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

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Daily Dispatch

December 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate roots of migration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daily Dispatch

November 26, 2019

Image: Daily Beast

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

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

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

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

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

Asylum law gutted through executive rule changes

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

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

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

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

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

Bypassing Congressional authority to fund detention/Remain in Mexico

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

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

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

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

Bypassing Congressional oversight, advice and consent

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

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

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

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

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

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Daily Dispatch 11/22/2019: USCIS wants to raise fees and give the money to ICE. We say no!

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Daily Dispatch

November 22, 2019

Among agencies that deal with immigration, United States’ Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the entity primarily responsible for assisting people with authorized immigration: Processing citizenship applications, asylum applications, DACA registrations and so on. As the name of the agency implies, it is providing a service to people. It is not an enforcement agency. 

However, since Trump came into office, and specifically under the tenure of acting director, Ken Cuccinelli, USCIS is increasingly playing an enforcement role – i.e., using rules to exclude people and limit immigration, instead of assisting people. Now Trump is actually proposing that USCIS fees be used to pay for enforcement.

USCIS is a fee based agency. It provides services and charges a fee in exchange. Income received from fees cover 96% of USCIS’ budget. Simple.

Under a new rule proposed by the Trump administration, the fee structure is to be revamped completely. A fee will be added for asylum applications. Fees for registering as a citizenship will almost double. DACA registration fees will go up significantly and so on. In essence the administration is using the fee structure itself as an enforcement mechanism – keeping out people who cannot afford to pay the new and/or increased fees. From CBS:

Araceli Martínez-Olguín, a staff attorney at the California-based National Immigration Law Center, said Friday’s proposed rule reinforces the notion that the White House is committed to building a “paper wall” to make it harder for low-income immigrants to access the nation’s lawful immigration system. 

“The administration is trying to ensure that low-income folks — and we know that within the United States, that’s going to be mostly people of color — face extra barriers either to immigrate in the first place or to adjust their status so they are kept from becoming citizens,” Martínez-Olguín told CBS News.

So why is USCIS doing this? Well, part of the proposed rule is that $207 million dollars raised through these increased and new fees will be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in FY 2019 and 2020! (FY 2019 is actually over – so the rule seems to be arguing for back payment to ICE for FY 2019 out of these fees!!)

Yes, the Trump administration is going to charge increased fees for services intended to support authorized immigration in order to offset ICE’s budget deficit racked up detaining asylum seekers and pulling kids away from their parents at the border.

The transfer to ICE is actually more – significantly more – than the money USCIS says it needs to hire more staff ($156 million over two years).

We know USCIS is not doing this because they have been doing a great job. USCIS processing times – which have gone up dramatically, an increase that cannot be accounted for by a surge in applications – were the subject of Congressional hearings this summer. USCIS has also closed its counselor offices overseas earlier this year as well. So, it is not a bigger workload.

Rather, the fee increases serve two purposes: 1. Make life harder for authorized immigrants and people seeking authorized entry, and 2. Use the money to fund ICE which is over budget due to its own unauthorized expenses. 

The rule has been published at The Federal Register. You can make a comment there between now and December 16 expressing your disagreement with the increased fees and transfer to ICE! We have created an easy way for you to do this! Check it out.

Click here!

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

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Daily Dispatch

November 21, 2019

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

Defund Hate 

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

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

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

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

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

Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act – New cosponsors, need more

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

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

You can still take action HERE!

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

Scott Warren Acquitted!!

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

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

SaveAsylum – Keep the calls coming!

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

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

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Daily Dispatch

November 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daily Dispatch 11/19/2019: #SaveAsylum

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Daily Dispatch

November 19, 2019

This week we are joining with the Latin American Working Group, Alianza Americas, the Washington Office on Latin America and many others, to #SaveAsylum! Today, and through the week (indeed keep at it as long as necessary), we are getting the word out to call members of Congress and demand that they defund/end the Remain In Mexico program. This is a good follow-up action for those who took part in the National Call-in Day to Defund Hate – as it is the same set of policies! From the Latin America Working Group:

The Trump Administration’s immigration policies violate more human rights by the minute. 

Over 60,000 families, men, women, and children who have been returned to Remain in Mexico are waiting in danger throughout their asylum proceedings. And the numbers keep growing. The administration calls this the “Migrant Protection Protocols.” We call it the #MigrantPersecutionProtocols. This needs to end. We can’t let more people be turned away, waiting without shelter and in danger. 

Sham virtual courtrooms costing $20 million were created in tent facilities to hear 500-700 asylum cases per day. Apart from violating asylum seekers’ rights to due process, the public is also barred from entry. This is outrageous. The administration is trying to rush through these cases, denying asylum seekers their fair day in court to try to deport them more quickly. 

To add insult to injury, a transit asylum ban was implemented to deny protection to those who traveled through other countries first before arriving at our border, denying access to asylum to everyone but Mexicans. “Safe Third Country” agreements were signed with Central American countries that are not safe. This means that migrants from other countries will be sent back to the very conditions that they were fleeing in the first place.

These are not the principles under which this country was founded. We don’t turn our backs on people when they need us most. The actions of our government undermine what it means to be an American. Join us in speaking out. 

Take Action!!

Here’s what you can do to get involved:

Together, let’s make their phones ring: 

    •         Call your representative and two senators. Find them here >>>
    •         ​Sample Script: “My name is ____ and I am a constituent from ____. I urge Representative/Senator ____ to defund and terminate the harmful MPP policy. DHS must be held accountable for violations of the rights of migrants due to their policies. Asylum seekers should be allowed to wait for their asylum hearings in safety within the United States, not be sent to harm in Mexico to wait for months. I am alarmed that they are being returned to dangerous Mexican cities where they are at risk for kidnapping and extortion. I implore you to speak out against these policies. My community welcomes and values immigrants & refugees, and as someone who represents my community, I urge you to do the same.” 

Together, let’s get trending: 

Join us in this Week of Action to raise our voices and tell the administration that we will not let them shut the door on asylum. Your action is vital. 

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Daily Dispatch 11/15/2019: For mixed-status families, the fear of family separation is constant

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Daily Dispatch

November 15, 2019

DACA recipients and others who attended oral argument are greeted by friends and supporters on the Supreme Court’s steps.

Family separation at the border is an enormous humanitarian crisis and makes daily headlines. But families across the country are separated or fear separation every day due to mixed immigration status. Nearly 9 million families in the U.S. have members with different immigration status – some are citizens or permanent legal residents, some are undocumented, while others are in a gray area – holders of DACA or TPS.

Both DACA and TPS have become political playthings for the Trump administration and their futures are unclear. As we shared earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday regarding DACA. What they decide will determine the future of 700,000 people and has the potential to rip apart thousands of families.

The fear and uncertainty undocumented immigrants and holders of DACA and TPS feel not only impacts them, but their entire families. In 2016, the APA published a study on the effects on U.S. born children living with undocumented parents and found numerous long and short-term consequences. The study states:

The possibility of losing a parent to deportation, having to hide a family member’s legal status, and living in fear of authority and in social marginality has consequences on children’s mental wellbeing including high rates of anxiety, depression, fear, attention problems and rule-breaking behaviors.

This is in addition to the many physical and financial hardships.

Miriam Gonzalez, a plaintiff in a case against the Trump Administration for ending DACA.

NPR podcast “Code Switch” has followed a family with mixed status. Two parents, three children and three different legal realities. Mom and Dad are undocumented. One sibling has DACA. One is undocumented, and one is a U.S. citizen. One of those children, Miriam Gonzalez, is a plaintiff in the case suing the Trump Administration for ending DACA. To hear in their own words what being a mixed-status family looks like and what the fear of family separation does to a family, click here.


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Daily Dispatch 11/14/2019: No more money for Trump’s enforcement nightmare

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Daily Dispatch

November 14, 2019

You might not remember this, but when Trump came into office (2017), border apprehensions on the southwest border were at a 40+ year low. In other words, no crisis. It is not that immigration policy was working well. Clinton, Bush and Obama had each added on features to an increasingly inhumane detention and deportation machine, and somehow this went under the radar of policy makers despite the protests of many. What years of congressional indifference had wrought, however, became clear once this machinery was handed over to Trump in January of 2017. 

Trump came into office committed to warring against immigrants, and he has. Nearly three years later, it is clear that the administration is out of control, violating the law and congressional oversight authority. For what? As a candidate, Trump spoke continuously about criminal aliens, violent thugs and gang members. This was always a lie. There aren’t enough “criminals” to go to war against. Indeed, Trump’s ICE has the lowest criminal removal rate of any administration bringing cases to immigration courts – and like past administrations, the most common lead charges for those “criminals” who are removed are traffic violations. So, who are we going after really? Refugees, children, and authorized immigrants (yeah, people we are supposed to be welcoming because they “stood in line” and did it the “right way”). Trump talks about MS-13 at rallies and then locks up people fleeing torture in Cameroon and sexual violence in Honduras or blocks H-1 visas for computer science majors. 

Which brings us to the would-be-funny-if-not-so-incredibly-tragic part. He keeps running out of money doing this – and none of the Atlas Shrugged-hugging, small government pinheads care. So, he wants more dollars, and he wants you to pay those dollars, all for a set of policies that don’t work and are morally repugnant. Congress has the power to shut it down, but instead has been way too generous (or too weak). 

Trump’s war on refugees

So, let’s get specific. Over the last year the Trump administration has taken unprecedented steps to disrupt all avenues for seeking asylum in the United States. This has included incarcerating people seeking asylum – even those who declare their intent to seek asylum at a port of entry, and even after those people have passed credible fear interviews. The administration is also denying bond hearings to those who cross between ports of entry, even though asylum law allows anyone, regardless of how they cross the border, the right to seek asylum. As a result, of the 47,260 people in ICE detention at the end of last week, 13,462 have already established a credible fear of torture or persecution if returned to their home country. Yet they are still being jailed (and tortured) in this country. 

Earlier this year, the administration expanded the Orwellian named Migrant Protection Protocols to cover the entire border with Mexico. Under this policy, piloted late last year just in San Diego, anyone arriving at the border seeking asylum is denied entry altogether and made to “Remain in Mexico” for a hearing before an immigration judge. When the policy was generalized to cover the whole border this summer, more than 6,000 asylum seekers already in the United States were sent back to Mexico. In total, 55,000 people have been returned to Mexico to await hearings. These hearings began in September and are a farce. Asylum seekers are allowed to cross the border for a day, taken into a tent where they speak to an immigration judge through video conferencing – the judge is elsewhere – and then have to return to Mexico to wait longer. The system, as volunteer attorneys attempting to provide services have argued, is designed to fail. Indeed, it is designed to make people so miserable they give up and go home, or seek permanent resettlement in Mexico.

Still not content, the Trump administration then published a new rule that actually denies anyone who arrives at our border the ability to even apply for asylum if they passed through any other country first – unless they have applied for asylum in that country and been denied. What this means is that basically no one from any country other than Mexico can apply for asylum at the southern border. The policy was clearly aimed at denying Central Americans the possibility of seeking asylum. It also seems to be a very clear violation of existing law – and yet the Supreme Court overturned an injunction put in place by district courts while the merits of the law are being challenged in court. So, even if likely to be overturned eventually, the new rule is being allowed to proceed for the time being. As a result, asylum seekers arriving since the July 16 rule went into effect are denied access to the asylum process completely and constitute a whole other class of individuals waiting in detention to be deported.

If the Trump administration had stopped here, it would already be a debacle by any standard of respect for human rights. But they didn’t. The administration went even further, pushing its enforcement regime into Mexico by blackmailing the government of Mexico under threat of tariffs to adopt stricter enforcement measures. The goal: to keep people seeking asylum from ever reaching the U.S. border. Mexico has complied with “requests” from previous U.S. administrations to step up enforcement, so again, nothing new in principal. But Trump went further – and so has Mexico. The Mexican government has added 6,000 people to patrols along its southern border and has stepped up deportations (Mexico was already deporting twice as many Central Americans as the United States before the new rules). Another impact is expanded detention within Mexico and a new crisis on Mexico’s southern border for immigrants not from Central America who cannot be easily deported. This group, primarily refugees from Africa and the Caribbean, have been trapped in camps along the border, denied the ability to travel through Mexico as they could before, to seek asylum at the U.S. border.

But we are still not done. The Trump administration has negotiated agreements with the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras allowing the administration to send asylum seekers and other immigrants back to one of these countries – even though a large majority of the asylum seekers at the southern border are fleeing conditions in one of these countries. 

Big Paydays for Crisis (Mis)Management

Returning back to the United States, the Washington Post reported this week that the administration purposefully sought to extend detention times for children caught up in this dragnet as part of its broader “deterrent” strategy. They did this, in part, by changing the process for locating sponsors. The administration was using information sharing between the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services (which oversees child detentions) to actually entrap unauthorized immigrants who might come forward as a sponsor for a relative child. This rule was eventually changed again, but only after children were being detained for up to 95 days on average late last year. This was before a surge of apprehensions at the border in the spring of 2019 pushed the whole system to the verge of collapse. The administration blamed this surge for the problems, but that is a well documented lie. The crisis was created intentionally before the surge in arrests began.

And yet, for the administration and its network of subcontractors/donors, the manufactured crisis paid off well. A $4.6 billion emergency supplemental was handed over by Congress – and that, only after the Senate stripped the bill of added oversight measures (and Democratic House leaders went along). 

But you know, for this gang, it is still not enough. When the administration ran out of money again in August they simply moved $267 million from other accounts, without congressional authorization. Yes, they paid for more detention beds with money from the Coast Guard, and paid for the unauthorized Remain in Mexico policy with money from FEMA. And did so without prior-notification to Congress (re-programming money is not a new thing, but is supposed to happen only after oversight committees approve). So, we can add a clear violation of Congress’ Article One powers to authorize expenditures to the list.

Now Trump wants even more money for ICE and Border Patrol for the FY 2020 budget. He wants 52,000 bed spaces a day for detention, more border patrol agents, and a wall. This administration has gone from a 40-year low in unauthorized border crossings, to a 10-year high, managed to lock up 70,000 children in one year on purpose, absolutely gutted the asylum process, and achieved the highest daily average of ICE detainees ever recorded by jailing people fleeing torture. In short, the biggest failure by any measure of a policy one can imagine. And he wants more money? Congress has to just say no. The budget for detention and enforcement needs to be cut, and cut dramatically. We need to demand that Congress defund this administration’s policies of hate now!!! Congress helped build this monstrosity. It is time to take it apart.

What better time than now?

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Daily Dispatch 11/13/2019: Tell Congress to #DefundHate

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Daily Dispatch

November 13, 2019

Today is a National Call-in Day to Congress demanding that they cut (not increase!!!) the budgets for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). We have written about specific issues concerning the Trump administration’s refusal to abide by Congressional authorizations concerning how money is spent. 

You can also personalize your communication with members of Congress. A summary of some points you might raise.

  • Congressed authorized funding for just over a 45,000 daily average of people in ICE detention in Fiscal Year 2019 (Oct 1, 2018 to Sept 30, 2019).
  • The intent was that detention would decline from the 49,000 daily average at the time the budget was passed, to 40,000 by the end of the fiscal year.
  • By August of 2019, ICE was holding 55,000 people a day.
  • In August, 9,000 of the people in detention were asylum seekers who had already passed their credible fear interview, and according to DHS’ own guidelines, it would “no longer in the public interest” to detain them.
  • They were not released. Instead, Trump administration officials shifted funds from the Coast Guard and other accounts to fund expanded detention.
  • Today, there are over 12,000 people still in detention that have demonstrated a credible fear of persecution of torture should they be returned home – even though overall detention has declined to 50,000 (still above authorized amounts). 
  • In other words, the reason that the administration is over budget is not a surge in border apprehensions, but the cruel decision to hold all asylum seekers throughout their entire process.

This should NOT be funded.

  • This summer the administration secured an extra $4.6 billion in emergency funding following disclosure of horrible conditions in Border Patrol stations, where children were being held for three weeks or more without adequate food or sanitation.
  • The administration blamed this on a backlog at the Department of Health and Human Services, which receives unaccompanied children from Border Patrol to detain while awaiting placement, because of a surge in apprehensions at the border.
  • Reality: HHS facilities were over capacity prior to the so called border surge, with average detention stays up to 95 days by November of 2018. Why?
  • The Trump administration policy to use children in detention as bait to catch undocumented family members who might come forward as sponsors – which, as reported by the Washington Post this week,  they knew would lead to a backlog at HHS.
  • Thus, the horror we witnessed at Border Patrol detention facilities this summer was the result of an intentional policy to deter children from coming here.

This should NOT be funded!

  • The Border Patrol does NOT need more agents.
  • The Washington Office on Latin America reported, “In all of 2018, the average Border Patrol agent apprehended 14 single adults—one every 3.7 weeks—and 10 children or parents who sought to be apprehended. If staffing levels remained similar in 2019, the average Border Patrol agent apprehended 18 single adults—one every 2.9 weeks— and had to process 33 children or parents.”
  • So, even with the increase in apprehensions last year, on average, a border patrol agent took 1 single adult and 2 children alone (or 1 child with a parent) into custody every 3 weeks.
  • As WOLA notes, what is needed is more staff to process asylum claims, not more agents to arrest people.
  • This is needed so that people can be processed and RELEASED!

No more detention dollars for ICE, no more enforcement dollars for CBP. They do not need the money. The crisis at our border is a real one – but it has been created by this administration’s cruelty, and the false notion that deterrence is an effective strategy to end migration. We are violating human rights and in effect torturing people in detention, in order to discourage immigration.

It is time to #DefundHate, and stop this!!

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Daily Dispatch 11/12/2019: #HomeIsHere, DACA in the Supreme Court

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Daily Dispatch

November 12, 2019


Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments on President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). DACA as established by the Obama administration following the failure of Congress to pass the Dream Act (DACA recipients are often referred to as “Dreamers”). DACA protects unauthorized immigrants who were brought into this country as children from removal proceedings, provided they have a clean criminal record and are in (or have completed) school. Under DACA, recipients must reapply every two years, but once registered are allowed to work and attend school.

Trump’s Attorney General at the time, Jeff Sessions, announced the end of DACA in September of 2017. However, the administration’s decision to end the program immediately ended up in court. Three of these cases that challenged the administration have been consolidated and form the basis for the arguments being heard today.

One of the plaintiffs, Martín Batalla Vidal, writes about his experiences under DACA and his decision to challenge the administration for Vox today:

If the Court sides with Trump, the consequences would be devastating for me, my family, and communities across the country. For the past seven years, over 700,000 young undocumented immigrants, who came to the United States as children, have been able to work at the jobs of their choosing, graduate from schools around the country, contribute billions of dollars to the economy, and support their families and communities — all because of DACA.

We are business owners, artists, school teachers, lawyers, mothers, fathers, and nurses like me. Even though the program’s structure has meant that I have been living my life in two-year increments (recipients must reapply every two years), DACA provides me with critical immigration relief, allowing me to work and remain in the United States with my family.

With DACA, I have been able to grow up with my siblings. Together, we have been able to celebrate our birthdays and christenings. I have been able to help them with their homework, see them graduate from middle school and high school, and even help them get over their first heartbreak.

A coalition of organizations came together in October to begin preparing for this day. The Home is Here Coalition will be among those organizing a presence at the court today, as well as talking to members of Congress.  The House of Representatives passed the Dream and Promise Act this summer, which would make DACA permanent and extend a path to citizenship for those registered in the program. The bill also extends permanent residency to people here under Temporary Protected Status – another program Trump has tried to cut. The Senate has not acted on the Dream and Promise Act.  Over 80 percent of Americans polled support DACA.

Here is Home is lifting up the stories of DACA recipients so that we all understand how important the program has been to the 700,000 young people who have registered.

Update on Tania Romero

Last week we shared an alert from Mijente about Tania Romero, who is recovering from stage 4 cancer and is currently being held in ICE detention in Georgia. Despite her illness, the fact that her case is under appeal, and that the government of Honduras has not issued travel documents for her – in part because she will not be able to receive adequate medical if deported – ICE is still trying to get her out of the country. Last night, ICE agents took her from a cell at Irwin Detention Facility and dragged her to an airport. She has still not been deported. Her son, a student at Yale University, which has gained the case more notice, has been working with Mijente and others to put a spotlight on her case. Below is the latest alert from this morning.

Around midnight on Monday, ICE woke my mother and told her she was being deported. My mom exercised her rights and informed officials that she cannot be deported because she has motions and appeals pending and ICE has not received the travel documents necessary to put her on a flight to Honduras. ICE proceeded to threaten her with pepper spray and ultimately relied on physical coercion to forcibly remove her. According to her testimony, around six guards grabbed her by the arms and legs and carried her away like an animal. As a result, she has bruises all over her arms. ICE did not allow her to take any of her essentials, including her glasses, and proceeded to transport her to an unknown airport. ICE did not inform anyone that she was being deported or where she was being sent. Since we had no knowledge of her whereabouts or her final destination, we were unable to ensure that she would be received by the appropriate people and get the immediate care she needs. We conclude that ICE planned to leave my mom completely on her own, in a country she has not lived in for over 20 years, all without regard for her ever-weakening health. Even though ICE knew they could not deport her due to lack of travel documents from the Honduran Consulate—in addition to pending motions and appeals—they still used physical force in an attempt to deport a woman recovering from cancer and in a seriously fragile physical state. ICE is conducting these actions with well-documented knowledge of her illness.The Honduran consulate has provided written statements that she should not be deported because she will not be able to receive the medical care she needs in Honduras. This contradicts one of ICE’s main justifications for not granting her a stay of deportation, as they claim she would have access to the necessary care.  

ICE’s repeatedly malicious actions are putting my mom’s life in danger. This unmistakably amounts to torture. We denounce these actions and demand her immediate release. I am asking for congressional support to advocate for my mom to receive humanitarian parole and to relieve her of the threat of imminent deportation by releasing her from detention. It is imperative that our elected officials intervene to stop this injustice. We urge members of Congress to help ensure that my mom can return to her family and access the medical care she desperately needs.

Call the offices of Congresswoman Lucy McBath and Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue and ask them to intervene against ICE’s continued denial of Tania’s release.

Representative Lucy McBath: (470) 773-6330 (GA Office) | (202) 225-4501 (DC Office)

Senator Johnny Isakson: (770) 661-0999 (GA Office) | (202) 224-3643 (DC Office) 

Senator David Perdue:   (404) 865-0087 (GA Office) | (202) 224-3521 (DC Office)

Sample Script For Congressional Offices: Hello, my name is _________. I am calling to urge you to save the life of Tania Romero, A# 095-087-219, currently detained in the Irwin County Detention Center. I have recently been informed that ICE has tried to move forward with Tania’s deportation while she is still seeking to appeal the decision through appropriate legal channels. Tania is a stage-4 cancer survivor who requires consistent medical care. Rather than releasing Tania to allow her to see her doctor, ICE forcibly attempted to deport her, failing only because they had not acquired the proper travel documents. The Honduran Consulate in Atlanta has submitted written documentation to ICE that Tania Romero’s deportation is medically inadvisable and would jeopardize her life. I would be outraged if (Elected Official) would allow this deportation to take place while Tania’s medical health and life is at grave risk. I urge (Elected Official) to advocate for Tania to receive humanitarian parole, halt the threat of imminent deportation, and release her from detention. 

Call and email ICE to request that they allow Tania to stay in the U.S. during her appeals process. 

ICE Atlanta Field Office
180 Ted Turner Dr. SW Suite 522
Atlanta, GA, 30303

General Line: (404) 893-1210

  • Follow the automated prompts to reach the Office of the Field Director. SDDO Cesar Ciprian: Cesar.E.Ciprian@ice.dhs.gov (404) 893-1214
  • Deportation Officer Morris: (404) 893-1334
  • Assistant Field Office Director Kristen Sullivan: (404) 893-1203
  • SDDO Vincent Fairnot: (404) 893-1246
  • Atlanta ICE Field Director Sean Gallagher: Sean.W.Gallagher@ice.dhs.gov
  • Assistant Field Director Sean Ervin: Sean.C.Ervin@ice.dhs.gov
  • Supervisory Detention & Deportation Officer (SDDO) Alicia Ferra: Alicia.Ferra@ice.dhs.gov 

Hello, my name is _________, and I am calling/writing to urge you to save the life of Tania Romero, A# 095-087-219, currently detained in the Irwin County Detention Center. I have recently been informed that ICE has tried to move forward with Tania’s deportation while she is still seeking to appeal the decision through appropriate legal channels. Tania is a stage-4 cancer survivor who requires consistent medical care. Rather than releasing Tania to allow her to see her doctor, ICE forcibly attempted to deport her, failing only because they had not acquired the proper travel documents. The Honduran Consulate in Atlanta has submitted written documentation to ICE that Tania Romero’s deportation is medically inadvisable and would jeopardize her life. I urge you to put a hold on Tania’s deportation and to release her on humanitarian parole during her appeals process.

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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)