Daily Dispatch 1/22/2020: Mexico cracks down on migrants

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Daily Dispatch

January 22, 2020

Salvadoran migrant Carlos Gutierrez, part of a caravan of mostly Hondurans heading to the US, puts his shoes on at the international border bridge which links Tecun Uman, Guatemala and Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, on January 21, 2020. 
 JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP via Vox post here

It is a new year, and a new test of immigration enforcement policy and strategy in Mexico. Recall that, last year, the Mexican government agreed to adopt a set of enforcement mechanisms under threat of sanctions from the United States. Trump threatened to add tariffs of 25% on all goods from Mexico unless the government ramped up its enforcement, and in essence, kept asylum seekers from Central America away from the U.S. border. The agreements included an expansion of the Migrant Protection Protocol (commonly called the “Remain in Mexico” policy), Mexico’s deployment of 12,000 National Guardsmen to the southern border to stem migration, and its decision to adopt other measures to slow border crossings.

The Washington Office on Latin America issued an excellent report on the conditions created by these measures. Their report, “The ‘Wall’ before the Wall” came out in December, and can be read in its entirety here. A summary of key findings include:

  • An increase in apprehensions  – up to 31,416 in June 2019, the highest monthly apprehension rate recorded since 2001.
  • Detention facilities are operating well beyond capacity.
  • The deployment of 12,000 National Guardsmen in reality means deploying Army and Naval police and other military units, temporarily assigned to border duty. Soldiers, not trained for such a mission.
  • A surge in asylum-seekers in Mexico has strained the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance, already understaffed and reliant on support from the UNHCR.
  • Crimes against migrants continue unabated, despite the presence of National Guardsmen.

Against this backdrop, news over the last two days of the treatment of a caravan of migrants, many from Honduras, is not surprising. From Vox:

About 4,000 migrants had requested passage by presenting a petition addressed to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on the bridge across the Suchiate River, which connects the port of entry at Ciudad Hidalgo to Guatemala. But after authorities refused to open the gates to the port, about 500 migrants attempted to cross the border by wading through the river.

In an unusual show of force, Mexican National Guard troops carrying riot shields fired tear gas and threw rocks at the migrants on the riverbank to stop them from crossing. The migrants threw rocks of their own at the guardsmen, according to NPR’s James Fredrick. Amid the chaos, Reuters reported that some families were separated.

It was yet another instance in which Mexico has sought to clamp down on Central American migrant caravans arriving at its border with Guatemala. The government wants to avoid antagonizing US President Donald Trump, who in 2019 threatened to impose tariffs on all Mexican goods if the country did not step up its immigration enforcement efforts. Mexico also simply lacks the capacity to manage such large numbers of migrants.

From the Associated Press:

Hundreds of Central American migrants who entered southern Mexico in recent days have either been pushed back into Guatemala by Mexican troops, shipped to detention centers or returned to Honduras, officials said Tuesday. An unknown number slipped past Mexican authorities and continued north.

The latest migrant caravan provided a public platform for Mexico to show the U.S. government and migrants thinking of making the trip that it has refined its strategy and produced its desired result: This caravan will not advance past its southern border…

Honduran officials said more than 600 of its citizens were expected to arrive in that country Tuesday by plane and bus and more would follow in the coming days.

Of an additional 1,000 who tried to enter Mexico illegally Monday by wading across the Suchiate river, most were either forced back or detained later by immigration agents, according to Mexican officials.

Most of the hundreds stranded in the no-man’s land on the Mexican side of the river Monday night returned to Guatemala in search of water, food and a place to sleep. Late Tuesday, the first buses carrying Hondurans left Tecun Uman with approximately 150 migrants heading back to their home country.

Mexican authorities distributed no water or food to those who entered illegally, in what appeared to be an attempt by the government to wear out the migrants.               

As the spring approaches more caravans are likely. What the new enforcement measures will mean in terms of deterring people from even trying the crossing is hard to say. More likely, if caravans become impossible, people will be forced back into migrating in small groups, becoming prey for gangs. The entire deterrence framework is based on the assumption that asylum claims are suspect, and thus if people know they won’t succeed they won’t even try. However, when the reality is that people are literally fleeing for their lives and seeking security for themselves and families, they will simply try another way to get it done. All Trump and Obrador are doing is making it even more dangerous for them to do so.

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Daily Dispatch 1/21/2020: Immigration Courts in Chaos, Asylum seekers deported to Guatemala

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Daily Dispatch

January 21, 2020

Image, CBS News

Immigration Courts in the United States are not independent courts, but rather fall under the Department of Justice. Immigration cases are heard through the Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review. While no court is ever fully insulated from the partisanship run amok that dominates our current state of policy, immigration courts are on the front line. They are in essence forced to implement Department of Justice rule changes – many of which end up being challenged in federal courts. What rules apply and when, and even in which immigration courts, is not always clear even to the judges, much less to immigrants and their attorneys.

It is a chaotic system. It has always been a chaotic system, but the current administration has certainly made it worse. Trump’s first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, implemented a number of rule changes that made things worse. HIs rule denying asylum to people fleeing gangs or domestic violence meant increased denials, increased appeals, and federal court challenges to the rule itself. He also mandated a review of some 300,000 cases which sunk the courts’ dockets, already heavy, to over a million case backlog. Under Sessions’s and now Barr’s leadership, court judges are expected to fulfill a minimum number of cases, which most judges are not able to do.

In this system, there is tremendous variation across the courts. Whether an immigrant gets asylum or not has much more to do with which judge hears it than the merits of the case itself. Last year, we shared a profile of an immigration judge in Louisiana who had not granted asylum in a single case, after hearing over 200 in five years. In a court in San Francisco, asylum is granted at a rate of over 90%.

The judges themselves are organized into a union, which has sought to normalize the system, and give the courts an independent standing. The Trump administration is trying to get the union abolished.

The Associated Press sent a team of reporters out to 11 different cities around the country to monitor activity. Their findings, published late last week, offer eye-opening insight into the world of immigration law. Against a backdrop of individual stories and interviews with judges, they discuss the general turmoil they witnessed, including:

  • Chasing efficiency, immigration judges double- and triple-book hearings that can’t possibly be completed, leading to numerous cancellations. Immigrants get new court dates, but not for years.
  • Young children are everywhere and sit on the floor or stand or cry in cramped courtrooms. Many immigrants don’t know how to fill out forms, get records translated or present a case.
  • Frequent changes in the law and rules for how judges manage their dockets make it impossible to know what the future holds when immigrants finally have their day in court. Paper files are often misplaced, and interpreters are often missing.

As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, wait times are increasing with the backlog. The average time for clearing an asylum case is close to three years, and nearly a quarter take closer to four years. While 98.7% of the immigrants with asylum cases made every court appearance last year, simply getting to court doesn’t mean your case will be heard. Lack of interpreters, new rule changes and so on, can mean rescheduled hearings – two years later. Meanwhile, denial rates increase, and the administration has even sought to offshore parts of the system. Today, people wait in Mexico for immigration court hearings, which then takes place in a tent in a border town in Texas. In these hearings, the media and other observers are denied or limited in their access, as the so-called “court” infrastructure is run by the Department of Homeland Security not the Department of Justice. 

What could go wrong?

Trump administration deporting Honduran women and her children to Guatemala

Under an “Asylum Cooperation Agreement” with Guatemala, the Trump administration is taking the unprecedented step of deporting people who seek asylum in the United States to Guatemala. This is an extension of Trump’s “transit ban” under which the administration refuses immigrants access to U.S. asylum procedures if they traveled through a third country before arriving at the U.S. border. However, even people from Mexico, for whom the transit ban would not apply, may be soon be deported to Guatemala either to seek asylum there or return home.

What does this look like? Like this (From CBS): 

Lawyers and advocates are mobilizing to try to stop U.S. immigration officials from deporting a young Honduran mother and her two sick children to Guatemala, where the Trump administration has sent dozens of asylum-seekers in recent weeks as part of a controversial deal with the Central American country.

The 23-year-old migrant mother and her two daughters — a 6-year-old and 18-month-old baby — were apprehended at the U.S. border in Texas in December and are slated to be sent to Guatemala on Tuesday, according to court records. The family’s lawyers say the two girls, who have been sick and were recently hospitalized, are in no condition to be deported to Guatemala…

If the family is deported to Guatemala, it will join 209 asylum-seekers from Honduras and El Salvador — including more than 50 children — who have been sent there by the U.S. under an “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” with the Guatemalan government. Those subject to the agreement are denied access to America’s asylum system at the U.S.-Mexico border and required to choose between seeking refuge in Guatemala or returning home. 

The deal has elicited strong criticism from advocates, who point to Guatemala’s skeletal asylum system and the fact that hundreds of thousands of Guatemalan families have trekked north to the U.S. southern border in the past two years, many of them fleeing endemic violence and extreme poverty. 

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups filed a lawsuit to try to block the administration from enforcing the agreement with Guatemala, as well as similar deals the United States forged with Honduras and El Salvador.

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Daily Dispatch 1/17/2020: Authorized immigration continues to decline, Miller is still around

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Daily Dispatch

January 17, 2020

Graphic lifted in part from SPLC report here.

Something discussed much here on the Dispatch is that increasingly the targets of Trump’s immigration war are people seeking legal avenues for entry into the United States. Seeking asylum is legal. Refugee resettlement is legal. Seeking a visa for a family member is legal. What Trump has offered to grapple with unauthorized immigration is a wall, a zero tolerance policy of prosecuting everyone crossing between points of entry (leading to the child separation crisis of 2018), and expanded workplace raids that thus far do not prosecute the business owners. This second set of policies are in the realm of deterrence, and they don’t work very well – never have – in lowering migration. Attacking legal, authorized avenues for immigration, however, has proven effective… precisely because people are following the rules. So refugee resettlement has fallen from 110,000 to 18,000, asylum claims are being denied at a higher rate, and increasingly, not even allowed to be made. Getting a visa for a family member, harder than ever. 

And so, it is no surprise that between 2016 and 2018 authorized migration has fallen off steeply. From the National Foundation for American Policy:

Legal immigration to the United States declined by 86,894, or 7.3%, between FY 2016 and FY 2018, according to an analysis of recently released Department of Homeland Security (DHS) data. The DHS data show a larger decline in legal immigration in FY 2018 if refugees who physically arrived in the United States more than a year earlier are excluded from comparisons between FY 2016 and FY 2018. Excluding refugees means 122,412 fewer legal immigrants became lawful permanent residents in FY 2018 than in FY 2016, a decline of 11.5%, based on a National Foundation for American Policy analysis. 

A big part of the reason for this is in the area of family visa requests from U.S. Citizens:

Most of the decline can be traced to lower admissions in the Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens category, which includes the spouses, children and parents of Americans, the analysis concludes. Contributing to the lower numbers are processing delays and policy changes that could prevent an individual from obtaining permanent residence, such as a March 6, 2017, presidential directive on “heightened screening and vetting.” If allowed by the courts, administration policies requiring immigrants to possess health insurance and a “public charge” rule could significantly reduce future levels of legal immigration.

The health insurance requirement alone could block hundreds of thousands more immigrants from obtaining visas. The mandate requires “that new immigrants be denied entry to the United States unless they prove they can obtain eligible health insurance within 30 days of arrival or will have sufficient resources to pay for foreseeable medical costs.” The order, as we discussed when issued, is based on some serious logical missteps, essentially blaming uninsured immigrants for increasing insurance and other costs from unpaid emergency room visits. Which is basically, a lie. However, if implemented, it could block up to 65% of current applications for permanent residency. 

Considering the impact of all of these policies, and their targets, e.g. not the elusive “criminal alien” but people seeking authorized avenues to migrate to the United States, it is worth mentioning again that Trump’s principal policy guru on immigration is a confirmed white nationalist, heavily invested in the “great replacement” theory, and all of the crappy policy ideas that come from it. Yes, Stephen Miller is still around – amazing in an administration that loses lead staff and department heads faster than they can be replaced.

This week more emails were delivered to/released by the Southern Poverty Law Center documenting the roots of Miller’s policy proposals in a theory of white replacement – the idea that white people are being replaced by immigrants from non-white countries (shit-hole countries in Trump-speak). This weeks trove of emails focus on Miller’s opposition to extending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA):

“Demanding DREAMers be given citizenship because they ‘know no other home.’ That principle is an endorsement of perpetual birthright citizenship for the foreign-born,” Miller wrote in the email, using a term to describe DACA recipients. “Not only will the U.S.-born children of future illegal immigrants and guest workers be made automatic U.S. citizens, but their foreign-born children will too because, as [former Republican House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor said, ‘Our country was founded on the principle.’”

Miller added in the same thread: “Jeb [Bush] has mastered the art of using immigration rhetoric to sound ‘moderate’ while pushing the most extremist policies.” In a follow-up email, Miller referred to Bush’s desire to use “immigration to replace existing demographics.”

That Miller’s policies have a racist impact is clear. I guess it helps to know that he really means it. In any event, no one in the GOP seems to care. Mostly, I’d guess, cuz they agree. At least they believe it makes “good” politics. We can only hope they are proven wrong.

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Daily Dispatch 1/9/2020: Asylum seekers show up to court, even as denials increase

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Daily Dispatch

January 9, 2020

The primary justification for detaining people who are seeking asylum in the United States is the dubious argument that, if released, they will simply disappear into the population and never show up for court cases. Trump has claimed this many times, in one speech claiming that only 3% of people released show up for court. This, like so many other Trump statements on immigration, is completely false.

In 2019, 98.7% of the people seeking asylum went to EVERY court date. This, despite the fact that denial rates are increasing (see more on trends below). Most of the people who are clearing cases this year started the process in 2015 or 2016. Of these 80% were not detained, or detained and released early in the process. In other words, detention had no bearing on their attendance in court. So detention is demonstrably proven to be a complete waste of resources. This is one reason why ICE’s own operational guidelines dictate that people be released from detention once they have established a credible fear of torture or persecution, a first step in seeking asylum (a guideline they are currently violating).

Detention, as practiced in the United States, has also been shown to be cruel and degrading, comparable to torture. People are denied access to sufficient health services, mental health support, and in their vulnerability, often become victims of abuse. People die in immigrant detention. Three people in ICE custody and at least four in Customs and Border Protection custody since October 1, 2019. Detention is not supposed to be criminal punishment. It is intended as an administrative hold. Yet, as report after report shows, the conditions are prison like – and usually takes place in actual prisons. 75% of the people in detention are held in facilities that operate under contracts with private companies – all of which are private prison companies. Prisons are what they know – and how they treat people.

The Trump administration has increased the use of detention in this country – reaching over 50,000 people held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention on average each day in FY 2019. A near 40% increase over detention rates when he took office. He was not authorized to hold that many people. He went over budget. And then, he simply transferred money from other accounts without congressional authorization to cover the shortfall.

As of January 4, 2020 there were 41,631 people being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Of these, 9,884 people have established a credible fear of torture and/or persecution if returned home. They are still being held. 

TRAC Report on Asylum number/trends

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) issued a report yesterday on asylum court procedures that offers a look into recent trends. A few important takeaways:

The number of asylum cases heard has increased pretty significantly over the last five years, with last year totaling 67,406 cases heard, well over twice the number in 2014. 

The average length of time people wait for a determination of their asylum case is 1,030 days, or close to three years. However, one-fourth waited nearly 4 years 1,421 days. 

The rate of denials has skyrocketed under Trump. The current denial rate is 70% overall. Of people who have no representation, 16% are granted asylum. Of those who have representation, 33% are granted asylum or other relief. There is an increase this year in the percentage of cases where asylum seekers have representation, a tend that TRAC credits to efforts to mobilize pro bono representation around the country. However, overall denial rates continue to increase. 

Part of the reason, is expedited processes. Almost half of the cases decided where the people were not represented by an attorney were completed within a year and almost all of those were denied.

Important reminders:

Over the last year the Trump administration has begun to dismantle access to asylum procedures. For example, not included in this report, but discussed elsewhere, the denial rate of those placed in the Migrant Protection Protocol (“Remain in Mexico”) is extraordinarily high, with only 117 people granted asylum out of the first 24,000 cases heard.

The administration’s current Transit Ban denies people the ability to even apply for asylum if they have crossed a third country prior to arrival at the border, unless they have applied for asylum and been denied in that third country. As we’ve noted this means that only people from Mexico can apply for asylum at the U.S./Mexico border. [Worth noting here that the Trump administration has begun discussions about sending Mexican asylum seekers to Guatemala under its Orwellian “safe third country” agreement!].

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Daily Dispatch 1/3/2020: GEO Group Sues California

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Daily Dispatch

January 3, 2020

Last week I wrote a bit about how Immigration and Customs Enforcement was helping the GEO Group avoid a new law in California that banned future contracts with private companies for the incarceration of immigrants. The new law went into effect January 1, 2020. During the last week of December 2019, ICE extended 15-year contracts to GEO Group for the management of several facilities in California.

When the solicitations for those contracts were originally posted, members of Congress expressed concern that the solicitations were in violation of federal procurement law.

U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), on Thursday [November 14] led a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland (DHS) Chad F. Wolf and Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Matthew T. Albence questioning whether ICE has complied with federal procurement rules to award contracts for new detention facilities in California in the wake of California’s new law eliminating private prisons, including immigration detention facilities. Following the passage of the new California law, ICE officials posted a solicitation for numerous federal detention facilities around the state—an apparent attempt to undermine the spirit of the new law before its effective date on January 1, 2020. 

In the current environment, the fact that a letter from members of Congress was ignored by this administration is hardly surprising. 

Now, the GEO Group is taking the next step in its effort to push back against current efforts to limit profiteering from immigrant incarceration. The GEO Group is suing California. At issue is Law AB32 which was passed earlier in the fall. The law bans all new contracts with private firms for immigrant detention, and allows no changes to existing contracts. All private contracting is to end by 2028. The GEO Group suit alleges that the AB32 is an attempt to undercut federal enforcement of immigration laws, and that the state of California has no authority to block the federal government or the work of its contractors. This case, if it moves forward, could prove significant nationally, as parallel efforts to limit or eliminate private contracting for incarceration are underway in a number of states – and in Illinois, have led to similar bans on future contracts.

The Dignity not Detention Coalition responded to the lawsuit with the following statement this Tuesday (Dec. 31, 2019):

Dignity not Detention coalition condemns GEO lawsuit: “A shameless attempt to protect profits”

2019.12.31 – In response to the lawsuit filed by the GEO corporation against California’s AB 32 just two days before the law goes into effect, the Dignity not Detention Coalition issued the following statement: 

This lawsuit is yet another shameless attempt by the GEO group to protect its ill-gotten profits, safeguard illicit contracts which violate state and federal law, and to undercut the will of the people. Our tax dollars should not pay for immigrants’ suffering.  

In court, GEO and its shocking track record of abuse and in-custody deaths will be exposed to the light of public scrutiny. This unscrupulous corporation will face the legal prowess of California’s Attorney General and the full weight of the Constitution and federal law.  It is fully within California’s power and responsibility to protect all residents from abuse. 

AB 32, passed with bipartisan support, is a crucial step toward making our values of compassion and respect for human rights a reality. Nationwide, for-profit detention puts billions of taxpayer dollars in the pockets of private prison companies, while our schools, infrastructure, and communities suffer. 

Yet there is growing consensus that detention, like all mass incarceration, is inhumane and unnecessary — community-based case management is a powerful and effective alternative. From every corner of California and from coast to coast, we will continue to raise our voices for justice. 

The coalition includes California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Immigrant Defense Advocates (IDA), Immigrant Defense Project (IDP), Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), Resilience Orange County, Freedom for Immigrants, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN), and others.

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Daily Dispatch 1/2/2020: Another death in custody amidst a flurry of reports on conditions. When will Congress Act? Support HR 2415

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Daily Dispatch

January 2, 2020

Another person died while in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The identity of the person has not been released yet, pending contact with relatives. What is known is that he was a forty-year old man from France who was being detained at the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico until December 11 when he was transferred to Torrance County Detention Facility. A day later he was taken to the hospital where he died on December 29.

This is the third person to die in ICE custody since October 1, 2019, the beginning of the current fiscal year (which governs reporting cycles for government agencies). ICE issued a News Release about this death January 1 – two days after Buzzfeed News reported on it.

The other two people to die in ICE custody this year are, Roylan Hernandez-Diaz, asylum seeking from Cuba and Nebane Abienwi, asylum seeker from Cameroon. Both of whom would most likely still be alive if they had been granted parole to pursue their asylum cases outside rather than incarcerated. 

4 people have died this year while in Customs and Border Patrol (CPB does not report names):

A 49 year old man from Mexico died shortly after being detained by Customs and Border Patrol in Arizona from apparent cardiac failure.  CPB notification here. October 21, 2019

A 22 year old man from Honduras died in CPB custody after being struck by a vehicle on I-35 while running from a border patrol stop. October 22, 2019

A 42 year old man from Mexico held in the East Hidalgo Detention Facility, apparently committed suicide – though the case is under investigation. December 21, 2019

A 41 year old woman from Democratic Republic of Congo died on December 25, 2019. From CPB:

Early in the afternoon of December 24, 2019, a 41-year-old national from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and her family arrived in the United States, presenting themselves for admission into the U.S. at the Gateway to the Americas Bridge in Laredo, Texas. During initial processing, she was medically screened to include a review of paperwork she provided highlighting a previous medical condition, cleared by on-site contracted medical personnel, and transferred to the Lincoln Juarez Bridge for additional immigration processing and overnight holding. In the early morning of December 25, 2019, while awaiting final processing and release, the individual notified CBP officers that she was suffering from abdominal pain and had vomited.

She died at the Laredo Medical Center a few hours after being transferred.

Following the death of Roylan Hernandez-Diaz at a Richwood, Lousianna facility, USA-Today launched an investigative report documenting what is already widely known – that ICE detention facilities, many, though not all, contracted to private companies, are the sites of abuse and poor access to health services. From the December 22 report,  

The USA TODAY Network uncovered the Richwood episode during an investigation of the rapidly growing network of detention centers used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The investigation revealed more than 400 allegations of sexual assault or abuse, inadequate medical care, regular hunger strikes, frequent use of solitary confinement, more than 800 instances of physical force against detainees, nearly 20,000 grievances filed by detainees and at least 29 fatalities, including seven suicides, since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017 and launched an overhaul of U.S. immigration policies.

Combined with an analysis by a government watchdog, the USA TODAY Network analyzed inspection reports since 2015 and identified 15,821 violations of detention standards. Yet more than 90% of those facilities received passing grades by government inspectors. Network reporters interviewed 35 former and current detainees, some conducted using video chats from inside an ICE detention center. They reviewed hundreds of documents from lawsuits, financial records and government contracts, and toured seven ICE facilities from Colorado to Texas to Florida. Such tours are extremely rare.

The week and a half before the USA Today report was released, Buzzfeed published a scathing report on health conditions at ICE facilities following the leak of a memo written in April 2018 from a whistleblower from ICE’s Health Service Corp:

The memo describes what happened to 17 different immigrants who were held at nine facilities across six states, from Georgia to Washington. The allegations include:

    • That immigrants received incorrect medications. One man was given an antidepressant instead of an antipsychotic drug, likely worsening his condition. Another was given aspirin despite having thin blood — he nearly died.
    • That four immigrants endured severe withdrawal symptoms while in ICE custody. One man addicted to opioids was the subject of a “medication error”; two men with a benzodiazepine addiction saw delays in treatment; and one man “went into severe alcohol withdrawal and delirium and was admitted to the hospital in the intensive care unit.”
    • That IHSC leadership was unresponsive or even dishonest when confronted. They “failed to take appropriate action” when told of policy violations in 10 of the cases; “did not respond” to concerns about one case in which a detainee with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma died under “deplorable” conditions; and were “erroneous” and told others to “hold off” when looking into several cases.

Overall, the memo says, the whistleblower alleged that IHSC “has systematically provided inadequate medical and mental health care and oversight to immigration detainees across the U.S.” The memo also says the inspector general will investigate the whistleblower’s allegation that they were retaliated against for raising the issues.

Politico released a report on December 1 that demonstrates how poor record keeping concerning immigrant health has contributed to deaths. 

The Department of Homeland Security’s inadequate medical technology and record-management for the thousands of migrants who pass through its custody are contributing to poor care and even deaths, according to lawsuit records reviewed by POLITICO.

A review by POLITICO of 22 deaths of detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody between 2013 and 2018 revealed malfunctioning software and troubling gaps in use of technology, such as failure to properly document patient care or scribbling documentation in the margins of forms. Those reviews echo persistent complaints from experts and advocates for migrants rights who say attention to the medical needs of asylum seekers is indifferent at best. Recent reports indicate that Customs and Border Patrol rejected a CDC recommendation to administer flu shots to people in its custody; two children later died of flu in the agency’s facilities.

There have been at least 7 children who have died in, or shortly after release from, CBP detention under the Trump administration – the first children to die in custody in over a decade. The American Immigration Lawyers Association tracks deaths in CBP custody here.

In response to reports, most directly the Buzzfeed News report from leaked memo, The House Oversight and Reform Committee announced an investigation into the provision of health services at facilities housing immigrant detainees. While we are glad to see action at the Congressional level, these conditions have been reported on for years now – previous to Trump and now worsening under his leadership and expansion of detention. It is time for action.

There is a bill in Congress that would phase out the use of private contractors, as well as outsourcing detention to state and local authorities. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to keep civil detention in house, mandates restricted use of detention as a strategy, and extends significant oversight over the whole process. It is exactly what is needed, and thus, conventional wisdom says, it will go nowhere, especially in an election year. We need to confront the logic that treating people humanely is considered bad politics during elections in this country.  But that is a separate post. For now, read more about and push your member of congress to support H.R. 2415. 

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Daily Dispatch 12/31/2019: Trump has come close to dismantling asylum this year

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Daily Dispatch

December 31, 2019

Honduran asylum-seeking children pass their time in an encampment near the banks of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, on December 7, 2019.VERONICA CARDENAS / REUTERS

CBS News’ online news platform has been surprisingly in depth in its reporting on immigration. Today they published a valuable retrospective on the year that details the many ways that the administration spent the year unraveling the asylum system and sought to limit other avenues of authorized immigration. On the dismantling of asylum, one of the most important points of departure from humanity for this administration has been the Remain in Mexico program. From the review:

The most effective policy, from the administration’s point of view, has been the so-called “Remain in Mexico” program, through which the U.S. has returned about 56,000 asylum-seekers to Mexico to wait for the duration of their U.S. immigration proceedings.

Tens of thousands of asylum-seekers from Central America, Cuba, Venezuela and other Latin American countries who would otherwise be in the U.S. are stranded in overcrowded shelters and squalid makeshift encampments in northern Mexico, including in crime-ridden cities like Ciudad Juárez and Matamoros, located in a region the U.S. government warns American travelers not to visit due to rampant violence. 

Advocates and even some of the asylum officers implementing the program have been withering in their criticism of Remain in Mexico, saying it violates international obligations against returning migrants seeking refuge to dangerous places. The group Human Rights First has denounced hundreds of reported kidnappings and assaults. Last month, an asylum-seeking father from El Salvador was killed and dismembered in Tijuana after he and his family were placed in the Migrant Protection Protocols, the administration’s official name for the policy.

The report notes that forcing people to wait in Mexico limits their access to attorneys, less than 4% of the people who cycle through the makeshifts court system – temporary facilities under tents in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where judges participate via tele-conference – are represented. One result of this sham process is that only 117 people of the 24,000 closed cases have received asylum.

An attorney working with people in Ciudad Juarez offers some perspective:

“Remain in Mexico has definitely affected and reduced apprehensions,” Taylor Levy, an independent immigration lawyer based in El Paso, told CBS News. “However, I don’t think that’s a good measure of success, because the program has seen utterly horrific humanitarian consequences.”

Levy said Remain in Mexico has also depleted the morale of the relatively small cohort of immigration lawyers in the area willing to represent asylum-seekers returned to often dangerous cities like Ciudad Juárez, which she frequently visits to assist migrants.

So many of us thought that family separation was the worst things could possibly get,” she said. “Remain in Mexico is exponentially worse. It is so much human suffering that we have to confront every single day that it’s very draining and it’s been very difficult psychologically for both myself and for most of my colleagues.”  

The summary also details the third country transit ban – which denies people who have crossed through a third country before arriving at the U.S. southern border the ability to apply for asylum (unless they have applied and been denied in that third country). This effectively shuts down asylum applications for anyone other than Mexican nationals at the U.S./Mexico border. The policy is being implemented in one sector after the Supreme Court allowed it to go forward pending litigation.

There are also the agreements signed with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to receive asylum seekers from the U.S. – a pretty insane policy that treats these three countries as “safe third” countries, even though most asylum seekers are actually coming from one of these three countries. Guatemala is the only country where the program has launched – the administration is now considering sending Mexican asylum seekers there.

Of the cumulative impact of these policies, Lee Gelernt of the ACLU sums it up this way, “The policies now effectively eliminate asylum — which is a historic moment in this country.”

The review then takes on the vast number of policy changes that the administration has put into place to limit other authorized paths to immigration. This has been particularly true under the leadership of Ken Cuccinelli at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – who has yet to be confirmed to this position, but is dramatically reshaping the agency anyway, effectively turning a service agency into another enforcement arm to limit immigration overall.

The only thing missing in this otherwise comprehensive review is what the last year has meant for immigrants in detention -many of whom are in fact asylum seekers who have already established a credible fear of torture or persecution if returned to their country. Which is to say, while Trump has done everything he can to keep asylum seekers from even getting into the United States – if they make it, most recent arrivals are locked up for the duration of their cases. 

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Daily Dispatch 12/30/2019: Liberians Gain access to permanent residency; Trump and Evangelicals…

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Daily Dispatch

December 30, 2019

Mohamed A. Sanoe, left, a Liberian national, stands with his daughter, right, in front of a US flag after taking the oath to become a US citizen at Citizenship and Immigration Services in New York on November 13, 2015.
 Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Liberians can transition from deferred enforcement to Green Card holders

Tucked into an otherwise immoral mess of a defense appropriations bill, was a provision that will allow Liberians who have been in the United States since 2014, but are currently under a temporary immigration provision, Deferred Enforced Departure, to apply for green cards. This is at once both great news, and a sad reminder of how absurd the legislative process is – e.g. the only way to do the right thing for Liberians was to bury it in a defense appropriation bill that is considered sacrosanct, and thus untouchable at vote time by both parties. Indeed, we’ll recall from two weeks ago, that the Department of Homeland Security budget was bundled with the Defense appropriations bill to keep some Democrats in line who would have otherwise voted against the DHS bill (some still did, of course, but as DHS was bundled with Defense it did not matter for the final outcome [it passed by a huge margin], which was the point). On the other hand, do Republicans know they voted for the first expansion of eligibility for green cards and a path to citizenship in decades? Probably more than a few surprises in store for Congresspersons in a 2,400-page budget package delivered a day before the vote.

Conceding the mess that is our legislative process, we can still pause for a moment and celebrate a pretty significant victory for the nearly 4,000 Liberians living in the United States.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Thursday that it started accepting green card applications for Liberians who have lived in the US since November 2014, as well as their spouses and unmarried children. After holding a green card for five years, eligible Liberians can apply for US citizenship.

Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Tina Smith (D-MN) had originally proposed the legislation offering green cards to Liberians as an individual bill, before it was tacked on to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In an era of deadlocked immigration policy, this marks the first time in decades that Congress has offered a pathway to citizenship to a new group of immigrants.

“Separating and uprooting hundreds of Liberian-American families from their jobs and homes and forcing them to return to a country that is unrecognizable for many of them would not have been in America’s best interests,” Reed said in a statement in March.

Civil war drove thousands of Liberians to seek refuge in the US from about 1989 to 2003 under a program known as Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) that gave them temporary protection from deportation. About 4,000 Liberians continue to live in the US with DED status, which Trump threatened to end last year before deciding to extend the wind-down period to March 30, 2020.

In principal, the same arguments for extending a path to permanent residency, and then citizenship, to Liberians under DED would also apply to other deferred action programs – such as Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. TPS is extended to people from countries following extreme natural disasters or political conflicts. Currently there are 300,000 + people living in the U.S. (well over half from El Salvador and Haiti), who are allowed to work provisionally if they are registered TPS holders. DACA protects at least 700,000 people who came to the U.S. as children – usually brought with parents who were not authorized to enter the country. The House passed a bill this summer that would extend a path to citizenship for people registered under TPS and DACA – but that bill is not expected to see much daylight in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Trump’s efforts to end TPS for most countries, and to rescind DACA are currently tied up in courts. So, we are probably heading for an election year showdown on both. The Supreme Court heard arguments on Trump’s decision to end DACA in November, and is expected to issue its ruling this summer. On DACA, however the courts decide, it is important to remember that Trump has the authority to end the program. The issue before the court is how he did it. Which means a legislative solution is required for the program, or some variation of it.

Meanwhile, for Liberians living in the United States the insecurity of living with a deferred enforcement label is over, for now. We can only hope the same will hold true for the many other people living in this country with a status that subjects them to the whims of our deeply divided political process.

“White” evangelicals are said to love Trump, Why?

Since candidate Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women on tape, faced several lawsuits over rape allegations, and likley paid off women and reporters to keep affairs out of the media (turned out to be a bad strategy), people have wondered why conservative Christians still love the guy.

I haven’t. 

First, not all concervative Christians like Trump. Which is not unimportant to keep in mind when reading headlines like, “One surprisingly simple reason evangelicals love Trump.” That said, Trump is undeniably more popular with white Evangelicals that any other combined race/ethnic/religious demographic. Not 100%, mind you, but he does have a 75% approval rating among white evangelicals, compared to a 42% approval rating overall. 

Second, the reason why most white evangelicals like Trump is clear. They dislike immigrants even more. And so Trump is their guy. They are “conservative” or “nationalists” before they are “christians.” This shouldn’t be so hard to understand as these other values often trump the more challenging Christian ideals of compassion and non-violence (how many Christians in Congress voted for that Defense bill?). This is also why trying to give them gospel lessons won’t matter. They often don’t read the bible anyway (at least nothing between Deuteronomy and Revelations). 

To the point, Ryan Burge, a professor at Eastern Illinois University, reviewed the data, and yes, white evangelicals support harsh immigration laws, and are typically far outside the mainstream:

I grabbed the 2018 wave of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, and took a look at the five questions that they ask about immigration. Then I calculated three things for each question: the share of white evangelicals who are in favor, the share of the entire population that is in favor, and then I found the group that was the second most conservative on each issue (because white evangelicals were always the most conservative). The results are visualized below.

The gap between white evangelicals and the average American is humongous. In fact, on four of the five issue areas the total distance between the two groups is at least twenty percentage points. And, when compared to the next most conservative religious groups, there’s still a decent amount of daylight. For three issues, it’s at least ten percentage points, but it’s never less than five points (on the issue of DACA).

It is worth pointing out that even a majority of white Evangelicals  support DACA. So, there is that. 

This is Trump’s base – and he built it demonizing immigrants. That it has worked, despite his other well publicized moral failings, should be a warning. It is not enough to call people hypocrites, bigots or whatever. We have to out organize them. The religious right figured this out a long time ago. Which is why they exercise far more power than their overall numbers would suggest. 

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Daily Dispatch 12/24/2019: ICE bails out GEO and CoreCivic

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Daily Dispatch

December 24, 2019

ICE is bailing out private prison companies

Imagine for a moment that you live in a democracy, a place where public policy has some referent to public opinion and to organized interests other than the NRA. In such a place, one might expect that a highly controversial policy, say using private prison companies to incarcerate people – for a profit – could lead to reform whereby, said companies would no longer receive contracts. Now, imagine that these companies, under current contracts, have a track record of abuse. They are businesses and spending extra money on the provision of health services, for example, cuts into the bottom line. These companies are currently being sued for using the forced labor of people detained in their facilities at $1 a day, rather than hire cleaning crews at even the local minimum wage. Imagine that these companies have become so controversial that leading banks will no longer lend them money following years of protest by both stockholders and people in the streets. Two states have decided to eliminate the use of private contractors for detention. Most candidates for the presidency have endorsed this idea. Legislation has been introduced to ban new contracts with these companies at the national level.

In this imaginary democracy, this would probably spell the end for said companies profiting from the incarceration of immigrants – which is civil NOT criminal detention to begin with.

In the democracy you live in, however, the results of all of this are new contracts for extended periods of time which lock in these companies for the next two or three presidents – assuming we keep having elections – or 15 years, in any event.

From the New York Stock Exchange yesterday:

GEO Group (NYSE:GEO) gets two new contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for five company-owned facilities in California totaling 4,490 beds.

The contracts will have terms of 15 years, including two five-year options, effective Dec. 20, 2019.

On a combined basis, they’re expected to generate more than $200M in annualized revenue for GEO and will support more than 1,200 full-time jobs.

GEO rises 0.1% in premarket trading.

The GEO Group and CoreCivic, the two giants of immigrant incarceration who hold, between them, at least half of all immigrants in custody, have a new plan to meet the controversies their practices have engendered. Longer contracts. And the U.S. government is going along, effectively bailing them out. 

You see, California was one of the two states that banned new contracts for private prisons. The ban goes into effect on January 1, 2020. GEO was well aware of the date. From the San Diego Tribune back in October:

A GEO Group spokeswoman said the company does not comment on government procurements. But in an earnings call Tuesday posted to the company’s website, Chief Executive George Zoley said he expects new long-term contracts in California to start in mid-December.

Zoley said that ICE’s solicitation “involves a rebid of existing contracts at our Adelanto and Mesa Verde ICE processing centers as well as other contractor-operated facilities in California. It also allows for other existing facilities to be proposed in those three areas of the state.”

In response to a question about how AB 32 will affect GEO’s operations, Zoley said that it restricts “any state or federal facilities to their contract terms effective January 1…. So if you have a contract that’s in place before the end of this year, it can go the full length of its contract term.”

Thus, the federal government helped the GEO Group evade new state regulations in California by issuing 15 year contract renewals before January 1 – which is frankly insane from the standpoint of accountability.

ICE is doing this in Texas as well. The Quixote Center (Houston office) signed on to letters opposing new contracts under the terms being offered by ICE for three facilities. From the Austin Chronicle:

The organizations point to the recent ICE notice of solicitation for three 10-year contracts for federal detention facilities, published on Nov. 21, that is “clearly” tailored to three existing Texas facilities: T. Don Hut­to, the South Texas Detention Com­plex in Pearsall, and the Houston Process­ing Center. In 2019, these three held almost 22% of the average daily population of detainees in the state. All three have records of mistreatment and abuse, including deaths and sexual assault. T. Don Hutto, for instance, has a long history of abuse including multiple sexual assaults by guards since 2010, as the Chronicle has reported, and forced-labor allegations that are currently the subject of litigation. The Houston facility has reported nine deaths since 2003, while the South Texas center is notorious for subjecting immigrants to solitary confinement. “We write with grave concern about both extending the operation of these facilities with long histories of abuse, and the dubious process by which ICE is seeking to acquire these contracts,” the groups write.

Williamson County, where T Don Hutto is located, cancelled its contract with CoreCivic earlier this year – but ICE immediately stepped in to offer a temporary extension. The ten-year deals would cement these companies into the landscape here, even as people are mobilizing to shut them down; which, of course, is the point.

As I said, imagine you live in a democracy. 

USCIS does not want to process your application

“‘This is all very petty and can only be designed to slow down the asylum process, and maybe discourage applicants who do not have representation…seeing this petty bullshit is bad for our blood pressure.”’

This is Michael Smith of the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant in Berkeley, California. The petty bullshit he is speaking of is that latest Trump administration maneuver to make asylum difficult to impossible to get. Remember – we always remind – that asylum is a perfectly legal process. Asylum seekers are not “illegal” immigrants, and under U.S. law, even if they enter the country without inspection at a port of entry, are entitled to request asylum. People who seek asylum in this country come from all over the world, and are often fleeing deadly circumstances. The outcome of their asylum application has life or death consequences.

Enter Trump. From The Guardian:

One man came to America fleeing political persecution in Cuba, only to have his application for asylum rejected because his attorney had not listed a middle name – a middle name he does not have.

Another asylum-seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo had their application rejected, in part, for putting a dash (“–”) in the space to list other names they have gone by – even though they have never gone by any other name.

And a child from El Salvador, who entered the country alone, dutifully listed the names of their two siblings – only to have their application rejected because the form provided space for four names and the child left the two remaining spaces blank.

The entity that oversees asylum applications is U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This is not an enforcement agency – remember asylum is legal. And yet, under “acting” director Ken Cuccinelli, USCIS acts like an enforcement agency. It no longer provides services so much as look for reasons to deny them – and, in the process, deny the people impacted a legal means to stay in the country. 

The petty bullshit intensified weeks ago when USCIS made a minor change to instructions on their website, simply stating that every section of the form must be filled out.  However, as attorneys and their clients are finding out, simply putting in a dash or “N/A” is not sufficient.

For many the change is clearly a brick in Trump’s “invisible wall” – a slew of bureaucratic barriers designed to stymie immigration.

“There were always occasional rejections before,” said Elizabeth Keyes, director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, “but the volume in the past 4-6 weeks is something altogether new.”

“The Trump administration has turned bureaucratic travesties into a feature,” she said.

Tracie Klinke, an attorney in Marietta, Georgia, calls the development “frightening and ridiculous and awful”. Klinke has been filing asylum applications for a decade. “Ten years as a practicing attorney – dashes, blank spaces? They were fine,” she said.

And consequences:

Marina Andrei, a lawyer in Newport Beach, California, had an application rejected over a failure to write “none” in the field for “travel document” – even though she had already listed the clients’ passport numbers on the application, indicating these were the documents they had presented upon arrival, not a “travel document” issued by USCIS. That one was a particularly strong case, she said, involving a family of four.

“They should’ve been interviewed by now. They should’ve had an approval by now,” she said. Instead “they’re just waiting around, afraid to even go outside”.

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Daily Dispatch 12/23/2019: Family separation nightmare is not over

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Daily Dispatch

December 23, 2019

Child in ORR custody – from original Guardian story
Photograph: Gregory Bull/Associated Press

Maria is a young woman from Guatemala. Six-years ago her relatives were killed in a gang attack; all died except for her infant niece, whom she took in and raised as her own child. In 2018 Maria’s partner was murdered in another gang related attack. Maria was shot at as well, but survived. At that point, Maria left Guatemala with her then 5 year-old niece and made her way to the United States to seek asylum. At the border, the girl was taken from Maria – who could not prove she was a legal guardian. Maria was put in a detention center in Arizona where she still waits a year later. The girl, now six years old, is in foster care 2,400 miles away in New York. 

Maria’s case is a common example of how family separation works. The forced removal of children from their parents that was the hallmark of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy was certainly an unusually cruel measure – ultimately suspended by a judge. But the problem of family separation and the removal of children from non-parental relatives is a long standing problem that well predates the Trump administration: 

After a federal judge in 2018 ordered most family separations to end, attorneys have been scrambling to reunite families. There are currently about 5,500 known cases of children separated from parents during the Trump administration. But no one has tracked how many children have been split from non-parent relatives, nor is there a formal mechanism for those families to reunify. (emphasis added)

In January of 2017, the Women’s Refugee Council, KIND and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services issued the report, Betraying Family Values just as Trump was coming into office. The report is a critical look at the practice of separating families and the treatment of children before Trump launched his “zero tolerance”policy, demonstrating that the systemic failure to track, care and even justify family separation, was a long-standing problem. 

From the report:

Government agencies currently have little policy guidance on family unity and separation, and no consistent or comprehensive mechanisms to document family status or trace family members….Although agencies have a process to share data among their respective databases, information relating to family separation is often not transmitted. There is no government entity charged with systematically tracking family separation. Not only is there no systematic coordination between CBP and ICE, there is also no requirement that family separation be documented or justified.

The cruelty embedded in this official indifference is intentional:

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 before Trump. 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.

In 2017, the Trump administration was already gearing up for what would become its zero tolerance policy in 2018. As we reported in spring 2018,

In December [2017] a coalition of organizations including the Immigration Justice Campaign, Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, and RAICES, among others, filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security over family separation incidents that appear to have increased dramatically over the second half of 2017. The authors of the report argue, “[f]amily unity is recognized as a fundamental human right, enshrined in both domestic and international law. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the right to family unity is ‘perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by [the Supreme] Court.’”  Despite this fundamental right, reporting organizations, “have noticed an alarming increase in instances of family members who arrived together but were intentionally separated by U.S. immigration officials without a clear or reasonable justification, as a means of punishment and/or deterrence and with few to no mechanisms to locate, contact, or reunite with separated family members.” 

Maria is caught up in this system of family separation that is in some ways decades, if not centuries old, but in its specific current context of “deterrence,” at least 15 years old. Trump’s contribution to this system is to utilize the tools available to him in such an offensively cruel manner that it became newsworthy. Now we all know. 

And yet, nothing has changed. Not for Maria and her niece.

The logistics of how and when María will see her niece again if she is not paroled are unclear. María’s asylum appeal could take up to two years. Sean Wellock, another pro bono attorney representing her, said if María were to lose her appeal, the government would be under no obligation to coordinate a reunion in Guatemala with her niece if they are deported separately.

The girl could lag behind María by days, weeks or months.

Christie Turner-Herbas, an attorney specializing in reunifying migrant families at Kids in Need of Defense, said when a child is deported alone, US government agencies do not always communicate clearly about the child’s travel.

“There have been complications like a child is leaving and we never get any notice,” Turner-Herbas said. “And then we find out, you know, get a panicked call from the family saying that they heard the child is coming in, but they’re not able to get [to the airport] in time.”

Fortunately, Maria has the support of many people who are amplifying her case, and a host family waiting for her and her niece if they are released. There is no reason, at all, to keep Maria incarcerated. However, the fact that she has not been paroled is another feature of Trump’s current war on asylum, in which almost no asylum seekers are being paroled. Trump’s bloated detention numbers are a direct result of this cruel and unjustifiable policy. Over the past few months, from one-fourth to one-third of all people held in ICE detention are asylum seekers who have already established a credible fear of torture or persecution if returned home.

Maria’s is just one of these 12,000 stories.

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