Deterrence has never worked, time for a different approach

For years U.S. border policy has focused on one overarching strategy, with many different tactics: Deterrence. The idea behind deterrence is that if the consequences of unauthorized migration can be made punitive enough, people will stop trying. It doesn’t work. It has never worked. For example, in the late 1990’s, as part of the Clinton administration’s “prevention through deterrence” approach, border walls were built through urban areas along the U.S./Mexico border in order to drive people trying to cross the border into the desert. The policies did not stop migration, but thousands of people have died in those deserts as a result:

Experts can only guess at the true number of lives lost over the last two decades. At a minimum, more than 7,000 people have perished, though the true total is guaranteed to be higher. During the 1990s, the Office of the Pima County Medical Examiner dealt with an average of 12 migrant deaths annually. Over an 18-year period beginning in 2000, once prevention through deterrence was humming along, that number rose to 155 per year. According to the medical examiner’s office, 2,943 sets of human remains have been found in southern Arizona from 2000 to the present.

Writing in January of 2017, just before Trump took office, the Women’s Refugee Council, KIND and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services issued the report, Betraying Family Values in which they documented that,

As a matter of procedure and policy, border agents routinely separate family members, including intentionally, as a punishment  – or “consequences- through what DHS calls its Consequence Delivery System (CDS). The consequences are meant to deter future migration, often regardless of international protection or other humanitarian concerns.

‘CDS’ was implemented in 2005, and employed by both the Bush and Obama administrations. For example,

As families fleeing violence in Central America began making headlines in 2014, the Obama Administration implemented an aggressive deterrence policy designed to stop families from seeking protection in the United States. The Administration prioritized all recent border crossers as enforcement priorities and vastly increased the use of expedited removal and detention of mothers arriving with children.

None of this worked – but it did establish precedents for Trump to use and abuse. Yet, even as Trump has elevated the consequences severely, people have kept coming. Indeed, the highest spike in Border apprehensions in over a decade came in the year AFTER the child separation fiasco ushered in by Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, and after the administration’s decision to detain nearly all asylum seekers. Last fiscal year (2019) the number of border patrol apprehensions reached 859,501, more than double the year before (404,142), and almost triple Trump’s first year in office (310,531). The crisis at the border throughout the spring and summer of 2019 was very real of course, but it was driven by Trump’s failed policy agenda, not asylum seekers.

The utter failure of Trump’s deterrence policies, however, have only led the administration to try even more punitive measures. Asylum seekers are no longer even admitted into the United States until after hearings before an immigration judge. 60,000+ people have been redirected to Mexico to await these hearings since January of 2019. When the hearings finally started last summer they were a fiasco. Only 1% of those who have received a hearing were granted asylum. When the COVID pandemic was declared, there were still 25,000 or more people along the U.S./Mexico border living in camps, or scraping by on the streets of Mexican border towns, waiting. Since March, the hearings have been suspended, and the border itself closed under an order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This order, dubious in origin, has led to the summary expulsion of close to 200,000 people. As a result of forcing people into crowded conditions to wait out the pandemic, the effect of the order has been to create a public health crisis on the border – not prevent one. 

And yet, people are still coming. Despite all of the above, there were more Border Patrol apprehensions in September of 2020 than September of last year, and the number is only increasing. Why?

People end up at our borders from all over the world. Many are fleeing violent conflicts and the collapse of livelihoods from a variety of environmental and economic factors. Those from Central America, which make up the largest portion of asylum claims, are fleeing well documented violence at the hands of gangs, the state, or partners. Doctors Without Border issued a study just before the pandemic, based on 480 interviews and 26,000 medical records, showing that 45.7% of the people from Central America migrating through Mexico were fleeing violence – 75% of families. In one of the few empirical studies disagregating various causal factors behind migration, the Center for Global Development (2017) showed that there was a direct relationship between the murder rate in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras and youth migration to the United States, irrespective of U.S. border policy, which made no significant difference in the decision to migrate. The study shows that from 2011 to 2016, “the violence-migration relationship was driven by events in the region and was unaffected by changes in U.S. immigration policy during the period.”

The impacts of climate change, in the form of drought, coffee rust, and food insecurity is probably the single biggest push factor behind migration in recent years, though it can be hard to separate climate impacts from the violence that grows out of the resulting scarcity. Even Customs and Border Patrol documented crop loss as a primary reason for migration – a finding ignored by the Trump administration, which actually cut assistance to mitigate crop loss in the region among other cuts in aid; cuts made as a punishment for countries’ in Central America not doing enough (in Trump’s mind) to stop migration!(?)

The impact of COVID-19.

The last six months have only deepened the crises in Central America. Economic growth has collapsed, driving even more people into poverty. Prior to COVID-19, Latin American economies were projected to grow about 1.9% this year. In September of 2020 the International Monetary Fund revised its estimate, anticipating a regional contraction of 9.4% – a negative swing of 11.3%.  Mexico is among the hardest hit economies, expected to contract by over 10% this year. 

Gang violence has seen a slight reduction in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, largely due to the curfews in force in all three countries. Nevertheless, the rate of killing is on the upswing as the curfews end. Honduras and Guatemala each saw just under 2,000 murders this year by the end of August. Mexico is still home to half of all the active gangs in Latin America and half of the related deaths. Gender based violence has increased in Central America during the pandemic, as it has elsewhere. In Honduras 45 women had been killed in domestic disputes by the end of May. Reports of gender based violence were up 70% in El Salvador and 65% in Mexico. State violence also increased across the region as governments sought to enforce draconian lockdowns measures with force. Honduras used the pretense of enforcing its lockdown to arrest dozens of opposition political activists. 

Finally, as countries from the U.S. to Panama closed their borders in the spring, migrants already on the journey from Haiti, Cameroon, Pakistan, India, Cuba, Venezuela and elsewhere, were detained throughout Central America. These people are attempting to continue their journeys now – at least those able to. Many are now arriving at the U.S./Mexico border. During the first two weeks of October, Border Patrol arrested 1,800 people from 26 different countries in the Del Rio sector in Texas. One fourth (450) were from Haiti. Almost all were flown out over the space of a week, with no chance to apply for asylum. 

The lesson here is that even with the border closed, and asylum off the table, people are still coming. And the numbers will only increase in the coming months. Deterrence has not worked. It will not work as long as economies weaken, climate change destroys livelihoods and violence leaves people with no other choice but to migrate. Indeed, for the foreseeable future, forced, survival migration will remain the norm with peaks and valleys in the movement of people, but it won’t end. Not with a wall, moat, machine gun turrets, lasers and drones. It is beyond time to acknowledge the global crises underlying displacement and stop acting like the resulting migration is something being done to us. 

So, another four years of Trumpian antics won’t work. And a return to the Obama standard of massive deportations, high tech border toys and “consequence delivery systems” won’t either. What might? Well, it has already been shown that dollar for dollar, spending money on violence prevention programs targeting youth in Central America is far more effective at reducing migration than expanding the Border Patrol or changing asylum rules. Helping people mitigate the immediate impacts of climate change will do more to reduce refugee flows than 100 or 500 more miles of border wall. More importantly what these measures signify is an important truth: Treating all people with dignity is actually a better way to get results. We are all in this together, after all. Better we start acting like it. 

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What is it going to take? Abolish ICE and FreeThemAll

Three weeks ago Dawn Wooten, formerly a nurse at Irwin County Detention Center, came forward with accusations that a doctor had performed medically unnecessary hysterectomies on many women who were at the Irwin Center under the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Irwin is run by a private, for-profit company, LaSalle Corrections. From a story in Vice, “In interviews with Project South, a Georgia nonprofit, multiple women said that hysterectomies were stunningly frequent among immigrants detained at the facility. ‘When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp,’ said one woman, who said she’d met five women who’d had hysterectomies after being detained between October and December 2019. The woman said that immigrants at Irwin are often sent to see one particular gynecologist outside of the facility. ‘It was like they’re experimenting with their bodies.’” The Associated Press did a follow up investigation after these reports surfaced. They were not able to confirm all of Dawn Wooten’s accusations, but did find a pattern of issues including a lack of consent for surgeries and medical procedures performed by Dr. Mahendra Amin: An Associated Press review of medical records for four women and interviews with lawyers revealed growing allegations that Amin performed surgeries and other procedures on detained immigrants that they never sought or didn’t fully understand. Although some procedures could be justified based on problems documented in the records, the women’s lack of consent or knowledge raises severe legal and ethical issues, lawyers and medical experts said. Pramila Jayapal, Representative from Seattle, led a letter to the Department of Homeland Security signed by 170 members of Congress that demanded an investigation into these reports.  In covering this story, The Guardian recalled the history of forced sterilizations in the United States – something that is not exactly ancient history. “In the 1960s and 70s an increase in federal funding for reproductive health procedures combined with racist and anti-immigration sentiment led to “tens of thousands” of women of colour being sterilized, including Native Americans…And by the 1970s, a third of all women in Puerto Rico had undergone sterilization procedures, the majority of which were involuntary, as part of US attempts at ‘population control’….In California prisons, between 1997 and 2013 about 1,400 people were sterilized.” Alexandra Minna Stern, professor of history at the University of Michigan and director of the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab told The Guardian, “Anyone who’s studied the history of sterilization abuse would look at this detention center and say this is the kind of place where sterilization abuse is likely to occur because all of the conditions that enable such medical malfeasance and reproductive oppression, they’re all in place.” The allegations have brought all eyes onto the Irwin County Detention Center and LaSalle Corrections. However, the issue of medical neglect in ICE custody is a systemic issue. Two weeks ago two different House committee reports on ICE detention practices made this point. Both reports included damning evidence of a history of neglect and malpractice.  The first report came from the House Committee on Homeland Security.  Noting that “ICE appears to prioritize obtaining bed space over the wellbeing of detainees in its custody”, the Committee “discovered a concerning pattern of ICE contracting with facilities that are poorly equipped to meet ICE’s own detention standards. This includes facilities, particularly in Louisiana [home of LaSalle Corrections], that had a well-publicized history of abuses prior to contracting with ICE. It also includes those facilities that have had longstanding contracts with ICE but have demonstrated an inability to comply with standards that affect the health and safety of detainees even after being repeatedly called out for violating those standards by DHS’s own inspection processes.” The primary findings of the committee was that ICE’s oversight of private contractors was inadequate. Oversight was poorly conceived, advance warning was given of inspections, the contractors hired to do inspections were ill prepared, problems, when found, went uncorrected and contracts continued to be extended regardless of patterns of abuse. On medical neglect in particular,  The Committee repeatedly heard from detainees that their medical complaints were frequently dismissed. The most common complaint was that, whatever the issue, detainees would be given common pain relievers unless the symptoms were emergent. At LaSalle, migrants described a system that depended on non-medically trained people to make health care decisions. For example, if a person was experiencing pain, the guard in the housing unit might tell them to wait to go to the doctor until the morning. Even if they made it to see health professionals, migrants at LaSalle described medical personnel making fun of their complaints. Migrants held at Otay Mesa also recalled being told to prioritize “one problem at a time” and not raise multiple concerns when visiting health professional. And they had to wait days for a trip to the hospital for treatment or examinations. Sixty Migrants at Adelanto similarly complained about having to wait months to receive medical care for medical issues.  The second report came from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. This report contained more recent developments, particularly regarding ICE’s medical neglect as it applies to COVID-19 prevention. The findings, however, were largely the same. ICE facilities fail to provide adequate medical services, and yet ICE continues to contract with the same companies. Commenting on a review of audits of detainee deaths, the Committee notes, “[t]hese documents reveal serious and widespread violations of ICE’s health and safety standards, negligent medical care, unsanitary living conditions, understaffing, poor record keeping, and critically delayed emergency care.” In relation to infectious diseases, the track record is truly damning:  For example, in 2018 and 2019, an outbreak of the mumps infected nearly 900 detainees in 57 ICE detention facilities across 19 states. Documents also contain examples of improper treatment for tuberculosis, HIV, and in one case, an allegation of “grossly negligent” medical care when an ICE detainee died of meningitis in 2018. These persistent deficiencies could aggravate the spread of coronavirus in DHS facilities. ICE has confirmed more than 6,000 detainees and 45 ICE staff have been infected with coronavirus at over 95 detention facilities. Information obtained by the Committee shows that as of mid-July 2020, more than 600 GEO Group and CoreCivic employees working in at least 29 facilities also tested positive. Many ICE facilities, including those that house children, have had repeated sanitation problems, including dirty and moldy bathrooms, insufficient clean clothing, unsanitized dishes, dirty food preparation and service areas, and a lack of soap, toilet paper, paper towels, clean razors, and other hygiene items. During fiscal year 2020, twenty-one people have died in ICE custody. Eight of the eleven people who have died since May have died of COVID-19. Now what? So, over the last two weeks we’ve witnessed a damning whistleblower report on an ICE facility, alongside several follow up investigations supporting parts of this report, while exposing even more abuses. We’ve also seen two congressional committee reports that detail repeatedly how ICE is negligent in the care it provides. Further, the negligence in medical care has led to deaths, and the explosion of COVID-19 in its facilities. The reports this last week note that ICE private contractors are not held accountable. Indeed, the oversight regime in place now is a complete failure.  I have no idea what it will take to move members of Congress to actually act. There is a bill circulating in the House, unlikely to make it out of committee within the time span left to this Congress. The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act. The bill calls for minimizing the use of detention overall, phasing out of the use of contractors (private and governmental) in order to keep all detention facilities under one clear authority that is then tightly monitored based on a comprehensive set of standards. It was introduced last year. If not this bill, then something at least as comprehensive must be moved in the next Congress. This is not something that really needs to be studied any more. Detention is unnecessary, and private detention facilities are brutal. Period. We have known this for years. Enough is enough.
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Title 42: Another day, another policy, another COVID-19 lie

On March 19 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order that blocked people from coming across the border. Under Title 42 of the Public Health Services Act border agents have been empowered to expel people as soon as they are encountered, with no access to traditional due process, and thus no ability to pursue asylum claims. The order has also been deployed to deny unaccompanied children access to asylum claims and other basic support. The result of this order is the expulsion of 154,000 people between March 19 and the end of August; 8,800 of them unaccompanied children. The vast majority of people are expelled back to Mexico, though people who are not from Mexico or Central America are sent elsewhere – presumably their home country, but there is little actually known about these folks. Some children, and families, mostly from Haiti, were found to have been put into hotels in Texas and Arizona until they could be removed. People detained, however briefly, under Title 42 are not given alien ID numbers (“A” numbers) that would allow them to be tracked while in detention. In effect, they disappear into the system until they can be removed. Family members are unable to find them, and they have no access to attorneys.

The impacts of Title 42 expulsions have rippled out in all directions from the border. In Mexico it has meant further crowding at the border among those trying to wait out the current crisis and continue their efforts to pursue asylum or other relief in the United States. Others have been forced back through Mexico to the border with Guatemala. Since March, they have been forced to wait until that border re-opens (it has in the last two weeks). Along the way, migrants look for places to stay in shelters that dot the landscape in Mexico. Staff with our partners in the Franciscan Network on Migration, for example, have noted there are more people traveling south these days than north.

Within the United States, Title 42 expulsions have led to a dramatic decline in detentions – as people apprehended at the border are now being expelled rather than transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be held while awaiting processing of their immigration status and/or asylum claims. Fewer people in ICE detention is a good thing, but the underlying reasons are not good – as people are in effect still being detained (halted from moving forward), but removed from oversight. Conditions within ICE detention facilities remain abysmal despite the lower numbers. Fiscal Year 2020 just ended, and during that year twenty-one people died while in ICE custody, the most in over 15 years. So, one of the chief stated purposes of Title 42 expulsions – to enhance safety for detention staff and detainees already in the United States, is patently false.

For those of us working on immigration policy, Title 42 was never a “good idea” simply administered badly. From the beginning it was clearly an effort to weaponize the COVID-19 response to do what the Trump team had otherwise been denied doing by the courts: Kill the asylum process and otherwise close the border to immigrants. It is also, one hopes this is because it is poorly understood, a popular policy, with a majority of U.S. Americans supporting it. That support has raised questions about whether Biden would actually suspend the order should he win the election. Given recent disclosures he absolutely must suspend the order.

Why? If one had any doubts about the duplicitous rationale behind Title 42 expulsions, news came this weekend that the CDC had originally refused to issue the order because there was no public health reason to do so. In fact, the order did not originate with the CDC at all. Rather, it was Trump advisor Stephen Miller’s brainchild. From the Associated Press:

“That was a Stephen Miller special. He was all over that,” said Olivia Troye, a former top aide to Pence, who coordinated the White House coronavirus task force. She recently resigned in protest, saying the administration had placed politics above public health. “There was a lot of pressure on DHS and CDC to push this forward.”

CDC doctors resisted implementing it for weeks because it would do no good in slowing the spread of coronavirus. Eventually Vice-President Pence was brought in to get it done. He called the CDC and told them to issue the order, “or else.”  [“They forced us,” said a former health official involved in the process. “It is either do it or get fired” in AP report] The order was issued the next day.

“The decision to halt asylum processes ‘to protect the public health’ is not based on evidence or science,” wrote Dr. Anthony So, an international public health expert at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a letter to Redfield in April. “This order directly endangers tens of thousands of lives and threatens to amplify dangerous anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia.”

The order was initially supposed to last for one month as an emergency measure – but that was a lie as well. Indeed, Miller made clear immediately upon implementation that he viewed this as a long-term approach

Of course, amplifying dangerous anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia is precisely the point. It’s an election year after all. Calling the current administration out on its hypocrisy and lies seems almost pointless at this stage. But we take note in the hope that one day, perhaps, there will be some accountability. Shuttering the border and denying people legislatively guaranteed protections based on false pretenses has to be illegal….right? We’ll see. 

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ICE paid out $500 million for empty beds in FY 2020

Currently the number of people being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is just over 20,000. This number has fallen off dramatically from the all time high of over 55,000 registered last August (2019). At the beginning of the current fiscal year (Oct 1, 2019) there were still over 53,000 people being held. Which means that over the last 12 months there has been a 62% fall off in the number of people in ICE detention. ICE contracts with 175 different facilities around the country to hold people. Many of these facilities are run by county sheriffs or state departments of corrections. However, the larger facilities, which in total hold close to 75% of the people in detention, are run by private companies, the largest are CoreCivic and the GEO Group, followed by LaSalle Corrections.  With a collapse of nearly 62% of the number of people being held, you’d expect these companies to really be hurting. But they are not. The reason they are not on the verge of collapse is because the contracts for managing most of these facilities guarantee payment for a minimum number of beds, whether those beds are occupied or not. Indeed, across the 44 private facilities that have a guaranteed daily minimum, the total number of people they are guaranteed to get paid for is 30,242.  (See full ICE stats YTD here) In those same facilities, the average daily population for the whole year was just 22,006 – or 8,236 a day below the guaranteed minimum. So, over the course of this year, which ends on September 30, the federal government has paid for an equivalent of 3,014,376 days of detention for empty beds (remember it was a leap year!). The actual amount that companies get paid for beds per day in individual contracts is not public. However, the funding enacted for ICE detention in FY2020 was $3.1 billion, based on an anticipated daily average of 50,126 beds, or an average cost of $168.97 per bed per day. This means that, based on the average daily bed costs in the budget enacted this year, ICE may have paid as much as $509,339,113 for empty beds in FY2020.    Daily averages for the year aside, it is worth pointing out that at this moment there are 20,000 people in detention in the entirety of ICE’s network. And the companies housing three fourths of them are still getting paid for 30,242 people a day. (To be clear, we are not advocating ICE fill those beds.) With all of the extra money, you’d think services would have improved. But no. Health services remain abysmal – and even in the midst of a global pandemic, ICE contractors cannot be bothered to provide adequate services for people in detention – or for their own staff. Indeed, the companies are cutting staffing levels and services given the lower overall numbers, not providing better services.  For CoreCivic’s part, revenue in the second quarter of 2020, the peak time of the COVID-19 crisis, and the lowest detention rates in 20 years, was still $471 million. This, they note, was down just 3.6% from the first quarter (which puts revenue for the first half of 2020 near $1 billion). On an investor call in August, company leadership made clear that the guaranteed minimums have insulated the company somewhat from the overall decline in ICE detention. Asked if ICE or the US Marshal service was trying to renegotiate the minimums at this time, Damon Hininger, CoreCivic’s President and CEO, responded, “No. So it is the contrary.” He then noted the recent 10-year extension for their contract at the T Don Hutto detention facility in Texas, and the expectation of a 10-year extension for their contract at the Houston Processing Center – the oldest private detention facility in the country – as evidence of ICE’s commitment to maintain “detention capacity.”  The GEO Group had revenue of $588 million during the second quarter of this year. On a recent investor call, company directors also discussed the decline in ICE detention but noted that “most of our GEO Secure Services contracts contain fixed price or minimum guaranteed payment provisions.” For both GEO and CoreCivic, the guaranteed minimums are crucially important for cash flow and “investor confidence.” The GEO Group was also able to celebrate another 10-year deal for an ICE facility in southern Texas. ICE seems hell bent on protecting both of these companies from lost revenue. As I’ve written before, the reason detention numbers are so low is that the Trump administration has effectively closed the border – summarily expelling 175,000 people since March 19, 2020, many of whom would have otherwise been transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention network. Stephen Miller wants to keep the border closed indefinitely. The GEO Group and CoreCivic do not. So, while the first three years of Trump’s presidency were sort of a bonanza for these companies, the last year has been a struggle (in the way that a 3.6% decline in revenue for companies that make billions off incarcerating people is a “struggle”). Oddly enough, what this means is that a Biden victory is probably better for them in the short term, as Biden has indicated he will overturn the order that closed the border. Of course, prior to Trump taking office, Biden was part of the administration that set the previous record for detention rates, with a daily average of over 38,000 people in 2016. That administration also signed many of the sweetheart contracts with daily minimums that are keeping these companies afloat today. Capitalism surely makes for strange bedfellows, even when most of the beds are empty. 
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Has hell finally ICE’d over?

Every once in a while I wonder if this administration has hit the bottom in its maltreatment of people who are seeking a new life in the United States. Family separation? Can’t go much lower than that, right? A few months later Trump is forcing refugees into camps in Mexico, where they become targets of gangs, to await an opportunity to make asylum requests?  This must be it. I mean come on! Then the administration is expelling unaccompanied children and others with no due process of any kind under the guise of a public health response to COVID 19.  90% of these people, the administration proudly claims, are expelled within 2 hours of being encountered. For those not expelled immediately, things aren’t great. As you’ve read, some of the kids are held in hotels, out of the reach of attorneys who might support them. Absolutely horrifying, right? Yeah, but then…. 

The news this week sinks the administration’s practices to a whole other ring of hell. I hesitate to say it can’t get much worse…. 

First came the news that the Trump administration transferred people from detention sites with high rates of coronavirus infections to sites in Virginia simply because it wanted to fly federal agents to D.C. to monitor Black Lives Matter protests. Yes, the administration wanted to fly in extra agents, and federal procurement laws do not allow them to use charter planes. So, the work around this policy was to have the agents “accompany” people being transferred between ICE facilities – even if there was no other reason to transfer them.

The result of this experiment in absolute carelessness was a massive outbreak at the ICE detention facility in Farmville, Virginia, where basically everyone at one point was testing positive for coronavirus. From the Washington Post:

The Trump administration flew immigrant detainees to Virginia this summer to facilitate the rapid deployment of Homeland Security tactical teams to quell protests in Washington, circumventing restrictions on the use of charter flights for employee travel, according to a current and a former U.S. official.

After the transfer, dozens of the new arrivals tested positive for the novel coronavirus, fueling an outbreak at the Farmville, Va., immigration jail that infected more than 300 inmates, one of whom died.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency moved the detainees on “ICE Air” charter flights to avoid overcrowding at detention facilities in Arizona and Florida, a precaution they said was taken because of the pandemic.

But a Department of Homeland Security official with direct knowledge of the operation, and a former ICE official who learned about it from other personnel, said the primary reason for the June 2 transfers was to skirt rules that bar ICE employees from traveling on the charter flights unless detainees are also aboard.

This news was followed by a whistleblower’s report about medical neglect at an ICE facility in Irwin, Georgia, operated by LaSalle South Corrections. The failure to take appropriate precautions against coronavirus was bad enough – a problem well documented in many facilities in ICE’s network. However, the real shocker in the report was testimony that a large number of women had received medically unnecessary hysterectomies while in custody. I mean…. 

From Vice:

The complaint, filed on behalf of several detained immigrants and a nurse named Dawn Wooten, details several accounts of recent “jarring medical neglect” at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, which is run by the private prison company LaSalle South Corrections and houses people incarcerated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In interviews with Project South, a Georgia nonprofit, multiple women said that hysterectomies were stunningly frequent among immigrants detained at the facility.

“When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp,” said one woman, who said she’d met five women who’d had hysterectomies after being detained between October and December 2019. The woman said that immigrants at Irwin are often sent to see one particular gynecologist outside of the facility. “It was like they’re experimenting with their bodies.”

In one case, Wooten said, a woman who ended up with a hysterectomy was not properly anesthetized and overhead the doctor say that he’d taken out the wrong ovary. That woman had to go back and get her other ovary removed as well, Wooten said.

The Associated Press did a follow up investigation after these reports surfaced. They were not able to confirm Dawn Wooten’s accusations, but did find a pattern of issues concerning lack of consent concerning surgeries and medical procedures performed by Dr. Mahendra Amin:

An Associated Press review of medical records for four women and interviews with lawyers revealed growing allegations that Amin performed surgeries and other procedures on detained immigrants that they never sought or didn’t fully understand. Although some procedures could be justified based on problems documented in the records, the women’s lack of consent or knowledge raises severe legal and ethical issues, lawyers and medical experts said.

Receiving less attention is a lawsuit involving another whistle-blower, Brian Murphy, who detailed a number of incidences of administration officials intentionally lying to Congress. The whistle-blower knows this because he is an intelligence official who briefed Kristin Nielsen and others on the content of their congressional testimony, only to have corrections ignored because they did not fit the narrative. A particularly damning part of the legal brief is Murphy’s contention that he was ordered to seek out and fire “deep state” intelligence analysts by Cucinelli, because depictions of conditions in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were making it too easy for people to get asylum! Yeah. From the brief…

Mr. Murphy made a protected disclosure to Mr. Glawe in December 2019, regarding an attempted abuse of authority and improper administration of an intelligence program by Mr. Cuccinelli. In December 2019, Mr. Murphy attended a meeting with Messrs. Cuccinelli and Glawe to discuss intelligence reports regarding conditions in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The intelligence reports were designed to help asylum officers render better determinations regarding their legal standards. Mr. Murphy’s team at DHS I&A completed the intelligence reports and he presented them to Mr. Cuccinelli in the meeting. Mr. Murphy defended the work in the reports, but Mr. Cuccinelli stated he wanted changes to the information outlining high levels of corruption, violence, and poor economic conditions in the three respective countries. Mr. Cuccinelli expressed frustration with the intelligence reports, and he accused unknown “deep state intelligence analysts” of compiling the intelligence information to undermine President Donald J. Trump’s (“President Trump”) policy objectives with respect to asylum. Notwithstanding Mr. Murphy’s response that the intelligence reports’ assessments were consistent with past assessments made for several years, Mr. Cuccinelli ordered Messrs. Murphy and Glawe to identify the names of the “deep state” individuals who compiled the intelligence reports and to either fire or reassign them immediately. 

After the meeting, Mr. Murphy informed Mr. Glawe that Mr. Cuccinelli’s instructions were illegal, as well as constituted an abuse of authority and improper administration of an intelligence program. Mr. Murphy also informed Mr. Glawe he would not comply with the instruction to fire or reassign the alleged “deep state” officials based on nothing more than perceived political differences, and that Mr. Murphy would report the matter to DHS OIG if 10 improper actions were taken to do so. Mr. Glawe concurred with Mr. Murphy’s assessment and Mr. Cuccinelli’s instructions were never implemented. 

You can read the full brief here.

Of course, if one was going to round out the bad news this week, you’d have to include the 9th Circuit Court’s decision to green light Trump’s efforts to dismantle Temporary Protected Status for people from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti and Sudan. The ruling likely also impacts TPS for Honduras. If there is an upside at all it is that implementation will be pushed back past the election. So, the final determination of TPS’ future will be decided as a result of the presidential election. Should he win, Biden has stated his commitment to reinstate TPS for these countries (no guarantee). Another upside, is that for people from Haiti, this ruling will in essence be set aside pending the outcome of a separate case also before the courts (Saget v Trump), and thus the validity of current TPS holder work permits for people from Haiti will almost certainly be extended to September 2021 – no matter what happens in November of this year.  

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The Mexican

Stretch and Bobbito are renowned DJs and their debut album No Requests came out early this year. One track, The Mexican, is a reimagining of the British band Babe Ruth’s song from 1973. Partnering with Mariachi singer Mireya Ramos, the songs’ lyrics have been updated to reflect the times. Referencing Trump’s border all, one line says “Wall so high from the outside/Makes it hard to Dream.” Bobbito explains that “with the video we advocated for immigration rights and opened up a curtain for the experiences of asylum seekers.”

Enjoy the song and video here:

Check out an interview with Stretch and Bobbito on NPR here

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ICE and the myth of the criminal alien, Take Action

Click here to see a video from AFSC

On Tuesday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that over the last month they arrested 2,000+ people as part of a massive national operation. Until recently, ICE picked up about 10,000 people a month anyway (a number that fell briefly to just over 5,000 in June as the result of the then acting director of ICE, Matthew Albence, reducing enforcement activity in the context of the coronavirus pandemic). The pandemic is still around, but Albence is now gone. When ICE engages in such large scale enforcement actions, ICE agents are more likely to pick up a lot of people who have not been convicted of any crimes. ICE’s own reporting indicates that only 50% of those they picked up in this latest operation had a criminal record, which means 50% did NOT. Below I try to parse some of the latest numbers, and critique ICE’s intentional misdirection about “criminal aliens.”  We continue to demand that ICE #FreeThemAll; find out how you can get involved below.

In recent months, the percentage of “convicted criminals” in ICE custody has increased. This is because the closure of the border and Title 42 expulsions have dramatically reduced Customs and Border Protection transfers. As I wrote last week, people who are picked up at the border now are summarily expelled with no access to due process. From March through July the administration expelled 105,000 people in this way, all but 200 along the southern border. The result is less people being transferred into ICE’s detention network from the border, and thus a fall off in the number of people held in detention overall. People picked up at the border are far less likely to have a criminal record than those swept up in ICE raids or on detainers at the local jail. Thus, as the number of people being transferred from the border falls, the proportion of those in detention with a criminal record goes up.

Of course, even if the proportion of those with a “criminal conviction” is going up, the whole framework is misleading. The category of criminal activity responsible for the most removals is “traffic violation,” followed by “traffic violation with DUI.” Combined these categories represented over 140,000 charges compared to the 1,800 “homicides” in 2019. Indeed, traffic violations have been the biggest ticket item for years – beginning with the Bush administration’s crack down post 9-11. Which is to say, never in the history of ICE has serious criminal activity been the leading cause for removals. Never. This is not to say the driving drunk is no big deal – indeed, some of the “homicides” could be the result of drunk driving. The point is that the actual profile of criminal activity leading to removal is very different from the image ICE sells to the U.S. public in the guise of MS-13 foot soldiers and sex traffickers. 

That said, some of the people picked up by ICE have committed crimes that most would consider serious. There are a couple of points to emphasize here. First, if someone has been convicted of a crime, by the time ICE gets a hold of them they have already served their sentence. The reason ICE is focused on them is NOT the crime itself, but their citizenship. If they were a citizen, with time served, they would just be going home. Indeed, people who end up in criminal removal may in fact be permanent residents, or otherwise legally present in the United States. However, because they are not a citizen, and now have a criminal record, they are deportable under Clinton-era immigration policy. 

The second point is that the focus on criminality creates massive confusion about what is going on. No one in ICE custody is there to serve a criminal penalty. No one. ICE detention is administrative. People are being held while an immigration court, or administrative agency decides whether they can stay in this country or not. Some people are in detention because a determination has already been made that they cannot stay, and they are awaiting deportation. That is it. If they have previously been convicted of a crime, the sentence has already been served. If they have been charged, but not yet gone to trial, one cannot classify them as a criminal. Immigration detention is thus not making communities safer. Quite the opposite.

Admittedly, the number of people in ICE detention is way down – 21,000 now compared to 53,000 at the beginning of the fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2019). I explained last week this is because of the border closure reducing transfers into ICE custody, coupled with the fact that ICE keeps deporting people despite the inherent risks of spreading COVID-19 to other countries. 21,000 is still a huge number of people, however, and our long standing position that they should ALL be released stands. The risks of maintaining people in this carceral state are enormous. The New York Times recently published a detailed map, tracing coronavirus infections. The report included a segment on “clusters,” or concentrated areas where infection rates are high. Of the top 100 cluster sites, 90 are prisons, jails or detention centers (the other ten include nine meat processing plants, and one navy ship). ICE’s latest operation is thus irresponsible: Our carceral immigration system is a public health disaster, no one is made safer by putting more people into it.

Take Action: #FreeThemALL

It is clear that Trump is not changing course any time soon. But we still need to put pressure on the administration where we can. If you have not done so yet, you can send a message to your members of Congress asking them to support the Immigration Enforcement Moratorium Act here

We also invite you to join in the National Days of Action being sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and Detention Watch Network from September 9 – 13. You can register as a partner for these actions, check-out their organizing toolkit, and get more information here

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ICE detention numbers continue to decline, for the wrong reasons

Immigration and Customs Enforcement released new, more comprehensive datasets this week  (this link updates regularly – I’m accessing August 23) regarding the number of people in detention and those participating in the “alternative to detention” program – which is principally ankle-monitoring. The numbers have fallen off pretty dramatically since last year. Fiscal year 2020 began on October 1, 2019 with approximately 53,000 people incarcerated by ICE. There are 21,007 people in ICE custody as of August 15, 2020. Of these, 20,785 are in adult detention facilities, and 222 are in Family Residential Centers – which means a mix of adults and children who are a part of family units. That is an enormous decline – and certainly in other times would be cause for some cautious optimism. However, in the current context this number reflects trends outside of ICE’s detention network that are seriously disturbing: Massive summary expulsions at the border and ongoing deportations. 

People transferred to detention facilities (“book-ins”) come from two main sources: arrests at the border, and internal removal operations. In recent years the number of people transferred from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) constituted a majority of people in detention (73% in FY 2019). Now, these transfers are a much smaller portion of those in custody. Of the 3,986 people booked into ICE custody thus far in August, for example, only 736 were transferred from CBP, or 18%. Back in October the percentage of people booked-in from CBP was 54%, or 13,303 of 24,728. Looking at month to month trends, we can see that the CBP numbers drop off dramatically from March to April of this year and this is due to one primary cause: Title 42 removals. 

Title 42 removals are in essence, summary expulsions from the U.S. under the framework of a Center for Disease Control order concerning border controls as a response to COVID-19. At the southern border this has meant a halt to all “non-essential” travel across ports of entry (including applications for asylum), and the immediate expulsion of anyone crossing between ports of entry. People who are picked up by CBP are now simply removed, with no due process. In most cases they are not even given identification numbers (an “A” number) that would allow them to be tracked and contacted by family members. Indeed, if people arrested are from Mexico or Central America they are removed by land immediately – in essence, simply pushed back across the border with no more processing than a name check. For people from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, where they end up is far from clear. Some have been pushed back into Mexico as well, even though Mexico initially refused to accept them. Others, children and families in particular, have been placed in hotels in Texas until they can be removed. Finally, because they are not processed the same as before, others just disappear into Border Patrol or U.S. Marshall custody until they can be expelled. Advocates working with people from Haiti, for example, have been unable to find them between the time of arrest and their expulsion.

So, long story short, the fall off in the number of transfers from CBP, and hence a major source of the decline in ICE detentions, is not the result of more humane treatment at the border, but quite the opposite. From March 18 through the end of July, more than 105,000 people had been expelled under Title 42.  

The number of book-ins is also down because ICE reduced – they did NOT suspend – internal removal operations. From March to June the number of people transferred to detention facilities as a result of ICE internal operations fell about 50% – from 10,153 in March to 5,608 in April and to a monthly low of 5,090 in June. There is a backstory here as well. On March 18, 2020, the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Matthew Albence, issued a statement declaring, “[t]o ensure the welfare and safety of the general public as well as officers and agents in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response … [ICE] will temporarily adjust its enforcement posture.” The statement was not vetted by administration officials, and apparently folks in the Trump inner circle were angry. Though Albence was no humanitarian, it is probably not a coincidence that he then announced his retirement in July under pressure from the Miller wing of the immigration Stasi. Also, probably not a coincidence, in July the number of ICE transfers into detention from internal removal operations began to creep back up, and so far in August are at a pace to go over 8,000 for the month.

As noted ICE was holding about 53,000 people at the beginning of the fiscal year. There have been 169,811 book-ins since then. 21,007 people remain in custody. That means close to 202,000 people have left ICE custody over the year. Where did they go? Most were deported. ICE reports 173,358 removals so far this fiscal year. To be clear, this does NOT include the 110,000 people removed through Title 42 expulsions – which by and large are tracked and enforced by Customs and Border Protection, not ICE. 

We, and others, have written extensively about ongoing deportations during COVID-19. Last week a few new pieces came out documenting how deportations are spreading COVID-19. The Miami Herald also published an investigative article into the companies making money from the process, which we also discussed here.

So, there is little to celebrate in the fall off in detention to a near twenty year low of 21,007. Rather, it is the result of inhumane, possibly illegal, summary expulsions at the border, a temporary reduction of ICE enforcement operations (which was good news, but fleeting), and the administration’s decision to continue to deport people all over the world despite just about everybody from the New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe, to members of the House and Senate, to literally hundreds of human rights organizations and thousands of others telling them to stop. Given that the administration has now reached the bottom in terms of Border Patrol transfers, and ICE seems prepared to increase internal removal operations again, this number is likely to begin increasing again. 

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Lino: Journey to Hope

Map from Jesuit Migrant Services of different train lines across Mexico.

Those seeking to immigrate to the United States do not take the decision lightly. The journey is too often mired in trauma brought on by discrimination and exploitation, and too many of their stories go unheard. Asylum seeker Lino, whom I recently interviewed, was not an exception to this rule. We explore his background as well as his migration story, both linked to an emerging understanding of himself as a lesbian in his childhood, followed by later embracing his identity as a trans man. 

Lino was born in 2001 in a small Garifuna (Afro-Indigenous) minority community in Honduras. Due to colorism and anti-blackness within his community, he experienced racism, discrimination and marginalization throughout his entire life. Even as a child in school, Lino and his Black classmates were separated from the “white” Honduran students. These white students had better educational resources, while teachers and students alike would discriminate against the Black students due to the color of their skin, going so far as to forcibly cut off Lino’s afro. In addition to Lino’s race, he was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation as a lesbian, the brutality of which led to his mother disenrolling him from school around the age of 13. 

While Lino stayed home, he was sexually abused by his older sister’s ex-boyfriend and despite telling trusted individuals, no one seemed to believe him. In the midst of repeated abuse, apathy, and indignation he learned to remain silent against his abusers. At age 15, Lino began to date a 28 year old woman. This displeased his parents. His mother supported his sexual orientation; however, his father was disgusted and began to physically abuse Lino’s mother for her solidarity. Eventually, Lino’s father abandoned them and left the mother, Lino and his sister to care for themselves. As Lino found jobs to support his family, he also experienced a lot of threats due to his sexuality. One threat became a reality when they burned down his home; his mother was there when it happened. That’s when Lino decided to immigrate to the United States in order to protect his mother from harm and to protect himself from the anti-black and anti-LGBTQ+ persecution. This was the beginning of his journey. Aged 17, with no money, and no idea how he was going to survive.

Thankfully Lino reached Vera Cruz unharmed. While in Vera Cruz, he met a 34 year old Honduran man who provided food, shelter and money to Lino on the condition that he have sexual relations with him. The constant sexual exploitation and assault weighed heavily on Lino who sought an escape. “I depended on him and he kept threatening that he’d abandon me in Mexico if I didn’t give him my body. So out of obligation, I gave him my body. So, I had to escape him.” After his escape, the Honduran man continued to search for Lino and threatened his life. He claimed that Lino was his property. Lino spent 6 months in Mexico where he struggled to find food and money to cross the border. Once he crossed, he was arrested by ICE and placed in an all women’s detention center. 

At this time, Lino began to embrace his identity as a trans man which increased his vulnerability while in detention. Black trans migrants in detention face unprecedented levels of trauma due to anti-Blackness, xenophobia, and transphobia. They also become victims of sexual and physical assault by other detainees and/or prison staff and are often denied access to adequate health resources such as mental health resources. The lack of adequate hygiene expedites their increased risk of illness, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, Black trans migrants are detained longer, held in solitary confinement more often, and suffer humiliating and degrading treatment from prison staff.

Throughout approximately 7 months in detention Lino repeatedly faced anti-Blackness and anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination by other detainees and officers. Lino remembers “one officer in particular, who humiliated me because I didn’t have any money to call anyone outside of the detention center. The officer always seemed bothered when I’d ask for toothpaste or toilet paper. Sometimes, she’d even lie and say that they ran out when they did not”. That and other experiences such as being unjustly held in solitary confinement only augmented the trauma he faced on his journey to safety and security. 

Any communion between detainees is a serious crime and the first time officers put Lino in solitary confinement because a fellow detainee, a Black Honduran woman, had sexually assaulted him. Consequently, both individuals were placed in solitary confinement and under investigation. Lino was unjustly placed there for seven days for being the survivor of sexual assault. The second time Lino was placed in solitary confinement was after a white Mexican woman told one of the guards that Lino had kissed her in the early morning. Despite the interaction being fabricated, Lino was placed under investigation and spent 12 days without sunlight and meaningful human interaction. When asked how Lino felt about the ordeal, he stated  “I felt bad and recognized the injustice. I was the victim in the situation but they didn’t take my word for anything, they put me in solitary confinement for 12 days without TV, without even seeing the sunlight- all for a lie”. Severely shaken by his experiences, he contemplated deporting himself and returning to Honduras. “When problems started to arise, I didn’t feel comfortable. I almost deported myself but I knew that’d mean I’d continue to suffer in my country”.  

Holding onto hope, Lino was able to connect with a pro bono immigration lawyer and eventually with others who were able to support him. He was connected to Casa Ruby, a nonprofit organization that is run by transgender women of color. Casa Ruby serves as a home for marginalized people, predominantly belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, that provide social services and programs for the success and growth of the person. Casa Ruby is also “everyone’s home” which provides a welcoming environment for people beyond the LGBTQ+ community, it extends to their families and the community at large. While at Casa Ruby, Lino met his current partner. Now, Lino lives with his partner and is in the process of seeking asylum. 

Despite all of the hardship Lino has faced throughout his life, he remains hopeful about his immigration process. “I feel saved. Hopefully I’ll have my papers soon. I’m happy I’m out of my country.” Lino still communicates with his mother, yet feels the absence of his loved ones. “It’s hard to get up sometimes. I only have my sponsor here. But I know I’ll get up soon”. 

The harassment he faced because of his sexuality, gender, and Blackness were the driving forces behind his decision to immigrate to the United States.  Certain marginalized individuals such as Lino, a Black trans migrant, face an increased risk of trauma. The trauma immigrants face after fleeing their homes is exacerbated by maltreatment from ICE staff. Black trans migrants are a vulnerable population and ICE is not equipped with the training or resources to ensure their safety and wellbeing while in custody. Although, Black trans migrants constitute a relatively small number of those in detention, the conditions they face provide evidence of the moral vacuity of ICE detention more generally and their struggles, like Lino’s experiences, provide another reason why immigrant detention must end.  Here at the Quixote Center, we support Lino, recognize the unbelievable hardship of his story, and honor him for everything that he has overcome. Lino’s story is one of perseverance, resilience, strength and hope. 

SJ Fernandez is at the Quixote Center this summer under a fellowship from Georgetown University where she is a graduate student in conflict resolution. Her studies are focused on racial and ethnic identity-based conflict within the United States, as well as immigrant and refugee rights. 

Acknowledgments:  
Lino for bravely sharing his story. 
Taurence Chisholm Jr. for providing helpful edits that honored Lino’s story. Quixote Center Staff for this amazing opportunity. 
Lastly, my mother, Annie Gonzalez, who raised me to be respectful and outspoken, not quiet.

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En Camino: Haitians and the journey through Central America and Mexico

This week the Franciscan Network on Migration’s monthly Facebook Live broadcast, En Camino, or “On the way,” featured staff of the Haitian Bridge Alliance and the Quixote Center discussed the situation of Haitians crossing through Central America and Mexico.  You can watch below.

The focus on Haitian and other non-Latin American migrants has increased in recent weeks, as border closures and other restrictions have left many Caribbean, African and Asian migrants trapped in refugee camps in Central America and Mexico. 

Last week, even PBS News Hour featured reports on the journey through the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia, and the situation in Panama, where many are now trapped.

PBS Newshour

On Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, camps are filled with migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere. Unable to simply turn these people back across the border, Mexico detains some. Others, intending to come to the U.S. have opted to apply for asylum in Mexico instead. Otherwise they can not travel further. 

Meanwhile, at the U.S./Mexico border, Haitians trying to journey north are stuck waiting with others, as the border is closed. Over the years Haitians arriving in Tijuana have set up mutual aid efforts to assist each other. For many the future remains very unclear.

For those who attempt to cross and get caught, there is no asylum process now available. They will simply be expelled – many detained incommunicado without any kind of reference number until space can be found on a flight back to Haiti.

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)