On Tuesday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that over the last month they arrested 2,000+ people as part of a massive national operation. Until recently, ICE picked up about 10,000 people a month anyway (a number that fell briefly to just over 5,000 in June as the result of the then acting director of ICE, Matthew Albence, reducing enforcement activity in the context of the coronavirus pandemic). The pandemic is still around, but Albence is now gone. When ICE engages in such large scale enforcement actions, ICE agents are more likely to pick up a lot of people who have not been convicted of any crimes. ICE’s own reporting indicates that only 50% of those they picked up in this latest operation had a criminal record, which means 50% did NOT. Below I try to parse some of the latest numbers, and critique ICE’s intentional misdirection about “criminal aliens.” We continue to demand that ICE #FreeThemAll; find out how you can get involved below.
In recent months, the percentage of “convicted criminals” in ICE custody has increased. This is because the closure of the border and Title 42 expulsions have dramatically reduced Customs and Border Protection transfers. As I wrote last week, people who are picked up at the border now are summarily expelled with no access to due process. From March through July the administration expelled 105,000 people in this way, all but 200 along the southern border. The result is less people being transferred into ICE’s detention network from the border, and thus a fall off in the number of people held in detention overall. People picked up at the border are far less likely to have a criminal record than those swept up in ICE raids or on detainers at the local jail. Thus, as the number of people being transferred from the border falls, the proportion of those in detention with a criminal record goes up.
Of course, even if the proportion of those with a “criminal conviction” is going up, the whole framework is misleading. The category of criminal activity responsible for the most removals is “traffic violation,” followed by “traffic violation with DUI.” Combined these categories represented over 140,000 charges compared to the 1,800 “homicides” in 2019. Indeed, traffic violations have been the biggest ticket item for years – beginning with the Bush administration’s crack down post 9-11. Which is to say, never in the history of ICE has serious criminal activity been the leading cause for removals. Never. This is not to say the driving drunk is no big deal – indeed, some of the “homicides” could be the result of drunk driving. The point is that the actual profile of criminal activity leading to removal is very different from the image ICE sells to the U.S. public in the guise of MS-13 foot soldiers and sex traffickers.
That said, some of the people picked up by ICE have committed crimes that most would consider serious. There are a couple of points to emphasize here. First, if someone has been convicted of a crime, by the time ICE gets a hold of them they have already served their sentence. The reason ICE is focused on them is NOT the crime itself, but their citizenship. If they were a citizen, with time served, they would just be going home. Indeed, people who end up in criminal removal may in fact be permanent residents, or otherwise legally present in the United States. However, because they are not a citizen, and now have a criminal record, they are deportable under Clinton-era immigration policy.
The second point is that the focus on criminality creates massive confusion about what is going on. No one in ICE custody is there to serve a criminal penalty. No one. ICE detention is administrative. People are being held while an immigration court, or administrative agency decides whether they can stay in this country or not. Some people are in detention because a determination has already been made that they cannot stay, and they are awaiting deportation. That is it. If they have previously been convicted of a crime, the sentence has already been served. If they have been charged, but not yet gone to trial, one cannot classify them as a criminal. Immigration detention is thus not making communities safer. Quite the opposite.
Admittedly, the number of people in ICE detention is way down – 21,000 now compared to 53,000 at the beginning of the fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2019). I explained last week this is because of the border closure reducing transfers into ICE custody, coupled with the fact that ICE keeps deporting people despite the inherent risks of spreading COVID-19 to other countries. 21,000 is still a huge number of people, however, and our long standing position that they should ALL be released stands. The risks of maintaining people in this carceral state are enormous. The New York Times recently published a detailed map, tracing coronavirus infections. The report included a segment on “clusters,” or concentrated areas where infection rates are high. Of the top 100 cluster sites, 90 are prisons, jails or detention centers (the other ten include nine meat processing plants, and one navy ship). ICE’s latest operation is thus irresponsible: Our carceral immigration system is a public health disaster, no one is made safer by putting more people into it.
Take Action: #FreeThemALL
It is clear that Trump is not changing course any time soon. But we still need to put pressure on the administration where we can. If you have not done so yet, you can send a message to your members of Congress asking them to support the Immigration Enforcement Moratorium Act here.
We also invite you to join in the National Days of Action being sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and Detention Watch Network from September 9 – 13. You can register as a partner for these actions, check-out their organizing toolkit, and get more information here.
[This post was updated on October 5 2020 ]
Twenty-one* people died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody during fiscal year 2020 (Oct 1, 2019 to Sept 30, 2020). The number of people to die in ICE custody during the previous fiscal year was eight. At the same time the administration has shut down the border, slowed (though far from halted) internal removal operations, and continued to deport people, the number of people in ICE custody has fallen significantly since March. As of mid-September, ICE was holding 20,006 people in custody. The higher number of deaths, with fewer people incarcerated, translates into a spiraling mortality rate in ICE facilities.
The number of people in detention at the beginning of the fiscal year was approximately 53,000. There have been 177,391 book-ins since then. So, the “net” number of people to cycle through the system this fiscal year is 230,391. Which means, the mortality rate for people in ICE custody is 9.1/100,000 – or about 82% higher than the murder rate in the United States.
The people who have died this year come from all over the world, from Africa, Asia, Europe and throughout the Americas. It is a sobering reminder that the impacts of U.S. immigration policy reach everywhere. Four of the people who died were seeking asylum – two of whom had already passed credible fear interviews and remained detained anyway. One man, from Cameroon, died before he could be interviewed – taken off life support following a brain hemorrhage despite the wishes of family members that he remain on life support until someone could be with him. Another committed suicide a week after his appeal for asylum relief was denied. Overall, one-third (6) of those who died in custody committed suicide.
Of the eleven people to die since May 6, eight have died from COVID-19, though one other case is likely a COVID case – the person was never tested. All of these deaths involve people with known underlying conditions that make COVID-19 deadly, principally diabetes and in two cases the individuals were over 70 years of age. They would all be alive if ICE had followed recommendations to release people. Indeed, all of the people on this list would most likely be alive today if ICE had simply pursued alternatives to incarceration.
The actual number of deaths that have been the result of ICE detention during the pandemic is not known. ICE has deported thousands of people since March all over the world, hundreds of whom are known to have been COVID positive at the time of their deportation, and the majority of those deported have almost certainly been exposed to novel coronavirus while in custody. How many of these people have died following their deportation? How many others did those deported from the United States expose to novel coronavirus upon their return home due to ICE’s recklessness? There is no way to know. One possible indication of ICE’s responsibility: At the beginning of the summer at least 200 people in Guatemala who were COVID-19 positive had been traced to deportation flights.
Below I try to tell a part of the story of those who have died in the U.S. since October 1, 2020. Sadly, for most, the only information currently available to me is from ICE reports. In some cases, press reports have provided additional information – though often they are simply repeating information from ICE press releases. For a few of the deaths that happened earlier in the year, there has been time for independent investigation; negligence in these cases has been shown. None of these people deserved to die, and certainly the 20,000 other people remaining in detention do not deserve to be threatened with death for simply not being a U.S. citizen.
*Most reports show 20 deaths this year. I have included Óscar López Acosta below, which others have not. Though he died from COVID-19 related illness several weeks after his release, the details indicate he was most likely infected while in detention. López was included in Congressional counts of COVID deaths in ICE detention.
Nebane Abienwi, from Cameroon, October 1, 2019. Otay Mesa Detention facility (CoreCivic). From our earlier report:
Nebane Abienwi left Cameroon this summer, flying to Ecuador and then traveling up through Columbia, Central America and Mexico. He arrived at the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego and declared his intent to seek asylum. Nebane was 37 years old and a father of six children. According to family members, his goal was to settle in the United States and then bring his family to join him.
On September 26, Abienwi apparently fell off his bunk, and was found in a confused state. He was eventually sent to Chula Vista Medical Center where it was discovered he was bleeding severely in his brain. The family was contacted on September 30th. At this point Abienwi was on a ventilator. Abienwi’s brother informed officials that the family wanted his brother to remain on life support until someone could come to be with him. However, after declaring that Nebane was brain dead, medical staff took him off life support. His brother, who was trying to get travel documents together to come be with Abienwi was not informed by ICE or medical staff. He found out from a reporter who called about the case.
Follow up report from The Nation: ‘According to two medical professionals, the lack of proper medical attention indicates that he was a victim of medical negligence. “It’s just inconceivable to me that he’s…been hospitalized three weeks ago [in Mexico] for severe hypertension and then can come into a facility and be totally normal,” said Dr. John Flack, hypertension specialist and Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at Southern Illinois University, adding that his symptoms appeared to have been “woefully undertreated.”’
Roylan Hernandez-Diaz, from Cuba, October 15, 2019, Richwood Correctional Facility (Lasalle Corrections):
Crossed the border in May of 2019 seeking asylum. He was handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In August Roylan passed a credible fear interview and yet was still held in detention despite having family in the U.S. and thus not being a threat to flee. In October Roylan was part of a protest inside the Richwood Correctional facility where he was being held. In retaliation, Roylan was placed in solitary confinement. He was found dead in his cell; an apparent suicide by hanging.
Report on follow up investigation: “An Associated Press investigation into Hernandez’s death last October found neglect and apparent violations of government policies by jailers under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, at a time when detention of migrants has reached record levels and new questions have arisen about the U.S. government’s treatment of people seeking refuge.”
ICE Detainee Death Report
Anthony Oluseye Akinyemi from Nigeria, December 21, 2019. Worcester County Jail, MD:
Akinyemi arrived in the United States in 2017 with a non-immigrant visa which was good for a year. He stayed beyond its expiration. In July 2019 he was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor sex crime and assault. He was convicted and given a suspended sentence with three years probation on Dec 19, 2019. Upon his release he was immediately handed over to ICE and taken to the Worcester County Jail in Maryland on December 20th. He hung himself in his cell that night (5:00 a.m. December 21, 2019).
Samuelino Pitchout Mavinga French citizen, originally from Angola, December 29, 2019. Otero County Processing Center (Management Training Corporation):
Mavinga arrived in New York in November 2018 under a visa waiver program. He was detained by border patrol at a checkpoint in Texas on November 11, 2019, for overstaying his visa. Mavinga was transferred into ICE custody the next day, and put into detention at the Otero County Processing Center, in Chaparral, New Mexico, pending deportation. He was, according to the intake proceeding, healthy. A month later, on December 11th, he was transferred to the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia, New Mexico. Prior to his transfer, ICE staff noted that he had stopped eating and had lost nearly twenty pounds. They transferred him anyway.
Mavinga was taken to a hospital the day after his arrival at Estancia and found to be suffering from a twisting of the large intestines causing bowel obstruction. He had surgery to remove a portion of his colon on December 16. In recovery he was confused, and uncooperative. The staff, with a doctor’s permission, received an order allowing him to be placed in a 4 point constraint – but it is not clear this was used. By Christmas day, Mavinga was in critical condition, his stomach filled with fluid due to infection. He died a few days later from a heart attack brought on by septic shock.
Ben James Owen from Britain, January 26, 2020. Baker County Detention Center (Baker County Sheriff’s Office)
Ben Owen died at the Baker County Detention Center in Macclenny, Florida, the cause of death “self-inflicted strangulation.
Owen entered the country on July 23, 2019 on a visa good until December 2019. He was here to visit his wife and newborn daughter who lived in Tennessee. According to a profile in the Daily Mail, he was hoping to eventually bring his family back to the U.K. In the interim he was applying for a green-card so he could stay in the U.S. and work as an electrician.
In November Owen was charged with battery for an undisclosed incident in Daytona Beach. ICE noted that Owen overstayed his visa at this point, though the time line makes clear he was charged in November, and could not have then left the country in December as he was awaiting trial. He was re-arrested on January 12 for violating the terms of his release. Owen was then turned over to ICE on January 15 and placed into deportation proceedings. Though facing charges, it is worth noting he had not yet been convicted of anything prior to being placed in ICE custody.
Owen hung himself ten days later after making a phone call to a friend. In addition to the new born daughter, he had another young daughter in the U.K.
Alberto Fundaro-Hernandez, from Cuba, died January 27, 2020 after detention at Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami, FL.
Hernandez had been in the United States since 1980, arriving with other refugees during the “Mariel boatlift.” Over the years he had several arrests on drug and assault charges, and had been homeless for at least 10 of those years. In January of 2000 an immigration judge issued an order of removal for Hernandez, though he was released with an “order of supervision.” ICE arrested him again on January 14, 2020 after he was discharged from jail following a three-day stint for shoplifting. He was then placed in Krome North Service Processing Center pending removal to Cuba.
Upon arrival at Krome, his medical sheet included the following conditions: congestive heart failure, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, Hepatitis C, dyslipidemia, and chronic kidney disease. Over the next week his health deteriorated rapidly. By January 22 he had become incontinent and X-rays showed an enlarged heart. On January 23 he was finally transferred to a hospital. Four days later he had 8 heart attacks in the space of 4 hours. He was briefly placed on life support and, according to ICE’s report, an effort was made to locate a family member. None was found. Following a 9th heart attack he was taken off of life support later that morning. He was 63.
David Hernandez Colula from Mexico, died February 21, 2020 after detention in the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center (CoreCivic).
Colula had been in the United States since at least 2014 – when he was picked up by border patrol in New York. He was released on bond a few days later pending removal proceedings. In December 2019 Hernandez was arrested by the Sturgis Police Department in Michigan who were responding to a “civil dispute” between Hernandez and his wife. The report indicates he was then held on an outstanding warrant for a previous domestic assault. Upon release from jail, Hernandez was immediately transferred to ICE custody and placed in detention pending removal proceedings. He was placed at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, Ohio on December 10, 2019.
Two days after his arrival at NOCC, Hernandez was found in his cell with a blanket around his neck. He was placed under a suicide watch and took part in group therapy sessions. Just four days later, a staff evaluation determined that, “he presented without risk factors, and recommended discontinuing his constant observation.” He was returned to the general population. In mid-January, Hernandez reported anxiety and sleeplessness. He was given anti-anxiety medications. Between January 8 and February 19 his ICE report indicates only three check-ins with mental health staff. A few hours after the last reported evaluation on February 19, in which staff claim they witnessed no concerning behavior, Hernandez hung himself in his room with a bed sheet.
Maria Celeste Ochoa Yoc de Ramirez from Guatemala, March 8, 2020 Prairieland Detention Facility (LaSalle Corrections).
Maria Celeste Ochoa Yoc de Ramirez was picked up by border patrol on September 4 near Hidalgo, Texas. She was transferred to ICE custody two days later and held at El Valle Detention Facility in Raymondville, TX. Six days later she was transferred to Kay County Detention Center (KCDC) in Oklahoma. Her intake assessment indicated she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ochoa filed a claim for asylum, and on October 8, was granted a hearing following an interview in which she established a credible fear of persecution if returned to Guatemala. According to ICE’s historic operating guidelines, at this point she should have been released until her hearing date. She had no criminal record and had family in the United States willing to sponsor her. Under the current administration she was detained anyway. ICE’s death report makes no mention of her asylum claim.
Between her arrival at KCDC in September and the end of January her ICE report only indicates medical treatment for minor issues. However, by the first of February she had lost 14 pounds and was clearly very ill. Over the course of the next 6 days, she was evaluated repeatedly, at one point simply given Flonase for a runny nose. Throughout she had an elevated heart rate and trouble breathing. On February 6, following an “abnormal” urine analysis she was finally sent to a hospital. The next day, Ochoa had an emergency gallbladder surgery. She was returned to detention on February 10. Three days later she was transferred to a Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas.
On February 18, Ochoa was then taken to a hospital again, later transferred to a medical center in Fort Worth where she remained until her death. Her cause of death, according to ICE’s press release, was “autoimmune hepatitis, complicated by septic shock and acute liver failure.” In other words, she died from an infection related to her surgery – a process that unfolded over nearly 2 weeks as her body slowly broke down. She was only 22.
Orlan Ariel Carcamo-Navarro from Honduras, died March 18, 2020, Karnes County Residential Center, Texas
Orlan Ariel Carcamo-Navarro arrived in the United States with his son on February 19, 2020. They presented themselves at the Presidio Texas Port of Entry and indicated that they would file for asylum. Two days later they were transferred to the Karnes County Residential Center.
Carcamo failed his initial asylum screening by a US Citizenship and Immigration Services officer on Feb. 28. This decision was later upheld by an immigration judge on March 11. Inside Karnes, Carcamo was suffering from depression. A case worker noted on March 5 that he became upset during a group trauma therapy session after discussing his situation back in Honduras and the initial denial of his asylum claim.
On March 16 during his parent “audit-check,” a social worker noted, “[Carcamo] reports… having anxiety, insomnia (difficulty sleeping), nightmares.” He was referred for an individual psychiatric evaluation. The next night, a week after his asylum appeal was denied, Carcamo hung himself in his room.
Lucian Allain of RAICES, who had been working with the family, said: “Today we learned that an immigrant father detained at the Karnes Detention Center took his own life. We are in shock and deeply disturbed by this devastating news. He was our client and we were fighting for his and his family’s freedom…” At the time of writing I could find no information on what happened to his son. Carcamo was married and had one other child. He was 27 years old.
Ramiro Hernandez-Ibarra from Mexico, died March 21, 2020 after being held at Port Isabel Detention Center
On December 20, 2019 Hernandez was arrested by the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s office for assault. Hernandez’s immigration record indicates he had been back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. many times over the past 20 years, and had been deported prior. Hernandez was convicted of the assault charge, and released with time served on January 14 – though held overnight on a detainer from ICE. On January 15 he was transferred to ICE custody and taken to the Port Isabel Detention Center. His intake form noted a history of diabetes and hypertension.
On February 7 an “advanced practice provider” evaluated Hernandez. ICE’s summary: “an APP evaluated Mr. Hernandez during a chronic care appointment and reviewed his laboratory results, which were normal except for elevated lipids, glucose, hemoglobin A1C, and trace protein and ketones in his urine. Mr. Hernandez complained of left flank pain, reported past kidney issues, and not drinking water.” (emphasis added). Over the next 10 days Hernandez was given a variety of treatment, and eventually diagnosed with a urinary tract infection. Four weeks later he collapsed while using the bathroom. He was rushed to a hospital where it was discovered he was in kidney failure. Unresponsive, he was placed on a ventilator. On March 21 he was removed from life support and pronounced dead. The press release simply noted “septic shock” as the preliminary cause of death. He was 42.
Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejía, from El Salvador, died May 6, 2020 Otay Mesa Detention Facility (CoreCivic). COVID-19
Carlos was born in El Salvador and he fled that country as a child with his mother and sister after his brother was killed during the civil war in 1980. He had lived in the United States for 40 years. Like many people who live in the shadow of trauma, Carlos struggled with addiction and one result was a number of arrests for possession and a DUI. For these offenses, he served sentences like anyone else, and yet, under Clinton-era laws, the convictions made him deportable.
With a removal order in place, Carlos was placed in detention at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility after being stopped at a check-point by Border Patrol in January of this year. Carlos also had diabetes severe enough that an injury to one of his feet several years ago led to its amputation. In a wheelchair, diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes, he should have never been detained at all while awaiting his hearings — and certainly should have been paroled once the threat of COVID-19 was apparent. Instead, he was incarcerated.
On April 21, 2020 he was evaluated by medical staff for chills, cough and a sore throat. He was given a COVID-19 test, but sent back to the general population until the results came back positive three days later, at which point he was reassigned to a unit for COVID-19 patients.
He died on May 6 from “complications due to COVID-19.”
Choung Woong Ahn from South Korea, died May 17, 2020, Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield, California
Ahn had been in the United States since 1988 and was a permanent resident. He had been convicted of attempted murder in 2013 and was taken into custody by ICE after his release from prison earlier this year. ICE had refused to release Ahn on bond after multiple appeals from family and attorneys since the time he was taken into custody in February.
Given his age  and health condition [diabetic], there seems little reason to have kept him detained. His crime made him deportable, but he had already served his sentence. If he were a U.S. citizen, he would simply have been sent home. Had he been permitted bond and allowed to wait for his hearing with family members, he would still be alive.
Ahn’s last appeal for bond was on May 13 and was denied. On May 17 he was found hanging in his cell, an apparent suicide.
June Lee, director of the Korean Community Center of the East Bay wrote: “Mr. Ahn already served his time fully for his former convictions. He spent eight years at Solano State Prison in Vacaville. He earned his release, and was deemed safe to be reunited with family. Instead, ICE transferred him to the immigration detention facility in Bakersfield for deportation proceedings. ICE not only detained him, exposing a medically vulnerable old man to horrible risk of COVID19, but refused to release him 3 times, confiscating his right to see his family for good. A most meaningful way to honor Mr. Ahn’s life is to ensure no more inhumane death in ICE and its facilities [emphasis added].”
Óscar López Acosta from Honduras, died May 17, 2020, shortly after release from Morrow County Jail. COVID-19
Óscar López Acosta had been charged for irregular re-entry, after crossing the border following being deportations in 2009 and again in 2012. Though facing a federal conviction, Óscar fought the charge and was held in pre-trial detention for months. In May of 2019, he was released from federal prison after a judge sentenced him to time served for the re-entry charge. Rather than get released, however, he was transferred back into ICE custody, where he remained for another year.
On April 24 of this year, after it was confirmed that another person detained with him (and dozens of other people) had tested positive for COVID-19, he was released from Morrow County Jail. Oscar himself tested positive on May 3, and died of complications from the disease on May 17. He should have never been detained. Óscar López Acosta also had diabetes, and ICE knew this. During his trial for irregular re-entry in January of 2019, he went into diabetic shock after jailers forgot to give him his insulin injection. There was no purpose to his detention to begin with, and given his risk factors, he should have certainly been released much sooner.
ICE does not recognize Acosta’s death as a “detainee death” and most media outlets except for Mother Jones, have not reported on his death in relation to ICE detention. I am including him in my count because it seems clear he was infected with COVID-19 while in ICE custody and that he would be alive today if not for an unnecessary year spent in detention.
Santiago Baten-Oxlaj from Guatemala, died May 24, 2020 after detention at Stewart Detention Center. COVID-19
Santiago Baten-Oxla had been in the United States since 2005 without papers. He had no record until an arrest for driving under the influence earlier this year. On February 19 he was sentenced to 48 hours in jail and a year of probation. On March 2, ICE arrested Baten while he was checking in at a probation office in Marietta, Georgia. He was taken into custody and placed at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA. His intake form documents a history of diabetes. On March 26, an immigration judge granted him voluntary departure. He was supposed to leave the country “on or before” April 27.
Baten was then exposed to COVID-19 in mid-April – when someone in his cohort tested positive. Baten remained with his cohort, despite showing symptoms and his documented history of diabetes, for 5 more days. His health continued to decline. He was finally transferred to Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital on April 18, where he was formally diagnosed with COVID-19. He remained hospitalized until his death, spending the last few days of his life in intensive care. He was 34 years old, married and had three children.
Onoval Perez-Montufa from Mexico, died July 13, 2020 Glades County Detention Center COVID-19
Onoval Perez-Montufa was arrested on cocaine possession charges in 2007. He was tried and sentenced the following year to 12 years in federal prison. Upon his release from prison on June 15, 2020, Perez was immediately taken into ICE custody and detained pending removal proceedings.
Perez’s intake form indicated that he had a history of diabetes. He was initially held at the Krome Service Processing Center, and then transferred to Glades County Detention Center on June 24. Krome has been the source of multiple infections. Just a few weeks before Perez was held here a federal judge announced that 350 people had been exposed to COVID-19 and were in quarantine after eight staff members had tested positive. By mid-July there were 91 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Krome, which one attorney described as a “COVID-19 petri dish.” Transfers from Krome have spread COVID-19 throughout the country – including possibly Farmville, which has an infection rate of over 80% now. This was the situation Perez was placed in.
Within a week of his transfer from Krome to Glades, Perez was showing COVID-19 symptoms and tested positive on July 2, 2020. In another week he was intubated, and remained on a ventilator until he was pronounced dead on July 12. Perez was 51 years old, married and had three children.
Louis Sanchez Perez from Guatemala, died July 15 after detention at Catahoula Correctional Center, Monroe, LA
Louis Sanchez Perez originally came to the United States in 1998 and was arrested by Border Patrol. He was sent back to Guatemala shortly after. He entered the U.S. again, and was removed following an arrest for a driving violation. He entered the system again after an arrest for drunk driving in Tennessee earlier this year. On January 29, 2020 ICE took custody of Sanchez and transferred him to Etowah County Jail.
Despite the risks associated with moving detainees from facility to facility in the current context, Perez would be transferred three more times. On February 6 he was transferred to the LaSalle ICE Processing Center. The next day he was transferred to the Winn Correctional Center. While at Winn Sanchez got sick. His in-take forms indicated a history of diabetes and hypertension. Within days he was exhibiting high blood pressure, which was treated and he appeared to stabilize. On February 21 he reported having trouble sleeping and difficulty breathing. On February 26 he was transferred again, this time to the Catahoula Correctional Center. That day he ended up in the hospital showing signs of pneumonia and never came out.
On June 9, Sanchez’s “cardiac monitor showed bradycardia (slow heart rate), and [he] presented with a faint pulse and respiratory difficulty, requiring subsequent transfer to the ICU and ventilatory assistance.” He was in ICU until his death on July 15. Despite these symptoms, there is no indication in his report that he was ever given a COVID-19 test. Rather, hospital staff ruled the preliminary cause of death to be “septic shock leading to cardiopulmonary arrest.” Louis Sanchez Perez was married and had one child. He was 46 years old.
Kuan Hai Lee from Taiwan, died August 6, 2020 after detention at Krome Service Processing Center, Miami, FL.
Kuan Hai Lee was incarcerated after being picked up by Border Patrol on January 23. He was found to have entered the country legally in 2004, but had overstayed his visa. On July 31 staff at the Krome Service Processing Center found Lee on the floor. He was taken to Kendall Hospital, where he remained until his death. The cause of death is listed by ICE as “massive intercranial [sic] hemorrhage.” There is very little information about Lee’s case available at this time. ICE has not yet released a detainee death report.
James Thomas Hill from Canada, died August 6, 2020 after detention at ICA-Farmville, Virginia. COVID-19.
Farmville currently has the highest COVID-19 infection rate among ICE’s facilities. At this point, almost everyone at Farmville is COVID-19 positive. The explosion of cases here happened following transfers from facilities with high exposure rates in Florida and Arizona in June.
On James Hill’s death, which is too recent for official review, I simply quote from the La Colective/Sanctuary DMV press release: We mourn the loss of James Hill, a 72-year-old man who died of COVID-19 after contracting the disease while detained at the Farmville detention center, operated by the private prison company Immigration Centers of America (ICA). Despite being high-risk of death from COVID-19 due to his age, James Hill had been detained at ICA-Farmville between April and July of this year, as the global pandemic spread like wildfire in ICE facilities across the country. He was supposed to return home to Canada on July 9th, but fell ill and was hospitalized days before his flight. On Wednesday night, he lost his fight against COVID and became the 17th person to die in ICE custody this fiscal year.
James Hill’s death was entirely preventable. He, along with nearly 90% of the detained population at Farmville, contracted COVID after ICE transferred 74 people from Florida and Arizona into ICA-Farmville in June. 51 of those 74 people later tested positive for COVID-19, and, shortly after the transfer, the entire facility became overwhelmed with COVID. Mr. Hill also suffered aggravated COVID symptoms after ICA-Farmville guards used pepper spray against people protesting the facility’s abysmal response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Jose Guillen-Vega from Costa Rica, died August 10, 2020 after detention at Stewart Detention Center (CoreCivic). COVID-19
There is very little available about Guillen-Vega’s case other than what is in the ICE press release confirming his passing from complications related to COVID-19: “Guillen-Vega entered the United States in El Paso, Texas, in 1999 with authorization to remain until 2000. He stayed beyond that date and was later convicted of statutory rape and taking indecent liberties with a child in in Lincolnton, N.C., before being sentenced to 20 years in prison. ICE took custody of him on July 10 following his release from a North Carolina prison and transported him to Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga., five days later.”
His death from COVID-19 after detention at Stewart underscores ongoing concerns about Stewart Detention Center. Stewart has been the source of a years-long campaign to shutter the facility over its lack of adequate health services – in “normal” times – and patterns of abusive behavior. Guillen-Vega is the second person to die from COVID-19 at Stewart since May.
Fernando Sabonger-Garcia from Honduras died August 28, 2020 at the Joe Corley Processing Center in Conroe, Texas
According to ICE, Sabonger-Garcia had been in custody since July 7, after being transferred from the U.S. Marshal Services. He was first detained in July of 2019 after entering near Brownsville, TX. Though not specified, he seems to have been charged with irregular entry and held for a year in federal custody before being transferred to ICE. He became ill soon after his transfer and died from complications related to COVID-19 on August 28.
Cipriano Chavez-Alvarez from Mexico. Died September 21, 2020.Stewart Detention Center, Lumpkin, GA.
Chavez-Alvarez was a 61 year-old immigrant from Mexico. In 1993 he was sentenced to life in a federal prison following conviction for possession of cocaine with intent to sell. The heavy sentence was the result of this being his third federal drug conviction. In July of this year a federal judge ordered Chavez Alvarez released from federal prison. At that point he had served 27 years for the possession charge, and was sick. He had lymphoma, diabetes, kidney disease, and hypertension. The judge, Neil Wake, ordered him released from prison because he had a “chronic illness from which he is not expected to recover and the defendant’s ability to provide self-care against serious injury or death as a result of COVID-19 is substantially diminished, within the environment of a correctional facility, by the chronic condition itself.” Chavez-Alvarez was released from federal prison and immediately taken into ICE custody.
Stewart Detention Center is certainly characterized as the “environment of a correctional facility,” and so by the judge’s very description of the risk to Chavez-Alvarez, keeping him in detention was putting his life at risk. Within six weeks of being transferred to Stewart he became the 21st person to die this year in ICE custody, the 8th person to die with COVID, and the third person to die of COVID at Stewart.
On July 22, a federal court in Canada declared that sending refugees back to the United States violates those refugees’ fundamental rights: “The Court found that sending refugee claimants back to the U.S. violates their Charter right to liberty and security of the person because many of them are arbitrarily detained in the US in immigration detention centres or county jails, often in atrocious conditions and in clear contravention of international standards.”
At stake in this ruling was a “safe third country” agreement between the United States and Canada, through which people entering Canada from the United States seeking asylum could be sent back to the United States as a “safe-third country.” The court declared that the United States was not, in fact, safe; and thus sending refugees back to the United States violated their rights. Canada’s government has 6-months to withdraw from the agreement with the United States.
It is not really news that the United States has become a country unsafe for immigrants, particularly those who end up in immigration detention centers. But it is definitely newsworthy that a Canadian court has spoken out. Will it matter in the long run?
The problems with these facilities have been well documented for years. They include the abuse of solitary confinement, often employed as punishment, including for periods extending past the three-day limit, beyond which the tactic has been declared a form of torture. People in detention have insufficient access to medical services, including mental health services. Such services are almost uniformly supplied through private contractors who have been repeatedly shown to be more concerned with the bottom line than providing adequate care. Facilities are unsanitary, often overcrowded, and thus, at high risk for the rapid transmission of communicable diseases. Beyond these conditions, which are consistent with those found throughout the United States’ carceral network of jails and prisons, is the simple fact that detention is an unnecessary, and typically arbitrary response to people who have, in most cases, violated no law. Seeking asylum, for example, is legal no matter how one arrives within the country.
The United States’ response to COVID-19 has only magnified these long-observed, structural deficiencies. Within Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s network of detention facilities, there has been little change in operations since the pandemic was declared. People are routinely transferred between facilities – a primary means of spreading the disease. Within facilities, overcrowding and inadequate sanitation remain a serious problem, and poor quality healthcare is an obvious hurdle to treatment. That ICE has simply continued with the same standards of “care” is not surprising, however, the result is a pandemic within ICE detention facilities.
According to official numbers, as of July 28 (they change daily), 3,868 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since February. Of these, 963 people are still in custody. The number of people currently in detention facilities is 22,067. That is an infection rate of 4.4%. However, a majority of people currently in custody have not been tested. More than 68,000 have been “booked-in” to an ICE facility since February – and at the beginning of February there were nearly 40,000 people already in custody. So, of the 100,000 people that have cycled in and out of these facilities since February, only 19,092 have been tested. Which is to say, an overall 4.4% infection rate among current detainees is incredibly high, and yet, certainly a serious undercount.
Of course, the distribution of COVID-19 is not even. There are facilities that are at crisis levels of infection. The worst is Farmville in Virginia, where 80% of the people being held have tested positive for COVID-19. Four people currently being held have sued ICE and the detention facility itself, noting
“[H]arrowing conditions inside the detention center, with large numbers of people exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 yet not being provided the most basic medical care. The plaintiffs have also been served expired, uncooked, or undercooked food and food infested with bugs. They claim that ICE and ICA-Farmville’s actions not only violate the Consttution but also violate ICE’s own standards for providing medical treatment and food services to detained people.”
To be clear, this is no act of nature beyond the control of authorities. “ICE transferred 74 people, 51 of whom had COVID-19, from facilities with known COVID-19 cases in Arizona and Florida into ICA-Farmville in June.” ICE’s carelessness is putting the lives of the people in Farmville at risk.
ICE’s lax standards have also impacted staff. At the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, 128 people, or 41% of the total staff at the facility, tested positive three weeks ago. ICE doesn’t even report staff’s infections anymore on their website (there is a number  but it has not changed in weeks) and when they report, it is only ICE in-house staff – not private contractors working for ICE such as the people at Eloy.
Families and children held in ICE custody are also in crisis. COVID-19 is present in the two main ICE family detention facilities, Dilley and Karnes, both in Texas. A federal judge ordered ICE to release all of the children in its custody. However, the judge had no authority over the parents. ICE is refusing to release the parents and the parents have refused to be separated from the children. As a result, the judge was forced to declare the previous ruling unenforceable on Monday. The Trump administration is also engaged in summary expulsions at the U.S./Mexico border – over 69,000 people have been expelled since mid-March! This includes children and families, some of whom have been hidden away in hotels until they can be deported, and thus denied access to any due process.
Let’s face it, as the ruling in Canada underscores, the United States is a rogue state. While many other countries are engaged in various abuses against migrants, the United States really does stand out as exceptional, with the largest detention infrastructure in the world and a series of policies that have decimated the asylum process and destroyed tens of thousands of lives in the process. What to do about this? Join with us and other members of the Detention Watch Network in creating a resounding call to free everyone in detention – for public health and humanitarian reasons. On the legislative side, join us in calling on members of Congress to vote for the Immigration Enforcement Moratorium Act. Together we can continue to organize a voice of moral opposition to violent detention practices and save lives in the process.
On social media several weeks ago, I read, with no small alarm, the hysterical rants of the great protectors of our cultural patrimony, upon the defacement of the sculpture of Cervantes in a San Francisco park. Clutching my pearls, I wondered what had become of our way of life. Digging deeper, I learned that the two statues facing Cervantes were also “desecrated” with spray paint. These statues, of course, represent Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Our founders at the Quixote Center took the name of this fictional nobleman because he embodied a quest for living according to lofty, if sometimes ludicrous, ideals. His squire, Sancho, has shared a name with our computer system at the Center, lo, these last 40 years.
On the night of June 19, 2020, when statues including Junipero Serra and Francis Scott Key were toppled in Golden Gate Park, red paint was sprayed on the eyes of the bust of Cervantes and his creations, and the word “bastard” on the pedestal for the bust, as well as red crosshairs on the backs of our beloved knight and his faithful Sancho.
Some folks – not least a bystander named “Howard” – were upset. As covered by the local CBS affiliate: “‘Don Quixote and Sancho Panza — and for what?’ asked a frustrated Howard, watching the graffiti removal from John F. Kennedy Drive. ‘It’s very sad. It makes me feel it’s totally out of hand and it has nothing to do with civil rights.’” He further lamented that the police just “let them do it.” A blogger stated that the protesters were Antifa.
I don’t know about the truth of this claim. I don’t know anything about the beliefs of the person whose hand held the can of spray paint. I don’t really think either of these guys does either, although Howard may have seen something. He certainly seems to think this was somehow unfair.
Maybe it was. Or maybe it was done by people frustrated that fictional characters got a monument, showing more honor for their imaginary lives than those of flesh and blood people.
The Judeo-Christian tradition has a word or two on the subject of graven images. Some have pointed to the story in Exodus when Moses called out the worship of a golden calf. But a more instructive case for our current moment may come from a different tale. In Numbers (21:4-9), Moses is divinely instructed to fashion a bronze serpent to protect the Israelites from the bites of serpents. After many generations have passed, however, this same sculpture – the Nehushtan, or “brazen serpent” – resurfaces in 2 Kings (18:4). By then it had become an object of worship in itself, contemptible because it is just a thing, not worthy of worship, so Hezekiah destroys this remnant of the past.
Anyone who considers a statue or even a big box store worthy of an impassioned defense – while also allowing that some people may simply deserve to die – is an idolater, according greater value to a physical and aesthetic object than to a being endowed with senses, feelings, and life. Yet it seems every generation must learn anew the lesson that we can still treasure the wrong things, and often we do.
Statues are worth something, to be sure, and not just in financial terms. Like so much art, a statue is often understood to embody ideas and ideals and other qualities that go beyond observable features and tell us something about the age, context, or emotional life of the artist and the moment in which they were created.
But whatever statues may be worth, tangibly or intangibly, statues have no affective life to call their own. Statues – apart from, perhaps, the mythological Galatea (not to be confused with Cervantes’s novel of the same name) – cannot feel pain, know longing, suffer. A statue can be toppled or sent to the depths of the sea, but it cannot drown. It cannot have the life crushed out of it, because it has no life. When people’s lives are threatened by violence – be it state-sponsored or systemic or personal – prioritizing statues over people is indefensible.
Just because statues do not deserve saviors does not mean they are of no consequence. Centering public art that celebrates and memorializes the lives of oppressors is not an accident and it is not harmless. It has a long history and is a legitimate site of debate and activism. Symbols of past and present violence and oppression do real harm by celebrating historical misdeeds as if they were heroic exploits; and it is fair game for protesters to address these harms.
The work of toppling statues can help to correct a narrative that has afforded access to privileged places on pedestals to oppressors while actively suppressing the stories of those who struggled and survived against their sinister designs.
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” tugs irresistibly at my mind. In it, the statue of a monarch lies in pieces, with the head fallen to the ground and words carved into a pedestal reading, “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” This ironic twist rewrites the narrative of a king who thought that nothing could humble him, but time and even the artist’s rendering, have betrayed this belief. History has triumphed over his “sneer of cold command.”
Racial justice demands attention to telling a fuller, and hence more truthful, story. Recently, the narrative of J. Marion Sims has been rewritten with this understanding. Sometimes revered as the “father of gynecology,” his experimental method of using live enslaved human subjects without anesthesia to test his hypotheses has led to much justified criticism. Telling this story now is important work. Relocating his statue from Central Park to the cemetery where he is buried makes him just one statue among many in a place where all sorts of people are remembered – without necessarily being honored. This more suitable placement gives new meaning to the words of early 20th century labor activist Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” Moreover, a plaque offers context and names Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsey, three of the Black women who were subjects in his research, adding their names to the historical record.
Returning to our namesake, in the last chapter of the first volume of Don Quixote, the knight errant comes upon a group of penitents garbed in white and carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary. Our hapless hero decides he must rescue this helpless icon from her captors. In his zeal to deliver the damsel in distress, Don Quixote ends up getting knocked to the ground. While he lives to have more tales of derring-do, his attempt to rescue a statue is a tale of tomfoolery. This episode suggests that Cervantes would have laughed at the notion of people trying to come to the aid of an inert statue featuring his visage (or even that of a certain European slaveholder).
So, if you thought the folks at the Quixote Center would be offended by a little paint added to some literary statuary, you don’t know us very well. We maintain that people who work for justice in the world may be laughed at sometimes, but that the work is worthwhile anyway. While we take our causes seriously, we try not to take ourselves too seriously.
We prefer to focus on today’s work – standing with movements for justice – so that the narrative of tomorrow can lift up new heroes who stand with the oppressed people of history and work for our collective liberation.
The comment period to protest the proposed changes to the US Asylum laws closes Wednesday July 15, 2020.
Speak out now!
To learn more about the proposed changes and what you can do to speak up against them please visit the Bay Area Border Relief page.
The Franciscan Network on Migration provides support to migrants traveling through Central America and Mexico. The network includes dozens of shelters and soup kitchens in the region. The shelters that we are working with most directly are the Frontera Digna in Piedras Negras, La 72 in Tenosique, and the Casa y Comedor San Francisco de Asís in Mazatlán, pictured below.
In Mazatlán, the house has been primarily a soup kitchen, or comedor. During periods of high traffic, however, people have been allowed to sleep in the corridors and courtyard at the church that is providing support. Thanks to the donation of a new facility, and support from donors helping to fund renovations, there will be a full service shelter in the coming months – though not likely to open until after the current health crisis has abated.
The photographs below show friars in Mazatlán providing meals this week – as they have for years. But, for now, they must offer bags “to go,” as sit-down meals are not possible because due to pandemic health considerations.
The Quixote Center is the fiscal sponsor for the Franciscan Network on Migration within the United States.
The Supreme Court ruling against the Trump administration’s effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) has been well covered in the news. DACA offered protection from removal for “dreamers,” or people who arrived in this country as children but who are unauthorized. The ruling allows DACA to stand as policy, though there may well be further efforts to halt the program. The future of the policy largely lies with the upcoming election.
In addition to this landmark ruling there have been three other recent decisions to note.
I. Children in Custody
In the first case, a federal judge ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release all of the children in its custody due to concerns about exposure to COVID-19. A huge victory, at least on the surface. The judge did not specify that parents must also be released. If ICE insists on holding parents, this could set up another family separation crisis.
Immigrant children are held by the U.S. government through several agencies. Customs and Border Protection may hold unaccompanied children and families with children, usually for 72 hours or less, before making a determination to deport, release or transfer them. Currently, almost everybody picked up by CBP, including unaccompanied minors, are being deported immediately with almost no processing and no opportunity to seek asylum.
Unaccompanied children, at least prior to the border closure in March, were typically transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, where they would be detained until a family member or community sponsor could be located. There are just over 1,000 children in ORR custody right now, a very small number by recent standards – mostly because new arrivals are simply being deported.
Families with children, at least those that are able to remain together, are typically transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which detains families in one of three facilities (two in Texas, one in Pennsylvania). These children are the focus of the judge’s order: “Citing recently reported coronavirus cases among detained families, as well as allegedly lax masking and social distancing enforcement at two family detention facilities in Texas, U.S. Judge Dolly Gee ordered ICE to release all minors who have been held for more than 20 days.”
The catch is that Gee does not have the authority to mandate the release of parents – her authority is directly tied to oversight of the Flores Settlement agreement that provides guidance for the treatment of children in custody. The choice is that ICE must either release the parents as well, or separate the families by placing children with community sponsors or other family members. Unless pressed to do otherwise, ICE will almost certainly try to continue detaining the parents – which means separating children from parents yet again.
Members of Congress issued a letter to the Department of Homeland Security and ICE leadership asking that families be released together.
“Family separation should never be this country’s policy. Medical organizations have long stated that the practice creates extraordinary harm to children,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Matthew Albence. “Detention of children for any amount of time, even with their parents, causes physical harm and irreparable trauma.”
ICE has until July 17 to release all of the children in custody. Take a moment to sign our petition demanding that families be released together.Sign the Petition!
II. Public Health Service Act
The next case involved a direct challenge to the administration’s authority to summarily expel children and asylum seekers under a Center of Disease Control policy that Trump has used to essentially shut the border down to everyone – including refugees and unaccompanied children. The ACLU, Oxfam and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies sued on behalf of a 16 year-old boy from Honduras and his father. From the ACLU’s release on the judges initial ruling in favor of the child:
A federal court has once again provisionally blocked the deportation of a Honduran boy in the first legal challenge to the Trump administration’s order restricting immigration at the border based on an unprecedented and unlawful invocation of the Public Health Service Act, located in Title 42 of the U.S. Code…
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols issued a ruling from the bench today prohibiting the removal of the boy under Title 42 protocols as the lawsuit continues. The judge agreed with the plaintiff’s central argument that the CDC had likely exceeded its authority in ordering the expulsion of children and asylum seekers under the public health laws. (emphasis added).
This case may establish the necessary precedent to bring an end to Trump’s border expulsions policy, which has so far led to over 40,000 people removed at the border without any due process. Though the ruling this week does not by itself do that – it is an important first step toward bringing this tragedy to an end.
III. Transit Ban
Finally, a court ruling on Tuesday will end – for the time being – the Trump administration’s efforts to close off asylum to anyone who transits a third country prior to reaching the U.S. border. The so-called “transit ban” had effectively ended asylum for anyone arriving at the U.S./Mexico border who was not a Mexican national. The transit ban was clearly intended to target Central American refugees, but ultimately impacted refugees from all over the world who travel through several countries in Latin America before arriving at the U.S. border.
The case was brought by the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, and was focused on the administration’s violation of rule-making procedures and public notification requirements related to the transit-ban. The merits of the policy itself are also under judicial review in a separate case. In a communication to coalition partners, CAIR’s litigation director, Claudia Cubas, wrote:
In CAIR Coalition v Trump, Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee sitting on the federal bench in D.C., just vacated the third-country transit rule (the Administration’s asylum ban II barring asylum seekers who passed through third countries en route to the US without seeking asylum in other countries) in its entirety, based on the government’s failure to follow APA notice-and-comment. The court also declined to stay its decision, so it goes into effect right away.
These rulings are part of larger efforts to restore asylum policies in the United States. Toward that end, we encourage everyone to take part in Virtual Asylum Advocacy Days on July 14-16. The Asylum Working Group and Interfaith Immigration Coalition are organizing virtual legislative visits with your members of Congress. There will be a virtual training session to help prepare in advance. You can sign up here.
On Monday, June 15 bulldozers razed the community of Shada II in Cap-Haitien, along Haiti’s northern coast. Close to 1,500 families lost their homes as a result. Apparently none were notified in advance of the destruction, nor were any compensated for the loss. This inexplicable act was officially carried out in retaliation for a gang assault that left a police officer and five other people dead days before – but this is either not at all true, or, at best, a very partial explanation. The largest gang in Shada is assumed to be politically aligned, and thus this may well have been in part retaliation. However, that hardly suffices as an explanation for putting 1,500 families out of their homes in the midst of a pandemic.
The organization SOIL has been working in Shada II since 2004 issued a statement about the demolition (full statement here):
At this critical moment in global history, when the world is grappling with the combined public health emergencies of COVID-19 and systemic racism, we feel it is critical that we call attention to human rights issues that impact the communities we serve. There are many unanswered questions about what happened in Shada II last week, and we urge human rights groups to investigate. At the same time, SOIL stands in solidarity with the thousands of innocent people who lost their homes and belongings, and we recommit our organization to sustained social change. True change demands that all stakeholders come to the table to shine a light on the injustices suffered by vulnerable communities caught in the crosshairs of larger political, economic, and social forces, particularly at a moment when the world is facing an unprecedented crisis that calls for compassionate ingenuity and proactive support to those most at risk.
We will continue to report on this as more details unfold and the community regroups to decide what comes next.
Toto Constant is Back in Haiti
Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was deported from the United States to Haiti on Tuesday, June 23. Constant is the former leader of the FRAPH, a notorious paramilitary organization responsible for the deaths of thousands of people while the country was under military rule following the coup against Aristide in 1991. Constant fled to the United States when Aristide was reinstated in 1995 where he remained until this week. Meanwhile, in Haiti, Constant was convicted in 2000 in absentia for his involvement in the massacre at Raboteau. Despite the conviction, Constant was allowed to remain in the United States. Early efforts to remove him stalled, and most assume he was being protected as a former CIA asset. However, he was later convicted of real estate fraud in New York and imprisoned. For many the hope was he would remain in prison.
After serving 12 years of a 37 year sentence, Constant was released from prison and immediately taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Reports that Constant was to be deported emerged in early May. Over the course of several weeks ICE would put Constant on a flight manifest, to later remove him. Constant was finally deported this Tuesday. What does this mean?
Constant was arrested upon his arrival under the 2000 conviction which still stands. However, Constant is entitled to a new trial. Brian Concannon and Mario Joseph (both of whom were involved in landmark human rights trials in the late 1990s that led to the 2000 conviction of Constant and others) published an op-ed in the Miami Herald that explains what is at stake.
A credible prosecution of Constant must respect both his rights and those of the Raboteau Massacre’s victims, who have official status in the case under Haiti’s “civil party” system. The victims are entitled to a robust prosecution that presents all the available evidence, as well as the right to notice of hearings, to participate in some of them and to appeal rulings that infringe on their rights. The original Raboteau trial is a good benchmark: It included expert testimony from international forensic and military experts, documents from the military archives and extensive victim and witness testimony.
The passage of time since Constant’s crimes in Haiti does not prevent his prosecution. His death squad’s murder and torture of civilians were both widespread and systematic, placing them squarely within the definition of crimes against humanity, so the statute of limitations cannot apply. Constant was convicted under a command responsibility theory, and the evidence was mostly documents, which are as credible as ever.
For now, the hope is that Constant remains in custody. He has many former political allies in positions of power under the current government -and should he be released, could wreak havoc. The U.S. has a role here. In 2000 the Clinton administration stalled releasing documents related to FRAPH activity that had been taken by US forces from FRAPH headquarters in 1995 during the operation to reinstate Aristide. Once documents were released they were heavily redacted. The U.S. must support requests for evidence this time around.
Deportation flights continue…for now
As indicated by Toto Constant’s arrival in Haiti, deportation flights are continuing. We encourage everyone to continue to reach out to members of Congress and press for an end to these flights.
If you have not done so yet, you can send a message to your member of the House and ask them to support legislation to end deportations to Haiti. The Haiti Deportation Relief Act was introduced by Frederica Wilson and has the support of committee and subcommittee chairs on the Foreign Relations committee – which means it could get a hearing, committee vote and make it to the floor of the House if people show enough support. It clearly will have a hard time moving in the Senate – but we must press when and where we can!
In addition, the Quixote Center’s Executive Director, John Marchese, was one of 360+ human rights activists and other notables to sign a letter that was sent to the Department of Homeland Security and State Department, including the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, last week. The letter was organized by the Haitian Bridge Alliance. You can read that here. You can also then print this letter, and send it with a message to your members of Congress to end deportation flights! Find their address here.
One of the most obvious ways in which ICE continues to thumb its bureaucratic nose at decency and common sense is their policy of continuing deportations amidst a global pandemic. Based on information from public flight tracking websites, the Center for Economic and Policy Research has identified 330 likely deportation flights to Latin America and the Caribbean since February 3, 2020. There were three flights yesterday – two to Mexico, one to the Dominican Republic.
We know that these flights have sent people who tested positive for COVID-19 to Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador, Jamaica, India and Haiti. Likely, people with the virus have been deported to most other places these planes fly. At this point it would be nearly impossible to assemble a flight where no one had been exposed, as coronavirus is now present throughout the ICE detention network. The testing regime is insufficient. ICE does not test everyone before they board a deportation flight, and those who are tested are given a 15-minute, “rapid test” that has been demonstrated to have a high false negative rate.
The chorus of people who have asked these flights to be halted is significant: Editorial boards, members of Congress and nearly every non-governmental organization working on immigration policy or in a country impacted by these flights. For more background on these flights and the problems associated with them you can read our reporting on this blog, Jack Johnson’s research article on the CEPR blog, or Daniella Burgi-Palomino’s opinion piece on Truthout here.
The latest effort demanding a halt to these flights is a letter to State Department officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, organized by the Haitian Bridge Alliance. This letter is demanding that deportation flights to Haiti in particular be halted throughout the duration of the current health crisis. The letter was released today. From the Haitian Bridge Alliance press release:
Today Ibram X Kendi, Danny Glover, Edwidge Danticat, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Opal Tometi, Guerline Jozef, Dr. Barbara Ransby PhD, Randall Robinson, Jackson Browne, and Rainn Wilson, along with 359 other prominent human rights, humanitarian and racial justice leaders signed a letter urging the United States to immediately halt deportations to Haiti during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Michele Sison, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf states: “Deportations export COVID-19 throughout the region and put countless lives at risk….The capacity of Haiti’s health system to respond to COVID-19 cases is already at its limit,” and a spike of infections could “destroy an already weak economy and exacerbate political instability.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has sent six deportation flights to Haiti since March 18, despite the serious risk of infection to deportees and transmission upon arrival. At least eight deportees who had tested positive for COVID-19 by ICE were deported to Haiti on May 26. One of them complained of symptoms the night before he was deported. Given the severe limitations on the availability of COVID testing and the unreliability of test results, “there is simply no safe way to deport persons.”
ICE told the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 2, 2020, that it does not test all detainees before deporting them. The letter notes that of the 30 Haitians deported on May 26, 14 were not tested before deportation, and the other 16 were tested with the “15 minute test” which the Food and Drug Administration considers unreliable because it gives “false negatives.” The lack of reliable testing violates explicit promises given by the United States to Haiti that it would test all deportees within 72 hours of their departure.
What can you do….
Frederica Wilson has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to halt all deportations to Haiti until the health crisis in both countries is over. You can click on the button below send a message asking your member of Congress to co-sponsor this legislation.Take Action