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

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Daily Dispatch

December 6, 2019

Carlos Hernandez Vasquez – Image ProPublica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#AbolishICE, #DefundHate!

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

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Daily Dispatch

December 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate roots of migration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Haymarket Books

“We should be working together.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daily Dispatch

December 3, 2019

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

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

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

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

ICE raids DMV records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daily Dispatch

December 2, 2019

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

ICE deports potential witness in Hard Rock construction site collapse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Libya is the EU’s Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daily Dispatch 11/27/2019: Campaign Updates

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Daily Dispatch

November 27, 2019

It is time for a few updates on news and campaigns we’ve covered in the Daily Dispatch in recent weeks.

Judge blocks Trump administration insurance rule

A few weeks ago the Trump administration issued yet another rule change impacting authorized immigration. The new rule denied entry to anyone who could not demonstrate they would either have insurance within 30 days of arriving in the United States, or could demonstrate they had sufficient resources to pay for most health services they might need.  Yesterday a judge overturned this new rule. From Politico:

Simon noted that the requirement that immigrants buy unsubsidized insurance — meaning they couldn’t get financial assistance through Obamacare — barred poor people from entering the country, which he said clearly infringed on the law.

“The proclamation is anticipated to affect approximately 60 percent of all immigrant visa applicants,” the judge wrote. “The president offers no national security or foreign relations justification for this sweeping change in immigration law.”

Simon agreed with plaintiffs, including U.S. citizens and their overseas family members as well as the non-profit Latino Network, that the rule violated the Constitution’s separation of powers. His decision applies nationwide.

Immigration officials could have begun enforcing the requirement on Dec. 1. The administration is expected to appeal.

This ruling is huge! The legal provision the administration was attempting to use (in this case abuse) is “212(f) authority” under the Immigration and Naturalization Act. If Trump had been allowed to use 212(f) authority in this way, it could have opened the floodgates for future limitations [note: 212(f) formed the basis of Trump’s claim of authority for his “Muslim/Travel Ban” which the Supreme Court did allow to stand – though modified]. From a Forbes review of the legal arguments:

“The bar uses the president’s authority to bar classes of foreign nationals from the United States when their entry has been deemed ‘detrimental to the interests of the United States,’” said William Stock of Klasko Immigration Law Partners in an interview. “Like the earlier travel ban, this proclamation is an unprecedented expansion of the authority delegated by Congress to the president in Section 212(f). 

[However], the proclamation does not have a clear connection between the harm alleged to be ‘detrimental’ to the U.S. (uninsured patients in America’s healthcare system) and the means used,” said Stock. “For another, the proclamation directly contradicts certain provisions of both the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Affordable Care Act. If this usage of Section 212(f) is allowed by the courts, the president could continue to use Section 212(f) to greatly restrict legal immigration to the United States, even in congressionally authorized categories.”

The administration is seeking to appeal this case to the Supreme Court, where it is unlikely to survive…though these days, it is really hard to know which way the Court will go. If the rule stands it is estimated to impact up to 375,000 people, and reduce authorized immigration by two-thirds. It would constitute the single greatest attack on authorized immigration by this administration, and – as we discussed when the rule was announced – would actually make the problem it purports to solve [e.g., uninsured people accessing emergency services and driving up costs] worse. Authorized immigrants utilize health service at a far lower rate than U.S. born citizens – and thus effectively, subsidize insurance rates – even if some immigrants are uninsured. Of course, the real problem with insurance rates is rooted in our profit driven health care system, which one can hardly blame on immigrants!

Tania Romero is free

About ten days ago, we shared a petition and campaign organized by Tania’s son, Cristian Padilla Romero, and supported by the organization Mijente. Tania Romero is an immigrant from Honduras, and is recovering from stage 4 cancer. When the alert went out she was incarcerated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE was trying to deport her. Cristian is a Ph.D. student at Yale, and was well positioned to raise public awareness about his mother’s case (sadly, this is not the case for family members of most migrants).

On Friday last week (November 22) Cristian reported that his mother was free and at home with family. Cristian writes:

Today, I am writing to celebrate the news that my mother has been temporarily released. She still faces potential deportation but our hope is that our motions and appeals will rule in our favor in the meantime. As of now, she is safe with my family and beginning a long road of recovery.

If you were one of the nearly 40,000 people who signed this petition – thank you!


The Trump administration came into office shouting about “illegal” immigration. The tragic irony of this administration is that it has done nothing to address unauthorized immigration, but has, instead, attacked authorized immigration. In adopting this approach, Trump is creating even more incentives for people to attempt to come into the country unauthorized.

An example of this is Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy.

The Remain in Mexico policy requires individuals and families who are seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico until they have a hearing before an immigration judge. Estimates are that close to 60,000 people have been returned to Mexico. There is not nearly enough shelter space in the border towns where people are waiting – and many of these towns are quite dangerous, especially Ciudad Juárez where over 10,000 people have been returned.

Last week we joined with other organizations to call on Congress to end the Remain in Mexico policy by cutting any funds that can be used for implementation under the campaign theme #SaveAsylum.

We encourage you to keep calling, messaging Congressional offices.

The Remain in Mexico policy is a disaster by almost any measure. Over the last month, however, things have gotten worse. As hopelessness has set in for many in refugee camps, many children are crossing the border into the United States in hopes that as unaccompanied children they will be allowed to stay. From Buzzfeed:

In the town of Matamoros, Mexico, more than 2,600 immigrants are living on the streets in an encampment they’re afraid of leaving out of fear of being kidnapped or assaulted.

Rather than wait months in squalid and dangerous conditions before their immigration cases are resolved, some parents are sending their children alone to the U.S., a practice first reported by the Intercept.

One immigrant advocate in Matamoros estimates that 40 to 50 children in MPP have decided, sometimes without parental consent, to go to the U.S. without their parents.

The Intercept published a report on this trend at the end of October as well. You can read that here. All of which is just another reason to oppose the Remain in Mexico policy and #SaveAsylum.

Stephen Miller is still around. Why?

This is probably a good place to remind everybody that Trump’s main immigration policy guru, Stephen Miller, is still in his job despite recent revelations that he really is a bigot who subscribes to crazy conspiracy theories about white genocide. While it is tempting to launch our own campaign calling for Miller to be removed, there is already a pretty big effort being led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Progressive Campaign Committee to get him out. You can sign their petition here (read the fine print). Or you can simply call the White House comment line directly and ask that Miller be fired! The number is 202-456-1111.

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Daily Dispatch 11/26/2019: Impeachment, Immigration and the Abuse of Executive Authority

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November 26, 2019

Image: Daily Beast

“It is a core tenet of this nation’s founding that the powers of a monarch must be split between the branches of the government to prevent tyranny … Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that presidents are not kings.” Ketanji Brown Jackson, Federal District Judge

Donald Trump was told by a Federal judge on Monday that he was not a king. At issue was whether former White House Counsel McGahn could be forced to appear before Congress after receiving a subpoena from the House Judiciary committee. The White House claimed McGahn, and other administrative officials, have absolute immunity and can therefore refuse to appear before Congress. As far a reach as this sounds, the Bush administration tried to same argument in 2008 in its efforts to keep former White House Counsel Harriet Miers from testifying before Congress. The Courts did not accept the argument then, and did not accept it now. So McGahn will have to appear before Congress – though he can invoke executive privilege once there.

Though Trump lost this battle in court (the administration had even argued that the District Court had no standing to hear the case), his presidency still stands as a test of constitutional order. As CNN’s Stephen Collinson noted,

All of Trump’s scandals are fusing together into a momentous fight over his staggeringly broad claims of expansive presidential power. How it turns out will shape his personal political legacy, the nature of the office he has held for nearly three years and potentially the American political system itself.  

Trump’s overreach on executive powers can be seen in many facets of his administration, and is particularly evident in relation to the signature issue of Trump’s presidency: immigration. He might get impeached for making military aid to Ukraine’s government contingent on investigating Joe Biden and his son, but he has done far more damage to the lives of millions of people through immigration enforcement and has done so in violation of the law and constitutional separation of powers. 

Asylum law gutted through executive rule changes

For many years the United States has been the country that receives the most asylum seekers. Anyone present in the United States – in the interior of the country or at the border, whether inspected at the border or not – may seek asylum. The basis for an asylum claim is that the person “is unable or unwilling to return to [their home] country because of persecution or well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.” If someone is seeking asylum they must make a declaration to that effect to immigration authorities and then are screened via a “credible fear” interview. If the person passes the credible fear interview, s/he will come before an immigration judge and present their case for asylum, requiring that s/he offer proof that their lives are in fact in danger if they are returned to their country.

Trump has gutted this process. He requires asylum seekers to await their cases behind bars, even after they pass a credible fear interview – in direct violation of ICE’s own operating procedures. Almost one-third of the people in ICE detention right now have established a credible fear of persecution or torture if returned.

He then put forth a rule requiring people to wait in Mexico for an asylum hearing – essentially denying them meaningful access to counsel to help build an asylum case. The court process is a mockery of due process – as judges are not even physically present.

Still not content, the administration established a new rule that denies people the right to apply for asylum if they passed through a third country before arriving to the United States border – unless they have first applied for asylum in that third country and been denied.

None of this was done through Congressional process. Trump has simply legislated the dismantling of asylum law on his own. All of this will come under court review eventually, but for now stands as a significant overreach of executive authority.

Bypassing Congressional authority to fund detention/Remain in Mexico

Under Article 1 of the United States constitution, Congress has the direct authority and responsibility to decide how money is spent. Further, all spending bills are to originate in the House of Representatives. The executive has some discretion to re-program funds to fill in for contingencies, but such transfers are supposed to be approved by Congressional oversight committees.

In FY 2019 Congress authorized funding for a 45,000 daily average of detention beds (the number of people detained per day). At the time the administration was holding close to 49,000 people and the expressed intent of this authorization was that the administration would lower its detention rate to 40,000 by the end of the year- so it would average out to 45,000.

Trump simply ignored this. By August of 2019 daily detention was up to 55,000, and the administration was over budget. As we reported before, Trump simply moved money from the Coast Guard to cover the shortfall. He then moved more money from FEMA to pay for the court debacle at the border as a result of his Remain in Mexico policy. The administration did not seek authorization for this new use of funds. It simply transferred the funds and then notified OMB of the transfer. 

Currently the administration is seeking to raise fees charged by USCIS – with plans to transfer up to $207 million a year to ICE. A complete violation of budgetary authority.

Bypassing Congressional oversight, advice and consent

The administration’s immigration policies are implemented by the Department of Homeland Security, through Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. None of the directors at any of these agencies has been confirmed as a director by Congress. They are all in their positions as acting or temporary directors. 

What Trump has done is get people confirmed to a lower level position, and then moved them into directorships when needed. He most recently did this with Chad Wolf, the current acting director of the Department of Homeland Security. Congresswoman Norma Torres writes,

Chad Wolf was not confirmed to lead the Department of Homeland Security. He couldn’t be — even a Senate as polarized as this one would have rejected him. Instead, they confirmed him for a lesser role, the undersecretary of the agency’s Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans, clearing the way for Trump to then declare him the acting secretary of the entire department to fill a leadership vacancy.

Trump declared some time ago that he prefers “acting” heads of agencies, because he gets to move them around at will. This makes a complete mockery of the advice and consent role that Congress is supposed to play. It also seriously clouds the lines of responsibility when things go wrong – and on immigration policy they often go wrong. 

So, Trump will not be impeached for any of this. Party loyalty and political caution (cowardice?) ensures that Congress will not act directly. At best, they will assert their authority in the budget process and hope it sticks this time. We’ll see. But Trump’s abuse of executive authority extends well beyond pressure on Ukraine. If he is not reined in, future presidents will push even further. This is how democracy dies. It’s already very ill.

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Daily Dispatch 11/25/2019: United Nations Global Study of Incarcerated Kids

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Daily Dispatch

November 25, 2019

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights launched the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty in 2016. Two weeks ago the study was presented by the lead expert overseeing the process, Manfred Nowak.

The overall findings were stark indeed.

Data collected for the study and well-grounded scientific approximations indicate that, altogether, a minimum of between 1.3 and 1.5 million children are deprived of liberty per year. Of those, the largest number are in institutions (430,000–680,000), followed by those in the administration of justice (410,000), migration-related detention (330,000), in armed conflict situations (35,000) and for national security reasons (1,500). An additional 19,000 children are living with their primary caregivers in prisons. The Independent Expert wishes to stress that those figures are arrived at on the basis of scientifically sound methodologies, yet remain highly conservative owing to the scarcity of official and reliable disaggregated data. In particular, the figures do not include the approximately 1 million children in police custody and an even higher number of children deprived of liberty de facto in institutions.

On migration related detention, the authors note:

Research for the study recognizes that migration-related detention of children cannot be considered as a measure of last resort and is never in the best interests of the child and, therefore, should always be prohibited. This applies to unaccompanied and separated children, as well as to children with their families. Detaining children to “keep families together” or for their “protection”, where alternative care is lacking, can never be a justification.

In the concluding section of the report, a number of recommendations are made for states to reduce the number of children deprived of liberty. The section on migration-related detention includes:

  • The Independent Expert urges States to prohibit and end all forms of migration-related detention of children and their families.
  • States should: prohibit child and family immigration detention in law; decriminalize irregular entry, stay and exit; adopt child-sensitive identification and referral procedures in the context of migration; and dedicate sufficient resources to appropriate non-custodial solutions for children and their families.
  • Unaccompanied children should be provided with alternative care and accommodation, in line with the United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. States should provide refugee children with access to asylum procedures and other appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance, including family reunification, education and health care.
  • Children with family members should be allowed to remain with their families in non-custodial, community-based contexts while their immigration status is resolved and the children’s best interests are assessed. Children should not be separated from their families. The need to keep the family together is not a valid basis for deprivation of liberty of the child; instead, the State should provide non-custodial solutions for the entire family.

What about the U.S.? Yeah we’re still number 1…

During the press conference Nowak was asked about the U.S. specifically. He said in response to the question that the U.S. still had 100,000 children in migration related detention, but did not clarify what this meant. The only coverage about the event in english was a Reuters report, but there was little follow up in the article about what was included in this measure, which was clearly incorrect – but the media ran with it anyway. 

Last week Nowak corrected the record: 

But on Tuesday, he told The AP that figure was drawn from a U.N. refugee agency report citing data from 2015, the latest figure his team could find. That was before President Donald Trump, whose policies on migration have drawn criticism, was elected.

Nowak also said the figure of over 100,000 referred to the cumulative number of migrant children held in detention at any point during that year, whether “for two days or eight months or the whole year,” not all simultaneously.

He reiterated, however, that the U.S. is holding far more children than are other countries for which he has reliable figures.

New U.S. government data released this month found 69,550 migrant children have been held in U.S. government custody over the past year.

So we know the figure was intended as a cumulative for a year (which is what we thought). But the correction still needs more correction – at least as reported by NBC News

What we do know. Currently there are 4,200 children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services and oversees the detention of unaccompanied immigrant children. Over the course of Fiscal Year 2019 (October 2018 to September 2019), 69,550 children were placed on ORR custody. The peak in daily average of ORR detentions was 14,000 in November of 2018, and at the time, the average length of custody was 93 days.

The figure of 69,550 in the NBC report is just ORR detention.

In addition to these children, there are a large number who are detained with their families either in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement or in Border Patrol facilities. This is a difficult number to find, but we do know that Border Patrol apprehended at least 430,000 people who were part of family units in FY 2019. Customs and Border Protection does not break down how many of these are children and how many are adults, but if only one-third are children, then 143,000 children spent some time in a Border Patrol facility as part of a family unit last year, with some of these families (and children) then transferred to ICE for longer term detention.

So we can conservatively estimate that at least 200,000 children, and likely many more, spent some time in immigrant related detention in FY 2019. 

Aside from immigration, we also know that there are 51,000 children in jails, prisons and juvenile detention facilities in this country on any given day, including 5,000 youth held in adult prisons. Of all incarcerated youth, 69 percent of children are of color.

So, Nowak was right about the important thing: The United State is the world’s leader in incarceration – of adults, of children, and of immigrants. What are we going to do about that?

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Daily Dispatch 11/21/2019: Take Action Updates!

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Daily Dispatch

November 21, 2019

Over the last couple of weeks we have put out some call to actions and discussed other items in the news. For today’s Dispatch, we want to simply update folks about these actions.

Defund Hate 

Last week we circulated an alert for the National Call-in Day in support of the Defund Hate campaign of the Detention Watch Network. As a coalition we are not real sure how many calls, tweets and other communications resulted, but a rough tally from a few sources suggest at least 1,000 people took part around the country. If you were one of them, thank you!!!

So what does it all mean? The goal for the campaign is cutting Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection’s budgets as a means toward reducing – eventually eliminating – the incarceration of immigrants. That message has been received loud and clear – though remains a highly partisan frame. A proposed budget (not yet voted on in the House), for example, reduces daily average of people in detention to 34,000 from the current 45,000 budgeted for FY2019 (though ICE is holding 50,000 and wants capacity to hold 52,000 a day next year). The Senate proposal is higher, largely giving in to ICE’s demands for bed space and border agents (and funding for the wall). There is a big fight looming once these proposals hit the floor for debate in each house, and then have to be reconciled. We are not there yet.

We are now in the Continuing Resolution (CR) phase of the budget cycle. That time of year when the government is out of money because no budget has been passed, and in order to avoid shutting down, Congress passes CRs to keep the government funded at its current rate. So, the goal at the moment is to make sure the CRs are not padded with extra money for immigration enforcement. ICE and other agencies would love to get extra funds this time of year as a way of boosting their overall budget, and, in theory, give them leverage for even larger sums of money in the fight for FY2020.

A Continuing Resolution was passed in the House this week – and there was no extra money added for ICE or CBP – which means ICE and CBP must continue to operate, on a prorated basis, under the same budget as last year. The Senate votes today and is expected to support the House version of the CR. There is money for the wall in there – because there was funding for the wall added to last year’s budget. But no new money for detention or enforcement, which is a success. The CR runs until December 20th, at which point a budget will need to be passed, or another CR passed, or the government (more likely specific departments) will be forced to close again. This last option is actually likely as the CR will end during the most likely week for an impeachment vote in the House….

For now, keep up the pressure on Congress to cut funding for ICE and CBP in FY2020! We’ve made this case several places – most recently here. And no new funding in any future CR.

Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act – New cosponsors, need more

A couple of weeks ago we put out a call to action to encourage folks to contact members of Congress to request they become co-sponsors of the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act. We spend a lot of time talking about the problems with immigrant detention – the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act actually offers most of the solutions we want, at least what we can get out of legislation (more details here). The general consensus is that the bill will not get a vote this year, but that we need to use co-sponsorship as a means to build momentum for action next year (and a lot of this depends on the outcome of the elections).

You can still ask your member of Congress to do what they can to move it out of committee!! This probably won’t happen, but it is still a message they need to here.

You can still take action HERE!

Check the current list of cosponsors first. If your member of Congress is already here, thank them! And then ask them what they can to get it to a vote. Let us know what they say!

Scott Warren Acquitted!!

Scott Warren, a volunteer with No More Deaths, was tried for a second time, charged with harboring and trafficking. Scott was tried back in June for the first time, with the result being a hung jury. Federal prosecutors dropped conspiracy charges, but chose to retry him on another charge. We have reported on his trials here and here

This week he was acquitted!! Great news for Scott and for everyone doing what they can to accompany and provide assistance to people risking their lives to cross the deserts in Arizona and Texas. One day, this work will be unnecessary. Until that day comes, we are thankful for the courage of Scott and other volunteers, who continue to be harassed by federal authorities.

SaveAsylum – Keep the calls coming!

Finally, Tuesday we put out a call to action along with LAWG, WOLA, Alianza Americas and other organizations. The goal – get congress to stop (and defund) the Remain in Mexico policy. This call to action, though more specific, is very much in line with the Defund Hate actions we’ve been involved in. We hope you have a made a call. If not, get the details here, and make a call.

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Daily Dispatch 11/20/2019: Miller must go….

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Daily Dispatch

November 20, 2019

A man holds an effigy of White House policy advisor Stephen Miller as he rallies with protestors against U.S. President Donald Trump in front of Trump Tower on the night of his State of the Union address, February 5, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

As most are now aware, a former Breitbart editor, who had coordinated messaging on immigration with Stephen Miller, leaked emails she exchanged with Miller to the Southern Poverty Law Center. From NBC:

The first batch of emails, released last week, included correspondence in which Miller pointed McHugh to white nationalist websites that have been categorized as hate groups by the SPLC, including the white supremacist websites VDare and American Renaissance.

VDare and American Renaissance repeatedly push the “great replacement” and “white genocide” conspiracy theory, which posits that a shadowy group is attempting to eliminate white majorities in the United States through immigration and encouraging mixed-race families.

More emails were released yesterday that further show the ways that Miller coordinated messaging with Breitbart while he was working with the Trump campaign.

The tight connection between Breitbart editor Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, and Stephen Miller – who previously served as a legislative aide in Sessions office – was discussed a couple of weeks ago in detail as part of a Frontline special on the evolution of Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. The report discussed how Bannon, Sessions and Miller worked closely from 2014 on and were brought together by a clear desire to use immigration as a wedge issue to turn the GOP away from any compromise that could ease immigration restrictions. They saw this as a way to transform the GOP in electoral terms, though the commitment to white nationalism throughout their writing and talking on these subjects are clear enough. In 2016 Trump, in Bannon’s words, became their “imperfect vehicle” for that mission. 

That Miller is particularly driven by a commitment to racist ideologies is thus not surprising. That a marginal, largely truth free e-zine like Breitbart could come to have such an influence on U.S. political thought – while pedaling such nonsense – should be surprising, but in the current age of “post-truth” news, social mediated clickbait and hyper-partisanship, it is not. 

I fully support calls for Miller to step down. The policies he has pursued have been a human rights disaster and, whatever his personal motivations, warrant his removal from office. Immigration policy has long been a human rights disaster – and certainly the political justifications for the expansion of detention and criminalization over the last 20 years is hard to separate from nationalism. However, this administration has stood out for its cruelty (best exhibited in the purposeful separation of children from parents and extending child detention as a deterrent), its consistent attacks on authorized immigration, and for its unapologetic dismantling of refugee and asylum laws. 

Miller has been uniquely responsible for the cruel tenor of this administration’s policies. He has worked behind the scenes to shape not just what the message is, a la Breitbart, but who the messengers are. Miller is generally credited with forcing the removal of officials considered too moderate and replacing them with immigration hardliners. Thus, Miller has shaped who the personnel at the Department of Homeland Security are and how they frame policy. The result is an unaccountable cabal of “acting” or “temporary” officials – none of whom have even been confirmed.

From the beginning of Trump’s administration a point we have returned to in various ways, is that even if the infrastructure Trump employs for his anti-immigration practices was in place already, the messaging he has used in an effort to legitimate its expansion has done great damage. This administration has employed irresponsible rhetoric that demonizes immigrants. It has purposefully blurred the line between authorized and unauthorized channels of immigration in order to curtail legal immigration. And, of course, Trump simply lies over and over again about dynamics at our border in order to rally support for the wall, jail asylum seekers, and tear families apart. Miller is the one largely responsible for all of this. That this messaging has always been shaded by white nationalism is well known. That it is not accidental, but purposeful, seems obvious as well, and now that seems irrefutable. 

So, yes, Miller must resign or be forced to. 

However, we are left to wonder how an outlet like Breitbart could facilitate the distortion of the political process in this country to such an extent. Miller will likely be forced out. Trump may be as well. But for such a marginal group to achieve this kind of electoral influence through the manipulation of information channels is a lesson others will take note of – and seek to replicate. That our political process has come to this point is the truly scary part to me. 

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