Daily Dispatch 12/12/2019: New report on climate change and migration

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Daily Dispatch

December 12, 2019

Video announcing release of report Climate Refugees: The Climate Crisis and Rights Denied

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The Othering and Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley released a new report on climate change and migration titled Climate Refugees: The Climate Crisis and Rights Denied on December 10 (International Human Rights Day). The new report is one of the most extensive yet on the relationship between climate change and migration. Though it covers now well known themes concerning the lack of protection offered to people displaced by climate change under current international law, the authors of the report put forward an interesting new framework for understanding persecution that separates agents of persecution from territoriality, and ties the concept to a state’s ability to adapt/protect people from sources of dislocation. The goal of the report is to contribute to the creation of a new international convention on the rights of climate change refugees.

The authors begin by assessing the scope of the problem, and the relative silence about it:

Nearly absent within the mainstream public discourse is recognition and coverage of the role of the climate crisis in driving and exacerbating mass movements of people via short-term and long-term natural disasters. Estimates of the extent of climate-induced global migration vary significantly, but the numbers remain alarming. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), there were 28 million internally displaced persons (displaced persons who remain within the affected state) in 2018 due to conflict, violence, and disasters. Weather-related hazards triggered the vast majority of the new displacements (17.2 million), with storms and tropical cyclones accounting for 9.3 million displacements and floods accounting for 5.4 million displacements. According to the IDMC, over 253.7 million people have been displaced by natural disasters from 2008 to 2018, with such disasters displacing three to 10 times more people than conflict and war worldwide.

Once people cross a border their status changes – and if fleeing environmental or weather related catastrophes they have no clear legal protection. Under current international law they would not be considered “refugees” as they are not fleeing political, racial or religiously motivated persecution and thus lack the limited protections that designation provides. Instead, these climate refugees, if provided protection at all, fall under national and/or regional regimes.

Thus, across international humanitarian law, human rights law, refugee law, and other bodies of law, protections for climate-induced displaced persons forced to cross international borders are limited, piecemeal, and not legally binding. International migration following short-term disasters is only occasionally protected under humanitarian visas and state-specific measures as with the United States’ Temporary Protected Status designation, though such protections are often provisional and not legally binding.

The authors offer an alternative framework for understanding persecution as one of the policy recommendations they make at the end of the report.

This report proposes two possible pathways forward: the creation of a new refugee convention, the Convention Relating to the Status of Climate Refugees, or the amendment of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Regardless of the pathway forward (other than whichever offers the path of least resistance), the agreement must satisfy two major requirements. It must first qualify individuals and communities that cannot avail themselves of government relief from the effects of the climate crisis as those who are “persecuted” and thus allowed to formally make a claim for asylum in a country of their choosing. Secondly, it must do so without demanding that such status be linked to a specific “actor” of persecution (whether a private or public entity or agricultural or industrial process). Under either agreement, and in conjunction with the existing circumstances covered under the 1951 Refugee Convention, “climate refugees” would be guaranteed legal protection as follows:

    • Situations of sudden- or slow-onset disasters (not necessarily linked to the climate crisis) if authorities deny reasonable assistance and protection to certain people because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion and as a consequence expose them to treatment amounting to persecution. The same is true where a natural disaster impact meets the threshold of a persecution because it is the consequence of a respective governmental policy with a discriminatory impact on a specific group of persons possessing such attributes. Such circumstances are covered under the existing 1951 Refugee Convention.
    • Situations of violence, serious human rights violations, or armed conflict triggered by disputes over shrinking natural resources if persecutory measures are based on the race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion of affected persons. Such circumstances are covered under the existing 1951 Refugee Convention.
    • Situations where a person—regardless of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion—fleeing the effects of the climate crisis might be fleeing a nation and government that has not turned against its citizens but rather cannot protect its citizens. Some of the people experiencing the most disastrous effects of the climate crisis are living within nations that have long recognized the issue at hand and that have appealed to the international community for support. The new Climate Refugee Convention or revision of the existing 1951 Refugee Convention would account for this by not demanding identification of a specific “persecutor,” especially one internal to one’s country of origin.

The context for this discussion is a concept they present call “petro-persecution.”

The use of fossil fuels and other sources of greenhouse gas emissions have been transforming the earth’s climate and putting the world’s most vulnerable communities at risk. Such “petro-persecution” born of our global dependence on petroleum, coal, natural gas, and other fossil fuels, and the global investment patterns behind this dependence, puts pressure on countries to protect their communities from climate impacts. This is a nearly impossible endeavor across the Global South, especially when it comes to island nations threatened by sea-level rise and climate-vulnerable periphery nations that have long been forced into labor-intensive production and extraction of raw materials for the Global North.

Through militarized borders, the criminalization of migration, fewer resettlements, and limited refugee protections, climate refugees also experience “petro-persecution” when it comes to the process of resettlement itself, especially from across the Global South to the Global North.

In addition to making this case for a new international legal framework based on a more complex notion of responsibility for persecution, the report provides useful background on multiple aspects of climate and migration. There are detailed case studies of 10 countries, interviews with climate activists, and a detailed review of national, regional and international law impacting the question of how to treat climate refugees. 

And then there is the elephant on the global stage:

An instrumental part of addressing the crisis of climate-induced migration is addressing the climate crisis itself. Across industry, transportation, electricity, and other economic sectors, confronting the climate crisis requires the decarbonization of energy, the democratization of ownership and distribution of energy, and the decommodification of energy (i.e., clean, renewable energy as a human right). Not without challenges, national, regional, and international organizations and actors have begun taking steps to tackle manufacturing, mining, agriculture, construction, and other parts of the industrial sector dependent upon fossil fuels and contributing to the climate crisis.

Though not emphasized in the report, we know the country that is pushing back against all of these efforts is the United States. The United States has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, has not signed onto the recent global compact on migration, and absolutely refuses to accept responsibility for its historic role as the greatest contributor of greenhouse gases, by, for example, withdrawing from the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, established to “to address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change, including extreme events and slow onset events, in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.”

Instead, the United States’ government is currently removing almost every path to asylum it can – not expanding it to meet the new global reality of displacement, while also doubling down on the use of carbon based fuels – which guarantees the problems of displacement will only get worse. Of course, the U.S. government is not alone, as increasing migration is driving a nationalist backlash against immigrants around the globe. But the U.S. is unique in that the scope of its economic and military presence globally means it is a necessary – if not sufficient – partner for any international agreement to succeed.

Though not directly related to migration, Greta Thunberg winning Time’s person of the year for her climate activism is perhaps a hopeful sign. The adults in the room are clearly getting nothing done. Perhaps the next generation will be the one to get it right. 

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Daily Dispatch 12/11/2019: Trump’s bait and switch on crime and immigration

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Daily Dispatch

December 11, 2019

Table from Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse report

The United States incarcerates a lot of immigrants each year while they await removal proceedings. You will be told that the emphasis is on criminals. This a lie.

The evidence, remember that word, is clear, at least as presented in yet another report that demonstrates our entire immigration policy enforcement concept is basically a lie. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University has produced two recent reports on criminal removal and immigrant detention.

The first report showed that the number of people in detention with no criminal conviction has increased significantly under the Trump administration:

In March 2015, 61 percent of detainees had criminal convictions and 39 percent had no criminal conviction. But by April 2019, the proportion flipped completely: only 36 percent of detainees had criminal convictions while detainees without criminal convictions reached 64 percent. This is all the more significant as the total number of detainees grew substantially. ICE’s increased focus on detainees with no criminal conviction is driving the expansion in the total number of detainees across the United States.

In preparing this first report the folks at TRAC noticed that the total number of people in ICE detention with a criminal conviction had remained fairly steady – even as it fell as a proportion of the total. So, their second report, just released, looks in more detail at just those with a criminal conviction. Here they found that among immigrants with criminal convictions held in detention, the portion of those convicted of serious crimes had also fallen.

While the total number of detainees with a criminal record has been fairly constant, TRAC found that the composition has been shifting. The number of individuals convicted of serious felonies fell from between 7,500 and 8,000 in 2017 to just above 6,000 in April of this year. Those convicted of serious felonies have been replaced by an increasing number of detainees who have committed at most misdemeanors – what ICE labels as Level 3 offenses – such as unlawful entry or traffic-related violations.

…ICE’s data reveal that the fraction of detainees that ICE classifies as least serious, or Level 3 offenders, has climbed steadily from just over 6,000 (or 39 percent of the total detainees with criminal convictions in 2015) to nearly 9,500 (or 54 percent) in 2019. At the same time, detainees classified as serious Level 1 offenders declined from nearly 7,500 (or 47 percent) under the Obama administration to around 6,000 (or 34 percent) during the Trump administration.

An important clarification!!! People are never held in immigrant detention for criminal offenses. Detention is for violating (or possibly violating) administrative rules governing immigration – and is thus civil, not criminal detention. People who are in this country as permanent legal residents, or unauthorized might face deportation if they are convicted of certain crimes – the list of crimes was greatly expanded by Clinton era reforms. However, before they end up in immigrant detention, they will have already served their sentence for any criminal violation. One of the most controversial parts of immigrant detention is that people are incarcerated in prison-like conditions when they are not serving time for any kind of criminal penalty!  

What this data does show is that the Trump administration is not focused on removing people from this country who have been convicted of crimes. (And you should note that the most common convictions leading to removal proceedings are driving offenses!!!).

Indeed, as much as Trump talks about MS13, of the 500,000 records reviewed, only 84 people were placed in removal proceedings by ICE and detained following a conviction for gang related activity. 

Trump’s actual deemphasis on criminal removals translates into far fewer deportations of people convicted of criminal offenses, and a significant fall in the number of people referred to immigration courts following completion of sentences for criminal convictions. We reported on this in July – and the fall off is dramatic:

In reality Trump’s administration has deemphasized criminal activity as the basis for removal proceedings in immigrant courts more than any administration. In the current fiscal year, DHS has only sought removal based on a criminal act in 2.8 percent of all immigration court filings. That is an extraordinary drop from the 25 percent of cases in 1999, or even the 16 percent of cases in 2009. In some courts, the numbers hover around 0.1 percent – or one in a thousand cases. In Houston, the second busiest immigration court in the country, the number of criminal removal cases was the lowest, five out of 15,063 cases heard, or 0.033 percent.

The decline in the rate is not simply a function of more arrests – the actual number of filings is also way down:

Despite the rising number of ICE interior arrests and individuals who are detained, fewer and fewer immigrants in the Immigration Court’s growing workload are being cited as deportable based upon criminal activity. During the first nine months of FY 2019 only 7,458 cases have been lodged by DHS citing criminal activity as a basis for seeking the removal order. If this same pace continues for the remaining three months of the year, the total is still unlikely to reach 10,000. A decade or more ago immigrants with criminal records or alleged criminal activity involved 30,000 to 40,000 court filings each year.

I want to stress that, in my view, almost none of the people who end up in removal proceedings for criminal convictions belong there! We wrote about the abuse of this process a few weeks ago. Our “criminal justice” system is wholly unjust, from a race and class perspective. Taking cues on who to deport from this system is itself a travesty of justice. The point is simply that the Trump administration is constantly lying about what their priorities are, and they constantly conflate criminal bases for removal with legal paths for migration – in order to cut out those authorized paths

Remember that one of the largest group being held in detention right now are asylum seekers who have already established a fear of torture or persecution if returned to their home country.  This group constitutes over 25% of the current number of people in detention (over 11,000 of the current 44,000 in ICE detention – as of November 30). This is a violation of ICE’s own directives, which mandate release on parole unless there is an established flight risk or danger to communities for people who have established a credible fear of torture or persecution. 

Seeking asylum is legal – or used to be. Those seeking asylum, not MS13 leaders, are the real targets of Trump’s war on immigration. Once one understands that, the rest becomes clear. Trump wants to cut all immigration from non-European countries (and those folks mostly do no want to come here). That is what he is actually doing with his executive orders. 

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The Holy Family Separated and in Cages

The 2019 Nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church in California.

In seminary, we constantly talked about social location (i.e., one’s sex, gender, class, education, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.). We always talked about how when reading and interpreting scripture, one’s social location must be considered because we all bring bias, preconceived notions, experiences, baggage to the table. That’s why it’s so important to research and exegete biblical texts because if we don’t, we will allow our social location to prevent us from properly preaching and teaching the Bible, or we will miss key things in scripture because our social location hinders us from seeing them. That’s why there are so many Bible-thumping evangelicals who cannot see how Jesus advocated for those on the margins of society including women, the sick (Lepers and others considered unclean), the foreigner (Samaritans), the poor and children to name a few.

Well, this Advent season, Claremont United Methodist Church is making waves on social media and in the press because of their Nativity scene which depicts Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus separated and in metal cages. Now, theirs is not the first nativity to depict family separation and detention. In fact, below is a thread of other churches and families making the same statement. Of course, the Nativity scene is a critique of U.S. immigration policies and the separation and indefinite detention of those coming to the United States seeking asylum. It’s a powerful statement because many persons who profess to be Christian fail to make the comparison between the holy family and immigrants even though the scripture tells the story of how Joseph, Mary and Jesus had to leave their homeland for fear of being executed by Herod and sought asylum in Egypt – Africa. I believe the mistruths that abound about Jesus’ heritage and the artists’ interpretations of Jesus also play a role in this miseducation. Since many Christians believe Jesus to be a white, Anglo-saxon, cishet male, it’s hard for them to connect Jesus with oppressed groups of people, which hinders them from seeing the humanity of those deemed to be the “other.”

A brief history of other Nativity Scenes with an incarcerated holy family.

There is a link embedded in this email to a Twitter account.

This Nativity scene is a powerful reminder that the holy family would have found themselves in a detention center and separated from Jesus living in subpar conditions and possibly facing death because of the rampant illness in those centers if they sought asylum in the United States. It’s also a powerful reminder that Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew 25 that how we’ve treated those marginalized groups is how we have ultimately treated him.

Claremont United Methodist Church is receiving just as much backlash as they are praise. Some people think that the church should not make political statements. They think it’s a violation between church and state. I beg to differ. The Bible is very political – from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus was political. He challenged the powers that be, and he was executed by the state because of it. If you disagree, it just may be your social location – which sometimes equates to privilege – that’s preventing you from seeing it.    

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Daily Dispatch 12/9/2019: The Profits of Pain

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Daily Dispatch

December 9, 2019

Leonardo Santamaria, special to ProPublica. See full report here.

Immigration enforcement costs a lot of money. What this also means is that immigration enforcement is a major source of profit for private companies that receive contracts for everything from deportation flights to tube socks, ankle chains to toothpaste. Literally thousands of companies receive ICE contracts. The largest companies are well known, especially, GEO Group and CoreCivic. Between them, they manage facilities where nearly three-fourths of all immigrants in ICE custody are incarcerated. Less known, however, are all of the companies that swirl around Federal contracts and sub-contractual arrangements like vultures on a country road in Texas. 

In the news this week is one such company, McKinsey and Company. McKinsey was brought on by the Obama administration to streamline operations at ICE for cost effectiveness and efficiency. Those buzzwords sound great on proposals, until you realize that cost cutting impacts the care of human beings in custody – who have no say at all in the conditions they are held in (there is no market here for optimal detention facilities). It is one thing to know that cost cutting for ICE means fewer or less quality services for people. Now imagine hiring a company and paying it tens of millions of dollars, to tell you how to cut food budgets and how to optimally deny due process in order to reduce detention costs. Now imagine the company doing this actually got to ghost write its own contract renewal. Welcome to the D.C. swamp that Trump never drained (he actually simply dredged it).

Thanks to an investigative report by Propublica, co-published with the New York Times, McKinsey’s practices, and ICE administrators’ complicity, are now before the public eye and oversight committee members. From the report:

Just days after he took office in 2017, President Donald Trump set out to make good on his campaign pledge to halt illegal immigration. In a pair of executive orders, he ordered “all legally available resources” to be shifted to border detention facilities and called for hiring 10,000 new immigration officers.

The logistical challenges were daunting, but as luck would have it, Immigration and Customs Enforcement already had a partner on its payroll: McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm brought on under the Obama administration to help engineer an “organizational transformation” in the ICE division charged with deporting migrants who are in the United States unlawfully.

ICE quickly redirected McKinsey toward helping the agency figure out how to execute the White House’s clampdown on illegal immigration. But the money-saving recommendations the consultants came up with made some career ICE staff uncomfortable. They proposed cuts in spending on food for migrants, as well as on medical care and supervision of detainees, according to interviews with people who worked on the project for both ICE and McKinsey and 1,500 pages of documents obtained from the agency after ProPublica filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.

McKinsey’s team also looked for ways to accelerate the deportation process, provoking worries among some ICE staff members that the recommendations risked short-circuiting due process protections for migrants fighting removal from the United States. The consultants, three people who worked on the project said, seemed focused solely on cutting costs and speeding up deportations — activities whose success could be measured in numbers — with little acknowledgment that these policies affected thousands of human beings.

While ICE staff were worried, the folks in charge, appointed by Trump, defended the company and the consulting contract. The company itself says that it was simply providing a service, for a fee, and that it did not change its focus to accommodate Trump’s policy shifts. Indeed, the company claims that it does not “do policy” at all, it is just advising – advising how to save money by feeding people less, providing less healthcare, less oversight, and shorter detention times by ramping up deportation proceedings. All of which reminds me of Hannah Arrendt’s use of the phrase the “banality of evil” in reference to the pen pushers that enabled another fascist regime. Hyperbolic? Perhaps. But with actual fascists in this administration breaking the law daily in service to nationalist sentiments it seems to fit.

Private border wall construction continues despite everybody telling them to stop

So, you may have heard of the group “We Build The Wall.” This is a “non-profit” that is raising money to build border barriers along the U.S./Mexico Border. Currently the group is financing a 3.5 mile section of wall in Hidalgo County, Texas on private land. The land that the wall is being built on adjoins the National Butterfly Center, which has sued. Last week a judge ordered construction to stop:

The injunction, issued on Tuesday by a state judge, was granted citing potential “imminent and irreparable damage” to the National Butterfly Center, a popular 100-acre riverfront nature reserve adjacent to the Neuhaus property. The wall could act as a dam and redirect floodwater and debris to the sanctuary, destroying an ecosystem which sustains hundreds of native butterfly species and birds, the center said.

The construction has not stopped. Last week the Federal government also stepped up:

And, on 5 December, the federal government launched separate legal action to stop the construction, on the grounds that it violated binational treaty obligations with Mexico. A temporary injunction was granted by the US district judge Randy Crane.

That federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IWBC), states that required hydraulic studies proving that the wall would not worsen flooding on the river had not been completed, and scant detail about the planned work had been submitted.

As of Friday last week, construction was still going on. Amidst the controversy, WBTW was removed from the lawsuit. The group claims that it was simply offering financing and was not responsible for that actual building of the wall. Which is fine, except that the group has raised $25 million from people promising to build walls. So, WBTW is maybe corrupt, or is opportunistically using a political wedge issue to raise funds. They just might be trying to do their version of good and is misunderstood. Maybe. But the wall is getting built, so who? To answer this we have to go back to the much-deeper-since-Trump-moved-in-swamp of D.C. contracting:

Thursday’s federal injunction prevents Neuhaus and Sons, the landowners, Fisher Industries and its parent company, Fisher Sand and Gravel, from excavating and clearing more land, or constructing any permanent structures until the IBWC determines whether it could cause flooding or redirect the water flow in violation of the 1970 binational treaty.

The North Dakota-based Fisher companies are owned by Tommy Fisher, who has made regular appearances on Trump’s favorite TV channel, Fox News, to boast about how he could build the wall, faster, better and cheaper than anyone else.

Earlier this week, Fisher Sand and Gravel was awarded a $400m Pentagon contract to build 31 miles of wall in Arizona – despite a history of environmental and tax violations.

Yes, you can’t make this up. A company that seems to be violating state and federal injunctions to build a privately funded wall along our border with Mexico is getting $400 million to build a section of Trump’s publicly funded wall, mostly because the company’s owner appears on Fox News a lot to speak positively about Trump’s desire to build a wall…

Remember all of this as the administration asks for more enforcement funds this budget cycle, and be sure to tell your representative to let the administration know that answer is “no thank you!” 

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Daily Dispatch 12/6/2019:  Death of 16 year old in CBP custody investigated

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Daily Dispatch

December 6, 2019

Carlos Hernandez Vasquez – Image ProPublica

Last year, a 16 year-old boy from Guatemala died while in the custody of Customs and Border Protection. The full story on Carlos Hernandez Vasquez’s migration, detention and death is told at ProPublica.

The context for this death is important to recall. In May and June of last year border apprehensions were very high due to an increase in people seeking asylum from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – particularly families and older children traveling alone. The administration’s response was to keep everybody locked up as long as they could get away with it – though they blamed extended detention times on backlogs in other parts of the system. 

This was particularly true for “unaccompanied minors” who are typically transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement fairly quickly once picked up by Border Patrol. At the time, this probably meant being placed in a tent on a military base in Homestead, Florida – but it could have meant placement in a shelter until a family member or community sponsor was located to take custody. In any event, ORR was way behind in finding places for kids due to changes administration policyNOT increased movement at the border! ORR wait times in detention had doubled by November of 2018, before the border spike occurred, as the administration sought to make it harder for sponsors to be found – and was even using the system to entrap unauthorized migrants who might come forward to register as a sponsor for a child relative. 

The result of this was border patrol stations collectively detaining close to 20,000 people a day by early June – when CBP capacity is more like 6,000 a day. Even in the best of times border patrol detention facilities are among the worst conditions most immigrants will face. The pictures we’ve all seen of children and families shivering under mylar blankets behind fences are border patrol facilities. The lousy conditions are intentional – it is part of a broader framework of deterrence: By making people as uncomfortable as possible, it is hoped they will simply “self-deport” and discourage others from even trying. Deterrence has guided policy since long before Trump.

That said, CBP detention is only supposed to last for 72 hours. It is a transitional space for people apprehended at the Border while decisions are made about what happens next. They will either be released, transferred to another form of detention, or deported. Given the administration’s policies, wait times at BDP facilities dragged into three weeks and more by June of 2019. The result was horrid conditions – and death.

We know this because attorneys responsible for monitoring the administration’s compliance with the Flores Settlement Agreement, which governs the treatment of immigrant children in federal custody, toured a facility in Clint, TX last May and found a four year old who had not bathed in weeks and children taking care of infants, among other massive violations of health and safety standards for the care of kids. The reports and images that followed led to a massive outcry against the detention of children. For some of the kids though, the concern was too little too late.

One of those children was Carlos Hernandez Vasquez, who died in CBP custody. Officially he died from complications related to having the flu. But based on video released from ProPublica, CBP also lied about preventive care and general treatment of Carlos while in custody. In the Guardian this morning:

Video of the US Border Patrol cell where a 16-year-old from Guatemala died of the flu shows the teen writhing and collapsing on the floor for hours before he was found dead.

The footage published Thursday by ProPublica calls into question the border patrol’s treatment of Carlos Hernandez Vasquez, who was found dead 20 May.

According to ProPublica, Carlos staggered to the toilet in his cell in the middle of the night at the border patrol station in Weslaco, Texas, and collapsed nearby. He remained still for more than four hours until his cellmate awakened at 6.05am and discovered him on the floor.

The cellmate quickly got the attention of a border patrol agent, followed shortly by a physician’s assistant who attempted a single chest compression. Weslaco police reports obtained by ProPublica say the physician’s assistant quickly determined Carlos was dead.

The border patrol’s statement on the day of Carlos’ death says the teenager was “found unresponsive this morning during a welfare check”.

The video shows Carlos stopped moving at 1.39am on 20 May, 15 minutes after he toppled forward and landed face-first on the cell’s concrete floor. Border patrol logs say an agent performed a welfare check at 2.02am, 4.09am, and 5.05am.

Norma Jean Farley, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, told ProPublica that she was told the agent looked through the window but didn’t go inside.

CBP would not comment on the case, as it is under a Department of Homeland Security investigation into the deaths of Carlos and other children in CBP custody last year.

But CBP’s former acting commissioner, John Sanders, said he believed the US government “could have done more” to prevent the deaths of Carlos and at least five other children who died after being apprehended by border agents.

“I really think the American government failed these people. The government failed people like Carlos,” Sanders told ProPublica. “I was part of that system at a very high level, and Carlos’ death will follow me for the rest of my life.”

I certainly appreciate Sander’s candor. But I have to wonder how anyone can continue to participate in this system. Immigrant detention means that people die. In Carlos’ case, in the cases of the other five children who died last year in CBP custody, or in the case of the two asylum seekers already dead this year in ICE custody (starting Oct 1), all were simply seeking shelter and protection. They got thrown into a gulag instead. 

#AbolishICE, #DefundHate!

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Celebrate Advent with the Quixote Center

Download your Social Justice Advent Calendar Here.

Advent season is a time of great expectation in the Christian faith. During this time, we are awaiting the coming of the Messiah and reflecting on what his birth means to the world today. We believe that with Jesus’ birth comes hope, joy, love and peace. Isaiah 9:6 (The Inclusive Bible) says, “For a child is born to us, an heir is given us, upon whose shoulders dominion will rest. This One shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Strength of God, Eternal Protector, Champion of Peace.” However, Advent is also a time of self-reflection, prayer and a time for us to put our faith into action by acting in solidarity with those who are oppressed by unjust systems.

This year the Quixote Center wants to help you celebrate the season of Advent with our Social Justice Calendar. On it you will find creative ways to honor this holy season and help to build a world more justly loving. Please click the link below to download your calendar today, and please share with your friends and family.


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Daily Dispatch 12/5/2019: GEO Group faces class action suit, climate and migration

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Daily Dispatch

December 5, 2019

A tour of the Adelanto Detention Facility, which is the largest immigration detention center in California, on Thursday, August 17, 2017 in Adelanto, Ca. (Micah Escamilla, Press Enterprise/SCNG)

GEO Group faces class action suit over $1 a day wages

One of the first articles I ever wrote for the Quixote Center on immigrant detention was about how the GEO Group and CoreCivic, private companies that dominate the “market” for incarcerating immigrants, use a federal voluntary work program as an end around paying real wages for keeping facilities clean. The voluntary work program is based on a 1978 pay rate. Detainees can earn $1 a day doing work, if they choose. However, the “voluntary” work program in GEO Group facilities is not so voluntary. That first article back in March of 2018 was about how GEO Group was getting sued by former detainees for requiring them to work in the facility, cleaning and cooking, for a dollar a day. 

This week that suit and related suits involving GEO Group, were bundled as a class action lawsuit potentially allowing hundreds of thousands of current and former detainees to join in a suit against the company for forced labor. From Capital and Main:

On November 26, U.S. District Court Judge Jesus G. Bernal announced his decision to allow hundreds of thousands of former detainees to join together to pursue back pay and damages when he granted class action status in Raul Novoa v. the GEO Group, dealing a defeat to the private prison firm.

The plaintiffs allege that a so-called voluntary work program in which detainees are paid $1 a day to do janitorial work, prepare meals and do laundry isn’t voluntary at all. Instead, they argue GEO requires detainees to work under the threat of solitary confinement or even criminal prosecution, saving the company millions of dollars in wages it would otherwise have to pay non-detainee workers. They further contend that GEO has a corporate policy of drafting detainees to do additional janitorial work for free, and that the company requires would-be dollar-a-day workers to also work without compensation until they are officially hired into the paid positions.

The lawsuit could lead to further action involving prisons more generally. GEO Group is the largest private prison company in the world! Under or un-paid wages are widely used in prison facilities around the country. This lawsuit could stand as a turning point in the fight against these practices.

Climate roots of migration

The Center for American Progress has an interesting piece on their blog this week about climate change and migration. There is a particular focus on Central America, but the article raises more global issues about how climate migration is defined in relation to internal law on refugees and other displaced peoples. From the article:

Many individuals coming to the United States from Central America are fleeing violence, poverty, and corruption. But climate change is emerging as both a direct and an indirect driver of migration that complicates existing vulnerabilities. Persistent drought, fluctuating temperatures, and unpredictable rainfall have reduced crop yields throughout the Northern Triangle—a region that comprises El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala—challenging livelihoods and access to food in agriculturally dependent communities. By denying the reality of climate change and taking a hard-line approach to migration, the Trump administration has shown its unwillingness to address the root causes of migration in the Americas.

Current internal law offers specific protections to people classified as refugees – but this designation does not apply to climate migrants.

The International Organization for Migration, along with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Bank, advocate the explicit use of “climate migrant”—instead of “climate or environmental refugee”—when referring to this migration, as designating someone as a “refugee” has legal ramifications. The use of “migrant” avoids the tricky issues that would arise if the United Nations were to reopen the technical definition of a “refugee,” as set out by the 1951 and 1967 agreements. In today’s climate, such an effort could result in a watered-down definition of what it means to be a refugee rather than a more robust definition appropriate to the global challenges of today and of the years ahead.

Additionally, migration is multicausal, and it is likely that the most vulnerable people would not be able to prove climate and environmental factors as the sole reason migration is necessary—something that could be required if climate change and environmental disasters are incorporated into existing agreements. Climate change outcomes are more abstract than poverty and malnutrition, for example, and economic insecurity is not considered a valid reason to grant someone asylum and refugee protections under current legal frameworks. But the need to protect individuals facing these circumstances is urgent.

We’ve written a bit more on this theme generally here and in relation to Haiti here. We also discussed the issues around definitions and legal statute, profiling Alexander Bett’s use of “survival migration” to encompass the new reality of multi-causal forced migration that extends beyond war and violence.

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Chairman Fred Hampton and Why His Life Still Matters 50 Years Later

Photo courtesy of Haymarket Books

“We should be working together.”

An older White man said this to me as I listened to his story about how his Latinx immigrant friends were beaten by Black youth in Southeast, Washington, D.C. I could see that he really thought I had the answers as to why it happened – as if Black people have banded together against the Latinx community or immigrants. He just couldn’t comprehend why I, a Black woman, wanted to raise awareness about the U.S.’ inhumane immigration policies and detention. Why would I be interested in helping them?  

“I feel called to serve the least of these…as Jesus commanded. I am a minister,” I responded.

There is a video embedded in this post. Please visit the website to view it.

These kinds of conversations are why the life and teachings of Chairman Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party still matter today. True knowledge of Hampton and the Black Panther Party would dispel the myth that Black people have not spearheaded political movements rooted in solidarity with other oppressed people and that Black people only care about the conditions of other Black people. This is simply not true. Fred Hampton recognized and taught how the elite or those in power use racism to divide the working class, and he was leading an effective movement to work against it. He wasn’t just the leader of the Black Panther Party. He was a leader for all oppressed people. And that’s what made him so dangerous.   

50 years ago today, Fred Hampton was assassinated by the Chicago Police Department along with his comrade, Mark Clark. Their murders were state sanctioned and in partnership with the FBI and its COINTELPRO program. His pregnant fiancé, Aku Njeri, was in bed with him that night when the police fired hundreds of bullets into their bedroom. He was only 21 years old at the time. He only scratched the surface of becoming the man and leader he was determined to be, but his impact was monumental nevertheless and surpassed his years. He had the ability to attract and ignite disenfranchised youth, and he was on the way to building a multiracial socialist movement. He promoted political education and solidarity, and he was conscious about how to combat racism, capitalism and the injustices that faced all oppressed and poor people.

Fred Hampton’s legacy continues and his spirit is evident in the leaders that have emerged in the last five years – specifically those from Ferguson, Missouri who protested and organized after the murder of Michael Brown by police. Sadly, many of those comrades and revolutionaries have met a similar fate to Hampton, but we continue to fight.

Hampton’s life still matters and his legacy lives on, and despite what mainstream society thinks, Black people are continuing to organize, unite, and fight for the humanity, dignity and freedom of all people.

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Daily Dispatch 12/3/2019: Abolish Immigrant Prisons? Yes!!!

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Daily Dispatch

December 3, 2019

University of Denver professor César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández writes in the New York Times today that it is time to abolish immigrant prisons. Garcia Hernández is also the author of Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants, which is now available in hardback edition. 

He notes that Eisenhower came close to abolishing immigrant prisons when he shut down Ellis Island and other detention sites in 1953. Between 1953 and 1983, peak boom years for the U.S. economy, there were no immigrant detention facilities. Immigrants who ended up in detention were held in local jails and other federal facilities for brief periods of time. Indeed, detention in any form was rare. The op-ed does not delve into the history of immigrant detention too deeply beyond that, but makes a compelling case for ending incarceration today. It is expensive, wasteful and inhumane. Money would be better spent helping migrants navigate an increasingly complex legal framework for immigration. Programs that provide legal support have a demonstrated positive impact: people show for court cases and other appointments, and tend to be more successful in making their case. Garcia Hernández also argues that in most cases prosecuting immigrants is simply not worth it. Locking people up for what is an administrative transgression makes no sense. Immigrants are not more likely to be criminals, and many of the people in detention have not even broken immigration laws – but are simply seeking asylum in this country and being detained during that process. He concludes:

In the years after the Eisenhower administration led the federal government tantalizingly close to de facto abolition of immigration prisons, the country boomed, our cities diversified, and courts maintained a central role resolving disputes in our messy democracy. Growing pains and all, the United States progressed with migrants free to live as ordinary people. Since then, we have swerved far from that past. To put someone behind bars, we should demand an exceptional justification. So far, the government hasn’t found one.

Read the full op-ed here – and share it on social media. Find out more information about his new book here.

ICE raids DMV records

Immigration and Customs Enforcement bought a years worth of access to North Carolina’s driving records for $27 dollars. (If you live in North Carolina and want a copy, your driving record costs $5-7.) Though it is not clear that ICE’s review of these records led to any arrests, it fits into a pattern of ICE’s efforts to access state records trolling for information on people to deport. From Quartz:

“ICE has been mining state driving records for several years,” César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, an immigration lawyer and professor at the University of Denver, told Quartz. “Unlike many other government databases, driver license records include high-quality photographs matched with home addresses. [S]ome states allow unauthorized migrants to obtain driver’s licenses, making these records especially promising gold mines for ICE and problematic targets for migrants.”

There are currently 12 states plus the District of Columbia that issues driver’s licenses and state ID’s to unauthorized immigrants (or simply do not ask about immigration status in the process of issuing IDs). However, North Carolina is not a state that issues driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants. Apparently ICE was interested in reviewing applications denied for lack of proof of residency.

In North Carolina, there is an enormous partisan fight over state cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This episode, even if it led to no arrests, is simply another chapter in this fight, which has included North Carolina’s legislature trying to abolish sanctuary cities, and passing legislation requiring the state’s sheriffs to cooperate with ICE investigations (over the objections of the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association). ICE has conducted raids throughout the state despite the objection of local law enforcement, mayors’ offices and immigrant advocates. We discussed this earlier this year when ICE stated it “had no choice” but to conduct raids in Charlotte, because the mayor was not cooperating with investigations. So

[e]ven if accessing a state’s DMV records costs less than a couple of movie tickets, enforcing the Trump administration’s so-called zero tolerance policies is a waste of both money and time, said Camilla Townsend, a Rutgers University history professor with a focus on Latin America.

“ICE’s own statistics demonstrate that zero tolerance—meaning the harshest interpretation of the laws—hasn’t discouraged people,” Townsend told Quartz. “In the case of Honduras, for instance, in the midst of a drug-induced civil war, the numbers actually rose in 2018, after a year of such policies.”

Federal immigration enforcement policies, past and present, in this country are divisive and very costly, and to the extent they are aimed at deterrence, do NOT even work. It is a high cost to bear for the sake of political theater. 

If you appreciate this content and keeping up-to-date on news about immigration and more, please consider supporting us on this #GivingTuesday.

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Daily Dispatch 12/2/2019: ICE Deports Witness, UN/EU pushing out refugees in Libya

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Daily Dispatch

December 2, 2019

 The Hard Rock hotel in New Orleans after the collapse on 12 October. Construction worker Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma, who had reported lapses in construction safety to his supervisors before the collapse, was deported to Honduras by US immigration authorities on Friday. Photograph: Scott Threlkeld/AP

ICE deports potential witness in Hard Rock construction site collapse

The Washington Post reported on Friday that Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma was deported to Honduras despite a request from the secretary of the Louisiana Workforce Commission to stay his deportation because Palma was part of an investigation into worker safety in the wake of the collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel site in New Orleans in October. From the Post:

A metal worker considered a “crucial witness” in the collapse at the Hard Rock Hotel construction site in New Orleans last month was deported Friday to his native Honduras.

Lawyers for Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma said the 38-year-old may have been targeted for deportation because he voiced concerns about the project — a claim immigration officials have denied.

Palma escaped the 18-story structure by jumping between floors as the steel and concrete from the upper floors came crashing down around him. The Oct. 12 catastrophe left three workers dead and dozens injured.

Two days later, as he was recovering, federal immigration agents arrested Palma while he was fishing at a national wildlife refuge.

The request from the Louisiana Workforce Commission made clear the Palma was a crucial witness in this investigation. From the Guardian,

In a 27 November letter addressed to William P. Joyce, the New Orleans field office director of Ice, Dejoie implored the agency to release Ramirez Palma, stay his deportation and “commit to neutrality in ongoing labor investigations for all witnesses and victims.” The letter was seen by the Guardian.

“In the aftermath of a disaster of this scale, the public needs all available information to understand what happened at the worksite, including information from Mr. Ramirez Palma and workers like him who witnessed safety violations before the collapse,” Dejoie wrote. “If he is deported, the public may never know what key information is being deported with him. The investigations will undoubtedly suffer.”

Palma is married and has three children. He has lived and worked in New Orlean for the last 17 years. He was issued a removal order in 2016, but has been in the process of appealing that decision and has checked in regularly with ICE offices in the interim. 

Libya is the EU’s Mexico

The Trump administration has come under much fire for its policies that have essentially offshored immigration enforcement to Mexico. This includes the disastrous Remain in Mexico policy and the various pressures Trump has put on the Mexican government to step up enforcement in order to keep migrants, especially asylum seekers, from reaching the U.S. border. Trump deserves all the fire he’s received for these policies – they are a human rights disaster and completely unnecessary.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the European Union is doing the same thing with Libya. The EU has funded the Libyan Coast guard in an effort to keep migrants from crossing the Mediterranean, while supporting Libyan government efforts to keep migrants in detention. Detention sites in Libya are a complete disaster – often under the control of different militias on competing sides in the nation’s ongoing civil war. Even official camps exist in dangerous settings, especially in Tripoli, which has been under siege for months. 

Now the UN is asking migrants in one of these official camps to leave – where they are supposed to go is far from clear. From the Associated Press:

The U.N. refugee agency plans to cut the number of migrants staying at an overcrowded transit center in Libya’s capital, a spokesman said Saturday.

Libya is a major waypoint for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East to Europe.

“The situation is very difficult, and we do not have the resources” because the center in Tripoli is at about twice its capacity, with some 1,200 migrants, Charlie Yaxley, a UNHCR spokesman, told The Associated Press.

The UNHCR has asked those refugees not registered with the agency to leave the European Union-funded Gathering and Departure Facility, offering an assistance package that includes cash for an initial two months.

“You will not be considered for evacuation or resettlement if you stay at the GDF,” the agency warned the migrants, according to a document obtained by the AP. It added that those seeking registration with the agency could only do so “outside” the facility.

The UNHCR said it would phase out food distribution for the unregistered migrants, including dozens of tuberculosis patients, from Jan. 1.

Yaxley said the agency also offered to facilitate returning the migrants to their home country or to a country they previously registered as asylum-seekers.

Migrants, however, decried the move fearing they would end up at detention centers or at the mercy of human traffickers.

“The migrants are reluctant and have their concerns about leaving the GDF,” one person seeking shelter at the facility said, who spoke on condition of anonymity for his safety. The surrounding areas of Tripoli have seen heavy fighting between armed factions since April.

Read the full story here. There are more than 40,000 asylum seekers, most from other countries in Africa, registered in Tripoli.  

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