Daily Dispatch 10/8/2019: Throw away people

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Daily Dispatch

October 8, 2019

Protest against GEO Group 
Photo: Richard Graulich/ZUMA Press/Newscom

One of the themes we write about in the Daily Dispatch quite a bit is the relationship between poor conditions in prisons and detention facilities, and the process of privatization which has turned incarceration into a profitable enterprise in this country. It is not difficult to see that the market forces that ensure adequate delivery of service and price controls in society more generally do not operate in prisons. The people who are on the receiving end of prison services – prisoners and detainees – have no say at all in the companies that are supposed to provide the meals, health services, mental health support, and other services that provide the context in which they are living this portion of their lives. The people paying for the services, state department of corrections, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Immigration and Customs Enforcement are only doing what is legislatively required, and they want it done as cheaply as possible. The companies that receive the contracts are simply doing what the contract requires – again spending as little as possible on delivery of service. The revolving door between private companies and state agencies overseeing them is a big door – and the predictable impact is that there is little meaningful oversight over these companies. Only lawsuits and investigative reports lead to changing practices.

One of the consequences of the privatization of mental health services in state and federal prisons is a serious decline in the quality of care – even as state agencies are paying private companies more than it would cost the state to provide the same service. One measure of this decline in care is an increase in suicides in states that have turned their prison mental health care services over to private companies. 

Reporter Lisa Armstrong, working with Type Investigations, CBSN and with support from a variety of funders, has put together a short documentary on the perils of privatizing mental health services which you can watch below. The documentary begins with the story of Miriam Abdullah, a young woman from Iraq who was incarcerated at age 15. She had well documented mental health concerns and yet received inadequate care, being forced in and out of isolation. She killed herself a few weeks before her 18th birthday. The company with the contract to provide care in Perryville Prison in Arizona where she was being held is Corizon – just one of three companies that dominate this “market.”

In recent weeks we have also profiled similar patterns of denial of service, inadequate care when provided, and an overuse of solitary confinement in detention facilities. For example, the Quixote Center joined with dozens of other human rights organizations in demanding the state delegation from Georgia investigate conditions at Stewart Detention facility. A call that took on added urgency following the release of details of a suicide in the facility last year. From the letter:

The misuse of solitary confinement is alarming because of the detrimental impact that solitary confinement has already had on existing mental health concerns of immigrants at Stewart. Two immigrants with a history of mental health concerns have died of suicide after being placed in solitary confinement for over 15 days—a time period that the United Nations would consider torture. Jeancarlo Jiménez-Joseph, a 27-year-old immigrant with schizophrenia detained at Stewart died of suicide on May 15, 2017 by hanging himself after 19 days in solitary confinement. Almost a year later in July 2018, Efrain Romero De la Rosa, a 40-year-old immigrant with bipolar disorder detained at Stewart, died of suicide after 21 days in solitary confinement. These tragedies point to the pattern of neglect of the mental health of immigrants at Stewart and the expedient use of solitary confinement as a means for Stewart to disregard the humanity of detained immigrants and their need for mental health care.

Stewart is run by one of the big two private prison companies – CoreCivic.

In writing about Romero’s case for the intercept, Jose Olivares wove 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. We wrote about Olivares’ research in the Daily Dispatch in September here. 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.

Many of the problems we see in immigration incarceration result from the fact that the methods employed are transferred from our mass incarceration industry. It is not as though health care provision and mental health services were great under state management in prisons. But all incentive to do it well has been gutted by privatization. And underlying all of this is that we treat people in prison as throw away people. Even though 95% of the people in prison will come out at some point, as a society we have decided they are not worth caring for. Our prison system incentivizes poor living conditions – and the trauma inflicted as a result will hurt us all in the long run.

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Daily Dispatch 9/12/2019: The farce is strong with this one…

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Daily Dispatch

September 12, 2019

Migration Protection Protocol Hearing Tents in Laredo, TX (Image: Ricardo Santos / AP)

Supreme Court Allows Trump Asylum Rules to Stand

Yesterday the Supreme Court gave Trump a “huge,” “big” victory by allowing his new rule limiting the number of people who can seek asylum in the country to stand – at least for now. Trump’s proposed rule would deny migrants the ability to pursue asylum in the United States if they passed through a third country first and failed to pursue asylum there before coming to the United States. In effect, this would deny everyone seeking asylum at the U.S./Mexico border from applying, unless they are from Mexico. The rule shreds current asylum law and practices, and was immediately challenged in court. From the Associated Press:

The legal challenge to the new policy has a brief but somewhat convoluted history. U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco blocked the new policy from taking effect in late July. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals narrowed Tigar’s order so that it applied only in Arizona and California, states that are within the 9th Circuit.

That left the administration free to enforce the policy on asylum seekers arriving in New Mexico and Texas. Tigar issued a new order on Monday that reimposed a nationwide hold on asylum policy. The 9th Circuit again narrowed his order on Tuesday.

The high court action allows the Republican administration to impose the new policy everywhere while the court case against it continues.

It’s unclear how quickly the policy will be rolled out and how exactly it fits in with the other efforts by the administration to restrict border crossings and tighten asylum rules.

Importantly, the Supreme Court ruling only overturns a lower court injunction – it does NOT support of the merits of the policy directly. Legal challenges against the new rule will continue, and it is hard to see how it can survive as it is a clear violation of current law. Mexico is not legally identified as a “safe third country” under U.S. law, and the U.S. effort to get such an agreement with Mexico has not gone forward. The only country the U.S. has such an agreement with is Canada. A separate effort for an agreement with Guatemala has been slowed with legal challenges in Guatemala – and as the single largest group of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. right now are from Guatemala, it is clearly not a “safe” third country.

Noah Feldman, writing for Bloomberg, emphasizes that this was a ruling on process – not the legality of the rule:

But reversing the lower courts that blocked the regulation, pending litigation, isn’t the same thing as upholding it as lawful. The court of appeals still has to issue a final ruling on whether the rule violates federal immigration statutes and whether the government was authorized to issue it without first seeking notice and comment from the public.

Then, after final rulings from the appellate court, the Supreme Court will surely weigh in — and still might strike it down.

Asylum hearings, in tents, without judges

Meanwhile, immigration courts were set up in tents along the border to hear asylum claims from people ordered to “remain in Mexico” pending a court date.

At this point we have to pause and note the absurdity. Not only are people denied the right to seek asylum from within the United States – even those who present themselves at a port of entry have been told to stay in Mexico – but they can’t even get a real court hearing. Asylum seekers are patched through to a judge in San Antonio via teleconference while sitting in a tent in Laredo, TX, after sitting in a shelter or refugee camp for months to make their asylum claim.

There are currently 42,000 people awaiting hearing dates on asylum claims in Mexico. 42,000!!!

As the hearings began yesterday, no legal observers, media, or pro bono attorneys were allowed to view the proceedings. From Buzzfeed:

Ashley Huebner, associate director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center, was able to enter the tent facility briefly before being told to leave because she didn’t have a client appearing before the court. She said the lack of access to court observers and reporters was concerning.

“It’s particularly critical here because the entire process is taking place with such a lack of transparency,” Huebner told BuzzFeed News. “The entire setup confirmed how absurd it is to call this a courtroom and court proceedings.”

As of early September, more than 42,000 asylum-seekers have been forced to wait in Mexico while their immigration proceedings play out, according to acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan. Asylum-seekers in MPP [Migration Protection Protocols], also known as “Remain in Mexico,” have reported being assaulted, kidnapped, and extorted while being forced to wait in Mexico. With limited shelter space, some have to rent apartments or rooms, while others are homeless and relying on donations.

You may recall that the administration was under some heat for repurposing funds appropriated by Congress for other accounts in order to pay for enforcement measures. This court fiasco is paid for, in part, by funds appropriated originally for FEMA.

NPR Runs segment on Democratic candidates and immigration policy

NPR reached out to Democrats running for the presidential nomination to find out where they stand on immigration policy. Though a pretty select filter in terms of questions (nothing difficult on detention, “Remain in Mexico,” asylum law, or the movement to abolish ICE). But still worth a look. From lead in to story:

Donald Trump’s immigration stances — family separation, a ban on immigrants from several majority-Muslim nations, the cancellation of the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program, to name a few — have given Democrats much to criticize as the 2020 presidential election approaches.

It means that the Democratic candidates are pretty uniform in coming out hard against the president on immigration. However, they differ on the particulars of what policies they would like to put into place instead and, in many cases, have not articulated what they would do specifically.

To get a sense of what exactly the candidates would like the immigration system to look like, we asked them some basic questions about legal immigration levels, border security and what kind of a crime crossing the border illegally ought to be.

Full article here.

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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 8/20/2019: Right2Vote Update

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Daily Dispatch

August 20, 2019

Immigration news has been continuous and alarming, but there are other campaigns on the InAlienable radar to update you on. Last year we co-sponsored the National Prison Strike and have been sharing information about longer term actions that have evolved through the network created by the strike. The most active campaign is the Right2Vote Campaign, which is working in multiple states on ending felony disenfranchisement (denying people with felony convictions the right to vote). 48 of 50 states deny people who are incarcerated the right to vote, and 18 of 50 states continue to deny the right to vote to people with felony convictions even after their release. You can check out the latest Right2Vote updates here.

A related issue, but one rarely discussed, is that people who are held in pretrial detention are also effectively disenfranchised. These are people who have not been convicted of a crime, but are awaiting trial behind bars, mostly because they cannot afford bail. The numbers of people held pretrial in this country are enormous – well over 20 percent of our bloated mass incarceration machine is filled with people not yet convicted: Of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in this country, over 510,000 have not been convicted. To put that in perspective – our pretrial (unconvicted!) prison population is larger than the TOTAL prison populations of all but two other countries (China and Russia). [We have, of course, the largest total prison population and highest incarceration rate (adjusted for population) of any country on the planet.]

Chicago made history this month by mandating that Cook County Jail create a polling place for people in pre-trial detention. Amani Sawari writes in Daily Kos:

On March 17th, 2020 Cook County Jail will make history as the first polling place located in a jail. Out of 102 counties throughout the state, only 8 could show that they facilitate elections for people in pre-trial detention. It’s obvious that legislation was required in order to protect the rights of pre-trial detainees. Organizers main goal is an end to felony disenfranchisement in the state of Illinois. Illinois is a state were citizens voting rights are restored automatically upon their release from prison. The next step for organizers is to re-enfranchise incarcerated citizens. For those that have questions about either of the bills or the status of felony disenfranchisement in Illinois please participate in the Democracy Needs Everyone Dialogues on Wednesday August 14, 2:00 – 3:00 pm CT using #NewSuffrageMvmt. We’re not finished yet, there are many more jails to provide with polling equipment and many more voices to amplify, but this historic milestone deserves celebration. For local supporters, Chicago Votes will be hosting an Unlock Civics cookout on Saturday August 24th at La Villita Park Canopy from 4:00-7:00 pm in celebration of the passing of these two historic bills. [Note: The second bill requires provision of civics courses to people who are incarcerated prior to their release]

Lawsuit filed on behalf of 55,000 ICE detainees

A lawsuit has been filed by 15 detainees against Immigrant and Customs Enforcement, as a class action suit representing 55,000 immigrants. From the Guardian,

The suit filed in Los Angeles on Monday outlines individual experiences at eight different facilities, but immigration lawyers say the mistreatment is representative of systemic problems that affect tens of thousands of people. The complaint comes as the Trump administration escalates its efforts to make it harder for asylum seekers and migrants from certain countries to come to the U.S., detains undocumented migrants for longer periods of time and expands the use of private prison contracts in the immigration system.

Attorneys said the conditions at some U.S. detention centers were so brutal that migrants who have fled torture and violence “are forced to abandon viable claims for immigration relief and accept deportation out of a desperate desire to escape the torture they are enduring in detention on U.S. soil.”

“They cannot take it any more,” said Elissa Johnson, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of several not-for-profit organizations involved in the suit in Los Angeles. “That is not a choice that anyone should have to make,” she told reporters.

The suit highlights issues we have raised here many times – use of solitary confinement, lack of access to medical treatment and inadequate attention to specific dietary needs of detainees, overcrowding and use of indefinite detention with little due process. 

Another look at Mississippi

We’ve posted a number of articles about the raids in Mississippi two weeks and the fallout from them. But here is one more. Henry Grabar writes at Slate about the impact of the raids in Forest, Mississippi – just one of the towns impacted. The raids have had an enormous impact on the local area – as many people have lost their jobs, children are still separated from parents that have been detained, and fear and frustration grow. It is an important snapshot of what this kind of enforcement means to small towns throughout the south that have become home to immigrants working in agriculture and food processing over the last 20 years. From Grabar’s article:

The workplace raids that took place on Aug. 7 represent the new face of immigration enforcement in the Trump era. Six hundred and eighty workers were arrested across seven chicken plants in two counties. That dwarfs the raid last August in which ICE agents detained 160 workers at a manufacturing plant in Paris, Texas. Before that, in April 2018, ICE arrested 97 immigrants at a meatpacking plant near Morristown, Tennessee. That had been the largest act of workplace immigration enforcement since 2008, reflecting a jarring change from the Obama administration’s decision to focus internal immigration enforcement on those who had committed serious crimes. Now Morristown seems small.

In Morton, Mississippi, population 3,600, more than 10 percent of the town has now been either incarcerated or fired. While 300 of those arrested were released shortly after the raids, the claim made by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, Mike Hurst, that “all children were with at least one of their parents” by the night after the raids was not true then, and it was not true days later. It turns out that the first thing that happens when hundreds of adults vanish is a child care crisis.

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Daily Dispatch 6/24/2019

Trump delays deportation raids, gives himself two more weeks to revel in fear

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Daily Dispatch

June 24, 2019

On Saturday, Trump tweeted that the mass immigration raids being planned by ICE for this past weekend were being put on hold for two weeks to give time for Republicans and Democrats to come to some agreement about changing asylum rules and “Loophole problems at southern border.” He went on to tweet that if no progress was made. “Deportations start!!” Trump’s original announcement about the raids said that millions of people would be deported. But in reality the disclosed targets are about 2,000 families.

Yes, families. What sets these raids apart from other enforcement actions is that the administration is specifically targeting families where one or more members have been issued a removal order. The focus on families had garnered some pushback from Department of Homeland officials when first discussed, as they were fearful of the optics of separating families again. But those folks are gone now; Trump has purged the leadership at DHS and replaced most leadership with hard-liners. He also created the position of Border Czar last week and nominated Thomas Homan to that position. Homan oversaw Obama’s deportation program – which at its peak in 2012 lead to 400,000 deportations in one year – far more than Trump has deported.  

All of this corresponds with Trump officially announcing his re-election campaign last week – and thus we have a preview of the next 15 months with a singular focus on immigration, coupled with outlandish rhetoric, threats and fear mongering. If we thought the last two and half years were bad – I am fearful it will only get worse. “Keep America Great” indeed.

At least part of the goal here is to generate fear. From the Los Angeles Times,

Emilio Amaya, a longtime immigrant advocate in the Inland Empire, spent much of the day Friday taking calls from a frightened community.

Some people had called the San Bernardino Community Service Center because of rumors, which turned out to be unfounded, that immigration raids were underway in their neighborhoods. Others shared that they had bought food and other basics so that they would not have to leave their homes next week. Still others said they would not be taking their children outside in the coming days…

…The announcements sent fear throughout immigrant communities. “The effect is terror,” Amaya said. “We’re getting call after call after call. There is a lot of fear.”

From Chicago, following the announced delay:

[I]mmigration groups like the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights remain on guard, and are still trying to determine what to do next. Activists have been busy all weekend in Chicago, protesting and working with families.

The ACLU is accusing the president is playing games with the lives of millions of people, calling the threatened raids blatant cruelty whether or not they occur.

Reacting to the president’s decision, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Chicago is united in its support of immigrant communities, and criticized the planned raids.

“This is a race to the bottom for [Trump], galvanize shrinking base at expense of terrorizing our immigrant communities,” Lightfoot said.

Ahead of the planned raids, Lightfoot directed the Chicago police to cut off Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) access to its databases because Chicago is a sanctuary city.

In Denver:

Immigrant activists say President Donald Trump’s tweet June 17, that “ICE will begin the process of removing millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States,” was meant to incite terror.

“We are disgusted by the administration and ICE’s glee in terrorizing immigrant families, leaving children crying and sick to their stomach with fear about what could happen to their parents,” said Ana Rodriguez, of the Colorado People’s Alliance. “We know that massive raids or not, ICE is ripping away our neighbors as collateral damage every single day and that we must continue to be ready to protect each other no matter what.”

As Rodriguez says, whatever happens around a potential deal with Democrats and Republicans on border security and asylum, raids still happen every day. ICE is overseeing deportation of 7,000 people a month from internal enforcement and is sending tens of thousands of asylum seekers across the border with Mexico to wait determination of their cases.

Indeed, the day after tweeting about the delay, Trump said a deal with Democrats “probably won’t happen.” The goal is not resolution. Trump has nothing else to talk about. He is engaging in political theater. The tragedy is that in a world where facts don’t matter, and truth is contingent on the election season, humanity fades and we are left only with the operation of power. I suspect the real reason for the delay is simply to give Trump two more weeks of the news cycle to grandstand and scare people.

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Daily Dispatch 6/19/2019

Juneteenth and the ongoing struggle for justice

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Daily Dispatch

June 19, 2019

154 years ago today, a union general announced to a group of enslaved people on Galveston Island, Texas that they were free. The Civil War had ended two months earlier; the Emancipation Proclamation issued two years earlier. But June 19, 1865 has been celebrated as Emancipation Day since.

Lauren Jones reflects on this history in the Quixote Center blog today. In “Juneteenth, Why we still Fight for Freedom,” she points to the interconnected struggles for justice:

This is why in the midst of our celebrating, Juneteenth should remind us that we still have a long way to go when it comes to “justice for all,” and we should continue to be vigilant in our fight for justice. The hope is to see a country where all of its citizens are truly free and those seeking refuge are offered the opportunity to experience this freedom as well.

Also drawing the connection between the celebration of emancipation and the call for justice today is Van Newkirk II, writing in The Atlantic.

In 2019, Juneteenth will be celebrated as emancipation was in the old days: with calls for reparations. As the country marks 154 years since news of the end of slavery belatedly came to Texas, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the subject of reparations for black Americans. It is a watershed moment in the larger debate over American policy and memory with regard to an enduring sin.

The hearing is a discussion of the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. The hearing will examine, the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, its continuing impact on the community and the path to restorative justice. Legislation to create this commission was first introduced by John Conyers in 1989, and in every Congressional session since, but it has not seen much movement. Ta-Nahesi Coates, who will testify today, is perhaps most associated with re-energizing the discussion on reparations. His piece in The Atlantic’s June 2014 issue, The Case for Reparations, became their most widely shared article. For an alternative take on the debate on reparations, from a left perspective, see Cedric Johnson’s “Reparations isn’t a Political Demand”, in Jacobin.

Trump threatens expanded enforcement and deportations

President Trump is threatening mass enforcement actions to round up and deport “millions” of unauthorized immigrants in the United States in the coming week. Immigration and Customs Enforcement seemed unaware of any plan: “ICE said on Tuesday that it will continue to conduct “routine targeted enforcement operations” and referred questions about Trump’s tweets to the White House.”

Whether more Trump bluster, or not, the threat is having its intended consequence: Suck up all of the media air on immigration and generate fear among communities throughout the United States.

To be clear, the United States is now incarcerating over 53,000 people on any given day in adult immigrant detention facilities, approaching 14,000 in child detention facilities, and 2,000 in family detention. The administration is already over budget on detention, and thus has no ability to actually detain hundreds of thousands of people and offer any kind of due process concerning claims about immigration status on that scale. That said, there may well be several high profile enforcement actions in the coming weeks.

Trump’s war on immigration is about to step up. Are we ready?

Presidential candidates talk to the New York Times about immigration

The New York Times published a series of interviews with Democrats vying for the nomination for president. The video interviews cover a range of topics, here you can see their views on the question, “Do you think illegal immigration is a major problem for the United States?” Few of the candidates answered the question directly.

We’re wondering why the New York Times didn’t ask, “Is incarcerating tens of thousands of people each day for seeking a new life in the United States a major problem for the United States?”  Or, “Are mass arrests and threatened deportations of millions of people already living here a major problem for the United States?” Maybe in the next round of questions.

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Daily Dispatch 6/18/2019

The Mexico Deal: What really matters

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Daily Dispatch

June 18, 2019

Listening to Trump explain one of his achievements reminds me a lot of listening to my son read the lyrics to the Beatles’ “I am the Walrus.” Something about the meter and the fact that what is being said makes no sense. And so, no surprise, that the “deal” with Mexico was not so much a deal, in reality, but more of an agreement to talk about a future agreement, at a later date, maybe in 45 days. Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come. I’m crying.  Goo, goo, goo, g’joob. See how that works…

From the text of the letter representatives from the U.S. and Mexico actually signed:

The United States and Mexico will immediately begin discussions to establish definitive terms for a binding bilateral agreement to further address burden sharing and the assignment of responsibility for processing refugee status claims of migrants.

The art of the deal indeed…

However, even if the much touted “deal” is not much of a deal, Trump still got concessions from Mexico through threatening tariffs that will prove disastrous for migrants. This is the media magic of Trump. Somehow the things that really matter get lost in the analysis of Trump’s veracity and the indignity that ensues when he takes credit for an achievement not nearly as “huge” as he claims.  

So, what matters:

Mexico really did commit to send more guardsmen to its border with Guatemala – 6,000 in total. That Mexico was already engaged in its own crack down on migration at the border – one that expanded greatly in 2014 in response to refugees from Central America – has been lost in this discussion. Which is to say, the massive deployment envisioned will be a human rights nightmare if current practices are any measure.

Speaking of human rights, the Mexican government arrested and detained two human rights activists, Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica, in the midst of the bilateral discussion who had been vocal in criticizing the treatment of Central American migrants. Both were released after a campaign from the Alliance for Global Justice and others to press for their release. The arrests were clearly seen as an effort to intimidate activists speaking out in defense of migrants – and a step taken under pressure from the Trump administration.

The head of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, Tonatiuh Guillén resigned on Friday, to be replaced by the head of Mexico’s national prison system. Much as Trump has been cleaning house at the Department of Homeland Security to bring in hard-liners, Mexico seems to be doing the same.

Of the items discussed in the joint declaration last week, and the supporting document released by the government of Mexico (to make clear there was no “secret deal” as Trump claimed), the most controversial part is Mexico being designated as a “safe third country.” Such a designation would require that refugees crossing into Mexico would have to first apply for asylum there, even if their intent was to come to the United States. This would require action by Mexico’s legislature, and it is not clear this will be accepted.

For now, Trump is still enforcing the “remain in Mexico” practice of requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico until their asylum cases can be heard by immigration authorities on the U.S. side of the border. The process is moving very slowly, leaving thousands of people waiting for a chance to file their claim formally in the United States. Following the announced agreement, Trump extended the practice to cover the entire U.S./Mexico border. This led to 10,000 Central American refugees being returned to Mexico by U.S. authorities to await asylum hearings. Part of the joint declaration, the only real commitment the United States made, is a promise to speed up the asylum process.

So, yes Trump exaggerated the extent of his deal with Mexico. But let’s be clear, he got what he wanted, at least thus far. Mexico is upscaling its crackdown on immigration under pressure from the United States. This will be a disaster for refugees seeking passage through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. That human rights disaster should be much bigger news than Trump inflating his accomplishment.

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Daily Dispatch 6/17/2019

Polls and Pols

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Daily Dispatch

June 17, 2019

I am never sure what to do about polls as an indicator of people’s political views. The findings are driven by the way questions are asked and the answers that are provided for respondents to choose from (seems obvious). Which is to say, polls rarely capture what people actually think about a topic, but at best give a sense of how they prioritize the options pollsters give them. That said, a recent survey by YouGov measuring people’s sense of the pros and cons of immigration for their countries was interesting. For example, of the countries surveyed, people in the United States had the most positive outlook on immigration.

The YouGov study was conducted in the United States, Britain, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, France and Germany. Three sets of questions were presented: What was the primary benefit of immigration, what people saw as the greatest negative impact of immigration, and how people generally saw immigration affecting their country. The results were interesting.

On the greatest benefit, in all of the countries surveyed except France, the choice was “better food.” For France it was sports – which if you’ve ever watched the World Cup you’d understand. For the United States the benefits to the local economy came in second with culture coming in third. (Note: What culture means, distinct from food, music and sports, all other options, is not exactly clear). Here is the graph.

In terms of the greatest harm caused by immigration, the United States was an outlier, being the only country where people identified welfare provision as the greatest harm. In all other countries it was crime (number two in the United States). Here’s that graph.

Finally, and most interesting for those tempted to look outside the Trump bubble, the United States and Britain were the only countries where more people held the view that immigration has generally benefited the country over that those who felt it had generally harmed the country.

If we are to try and draw any lessons from this poll, aside from people apparently appreciating taco trucks and Indian carry-out, those lessons are mixed. On the one hand, the rhetoric over reality impact is sobering: More people are concerned about immigration’s impact on crime and welfare than other issues, even though immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than “native born” people in the United States and are not allowed to participate in most welfare programs whether unauthorized immigrants or permanent residents. One suspects this finding of misunderstanding will give fuel to the fire for those who beat on these drums for political purposes (e.g. Trump).

It is important to note that despite the heavy-handed approach this administration has adopted and the rhetoric that has accompanied it, more people look favorably on immigration in this country than others. Those that have tracked these opinions over time, have found that Trump’s particular brand of nativism seems to have led to a backlash among other voters, and that in fact, pro-immigrant attitudes have increased under this administration.

As we approach the next election cycle, this is very important to keep in mind. Many pundits have suggested that Democrats tack right on immigration to capture some portion of “pro-Trump” voters. Even so-called liberal leaders like Hillary Clinton and Tony Blair have said the same for Social Democratic parties in Europe. Rather than cede ground to the “populists,” it is important to get tougher on immigration, the argument goes, if democracy is to survive (David Frum’s actual argument). Whether one buys this notion that somehow the Democrats are inherently better for democracy writ large, or not, it is worth pointing out that moving right on immigration won’t help them win elections. It is a fallacious argument.

At least, Zack Beauchamp, writing in Vox today, makes a compelling case for this. Comparing research done on European elections and prior elections in this country, he argues that Democrats would lose from adopting more restrictionist immigration policies.

One paper compared data on Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008, which had a comparatively generic outreach program to Latinos, to its 2012 campaign, which focused heavily on turning out Latino voters by emphasizing pro-immigration positions like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The data concluded that “Obama’s Latino targeted outreach was (1) remarkably effective at winning over Latino voters; and (2) it had coattail effects for Democratic Senate candidates.”

There’s reason to believe this could be even more true in the Trump era. While Trump has mobilized a vocal minority of anti-immigrant voters in the Republican Party, survey after survey has shown that this has led to a backlash among the rest of the population, with numbers of Americans expressing support for immigration reaching historic highs in tracking polls.

For now Democrats in the presidential race, and the leadership in Congress seem willing to bet that support for Dreamers, for example, will help them at the polls. However, the candidates willing to press the immigration conversation further into much needed critiques of enforcement measures at the border and detention are few. As the field narrows next year, there will be more pressure to avoid these topics. Certainly in the general election, whoever wins the Democratic primary will feel pressure to tack right on a number of issues, and especially immigration. The research suggests this will be a bad idea.

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Daily Dispatch 6/14/2019

Fort Sill: Can we learn from history?

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Daily Dispatch

June 14, 2019

George Bernard Shaw famously quipped, “Hegel was right when he said that we learn from history that man [sic] cannot learn anything from history.” The news this week that the Trump administration plans to detain children at one of the locations, Fort Sill Army Base in Oklahoma, that was used as a detention center for Japanese Americans during World War II suggests Shaw was probably correct. Fort Sill has been used before to detain unaccompanied minors: Obama used the base – and other locations – to hold children in 2014.

Whether, as a society, we can learn from history is an open question. Certainly we have made enormous progress in creating legal standards for the protection of human rights, for example. But there is a daily struggle for those rights to be realized. And, of course, exactly what lesson(s) we are to draw from history is not always clear. Many people treat Trump’s immigration policy as though it came out of nowhere when only two years ago under a different president, children were being detained, families were being separated, and tens of thousands of people were being deported each month. That said, we can still try to learn what we can.

With that in mind, I want to encourage people to check out Densho. It is an organization committed to education about the detention of Japanese Americans during World War II in the hopes that a better understanding of what happened can actually prevent a similar tragedy from being visited upon a new generation of people. Their statement on the news this week reads in part:

The Trump administration’s plan to use Fort Sill, Oklahoma as a concentration camp for immigrant and refugee-seeking children is just the latest in a long legacy of violent incarceration and family separation at that site.

Over 700 Japanese Americans were incarcerated there during WWII. One inmate, Kanesaburo Oshima, a Japanese immigrant and father of 11, was shot and killed trying to escape.

But Fort Sill’s history of trauma also includes a Native American boarding school where Comanche, Apache, Caddo, Kiowa, Delaware, Wichita, Navajo, and other Indigenous children were separated from their families, their culture, and their language.

And it served as a Prisoner of War camp for members of the Chiricahua Apache tribe who were forcibly relocated from the Southwest in 1894. The Apache leader Geronimo was among the 300-plus members of the tribe incarcerated there. He later passed away at Fort Sill in 1909 and was laid to rest there.

Fort Sill is not an anomaly, but it is a reminder of the ongoing violences of settler colonialism, racism, and xenophobia that have defined far too much of our nation’s history.

So, rather than have the Fort Sill episode be a soundbite in this week’s news cycle, treat it as an opportunity to learn more about this history. Hegel at least hoped that the world would eventually, through struggle, catch up to its ideals. If not from the lessons of history, at least from the aspiration for freedom. Whether this is correct, only time will tell. But the struggle continues nevertheless.

The Densho statement ends:

Sites like Fort Sill, Lordsburg, and Dilley need to be permanently closed, not recycled to inflict more harm. And we must also acknowledge that every single one of these sites exists on stolen land, and the majority of Central American migrants currently detained are Indigenous people.

The battle we’re fighting today started in 1492, not 1942.


Let’s underscore that NOW!

The Art of Resistance: #NoKidsInCages

In a world where no amount of fact checking can seem to put a dent in policy debates, sometimes the most effective way to make a point is on a more visceral, emotional level. Such was the approach this week in New York City as activists placed cages in the different parts of the city, each with a child sized manequin wrapped in a kevlar sheet inside. Accompanying the visual presentation was a recording of children crying for their parents while being held in detention. RAICES, an organization that provides legal services to immigrants incarcerated near the border, helped to sponsor the installations.

“We want to bring this back to the consciousness of the American people,” RAICES CEO Jonathan Ryan told HuffPost. “One of the many unfortunate consequences of the repeated traumatic stories coming from the border is that, as horrified and angry as people have been, we also become desensitized. It’s important for people … to be confronted with the reality that this is about children, human beings, whose lives are forever affected.”

“This is being done in our name by people who we elected,” he added. “And if we don’t do something to stop this, this will become who we are.”

To see a video of the installations, which were all taken down by early afternoon on Thursday, and to read the full report on Huffington Post, visit here.

Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica Freed

Last week we shared an action alert from the Alliance for Global Justice about the arrests of Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica, both of whom are activists working to defend the human rights of Central American migrants and others in Mexico.

Both men have been released from detention. See update below:

We are pleased to announce that Mexican immigrant rights activists Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica have been released from detention! After more than 20 hours of court proceedings, a federal judge in Tapachula, Chiapas, determined that there is enough evidence to demonstrate that neither one of the activists was at the scene where the crimes they were accused of were committed.

On June 5, 2019, Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica were arbitrary detained in Mexico City and Sonora, respectively, on fabricated charges of human smuggling. The arrest of these Human Rights activists came after several days of threats from U.S. President Donald Trump to increase tariffs on Mexican goods in order to push Mexico to detain migrants and refugees, mostly from Central America and pushed out of their homelands as a result of U.S. interventions in the region, seeking asylum in the U.S.

Thank you to everyone who joined in solidarity, supported and shared the actions to demand freedom for Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica. The international movement started to demand freedom for the two Mexican immigrant rights activists is an example of the power of grassroots organizing over the expansion of U.S. imperialist practices that demand the criminalization of all of those who denounce the violent consequences of U.S. military, economic and political intervention in the Americas.

There is still a chance prosecutors may attempt to reintroduce charges. We will keep you posted.

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Daily Dispatch 6/13/2019

Another “temporary” prison for children

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Daily Dispatch

June 13, 2019

The Trump administration is opening a “temporary” detention facility for unaccompanied minors at Fort Sill Army Base in Oklahoma that will hold up to 1,400 children. As we reported just yesterday, such facilities do not have the same licensing requirements as other facilities where children are placed. Most facilities run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement have to meet state licensing requirements to care for children. Temporary facilities are not subject to this state oversight. Currently the only other “temporary” facility is in Homestead, Florida. There is an active campaign to get this shut down. See the Daily Dispatch from yesterday for more details.

The main issues here are the lack of licensing, the end around the Flores Agreement these facilities represent, and of course, the simple fact that we are detaining so many children while putting up barriers to their placement with family and community sponsors – thereby extending their detention. Nevertheless, the symbolism of placing children at a facility utilized as a concentration camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II was not lost on some writers. Of course, Obama used the same facility for the same purpose five years ago. So, more than anything, this speaks to the continuity of U.S. mistreatment of immigrants over generations.

Unauthorized immigration at 10-year low

To listen to this administration talk about immigration, you’d have no idea that unauthorized immigration is at a 10-year low (it was before Trump took office, so no he can’t take credit for this).  Until February of this year, arrests at the border where at 15-year low. Indeed, the only immigration Trump has slowed is authorized immigration by delaying processing, increasing denials for Visas, lowering the refugee ceiling, and not even allowing that already low number into the country – and so on.

We thought you should know.

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