Taste The Nation

Taste the Nation, a new series on the streaming network Hulu, is hosted and produced by Padma Lakshmi, best known as the host of Top Chef. An immigrant herself, Padma wanted to research immigration in the US in the wake of Trump’s election and the US’s latest anti-immigrant wave. Recognizing the power of food, she chose it as the lens to frame the topic. Through 10 episodes, the show explores 10 popular foods in America. As we learn the history, techniques and rituals that surround the food, we are also shown the history of the people making it, particularly their migration story. The immigration policies that impacted them, both current and historical, are also highlighted.

It is often said that the United States is a nation of immigrants. However, that statement negates an entire group of people and mischaracterizes the history of another. 

There are people whose ancestors have always lived here in the Americas and episode 7 explores the rich food traditions of the Apache and the impact of colonialization on those traditions. The episode starts with fry bread. A food many are familiar with and often considered traditional. But the episode quickly explains that fry bread is a food that was developed out of a necessity to use the commodity food rations given to indigenous people by the United States government, after forcibly removing them from their traditional land and food sources. Though it may be tasty, it is a painful symbol of colonialization, displacement and genocide. The episode goes on to highlight the amazing bounty of food that the Arizona desert provides.  Foods such as prickly pear fruit, barrel cactus fruit, onions, and small game such as rabbit or pack rat. Indigenous chefs are reclaiming the recipes and cooking techniques of their ancestors that have been erased and nearly lost. They are reclaiming the medicinal, healing properties and health benefits of their ancestral food. 

To say that African American ancestors “migrated” to the Americas negates the fact that they were forced to come in chains. Episode 3 explores the rich food traditions of the Gullah Geechee, descendants of enslaved Africans who were brought to the Americas primarily for their knowledge of growing rice. They now live along the coast from northern Florida to North Carolina with an unofficial capital in Charleston, SC. Modern southern and soul food can be traced back to the Gullah, but often they aren’t given credit. Padma talks with chefs and community members who are working and fighting to preserve the traditions and language of the Gullah (a blend of the various languages of the enslaved Africans and English). Sitting on ancestral land where so many atrocities happened, Padma acknowledges that talking about Gullah history is painful, but it is an important part of American History and it is part of the healing process this nation has to undertake. 

They say you are what you eat, but do we even really know what we are eating? or where it comes from? Hot dogs are often seen as quintessentially American, as American as baseball and apple pie. But hot dogs, or wieners, are German; so, in episode 2, Padma travels to Milwaukee to explore German immigration. This episode focuses on assimilation and the fact that so many of the German contributions to US culture have been so thoroughly absorbed, they are no longer viewed as German, but simply American. Padma says “Assimilation is complicated. While many people fight to be accepted. Others work to hold on to what might get lost. And that push and pull my friends, is America.”  

Many episodes explore what it means to pass on your cultural traditions to children who have a hyphenated identity. In episode 3, about Indian dosas, Padma’s daughter (Indian-American) reluctantly admits that she prefers pancakes to dosas. This cultural transmission is further complicated when you can’t travel back to where your traditions originate, as in episode 6 about kabob and the Iranian-American children of immigrants who fled Iran following the revolution. 

The very first episode of the series is perhaps the most relevant to our current debate on immigration. The episode goes to El Paso, to explore, the burrito. The chefs interviewed are quick to note that what we’ve been eating at Chipotle, is NOT what they are making. One chef notes that “a burrito is tradition wrapped in colonialization… Flour is not one of our ancestral foods. It’s an imposed food.” So that flour tortilla, like fry bread, is a symbol of colonialization. The episode talks a lot about the region and the arbitrary border that separates families and friends and has become ever increasingly militarized. Padma says, America loves Mexican food, but asks, “what about the hands that make that food?” Chef Marentes takes great pride in making his tortillas but notes, “It’s hard for me to think that people are going to accept my tortillas before they accept my cousins.” 

The last episode takes the viewers to Hawaii and is about poke. It focuses on the fusion of traditional Japanese and Hawaiian ingredients and cooking techniques. Gastronomically, the two have fused well, elements of each have been retained but have combined to create a delicious hybrid. Padma wonders if this could serve as a model for the nation. What would our country look like if traditions could be accepted and respected but also joined to create something new and beautiful. It’s a hopeful note, one that is much needed in these times. 

What does it mean to be American? Who decides? Which cultures are welcomed, accepted? Which ones are ignored or erased? Taste the Nation explores all of these questions and more. 

But as Chef Twitty says, quoting a West African saying, “if you sit at my table and eat with me, you’ll know who I am.” The table Padma Lakshmi explores is rich in flavor and diversity. It brings stories of pain and hope. And if we sit together and eat at this table, we will get to see the beauty of what it means to be American. 

(Hulu is a subscription based streaming service: https://www.hulu.com/)

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Statues, Stories and American Idols

(Source: Reddit: https://i.redd.it/ukyf7ju11a651.jpg

On social media several weeks ago, I read, with no small alarm, the hysterical rants of the great protectors of our cultural patrimony, upon the defacement of the sculpture of Cervantes in a San Francisco park. Clutching my pearls, I wondered what had become of our way of life. Digging deeper, I learned that the two statues facing Cervantes were also “desecrated” with spray paint. These statues, of course, represent Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Our founders at the Quixote Center took the name of this fictional nobleman because he embodied a quest for living according to lofty, if sometimes ludicrous, ideals. His squire, Sancho, has shared a name with our computer system at the Center, lo, these last 40 years. 

On the night of June 19, 2020, when statues including Junipero Serra and Francis Scott Key were toppled in Golden Gate Park, red paint was sprayed on the eyes of the bust of Cervantes and his creations, and the word “bastard” on the pedestal for the bust, as well as red crosshairs on the backs of our beloved knight and his faithful Sancho. 

Some folks – not least a bystander named “Howard” – were upset. As covered by the local CBS affiliate: “‘Don Quixote and Sancho Panza — and for what?’ asked a frustrated Howard, watching the graffiti removal from John F. Kennedy Drive. ‘It’s very sad. It makes me feel it’s totally out of hand and it has nothing to do with civil rights.’” He further lamented that the police just “let them do it.” A blogger stated that the protesters were Antifa.  

I don’t know about the truth of this claim. I don’t know anything about the beliefs of the person whose hand held the can of spray paint. I don’t really think either of these guys does either, although Howard may have seen something. He certainly seems to think this was somehow unfair. 

Maybe it was. Or maybe it was done by people frustrated that fictional characters got a monument, showing more honor for their imaginary lives than those of flesh and blood people. 

The Judeo-Christian tradition has a word or two on the subject of graven images. Some have pointed to the story in Exodus when Moses called out the worship of a golden calf. But a more instructive case for our current moment may come from a different tale. In Numbers (21:4-9), Moses is divinely instructed to fashion a bronze serpent to protect the Israelites from the bites of serpents. After many generations have passed, however, this same sculpture – the Nehushtan, or “brazen serpent” – resurfaces in 2 Kings (18:4). By then it had become an object of worship in itself, contemptible because it is just a thing, not worthy of worship, so Hezekiah destroys this remnant of the past.  

Anyone who considers a statue or even a big box store worthy of an impassioned defense – while also allowing that some people may simply deserve to die – is an idolater, according greater value to a physical and aesthetic object than to a being endowed with senses, feelings, and life. Yet it seems every generation must learn anew the lesson that we can still treasure the wrong things, and often we do.  

Statues are worth something, to be sure, and not just in financial terms. Like so much art, a statue is often understood to embody ideas and ideals and other qualities that go beyond observable features and tell us something about the age, context, or emotional life of the artist and the moment in which they were created. 

But whatever statues may be worth, tangibly or intangibly, statues have no affective life to call their own. Statues – apart from, perhaps, the mythological Galatea (not to be confused with Cervantes’s novel of the same name) – cannot feel pain, know longing, suffer. A statue can be toppled or sent to the depths of the sea, but it cannot drown. It cannot have the life crushed out of it, because it has no life. When people’s lives are threatened by violence – be it state-sponsored or systemic or personal – prioritizing statues over people is indefensible. 

Just because statues do not deserve saviors does not mean they are of no consequence. Centering public art that celebrates and memorializes the lives of oppressors is not an accident and it is not harmless. It has a long history and is a legitimate site of debate and activism. Symbols of past and present violence and oppression do real harm by celebrating historical misdeeds as if they were heroic exploits; and it is fair game for protesters to address these harms. 

The work of toppling statues can help to correct a narrative that has afforded access to privileged places on pedestals to oppressors while actively suppressing the stories of those who struggled and survived against their sinister designs. 

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” tugs irresistibly at my mind. In it, the statue of a monarch lies in pieces, with the head fallen to the ground and words carved into a pedestal reading, “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” This ironic twist rewrites the narrative of a king who thought that nothing could humble him, but time and even the artist’s rendering, have betrayed this belief. History has triumphed over his “sneer of cold command.” 

Racial justice demands attention to telling a fuller, and hence more truthful, story. Recently, the narrative of J. Marion Sims has been rewritten with this understanding. Sometimes revered as the “father of gynecology,” his experimental method of using live enslaved human subjects without anesthesia to test his hypotheses has led to much justified criticism. Telling this story now is important work. Relocating his statue from Central Park to the cemetery where he is buried makes him just one statue among many in a place where all sorts of people are remembered – without necessarily being honored. This more suitable placement gives new meaning to the words of early 20th century labor activist Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” Moreover, a plaque offers context and names Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsey, three of the Black women who were subjects in his research, adding their names to the historical record.

Returning to our namesake, in the last chapter of the first volume of Don Quixote, the knight errant comes upon a group of penitents garbed in white and carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary. Our hapless hero decides he must rescue this helpless icon from her captors. In his zeal to deliver the damsel in distress, Don Quixote ends up getting knocked to the ground. While he lives to have more tales of derring-do, his attempt to rescue a statue is a tale of tomfoolery. This episode suggests that Cervantes would have laughed at the notion of people trying to come to the aid of an inert statue featuring his visage (or even that of a certain European slaveholder).   

(Gustave Doré’s illustration of Chapter LII statue episode, Don Quixote, 1880. Source: Project Gutenberg

So, if you thought the folks at the Quixote Center would be offended by a little paint added to some literary statuary, you don’t know us very well. We maintain that people who work for justice in the world may be laughed at sometimes, but that the work is worthwhile anyway. While we take our causes seriously, we try not to take ourselves too seriously.  

We prefer to focus on today’s work – standing with movements for justice – so that the narrative of tomorrow can lift up new heroes who stand with the oppressed people of history and work for our collective liberation.  

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Take Action #FreeThemAll


The United States has the largest prison population on the planet. Though the number of people incarcerated has been falling over the last five years, there are still close to 2 million people in federal and state prisons, county and local jails, and in the 200 + detention facilities run by Immigrant and Customs Enforcement and border detention facilities run by Customs and Border Protection. People who are incarcerated are at a much higher risk of infectious diseases than the general population. Prisons are overcrowded, sanitary conditions are often extremely poor, and access to health services is limited, especially emergency health services that require moving people out of prisons for proper treatment. Incidents of denial of care and delays in getting needed treatment for those incarcerated is well documented throughout the prison system. Private prisons have received the most scrutiny in this regard. However, they hold a relatively small number of the people in state and local prisons and jails, and a declining number  – approximately 10% – of those in federal prison. In detention facilities run by ICE, however, private contractors oversee the incarceration of nearly 75% of immigrant detainees. Conditions in publicly run facilities are not much better, and increasingly many public facilities contract with private firms for the delivery of health services anyway. In short, the systemic reality of incarceration is detrimental to the health of those imprisoned, the people working at the facilities, and the broader public. These environmental problems are often magnified by incentives to keep costs as low as possible – which translates into a reduction of services. 

As a result of these conditions, the spread of infectious disease is a recurring problem in prisons, raising concerns about the possibility of COVID-19 spreading in prisons and detention facilities.

Take Action: DWN Organizing Tool Kit

Detention Watch Network has created an organizing toolkit for folks willing to step up and work toward the release of folk in detention facilities, jails and prisons. The toolkit is actually pretty amazing in scope – covering ideas for federal, state and local actions, including sample letters, emails and call-scripts to policy makers, as well as a variety of templates, including letters for attorneys filing for humanitarian release. There are also guides for creating (or engaging with existing!) community networks that provide support for people upon release from detention. You can view the entire document here.

Part of the document – that I will lift out here – is a list of petitions that are open around the country. These are quick actions you can take right now! 

Florida ● Petition​ Miami-Dade Community Call for Decarceration

Maryland
● Petition – ​Urging Governor Hogan to issue an Executive Order for Marylanders in detention, jails, prisons, or interaction with law enforcement

Minnesota
●  Petition – ​No One Is Sentenced to Die From Coronavirus – Emergency Recommendations for MN’s Incarcerated

Ohio ●  Petition – ​Keep COVID-19 out of Ohio Jails, Prisons, and Courts 

Texas ●  RAICES letter to ICE Field Office Director​ ​- Daniel Bible (San Antonio Field Office) 

Washington Petition – ​Endorse an Abolitionist Public Health: #COVID19mutualaid demands to DOC & Governor Inslee

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ICE and CBP need to suspend detention and deportation operations

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Daily Dispatch

March 13, 2020



Yesterday, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network issued a five point statement on justice for immigrants and workers in response to the coronavirus and COVID-19. You can read the full statement and background here. The five points:

    1. STOP ICE and CBP :

Enact an immediate moratorium on all ICE and CBP enforcement (detentions and deportations) to allow families, communities, localities and states to develop and implement effective community-wide responses to this public health challenge. There is no greater way to exacerbate today’s crisis with ICE and CBP hell-bent on terrorizing communities, accelerating deportations, and increasing the detained population. Instead, funds and personnel should be reassigned and redeployed to CDC, FEMA, and other emergency needs.

    1. DISMANTLE THE CAMPS :

Dismantle immigrant detention, concentration camps and programs such as MPP that exacerbate the public health dangers, and include a plan to return individuals to their families and receiving families. In response to COVID-19, other countries are proactively releasing thousands to their families. DHS was already unable to provide even basic sanitary conditions while deaths in their custody are mounting. Forcibly keeping tens of thousands in squalid conditions, while adding people despite the foreseeable consequences, is criminally negligent.

    1. MEDICINE FOR ALL :

Emergency action plans for healthcare, testing, and vaccines must be freely available to all, including undocumented workers and families. From every level of government, healthcare entity, whether public or private, we must resist dehumanization in all of its forms, and proactively address and challenge racist exploitation of the pandemic. Stigmatizing individuals or excluding them from the US coronavirus response would constitute both a serious flaw in what can only be an “all hands on deck” social effort, and it would be a dark stain on the US society.

    1. WORKER PROTECTIONS :

Policies on paid sick leave and unemployment insurance often exclude low wage immigrant workers whether explicitly due to legal status, or implicitly through requirements related to employer size and duration of employment. Worker protection policies must have broad coverage in order to protect all workers who most need it, especially in industries such as construction, restaurant, poultry, and others that rely on the labor of undocumented immigrant workers.

    1. RELIEF PARA EL PUEBLO :

Safety net programs such as food stamps and unemployment insurance can be as inaccessible as airline bailouts to the undocumented and poorest. Immigrant workers and families should be able to access emergency aid programs without fear of retaliation or “public charge” repercussions. Immigrant worker and community organizations should be included in planning and implementation, to ensure that this relief reaches the community.

The statement is critically important. Any kind of compassionate response, indeed, effective response, would incorporate these points. ICE enforcement activities run the risk of discouraging people from seeking medical assistance. If incarcerated, enforcement and detention run grave risks of putting people at risk of exposure. The Guardian noted earlier this week. As “Doctors are concerned the spread of coronavirus to the US’s prison-like immigration detention centers is inevitable and will hit a system blighted by overcrowding and medical negligence.”  The report from the Guardian went on further:

The internal watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees CBP and Ice, warned last year of dangerous overcrowding at a border patrol processing facility, before the coronavirus outbreak. “We are concerned that overcrowding and prolonged detention represent an immediate risk to the health and safety not just of the detainees, but also DHS agents and officers,” the office of inspector general’s report said.

In December, US immigration officials blocked doctors from giving flu vaccines to detained migrant children, after at least three children in custody died from complications from the flu.

Dr Josiah Rich, an epidemiologist at Brown University, said one tool the US government has to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to release some of the 43,990 people in immigration detention, while their legal cases are being processed. People are held in these detention centers for civil immigration violations, not criminal charges, and the government can release them unless they are considered a danger to the community.

“If they don’t really need to be there, get them out of there,” Rich said. “Do we really need to expose them to additional health risks? And expose them to each other? and the staff?”

Which is to say, proceeding with business as usual on immigration enforcement not only exacerbates the injustices of the system, but increases public health risks. Yesterday, the government of Honduras decided to block deportation flights from Mexico. As of this writing, there was no decision on deportation flights from the United States. The problem, of course, is that there are very few cases of coronavirus throughout Latin America, and that exposure in and then deportation from the United States runs the risk of spreading it. The administration seems unconcerned. A jammed flight of 119 people were returned to Cuba last week.

Our immigrant enforcement system is quite simply a public health hazard at every step. On the streets enforcement is discouraging people from seeking health services. In detention, they run an even higher risk of infection and/or spreading disease. If deported, cross border transmission of disease is accelerated. It is unnecessary and unjust to treat people this way. 

It is also dangerous to everyone.

So, we join in the call for a suspension of enforcement operations. Let people and their communities reset, and take care of themselves. It is ultimately better for everyone. 

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Prisoners making coronavirus supplies and updates from the border

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Daily Dispatch

March 12, 2020


Inmates of Hong Kong’s Lo Wu prison have been asked to produce 2.5m face masks a month. Photograph: Alex Hofford/EPA

We discussed on Monday how people who are incarcerated, in prisons and in immigration detention centers (which are basically prisons), are particularly vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases. In spite of this, the Department of Homeland Security has done little to offer guidance about protective measures in detention facilities during the current concern about the spread of COVID-19. The Federal Bureau of Prisons, and state and local department of justices have issued guidelines and new intake procedures, but none of these precautions can make up for the dehumanizing reality of incarceration in this country. Indeed, in many prisons soap can be difficult to find and hand-sanitizer is often banned because of its alcohol content.  

And yet, as the Guardian reports today, people imprisoned in New York state have now been tasked with producing hand sanitizer, while prisoners in China try to meet the exploding demand for surgical/face masks. In China,

[w]omen inmates at the Lo Wu prison in Hong Kong have reportedly been asked to work night shifts to make 2.5m face masks a month after a huge rise in demand according to Reuters.

Female prisoners in Lo Wu prison are paid around HK$800 (£80) a month for round-the-clock production, significantly under Hong Kong’s minimum wage.

“This is an exploitation and another form of modern slavery,” said Shiu Ka-chun, a lawmaker who has been campaigning for prisoners’ rights.

Here in the United States, the Governor of New York has turned to prisoners to fill in the gap in production for hand sanitizer, as people clear shelves in grocery stores.

On Monday the governor of New York announced the state will also be using prison labour to produce 100,000 gallons of hand sanitiser for schools, prisons, transportation systems and other government agencies.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in a press conference on Monday that the production of the hand sanitiser was in response to shortages due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Around the globe, prisons have been the focus of concern. In China, an outbreak of coronavirus infected up to 500 prisoners and staff even as new cases were declining in the general population two weeks ago. In Italy, protective measures, especially limiting family visits, led to riots in which at least 7 people have died. Italy’s prison system is notoriously overcrowded. The potential for COVID-19 to spread in such contexts is significant. In Iran, 70,000 prisoners were tested for coronavirus and then bonded out if clear to alleviate crowding in prisons and the potential for the virus to spread. In the United States, prisoners are being forced to make 100,000 gallons of hand sanitizer for other people to use. 

Other Updates…

At the Greece Border

We discussed the situation on the border between Turkey and Greece last week, as Turkey’s President, Erdogan announced that he would no longer prevent refugees and asylum seekers from leaving Turkey. Since that announcement tens of thousands of refugees have gathered at the border between Turkey and Greece, and the situation has become quite tense. According to a report from Al Jazeera, “Greek security forces have used tear gas and water cannon to stop people from entering. Athens has suspended asylum applications for a month and said it prevented more than 42,000 people illegally entering the EU over the past two weeks.”

Meanwhile, people captured by the Greek Coast Guard over the lat 10 days are being held on a ship, and denied asylum protections. From Human Rights Watch:

“The refusal to allow people in its custody to seek asylum and the open threat to send them back to their persecutors flies in the face of the legal obligations Greece has agreed to and the values and principles it claims to represent,” said Bill Frelick, refugee and migrants rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Greece should immediately reverse this draconian policy, properly receive these people in safe and decent conditions, and allow them to lodge asylum claims.”

Video from the ship provided by an asylum seeker from Syria. 

Supreme Court Allows Remain in Mexico Policy to continue

From the Washington Post:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the Trump administration may continue its “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers while lower-court challenges continue, after the federal government warned that tens of thousands of immigrants massed at the southern border could overwhelm the immigration system.

The justices reversed a decision of a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which had ordered the policy be suspended Thursday on parts of the border. Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only noted dissenter.

The Trump administration had warned the justices of a dire situation without their intervention.

“Substantial numbers of up to 25,000 returned aliens who are awaiting proceedings in Mexico will rush immediately to enter the United States,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in a brief. “A surge of that magnitude would impose extraordinary burdens on the United States and damage our diplomatic relations with the government of Mexico.”

The program — officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP — is among the tools the Trump administration has used to curb mass migration from Central America and elsewhere across the southern U.S. border.

In the 13 months it has been in place, the government said 60,000 migrants have been sent back into Mexico to await their U.S. asylum hearings, part of an effort to limit access to United States and to deter people from attempting the journey north.

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Florida Detention Center Quarantined, ICE Seattle Office Shut: COVID-19 and Immigration #2

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Daily Dispatch

March 11, 2020



Concerns about possible COVID-19 exposure at the Seattle Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office has led to its closure. From ICE:

Out of an abundance of caution, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Enforcement and Removal Operations (ICE-ERO) has temporarily closed its Seattle Field Office after an employee from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) exhibited flu-like symptoms after possible exposure to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). ICE-ERO recommends anyone who visited the Seattle Field Office, located at 12500 Tukwila International Boulevard, on or after Feb. 24 and develops flu-like symptoms should begin a self-quarantine immediately and contact local health authorities for further guidance.

Interestingly, while ICE was acting out of an “abundance of caution,” the Department of Justice put its entire unsanitized foot in its mouth yesterday by demanding that judges operating under the Executive Office for Immigration Review remove COVID-19 prevention posters from their courtrooms. Only to then back-track once the judge’s union made the order public. The backstory is illuminating. For years the union that represents immigration judges has been critical of Department of Justice rules impacting case loads. This critical posture has only grown under Trump’s DOJ, as caseloads have increased dramatically, leading the administration to establish annual quotas for judges, while also limiting judges discretion to clear their dockets. As the criticism from judges has increased, the administration has even moved to have the union nullified. 

Add pandemic and stir. Judges (like basically everybody) have grown frustrated with a lack of direction from the Department of Justice concerning COVID-19 prevention in their courts, and so unilaterally took the step of putting up posters in court waiting areas that had been distributed by the CDC. The posters outline symptoms of COVID-19 and preventative steps. The Department of Justice, which oversees immigration courts, directed court staff to take them down, seemingly, out of spite. Making clear who is in charge, acting chief immigration judge Christopher A. Santoro told court administrators

“This is just a reminder that immigration judges do not have the authority to post, or ask you to post, signage for their individual courtrooms or the waiting areas…Per our leadership, the CDC flyer is not authorized for posting in the immigration courts. If you see one (attached), please remove it. Thank you.”

Ultimately, the DOJ backed off because the email was sent out to reporters by a representative of the judges’ union, and well….once some sunlight was put on the directive, it did not look very good. 

Meanwhile, people held in immigrant detention in Florida have been quarantined out of concern for COVID-19 exposure. We wrote Monday about concerns that ICE and Customs and Border Protection were not making adequate preparations for those incarcerated in their custody. Both departments have horrible track records when it comes to the provision of health services, and thus no one is surprised that they seem unprepared. CBP did put out instructions to make more masks available. As far as anyone can tell, ICE has done nothing (though agency spokespeople continue to officially declare their concern and commitment for the people in “their care” when they issue press releases about someone who died). Back to Florida, where things are getting very real:

An ongoing quarantine in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in South Florida has raised serious questions about the agency’s preparedness for an outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Several immigrants are being held in a special ward at the Glades County Detention Center and have been barred from receiving visitors and eating with other detainees. Last week, an undetermined number of quarantined detainees with “flu-like symptoms” were allegedly moved from the facility to a hospital to undergo testing for COVID-19, according to an attorney familiar with the situation.

Heriberto Hernandez, an immigration lawyer in Palm Beach County, represents Isaac Santos-Mojica, one of the quarantined detainees who has been providing updates from within the detention center. Santos-Mojica, originally from El Salvador, was placed under quarantine more than a week ago and says he has no idea when it will end.

Hernandez learned of the quarantine March 2 after driving two hours from his office to the Glades County Detention Center, which is in a remote area west of Lake Okeechobee. There he was informed by a jail official that Santos-Mojica was being held in the facility’s medical ward and would not be allowed to receive visitors. Hernandez, who had hoped to prepare for his client’s upcoming immigration court hearing, pressed for more information. Jail officials eventually confirmed Santos-Mojica had been quarantined for “flu-like symptoms” but did not offer any other details, Hernandez says. He spoke with his client over the phone later that evening but has not heard from him since.

It is too early to know if “exposure” will become “confirmed case.” But it is worth pointing out that the facility in question is a local jail run by the sheriffs’ office with a contract to hold detainees for ICE. There is no reference to any kind of federal policy about how to proceed. When will there be one?

Several articles have come out in the last couple of days about the impact of Trump’s immigration’s policies on public health in general and on preventative measures to contain COVID-19. Wendy Parmet of Northwestern University School of Law published an opinion piece on STAT last week. The main  thrust is that public charge rule implementation is leading to people withdrawing from Medicaid and otherwise opting out of health care services for fear of being labeled a “public charge.” In addition, the administration has refused to issue a clear directive from the Department of Homeland Security that it will not engage in enforcement actions near health centers and hospitals. The failure to clearly state that health facilities would be off limits for immigration enforcement – coupled with this administration’s willingness to engage in enforcement at hospitals – could well lead people who need screening to not get it. The Trump administration’s maintenance of the Remain in Mexico policy is also forcing people into unsanitary, crowded conditions, and could well lead to the spread of any number of diseases.

The Center for American Progress is pressing the administration on the need to declare health care centers “enforcement free zones.”

According to a letter by more than 800 public health and legal experts, one important step that the Trump administration could take to ensure that all people in the United States have the ability to seek necessary medical care—regardless of immigration status—is to issue a formal statement assuring the public that health care facilities will be “immigration enforcement-free zones” for the duration of the outbreak. Such a statement would be appropriate—and, indeed, entirely expected—under any circumstance, but it is particularly important in light of the current administration’s track record on immigration.

Echoing the call of these experts, lawmakers in both the House and Senate have urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—specifically U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—to suspend all immigration enforcement actions at or near hospitals or other medical facilities. Additionally, lawmakers have demanded that CBP and ICE formally announce this suspension to the public, consistent with historical practices taken during national disasters and other public health emergencies.

We’ll see if the reality of a global pandemic will move this administration to adjust course for the sake of keeping people healthy. At the moment, however, Trump seems unable to manage much other than directing people to the website of the Centers for Disease Control. Good advice – but not much of strategy.

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Detention Kills

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Daily Dispatch

March 10, 2020



On Sunday, March 8, Maria Celeste Ochoa Yoc de Ramirez, a 22 year-old woman from Guatemala died while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She was the eighth person to die this year in ICE custody; the first woman. Ochoa had been picked up by border patrol on September 4 near Hidalgo, Texas. She was transferred to ICE custody two days later and held at El Valle Detention Facility in Raymondville, TX. According to Buzzfeed – which first reported her death – she ended up at a detention facility in Oklahoma for some time. 

Ochoa filed a claim for asylum, and on October 8, was granted a hearing following an interview in which she established a credible fear of persecution if returned to Guatemala. According to ICE’s historic operating guidelines, at this point she should have been released until her hearing date. She had no criminal record and family in the United States willing to sponsor her. Under the current administration she was detained anyway. [As of February 29, there were 38,537 people in ICE custody; of these 6,942 have established a credible fear of torture or persecution.] 

On February 7, Ochoa had an emergency gallbladder surgery and was returned to detention on February 10. Three days later she was transferred to a Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas.  Prairieland Detention Center is one of ICE’s newer facilities in Texas, opened in 2017. It is managed by LaSalle Corrections, a private corporation.

On February 18, Ochoa was then taken to a hospital, later transferred to a medical center in Fort Worth where she remained until her death.  Her cause of death, according to ICE’s press release, was “autoimmune hepatitis, complicated by septic shock and acute liver failure.” She died from an infection related to her surgery. 

Given the history of ICE facilities’ lack of medical attention and denial of, and/or delayed access to care, there is little doubt the treatment she received following her surgery was inadequate. However, whatever the investigations undertaken find, we can say with certainty, that Maria Celeste Ochoa Yoc de Ramirez is dead as a direct result of this administration’s decision to hold her in detention.

Ochoa’s death marks the 8th death in detention thus far this fiscal year (since October 1, 2019). This is equivalent to the total number of people who died all of last year in ICE custody. Since the all time peak of the daily average number of people in detention, which reached 55,000 in August of 2019, detention numbers have been declining. Though likely a temporary trend (the administration is requesting funding for 60,000 daily detention beds in its FY 2021 budget proposal), the reduction in numbers has not been met with an improvement in conditions. Of the 8 people to die this year, 3 have been asylum seekers.

The second person to die this year was Roylan Hernandez-Diaz. Hernandez-Diaz was from Cuba and was seeking asylum in the United States. The Associated Press released a story today detailing the investigation into his case, and recounting his 2 year journey to reach the United States from Cuba. Hernandez-Diaz died from an apparent suicde on October 15, 2019 at the Richwood Correctional Facility – also run by LaSalle Corrections. He had been detained for almost 9 months beyond his credible fear interview, and was put in isolation after declaring his intent to protest his ongoing detention through a hunger strike. He was dead five days later. 

You can read the full story on Hernandez-Diaz case here.

Our summary of other cases so far this year.

In Memoriam

Nebane Abienwi, from Cameroon, October 1, 2019. Otay Mesa Detention facility (CoreCivic). 

Roylan Hernandez-Diaz, from Cuba, October 15, 2019, Richwood Correctional Facility (Lasalle Corrections)

Anthony Oluseye Akinyemi from Nigeria, December 21, 2019. Worcester County Jail

Samuelino Pitchout Mavinga from France, December 29, 2019. Otero County Processing Center (Management Training Corporation)

Ben James Owen from Britain, January 26, 2020. Baker County Detention Center (Baker County Sheriff’s Office)

On Monday, January 27, 2020, A 63-year-old Cuban man died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a hospital in Florida.

Hernandez Colula from Mexico, February 21, 2020 died in hospital after transfer from facility in Ohio   

Maria Celeste Ochoa Yoc de Ramirez from Guatemala, March 8, 2020 Prairieland Detention Facility (LaSalle Corrections)

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Incarceration and COVID-19

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Daily Dispatch

March 9, 2020



The United States has the largest prison population on the planet. Though the number of people incarcerated has been falling over the last five years, there are still close to 2 million people in federal and state prisons, county and local jails, and in the 200 + detention facilities run by Immigrant and Customs Enforcement and border detention facilities run by Customs and Border Protection. People who are incarcerated are at a much higher risk of infectious diseases than the general population. Prisons are overcrowded, sanitary conditions are often extremely poor, and access to health services is limited, especially emergency health services that require moving people out of prisons for proper treatment. Incidents of denial of care and delays in getting needed treatment for those incarcerated is well documented throughout the prison system. Private prisons have received the most scrutiny in this regard. However, they hold a relatively small number of the people in state and local prisons and jails, and a declining number  – approximately 10% – of those in federal prison. In detention facilities run by ICE, however, private contractors oversee the incarceration of nearly 75% of immigrant detainees. Conditions in publicly run facilities are not much better, and increasingly many public facilities contract with private firms for the delivery of health services anyway. In short, the systemic reality of incarceration is detrimental to the health of those imprisoned, the people working at the facilities, and the broader public. These environmental problems are often magnified by incentives to keep costs as low as possible – which translates into a reduction of services. 

As a result of these conditions, the spread of infectious disease is a recurring problem in prisons, raising concerns about the possibility of COVID-19 spreading in prisons and detention facilities. Preventive measures thus far are limited:

After the swine flu outbreak in 2009, which infected hundreds of prisoners across the country, most prison systems did create pandemic preparation plans.

Before worries of the coronavirus, the Philadelphia Prisons Department had a medical quarantine for inmates coming into its system, which houses about 4,600 inmates. New detainees go through a medical screening and are segregated for at least 10 to 14 days while they wait for the results of any medical tests, said James Garrow, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

The screening has since been updated to include COVID-19, not only in Philadelphia, but also in Dallas, Houston, Miami, Chicago and other cities. No prisons have yet obtained the medical kits to test for the virus, however. [emphasis added]

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has likewise created an interview-based intake tool to screen people for possible exposure to COVID-19 and for symptoms related to the disease. The window for the effectiveness of such screening, however, is closing, as the disease moves into communities and passes from person to person; questions about foreign travel will become less relevant. COVID-19 test kits must be made available to prison authorities in adequate numbers.

Meanwhile, as of Friday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement had not announced any new methodology for screening and protection inside immigration detention centers. Customs and Border Patrol indicated only that they were screening for people who had been to China or Iran within the last 14 days, and distributing facemasks to people who are symptomatic, to be referred to medical personal for further testing. From the National Memo:

“CBP needs to be doing more than just handing out masks,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), a staunch critic of Trump’s immigration policies, said in an email this week. CBP, she added, “should think about the role it is playing in actually exacerbating this pandemic because they are putting Donald Trump’s politically motivated war on immigrants above the actual needs of the country and the world.”

The conditions within immigrant detention centers have been notoriously poor, and officials reluctant to take responsibility. Customs and Border Patrol had to be sued simply to provide mattresses and decent food, and to stop the practice of placing immigrants in freezing rooms. ICE facilities have repeatedly come under criticism for the failure to provide basic medical care. We reported just last week about Cibola County Corrections Center being forced to transfer people with medical conditions to a new facility after repeatedly failing to correct deficiencies in the delivery of care. This is a problem going back to 2008, at least, when Cibola was a federal prison. Indeed, CoreCivic lost the contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to operate Cibola CCC due to poor health management in 2016, only to get a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement 9 months later to use the facility as an immigration detention center. Recent events indicate that little has improved there; but the Cibola case is hardly unique.

In the spring of last year, there was a mumps outbreak in detention facilities around the country. Despite this, the administration has done nothing to mitigate health risks inside detention facilities.

The Trump administration has declined to address the problem head on. In December, Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security came under fire after officials refused to offer flu shots to migrant detainees, even when they were offered at no charge by a group of doctors.

“Of course Border Patrol isn’t going to let a random group of radical political activists show up and start injecting people with drugs,” a DHS spokesperson tweeted at the time.

As the New York Times noted, the CDC had warned earlier last year that immigrants 6 months and older should be given the flu vaccine “at the earliest point of entry” to prevent the spread of such communicable diseases while in custody.

Experts worry that detention facilities like the ones maintained by CBP and ICE are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks like COVID-19 due to crowded conditions, especially as border officials are slow to act.

“Detention facilities are breeding grounds for infection,” Wendy Parmet, director of the Center for Health Policy and Law at Northeastern University School of Law, said in an email this week.

On Friday, a coalition working to shutdown the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, issued an alert demanding that officials take steps to mitigate the threat of COVID-19. Included below is their alert, with numbers and call script for people in Washington:

La Resistencia is one of many organizations in the Shutdown NWDC Coalition that holds concerns about the health of those detained in the Northwest Detention Center, including the recent danger of Coronavirus Infection (COVID-19).

Past outbreaks of mumps and varicella have spread throughout the detention center, and detained people consistently raise concerns about the everyday medical neglect in the detention center. We know it is inhumane to keep detaining people at NWDC, and to transfer more people so close to the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

Call #1: Contact Information: Tacoma Pierce County Public Health Department Director Anthony Chen, (253) 798-6411

Hi, my name is _____, and I am a Washington resident who is concerned about the impact of Coronavirus on people who are detained at the Northwest Detention Center. Can we count on Tacoma Pierce County Health Department to conduct and release results of an immediate in-person inquiry and on-site inspection at NWDC to find out if cases of COVID-19 exist there, how they are being handled and communicated about, and how prevention measures beyond posters telling people to cover their cough are being taken?

Thank you for your time. 

Call #2: Contact Information: Northwest Detention Center: (253) 396-1611 and Seattle ICE Field Office: (206) 835-0650

Hi, my name is _____, and I am a Washington resident who is concerned about the impact of Coronavirus on people who are detained at or being transferred to the Northwest Detention Center. We are demanding that ICE immediately releases all detained people with compromised immune systems and puts a moratorium on all detention and transfers. We are also demanding that ICE shuts down the Northwest Detention Center. Can we count on ICE to prevent detained people from dying during this pandemic by taking these actions? 

Call #3: Contact information: Tacoma Deputy Mayor Keith Blocker, (253) 591-5470

Hi Deputy Mayor Blocker, 

My name is ______ and I am a Washington resident who is concerned about the impact of Coronavirus on people who are detained at or being transferred to the Northwest Detention Center. We know past outbreaks of Mumps and Varicella in the detention center have been handled poorly, and that Geo Group consistently medically neglects every person detained at NWDC. This is evidence of NWDC being a chronic public nuisance. Can we count on you to lead the Tacoma City Council in declaring NWDC a chronic public nuisance? 

Thank you for your time. 

As we discussed on Friday, the administration is threatening a new, massive removal operation in which they “flood the streets” with agents to arrest as many unauthorized immigrants as possible. The administration has made such threats before, with little evidence of substantially increased enforcement over the normal abusive levels (150,000 to 200,000 people are detained by ICE every year as a result of internal removal operations, this is in addition to people transferred from Customs and Border Protection). But if the administration moves on the scale they are threatening, it will mean adding many thousands more people to detention facilities, with inadequate screening and poor medical care. They are courting disaster. 

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Daily Dispatch 3/6/2020: Operation Palladium

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InAlienable
Daily Dispatch

March 6, 2020



Some 3,000 years ago, rumor has it, a statue of Pallas Athena was stolen from Troy by Diomedes and Odysseus during their famed journey. The statue was thought to have magical qualities that offered protection to Troy. Those powers transferred to Rome, where the power of myth carried this statue from the literary world of the Odyssey that of the Aeneid. Eventually, the statue was stolen again and buried under a column in Constantinople. The statue was called the “Palladium,” and now Donald Trump has launched a massive law enforcement operation to find it.

Just messing with you. But in a sign that perhaps too many people at the Department of Homeland Security play Dungeons and Dragons on the weekend, the administration is launching Operation Palladium.

So, what is Operation Palladium? It is a massive effort by the administration to “flood the streets” with agents to arrest as many unauthorized immigrants as possible between now and the 2020 electio (well, technically, December). 

Two weeks ago we talked about reports that the administration was gearing up to send Border Patrol Tactical Units (BORTACs) into sanctuary cities to support ICE in enforcement operations. This was the opening salvo of Operation Palladium.

The details of the operation were reported by the New York Times this week. Operation Palladium apparently includes a massive surveillance effort with agents camped out at the homes and workplaces of people with removal orders residing within sanctuary cities.

It is hard to know what will happen exactly beyond the “leaked” memo that describes the operation. The announcement about BORTAC units descending on cities around the country did not seem to materialize in actual mammoth operations; ICE arrests hundreds of people every day already.

Whatever operation ultimately does take place, a few take-aways:

First, the administration’s efforts to criticize, isolate and target cities and states that have passed laws restricting cooperation between local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs enforcement is first and foremost a political ploy. Operation Palladium is as much an electoral strategy as a law enforcement one, and I am sure the administration is currently glowing in the light of liberal indignation at the contents of the “leak” (or at least Fox News coverage of the same). 

Second, the main strategy here is to convince voters that Democratic mayors care more about immigrants than U.S. citizens, and thus would gladly sacrifice the safety of their own communities for the possibility that these immigrants could vote for them at some point in the future when they become citizens; or something like that. It makes no sense, but logic is beside the point. This is Nixon-southern-strategy-style political marketing, or fact-free race-baiting, warmed over for the social media era.

Third, the consequences of this mostly rhetorical game are potentially deadly. Increased enforcement operations will likely occur. Although the actual scale is hard to guess,  the administration certainly has a desire to convince people they are doing more. In doing so, they legitimate a frightening militarization of federal law enforcement operations taking place in an oppositional stance to local law enforcement. Long-term, this precedent, not simply the scale of the operations, is a game changer if it stands. 

Finally, with this Congress there are certainly challenges. But you can do stuff. 

Demand that your member of Congress #DefundHate! Which means that they state publicly that they oppose Trump’s budget requests to increase funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, given the stated intent to use these funds to go to war against our own cities. And to absolutely deny the administration its budget request for a daily average of 60,000 detention beds to incarcerate immigrants.

Ask your member of Congress to support the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act! (H.R. 2415)  There are now 140 co-sponsors. Is your member there? If not make a call! 

Ask your member of Congress to support the New Way Forward Act! (H.R. 5383) This seeks to remove criminal penalties against immigrants put in place in the mid-1990s during the Clinton era that led to mandatory detention. It also seeks to reduce detention overall.

Connect with immigrant justice coalitions in your area – especially those operating Rapid Response Networks that monitor ICE enforcement operations. If you are not able to locate one, be in touch, we can help!! 

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Daily Dispatch 3/5/2020: Neglect at CoreCivic’s Cibola County facility goes back years

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Daily Dispatch

March 5, 2020



Buzzfeed released a story yesterday based on details from a leaked email concerning medical conditions inside Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico. From the article:

The Aug. 21, 2019, email revealed how immigrants at Cibola County Correctional Center — the only immigration jail with dedicated space for transgender women in the US — sometimes waited up to 17 days for urgently needed medical care, were exposed to poor sanitation and quarantine practices during a chickenpox and mumps outbreak, and didn’t get medications as directed by a doctor for illnesses such as diabetes, epilepsy, and tuberculosis. The advisers also said they saw immigrants in the transgender unit housed in an area that was not “appropriately cleaned and sanitized,” potentially contributing to the spread of infectious diseases.

As an example, the article’s lead speaks of a transgendered woman who reported to medical staff that she was bleeding from her rectum, and had to wait 15 days before any treatment was provided. It was then determined that she had HIV. The lack of care thus threatened not only her life, but endangered other people in the unit with her.

The conditions were reported to Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Health Services in August of 2019. In September, CoreCivic, the private prison company that runs Cibola, issued a 90 Day “Corrective Action plan” that included changing the private medical services company they contracted with, Wellpath. Then

ICE officials visited the facility in December 2019 to determine compliance with its detention standards, and during the visit, “it was determined that the deficiencies were not yet fully resolved and that detainees with chronic care issues should be removed. ICE immediately coordinated the transfer of all those with chronic medical issues to other detention facilities.”

In response to the situation at Cibola, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, noted that,

Cibola staff should have had strict sanitation standards given that the facility faced an outbreak of mumps and chickenpox in April 2019, leading to dozens of inmates being quarantined. Investigators found that a nurse who was providing medication in an infected and quarantined area of the prison continued wearing the same pair of gloves as she provided medication to immigrants in the noninfected area of the jail, which could spread infection. The advisers determined that the monthslong quarantine at the facility was likely “related” to these “poor medical practices.”

In January, 5 months after the initial reports of medical conditions, 27 trans women and 15 others with serious medical conditions were transferred to another facility. CoreCivic is still running the facility, of course.

Long history of CoreCivic neglect

CoreCivic is one of the largest private prison companies in the world, second only to the Geo Group. CoreCivic and Geo Group are the two largest private contractors with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) incarcerating immigrants. Between them, the two companies control over half of the detention capacity of ICE.

The entry of private prison companies receiving federal contracts for incarceration began with immigrant detention. CoreCivic received the first such contract in 1984 for what is now the Houston Processing Center (at the time CoreCivic was called Corrections Corporation of America). In the years since, Core Civic and the Geo Group have garnered extensive contracts managing federal and some state prison facilities. You can search through over 120 facilities to find one “near you” on CoreCivic’s website.

Over the last 5 years the number of people being held in federal prisons has been declining. Some of this has to do with changes in drug sentencing laws, and it also reflects a national trend of declining incarceration across the country. As we noted yesterday, this is good news – unless your budget and/or business is dependent on money for incarcerating people.

Cibola County Correctional Facility is in Milan, New Mexico, and is about the only business in the area. For over twenty years it was a federal prison operated under contract with CoreCivic. CoreCivic briefly lost the contract in 2016 following reports of inmate deaths resulting from, you can guess right: Medical neglect. We quote at length below from a section from Nation’s investigative report in 2016:

A November 2008 report on Cibola—one of the earliest we obtained—documented a significant finding in health services. Many federal prisons struggle to fully staff their medical departments, but Cibola was operating without a single doctor. (Burns says CCA occasionally uses “temporary physician providers” in such cases.) Prisoners were suffering from the prison’s “failure to recognize the potential seriousness of incomplete medical care.”

In 2009, experts identified repeat deficiencies in Cibola’s clinic. Yet in 2010, the BOP signed a second 10-year contract with CCA. The facility soon plummeted into disrepair.

In March 2011, the on-site monitors issued a notice of concern after the death of a prisoner: The facility had finally hired a doctor, but for at least three months he had not examined a “deteriorating” inmate who later died of cancer. By 2012, Cibola was again without a physician. The nursing staff was “working without clinical guidance,” monitors wrote. By April 2014, Cibola was in crisis: Monitors logged 11 repeat, double-repeat, or triple-repeat deficiencies and flagged another significant finding in health services: “Many issues from previous monitorings have not been corrected.” Cibola lacked a fully staffed medical department for months at a time.

In July 2014, Blas Humberto Gutierrez-Lujan, 44, collapsed in his cell. The LPN who responded did not remain in the cell to perform CPR. Twenty-six minutes passed before emergency responders arrived. “Earlier intervention is crucial in the management of cardiac arrest,” the monitors wrote. Gutierrez-Lujan died later that day, at a local hospital. Two months later, the BOP extended CCA’s Cibola contract for another two years.

In October 2014, one month after the renewal, medical monitors returned. They found five uncorrected problems they had identified on previous visits. For a fifth consecutive time, the prison wasn’t properly treating TB-positive inmates. For the third time, HIV care was found to be inadequate. For the fourth time, monitors found that inmates were not receiving proper health assessments.

It appeared that CCA had finally crossed a line. In January 2015, contracting officials issued a cure notice, warning CCA that Cibola faced closure if the company didn’t turn medical care around by April. “Cure notices are usually just a formality,” says Joshua Schwartz, a professor of government-contracts law at George Washington University. “You send the letter and then end the contract. It should not get to that point.”

In March, another new inmate arrived at Cibola, 39-year-old Jelacio Martinez-Lopez. He came with a form from the US Marshals indicating that he had been on suicide watch at a facility where he’d been held previously. Yet Martinez was not immediately seen for a mental-health evaluation. Twelve days later, guards found him dead, hanging in his solitary cell. The BOP’s review, and then CCA’s own internal postmortem report, concluded that he should have been evaluated and treated within two days of his arrival.

In April, when the monitors returned, they listed the failures preceding Martinez’s death as a repeat deficiency. Yet CCA still operates the prison today. This September, the facility will be up for another two-year extension. The BOP has issued only five cure notices to its private-prison operators since 2007. Not once has the BOP terminated a contract for default.

Donna Mott retired in January 2014. Not long after her departure, the Department of Justice’s inspector general launched an investigation into how the BOP monitors its contract prisons. It also announced an audit of CCA’s management of Adams. Neither report has been released. But monitoring reports at Adams have shown signs of ongoing dereliction. In January 2015, monitors found that at least five inmates had died in the preceding year in the wake of substandard medical care. The monitors issued yet another significant finding in health services. Perhaps because federal watchdogs were now paying attention, contracting officials in Washington imposed a large, $811,000 deduction. Then the contract was quietly extended for another two years.

In 2017, following this well documented history of health services neglect, Immigration and Customs Enforcement granted a $150 million dollar, five-year contract to CoreCivic to repurpose the prison for immigrant incarceration. Of course they did. And they did this without an open bidding process, by issuing the contract in cooperation with Cibola County, which receives some small portion of the funds. From Reveal News in 2017:

In March [of 2017], ICE began sending millions of dollars to Cibola County, which in turn forwards the money to CoreCivic, as spelled out in an “intergovernmental agreement” between ICE and the county and a subcontract between the county and CoreCivic.

The deal allows Cibola County – where about 38 percent of households live on less than $25,000 a year, according to American Community Survey statistics – to retain a miniscule portion of the funds as an administrative fee.

According to the subcontract and county treasurer, the county keeps 50 cents per detainee per day, while CoreCivic, a $3.7 billion company, receives a lump sum fixed payment of $2.5 million monthly, whether zero or 847 detainees are being held. (At 848, ICE pays $55.43 per additional detainee per day.) Documents obtained by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting show daily counts ranging between 268 and 784 detainees over March, April and May. Neither the warden nor ICE responded to multiple requests for the current detainee population.

This is the immigrant detention business in the United States today. Local government dependency on federal contracts leads to deals between counties and ICE and sometimes private companies, for incarcerating immigrants. The point of which is clearly not about security but about money – filling in budget shortfalls, localities fearful of employment losses if prisons close and so on.

And the result is that people die. It is unfathomable that CoreCivic still has this contract, and has simply deflected blame onto the private firm it subcontracted with.

We must end immigrant incarceration. Abolish ICE. 

Until we can do this, you can take action to support the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act.

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