In a new effort to make legal immigration even more difficult, the Trump administration is looking to close U.S. immigration offices overseas and transfers some of those responsibilities to the State Department.
The Trump administration is seeking to close nearly two dozen U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field offices around the world in a move it estimates would save millions per year. But critics argue the closures will further slow refugee processing, family reunification petitions and military citizenship applications.
USCIS spokeswoman Jessica Collins announced on Tuesday the agency is in “preliminary discussions” to delegate its international responsibilities to the State Department, or to its own personnel in the U.S. In some cases, the workload would be absorbed by U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Such measures may save money (the stated goal) but will ensure that backlogs for processing of visas, family reunification efforts and other normal immigration functions will be further delayed – likely increasing pressure for irregular border crossing.
On February 17, Haitian police arrested seven Blackwater-like security contractors a few blocks from the country’s Central Bank. They claimed to be on a government mission, and had a cache of weapons. Four days later the US “rescued” them. What happened? Read the whole story here.
Together Rising, others, work to reconnect families
During the peak of the family separation crisis last year, hundreds of immigrant parents were deported without their children. Last weekend, 29 parents presented themselves at the border, once again seeking asylum with the hope of be reunited with their children.
In most of the 2,700 cases from when the Trump administration separated families at the border last year, both the parents and children remained in the United States, sometimes held in shelters and detention centers thousands of miles apart. Almost all of those families have now been reunified and are in the process of pursuing their asylum claims.
But the cases of about 430 parents deported without their children were particularly difficult. Often, the government lost track of which child belonged to which parent, and it did not link their immigration cases, sending parents back to Central America without telling them where their children were….
After Trump signed an executive order officially ending the family separation policy on June 20, lawyers launched a legal battle to reunify many of the deported parents and their children in the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit demanding that the government allow 52 parents back into the United States to pursue their asylum claims, which the lawyers argued had been stymied after the parents were separated from their children at the border.
But the government has not responded to that appeal and later said it needed more information about the parents from the ACLU. It remains unclear when, or if, the U.S. government will invite those parents back to the United States to launch new asylum claims.
Saturday evening….29 parents were at the U.S. border with legal advocates, reapplying for asylum and attempting to get back the children that had been taken from them into U.S. custody. At the same time, Glennon Doyle and her nonprofit group Together Rising sent out an email giving more background on how those 29 parents were found and brought together to the border. Two of Together Rising’s board members, Liz Book and Glennon’s sister Amanda Doyle, were there with the families and sending live video updates. Initially, they were told that there was no capacity to process the asylum seekers — but around 8 p.m. Saturday they began allowing all 29 parents and their families to enter…Saturday night’s action at the border was the result of intense, on-the-ground work organized and funded by Together Rising and Al Otro Lado, along with Matthew 25 Southern California, ACLU, Families Belong Together, and clergy partners.
RAICES, in cooperation with Austin-based artists Yocelyn Riojas and Jerry Silguero, will recreate a hielera during South by Southwest this weekend and next. The 8 x 20 foot storage pod turned hielera will be kept at approximately -10 degrees Fahrenheit to recreate what most migrants face after apprehension by ICE agents. Though visitors are not expected to stay the one to three days migrants report they are forced to stay in these rooms, guests will leave with a small taste of what it is like to be immersed in the immigration process as a migrant. Outside the hielera, visitors can observe the community painted mural, “Asylum Is A Human Right,” but only from outside a wire fence placed at a distance from the artwork symbolizing the barriers our immigration system imposes on that internationally-recognized right. Bandanas will be tied to the fence with messages written by any and all who wish to comment on our country’s approach to immigration. RAICES hopes that visitors will feel moved to join us in calling on ICE and CBP to stop the practice of holding migrants in freezing temperatures and inhumane conditions as part of this country’s immigration process. After having experienced it first hand, perhaps guests will feel as we do that this is an unnecessary and cruel practice that must end. The hielera installation can be viewed in a parking lot at 308 Guadalupe St. in Austin at the following times: 12 PM to 6 PM Friday, March 8 11 AM to 2 PM Saturday, March 9 11 AM to 6 PM Friday, March 15 11 AM to 2 PM Saturday, March 16
Southwest Key Founder and Chief Executive Officer Resigns
After decades of making millions from government contracts to detain children, Southwest Key’s founder and CEO is out. From the New York Times:
For months, Juan Sanchez was at the center of the national uproar over family separations at the Mexican border because the nonprofit he founded, Southwest Key Programs, was housing migrant children taken from their parents. On Monday, facing intense scrutiny from his own organization and federal investigations over alleged financial improprieties, he stepped down after 32 years at the helm.
The charity’s chief financial officer, Melody Chung, left last month after a New York Times article outlined allegations of mismanagement and possible malfeasance at the charity.
The Southwest Key shelter in a former Walmart superstore in Brownsville, Tex., known as Casa Padre, became a symbol of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, with immigration advocates likening it to a warehouse for children. But it was also a generator of millions of dollars in federal grants at a nonprofit unusually concerned with its bottom line.
Worth noting that Juan Sanchez leaves under suspicion of financial mismanagement. Decades of documented abuse at facilities, failure to complete background checks, even the temporary suspension of Southwest Key’s Arizona license, was not enough to get him out. Of course, none of these violations actually threatened federal contracts: Money matters. Immigrant kids, not so much.
National Call in Day to block new detention facility near Chicago. Today!
Alert from #CommunitiesNotCages
This evening, the Dwight, IL Village Board will be voting on three proposals presented by Immigration Centers of America (ICA) to build a 1,200 bed detention center just 90 miles south of Chicago. This proposal, which has faced a consistent and public rebuke from the community, as well as, faith, legal, and grassroots organizations from across the state, has moved forward to this final stage. Earlier last month, the Dwight Planning Commission issued a three to two vote to recommend a ‘yes’ vote to the Village Board regarding this ICA proposal.
Late last week, facing pressure from the Mayor, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church cancelled a planned information session regarding the proposal. This move, which shocked community members, is emblematic of the secrecy that ICE detention center agreements are always shrouded in. Given today’s timeline for the vote, it is crucial to flood the phone lines of the Dwight Village Board, who need a majority vote to approve this toxic proposal.
Take 5 minutes today to urge the Dwight Village Board to vote no to ICA’s proposed immigrant jail. Call the members of the Dwight, IL Village Board and urge them to vote no on this destructive proposal.
Step 1: Call Justin Eggenberger, 815-584-0010, and Randy Irvin, 815-474-9795. We believe they are persuadable targets. Additional members of the Village Board to call can be found here.
Step 2: Use the following script as a guide, we encourage you to add an example of why this is important to you:
Hello, my name is [first and last name] and I’m calling to urge you to please vote NO to all proposals presented by Immigration Centers of America to build a detention center in your community. ICA is a company that is no different from ICE’s other private prison contractors and will yield the same results that immigrant detention has created since its inception. The jobs this jail will create are low-wage, non-union jobs. This detention center, like all others, will largely be run on forced labor as people detained are paid at most $1 a day to work and maintain the jail running. Currently, there are seven different lawsuits across the country because of the coerced labor people detained are forced to perform. Lastly, detention centers are deadly, in the past two years, 22 people have died inside of them largely due to the medical negligence and abuses rampant in the immigrant detention system. Dwight needs a sustainable way to thrive as a community, not a jail that will create unstable, low wage jobs, legal liabilities, and carry out extensive human rights abuses. We urge you to vote NO on all ICA proposals. Thank you.”
A Border Energy Corridor?
Turning the border into an energy corridor that would offer employment and many long-term benefits to people on both sides is an interesting idea. This idea draws life from the idea that the ecological features of the border can be re-imagined as shared resources, and that cooperative management of those resources would offer a path to a more peaceful relationship between the United States of America and Mexico. Read more about the idea in Scientific American.
The idea is more than a pipe dream. A consortium of 27 engineers and scientists from a dozen U.S. universities has developed a plan. Last week they delivered it to three U.S. representatives and one senator. “Let’s put the best scientists and engineers together to create a new way to deal with migration, trafficking—and access to water. These are regions of severe drought,” says Luciano Castillo, a professor of energy and power at Purdue University who leads the group. “Water supply is a huge future issue for all the states along the border in both countries.”
The devil is in the details, of course, and no doubt many issues would arise to complicate this scenario. But a different kind of conversation about the border is desperately needed. One that emphasizes both sides of the border and shared benefits would be much better than the current debate about walls and security cameras.
Murder Etc. investigates the murder of Frank Looper, Charles Wakefield’s innocence
On January 31, 1975, Frank Looper and his father, Rufus Looper ,were shot dead in Rufus’s garage. Frank Looper was the head of the narcotics unit in Greenville, South Carolina. The murder was declared an armed robbery gone bad, and shortly afterward Charles Wakefield was accused of the crime. In February of 1976, Wakefield was convicted of the double murder and sentenced to death. In 1978, South Carolina’s death penalty was overturned in federal court and Wakefield’s sentence was commuted to life in prison. Over the next 40 years, he would fight for his freedom, claiming innocence of this crime. In 2010, he was paroled. He is still fighting to clear his name.
Brad Willis is a reporter from Greenville, South Carolina and has been investigating this case for the last 17 years. Last week, he launched a podcast called Murder, etc. in which he details elements of the case through extensive interviews. The first two episodes are already available and you can learn much more by listening to them.
Claudia and Charles
Claudia Whitman, the director of National Capital Crime Assistant Network (NCCAN), was the long-time coordinator of the Quixote Center’s Grassroots Investigation Project (GRIP), during which time she worked with Charles. They remain close. Charles currently serves on the board of directors of NCCAN.
The Quixote Center’s support for Claudia’s work through GRIP was always supplemental to the core support she received from her own network of donors and NCCAN. We are nevertheless happy to see the work carrying forward and hopeful that Charles may one day get the full pardon so many people familiar with the case – including members of Looper’s own family – believe he deserves.
To follow and/or support the work of NCCAN, visit their website here.
Charles Wakefield is now living in North Carolina and, among other pursuits, is an gifted artist. You can visit his website, and view some of his work here.
To keep up with podcast, Murder, etc. visit the site and subscribe through whichever platform you prefer to listen. The podcast itself is free.
The Quixote Center’s Annual Report for 2018 is now available. If you like the work we are doing, please consider a tax-deductible contribution. You can designate funds to a specific program, or put it toward general funds that support all of our work.
When we fight, we win (at least sometimes!): JP Morgan to Cut Ties with Private Prison Companies
JP Morgan has decided to stop financing private prison companies involved in immigration detention. The two largest companies, GEO Group and CoreCivic are deeply reliant on periodic bond issues to finance operations. Both companies are structured as real estate investment trusts, and thus required to deliver the bulk of profits over to shareholders. This leaves the companies in need of regular access to credit to fund activities. Though profitable firms, their operations are also highly dependent on changes in public policy. Geo Group’s share value shifts every time Trump opens his mouth. Which, one might imagine, could scare investors.
Fluctuations in stock prices for GEO Group correlated with policy discussions in 2018
“We will no longer bank the private prison industry,” a company spokesman told Reuters. The decision is a result of the bank’s ongoing evaluations of the costs and benefits of serving different industries, he said.
JPMorgan is one of several banks that have underwritten bonds or syndicated loans for CoreCivic Inc and GEO Group Inc, the two major private prison operators in the United States. In 2018, banks, including Bank of America Corp and Wells Fargo & Co, raised roughly $1.8 billion in debt over three deals for CoreCivic and GEO Group, according to Refinitiv data.
Wells Fargo said in January it was reducing its relationship with the prison industry as part of its “environmental and social risk management” process.
“Our credit exposure to private prison companies has significantly decreased and is expected to continue to decline, and we are not actively marketing to that sector,” Wells Fargo said in its “Business Standards Report” for 2018.
JP Morgan and others have been the target of campaigns trying to cut funding sources to private prison companies for some time. For more information check out Corporate Backers of Hate.
Guardian Investigation of Homestead Facility for Immigrant Teens
The largest detention facility for teenagers is located in Homestead Florida, just outside of Miami. Today, The Guardian has a detailed report on the facility, run by for profit company, Comprehensive Health Services. From the report:
Mixed with the children’s artwork pinned to the walls are notices of procedures for reporting sexual abuse – a reminder of last month’s bombshell claim that thousands of migrant children had been abused in US custody (the programme director insisted there had been no incidents at Homestead in the 12 months it has been open).
There is a strict no-touching rule, meaning that even a child who hugs a sibling could be written up and face disciplinary action. All the children must wake at 6am, seven days a week (lights out is at 10pm), and they are monitored from a central control room 24 hours a day through smart cards they wear on lanyards and that they must scan every time they change location.
They have no access to cellphones or the internet, and personal phone calls, which shelter managers insist are not monitored, are limited to two 10-minute calls a week.
The average length of each child’s stay, during which case workers attempt to locate and vet sponsors, is 58 days – almost three times longer than the 20-day limit for child migrant detention imposed by the 1997 Flores settlement, which Homestead is not obliged to honor because of its designation as a temporary shelter instead of a permanently sited detention facility.
Has the U.S. government been tracking immigration advocates? Apparently, yes
“Source: Leaked Documents Show the U.S. Government Tracking Journalists and Immigration Advocates Through a Secret Database,” by NBC 7 San Diego’s Tom Jones, Mari Payton and Bill Feather: “Documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates show the U.S. government created a secret database of activists, journalists, and social media influencers tied to the migrant caravan and in some cases, placed alerts on their passports. At the end of 2018, roughly 5,000 immigrants from Central America made their way north through Mexico to the United States southern border. The story made international headlines.
“As the migrant caravan reached the San Ysidro Port of Entry in south San Diego County, so did journalists, attorneys, and advocates who were there to work and witness the events unfolding. But in the months that followed, journalists who covered the caravan, as well as those who offered assistance to caravan members, said they felt they had become targets of intense inspections and scrutiny by border officials.” NBC San Diego
Deterrence as an immigration strategy is not only inhumane; it doesn’t work!
Though irregular crossings into the United States are well below peak years during the 1990s, February had the highest number of arrests for illegal entry in a single month in almost 10 years. The arrests are increasingly of family units or unaccompanied children, and the Trump administration’s crackdown at the border is making the situation worse. By restricting access for asylum seekers through regular points of entry, the administration’s policy may be encouraging more people to cross outside of official points, thus leading to the increase in arrests. More detail on the numbers from NPR.
A detail analysis of migration conducted a few years ago documented that deterrence strategies do not work. The primary reason people are fleeing Central America is violence and they will continue to flee as long as the violence continues, whatever is done at the border.
In June last year, the Vera Institute released a report on Operation Streamline that similarly found that prosecutions at the border had no effect on decisions to migrate:
The analysis reported here found no evidence to suggest that Operation Streamline had any impact on migrants’ decisions to enter the United States. Operation Streamline succeeded only in clogging federal courts, eroding due process, and incarcerating tens of thousands of people.
The failure to address the root causes of migration and new policies making it harder for people to cross into the country legally are driving the recent spike in arrests.
Spike in white supremacist propaganda
The Anti-Defamation League released a report documenting a dramatic expansion of white supremacist propaganda last year. The report covers new tactics that try to mainstream messaging in posters and flyers. There has also been an increase in public demonstrations, though they are often organized as “flash mobs” to avoid counter-protests. NPR on Anti-Defamation League Report:
ADL counted 1,187 incidents of propaganda in 2018, up from 421 incidents in 2017. While college campuses remain a primary target, most of that increase occurred off of college campuses, with 868 incidents in 2018, up from 129 the year before. The alt-right also uses banners to promote its message, the ADL said, counting 32 instances of white supremacist banners hung in high-visibility locations such as highway overpasses.
Increased propaganda efforts “allow them to maximize media and online attention, while limiting the risk of individual exposure, negative media coverage, arrests and public backlash,” the ADL wrote.
A second report on Murder and Extremism by the ADL documents an increase in killings by political extremists last year over 2017, documenting that in nearly all of 50 cases of extremist murder in 2018, the perpetrator had a connection to some white supremacist organization. From the executive summary:
In 2018, domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the U.S., a sharp increase from the 37 extremist-related murders documented in 2017, though still lower than the totals for 2015 (70) and 2016 (72). The 50 deaths make 2018 the fourth-deadliest year on record for domestic extremist-related killings since 1970.
The extremist-related murders in 2018 were overwhelmingly linked to right-wing extremists. Every one of the perpetrators had ties to at least one right-wing extremist movement, although one had recently switched to supporting Islamist extremism. White supremacists were responsible for the great majority of the killings, which is typically the case.
Deadly shooting sprees were a major factor in the high death toll. Five of the 17 incidents involved shooting sprees that caused 38 deaths and injured 33 people.
The Nation released an article today on the impact of ICE and DHS’s outdated methods of tracking files and communication on people, who are ultimately held accountable for ICE’s failure. From the article:
Lost files, poor communication, faulty technology, and seemingly endless delays: federal audits show that Mikhail and Bayley’s experiences weren’t unusual for the agency, which spends $300 million per year on paper and has disastrously mismanaged a 13-year effort to go digital—often leaving immigrants to deal with the consequences.
And what used to be a time-sucking, stress-inducing inconvenience is now a question of visa denials and possible deportation: a new USCIS policy automatically initiates removal proceedings for many whose applications are denied, which means minor errors—even the agency’s—can have serious consequences. That’s especially threatening for immigrants who lack legal representation and language skills, or who just don’t know how to navigate a convoluted immigration system that runs on hefty application fees.
Behind the delays and inefficiencies may lie an intentional effort to cause problems for immigrants:
But Michael Jarecki, former chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Chicago chapter, isn’t sure the agency wants things faster or simpler–especially under a government that doesn’t hide its hostility to immigrants. “Part of my cynical response, knowing what we’re going through now in the last year and a half, would be an invisible wall type of thing,” Jarecki said, “where the agency wants to slow things down, and actually is happy to slow things down.”
Amazon “backbone” of ICE data mining operations
Though this report came out in October 2018, it seems relevant to juxtapose ICE’s difficulty with delivering mail, with the billions spent on data storage and processing – and that Amazon is raking in big money as a result. From MIT Technology Review:
In 2017, an Intercept investigation found that ICM pulled together data from an array of federal and private law enforcement entities to create detailed profiles that were then used to track immigrants. That data could include a person’s immigration history, family relationships, personal connections, addresses, phone records, biometric traits, and other information.
All of that data and the algorithms powering ICM are now being migrated to Amazon Web Services (AWS) in their entirety; Palantir pays Amazon approximately $600,000 a month for the use of its servers, according to the report’s authors.
Though the money doesn’t flow directly from ICE to Amazon, the tech giant had the right incentives in place for Palantir to choose AWS. In order for Palantir to secure its contract with the government, ICM had to be hosted on a federally authorized cloud service. An online government database shows that Amazon holds the largest share, 22%, of federal authorizations under the FedRAMP program, which verifies that cloud providers have the necessary security requirements to process, store, and transmit government data. More important, Amazon holds 62% of the highest-level authorizations, usually needed to handle data for law enforcement systems.
Nothing speaks more clearly to the underlying agenda and orientation of our immigration laws than the simple fact that billions are spent on technology to monitor miles of desert, build walls, and track people through government databases, but those same agencies’ software can’t handle a zip code with a dash in it when it comes to processing an immigration claim from someone in the country legally.
“Big Labor” Endorses Protections for Dreamers and TPS Holders
30 labor unions sent a letter to Congress today, asking for a permanent legislative solution that includes a path to citizenship for holders of Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Enforced Departure, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“Dreamers”).
“As labor organizations representing millions of workers in the U.S., we urge you to renew Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations and pass legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives as soon as possible, but no later than the first 100 days of the 116th Congress, to provide permanent protection and a path to citizenship for Dreamers and individuals with TPS or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED)….
…When TPS holders and Dreamers are at risk, all workers are more vulnerable to employer abuses. However, when workers, including TPS holders and Dreamers, have legal status and rights, all workplaces benefit from higher wages, safer workplaces, and the right and ability to form and join a union.”
Immigrant activist detained after helping with film that debuts in Miami this week
ICE has detained an immigration activist, who is now slated to be deported, after he assisted with the making of a film exposing conditions at a for-profit detention facility in Broward County, Florida. From the Miami Herald:
Weeks after a documentary exposing injustices at a South Florida for-profit immigration detention center debuted at a national film festival, Claudio Rojas— the film’s inside source— was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Miramar during his annual visa check-in, records show.
The film, “The Infiltrators,” also will premiere at the Miami Film Festival on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Silverspot Cinema. Rojas was planning to attend.
Records show Rojas remained detained at Krome detention center in South Miami-Dade as of Sunday. His attorneys say he was apprehended Wednesday without cause and is now facing immediate deportation.
“They called Claudio’s name and then three agents just grabbed him,” one of his lawyers, Sandy Pineda, told the Miami Herald over the weekend. “He has no criminal record. They did not allow us any due process, did not allow his attorneys to talk to him and took away his passport. They told us we had nothing to say to him and that his order for arrest came from the higher-ups. It’s grotesque.”
The film was based on an investigation conducted by undocumented youth, who intentionally got themselves detained in order to record conditions inside the facility. Their detentions and the original investigation took place in 2012, while Obama was still president, a reminder that conditions in these facilities have been horrendous for a long time. Trump’s contribution to the horror has been to expand the scale of detentions, and justify them with nationalistic jargon that has contributed to a deeper polarization in society. However, his “success” in doing is based on the precedents set during previous administrations – a fact we mustn’t ever forget because the problems here run deeper than Trump.
TPS for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan Extended until January of 2020
As the result of a lawsuit brought by TPS holders from these four countries, TPS has been extended until at least January of 2020. The extension is automatic – if TPS holders are currently registered, they do not need to re-register, but simply print this notice from the Federal Register. Lawyers with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti had briefed us on this several weeks ago, as it was much anticipated. For more detail you can check our earlier report.
Healthcare crisis in U.S. jails and prisons
There are over 2 million people held in jails and prisons around the country. As the result of a Supreme Court ruling in a 1973 case, they all have a constitutional right to access healthcare. Nevertheless, healthcare is routinely denied or inadequately provided. Writing in The New Yorker, Steve Coll provides a detailed history of healthcare provision in prisons and jails, and breaks down elements of the current crisis.
The rapid expansion of people held behind bars (from 300,000 in 1980 to 2.3 million today), and the trend toward contracting with private companies to deliver healthcare has proved to be a deadly combination. The author examined 1,500 lawsuits brought over a 5-year period against just two companies. The pattern is clear: incentives to cut cost, often by understaffing, lead to inadequate service provision. Prisoners are also rarely afforded the benefit of the doubt by law enforcement officials when claiming illness, and thus may never get to see a healthcare professional at all.
The crisis is more acute in jails, which hold 700,000 people. Most of these folk are awaiting trial – i.e., they have not been convicted of a crime – and simply cannot afford bail. Others are serving shorter incarceration terms. The number of people suffering from mental health problems is extremely high in jails, and many are suffering medical complications as a result of being forced to break addiction to hard drugs. These are well documented, and thus predictable needs, to be served, and yet training and staff resources are lacking. From the report:
According to a study released in 2017 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly half the people held in jails suffer from some kind of mental illness, and more than a quarter have a severe condition, such as bipolar disorder. The same year, the bureau reported that about two-thirds of sentenced jail inmates suffer from drug addiction or dependency; that number was based on data from 2007-09, so it does not take into account the recent catastrophic rise of opioid addiction.
Similar patterns of abuse have been uncovered in immigrant detention facilities.
A report from Human Rights Watch documents many patterns of neglect and denial of health services to people in detention. For profit companies are often at the root of the problem, as 75% of people in detention are held by private companies.See this video for a brief description of some of the issues: