not “illegal” immigrants, and under U.S. law, even if they enter the country without inspection at a port of entry, are entitled to request asylum. People who seek asylum in this country come from all over the world, and are often fleeing deadly circumstances. The outcome of their asylum application has life or death consequences.

Enter Trump. From The Guardian:

One man came to America fleeing political persecution in Cuba, only to have his application for asylum rejected because his attorney had not listed a middle name – a middle name he does not have.

Another asylum-seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo had their application rejected, in part, for putting a dash (“–”) in the space to list other names they have gone by – even though they have never gone by any other name.

And a child from El Salvador, who entered the country alone, dutifully listed the names of their two siblings – only to have their application rejected because the form provided space for four names and the child left the two remaining spaces blank.

The entity that oversees asylum applications is U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This is not an enforcement agency – remember asylum is legal. And yet, under “acting” director Ken Cuccinelli, USCIS acts like an enforcement agency. It no longer provides services so much as look for reasons to deny them – and, in the process, deny the people impacted a legal means to stay in the country. 

The petty bullshit intensified weeks ago when USCIS made a minor change to instructions on their website, simply stating that every section of the form must be filled out.  However, as attorneys and their clients are finding out, simply putting in a dash or “N/A” is not sufficient.

For many the change is clearly a brick in Trump’s “invisible wall” – a slew of bureaucratic barriers designed to stymie immigration.

“There were always occasional rejections before,” said Elizabeth Keyes, director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, “but the volume in the past 4-6 weeks is something altogether new.”

“The Trump administration has turned bureaucratic travesties into a feature,” she said.

Tracie Klinke, an attorney in Marietta, Georgia, calls the development “frightening and ridiculous and awful”. Klinke has been filing asylum applications for a decade. “Ten years as a practicing attorney – dashes, blank spaces? They were fine,” she said.

And consequences:

Marina Andrei, a lawyer in Newport Beach, California, had an application rejected over a failure to write “none” in the field for “travel document” – even though she had already listed the clients’ passport numbers on the application, indicating these were the documents they had presented upon arrival, not a “travel document” issued by USCIS. That one was a particularly strong case, she said, involving a family of four.

“They should’ve been interviewed by now. They should’ve had an approval by now,” she said. Instead “they’re just waiting around, afraid to even go outside”.

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Daily Dispatch 12/23/2019: Family separation nightmare is not over

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Daily Dispatch

December 23, 2019

Child in ORR custody – from original Guardian story
Photograph: Gregory Bull/Associated Press

Maria is a young woman from Guatemala. Six-years ago her relatives were killed in a gang attack; all died except for her infant niece, whom she took in and raised as her own child. In 2018 Maria’s partner was murdered in another gang related attack. Maria was shot at as well, but survived. At that point, Maria left Guatemala with her then 5 year-old niece and made her way to the United States to seek asylum. At the border, the girl was taken from Maria – who could not prove she was a legal guardian. Maria was put in a detention center in Arizona where she still waits a year later. The girl, now six years old, is in foster care 2,400 miles away in New York. 

Maria’s case is a common example of how family separation works. The forced removal of children from their parents that was the hallmark of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy was certainly an unusually cruel measure – ultimately suspended by a judge. But the problem of family separation and the removal of children from non-parental relatives is a long standing problem that well predates the Trump administration: 

After a federal judge in 2018 ordered most family separations to end, attorneys have been scrambling to reunite families. There are currently about 5,500 known cases of children separated from parents during the Trump administration. But no one has tracked how many children have been split from non-parent relatives, nor is there a formal mechanism for those families to reunify. (emphasis added)

In January of 2017, the Women’s Refugee Council, KIND and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services issued the report, Betraying Family Values just as Trump was coming into office. The report is a critical look at the practice of separating families and the treatment of children before Trump launched his “zero tolerance”policy, demonstrating that the systemic failure to track, care and even justify family separation, was a long-standing problem. 

From the report:

Government agencies currently have little policy guidance on family unity and separation, and no consistent or comprehensive mechanisms to document family status or trace family members….Although agencies have a process to share data among their respective databases, information relating to family separation is often not transmitted. There is no government entity charged with systematically tracking family separation. Not only is there no systematic coordination between CBP and ICE, there is also no requirement that family separation be documented or justified.

The cruelty embedded in this official indifference is intentional:

As a matter of procedure and policy, border agents routinely separate family members, including intentionally, as a punishment  – or “consequences- through what DHS calls its Consequence Delivery System (CDS). The consequences are meant to deter future migration, often regardless of international protection or other humanitarian concerns.

‘CDS’ was implemented in 2005, and employed by both the Bush and Obama administrations before Trump. For example,

As families fleeing violence in Central America began making headlines in 2014, the Obama Administration implemented an aggressive deterrence policy designed to stop families from seeking protection in the United States. The Administration prioritized all recent border crossers as enforcement priorities and vastly increased the use of expedited removal and detention of mothers arriving with children.

In 2017, the Trump administration was already gearing up for what would become its zero tolerance policy in 2018. As we reported in spring 2018,

In December [2017] a coalition of organizations including the Immigration Justice Campaign, Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, and RAICES, among others, filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security over family separation incidents that appear to have increased dramatically over the second half of 2017. The authors of the report argue, “[f]amily unity is recognized as a fundamental human right, enshrined in both domestic and international law. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the right to family unity is ‘perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by [the Supreme] Court.’”  Despite this fundamental right, reporting organizations, “have noticed an alarming increase in instances of family members who arrived together but were intentionally separated by U.S. immigration officials without a clear or reasonable justification, as a means of punishment and/or deterrence and with few to no mechanisms to locate, contact, or reunite with separated family members.” 

Maria is caught up in this system of family separation that is in some ways decades, if not centuries old, but in its specific current context of “deterrence,” at least 15 years old. Trump’s contribution to this system is to utilize the tools available to him in such an offensively cruel manner that it became newsworthy. Now we all know. 

And yet, nothing has changed. Not for Maria and her niece.

The logistics of how and when María will see her niece again if she is not paroled are unclear. María’s asylum appeal could take up to two years. Sean Wellock, another pro bono attorney representing her, said if María were to lose her appeal, the government would be under no obligation to coordinate a reunion in Guatemala with her niece if they are deported separately.

The girl could lag behind María by days, weeks or months.

Christie Turner-Herbas, an attorney specializing in reunifying migrant families at Kids in Need of Defense, said when a child is deported alone, US government agencies do not always communicate clearly about the child’s travel.

“There have been complications like a child is leaving and we never get any notice,” Turner-Herbas said. “And then we find out, you know, get a panicked call from the family saying that they heard the child is coming in, but they’re not able to get [to the airport] in time.”

Fortunately, Maria has the support of many people who are amplifying her case, and a host family waiting for her and her niece if they are released. There is no reason, at all, to keep Maria incarcerated. However, the fact that she has not been paroled is another feature of Trump’s current war on asylum, in which almost no asylum seekers are being paroled. Trump’s bloated detention numbers are a direct result of this cruel and unjustifiable policy. Over the past few months, from one-fourth to one-third of all people held in ICE detention are asylum seekers who have already established a credible fear of torture or persecution if returned home.

Maria’s is just one of these 12,000 stories.

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Daily Dispatch 12/20/2019: Take Action on Fees, #ShutdownStewart, New TRAC Study on MPP

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Daily Dispatch

December 20, 2019

Take action to stop fee increases!

We posted this action two weeks ago. We are coming to the last few days of comments on a new rule being put forth by the Trump administration that would dramatically raise the fees that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is planning to charge. Even worse – part of the scheme, which may not even be legal – is a plan to redirect $207 million raised from these fees to Immigration and Customs Enforcement over two years – which means fees charged for authorized immigration procedures, will be used to lock people up and/or deport them. 

The comment period was originally scheduled to close on December 16, but has been extended to December 30. You can drop a comment into the form we have created here.

Click here!

If you’d like to read more first – here is our original post. And here is an overview by the National Immigration Law Center.

Stewart’s Tragic History of Abuse

On International Day of the Migrant, Priyanka Bhatt and Azadeh Shahshahani of Project South published a powerful article on the history of ICE’s silence about abuse at the Stewart Detention Center and other facilities they oversee. We joined with other groups in joining onto a letter from Project South demanding an investigation into Stewart’s operations. It is run by the private prison profiteer CoreCivic. Some examples of this history:

In 2014, Stewart reportedly used lockdown and pepper spray on detained immigrants participating in a hunger strike to protest maggots in their food, lack of medical care, due process violations, and other human rights abuses.

Similarly, in 2015, officials at Stewart reportedly “brutally suppress[ed] hunger strikes, work stoppages and other forms of resistance” by attacking “immigrants with rubber bullets and pepper spray. At least one individual required serious medical attention due to the harsh response and excessive use of force.” Immigrants were protesting the meager quality of food at Stewart along with the “long periods of time people are forced to stay in detention without being able to appear before a judge.”

In 2017, ICE fought to obtain a court order to force-feed an immigrant on hunger strike.

In 2018, several immigrants reported that officers retaliated against them by sending them to solitary confinement for threatening to not participate in Stewart’s forced labor program or for filing a grievance or complaint. Two immigrants were sent to solitary confinement after they filed a grievance in 2018 for not getting paid for the work they did as part of the forced labor program. In another instance, one detained immigrant was put in segregation for about two months after “he filed a grievance against an officer for forcing him to work while he was sick.”

Unpacking Remain in Mexico Data

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University released a report this week on the impact of the Migrant Protection Protocol (the “Remain in Mexico” policy) on asylum seekers. Specifically, the report compared outcomes for people seeking asylum who were referred to MPP versus those who were able to process claims from within the United States. Some of the results:

MPP Results in Slightly Longer Wait Times for First Hearing: Court data show that a slightly larger proportion of those assigned to MPP are still waiting for their first hearing, compared to those who were allowed to remain in the U.S. This was true particularly as MPP numbers climbed, because the special courts that have been set up to hear MPP cases apparently struggled to keep up. The latest available court records show that 39 percent of immigrants required to remain in Mexico are still waiting to have their initial Master Calendar hearings compared to 36 percent of those who were allowed to stay in the U.S.

Asylum Seekers in the U.S. are 7 Times More Likely to Have an Attorney: Immigrants who were allowed to wait in the U.S. were over seven times more likely to find an attorney to represent them than those diverted to the MPP program. As TRAC previously examined in a July 2019 report, access to attorneys is extremely limited for those required to remain in Mexico. Representation rates do generally increase over time the longer individuals have to obtain attorneys. So far only 4 percent of immigrants in MPP cases have been able to find representation. In contrast, nearly a third (32%) of those who were allowed to remain in the U.S. have obtained counsel over the same time period.

Without representation, the odds of securing asylum are dismal. Few asylum seekers over the years have been successful in obtaining asylum without an experienced attorney to help them prepare and present their cases.

Most Asylum Seekers Attend Their Hearings Unless Forced to Remain in Mexico: Nine out of ten (89%) immigrants who are allowed to remain in the United States attended every court hearing thus far. The situation is starkly different for immigrants required to stay in Mexico: a startling 50 percent have failed to show up for a hearing, which led to a judge closing the case with an in absentia decision.

The difference in hearing attendance between those who are allowed to remain in the U.S. and those under MPP reflects the challenges asylum seekers face in the border communities where they have been required to remain. Immigrants face kidnapping, rape, and other forms of violence along the border. Further, without a permanent address, there is no mechanism for the Immigration Courts to notify immigrants about the date, time, and location of their hearing. Notices that do reach immigrants may not have accurate or complete information about where and how to cross the border into the U.S. to attend their hearing. Many immigrants without resources to sustain themselves during their wait or who become victims of criminal activity decide to give up their asylum application and either return to the home they fled or try to relocate elsewhere.

TRAC has also created an MPP Web Query tool – which allows researchers to get summary data on individual courts, on the nationality of those seeking asylum, case outcomes and so on. Check it out here.

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Daily Dispatch 12/19/2019: Resistance!

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Daily Dispatch

December 19, 2019

Sanctuary Expands Across the Country

A new report from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center documents the expansion of sanctuary policies over the last three years. From the Introduction:

Since Donald Trump was elected President, his administration has gone out of its way to detain, deport, and terrorize immigrant communities in every way possible. However, while the Trump regime has ruthlessly attacked immigrants, advocates on the ground have successfully resisted by passing local laws and policies that divest local agencies and resources from the immigration enforcement system. Popularly known as sanctuary policies, these laws take many different forms, but generally cut ties between states, counties, or cities and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Localities have no independent legal authority to enforce immigration laws and no legal obligation to provide assistance to ICE. To the contrary, involvement with federal immigration authorities will often undermine local priorities. Local involvement in immigration enforcement makes local agencies the gateway to deportation, increases racial discrimination, strips communities of any sense of safety, and undermines the rule of law. Despite the current administration’s continual scaremongering about immigration and “sanctuary cities”, actual sanctuary policies continue to flourish throughout the country and have helped to welcome and protect our immigrant communities. In fact, since Donald Trump was elected, at least 475 counties (about sixteen percent of all counties in the country) have increased their sanctuary policy protections. (Emphasis added)

The report explains the various tactics that localities have adopted to protect immigrant communities and push back against the administration’s enforcement regime. Important to note that the emphasis in this report is on counties. There is no city level analysis here. A summary of activity documented in the report covers 2960 of the 3140 counties in the United States.

  • „ As of September 2019, at least 715 counties have policies against holding people or ICE on ICE detainers. Federal court decisions continue to pile up against ICE’s detainer regime and in favor of communities that decide to ignore ICE detainers entirely. Nonetheless, the data shows that more than 2000 counties may still be holding people in custody for ICE when they should be released, likely in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
  • „ At least 241 counties have instituted policies limiting ICE agents’ access to interrogate people while in local custody.
  • „ At least 196 counties have decided not to notify ICE every time they release someone for whom ICE has issued a detainer.
  • „ At least 169 counties prohibit officers from asking people their immigration status. This is a basic and essential first step to limit discrimination against immigrants in the criminal legal system. (This is also an extremely common policy at the city level – hundreds, possibly thousands, of police departments across the country direct their officers not to ask about immigration status.)
  • „ At least 176 counties have policies that establish a general prohibition against using local resources to help with immigration enforcement or participate in joint operations with ICE.
  • „ At the other end of the spectrum, a few dozen counties affirmatively contract with ICE: 83 had some form of affirmative agreement to conduct immigration enforcement under the 287(g) program, and 190 had contracts to rent bed space to ICE for immigration detention. The vast majority of counties do not actively partner on immigration enforcement in this manner.

The full report can be read or downloaded here.

Major Lawsuit takes on the “weaponization” of immigration courts

Immigration courts operate in a parallel universe. Though they present as courts, and make potentially life and death decisions, they are not in fact courts in any traditional sense. There is no right to an attorney respected in these courts. Rules of evidence of highly are prejudicial to people who come before the courts seeking release. The people, who are not facing a criminal violation in these spaces, often come in from a jail cell, dressed in orange jumpsuits, and shackled. The have become spaces for intimidation and deterrence, not justice. 

This “weaponization” of the court system is now the subject of a lawsuit being brought by several advocate organizations. From the Southern Poverty Law Center:

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Innovation Law Lab (Law Lab), Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) and Santa Fe Dreamers Project (SFDP) have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the weaponization of the nation’s immigration court system to serve the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.

“Under the leadership of President Trump and the attorney general, the immigration court system has become fixated on the goal of producing deportations, not adjudications,” said Stephen Manning, executive director of Innovation Law Lab. “The system is riddled with policies that undermine the work of legal service providers and set asylum seekers up to lose without a fair hearing of their case.”

The complaint outlines pervasive dysfunction and bias within the immigration court system, including:

    •  Areas that have become known as “asylum-free zones,” where virtually no asylum claims have been granted for the past several years.
    •  The nationwide backlog of pending immigration cases, which has now surpassed 1 million — meaning that thousands of asylum seekers must wait three or four years for a court date.
    • The Enforcement Metrics Policy, implemented last year, which gives judges a personal financial stake in every case they decide and pushes them to deny more cases more quickly.
    •  The “family unit” court docket, which stigmatizes the cases of recently arrived families and rushes their court dates, often giving families inadequate time to find an attorney and prepare for their hearings.

“The immigration courts make life-and-death decisions every day for vulnerable people seeking asylum – people who depend on a functioning court system to protect them from persecution, torture, and death,” said Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. “While prior administrations have turned a blind eye to the dysfunction, the Trump administration has actively weaponized the courts, with devastating results for asylum seekers and the organizations that represent them.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six legal service providers whose work for asylum seekers has been badly impaired as a result of the unjust immigration court system.

For more on the lawsuit check here. Click here for background report, The Attorney General’s Judges: How the U.S. Immigration Courts Became a Deportation Tool.

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Daily Dispatch 12/18/2019: Coalition statement on budget vote

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Daily Dispatch

December 18, 2019

As members of the Defund Hate campaign, coordinated by the Detention Watch Network, we are sharing the coalition statement on the budget vote and what it means for immigrant communities in the United States.

Defund Hate Campaign on Appropriations Bill: Allowing Unchecked Spending by ICE and CBP Will Fuel Further Abuse and Deaths of Immigrants 

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Washington, DC — On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1158 (116), which will allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to continue expanding its detention and deportation force. The bill allows ICE and CBP to continue taking money from other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies and gifts DHS $1.37 billion to continue building deadly border walls. 

Just a few days before the vote, a Buzzfeed report exposed even more abuse immigrants have endured at the hands of ICE and CBP, including a child having part of his forehead removed, four deaths, and medicine being wrongfully administered.

Responding to the bill’s passage, the Defund Hate Campaign, which is made up of 38 organizations comprising directly impacted communities, faith leaders, and civil rights and immigrant rights advocates, released the following statement:

“For over two years, the Defund Hate Campaign has called on members of Congress, and state and local officials, to reject Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda by defunding the agencies that are militarizing, incarcerating, and surveilling our communities. In that time, we have made immense progress in centering the role the appropriations process plays in allowing these unaccountable and dangerous agencies to harm our communities.

In response, members of Congress have become increasingly vocal about the need to include good governance and accountability mechanisms in our federal budget. 75 House representatives, including members of both the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus voted to reject the FY 2020 DHS appropriations bill in order to express their opposition to the legislation’s failure to hold ICE and CBP accountable for their human rights abuses and fiscal mismanagement. 

Last week, 37 members of Congress sent two letters, including one from members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to congressional appropriators requesting that their final bill include language blocking DHS’s ability to transfer or reprogram money between accounts, including from outside of DHS, to fund wall construction or expand ICE detention and enforcement. Our communities’ voices are being heard by some courageous members to whom we are grateful for having joined us to fight for a federal budget that serves the wellbeing of all of us.

Unfortunately, Congress ultimately failed to cut funds for Trump’s mass deportation machine for the next fiscal year, or to place any restrictions on DHS’s or the president’s ability to transfer funds from other agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Administration or the Department of Defense to increase ICE’s and CBP’s funding for detention beds and enforcement. The budget passed this week also failed to defund the Migrant Protections Protocol program, also known as Remain in Mexico, which has trapped more than 50,000 asylum seekers in dangerous conditions in Mexico.

While the bill includes new reporting requirements for DHS and funding for additional oversight by the Office of Inspector General and a new Immigration Detention Ombudsman, as well as reporting language requiring that ICE detention facilities permit members of Congress access for unannounced inspections, the bill contains no enforcement mechanisms for any of these provisions.

By voting for this spending bill, members of Congress have wasted their opportunity to responsibly exercise their power of the purse and prioritize programs that support our communities instead of funding detention and deportation.”

Tara Tidwell Cullen, NIJC, (312) 833-2967, ttidwellcullen@heartlandalliance.org



The #DefundHate campaign, composed of organizations representing directly impacted communities, faith leaders, and civil rights and immigrant rights advocates, is committed to divestment from agencies that tear apart our families and terrorize our communities. For too long, our representatives have said they care about our communities while simultaneously funding aggressive immigration enforcement and deadly immigration jails. They must be held accountable to keep their promises and stand with the immigrant community. We call on our members of Congress to say no and vote against wasting taxpayer dollars on an abusive and deadly immigration enforcement system. Instead, we want our tax dollars used to strengthen our families and communities by investing in education, housing, nutrition and health care programs that provide opportunity and increase well-being.

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Daily Dispatch 12/17/2019: “Compromise” budget enables abuse

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Daily Dispatch

December 17, 2019

We have a budget – and it stinks.

As noted yesterday, House Democrats working with Senate GOP leaders, managed to cobble together a mammoth spending bill – well several bills, but mostly presented as a single package. As we feared, the Department of Homeland Security budget – according to the Associated Press, bundled with the Department of Defense budget by House Dems to ensure passage if some members of the caucus vote no because of wall funding. There is no reduction in the detention budget. And no restrictions on transfer authority – even though the administration has blatantly abused this process. There is a lot one could say about this, but our friends at the National Immigration Law Center have already said it in a press release today. We concur!:

Spending Compromise Hurts Immigrant Communities

WASHINGTON, DC — Ahead of the vote in the House of Representatives on a governmentwide spending bill, Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“The final U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill will ultimately allow this administration to continue to inflict widespread harm on immigrant communities and flagrantly abuse its power right under Congress’s nose. We applaud the work of our Defund Hate coalition partners and members of Congress who fought to ensure that the bill did not concede to more of President Trump’s wish list.

“Unfortunately, because the bill gives the administration continued permission to transfer funds however it chooses, this makes any attempts to set limits on the number of people in detention and the amount of funds spent on a border wall meaningless. While the bill tries to mitigate some of this harm by including important oversight provisions, it ultimately does shamefully little to outweigh the dangers of Congress writing a blank check to DHS.

“The fact that House Democrats are poised to pass articles of impeachment based partially on this president’s abuse of authority makes it even harder to accept that they would consider a DHS spending bill that they know will invite more abuse of authority.

“Congress is meant to serve as a check on government spending — to ensure that the executive and his cabinet don’t misuse funds on pet projects or an agenda that is out of sync with our values. But this deal weakens our system of separate and coequal branches of government and opens up the country’s bank account so that Trump can abuse taxpayer dollars however he likes in order to fulfill his racist agenda — which includes a wasteful and xenophobic border wall and locking up immigrants in horrific detention conditions that have resulted in record numbers of deaths.

“This deal tacitly signals that Congress has conceded to the wall and to locking up record numbers of immigrants. Anyone committed to ending this administration’s abusive policies and practices must vote no on this bill.” (emphasis added).

This is what we are paying for….

The Trump administration has pursued many immigration policies that have been controversial and thus publicly debated. There have also been a number of policies (or their impacts) that have slid beneath the radar. Quartz provides a summary of these policies today. They include:

Social media tracking: In 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its plan to require migrants list their social media accounts on immigration forms. The goal is to monitor and keep records of their social media activity.

Expanded de-naturalization efforts: According to the ACLU (pdf), since 2017, the administration has been investing in a far-reaching denaturalization campaign. The government is investigating naturalized citizens searching for inconsistencies in their applications or activity in their lives that my allow the government to strip them of their citizenship and deport them.

Public Charge rule changes: In a move that will hit low and middle-income immigrants most, the administration expanded the definition of “public charge,” which describes a condition in which immigrants are denied entry because they are likely to require financial support from the government.

Removal of domestic violence as grounds for asylum: In 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that, contrary to international asylum law, migrants who were victims of “private” crimes in their home countries would no longer qualify as refugees in the United States.

“Secret rules” governing credible fear interviews: [Credible fear interviews] are preliminary interviews made to determine whether asylum seekers have a good reason to need asylum in the United States. These interviews are supposed to be conducted by experts. Until July, those experts determined that 97% of asylum applicants had enough standing to start their application (which doesn’t mean they would ultimately be granted asylum). Since July, only 10% have been allowed to start their applications.

To emphasize a point we try to make every chance we can – none – NONE of these rules impact unauthorized immigration. All of these policies target authorized immigration and immigration processes in order to limit the ability of people to enter the United States, or limit their ability to naturalize their citizenship status once here. Once again, Trump is not concerned at all about unauthorized immigration, crime and gangs. He knows this is a chimera. His administration, under the tutelage of people like confirmed white nationalists Stephen Miller (and Bannon before him), are seeking to transform immigration laws in order to limit overall migration to the United States. Be clear about that. The result of shutting down authorized avenues to immigration actually makes it more likely that unauthorized immigration will increase. 

Remain in Mexico

Under the policy the administration calls the Migration Protection Protocol, people seeking asylum at the southern border are forced to wait in Mexico (in some cases returned to Mexico) for a court date with an immigration judge. To date close to 50,000 people have been so ordered.

We have also discussed the quality of the hearings that have taken place in border towns in Texas. Volunteer attorneys working on MPP cases wrote an op-ed in The Hill in October, discussing what a farce these hearings were, as they were clearly “designed to fail.” They noted:

As volunteer attorneys we were allowed to cross the border exclusively in a group during daylight hours. We conducted our work within 100 yards of the border crossing point which makes client confidentiality impossible. In case of cartel violence, we were instructed to drop everything and sprint for the crossing on our group leader’s signal. 

The harms refugees suffer due to our official U.S. government policy of rendering them homeless includes deaths by drowning in the Rio Grande (even while bathing), multiple documented instances of kidnappings within minutes or hours of being returned from the U.S. The toll of surviving on the streets of Mexico is amplified by the due process farce refugees face in post courts.

As tempting as it is, we cannot give in to our exhaustion and cynicism: We must hold this administration accountable for the ongoing illegality that is engulfing the border. It may take decades or longer to repair what we have lost under this administration and there is no time to waste. 

Now, the impact of all of this coming clear. People who go through this entire process, are not getting asylum. Reported this week, only 11 people were granted asylum out 9,500 processed cases!  

The U.S. asylum policy has been dramatically amended this past year; the new Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), colloquially known as Remain in Mexico, instructs asylum seekers with pending immigration court cases to spend the duration of their legal proceedings in Mexico. 

Experts say the policy has made it nearly impossible for Central American immigrants to receive asylum in the U.S. These procedures include “metering” or “turnbacks,” further meant to control and deter immigrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. 

The San-Diego Union Tribune reported that as of September, out of 47,000 people who applied within the MPP, approximately 9,500 completed their cases. Out of that number, 5,085 cases were issued orders of removal while 4,471 cases were dismissed. This leaves 11 cases being granted asylum, amounting to 0.1 percent of all completed cases. 

Designed to fail indeed! And thanks to Congress – Democrats and Republicans – you are paying for it.



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Daily Dispatch 12/16/2019: ‘Tis the season for politics and posturing

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Daily Dispatch

December 16, 2019

The next few days are going to be crazy in Washington, D.C. On Wednesday the House is expected to vote on two articles of impeachment against President Trump. Most likely, Trump will become the third president in U.S. history to be impeached, and like the other two, in a highly partisan vote. It is hard to imagine getting much else done in Congress this week, but impeachment is getting treated like just another vote…

Indeed, this week the House is also expected to vote on the US-Mexico-Canada-Agreement, the re-negotiated NAFTA deal that Trump promised as a candidate. The Democrats were successful in pressing for the inclusion of new provisions that, in theory, would protect labor rights, and thus now seem poised to offer Trump a major political victory the same week they impeach him. The Senate, meanwhile, isn’t rushing the vote on USMCA, and has pushed it back to early next year. 

Amidst all of this, Congress has until Friday to vote on appropriation bills for FY2020, already two months overdue. Doing this at the same time as impeachment means the political calculus of the Dems = not taking more chances. The Dem leadership wants all the spending bills done. That way if Trump decides to veto the package the consequence is a full government shutdown. That said, there is not a single omnibus spending bill – but separate bills, so Trump could still exercise discretion (I never thought I would actually type that phrase) to navigate a partial shutdown.

In any event, in this milieu, word is that a DHS compromise bill was negotiated  – and that it is not very good: e.g., no cuts in funding for the Wall or detention and no restrictions on transfer authority. We can take some solace in the fact that it appears there is no increase in funding either – but without the limits on transfer authority, as we’ve seen, Trump can still spend what he wants. 

Once the final text of the DHS bill is released (probably today) we will update our readers more thoroughly, with suggested actions for those willing to make a call or visit a member of Congress. The chances of getting a better bill, this week, are likely nil. 

Woe to immigrants seeking justice during election season. 

Speaking of the wall….

The Washington Post officially opines today that people are rightly skeptical of the administration’s intentions when it comes to building the wall, given that it doesn’t address the reality of unauthorized immigration (most people overstay visas), won’t impact drug flows (almost all goes through legal ports of entry), and won’t work for anybody else (apparently the material in use for the wall that is being built can be cut through with a cordless power tool). 

Nevertheless, the administration is pressing to complete 500 miles of new wall over the next year (thus far Trump has only succeeded in replacing an old barrier, which already covers about one-third of the border). So, the wall will be a part of the budget battle yet again.

From the editorial:

BEFORE PRESIDENT TRUMP took office, fencing and other barriers stood along 654 miles of the 1,900-mile border with Mexico. The administration has replaced or upgraded a tenth of that existing network — without building much in the way of new walls. Now Mr. Trump is determined to deliver on his signature 2016 campaign promise in time for the 2020 elections. But even as construction begins on parts of the wall, it is unlikely to fundamentally alter illegal border crossings of people or drugs.

Mr. Trump has scaled back his initial promise to build a wall along the entire length of the frontier, saying that 1,000 miles of new barriers should suffice. He is pressing to complete nearly half of that by the end of next year, having deputized his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to ride herd on the project.

This, of course, won’t happen. The Post editorial, though filled with interesting tidbits, does not actually address the question editors placed in the title, “Trump’s border wall wouldn’t stop most illegal immigration or drugs. So what is it for?” Since the Post didn’t answer this question, I’ll give it a shot:

The wall is for political theater. People cheer when Trump talks about it at rallies, so he keeps talking about it. Democrats don’t want to be associated with it, so Trump keeps making them talk about it. The facts, such as they are, about border crossings, drug flows and building materials, ultimately don’t matter in this debate. Not for Trump, at least. 

Border walls are not a uniquely U.S. obsession. As we noted earlier this year, globally there are more border barriers today than when the Berlin wall came down 30 years ago. An observer of the debate in India over building a barrier with Bangladesh noted, “You know, a wall is the best way to do nothing while looking like you’re doing something.” 

Doing nothing (effective) while looking like you are doing something is the mantra of this administration. Why should the wall be any different?

Speaking of Elections…

Joe Biden finally released his immigration plan last week. I’m not sure how to read the timing of this. He is about 6 months past the time when every other candidate with a plan, released theirs. But immigration may yet again be in the headlines in the coming weeks if the budget showdown becomes a partisan shitshow again. So, Biden is ready with talking points.

Biden’s plan can be read in full here. As with every other plan out there, it starts with a discussion of how horrible Trump is (as though immigration policy was tolerable in January of 2017 – Biden might want us to believe this, for obvious reasons, but we know better). That said, Trump is horrible, and most of Biden’s plan is really about a reset to the “status quo ante Trump.” 

Snark aside, this is actually important, because simply resetting asylum law, undoing new visa restrictions and so on, will be a huge battle in and of itself post-Trump. Biden’s plan also includes a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and moves to normalize the status of those people already in the country who are unauthorized. These elements are in every Democrat’s plan.

The one new bit in Biden’s plan is a new visa category that will allow states and localities to decide who gets to come into the country. The idea of having a state-informed visa process more responsive to local needs and job markets is not a terrible idea – and as an idea that is viewed favorably by some Republicans, has a future.  Specifically, his plan…,

Creates a new visa category to allow cities and counties to petition for higher levels of immigrants to support their growth. The disparity in economic growth between U.S. cities, and between rural communities and urban areas, is one of the great imbalances of today’s economy. Some cities and many rural communities struggle with shrinking populations, an erosion of economic opportunity, and local businesses that face unique challenges. Others simply struggle to attract a productive workforce and innovative entrepreneurs. As president, Biden will support a program to allow any county or municipal executive of a large or midsize county or city to petition for additional immigrant visas to support the region’s economic development strategy, provided employers in those regions certify there are available jobs, and that there are no workers to fill them. Holders of these visas would be required to work and reside in the city or county that petitioned for them, and would be subject to the same certification protections as other employment-based immigrants.

Biden is also proposing eliminating country caps and increasing the green card annual limit above the current 140,000. Interestingly, he would also grant visas automatically (not counted against the limit) to any PhD graduate from a U.S. university STEM program. 

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Haiti: A tale of two meetings

People march in Cite Soleil area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti during a protest to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise [Chandan Khanna/AFP]

On Tuesday this week, in Port au Prince and in Washington D.C., people gathered to talk about the crisis in Haiti. In one meeting, demands for restitution and accountability rang out from the voices of activists gathered from around the world. In the other, a mixed message of a need for change in the U.S. position, but no mechanism or real direction for how that should happen. In one meeting, a passionate call for justice and a new social order. In the other, political posturing more attuned to partisan differences in the U.S. than the crisis in Haiti. 

The first convergence was a collection of civil society organizations, mostly with deep roots in organizing for human rights and broader social equity in Haiti – groups that work within Haiti and organizations that partner across borders. This gathering was primarily focused on creating a framework of accountability concerning foreign intervention in Haiti – specifically the 15-year UN occupation of the country. From the People’s Dispatch:

Since December 7, over 100 Haitian and international delegates have been participating in the International Colloquium “Occupation, Sovereignty, Solidarity: Towards a People’s Tribunal on Crimes of the MINUSTAH in Haiti,” to continue on the long road to justice. The colloquium, organized by Platform to Advocate Alternative Development in Haiti (PAPDA), the Office of International Lawyers/ Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (BAI/IJDH) and Haitian Movement of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity (MOLEGHAF), seeks to bring to account the people and structures culpable in the 15 years of UN occupation and the crimes committed by the MINUSTAH.

Participants at the meeting included representatives from organizations in Puerto Rico, who joined in discussions about international debt, and the need for restitution. Representatives from the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina were also present to contribute to the broader discussion on creating a people’s tribunal to document the crimes of the United Nations and other foreign entities.

During the 14 panel discussions and workshops organized as part of the colloquium, international delegates hailing from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, the United States, France, Martinique, Mexico, Nepal, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela, as well as Haitian delegates from over 100 organizations, reaffirmed their bonds of solidarity, shared strategies to ensure justice and expressed their support for the victims and survivors of the atrocious crimes committed by the MINUSTAH. 

This first convergence was thus an act and a statement of solidarity to press for accountability for decades (if not centuries) of foreign intervention in Haiti. Though not strictly speaking a response to the current crisis, there is a clear linkage between that history of intervention and the political and social cleavages evident in the streets of Haiti today as people are still protesting conditions and demanding that president Jovenel Moïse resign.

The second meeting was a U.S. House International Relations subcommittee hearing titled “Haiti on the Brink: Assessing U.S. Policy Toward a Country in Crisis.” Exactly what Haiti is on the brink of was not really clear. Apparently this was the first such hearing in nearly 20 years. When one thinks about all that has happened in Haiti in the last 20 years – and the United States’ deep involvement in much of it, it is telling that this is the first time there was an official public discussion in Congress about U.S. policy since the Clinton administration. Unlike the first convergence discussed, the framework for this meeting was not accountability, certainly not on the part of the U.S. government. The witnesses in the hearing covered the gamut – from representatives of the International Republican Institute to Pierre Esperance of the National Human Rights Defense Network. 

The strongest statement came from Maxine Waters, who emphasized the lack of accountability of the Moïse government regarding the La Salin massacre in November of 2018. 

In April of this year, I led a delegation to Haiti, which met with residents of the Lasalin neighborhood of Haiti’s capital and surrounding areas, who described acts of unconscionable violence that occurred in November of 2018. The Lasalin massacre resulted in the deaths of at least 71 civilians, in addition to the rape of at least 11 women, and the looting of more than 150 homes. Survivors expressed concern that government-connected gangs, working with police officers, carried out the attacks to punish Lasalin for participation in anti-government protests.

The protests in Lasalin – as well as many other anti-government protests throughout Haiti since the summer of 2018 – were sparked by the disappearance of millions of dollars of assistance provided to Haiti by Venezuela under the PetroCaribe program.  Through PetroCaribe, Venezuela sold oil to Haiti and allowed them to defer the payments for up to 25 years and pay a low rate of interest on the debt. Haiti was supposed to sell the oil and use the money to pay for social programs. Instead, at least $2 billion went missing.  That is almost a quarter of Haiti’s total economy for 2017. The corruption in government was confirmed in a report delivered to the Haitian senate by official auditors on May 31, 2019. This corruption occurred under the leadership of Haiti’s current president, Jovenel Moïse , as well as his predecessor, Michel Martelly.  Haitians began demonstrating against this government because they knew that they never saw the benefits of the PetroCaribe program. 

Waters noted that the Trump administration continues to support Moïse and, absent any mention of corruption, is simply pressing for a dialogue with opposition groups – who have thus far refused – as the only strategy on the table. Waters concluded: “The president of Haiti needs to take responsibility for the current political crisis in his country, and the protests will not stop until he does.” 

It is doubtful that much will come from the Congressional hearing. Though it was one of the best attended subcommittee hearings anyone can remember, there seems to be little momentum in Congress to tackle anything substantive regarding Haiti. The administration itself seems to have no plan other than sticking with Moïse and calling for dialogue. In doing so, the United States is basically demonstrating that there is no sympathy for the concerns of those protesting. If this lack of imagination means that the United States stays out of further intervention into this crisis, that is not really a bad thing. However, the Trump administration’s reflexive defense of Moïse is in essence a form of intervention in and of itself. 

At some point Haiti’s destiny will be decided by a group of people sitting at a table trying to reach a compromise about the future. Those people will be driven to that table by events in the streets. But once there, will activism inspire and frame the conversation, or not? If not, there seems to be little hope of real change. Process and participation matter. This week we got a glimpse of that. The official discourse is offering little, and must be opened up to new voices if change is going to happen.

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Daily Dispatch 12/13/2019: Detention conditions and force feeding demand action

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Daily Dispatch

December 13, 2019

Force-feeding in El Paso Processing Center/Petition

Among the stories (there are too many!) we try to keep up with here at the Dispatch is the situation of asylum seekers and other detainees who are protesting their conditions through hunger strikes. Freedom for Immigrants has documented 1,600 cases of people protesting their conditions through hunger strikes at 20 different facilities since 2015. Over the last year there has been an increase in hunger strikes and other forms of protest from within facilities, as detention times continue to increase, humanitarian parole is routinely denied for people seeking asylum, even after they have completed a credible fear interview, and conditions overall decline in these overcrowded and under-resourced facilities (under-resourced as a cost saving/profit generating measure, not lack of budget support). 

One of the fights people face in protesting their condition through hunger strikes is the desire of their captors to force feed them – a practice considered torture. As noted in the release below, force feeding and forced hydration involves 5- 6 men holding a person down, and in the case of force feeding, literally jamming a tube down their throat. This is happening now to detainees protesting their captivity at the El Paso Processing Center. Forced hydration is being done to five men in Jena, Louisiana. Both facilities are privately operated. 

From the Freedom for Immigrants press release:

ICE agents are force-hydrating at least five asylum seekers from India detained at Jena-LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana and force-feeding three men at the El Paso Processing Center in El Paso, Texas. The eight men have been on prolonged hunger strike, some nearing two months without eating. 

One of the three south Asian men currently in the El Paso facility was recently transferred by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from Louisiana where he began his hunger strike. All three men detained in El Paso, including one man who has been detained for nearly three years, are currently being force-fed via naso-gastric tubes. 

The five men in Louisiana are being subjected to forced hydration, which is carried out by a team of five to six people who hold the person down while an IV is administered. Local advocates say forced-hydration began on Nov. 18 and that the men are expected to face force-feeding by naso-gastric tube any day. 

Force-feeding has been denounced as torture by the United Nations, Physicians for Human Rights, the American Medical Association, and the World Medical Association. In the case of all men force-fed this year at El Paso, the size of the feeding tubes used is nearly twice the size of the tubes denounced internationally that were used in Guantanamo. Some of the men hunger striking were deported without a strict re-feeding protocol, a process which according to Physicians for Human Rights can lead to death. 

If you are a medical professional, you can sign onto a petition demanding an end to force feeding in ICE facilities here. 

New Report on Conditions in Florida Detention Sites

The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report this week, Prison by Any Other Name, on conditions in four facilities in southern Florida: Krome Service Processing Center (Krome), owned by ICE; Broward Transitional Center (Broward), operated by GEO Group, a Boca Raton-based for-profit prison corporation; and two county jails, Glades County Detention Center (Glades) and Monroe County Detention Center (Monroe). As of April of this year, Florida detained 2,000 non-citizens – the sixth largest detainee population in the country (by state).

Like many reports before it, the SPLC report finds conditions to be poor across the board. As the title indicates, the findings are that people are being held in prison-like conditions, despite the fact that their incarceration is not a response to criminal activity. I will just note briefly, that Krome has a problematic history, being the longtime site where many Haitian asylum seekers – like asylum seekers today from Central America – were detained throughout their processing rather than paroled. A brief from the introduction of the report, which you can read in full here.

As the report illustrates, ICE fails to ensure that incarcerated individuals are provided adequate health care or that people with disabilities receive the proper accommodations to participate in basic activities like bathing, sleeping, and getting exercise. Moreover, ICE fails to provide effective interpretation for non-English speakers in the Florida facilities, forcing individuals to gesture to explain symptoms to medical and mental health workers. 

“Reasonable accommodations for mobility-impaired people are ignored—for example, individuals are placed in top bunks despite their disabilities,” said Jessica Shulruff Schneider, director of AI Justice’s detention program. “Medical care is also inadequate —chronic medical conditions are not properly treated, with Ibuprofen as a one-size-fits-all treatment for everything from an infected molar to a broken bone.”

Immigrant detention is a system in which noncitizens are incarcerated in prison-like conditions while they wait for an immigration court to decide their cases or for deportation. Conditions are similar to those in prisons even though most detained immigrants have not been charged with a crime.

#DefundHate Action

Next week congress will be making some decisions on funding for the next fiscal year. The two stories above – indeed, almost any story we cover here – indicates that Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol budgets should slashed – not increased. Detention is not the appropriate response to people seeking asylum, and neither is it necessary for most internal removal proceedings. This administration has no interest in changing course – so all we can do is try to force them by cutting budgets for enforcement.

So, here is simple message to send to your congressperson:

  1. Cut ICE’s budget for detention – minimally to the 34,000 recommended by the House budget committee. (We want it cut to “0” but even the Democrats aren’t ready for that – this is a start).  
  2. Make sure the administration’s ability to re-program funds is severely limited, and
  3. If a continuing resolution is passed in lieu of a new budget next week – NO NEW MONEY FOR ICE OR CBP!
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