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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Democrats need to start talking about immigration again!

In the last debate of the Democratic presidential primary prior to the Iowa caucuses, the word immigration was said twice, once by Sanders and once by Klobuchar. Both times it was said in passing, absent any reference to an actual policy. That debate was themed “America’s role in the world” and was billed as a debate on foreign policy. Immigration policy is, of course, intimately connected to foreign policy. From Iraq to Afghanistan to Libya and Syria, the world’s largest refugee crises have resulted from wars the U.S. is deeply involved in. The multiple crises in Central America and Venezuela that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of people seeking asylum here and elsewhere, are also impossible to separate from U.S. policy. The fact that the U.S. is gutting our asylum system by largely offshoring it to Mexico and Guatemala is itself a foreign policy issue. And yet, there was not a single question about immigration in general, nor about refugees or asylum. Indeed, since last June when Democrats issued a number of statements critical of Trump’s border policies amidst stories of children detained in horrible conditions by U.S. border patrol, immigration has faded from Democratic presidential priority.

Certainly part of the reason is that the candidates with the most creative, and critical policy ideas are no longer in the race. Julian Castro set the tempo early by challenging his colleagues on the debate stage to take a stand on repealing the federal law that makes irregular entry a crime. By demanding that immigration be treated as a civil enforcement issue, not criminal, Castro was well ahead of the field in challenging the core element of Trump’s strategic (and false) frame of the “criminal alien.” But Castro was not alone. Cory Booker introduced a plan to essentially eliminate immigrant detention through selective use of executive orders. Kamala Harris supported the banning of private prison companies from immigrant detention, and supported a broad expansion of those people protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to include current DACA recipient families. Beto came into the debate early, beating everybody but Castro in  presenting a comprehensive redraft of immigration laws, that was creative in many of its elements and yet limited by his refusal to join Castro in decriminalizing irregular entry. 

All of these candidates are now out of the race. Of those remaining, Warren is the only one to incorporate most of these ideas into a comprehensive immigration plan. Her plan decriminalizes irregular entry, reduces immigrant detention and ultimately eliminates private companies from detention contracts. She calls for the restructuring of immigrant courts to give them an independent status outside of the Department of Justice, and calls for the restructuring of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Warren and all of the remaining candidates support creating a legislative solution for DACA recipients, the “Dreamers.” And most support crafting a qualified path to citizenship for those people currently living in the U.S. unauthorized. 

By and large, however, the Democratic field has limited itself to criticizing Trump when the optics are at their worst (children being torn from parents, and/or detained in horrible conditions in border patrol stations) and otherwise saying little. Substantively, most simply argue for the resetting of policy back to January 20, 2017, failing to note how bad immigration policy was under the Obama administration (or Bush or Clinton).

Trump’s presidency provides an opportunity to do much more. Everything Trump does unveils a systemic problem, and because he cannot seem to talk about immigration in a way that is tempered by a desire for compromise, he rubs our noses in the brutality of that system every day. It is both a horror to watch, and a clear opportunity to actually revolutionize our immigration system – because its inherent brutality is no longer hidden. Trump daily celebrates this capacity for cruelty – a capacity handed to him by the cumulative impact of the policies of five previous presidential administrations, and a political culture saturated in weaponized identity. All have been dragging us closer to the abyss of inhumanity in the treatment of migrants. Trump might well be taking us over the edge as a country. But we can no longer pretend it’s not happening. Assuming, that is, we see Trump’s administration for what it is: A revelation of the worst impulses in our political culture, not their creator. 

The Democrats helped create this mess, and now they have a chance to make amends. But first they have to address it. Earlier this week, on the three year anniversary of Trump’s first disastrous policy move, the Muslim travel ban, Marielena Hincapié, Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center, wrote

we need to demand more from the Democrats running for president. More than simply rejecting Trump’s agenda, the candidates must commit to truly transforming our approach to how we talk about and include immigrants in conversations of critical national importance — from health care, to housing, education, and climate change. Our ability to thrive together depends not only on holding Trump accountable, but also on truly changing how we treat our most marginalized communities.

I completely agree. There were hopeful signs early on in the race, but the conversation has faded to the back burner of the primary season. Whoever wins this primary will have to address immigration policy in the general election. They need to be building their case now.

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Daily Dispatch 1/16/2019: State/Local vs Federal Government

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Daily Dispatch

January 16, 2020

In this Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, file photo, Linda Evarts, an attorney for the International Refugee Assistant Project, speaks to the media outside the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, Md. A federal judge agreed Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, to block the Trump administration from enforcing an executive order allowing state and local government officials to reject refugees from resettling in their jurisdictions. U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Maryland issued a preliminary injunction requested by three national refugee resettlement agencies that sued to challenge the executive order. (AP Photo/Michael Kunzelman, File)

Federal Court blocks Trump Refugee Order

On September 26, 2019, Trump issued an Executive Order (EO 13888) that requires state and local officials to provide written consent in order for refugee resettlement to continue in their states and localities. This means that refugee resettlement will stop in an entire state unless the governor sends a letter providing consent. County executives or their equivalents, depending on each state’s setup, must also provide consent in order for refugees to be resettled in their localities.

On January 8 a Federal District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland heard arguments against the executive order. Two days later, Texas became the first state to opt out of the refugee resettlement program for FY2020. Forty-two states have agreed to continue accepting refugees. Only two counties had voted to opt out of refugee resettlement: Beltrami County in Minnesota (in which no refugee has been resettled in over five years) and Burleigh County in North Dakota (which voted to limit the number admitted but still accept some refugees- only 19 refugees were resettled in FY 2019). The debates have proved very contentious – which was clearly part of Trump’s intent.

Yesterday, the District Court in Greenbelt issued an injunction against the executive order. From the Associated Press:

A federal judge on Wednesday halted President Donald Trump’s executive order that gave state and local officials the ability to shut the door on refugees, and ignited a fierce debate in communities about how welcoming the United States should be.

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Maryland said in his ruling that the president’s order “flies in the face of clear Congressional intent” of the 1980 Refugee Act by allowing state and local governments to block the resettlement of refugees in their jurisdictions.

In issuing a preliminary injunction, Messitte said the process should continue as it has for nearly 40 years, with refugee resettlement agencies deciding where a person would best thrive.

This is great news. However, while the legal process drags on, the uncertainty remains for the 1,800 refugees that are to be resettled in Texas – almost all with family in the state.

Meanwhile, the overall cap on refugees allowed into the United States continues to fall under Trump. This year the cap is just 18,000. It was 110,000 in 2016. Currently between 150,000 and 200,000 refugees are in the pipeline, seeking resettlement in the United States.

In a first, ICE subpoenas Denver police

In a bizarre development in the ongoing war between “sanctuary” cities and the Trump administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has issued subpoenas to the police in Denver to force release of information on four men that ICE is seeking to deport. According to Denver police, however, they’ve already given the information sought to ICE for three of the men in question and will provide release information on the fourth one when he is actually released from custody. From the Associated Press:

The four men, three Mexican nationals and one Honduran, had all been arrested and jailed for violent offenses such as sexual assault and child abuse and had all been previously deported, according to ICE.

“ICE officials contacted Denver to request jail release notifications involving four inmates,” Luby said. “Contrary to what ICE is saying, we honored three of those requests for the three inmates released at that time. We will honor the request for the fourth inmate when he is released.”

So what is going on? Denver has adopted policies that restrict police cooperation with ICE. In particular, the Denver police will not detain people for ICE. The ICE practice of requesting “detainers” is controversial. ICE requests that local police refuse to release people for up to 48 hours beyond their scheduled release date, so that ICE field offices can send someone to pick them up. Local and county law enforcement have begun to push back against the use of detainers, with many now refusing to keep people in custody for ICE, unless there is a warrant issued by a federal judge requiring it. Holding people so ICE can come and decide what to do with them is a violation of civil rights. Or so, Denver, among other cities, has argued. From the Associated Press:

The subpoenas were issued Monday. In three of the cases, officials have 14 days to respond with information, and in one case, three days. Ryan Luby, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office, said the subpoenas requested additional information than what was already provided.

“The subpoenas were not issued by a court of law and not signed by a judge. There is no indication they are related to a criminal investigation,” he said. “Denver does not comply with subpoenas unless they are Court-ordered or unless they are primarily related to a criminal investigation. Our immigration ordinance fully complies with federal law.”

This was apparently the first time ICE has issued a subpoena against a law enforcement agency, but likely will not be the last. What ICE is actually expecting from Denver’s police is not clear. As noted, ICE received release notifications already. This seems an effort to reframe the optics of “law and order” in the administration’s favor, while attacking the credibility of sanctuary policies. It could prove to be much ado about nothing in the long run or, or signal a new tactic in the administration’s war on immigrants and the people who stand with them. 

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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 5/24/2019

Trump wants immigrants and sponsors to repay government assistance

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Daily Dispatch

May 24, 2019

Trump’s efforts to make life miserable for people seeking a new life in the United States is increasingly focused on those who migrated to the U.S. through official, “legal” means. Since his administration’s efforts to recraft the “public charge” rule last October – a new rule under which people here with a green card that received any government assistance could face removal proceedings – to the proposal of Housing and Urban Development last month to evict people from public housing if any member of that household was undocumented, Trump is engaging an all out war to target low-income immigrants. Yesterday, Trump announced that his administration issued a memorandum requiring that immigrants or their sponsors pay back any government assistance they may have received:

President Donald Trump took another step Thursday to crack down on legal immigration, instructing agencies to enforce a 23-year-old law that requires sponsors of green card holders to reimburse the government for welfare benefits.

Trump approved a memorandum Thursday to enforce a pair of provisions signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the White House said. The move comes as Trump has sought to overhaul legal immigration despite congressional resistance.

U.S. President Donald Trump visits the US-Mexico border in Calexico California, U.S., April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The announcement came with a justification – one we’ve heard before – that 58 percent of non-citizen headed households have accessed public assistance “in some form.” The source of this statistic is most likely a National Academy of the Sciences report that found that 58 percent of immigrant households with children had used “any welfare.” Importantly, included in this definition of welfare is food assistance programs like free lunch and breakfast programs at public schools. The same study showed that “native” households accessed housing and cash assistance programs at higher rates than immigrants. The percent of immigrant households where someone had accessed Medicaid was 50 percent, but a number that fluctuates dramatically state to state.  A fact check of an earlier similar claim by Trump included this:

University of California, Davis Law School Dean and immigration expert Kevin Johnson said immigrants cannot be over consuming public benefits because they are not eligible to receive the benefits in the first place.

“To say that the general rate of use by immigrants of public benefits is anywhere close to 50 percent is an exaggeration and just isn’t supported by the evidence,” he said.

Ultimately, the numbers ignore income levels and the fact that many immigrant headed households have citizen members of that household, often the children.

But the point, for Trump, is not to be accurate. Remember this is the man who last year Tweeted:

Not a single statistic in this tweet is accurate. The $3,874 number came from a report about a refugee family (legal!) receiving a one time cash assistance payment (not monthly) to help with resettlement – IN CANADA! Average social security checks in the U.S. are over $1,400 a month – not that this was the point of the tweet.

Trump is working from a very old playbook – associate immigrants with crime and welfare, project the idea that they are granted some kind of preferential treatment over U.S. citizens and blame all of this on the Democratic Party. This is warmed over “southern strategy” style race baiting. The goal is to create resentment and give those in the twitter-verse, social media and watching Fox News a target for that resentment. Which is to say, accuracy has nothing to do with it. 

As the election proceeds, Trump will continue to beat the drum of “deserving” and “undeserving” immigrants issue statements that confuse documented and undocumented immigration to cast a shadow over everyone in this country that is not a U.S. citizen. Fight for policies that animate this bigotry in an effort to keep the debate going and put the Democrats on the defensive should they push back at all.

Of course, it is not 1968. Demographic trends are not on the GOP’s side. This is the racist swan song of a dying order. But, for now, enough people are willing to dance to this tune that real damage to our country and the lives of millions of people is being done.

Fight back.

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Daily Dispatch 5/23/2019

ICE arrests DACA recipient – then her family

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Daily Dispatch

May 23, 2019

Paula Hincapie-Rendon (center, white dress) surrounded by staff and alumni of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and members of Voces de la Frontera, an activist group from Milwaukee, outside of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Chicago field office, May 8, 2019. Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

On May 8, Paula Hincapie-Rendon was arrested by ICE agents while driving her daughter to school. In 2004, Hincapie-Rendon’s family fled from violence in Colombia. Their asylum claim was denied in 2009, and a deportation order was issued. In 2015, Hincapie-Rendon was granted protection from deportation under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), a status that was renewed in 2017. DACA protects some people from removal proceedings if they arrived in the U.S. as children. Hincapie-Rendon should not have been arrested. But what happened next suggests that her arrest was a pretext to get to her parents. From the Chicago Sun-Times

Hincapie-Rendon asked if she could take her daughter back to the house and leave her with her parents. The agents obliged, with one caveat — they would be driving her car while she sat in their van, handcuffed.

“My daughter was crying so loud in the back seat, scared and confused,” she said.

Once at the house, agents found Hincapie-Rendon’s dad, Carlos Hincapie, leaving for work. They arrested him on the spot. Agents then went into the house and arrested Hincapie-Rendon’s mom, Betty Rendon, a Lutheran minister who was set to start her doctorate at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in June. Agents also arrested Hincapie’s cousin, who was staying with the family.

The agents drove the family to ICE’s field office in the Loop. The agency released Hincapie-Rendon that same afternoon under an order of supervision… Hincapie-Rendon’s parents and her dad’s cousin were taken to an ICE facility in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. They are now being held at the Pulaski County Jail in Ullin, Illinois, and face deportation to Colombia.

You can read the full story here.

Detention reaches an all time high

When the Trump administration talks about the “crisis” at the border and the need for more detention beds, stories like the one above are not mentioned. And yet, nearly 37% of ICE arrests and detentions in December were people with no criminal background. (And please note those with “criminal backgrounds” are not hardened criminals – low level arrests can place someone in removal proceedings and lead to detention, even permanent residence.)

Nevertheless, the Trump administration is now detaining a daily average of more than 50,000 people a day.

From Buzzfeed:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is detaining more than 52,000 immigrants in jails around the country, officials said Monday, an apparent all-time record as the Trump administration contends with a surge of migrants at the southern border.

As of Monday, ICE was holding 52,398 migrants, of which 998 are family units, an agency official told BuzzFeed News. The number represents a significant population spike from just two weeks ago when ICE was holding more than 49,000 migrants.

Perhaps, coincidentally, GEO Group’s stock price got a bump on the Monday news of record detentions. GEO Group is the largest private prison operator contracting with ICE on detentions.

Disaster aid bill held up over Trump immigration plans

And of course, the “crisis” means Trump wants more money to detain people, which means other things cannot get done unless he gets it.

From The Hill:

Immigration’s emergence as a sticking point comes after lawmakers managed to work out several other issues. They say they’ve reached a deal on aid to Puerto Rico despite Trump’s previous criticism of the island territory, and Republicans have jettisoned harbor maintenance funding and a short-term extension of the Violence Against Women Act.

The White House’s $4.5 billion border money request included $3.3 billion for humanitarian assistance. About $1.1 billion would go toward operations such as expanding the number of detention beds and providing more investigation resources.  

Shelby told reporters Wednesday morning the debate was stuck on funding for ICE and detention beds for migrants detained along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Democrats have agreed to include humanitarian aid as part of an agreement on the disaster package, but a previous offer didn’t include the administration’s request for more money for ICE detention beds, considered a non-starter for most of the caucus.

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Daily Dispatch 5/22/2019

Let’s End 287(g)!

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Daily Dispatch

May 22, 2019

Map of 287(g) agreements, Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Around the country, different localities have signed “287(g)” agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 287(g) agreements deputize local law enforcement to enforce immigration law. This can include inquiring about someone’s immigration status during routine traffic stops or other interactions with police, and detaining people until ICE takes custody of them.

287(g) agreements have been signed with 81 localities in 21 states. Almost all of them are set to expire on June 30, 2019. This creates an opportunity for communities around the country to mobilize to block extension of these agreements. From the Center for American Progress:

Under President Trump’s punitive immigration agenda, sweeping changes to immigration enforcement within the United States included rebooting the controversial federal-local partnership known as 287(g), through which state and local law enforcement officers act as ICE deputies. While the Trump administration did not create the 287(g) program, it views it as a critical tool in its ability to deport as many undocumented immigrants living in the United States as possible. Today, ICE has 287(g) contract agreements with 81 law enforcement agencies in 21 states, two-thirds of which were signed during the Trump administration.

The decision to collaborate through a 287(g) agreement is purely discretionary, and state and local officials can terminate these agreements at any time. Over the next month, jurisdictions must choose whether they will side with President Trump’s immigration policy by continuing their collaboration on federal immigration enforcement or protect their communities and prioritize public safety by not renewing their expiring 287(g) partnerships.

287(g) agreement cost communities a lot of money!

Not only is the 287(g) program riddled with transparency and oversight flaws, but it also threatens local economies and communities. According to previous CAP analysis of 40 participating 287(g) jurisdictions, immigrant households in these localities contributed $24.4 billion in annual tax revenue and generated $65.9 billion in spending power. Localities signing up for this voluntary program are thus doing so at the risk of losing these vital economic contributions.

Read the full story from the Center for American Progress.

There has been resistance to 287(g) agreements almost everywhere they have been signed. In the current context, mobilizing communities to demand local officials do not re-sign agreements with ICE can be effective.

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center maintains a map of 287(g) agreements – this includes current agreements and the 21 communities that have organized to suspend these agreements. See if your community is on this list and get connected to a campaign to let these agreements expire.

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Daily Dispatch 5/21/2019

ICE use of Solitary Confinement Extensive

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Daily Dispatch

May 21, 2019

Illustration from report: Rocco Fazzari for ICIJ

The Intercept and International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published an extensive report on Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) use of solitary confinement to punish immigrants incarcerated in ICE custody. The report was based on a review of 8,400 reported cases of immigrants placed in solitary confinement.

The U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Torture has strongly spoken out against the use of solitary confinement except in the most extraordinary circumstances when all other options have been tried to protect a prisoner or detainee, or if they pose a unique threat to others, and then only used on a very limited bases. The U.N. has argued that use of solitary confinement in excess of 15 days constitutes torture.

Of the 8,400 cases reviewed over half of them were in excess of 15 days. 573 in excess of 90 days, and in 32 cases people were held in solitary for over a year. From the Intercept:

In nearly a third of the cases, detainees were described as having a mental illness, which made them especially vulnerable to breakdown if locked up alone in a small cell. Records reviewed by ICIJ describe detainees in isolation mutilating their genitals, gouging their eyes, cutting their wrists, and smearing their cells with feces.

The review found that immigrants held in the agency’s isolation cells had suffered hallucinations, fits of anger, and suicidal impulses. Former detainees told ICIJ that they experienced sleeplessness, flashbacks, depression, and memory loss long after release.

“People were being brutalized,” said Ellen Gallagher, who currently holds a supervisory role in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Gallagher has tried for years to sound the alarm within her agency about a wide range of abusive uses of solitary confinement at ICE detention centers.

The impact on detainees, especially those with mental illness, is severe:

ICIJ’s analysis found at least 373 instances of detainees being placed in isolation because they were potentially suicidal — and another 200-plus cases of people already in solitary confinement moved to “suicide watch” or another form of observation, in many cases in another solitary cell.

“This is the equivalent of pouring gasoline on a fire,” Kenneth Appelbaum, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School who has examined ICE’s segregation practices as a DHS consultant, said of using solitary confinement to manage suicidal detainees. “This is a practice that exposes detainees to real psychological and physiological harm.”

Read the full report from the Intercept. To view the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists companion report, here.

Last year we wrote a report on detention policies that constitute torture and degrading treatment. Our review focuses on prolonged, indefinite detention, the use of child separation as a tactic, and the failure to provide adequate review of individual cases. By all of these standards, U.S. immigration policy enforcement constitutes violations of human rights and international law. In some cases, these practices constitute violations of U.S. law as well – particular legal standards put in place to protect those seeking asylum.

This is our country today, and importantly, it has been our country for over a decade. The use of solitary confinement, family separation and prolonged detention are practices that all predate the Trump administration. Trump’s administration has elevated the use of these dehumanizing tactics in an effort to deter future immigration, and score political points with the far-right. But he has been able to do this because of years of indifference to the situation of detainees. We can only hope the focus brought to Trump’s particular brand of cruelty will be the spark to move us to demand long-lasting change in our immigration system.

Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons Still Abused

Immigration policy is a microcosm of broader trends in our society. It casts a spotlight on abuse because the people in detention have not committed crimes. They are in “civil detention” and have limited access to fair processes. The injustice is thus striking. However, this country’s manic addiction to mass incarceration and tendency toward official cruelty as punishment have deep roots. That immigration enforcement has adopted these harsh techniques is hardly surprising. The use of solitary confinement is no exception.

Despite years of efforts at reform – that have made a difference in some states to be sure – solitary confinement is still a practice that is abused by prison authorities in the United States. On any given day there are an estimated 61,000 people held in solitary confinement. 61,000.  From an extensive report by Vox on solitary confinement:

Thousands of people — at least 61,000 on any given day and likely many thousands more than that — are in solitary confinement across the country, spending 23 hours per day in cells not much bigger than elevators. They are disproportionately young men, and disproportionately Hispanic and African American. The majority spend a few months in it, but at least a couple of thousand people have been in solitary confinement for six years or more. Some, like Woodfox, have been held for decades.

Solitary confinement causes extreme suffering, particularly over prolonged periods of months or years. Effects include anxiety, panic, rage, paranoia, hallucinations, and, in some cases, suicide.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez, deemed that prolonged solitary confinement is a form of torture, and the U.N.’s Mandela Rules dictate that it should never be used with youth and those with mental or physical disability or illness, or for anyone for more than 15 days. Méndez, who inspected prisons in many countries, wrote, “[I]t is safe to say that the United States uses solitary confinement more extensively than any other country, for longer periods, and with fewer guarantees.”

Many practices in the US criminal justice system are harsh, ineffective, even absurd, from the widespread use of money bail to detain unconvicted people to extremely long sentences and parole terms and a host of other outrages. But placing people in solitary stands out as a violation of human rights.


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Daily Dispatch 5/20/2019

Increase in the number of immigrants becoming citizens

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Daily Dispatch

May 20, 2019

Last year there was significant uptick in the number of immigrants who became citizens. The 15 percent increase is not historically huge, but likely indicates an increase as the next election cycle looms – a clear inspiration for becoming a citizen is voting.

More than 544,000 immigrants became U.S. citizens in the first three quarters of fiscal year 2018, overall a 15 percent increase from the same period a year ago, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The largest year-to-year increase occurred in the first quarter of 2018, however there was a slight decrease in the third quarter.

Most immigrants can apply for U.S. citizenship after being a permanent resident for five years, or three years after marrying a U.S. citizen. The U.S. immigration agency estimated (pdf) that there were 13.2 million permanent residents in 2015, and 9 million among them would be eligible for citizenship upon application.

Read more here.

ICE prepares to open more detention facilities

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is looking to open new detention facilities to incarcerate immigrants. Over the past three months, arrests at the border have increased significantly. Because this administration refuses to utilize the many available, cheaper and more humane options to incarceration, capacity at detention facilities is strained. So, by the logic of the corporate/government daisy chain, more detention beds are needed.

ICE is considering using existing facilities or constructing new facilities in the Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco areas to house between 5,100 to 5,600 detainees, according to official documents posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website. The facilities would be used to house “criminal aliens and other immigrant violators,” the documents say.

The move comes as U.S. border patrol said it would consider flying migrant families from states along the border to other locations across the country.

ICE has faced significant opposition to opening new detention facilities in the past. In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union and 13 other groups issued a letter imploring ICE to halt plans to open new facilities across the country.

Full story from Time, here.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP/REX/Shutterstock (10188671d) President Donald Trump speaks as he visits a new section of the border wall with Mexico in Calexico, Calif Trump, El Centro, USA – 05 Apr 2019

Rolling Stone’s takedown of Trump’s immigration strategies

Ryan Bort, at Rolling Stone, offers a critical overview of Trump’s latest immigration plan, placing it in the context of a number of half-baked ideas and cruel fantasies that are part of the inspiration for this administration’s approach. For example:

Putting his son-in-law in charge of immigration is only one element of Trump’s braindead approach to the border. On Thursday, the Post reported that the president’s obsession with the aesthetics of a potential border wall is driving up costs and giving designers headaches. According to current and former administration officials, his “frequently shifting instructions and suggestions have left engineers and aides confused, and he has repeatedly insisted on cosmetic features that serve little practical purpose. For example, he has demanded the wall — which would actually be a fence — be painted black and have spikes on top, “describing in graphic terms the potential injuries that border crossers might receive.”

Trump has also insisted the fence be as tall as possible despite warnings about inflating the cost and potential structural integrity. He has rejected the idea that the wall will take years to build and, according to the officials spoken to by the Post, “suggested that some of his friends in New York would have ideas on how to build it faster.”

You can read the full article here.

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Daily Dispatch 5/17/2019

Trump’s immigration plan

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Daily Dispatch

May 17, 2019

Yesterday Trump announced an immigration plan that was broadly focused on two themes: Border security and reform of our visa system. Video and transcript available here.

On border security, Trump’s plan calls for the construction of more wall along sections of the border. He is also calling for technological improvements at ports of entry that will allow scanning of all vehicles. A border security trust fund, would be created from fees assigned at the border, to cover the costs of these changes.

Trump also repeated his claims about abuse of the asylum process by those with “meritless claims.” However, there was little of substance on asylum proceedings. As we noted yesterday, Lindsey Graham has offered legislation that would gut the asylum process. We can only assume that some of these measures would be attached to any comprehensive reform effort. Indeed, Trump encouraged passage to Graham’s “reforms” during his speech.

On the visa system Trump was more specific on goals, less specific on means.

The reforms are touted as focused on creating a “merit-based” system that would replace current preferences given to family members of U.S citizens and permanent residents. From NBC News:

The White House estimates 12 percent of people who obtain green cards and citizenship do so based on “employment and skill,” while 66 percent enter via family-based connections and 22 percent through humanitarian visas and the diversity lottery. Under the new proposal, employment and skill would increase to 57 percent, 33 percent for family-based and 10 percent for everything else.

The merit-based system proposal is centered around what would be called the “Build America” visa. It recognizes three categories: extraordinary talent, professional and specialized vocations, and exceptional students.

The plan, as announced, would be a significant overhaul of the system, one that would impact millions of people currently waiting for visas around the world. Stuart Anderson, writing for Forbes, explains:

Under the proposal, more than 4 million people waiting in family and employment-based green card backlogs would have their immigration applications eliminated, even if they have been waiting in line for years to immigrate.

“Immigrants in the green card backlog would lose their place in line and would need to apply under the new point-based system,” according to an analysis from Berry Appleman & Leiden. “The White House has said people who are currently waiting for green cards will receive additional points, but no specifics have been released.” This was confirmed by Donald Trump’s May 16, 2019, speech, in which he stated that all current family and employment-based preference categories would be eliminated and replaced by new “Build America” visas awarded by points.

Anderson concludes: The most common argument made against helping Dreamers and others without legal status is that we should welcome immigrants to America who have waited patiently to immigrate and have “played by the rules.” The irony is that over 4 million people who have waited patiently in immigration backlogs and played by the rules have just been told they have wasted their time.

Part of the plan outlined by Trump would include a civics test that must be passed prior to receiving a visa. Some reflection on this:

“This test is at best unnecessary and could screen out some very skilled, ambitious immigrants who are ready to be productive in America, whatever the test says,” said Daniel Griswold, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and co-director of its Trade and Immigration Project.

“It could be a barrier to very productive immigrants becoming a part of American society,” he said.

Griswold and others said that while the details of Trump’s proposal remain unclear, they have never heard of such a requirement at that level in the immigration process. Such exams are usually part of citizenship tests, they said.

“It’s like asking for people to apply for citizenship when they arrive,” said Theresa Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank. “It’s a big thing to ask of people from other parts of the world.”

[Note: It might be interesting to require members of Congress to take the test before voting on any legislation related to immigration.

Trump’s plan did not directly address issues impacting people already living in the United States: No mention of a legislative solution for people currently protected from removal proceedings under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), or Temporary Protected Status. As is, Trump’s efforts to end these programs is tied up in federal courts. 

The Trump plan will be presented to Congress at some point. Once it has been translated into legislative language that references the specific changes to current law necessary to implement these proposals, we will have a better sense of what is at stake. Currently, Trump seems to be mostly testing the waters and his re-election campaign talking points. However, these reforms would have a dramatic long-term impact on our visa system, so we must take them seriously.

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