Daily Dispatch 7/11/2019

Congress hears testimony on border detention conditions

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Daily Dispatch

July 11, 2019

Yesterday, the House Oversight Committee heard testimony about the conditions in detention facilities at the border, including testimony from Yazmin Juárez, whose daughter died after 20 days in detention at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Dilley, TX, operated by CoreCivic, a private prison contractor. Some background:

Yazmin Juárez is a young mother of a baby girl who died after falling gravely ill and being neglected by medical staff while in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) custody. Mariee Juarez entered Dilley a healthy, 19-month old baby girl and 20 days later was discharged a gravely ill child with a life-threatening respiratory infection.

Within a week of entering Dilley, Mariee was running a 104-degree fever while suffering from a cough, congestion, diarrhea and vomiting. Yazmin sought medical treatment for Mariee many times as her condition worsened, only to be told to give Mariee ibuprofen, antibiotics, and Vicks Vaporub

The medical staff who discharged her weeks later noted none of these conditions and cleared her for travel without observing Mariee, conducting any kind of examination or taking her vital signs. After being released, Mariee spent six weeks at New Jersey and Philadelphia hospitals where doctors and specialists tried, to no avail, to save Mariee as her lungs collapsed from a respiratory infection.

Yazmin’s testimony detailed treatment at Dilley, as well as three days at a border patrol facility, in the “ice-box.” The full hearing can be viewed below. Yazim’s testimony takes place from minutes 29 to 54 with translation, questions follow. A transcript of her full testimony can be read here. A portion below:

My Mariee had always been a happy, healthy baby. She made the journey from Guatemala without any problems. When we crossed the border and made our claim for asylum, she was the normal, giggly baby she’d always been. We were immediately held in CBP custody for three or four days in a facility known as “la hielera” because it is freezing cold at all times. We were locked in a cage with about 20 other people, including children, and forced to sleep on a concrete floor.

Four days later, we were sent to the ICE detention center in Dilley, Texas. A nurse examined Mariee when we arrived and found her perfectly healthy. At Dilley, we were packed into a room with five other mothers with children, a total of 12 people in our room. I noticed immediately how many sick kids there were – and no effort was made to separate the sick from the healthy. One of the other little boys in our room who was about Mariee’s age had a constant cough, runny nose and was sleepy all the time. His mom tried to bring him to the clinic, but they kept being sent back without getting care. I found out then that the clinic was only open during certain times, so if you were still in line when it was supposed to close, they sent you away without being seen and told you to come back another day.

Within a week at Dilley, it started to happen to Mariee. She got sick – first it was coughing and sneezing. I brought her to the clinic, where I waited in line with many other people in a large room like a gymnasium to get medical care for her. We were able to get in and see a physician’s assistant, who examined Mariee and said she had a respiratory infection. She gave her Tylenol, honey for her cough and told me to follow up in six months.

But the next day, Mariee was worse. She was running a fever over 104 degrees and began having diarrhea and vomiting as well. She wouldn’t eat, and I remember her head felt so hot.

I was terrified so I brought her back to the clinic and waited in line again. This time a different physician assistant told me she had an ear infection and gave her antibiotics, but I know my baby and I knew it was something more serious. I begged them to conduct more exams, but they sent us back to our room and said to come back if Mariee got worse.

A second panel of experts, including human rights advocates followed. Among them, Clara Long from Human Rights Watch submitted testimony, the full transcript of which can be read here. Long was part of a team that inspected border facilities in June. She notes:

Our in-depth interviews with children revealed that the US Border Patrol is holding many children, including some who are much too young to take care of themselves, in jail-like border facilities for weeks at a time without contact with family members, or regular access to showers, clean clothes, toothbrushes, or proper beds. Many were sick. Many, including children as young as 2 or 3, were separated from adult caretakers without any provisions for their care besides that provided by unrelated older children also being held in detention. These conditions are consistent with those Human Rights Watch documented in our February 2018 report, “In the Freezer.” In contrast with the conditions as of February 2018, the harms of CBP detention for children are now compounding over weeks instead of days.

Ronald Vitiello, former head of Customs and Border Protection, and current acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also testified as part of the second panel. His testimony emphasized deterrence as a strategy to discourage people from coming.

On Friday, there will be a full committee hearing on conditions at the border.

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Daily Dispatch 7/10/2019

The judge is your destiny in immigration court

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Daily Dispatch

July 10, 2019

The immigration court system is a unique institution. Indeed, it is not really composed of courts in a traditional sense of the word. There is no right to an attorney, and decisions are made at the sole discretion of a judge. Appeals are possible, but they are often in reference to administrative guidelines, and the Attorney General has the authority to change those guidelines. The whole operation is under the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) – not the federal court system. As a result the Attorney General can issue new rules, hire judges and change the process part of “due process” with near unilateral authority. Importantly, the system is designed to engage in administrative review of civil cases. It is not a criminal court, and the people before the judges are not there facing criminal charges. And yet, the people are often treated as criminals, and judges may engage in punitive decision making. 

There is a backlog of 900,000 cases. A backlog that expanded significantly under Trump’s first AG, Jeff Sessions, who, among other things, restricted the rules under which judges could clear their dockets. In doing so, he set in motion a review of 350,000 cases already taken “off-docket.” Sessions then pushed a quota for clearing cases, 700 a year per judge, that guarantees a failure to treat each case with the attention required.  

Among the more challenging cases judges determine are asylum claims. In fiscal year 2018, the EOIR reviewed 42,200 asylum cases (this number may double in FY 2019) and approved asylum in 35 percent of those cases – the lowest approval rate in 20 years. For Central Americans, the asylum approval rate was even lower than 35 percent: El Salvador, 23.5 percent; Honduras, 21.2 percent; Guatemala, 18.8 percent. The chart above suggests that there is a relationship between the quantity of cases and the denial rate – the higher the number of cases, the higher the denial rate. A trend, that if it continues into this year, will likely see denials increase even more.

Judges operating in this system have too many cases, increasingly arbitrary rule-making behind them, and are operating in a highly politicized environment. What could go wrong? If you are an immigrant seeking asylum, quite a bit. Indeed, whether or not one gets asylum, depends not just on the rules – Trump has made this harder, which explains the overall drop in asylum approvals – but what judge you end up in front of. The difference in asylum approval rates across courts and individual judges is enormous. The judge is “your destiny.”

To get a sense of what this means for people stuck in this system, I strongly encourage folks to read Gabriel Thompson’s article in the July edition of Topic Magazine, “Your Judge is Your Destiny.” Thompson profiles judge Agnelis Reese, who presided over 200 asylum cases over a five year period – and denied every one of them. Though an extreme example, the story gives a strong sense of the arbitrariness that constitutes “due process” in immigrant court proceedings.

In 2008, for example, a Government Accountability Office study found that asylum seekers in Atlanta were 15 times more likely to be denied asylum than in San Francisco, and eight times more likely than in New York City. A follow-up study, in 2016, reported that little had changed. And a 2017 investigation by Reuters, which analyzed more than 370,000 immigration court cases across the country, concluded that whether a person is deported or not “depends largely on who hears the case, and where.” One attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, speaking to the Christian Science Monitor in April, was more blunt: “Your judge is your destiny.”

Thompson’s article does a great job of integrating the stories of people that come before Judge Reese and the work of attorney Homero Lopez, Jr., who represents people in the Pine Prairie detention facility in rural Louisiana who come before Reese’s court, with background information on the court system and detention. One particular case stands out:

“S” explained that he was taken to Karshali prison, in the Eritrean capital of Asmara, where he was beaten daily for six months. Reese asked if he had suffered any other harm. While detained at Pine Prairie, S. had disclosed to a doctor that he had been sexually molested at Karshali. “I’m embarrassed to tell this. It’s very hard for me,” S. told Reese. The court took a break and went off the record. When the hearing resumed, S. explained that two soldiers at Karshali had taken him into a cell and “covered my nose with plastic, and they inserted their genital organ in my mouth.” As they did so, he told Reese, they said, “Where is Jesus to save you?” He said guards did this on three separate occasions, and also inserted a stick into his anus. 

Reese asked if he had ever told anyone about this before revealing it to the doctor at Pine Prairie. “I did not,” he said. “This is very shameful for me to tell.” 

Later, S. said that, despite daily beatings, he refused to convert to Orthodox Christianity. “And every time you said no?” asked Reese.

“Yes, based on Matthew 10:22,” he replied. 

“I didn’t—sir, I’m not asking you to quote scripture,” said Reese.

“Jesus is asking me to talk for him.”

Reese snapped. “And when you lied to the asylum officers or failed to disclose your sexual abuse, what do you think Jesus thought about that?” The judge followed that up with a lengthy diatribe, chastising S. for not revealing the abuse earlier. 

“S” testified that he then spent 12 years at a forced-labor camp near the Sudanese border until he escaped. He didn’t know the name of the prison, only that it was near a military base called Sawa. Reese found his lack of knowledge of the prison’s name implausible, though if she had looked at a map of secret prisons in Eritrea published by Amnesty International, she would have found one at Sawa, which is reported to hold religious prisoners of conscience. Though he continued to refuse to renounce his faith, S. explained he began to pray aloud to various saints, as Orthodox Christians in Eritrea do, instead of directly to Jesus, so as to lessen the attention guards paid him. 

“Well, wasn’t that a lie?” Reese interjected. S. answered that after a good friend died in prison, he had begun to lose hope. 

“Do you know what Corinthians 15 and 54 says?” Reese asked, now asking him to quote scripture. S. apologized to Reese, saying that he didn’t remember. 

“It says to be steadfast and unmovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord. So starting to pray to the saints, which you said you no longer believe in, that doesn’t sound steadfast. Does it?” 

I read the transcript three times. I try to imagine being in S.’s situation, struggling to recall a particular passage of the Bible and then being lectured about my lack of faith. What bearing does such a line of questioning have on an asylum claim? What other purpose does it serve Reese than to assert her dominance over another, in a tiny courtroom with no observers? My thoughts turn to Trump, who has ridiculed asylum seekers, and to former attorney general Jeff Sessions, who has described the asylum system as “subject to rampant abuse and fraud.” Both men would no doubt consider Reese’s record a model for judges across the country. 

Reese denied asylum, saying “S” lacked credibility – which underscores one of the more problematic aspects of judicial authority in these cases. The judge becomes the sole interpreter of credibility, and if a judge has any doubts about one’s story, this can be used to deny asylum. In such a system, where one can hardly stop in the process of fleeing to secure affidavits and documentation about your individual case, one is literally at the whim of a judge’s predisposition to believe, or not. Under the Trump administration the entire edifice of enforcement is based on the argument that people are gaming the system, asylum claims are largely bogus, and harsh treatment is needed to deter people from even trying – and these folks get to pick immigration judges. 

Due process indeed.

Read Thompson’s full article here.

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Daily Dispatch 7/9/2019

Trump’s administration drags us into another week of fear mongering

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Daily Dispatch

July 9, 2019

Three weeks ago, Trump tweeted that “millions” of unauthorized immigrants were going to be rounded up and deported. Within a few days it became clear that ICE was planning a major enforcement operation targeting 2,000 people, mostly families that had been issued final removal orders and may (or may not) still be in the country. By the end of that week Trump announced that the enforcement action had been delayed for two weeks and that unless Congress acted to change asylum laws, “deportations begin.” 

Two weeks later and Trump is saying the operation will begin “soon.” Cuccinelli, acting head of U.S. Immigrant and Citizenship Services, not ICE, was on Face the Nation to defend the plan. Cuccinelli claimed that 1 million people have been issued final removal orders and are still in the country. All can be deported – though he admitted most would not be. The 1 million people are the “pool” of people who will be targeted. How many people will be deported, he would not say. 

The talk of mass raids has spread fear in many communities – this fear ultimately being the point of the whole exercise. As many as 7,000 people a month are already deported as the result of internal removal operations (distinct from border deportations). Those operations continue. By throwing around numbers like a million or more immigrants being targeted, the administration is trying to scare people. Trump’s spokespeople are clear about this. Acting head of ICE, Mark Morgan, described the proposed operation as a “powerful message of deterrence” to those who might seek to come to the United States. 

CBS News ran a story today about the impact of the threatened operation in Langley Park, Maryland. From the story:

Nick Katz and his Langley Park-based immigrant advocacy group CASA have been making sure local immigrants are aware of their rights and are operating a hotline for people to report ICE activity. He stressed, however, that it’s important for them not to amplify the panic he believes the administration is looking to instill in immigrant communities.

“That’s what they want,” said Katz, an attorney who is the senior manager of CASA’s legal services. “They want people to be afraid to go to the grocery story. They want people to self deport. They want immigrants to essentially be afraid to engage in the basic activities of life in this country.”

Still, he said the danger for many immigrant families is real. 

“ICE is out there breaking up families every day. And I have no doubt that these raids, there’s definitely a danger they will move forward, and we’ll see a period of time when even more people are picked up. So, there are real consequences for families,” he said.

Companies profiting from immigrant detention, losing funding sources

Following the disclosure of inhumane conditions in detention facilities along the U.S. border in recent weeks (and years of disclosures, previously ignored), Congress will hold hearings on Friday about detention facilities. Heads of Border Patrol and Homeland Security are expected to testify, as well as members of the attorney delegation whose report on conditions in the Border Patrol’s Clint, Texas facility sparked much of the latest outrage.

Amid the increasing criticism of the conditions in facilities, SunTrust became the latest bank to announce they would no longer provide funding to private prison companies profiting from immigrant detention. Though Border Patrol detention facilities are not operated by private prison companies, nearly three-fourths of those people held by Immigrant and Customs Enforcement are in privately managed and/or owned facilities, CoreCivic and GeoGroup being the largest companies involved. Over the last year, numerous funders have announced they are cutting ties with these companies:

SunTrust did not specify what prompted its move, though its decision followed an online petition drive from various activist groups opposing the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies.

Bank of America staked out a similar position last month, just days after Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced her plans for banning private prisons. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. made similar commitments earlier this year.

“Following an ongoing and deliberate process, SunTrust has decided not to provide future financing to companies that manage private prisons and immigration holding facilities,” SunTrust said in a prepared statement. “This decision was made after extensive consideration of the views of our stakeholders on this deeply complex issue.”

The Geo Group’s stock price has taken a hit with every announcement – but seems to bounce back. It is capitalism, after all, someone will float their operations. But if all the bad publicity is increasing their cost of borrowing, and ultimately making it harder for them to profit, that is good news.

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Daily Dispatch 7/8/2019

We hold these truths to be self-evident…

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Daily Dispatch

July 8, 2019


On July 4th, Donald Trump stood before the Lincoln Monument, surrounded by U.S. American flags, and reflecting on the “inalienable” (or “unalienable” if you are a Constitutional stickler; it could have gone either way) rights this country, according to popular mythology, was founded to defend. In response to this display, we should also focus our attention to the more than 100,000 people trapped in cages and prison camps as a result of the immigration policies of this administration. There are 16,000 people held in border facilities designed for a third of this capacity. There are 53,000 people languishing in Immigration and Custom Enforcement detention centers inside the United States, and 14,000 children incarcerated in old Wal-Marts and tent cities placed on military bases by the Department of Health and Human Services. There are more than 10,000 people detained by the U.S. Marshall Service awaiting trial for the misdemeanor charge of “irregular entry” and the 15,000 or more sitting in federal prison having been convicted of the same. This administration, decries the lack of funds to provide adequately for the people it has chosen to detain, but finds the money to block the streets of Washington, D.C. with Abram tanks and the skies with flyovers of Air Force and Navy planes. 

Nothing could be more perfect.

Perfect, that is, as revelation of the hypocrisy that pervades the halls of power in this country. This reflexive equating of support for the military with patriotism must, to survive, deny the consequence of what U.S. militarism actually means to millions of people around the world. Including many of those 100,000 currently incarcerated for fleeing the violence we helped foment. Far from defending U.S. “values,” the military must institutionally devalue life to do its job. A rather obvious consequence of this violence is driving people from their homes. Around the globe, 70 million people are either internally displaced or have been forced across a border as refugees from war. We’d be hard pressed to find a single conflict in which the United States has not been involved at some level.  The greatest refugee crises are directly tied to U.S. policy and allegiances (Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan).

The United States will allow fewer than 22,000 refugees into the country this year, which is, frankly, pathetic. And though the United States receives the most asylum requests of any country at the moment, from day one of his administration, Trump has sought to make it harder and harder for people to actually get asylum. Here I can only echo Nils Melzer’s words:

Have we shrunk so far from our own humanity that we can no longer recognize theirs? Or are we simply too comfortable to recognize that much of our own prosperity grows on the ashes of other peoples’ lives, on the swamps of inhumane working conditions, on the blood spilt by conflicts fought with our weapons, on the smoldering remnants of an environment destroyed by our extractive companies? After we have exploited their labor, ransacked their environment, colluded with their dictators and fueled conflict that turned their lands into battlefields – are we really surprised they come knocking on our doors saying they would rather live at our place now?

Of course, it may be that this lack of care for the lives of others outside our borders expresses some fundamental U.S. value. How else could we stand in the rain and cheer as an F-22 flies overhead? For many U.S. Americans there is no cognitive dissonance created by waving a flag and shouting “USA, USA” next to a tank, while also screaming at immigrants to “go home,” even if U.S. forces and/or surrogates have already set their home on fire.  

Is it really that hard to figure out that this destruction is exactly what people are fleeing? Indeed, perhaps the most progressive immigration policy we could advocate for is cutting the Pentagon’s insane $718 billion budget request for FY2020, and slashing government licensing for private weapon sales around the globe, which at $55.7 billion last year made the U.S. government the single greatest merchant of death on the planet. It is worth noting that total private weapon sales, combining U.S. foreign military sales with direct sales from U.S. companies to foreign entities, actually topped an unbelievable $136 billion last year. 

It would seem that the profits of pain are never-ending. Companies in the United States profit from the dropping of bombs around the globe, and when people dislocated by that violence seek shelter here, more companies line up to profit from their detention and transport on everything from food and health services to $15 phone calls. The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are, in reality, alienated, resting as they do on the reality of deprivation and denial of the most basic human aspiration to simply live in peace. The July 4th celebration on the national mall this year was a clear reminder that the “ideals” of this country’s founding are still an unrealized dream, with the weight of a bumper sticker on the back of an Abrams tank. Pretending otherwise simply extends the nightmare.

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Daily Dispatch 7/3/2019

Crimes against humanity? Yes.

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Daily Dispatch

July 3, 2019

Screenshot from OIG Report on Conditions

On International Human Rights Day last year, Prof. Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, penned an op-ed titled, The Worst Cruelty is Our Indifference. Melzer dedicated a large portion of this piece to the treatment of migrants:

Today, I am particularly concerned about the unspeakable suffering of people on the move, those millions of women, men and children who have left their homes to seek safety and opportunity elsewhere, but who all too often get trapped in border-zones, detention centers, deserts or at sea, exposed not only to deliberate abuse, but also to the worst cruelty of all: our own indifference.

We know these people are exploited by smugglers, traffickers and corrupt officials, we know they are being tortured, raped, enslaved, and butchered for their organs. We know they have nowhere else to go. And yet, no one feels responsible. Instead, we erect physical and mental barriers, we think and speak of hostile invasion and send the military to defend our borders. But today I ask: against whom? Against this ragtag “army” of emaciated bodies, carrying their belongings in plastic bags and babies in their arms?

Have we shrunk so far from our own humanity that we can no longer recognize theirs? Or are we simply too comfortable to recognize that much of our own prosperity grows on the ashes of other peoples’ lives, on the swamps of inhumane working conditions, on the blood spilt by conflicts fought with our weapons, on the smoldering remnants of an environment destroyed by our extractive companies? After we have exploited their labor, ransacked their environment, colluded with their dictators and fueled conflict that turned their lands into battlefields – are we really surprised they come knocking on our doors saying they would rather live at our place now?

Last year, Melzer’s office wrote an extensive report on the treatment of migrants and the emerging practices of states that amount to torture or ill-treatment. We reviewed this report in light of specific practices in the United States related to detention, which you can read here. Melzer’s statement upon release of the report concluded with, “Moreover, State officials or private citizens must be aware that their personal involvement in shaping, promoting and implementing policies and practices which expose migrants to torture or ill-treatment may amount to complicity or other participation in crimes against humanity or war crimes.”  

In recent weeks the situation of people in detention at the border has received increasing attention in the media. Members of Congress have visited facilities, and yesterday the Department of Homeland Security’s, Office of Inspector General released a report on conditions in five border facilities operated by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). You can read the full report here, a summary from Associated Press of key findings include:

The report details several potential violations of federal law or Border Patrol standards:

— Two facilities inspected had not provided children access to hot meals until the week that auditors arrived. Some adults were only receiving bologna sandwiches, causing constipation and in some cases requiring medical attention.

— Of 2,669 children detained by the Border Patrol in the region, 826, or 31 percent, had been held there longer than 72 hours. More than 50 children under the age of seven were waiting to be moved to long-term facilities, some of them for more than two weeks. In one photo, women and children appeared to be sleeping on the ground under Mylar blankets.

— Many adults hadn’t showered despite having been held for as long as a month. Some were being given wet wipes to clean themselves.

The report also detailed “security incidents” at multiple facilities, including one case in which detained migrants refused to re-enter their cell after it had been cleaned. People detained have also in some cases clogged toilets with their Mylar blankets and socks in order to be let out of the cells.

Conditions at the Clint, Texas CBP facility emerged last week in a separate exposé from the Associated Press, based on interviews with attorneys who were inspecting the facility to evaluate compliance with the Flores Settlement Agreement, which details the treatment of children held in detention. 

Meanwhile, the situation of people seeking asylum in the United States, who have been sent back to Mexico as part of Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, is deteriorating quickly. Human Rights Watch released a report yesterday based on dozens of interviews with asylum seekers who have been returned to Mexico to await an asylum hearing. From the executive summary of the report:

Among those asylum seekers Human Rights Watch interviewed and those interviewed by a local advocacy organization, several reported attacks on themselves or others in the town, including violent assaults, sexual violence, and kidnapping. A US government screening process to remove people from the MPP program who face harm in Mexico is allowing less than 1 percent of returned asylum seekers to exit the program and pursue their claims within the United States.

Meanwhile, asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico have no meaningful access to due process. Immigration attorneys and advocates in El Paso, Texas, told Human Rights Watch the need for legal services for returned asylum seekers in Mexico is overwhelming and that attorneys working to provide low-cost or free representation face serious barriers to providing that representation, including returned asylum seekers’ lack of fixed addresses and telephone numbers.

Human Rights Watch also confirmed reports that US Border Patrol agents have routinely refused or failed to return asylum seekers’ personal identification documents. Without identification, asylum seekers face difficulties proving the custody of their children or receiving money wired by family members. They may also be barred from travel, meaning they cannot freely seek asylum elsewhere or return home in cases of extenuating circumstances.

The Migrant Protection Protocols program is separating families, including people who are the primary caretakers of children, siblings, and parents. The separations can wreak severe psychological harm and split shared claims for protection across US jurisdictions, adding to the already hefty immigration court backlog.

The US should immediately cease returning asylum seekers to Mexico and instead ensure them access to humanitarian support, safety, and due process in asylum proceedings. Congress should urgently act to prohibit using government funds to continue this program. The US should manage asylum-seeker arrivals through a genuine humanitarian response that includes fair determinations of an asylum seeker’s eligibility to remain or not in the US. The US should simultaneously pursue longer-term efforts to address the root causes of forced displacement in Central America.

Everyday the Trump administration is engaged in crimes against humanity, and not just on the battlefields in Afghanistan and indiscriminate bombings in Syria. It is happening on our border with Mexico with the treatment of people seeking asylum and in detention centers scattered across our country, where people are held for indeterminate amounts of time, under well documented, abusive conditions.

The conditions, we keep reminding people, are not new. Indeed, if there were an actual trial for crimes against humanity concerning the treatment of migrants Clinton, Bush and Obama would be there too. But Trump’s brash rhetoric, unapologetic celebration of cruelty and expanded use of the worst institutionalized techniques he inherited, all to drum up political support, has made this a particularly dangerous time. Trump’s presidency is in some ways a legacy of past indifference, a time when immigrant communities and advocates mobilized and educated, protested and demanded change, to be received with inaction from political leaders. Those times are changing, we hope. Certainly the voices are multiplying.

Yesterday, people around the country protested these conditions in the streets and in congressional offices. Here, at least, for the moment, “our indifference” is giving way to action. The question is, will the political leadership in this country listen? Will they end the practice of immigrant incarceration, which as we documented last week, impacts at least 100,000 people on any given day? Until they do, they are complicit in crimes against humanity.

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Daily Dispatch 7/2/2019

Take Action Against Immigrant Incarceration

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Daily Dispatch

July 2, 2019

The conditions of immigrants being held in detention has reached the presidential race and the Democratic primary in particular. Last week 12 of the 20 candidates that were in the democratic debate in Miami visited the child detention facility in Homestead, Florida for photo ops and speeches. In Clint, Texas members of Congress visited the Border Patrol station where the conditions that children are being held in made national news a week and a half ago following an Associated Press story built on interviews with attorneys that had inspected the facility. The attention given to conditions in detention facilities is heartening because it creates the space for changes to be made in the system. But will candidates seek to make those changes? Will Congress pursue reform? As we know, last week the Democratic leadership in the House agreed to an emergency spending bill crafted in the Senate that gave more money to Trump for detention and was stripped of oversight conditions that had been a part of the original House bill. In a week where the public consciousness about conditions is this high, I have to wonder about the political calculation to cave into GOP demands.

Behind the spectacle, however, is the ongoing efforts of national organizations and countless local groups that have been doing the hard work of documenting conditions for years. Through visitation programs, raising bail funds, and seeking out sponsors for immigrants so that they can leave detention, organizations around the country have been creating an ecosystem of support for people in detention and working for their release. This work is vital. It provides for immediate relief for some of the people incarcerated and creates a framework for re-imagining a country without mass detention, one where community release becomes the norm. 

Freedom for Immigrants, for example, manages a National Bond Fund.  From their website,

A person is eligible for our bond program if they: 

  • are a recent asylum seeker, who has been persecuted in their home country and detained by ICE within three months of entering the country; OR
  • have been held in prolonged immigration detention for a minimum of 6 months; OR
  • have been living in the country for over 10 years with a strong community presence; AND
  • have been granted a bond by ICE or an immigration judge in California or Louisiana

Freedom for Immigrants is also involved in placing people with sponsoring families, which they refer to as an Alternative Accompaniment Program. Family placement is a huge need for people trying to get out of detention who otherwise have few contacts in the United States. Other groups doing this work include Stand Up for Racial Justice, which mobilized its network to find volunteer host families in response to the large immigrant caravan last year and continues to maintain a list of supporting organizations here.

Confronting the ICE detention system at the structural level involves many organizations who are doing work to confront those profiting from immigrant incarceration. For a great background article on these efforts, and the companies involved, see David Dayen’s article “Below the Surface of ICE: The Corporations Profiting From Immigrant Detention” from In These Times.

For local actions confronting companies, you can also visit No Business with ICE’s website.

Detention Watch Network (of which the Quixote Center is a member) maintains a lot of resources on their website, and is also involved in multiple campaigns, like #DefundHate – an effort to go after the Trump administration’s enforcement budget. And #CommunitiesNotCages, which is a grassroots campaign seeking to block expansion of detention centers into new areas.

So we are glad candidates are talking about detention, but the real work is being done by grassroots organizations around the country. These are just a few examples. You can look for more information on our Local Action Map.

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Daily Dispatch 7/1/2019

Take action for immigrant human rights

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Daily Dispatch

July 1, 2019

The situation of immigrants, particularly those on the U.S./Mexico border seeking asylum, has gained increasing attention. The situation of children held by Border Patrol in Clint, Texas, Trump threatening mass deportations, and the recent death of a father and his daughter from El Salvador, who drowned in the Rio Grande last week, have put a spotlight on the inhumane practices of the current administration. This week we are focusing on actions people can take to get involved in the movement to change immigration policy and offer solidarity and support to immigrant communities and asylum seekers.

Yes! Magazine offers a comprehensive list of “20 Ways You Can Help Immigrants Now.” There are a lot of ideas here for you to consider – actions you can take directly, or more powerfully, things you can encourage friends, families, and organizations you may be a part of to do that can make a difference.

The first item on the list is taking part in demonstrations. If you are looking for a way to get involved in this way, there are several national mobilizations happening tomorrow, July 2, to get involved in.


#CloseTheCamps: While members of Congress are in their home offices this week for the July 4th recess, MoveOn is coordinating demonstrations at their offices. From their website:

Children denied soap and toothbrushes, crowded into unsafe conditions. Separated from their families, subject to cruel treatment that leads to lasting traumas. And some dying in custody—or dying with parents as they cross the Rio Grande.

We’ve seen the images and heard the stories coming out of child detention centers. Horrifically, these conditions aren’t an accident. They are the byproduct of an intentional strategy by the Trump administration to terrorize immigrant communities and criminalize immigration—from imprisoning children in inhumane conditions to threatening widespread raids to break up families to covering up reports of immigrants dying in U.S. custody and abuses by ICE and CBP agents.

It’s going to take all of us to close the camps. 

This Tuesday, July 2, while members of Congress are home for the Fourth of July holiday, we will gather at their local offices in protest. Our demands:

Close the Camps

Not One Dollar for Family Detention
 and Deportation

Bear Witness and Reunite Families

Will you join a local Close the Camps protest near you this Tuesday, July 2? Find an event or start your own, and bring everyone you know. Can’t attend or host an event? Text CAMPS to 668366 to continue taking action to #CloseTheCamps.

To find a local demonstrations or register one, visit the website here.

Rally to Protect Immigrant Children
(for those in the Washington D.C. area)

WHAT: Are you outraged at the recent reports of abuses and deaths of immigrant children detained in President Trump’s camps and looking for a way to fight back?  Come join us at our Rally to Protect Immigrant Children where we will demand that this administration provide safe and sanitary housing and care for all immigrants detained by DHS, respect the Flores Decree, and stop the devastating family separations.  Come out and make your voice heard in defense of immigrants’ rights. These children need all of us to act. We must not remain silent.

WHEN: Tuesday, July 2nd from 10:00 am to 11:00 am

WHERE: 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004 (Outside U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

For more information, please contact novaintern@justice4all.org

Organized by: Centreville Immigration Forum (CIF), International Mayan League, Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), and Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO).

The reality of “Remain in Mexico” Policy

The Washington Office on Latin America has produced some valuable information on the “Remain in Mexico” policy implemented by the Trump administration, as well as the impact of Mexico’s crack down on immigrants… You can review their Q&A about the U.S./Mexico Agreement here. Some useful background info on the Remain in Mexico policy.

Under the program, informally known as “Remain in Mexico”, migrants who present themselves at official ports of entry, or who are apprehended between the ports of entry and seek asylum in the United States, may be returned to Mexico while they await the adjudication of their asylum cases in U.S. immigration courts. To date, CBP has only returned asylum seekers to three ports of entry: Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, and Mexicali.

Since the launch of the program on January 25, 2019, more than 11,000 migrants seeking asylum in the United States have been returned to Mexico. U.S. officials state that with the expansion, they expect to return an additional 1,000 asylum seekers per day. At that rate, it would take just over three months to send 100,000 migrants—essentially, homeless, unemployed, vulnerable people, including some non-Spanish speakers—into Mexico’s beleaguered border towns.

Such numbers would utterly overwhelm those border towns, which are already under extreme strain due to resource shortages, security crises, and the “metering system” implemented by U.S. border officials that has drastically limited the number of asylum seekers permitted to access the U.S. ports of entry each day.

That system is currently forcing about 19,000 asylum-seekers to wait weeks or months on the Mexican side of the border for an appointment with U.S. officials. Local migrant shelters run by private, usually church-based charities are currently housing double, sometimes triple, the number of migrants their facilities are built to support. Add 1,000 more per day, and the unconscionable spectacle of refugee encampments in Mexican border cities cannot be far off.

This morning the Guardian ran a great article that illustrates what this policy means for people stuck in border towns waiting for their number to be called so they can cross into the United States and apply for asylum.

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Daily Dispatch 6/28/2019

Over 100,000 immigrants are in detention right now

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Daily Dispatch

June 28, 2019

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (53,000 detained)

If you read almost any story on immigration that references the number of people being detained, what you see is that we have passed 53,000 people currently detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in recent weeks. This is a 40 percent increase above the 38,000 daily average at the end of the Obama administration – which was, at the time, the highest daily average on record. From October 2017 to September 2018, there were 396,448 people booked into ICE detention facilities – a number that will increase significantly during the current fiscal year. Of these detainees, 242,778 people were transferred to ICE from Customs and Border Protection. The remaining detainees were arrested during internal ICE enforcement actions – which happen all over the country.

Changes in daily average of detentions 1994-2018

As alarming as these numbers are, this is only part of the story of immigrant detention. In reality there are 100,000 immigrants currently being detained on any given day in different parts of the federal enforcement system. Media reporting on detention and federal enforcement should account for this.

Customs and Border Protection (16,000 detained)

The Border Patrol apprehends – and then detains for some period of time – hundreds of thousands of people each year. From October 2018 to May 31, 2019 the number of apprehensions was 598,714, a near 50 percent increase over the total from last fiscal year (404,142 arrests from October 2017 to September 2018). Almost all of these apprehensions (593,507) were along the U.S./Mexico border. 

Once people are arrested they are detained while a determination is made about what happens next to them. Many adults and families will be transferred to ICE Custody. Children will wait transfer to Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). In some cases, people may be released with an immigration court date, or they may be referred for prosecution for illegal entry, and end up in a federal prison. If from Mexico, they may simply be sent back across the border. Under the new Migrant Protection Protocols, Central Americans and others seeking asylum at the border may also be sent back into Mexico to wait.

According to Vox, the daily average of people being detained by Border Patrol reached 15,000 over the last two months, and is currently at 16,000. This is well above the norm, and far exceeds capacity; though the number has reached as high as 18,000 in recent weeks. 

Conditions in Border Patrol facilities have been notoriously bad for years.  When you see the pictures of children in mylar blankets shivering on the floor – that’s a border patrol detention area. These conditions have existed for years, but with the family separation crisis of last year, much more attention has been put on holding areas and child detention in general.

Earlier this week we reported on the situation of the children detained in Clint, Texas and the fallout from the scandal. The Atlantic ran an extensive interview with Warren Binford, one of the attorneys who toured the Clint facility. She noted:

Children described to us that they’ve been there for three weeks or longer. And so, immediately from that population that we were trying to triage, they were filthy dirty, there was mucus on their shirts, the shirts were dirty. We saw breast milk on the shirts. There was food on the shirts, and the pants as well. They told us that they were hungry. They told us that some of them had not showered or had not showered until the day or two days before we arrived. Many of them described that they only brushed their teeth once. This facility knew last week that we were coming. The government knew three weeks ago that we were coming.

Tragically, these conditions are not unique to Clint.

All of this is made worse by overcrowding today. The Clint facility was holding 300 children, and had a capacity for 104. The situation of children in particular has moved people, but adults are detained in horrible conditions as well. Indeed, it was just a few weeks ago that people were being held in cages beneath a bridge in El Paso by Border Patrol.

Office of Refugee Resettlement (14,000 detained)

There are close to 14,000 children detained by ORR right now. Children are supposed to be held in the least restrictive – least “prison-like” – environment possible. Increasingly, however, they are being held in large facilities that look more like prison camps. Nearly 3,000 are being held in one “temporary” camp in Homestand, Florida, with another camp opening soon at Ft. Sill in Oklahoma with capacity to hold 1,600. Among “shelters,” facilities run the gamut from converted Wal-Marts run by Southwest Key that hold hundreds of children, to small shelters holding dozens. ORR shelters are run by a variety of vendors, typically non-profits, Southwest Key being the largest. Private companies also run some facilities, as the large camp in Homestead. Half the children held by ORR are in Texas facilities.

ORR detention is supposed to be a temporary transition to a placement with family members or community sponsors.  The average length of stay in FY 2018 was 60 days for the 49,100 children referred to ORR. Though ORR celebrates its transparency and accountability, the reality is very different.

The bulk of contracts for caring for children go to entities that have violations. A joint report from Reveal and the Texas Tribune last year offers some perspective on this:

Since 2014, 13 organizations that faced serious allegations or citations shared the $1.5 billion total – nearly half of what the federal government spent to house immigrant children in that time.

Records reviewed indicate only two cases in which the agency terminated an agreement with one of the 13 shelter providers. One occurred after state regulators cited a Texas company, International Educational Services, with more than 100 deficiencies at its nine operations, including inappropriate sexual contact between staff and children, harsh punishment and lapses in medical care.

In February the New York Times reported that 4,500 children had come forward with complaints of sexual abuse to federal authorities while held in detention over a four year period. Given their situation, language barriers and uncertain immigration status, this is certainly grossly under-reported.

Federal Bureau of Prisons (13,000 detained)
U.S. Marshall Service (10,600 detained)

Under Federal Law (USC 1325) it is a misdemeanor to cross the border between points of entry, “illegal entry.” It is a felony to cross a second time (USC 1326), “illegal re-entry.” The rate of prosecution for these offenses, which went largely unenforced for years, increased under President Bush, and then again under President Obama as part of the program “Operation Streamline.” 

The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy led to another spike in prosecutions for illegal entry and illegal re-entry over the last year. In April of 2019, for example, there were 9,035 federal prosecutions on immigration charges – 65 percent of these were illegal entry prosecutions, 28.8 percent were illegal re-entry. This represents a 60 percent increase over April of last year. The bulk of these cases are handled in Federal Magistrate courts, which take up misdemeanor and other lower level crime charges. Of cases transferred to District Courts, the bulk were for illegal re-entry. Almost 100 percent of all immigration cases are referred by the Department of Homeland Security (either ICE or CBP).

People awaiting trial on these charges are held in federal prisons. This dynamic was at the heart of the family separation crisis last year, as children cannot be held in prison when their parents are referred for prosecution. The law and this problem predate Trump. Family separation as a result of Operation Streamline prosecutions was a significant issue for Bush and more so Obama. None of these systemic problems has been dealt with. 

The exact number of people detained in federal prison on any given day while waiting prosecution for USC 1325 or USC 1326 is difficult to find. However, the Prison Policy Initiative’s latest report on mass incarceration estimates that on any day (based on 2018 numbers), 10,600 people are held pretrial by the U.S. Marshall service, and another 13,000 are serving time for convictions of immigration related offenses – over 90 percent on entry or re-entry charges. These numbers have almost certainly gone up.

What to do?

The breadth of immigrant detention in this country is staggering. Large scale reform of immigration policy is required to transform this system into a process that treats immigrants humanely. Such reform is a long way off in the halls of government. But what can be done is to get involved in groups that are providing support and solidarity for people in detention.

Check resources and campaigns at Detention Watch Network.

On the border, RAICES is one of the leading organizations providing legal services to immigrants. There are a host of volunteer opportunities with RAICES and educational materials to engage with.

Get involved in one of the campaigns working to shut down ICE. For a comprehensive summary of ICE contractual relationships and campaigns targeting companies profiting from detention, see the In These Times Report,Below the Surface: The Corporations Profiting from Immigrant Detention.”

For a list of local groups involved in providing support, and other databases that direct people to services and volunteer opportunities, see our Local Action Map.

For groups providing support and solidarity actions in Honduras and Guatemala, where so many people are coming from, see Rights Action and the Alliance for Global Justice. In El Salvador, CISPES

The Quixote Center works in Nicaragua and Haiti – making a donation to support our international programs is another way to help.

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Daily Dispatch 6/27/2019

When home is in flames: 10 years since the coup in Honduras

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Daily Dispatch

June 27, 2019

Today marks ten years since the president of Honduras, Mel Zelaya, was forced from his home by the military and flown out of the country. Zelaya came to office as a centrist, even overseeing the implementation of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (negotiated by his predecessor), but over the course of his term became increasingly outspoken about the situation of the country’s most impoverished citizens, many trapped in battles with foreign corporations seeking to exploit natural resources and the country’s people. Zelaya supported conducting a popular referendum on the question of re-writing the country’s constitution to give more voice to the majority long excluded from the halls of power by an oligarchy composed of large landowners and business leaders. The referendum would never happen – initially blocked by a stacked court, the coup d’etat happened the day the referendum was scheduled to go forward anyway.

Over the next several months, the Obama administration drifted from an initial stated opposition to the coup, to full support for its consolidation in farcical elections. The absurdity of the administration’s position is captured best by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself:

Now, I didn’t like the way it looked or the way they did it, but they had a very strong argument that they had followed the Constitution and the legal precedents. And as you know, they really undercut their argument by spiriting him out of the country in his pajamas, where they sent, you know, the military to, you know, take him out of his bed and get him out of the country. 

Yeah, the optics sucked, but other than the military coup part – it wasn’t really a coup…?

In the ten years since, Honduras has experienced an extraordinary spike in political violence, as U.S. supported military and police units have engaged in widespread repression of democracy activists. Ten years ago, the United States government helped consolidate a brutally repressive government – a regime that is, as we write, cracking down on government activists and allowing murder with impunity. Obama and now Trump have stood by this regime, financed it, absurdly defended its human rights record as “making progress,” and have excused the most obvious electoral farces imaginable.

And when people fleeing this environment come here, we lock them up and take their children. Our president openly mocks them. And now, we are working to make the journey even more dangerous by pressuring Mexico to block their way.

The United States government did this – set their home on fire and continues to push them back into the flames as they try to flee.

Warsan Shire – Home

no one leaves home unless 
home is the mouth of a shark.
you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.
your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body, you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one would leave home unless home chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.
it’s not something you ever thought about doing, and so when you did –
you carried the anthem under your breath, waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that you would not be going back.
you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days and nights in the stomach of a truck unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.
no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of
the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten, stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side with go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage –
look what they’ve done to their own countries, what will they do to ours?
the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow than rubble, than your child’s body
in pieces – for now, forget about pride your survival is more important.

i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind, even if it was human.
no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying leave, run now, i don’t know what i’ve become.

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Daily Dispatch 6/26/2019

Passport Children?: Mark Morgan is Clueless

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Daily Dispatch

June 26, 2019

Yesterday we wrote about the Border Patrol detention facility in Clint, Texas where nearly 300 children were being detained in horrible, unsanitary conditions. As we reported, most of the children have been moved from the facility this week – some to another Border Patrol detention facility with an equally bad track record.

The fall out from the Associated Press story last week that made the conditions public is ongoing. In the sphere of public debate, the question of whether or not these facilities are engaging in de facto torture against children has been taken up. On our blog today, Lauren Jones addresses this debate, from the perspective of a mother. She writes, in response to Meghan McCain’s statements, “The point is, Meghan, that children are suffering. They need to be returned to their parents. The behavior and zero-tolerance immigration policy of this administration is deplorable, and something needs to be done about it today.”

Last year we wrote an extensive report on how detention, as practiced in the United States, violates Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The United States is a signatory to the Covenant. 

Other fall out from the episode is the resignation of the acting head of the Border Patrol, John Sanders. He is expected to be replaced by acting head of Immigration and Custom Enforcement, Mark Morgan. Morgan is yet another hardliner, and like Trump’s choice for Border Czar, Thomas Homan, another transfer from Obama’s immigration enforcement team. 

Defending Trump’s planned (not planned?) raids targeting immigrant families, Morgan said in an interview with the PBS Newshour: “If you come here with a child, that’s a passport in the United States…Nothing happens to you. That’s a slippery slope, and no integrity in the system, and the rule of law is being eroded if we don’t apply consequences.”

Morgan might not have seen the news in the last twenty-four hours and the what is now a viral photograph (we won’t share here) of a father and daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande. The family was from El Salvador. The father, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, had taken his two-year old daughter, Valeria, across the river. He then got back in the water to help his wife across, but his daughter, fearful of being left, jumped back into the river. When he went to save her, they were both caught up in the current. Their bodies were found a hundred yards downstream the next morning, the daughter secured in her father’s shirt, with her arm around his neck. The family had decided to cross the river after visiting an immigration office in Tamaulipas, Mexico and were apparently turned away.

The number of people who died trying to cross the border, most in the desert, was officially 283 last year. The number of people who die is, however, grossly undercounted as remains often go undiscovered in the desert near the border for years, if found at all. These deaths are a direct result of public policy.

We wrote about this in May, following up on an Intercept report on Scott Warren’s trial (a border volunteer arrested for helping migrants in the desert in Arizona).  From the earlier article, and pull quote from the Intercept…

The number of people who die crossing the border has increased dramatically since 2000. And it is important to make clear that this is the result of an intentional policy, “prevention through deterrence,” enacted by the Clinton administration in 1994. The program sought to block irregular border crossing through adjacent urban areas on the U.S./Mexico border by constructing barriers and forcing people into the desert. From the Intercept:

Prevention through deterrence was meant to act in conjunction with the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA would bring prosperity to the working Mexican, prevention through deterrence would make the dash across the border too big of a gamble, and illegal crossings would go down. Migration flows did indeed move away from cities once the policy was implemented, but the “hostile terrain” could not disperse the ineluctable forces that drive human beings to move. That’s when the dying began.

Experts can only guess at the true number of lives lost over the last two decades. At a minimum, more than 7,000 people have perished, though the true total is guaranteed to be higher. During the 1990s, the Office of the Pima County Medical Examiner dealt with an average of 12 migrant deaths annually. Over an 18-year period beginning in 2000, once prevention through deterrence was humming along, that number rose to 155 per year. According to the medical examiner’s office, 2,943 sets of human remains have been found in southern Arizona from 2000 to the present; a death toll nearly double Ajo’s summer population.

Donald Trump’s policy of forcing asylum seekers to remain in Mexico, the Orwellian titled “Migrant Protection Protocols,” is making things worse. People unable to cross the border through regular ports of entry and apply for asylum are increasingly using irregular crossings to get through and make their asylum claims from inside the United States. Most border arrests involving families are, in fact, people turning themselves in voluntarily to Border Patrol agents to request asylum. Trump has expanded these protocols across the entire southern border as part of this deal (not deal?) with Mexico announced two weeks ago – and has been sending Central American asylum seekers back across the border to wait for their interview with U.S. immigration authorities. 

Of course, if families in fact make it across the border, they risk being separated, their kids shoved into some horrible detention facility where babies urinate on the floor for lack of diapers, the food consists of microwave burritos, and physical and sexual abuse is endemic.

So, yes, Mark Morgan is full of shit. How could anyone say bringing a child is a “passport” for entry into the United States given the history of incarceration, family separation and death that has met families at the U.S. border? Being this out of touch makes him a perfect addition to the Trump team – and, yeah, thanks Obama for giving this guy a job in the first place. 

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