Daily Dispatch 9/10/2019: Detention and mass incarceration in Louisiana

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Daily Dispatch

September 10, 2019

LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, LA

Louisiana is quickly becoming ground zero in Trump’s effort to expand detention capacity – mostly behind the back of congressional budgetary oversight (not that Republicans seem to mind). In the last year, Louisiana went from having two ICE detention facilities to having eleven! It is an incredible expansion and accounts for almost half of the increase of the daily average of people held in ICE detention over the last year – from 45,000 by the end of last year, to the current 55,000. Louisiana detention facilities now incarcerate 6,500 detainees making it the second largest detention site after Texas. From Mother Jones:

ICE had the capacity to detain only about 2,000 people in Louisiana and Mississippi at the start of Donald Trump’s presidency. But contracts signed with private prison companies in the past year have pushed ICE’s capacity in those states above 10,000 people. The horrifying conditions uncovered by Mother Jones at the Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana and by The Nation at Adams County helped push Barack Obama’s Justice Department to move to end its use of private prisons. Since June, ICE has started sending asylum seekers to both of those prisons.

Sadly, the expansion in Louisiana seems to be partially driven by the success of criminal justice reform measures that led to rewriting sentencing guidelines in the state. The new guidelines were part of an effort to cut incarceration rates (and the cost of incarceration). Not too long ago, Louisiana had the highest incarceration rate of any state in the United States. In 2014 Louisiana’s incarceration stood at 816 per 100,000 – one of the highest in the world. The fiscal impact was significant. From a Pew study on the reform effort:

These high levels of imprisonment came at great cost to Louisiana taxpayers. In fiscal year 2017, lawmakers appropriated $625 million for adult corrections—the state’s third-largest expenditure behind education and health care. The consequences of these high costs can be best understood by comparing Louisiana with other states. For example, had Louisiana’s 2014 imprisonment rate been the same as Oklahoma’s—the nation’s second-most-imprisoned state—Louisiana would have spent roughly $49 million less annually.

In 2015, Louisiana’s legislature put together a task force to study the situation and come up with solutions, with the “modest goal of no longer having the highest incarceration rate in the country.” The task force found a host of problems, from much higher average prison sentences for non-violent offenses than other states to jury rules that allowed convictions based on the votes of only 10 of 12 jurors. On the other side of the process, there was a marked failure of reentry efforts – as many people left prison in debt to the state, and, with a felony record had a very difficult time securing employment to pay off these restitution debts. Recidivism was predictably very high.

In June of 2017 Governor Edwards signed into law ten bills that were the result of the task force’s work:

The measures steer people convicted of less serious crimes away from prison, strengthen incarceration alternatives, reduce prison terms for those who can be safely supervised in the community, and remove barriers to re-entry. Over 10 years, the reforms are projected to reduce the prison and community supervision populations by 10 and 12 percent, respectively. Lawmakers also committed to reinvest 70 percent of the estimated $262 million savings in local programs that reduce reoffending and support crime victims.

A year later, in June of 2018, Louisiana no longer had the highest incarceration rate in the country – at 712 per 100,000 it fell below Oklahoma’s rate of 719 per 100,000. Both are still well above the national average of incarceration. But in Louisiana this reflected a 7.4 percent fall in the number of people behind bars and $12.2 million in savings in one year. Great news. Right?

However, for the people on the other side of the budget equation – those who receive funds to incarcerate human beings – savings for the state means a decline in revenue for them. So, it seems there has been an intersection of interests between private contractors and local law enforcement in need to revenue replacement as state incarceration rates in Louisiana decline, and the Trump administration’s quest to detain more and more people. From the Times-Picayune back in May:

“It seemed that Louisiana was ready to move away from its dependence on mass incarceration through its efforts at justice reinvestment,” said Jamila Johnson, a senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s disheartening to see that it continues to rely heavily on it through its switch to the mass incarceration of civil detainees.”

This year, ICE began using River Correctional Center (500 beds), Jackson Parish Correctional Center (1,000 beds) and Richwood Correctional Center (1,000 beds) to house detainees, said Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman.

Johnson said these efforts began in September after the agency contracted with Bossier Medium Security Facility in Bossier Parish to house up to 240 detainees.

The largest facilities in Louisiana are privately run. Pine Prairie Processing Center and LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena are both operated by the GEO Group, and have been the sites of demonstrations against conditions in recent weeks. 

A specific case that has gained attention in the last few days is that of Yoel Alonso Leal, a Cuban asylum seeker who has been shuffled back and forth between Louisiana and Mississippi detention facilities while awaiting his asylum case. Yoel has lost his most recent appeal and is facing deportation at any time now. Yoel did everything by the law – he presented himself at a port of entry and declared asylum. He was put into detention immediately anyway, where he has been for 11 months. Yoel is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the New Orleans ICE office and the illegal detention of asylum seekers. Yesterday, 10 people protesting Yoel’s pending deportation were arrested in New Orleans.

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Daily Dispatch 9/9/2019: Visa required to flee storm devastation? Yeah…

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Daily Dispatch

September 9, 2019

GREAT ABACO, BAHAMAS – SEPTEMBER 5: Aerial view of damage after Hurricane Dorian passed through on September 5, 2019 in Great Abaco Island, Bahamas. Hurricane Dorian hit the island chain as a category 5 storm battering them for two days before moving north. (Photo by Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)

Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas last week hard – leaving at least 43 people dead and displacing tens of thousands more. In the wake of the storm, many people are trying to get off the islands – especially Grand Bahama and Abaco which were hit very hard – Abaco may have lost as much as 60 percent of its housing. But where to go? For many, the obvious choice is Florida, which is nearby and there is regular plane and ferry services. However, to enter the United States from the Bahamas requires a visa – and thus far, the Trump administration has not waived this requirement. Which means, anyone seeking to come to the United States must first make their way to Nassau to obtain a visa at the U.S. consulate there.

Confusion about this requirement – as well as good ol’ profiteering in times of crisis – has led to some pretty horrible outcomes. Over the weekend one ferry company forced over 100 people off their ship because the passengers did not have a proper visa for entry into the United States. Customs and Border Patrol’s office in Florida stressed that this decision was made by the company. CBP told the ferry company that the passengers would have to go to Nassau first, and once that was done, all – or almost all – of the people would be allowed in. Apparently the company did not want to be bothered with the extra leg of the trip.

That said, there is increasing pressure on the administration to waive the visa requirement. People would still be processed at ports of entry, passports stamped and so on. But skipping the extra step of requiring a visa would ease the process considerably. As a point of reference, if you are from the United States you can travel almost anywhere in the world without a visa. You simply get an entry card or stamp that denotes your approved time. That’s all people ask for. There is not a request for Temporary Protected Status or other deferred action for people from the Bahamas already here.

With Republicans Marco Rubio and Rick Scott pushing the issue, there may be some action on this front. It would be a fairly simple and clearly more humane approach.

Study of asylum seeking families shows more problems with detention

Last week, the San Diego based U.S. Immigration Policy Center released a report about conditions facing asylum seekers at the border. The report was based on a survey of intake forms at shelters run by the San Diego Rapid Response Network and focused primarily on the experiences of families.  The lead author, Tom K. Wong, offered a summary view of the report in an Op-ed in the LA Times:

In a report released last week, we found that approximately 35% of the asylum-seeking heads of households we studied reported problems related to conditions in immigration detention, treatment in immigration detention, or medical issues. This finding is alarming since it’s very likely an underestimate, because the SDRRN was focused on providing needed services to the asylum-seeking families, not administering questionnaires. Moreover, abuses or problems in detention may be underreported by asylum seekers who are afraid that raising complaints may negatively affect their asylum case.

The summary from the full report offers some important insights on conditions in detention. Though the report does not specify, the conditions noted here would be in border detention facilities run by Customs and Border Protection. 

  • For the asylum-seeking heads of households, the average length of time spent in immigration detention was 3.4 days.
  • 8.3 percent of the asylum-seeking heads of households reported spending 5 days or more in immigration detention.
  • Over 1 out of every 3, or 34.7 percent, of the asylum-seeking heads of households reported issues related to conditions in immigration detention, treatment in detention, or medical issues.
  • Conditions in detention:

○ Among those who reported issues in immigration detention, 61.8 percent reported issues related to food and water, including being fed frozen or spoiled food, not having enough to eat, not being given formula for infants, not being given water, and having to drink dirty water, among others.

○ Among those who reported issues in immigration detention, 34.5 percent reported issues related to hygiene, including not being able to shower, dirty bathrooms, and not having a toothbrush or toothpaste to brush their teeth, among others.

○ Among those who reported issues in immigration detention, 45.6 percent reported issues related to not being able to sleep, overcrowded conditions, confinement, and the temperature being too cold in La Hielera.

  • Treatment in detention:

○ 232 asylum-seeking heads of households reported verbal abuse, including being told “go back to your fucking country” and “you’re an ape,” among other examples.

○ 40 asylum-seeking heads of households reported physical abuse, including being thrown against a wall, among other examples.

○ 18 asylum-seeking heads of households reported having their physical property taken, including their passports and travel documents, among other examples.

○ 577 asylum-seeking heads of households reported other issues related to their treatment.

  • Last, 10.9 percent of the asylum-seeking heads of households that the SDRRN has assisted reported medical issues in immigration detention.

The full report can be read here. Professor Wong’s op-ed discussing the report is here

One of the impacts of Trump’s effort to get around the Flores settlement agreement would be extended detention for families. For example, instead of being released to family or community sponsors, most of the families in this report would be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to wait out their asylum process while in custody. Because the Flores settlement agreement includes provision for regular inspection, conditions in these facilities have come to light. If the Flores settlement agreement is bypassed in favor of Trump’s new executive order, such regular, independent, investigations would not happen. 

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Daily Dispatch 9/6/2019: Amateur Hour in D.C.

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Daily Dispatch

September 6, 2019

Unconfirmed, acting head of USCIS Ken Cuccinelli. Image/The Hill

James Fallow has an interesting thought piece in the Atlantic this week about what life might look like if the (U.S.) American empire were to collapse. The answer is that things might come out okay. Indeed, the collapse of the western Roman Empire set in motion a period of localized innovation that established the foundation of the modern age. The Dark Ages were not really so bad.

I’m still pondering all of that. However, a passage from the article really stood out to me, and though not about immigration policy or criminal justice issues specifically, it could be:

At the national level, “policy work is increasingly being done by people with no training in it, and who don’t care about it, because they’re drawn into national politics purely as culture warriors,” I was told by Philip Zelikow, of the University of Virginia, who worked as a national-security official for both Presidents Bush. “There’s a fiction that mass politics is about policy.” The reality, he said, is that national-level politics has become an exercise in cultural signaling—“who you like, who you hate, which side you’re on”—rather than about actual governance.

Today we look at a couple of examples of the impact of turning immigration policy over to people with no experience and no interest in actually governing. Has governing become the practice of virtue signaling to a political base rather than problem solving? It sure seems that way.

More Turnover at USCIS

The head of the asylum office at U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services, John Lafferty, was forced out – demoted to another post – by acting head of USCIS Ken Cuccinelli this week. Lafferty oversaw the work of 500 asylum officers. According to the Washington Post, Lafferty’s demotion was done under pressure from Stephen Miller, who is the chief architect of Trump’s hardline immigration policies.  

For years, Miller and others in the administration have argued the officers who screen migrants seeking safe refuge are often too sympathetic during initial screening interviews and too credulous while evaluating their stories of persecution and hardship. Tightening the asylum process has been a priority for the White House, which argues the humanitarian program is being abused by a flood of Central American migrants filing meritless claims to gain easy entry to the United States.

A pilot program launched this year with Miller’s backing has trained Border Patrol agents to conduct screening interviews in place of asylum officers, with the assumption that they will take a more skeptical and adversarial approach.

Earlier this year the union that represents asylum officers sued in federal court to block the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

Lafferty’s replacement will be Andrew Davidson who currently runs the USCIS’ fraud detection unit. Davidson is also a career officer, but the symbolism of this transfer tells us much about Trump’s view of the asylum process. 

Another Look at Remain in Mexico

(Video from Washington Post. To view, click on the post link to our website.)

Interview with Human Rights First Attorney

The Atlantic ran an interview with immigration attorney Hardy Vieux who directs the legal team at Human Rights First. The interview is framed around the impact of threatened changes to the Flores Settlement Agreement – which Trump has sought to sideline through an executive order that would in effect replace Flores. The executive order goes into effect mid-October if the courts agree. There are also 19 states seeking to block the rule changes in various lawsuits. 

The interview provides an interesting look at what attorneys are telling clients and the challenges they face at the moment. You can read the full interview here. A particularly important theme throughout:

I would certainly make the argument that there is a lot to be said for comprehensive immigration reform. But what the Trump administration is doing is, one, legislating by fiat. They’re arrogating onto themselves rights that Congress did not give them. And, second, the rule of law be damned. A lot of the policies that we’re seeing from this administration have nothing to do with respecting people’s rights. It’s simply seeking to marginalize and demonize. And it’s marginalizing and demonizing in a way that we think is really destructive to the norms that we’ve respected in this country, which is to embrace those who are fleeing something far worse in their homeland, and to give them a process by which they could lawfully make their case and stay here.

ICE’s main tool for tracking people in detention doesn’t really work

ICE is currently detaining 54,744 people as of August 24. This is just a few hundred less than the record number of detentions set two weeks before when ICE hit 55,000 detainees for the first time. When people are incarcerated by ICE, it can be extremely difficult for family, friends, and even attorneys to find them, and then keep track of them. ICE is notorious for moving people around and failing to inform anyone on the outside what has happened. Given the number of people incarcerated by ICE, failing to keep track of their movement in custody is a crisis of enormous proportion.

The primary way to track someone in ICE custody is the agency’s Online Detainee Locator System. Only it doesn’t work…at least not well. The Sun Foundation published a report this week based on analysis of the Detainee Locator System. What they found is not heartening. 

The Online Detainee Locator System (ODLS), run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is a vital lifeline for detained immigrants and their families. When it functions well, it’s often the best way to find where immigrants detained for immigration matters — those facing deportation for various violations or challenging decisions by immigration authorities — are being held. But the system is slow to update, and its basic structure leaves it vulnerable to data entry mishaps and other technical glitches, attorneys and others who spoke with the Web Integrity Project (WIP) say.

“Sometimes the issue is that the locator just won’t load, and I can’t even input any information to find someone,” says Leah Barr, an attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, recounting a common experience with the locator. “And sometimes people aren’t showing up in the locator who actually are in custody. Everything loads, and it tells me ‘no results found.’”

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Daily Dispatch 9/5/2019: Separate and Unequal Justice

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Daily Dispatch

September 5, 2019

Insurrection at Willacy CAR/Image: Fusion

Most people are unaware that there is a network of prisons – all privately operated under contract with the Department of Justice – that only incarcerate non-citizens convicted of federal crime. The people in these prisons are almost all facing deportation, but under U.S. law, must complete their sentence first. The very fact that they will be deported at the end of their prison sentence alleviates these prisons of most requirements to provide rehabilitative services to the prisoners. They will not be released into the United States, the argument goes, so their rehabilitation is not our concern. Which is to say, the federal government has created a parallel prison system for non-citizens that is inferior by almost any measure. Practices that would appear to be clear violations of the constitutional requirement of equal protection are allowed to continue because the courts in this country give deference to prison administration over practices within prisons, and also give deference to the executive branch over immigration policy.

The existence of these prisons is slowly coming into public consciousness. Over the last five years there have been several investigative pieces about them (see list of resources at end of this article), and this past March (2019) the Harvard Law Review published the first legal analysis of these institutions, written by Emma Kaufman, currently a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. Kaufman’s article is the primary focus of this dispatch. You can read the full text here – and I encourage everyone interested in the topic to do so. I can only hit a few points in this review. 

Kaufman’s article begins with a historical overview of the intersections of federal incarceration and immigration policy. It is a sobering reminder that what we fashionably call “crimmigration” now has been the de facto framework of the U.S. government since at least 1875. Indeed, the history of the institutionalization of federal incarceration is deeply intertwined with an obsessive focus on the “criminal alien” throughout our country’s history. Sadly, what has accompanied this focus on criminality is the casting of suspicion over all who would migrate here – using criminality as a rhetorical attack on all immigrants. What Trump is doing now, in short, has been done throughout our history – and it is very important for people to come to grips with that.

In relationship to federal incarceration specifically, Kaufman’s article does a good job of examining how federal incarceration grew alongside immigrant detention. Indeed, law enforcement was generally viewed as an authority and responsibility of state and local governments, not the federal government. To this day, the number of people in federal incarceration is a small portion of overall incarceration – less than 10 percent. From Kaufman (p.1389-90):

This national effort to document the prison population coincided with the birth of federal immigration law. For the first century of American history, immigration was regulated by states. With the exception of the Alien Friends Law of 1798, a short-lived statute that authorized the President to deport any noncitizen “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States,” there were no federal laws restricting immigration or authorizing deportation before the end of the Civil War. That changed when Congress passed the first federal immigration statute — a law intended to bar the entry of Chinese women — in 1875. Sixteen years later, as immigration from southern and eastern Europe increased, Congress enacted the first federal deportation law, which authorized removal of people “likely to become a public charge” and those convicted of felonies or crimes of “moral turpitude” before entering the United States.

The federal government then began to build an immigration control apparatus. In 1891, a year before Ellis Island opened, Congress created the office of the Superintendent of Immigration, the first federal immi- gration enforcement agency. Congress authorized the purchase of land for the first federal prisons the same year. Both projects grew quickly in scope and ambition. By the early 1900s, there were three federal prisons, and the newly created Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization had started to “canvass . . . all penal institutions in the United States for the purpose of discovering the number of alien prisoners detained therein.”

However, it was not until 1999 that the federal government went so far as to create separate, foreign-only, prisons. Yes, another Clinton gift to the infrastructure of mass incarceration. These prisons are called “Criminal Alien Requirement Facilities” (Kaufman, p. 1401).

The Bureau of Prisons created all-foreign prisons in 1999. In April of that year, the Agency announced that it was considering “housing [the] criminal alien population in [private] low-security” prisons called “Criminal Alien Requirement” — or CAR — facilities. The Bureau then began to solicit bids from companies interested in operating prisons for noncitizens. In June 1999, Corrections Corporation of America won the first contract and started to construct CAR prisons in California City, California, and Milan, New Mexico. BOP planned to fill these facilities with noncitizens transferred from federal prisons in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Twenty years later, this model of incarceration is entrenched in the federal prison system. There are now ten CAR prisons, all of which are low-security institutions run by for-profit corporations. CAR prisons are located in seven states: California, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Conditions in these prisons are particularly bad.  

The three best sources on conditions in all-foreign prisons are a four- year study by the DOJ Inspector General; articles by an investigative journalist who obtained 9000 pages of BOP medical records after a FOIA suit; and a report by the ACLU National Prison Project, which conducted twelve site visits and 270 interviews at CAR prisons in 2013 and 2014. Each describes all-foreign prisons as institutions with unusually poor healthcare; overcrowding; higher rates of solitary confinement, lockdowns, and deaths in custody than comparable BOP institutions; and a dearth of rehabilitative programs such as drug treatment and education courses, which are offered in other federal prisons. An immigration attorney who has represented clients in two all-foreign prisons told me that CAR facilities lack law libraries, training and educational programs, and recreational equipment.

The facilities also tend to be violent spaces – in part because of the lack of services and poor conditions. From Detention Watch Network:

Shadow prisons, largely due to the deplorable conditions and extreme sentences, have also experienced organizing and rebellion on the inside. In February 2014, 2,000 of the 3,000 immigrants held at Willacy County Correctional Center — a former detention center converted into a shadow prison — led an uprising that not only dismantled the structure of the facility itself, but led to its closure. (In 2018, the Trump Administration re-opened this facility—albeit under a new name—as an immigration detention center yet again.)

Another dynamic about CARs is that, though they represent legal segregation based on alienage (not race), they ultimately lead to ethnic segregation as the vast majority of prisoners are Latinx. Again, from Kaufman, p. 1415:

As of January 2018, 89% of CAR prisoners were born in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, or Central or South America. In 2016, GEO Group, the company that runs the largest number of all- foreign prisons, described CAR facilities as “very homogenous, with 72.1% being from Mexico and the majority of the rest being from a few Central American countries.” The same year, another prison contrac- tor reported that “90% of the inmates in [all-foreign prisons] are Mexicans,” and in contract solicitations, the Bureau has stated that CAR prisoners are “primarily Mexican.”

The ACLU issued a lengthy report on CAR facilities in 2014, which increased pressure on the Office of Inspector General to actually review BOP monitoring of these facilities. The review happened in 2016, with findings of multiple problems:

We found that in a majority of the categories we examined, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP institutions. We analyzed data from the 14 contract prisons that were operational during the period of our review and from a select group of 14 BOP institutions with comparable inmate populations to evaluate how the contract prisons performed relative to the selected BOP institutions.

In 2016 the Obama administration announced that it would begin phasing out contracts between private prison companies and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. This would have shuttered CARs – which are run by Geo Group, CoreCivic, or the Management and Training Corporation (MTC). However, Trump reversed this executive order upon taking office.

Multiple candidates for President support ending contracts with private prison companies within the federal system. Indeed, almost all of the frontrunners except Biden have raised this (Warren, Sanders, Booker, Harris). Most of these same candidates also support decriminalizing migration – repealing 8 USC 1325, which makes improper entry a federal misdemeanor and 8 USC 1326 which makes improper re-entry a felony. This would dramatically decrease the number of immigrants in federal custody. These immigration convictions make up one third of BOP immigrant incarcerations (over 50 percent of US Marshall Service detainees).

Read more

ACLU (2014) Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System

Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General (2016) Review of Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Monitoring of Contract Prisons

Detention Watch Network, Shadow Prisons

Emma Kaufman (2019) “Segregation and Citizenship” in Harvard Law Review

Fusion (2014) Shadow Prisons (Interactive web page/report)


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Daily Dispatch 9/4/2019: Climate Change and Migration

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Daily Dispatch

September 4, 2019

ABACO ISLAND, BAHAMAS – SEPTEMBER 3: In this handout aerial photo provided by the HeadKnowles Foundation, damage is seen from Hurricane Dorian on Abaco Island on September 3, 2019 in the Bahamas. The massive, slow-moving hurricane which devastated parts of the Bahamas with Category 5 force winds and heavy rains is expected to now head northwest and travel parallel to Florida’s eastern coast, according to the National Weather Service. (Photo by the HeadKnowles Foundation via Getty Images)

Over the weekend Hurricane Dorian slammed into the Bahama islands, causing extensive damage to Grand Bahama and Abaco islands. At least seven people have died. By one early estimate 60 percent of the homes in sections of Abaco suffered extensive damage. 60,000 people could be displaced for some amount of time as a result of this storm – and it has not yet made landfall in the United States.

As we read every day, such storms and other weather related disasters are more common, or at least hit with a greater intensity, than 20 years ago, and one clear reason is the warming waters of our oceans that fuel these storms. Since 2008 an average of 24 million people have been displaced by natural disasters each year. In 2017 the number was 18 million and just over 17 million in 2018. Combined with the number of people displaced by violence and conflict, global displacement reached 68 million people last year.

Natural disasters get our attention, and the immediacy of hundreds of thousands of people displaced by a monster typhoon hitting India or China is shocking. However, climate change impacts migration in far subtler ways. For example, by impacting the spread of diseases that affect agriculture, decimating fish stocks in increasingly acidic ocean waters, shifting rain patterns and temperature fluctuations that impact planting seasons and harvest yields. All of these cumulative impacts of climate change can undermine livelihoods and force people to migrate. 

Another example, part of the story of migration from Guatemala right now is related to climate change and economic strains in local coffee markets. From the Washington Post: 

Guatemala’s coffee farmers are at the mercy of one of the world’s most volatile commodity markets. Over the past two years, the price has been pushed down by the increase in cheap, mechanized coffee production in Brazil — the Saudi Arabia of coffee — the strength of the U.S. dollar and increased production in Vietnam, Honduras and Colombia. It’s a perfect storm that has eaten away at the value of the beans even as the price of lattes and Americanos in U.S. shops has risen.

Meanwhile, production costs for Guatemala’s 120,000 small-scale coffee farmers have increased as they’ve been forced to buy chemicals to combat the growth of coffee rust, a fungus believed to be associated with climate change.

Guatemala’s dependency on coffee exports is itself that historical legacy of a development model that has failed to serve the interests of the people of the country. This same commitment to unfettered global capital accumulation is also making it nearly impossible to achieve binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions. 

We are in a downward spiral. Climate change is undermining livelihoods and creating the scarcity that spark conflicts. Both shifting climate and violence drive people to migrate. As they cross borders, resource scarcity in receiving countries is driving a nationalist backlash, accompanied by a rightwing shift in political coalitions. This only makes the climate crisis worse and creates the potential for further violence.

The ironies abound here – as the U.S. is abandoning its environmental commitments one after the other, while going to war against the people displaced by environmental destruction. In Brazil, Balsonora is letting the Amazon burn, to make land available for unsustainable agricultural use – largely cattle raising – and displacing tens of thousands of people in the process. We are losing time at a pivotal moment in the climate crisis. 

Where are we headed? No one really knows. A summary of the potential:

There are no reliable estimates of climate change induced migration. But it is evident that gradual and sudden environmental changes are already resulting in substantial population movements. The number of storms, droughts and floods has increased threefold over the last 30 years with devastating effects on vulnerable communities, particularly in the developing world. In 2008, 20 million persons have been displaced by extreme weather events, compared to 4.6 million internally displaced by conflict and violence over the same period. Gradual changes in the environment tend to have an even greater impact on the movement of people than extreme events. For instance, over the last thirty years, twice as many people have been affected by droughts as by storms (1.6 billion compared with approx 718m).

Future forecasts vary from 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis, with 200 million being the most widely cited estimate. This figure equals the current estimate of international migrants worldwide.

The question before us all is if we can adapt our economic and social institutions to mitigate the impact of climate change, while also maturing politically to the point where our leaders can no longer successfully scapegoat migrants as a way to deflect from the systemic underpinnings of the crisis we are facing. 

I think our future requires both. And we are running out of time to get this right.

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Daily Dispatch 9/3/2019: Death in Detention

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Daily Dispatch

September 3, 2019

Cover of Human Rights Watch report on death in detention.

José Olivares has written several powerful articles on immigrant detention, mental health, and the abuse of solitary confinement. Last week, on August 29, he published a new piece that focuses on the death of Efrain Romero de la Rosa, who committed suicide while in detention at the Stewart Detention Facility in Georgia last year. A year before Romero killed himself, Jeancarlo Jimenez-Joseph took his own life after being placed in solitary confinement for an extended period at Stewart Detention Facility – the results of an investigation into his Jeancarlo’s death was released just two weeks ago finding that the staff did not follow appropriate procedures. Stewart Detention Facility is operated by CoreCivic. A campaign to #ShutDownStewart is ongoing.

Olivares latest article is excellent in weaving the personal story of Efrain Romero de la Rosa together with systemic issues that shape conditions at Stewart and elsewhere in the landscape of the U.S.’s ever evolving incarceration nightmare. From the article:

Romero’s case stands as a tragic exemplar of an immigration detention system gone off the rails. Solitary confinement is frequently used by corrections staff as a means to punish detainees; a Bangladeshi man told The Intercept in 2018 that guards at the CoreCivic-run Stewart Detention Center — the same facility where Romero was held — sent him to solitary confinement because of a dispute over $8 for prison labor.

The use of solitary confinement in immigration detention is growing and has, in tandem, become a political issue. An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and The Intercept, which included testimony from a whistleblower, found that the use of solitary was a go-to practice to discipline detainees and deal with troubled cases, rather than the last resort prescribed by detention standards. After the release of the investigation, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., condemned the use of solitary and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called for congressional hearings on the practice.

While there has been recent focus on immigrants deaths related to failure to provide appropriate care for people with documented mental health problems, there are many other deaths in detention, most ultimately shown to be related to abusive conditions or lack of access to health services.

In January 2018, Yulio Castro-Garrido, a 33-year-old father, died after being held in the facility. He had no health problems when he first entered Stewart but succumbed to pneumonia, a lung infection, and viral influenza. Castro-Garrido was working at the facility’s kitchen while waiting to be deported to Cuba.

“I believe the conditions inside have to be so bad that a flu can turn into pneumonia very quickly,” Frank Alain Suarez, Castro-Garrido’s brother, told The Intercept last year. “And I guess the medical care is so horrible, no one could catch it in time.”

In June, attorneys with Project South provided The Takeaway with a copy of ICE’s Detainee Death Review for Castro-Garrido’s case. According to the record, even after reporting his illness to staff, Castro-Garrido worked food service duties under CoreCivic supervision, potentially transmitting his illness to others. He even worked in the kitchen on the day he was taken from the facility in an ambulance. Eventually, Castro-Garrido had to be carried out by his roommate, another detained migrant, because he could barely walk.

This August, Pedro Arriago-Santoya died in ICE custody, after being taken to a hospital from Stewart. Little is known about the 44-year-old migrant’s death, other than that he died of a cardiopulmonary arrest.

At least 25 migrants have died in ICE detention during the past two years. Last summer, a report by Human Rights Watch documented systemic problems in the medical care provided at ICE detention facilities. In 14 of 15 detainee deaths analyzed for the report, Human Rights Watch’s experts found evidence of “subpar and dangerous practices” by medical staff. (The report mentions two deaths at Stewart, but they were not included in the analysis because little public information was available about those deaths at the time the report was being complied.)

Romero died just 20 days after the Human Rights Watch report was release

Say their names….

Deaths in detention are increasing. Since January of 2017, at least 25 adults have died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Several others have died in the custody of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). 

Adults who died in ICE custody since April 2018 (Table from ICE website, names link to official reports on their deaths):

April 10, 2018


May 16, 2018

ROMERO, Ronal Francisco (aka Cruz, Ronald)

May 25, 2018

HERNANDEZ, Jeffry (aka HERNANDEZ, Roxana)

June 12, 2018

TRAN, Huy Chi

July 10, 2018

DE LA ROSA, Efrain Romero

July 25, 2018


November 1, 2018

PADRON, Wilfredo

November 18, 2018

AMAR, Mergensana

November 30, 2018

VOLKOV, Guerman

April 3, 2019


May 3, 2019

SINGH, Simratpal

June 30, 2019

BALDERRAMOS-Torres, Yimi Alexis

At least six children have died over the last year during, or shortly after release from detention by CBP. Their stories, briefly, from NBC News:

The most recent known case is that of Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez. The teenager died in CBP custody this month after being diagnosed with the flu, an infectious disease.

In December, medical examiners concluded that 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, who also died in CBP custody, succumbed to “a rapidly progressive infection” that shut down her vital organs.

Seven months before Jakelin’s death, 1-year-old Mariee Juarez died after being released from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. (Note: her mother testified before Congress in July about conditions at CBP facilities).

Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, a 2½-year-old, died this month (June) after being detained by Border Patrol in early April and spending about a month in a hospital, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia.

Carlos, 16, had been held in such a facility before being diagnosed with influenza A. He died May 20. The teenager had spent one week in CBP custody, even though legally he should have not been there for more than three days.

Felipe Gómez Alonzo, 8, also was held in CBP custody for nearly one week before he died on Christmas Eve. Medical investigators later determined the boy had been suffering from the flu while he was under the agency’s care.

Two other children have died in Office of Refugee Resettlement custody.

Darlyn Valle, 10, died in September after entering ORR custody, but her death was revealed to the public nearly eight months after it had happened.

Juan de León Gutiérrez, 16, died of health complications under ORR care on April 30 after officials at a detention facility in Texas noticed he was sick.

Of course, throughout the entire enforcement apparatus people die – in federal prisons, along the border, and even those shot across the border by Border Patrol. Our enforcement machine has killed hundreds of people in the last two years, thousands since the 1990s. But we know these names, and can say them, honor them, and fight to change the conditions that led to their deaths.

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Tet Mon 20th Anniversary

Wednesday, August 28, 2019 marked the 20 year anniversary of the Jean Marie Vincent Forest on Tet Mon. The forest was the first major initiative of the reforestation program that is now housed at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Grepen, Haiti. A barren hillside 20 years ago, Tet Mon is now home to over 200,000 trees. From the beginning the vision for Tet Mon was that it be a model project to demonstrate the impact of reforestation. Father Ronel Charelus (Father ChaCha) recalls:

It was a pilot project for the whole country. We had a conviction that if we were able to make this tree planting in Gros Morne successful, there would come to be many other places in the country that would be interested in this project. 

Father ChaCha also explains the connection to Jean Marie Vincent,

We chose to give the project the name of Jean Marie Vincent, a Montfortain priest who was assassinated on 28 August 1994. Why did we choose Jean Marie? We chose him because he had a dream for Haiti. His dream was for all peasants to have life, to live like people. This dream is for the country of Haiti to be covered with trees one day. It was an audacious project. But he had conviction in God and he also believed in people. For Jean Marie, the hope of the country lay in planting trees. He put this awareness in the lives of all of the school children. Jean Marie died, but his dreams are not dead. We can say that he is still here with us. Grepen will always remain a reference for all of the Montfortain priests who want to continue the work that Jean Marie was doing in the country of Haiti.

As with everything that is done at the Grepen Center, the celebration was itself part of an educational event – the Third Annual Agricultural Conference at Grepen.

The celebration of the forest began with a blessing at the tree nursery at the Grepen Center.

People then hiked up to the top of Tet Mon for a ceremony at the Gazebo that sits at the peak.

And, of course, what better way to celebrate the forest than to plant a new tree.

We like to think that the celebration of the forest marks the beginning of the next 20 years of work together with our partners in Gros Morne. Over the previous 20 years the program has grown from this one effort on Tet Mon, to a multifaceted initiative that engages grassroots activists in educational programs throughout the region of Gros Morne. We have been truly blessed to walk with our friends in Gros Morne and with those of you who have joined in support of their dream of a green Haiti. 

We hope you will join with us in celebrating this achievement.

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Daily Dispatch 8/30/2019: Campaign updates and action

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Daily Dispatch

August 30, 2019

Krome Detention Facility/Image: JOSE A. IGLESIAS

Sign petition in support of hunger strikers at El Paso and Miami detention centers

As we reported earlier in the week, hunger strikes continue in El Paso and Miami. The latest from Detention Watch Network:

Three men detained at ICE’s El Paso Service Processing Center and one man detained at Miami’s Krome North Service Processing Center are hunger striking in protest of their prolonged detention, due process violations, and the threat of deportation to the country they fled.

As of August 27, 2019, the men in El Paso are on the 50th day of their hunger strike, and the man in Miami is on his 43rd day without food. Through court orders obtained by ICE, the men in El Paso are being force-fed, in violation of medical ethics and human rights standards. The man in Krome was in the hospital for two weeks.

ICE has stated their intention to pursue a court order for force feeding if necessary.

In federal court, one man challenging this torture testified about the pain of having a nasogastric tube inserted into his body. Despite the pain, he asserted he would continue on hunger strike. “I want my freedom,” one man said. “After that, I will drink any protein shake or eat anything that’s given to me.”

Sign the petition demanding their release here. Groups offering direct solidarity and support on the ground you can also follow are: Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (EL Paso) and the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee (Miami).

This morning’s Guardian had a report on the strike. A focus of the report was the poor medical treatment the men are receiving:

Dr. Parveen Parmar, chief of the division of global emergency medicine at the University of Southern California, said in an affidavit that the 33-year-old asylum seeker, Ajay Kumar, is receiving “the worst medical care I have seen in my 10 years of practice”.

Assembly of African Migrants in Tapachula issues statement

We shared information yesterday concerning changes in visa procedures in Mexico that have resulted in refugees from Africa being forced to stay in southern Mexico (or leave across the southern border), effectively being denied the right to attempt to get asylum in the United States. There have been demonstrations in Tapachula, which have been violently repressed.

The Assembly of African Migrants in Tapachula released a statement yesterday, cosigned by human rights organizations, demanding that visas be reinstated and their right to demonstrate be recognized. The statement reads, in part (full statement here):

Most of us have been detained at the immigration detention centre Siglo XXI. At no time did we have translation into our languages. They made us sign documents that we did not understand. They gave us a document talking about our alleged statelessness, and tricked us by telling us that with that document we could travel without being arrested. Those of us who tried, were detained again and returned to Tapachula. We were told that we could access to a Visa for Humanitarian Reasons, but we were finally denied.

Many of us deliver the documents to the Immigration Regularization Office, and after weeks of waiting they have given us a negative response to the statelessness figure, due to alleged errors in the writing of our names in the departure document. Errors that were made by the immigration officials of the National Institute of Migration themselves, and for which we paid the consequences.

They have tricked us. They deny us the possibility of leaving Tapachula, where we feel blocked and desperate, as well as suffering constant acts of racism and hostility by the immigration authorities.

The current consequences on us are of suffering and misery. Our situation is deplorable and violates our human rights. Over the weeks we have run out of any resources or means of subsistence. Hundreds of families are in a street situation, spending the nights outdoors and under the rain. We have nothing to eat, many people are getting sick, especially girls, boys and pregnant women. If we continue in this situation, many and many of us will die here.

When we go out to the streets to demand solutions and rights, we suffer more repression by agents of the National Guard and Municipal Police, we are treated with violence while the competent authorities neither listen to us nor receive us. They only treat us with contempt, indifference and hostility. On Tuesday, August 27, the situation became much more violent not only against those who were protesting outside the Immigration Detention Centre, demanding a response from the immigration authorities, they even hit journalists covering the demonstration.

Faced with this, the actions of the State authorities were repression and direct physical aggressions, including through tear gas against people and blows with stones. A Cameroonian brother who was hit by a federal policeman with a stone in the head, lost consciousness and had to be rushed to the hospital with heavy head bleeding.

What rights do we claim?

Under these circumstances, the Assembly of African and African Migrants in Tapachula, demand:

    •  For those of us who need to continue our way north, in search of protection in the United States or Canada, that the Mexican government allows us to access the Visa for Humanitarian Reasons without delay, so that we can move as soon as possible from Tapachula.
    •  For those of us who need to benefit from international protection in Mexico, that we can access without delay to the procedure for requesting the recognition of refuge.
    •  For all of the affected population, we require urgent humanitarian assistance in matters of food, housing, health and hygiene, to prevent the deterioration of our physical and mental health, and the loss of lives.
    •  We finally demand that the security forces ensure that no more reprisals will be committed and no more violence will be used against us because of claiming our rights and expressing our collective demands.

Mississippi raids still having an impact, ways to help

The massive raids that took place in Mississippi two weeks ago – during which 680 people were arrested, over half detained by ICE at facilities in Louisiana. The raids took place at seven poultry plants in six small towns outside of Jackson, Mississippi, the heart of the poultry processing industry in the state. In the wake of the raids, hundreds of more workers lost their jobs as companies purged employees with any uncertainty regarding their immigration status. Dozens of children are with friends, as parents remain in detention. Local economies have suffered a great deal and fear of further action is widespread.

If you are able to help out either in Mississippi, or remotely, you can register to do so here. Many people have offered assistance, so be patience in awaiting a response. 

There is a collective fundraising campaign dividing donations between several organizations working in the area. You can find out more information about that here.

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Daily Dispatch 8/29/2019: Migrants from Africa and Caribbean face new challenges in Mexico

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Daily Dispatch

August 29, 2019

Haitians and others waiting at Tapachula border station in June. Photo: Associated Press

Under pressure from the United States, Mexico has stepped up its campaign against migration, with increased militarization along its southern border, expanded detention and deportations. Among the changes in law meant to keep migrants from crossing Mexico to seek entry into the United States, is the removal of some provisions for temporary 20-day visas that permitted people to cross through Mexico. It is a policy change that is particularly impacting people from Africa and the Caribbean. From Alianza Americas’ blog:

Previously, African migrants could enter Mexico, often after traveling from South America, and receive a 20-day temporary permit allowing them to travel through the country and seek protection in the United States. This practice has now been discontinued. Now the 20-day permit only permits them to request permission to remain in Mexico or to exit the country through the southern border. This means they are prevented from continuing their transit north to seek protection in the United States. This is clearly an example of the López Obrador administration acting as de-facto migration police, enforcing the Trump administration’s attempts to limit access to asylum in the United States.  

The change in law has sparked protests at border stations in Tapachula, Chiapas along the border with Guatemala. For groups offering protection and support to migrants in Mexico, the changes in law present enormous challenges:

Civil society organizations remain the chief source of protection for migrants in southern Mexico, but they face serious challenges in carrying out their mission of offering guidance and psychosocial support to African and Haitian people who do not speak Spanish. Many of these individuals are insisting on their right to seek asylum in the United States and refuse to return to Guatemala due to the precarious economic and social problems of that country. The protestors demand that the Mexican government reverse the policy change, allowing them to continue their journey to the United States. Mexico risks exacerbating tensions and violating human rights on its southern border, if it continues to contain people in Chiapas.

Read the full story from Alianza America’s here.

These developments, coupled with Mexico bussing people who are part of the “Remain in Mexico” program to Tapachula to await their asylum hearing (we reported on Monday here), and Mexico’s other expansive enforcement operations already under way, means that we can forget about the border wall. Trump, with Lopez Obrador’s acquiescence, has turned the border into a 1400 mile barricade that extends to Guatemala.  

Meanwhile, back in the states…

I wonder how low this administration can go. I mean, every day I read and report on immigration stories and think, “It can’t get much worse, right?” Wrong.  So, what is the latest spittle in the face of people from other countries who come to the United States issued by this administration? It is a completely unnecessary shift in practice that is denying deferments for people who are running out of time on visas, or whose visas may have expired, while they seek medical treatment in this country. From WBUR in Boston:

Dismaying immigrants and advocates, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) sent out letters saying the agency will no longer consider most deferrals of deportation for people with serious medical conditions, documents show.

The agency is now saying those decisions will be made by another agency: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

That was not made clear to Boston-area immigrants who received the denial letters last week. Advocates said they received no formal announcement of a change in policy.

The small program known as “medical deferred action” allows people to remain in the U.S. for two-year periods if they can prove extreme medical need. Many of the people affected by the policy change came to the U.S. through a visa or other permitted status and are requesting to stay beyond those terms to receive medical treatment.

In a follow up story published yesterday, WBUR points out that neither ICE or USCIS seem very clear what is going on, and that members of Congress may hold hearings to determine the status of the program.

“What’s so troubling about this beyond the cruelty of it, is the lack of transparency around the process,” Pressley, a Democrat, said. “There was no public comment period, not even a public announcement of this, and so I’m working with my colleagues to get answers and to urge this administration to change course.”

Medical deferred action has historically allowed eligible migrants to extend their time in the U.S. in order to receive life-saving medical treatment that advocates say is often only available to them here.

Transferring the program from USCIS, which is supposed to help immigrants navigate federal procedure, to ICE, which is the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration focus, means that this program is being treated as some kind of potential violation, and the people participating in it immediately suspect. These are people seeking medical procedures here they cannot get back home. Aren’t we supposed to be proud of our med-tech industry? Isn’t this good for the business of medicine? I mean, why do this other than to simply be cruel? I have to imagine that there is some group scouring the federal register for every program with the word “immigrant” in it and trying to figure out how to kill it. Who gets that job?

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Daily Dispatch 8/28/2019: Who Needs A Congress….?

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Daily Dispatch

August 28, 2019

Or why we must #DefundHate

For the current fiscal year (2019), Congress appropriated funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention to equal a daily average of 45,000 detention “beds” (average number of people in custody). At the time the Trump administration was holding close to 49,000 – the intent was that detention would scale down over the year to closer to 40,000 in order to reach this average.

It is now August, and there are two months left in this fiscal year. Daily average detention in the fiscal year to date is still over 49,000 – and currently ICE is holding 54,344 people – well above the target Congress set. What this means in financial terms is that the administration is way over budget for ICE detention. 

So, what does one do when over budget? Cut back? Nope. You steal from other accounts. Which is what ICE is doing. Despite receiving $200 million in “emergency” funds to deal with the incarceration spike at the border – created by the lack of humanity this administration exhibits toward refugees – ICE is still falling short. Why? Because they are holding 6,000 more people a day than they are supposed to even though alternatives exist that are far cheaper (and more humane) than locking up asylum seekers for months, or making them wait in Mexico until they have a hearing. 

I cannot emphasize this enough. The funding shortfall is not the result of a spike in migration. It is the result of the practices of this administration that have turned a humanitarian crisis into an incarceration nightmare, and now you have to pay for it. 

We issued an action alert about this on Monday as part of the #DefundHate campaign we participate in as members of the Detention Watch Network. We are demanding that:

  1. ICE and CBP’s budgets are cut – not increased! And,
  2. That DHS is not allowed to circumvent the will of Congress by simply taking funds from other entities.

SO what did ICE do? Exactly?

The Department of Homeland Security took $271 million dollars from other accounts to pay for ICE detention and the “Remain in Mexico” debacle….uh…policy.

The largest share of funds were taken from Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) – the people who help out in the wake of hurricanes and other disasters. $155 million was taken from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to pay for costs associated with the “Remain in Mexico” policy – specifically creating hearing sites at the border and other court related costs. Another $116 million was taken out of accounts for the Coast Guard, aviation security and “other components” in order to pay for expanded detention space. The Department of Homeland Security did not request the transfer of funds from Congress. They simply did it and then notified Congress. The notification letter can be read here.

From the ABC story covering the transfer:

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, also expressed reservations about the administration’s plan.

“I have grave concerns about DHS’s proposed end-run around laws passed by Congress that would drain millions from agencies tasked with protecting the homeland from security threats and natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires — including CBP, TSA, FEMA and the Coast Guard,” Tester said in a statement.

“Congress has already deliberated DHS’s request and appropriated the highest-ever funding for border security and immigration enforcement, which passed on a bipartisan basis and was signed by President Trump,” he added.

The question is what will Congress do? Democrats hold the House, and have space to operate in the Senate even if they do not have a majority there. Shaming Trump (who has none, so…), hand wringing press conferences, and offering “grave concerns” are not policy. Stand up, or be walked over.

Our suggestions for where to start – 

Cut ICE’s budget and do not let them get around the cut by appropriating from elsewhere. See more here. Take action.

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)