Daily Dispatch 7/22/2019

Trump is not going after criminals

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Daily Dispatch

July 22, 2019


When Trump announced that his administration would begin deporting “millions” of immigrants earlier this month, he defended this as an action targeting criminals:

“We’re really looking for criminals as much as we can. Trying to find the criminal population, which has been coming into this country the last 10 years,” Trump told reporters as he prepared to depart Washington. He touted his administration’s removal of members of the violent gang MS-13, claiming he’d deported them “by the thousands.”

In doing so, Trump was elevating a theme he has focused on since the early days of his campaign. His administration would focus on the “bad hombres,” the “rapists and murderers” coming through Mexico to threaten U.S. American lives and livelihoods. His administration established a hotline for people to report if they had been victims of a crime involving a “nexus with immigration.” The hotline received mostly prank calls during its first year of operation and has been controversial from the start:

Douglas Rivlin, a spokesman for the immigrant advocacy group America’s Voice, said the hotline was set up because Trump “wanted to be able to say he was addressing the fictitious immigrant crime-wave he has conjured from his anti-immigrant fever dreams.”

The rhetorical focus on criminality is intended to both garner fear and legitimate expanded enforcement operations as his administration has set record highs in the number of people detained – though he still lags behind Obama’s administration in actual deportations. It also plays into the policy at the border where administration officials repeatedly claim asylum seekers are mostly just gaming the system.

In reality Trump’s administration has deemphasized criminal activity as the basis for removal proceedings in immigrant courts more than any administration. In the current fiscal year, DHS has only sought removal based on a criminal act in 2.8 percent of all immigration court filings. That is an extraordinary drop from the 25 percent of cases in 1999, or even the 16 percent of cases in 2009. In some courts, the numbers hover around 0.1 percent – or one in a thousand cases. In Houston, the second busiest immigration court in the country, the number of criminal removal cases was the lowest, five out of 15,063 cases heard, or 0.033 percent.

The decline in the rate is not simply a function of more arrests – the actual number of filings is also way down:

Despite the rising number of ICE interior arrests and individuals who are detained, fewer and fewer immigrants in the Immigration Court’s growing workload are being cited as deportable based upon criminal activity. During the first nine months of FY 2019 only 7,458 cases have been lodged by DHS citing criminal activity as a basis for seeking the removal order. If this same pace continues for the remaining three months of the year, the total is still unlikely to reach 10,000. A decade or more ago immigrants with criminal records or alleged criminal activity involved 30,000 to 40,000 court filings each year.

There is a tremendous amount of variability in the courts. Though, as explained by TRAC, even courts that are based in detention facilities, are at record lows of criminal removal proceedings: 

Not surprisingly given standards for mandatory detention, Immigration Courts hearing cases at ICE detention facilities often have higher proportions of individuals where DHS cites alleged criminal activity as a basis for seeking removal. But even here immigrants make up a small minority of the court’s docket. For example in Tacoma, Washington which handles cases at the Northwest Detention Center only one in ten cases (10.3) this year cite criminal activity as a basis for seeking the immigrant’s removal. At Miami-Krome, the proportion rises to one out of eight (12.1%). Higher proportions, however, are observed at two Immigration Courts – York and Napanoch – which hear cases at prisons involving immigrants who have been convicted of crimes for which they are serving prison terms.

The focus on immigrant criminality as a means to justify expanded enforcement operations is not new with this administration. Obama also shifted his focus to criminal removals, and despite the relatively low numbers during his administration of criminal removal proceedings, he is perceived as having focused his deportation machine on people with criminal records. But Trump has elevated this rhetoric to a fever pitch despite numerous studies that show immigrants commit crime at a lower rate than native born citizens in the U.S. – this includes unauthorized immigrants. The tragedy here is that those who support this administration’s crackdown on immigrants believe the rhetoric of criminality, even though that is not even the real focus for removal proceedings. This administration is seeking to detain and remove anybody they can, breaking up families in the process and destroying thousands of lives.  As with much else they do, the justification is a lie.

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Daily Dispatch 7/19/2019

Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children

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Daily Dispatch

July 19, 2019


Yesterday, 70 Catholic leaders locked arms in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, in an effort to put pressure on Congress and the presidential administration to end the immoral and inhumane practice of detaining immigrant children. The action took place in the Russell Building Rotunda. Though open to everyone, the protest was the first in a series intended to mobilize Catholics in particular to stand up for the rights of immigrants. From the press release of organizers:

The Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children brought together more than 200 Catholic sisters, priests, brothers and lay Catholic advocates representing nearly 20 national organizations who sang, prayed, and chanted as they demanded an end to the immoral and inhumane practice of detaining immigrant children. This action is the beginning of a campaign in which Catholic leaders are increasing their willingness to take significant risks as an act of faithful resistance. Photos here. Video of civil disobedience here.

Earlier on the Capitol Lawn, Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious; Fr. Joe Nangle, former Co-Director of Franciscan Mission Service, and Sr. Gayle Lwanga Crumbley, RGS, were among the leaders who addressed the gathering before moving in to the Senate building. Excerpts from their remarks can be found here: 

Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious: 

“Catholic sisters have a long history with immigrant communities. We have seen the pain, suffering, fear, and trauma firsthand. In recent months, as the humanitarian crisis has escalated, we have joined the tens of thousands who are outraged at the horrific situation at our southern border. Over 1000 Catholic sisters have spent time ministering to those in need and have donated almost $1 million to help support the care of those seeking safety, freedom, security and a better life for their families. We are here today because of our faith. The Gospel commands, and the values of our homeland demand, that we act.”

Fr. Joe Nangle, former Co-Director of Franciscan Mission Service:

“Our country was born in the darkness of what we now call original sin. And we now, some 200 plus years later, had thought that we had begun to overcome these sins. However, in these days, Donald Trump is dragging us back to those evil times, with a combination of irrational fears, hatred of people not like him, and sheer cruelty. What is almost as evil, is so-called Christians support and applaud and enable this descent into a new dark age in America. We are speaking about the evidence for this and these actions today. We are particularly citing the dishumanity taking place, even as we speak, at our southern borders. This is why we call on our millions of fellow Catholic sisters and brothers, particularly our bishops, to join in the struggle for the soul of America.”

Sr. Gayle Lwanga Crumbley, RGS 

“I stand in solidarity with all who seek to better their lives. Psalm 1:27 tells us that children are always a blessing. They are filled with joy and laughter. They are fragile from the very beginning. We have to protect them. The Catholic community has decried the treatment of children on our southern border, not only as a violation of human dignity and rights, but also contrary to religious teachings and the sacred call to care for people who are most at risk, especially children.”

Other participants issued the following statements:

Patrick Carolan, Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network:

“We are here today because of these 8 children who died either in custody or trying to seek asylum. They are children of God. They are your brothers and sisters, your neighbor.”

Eli McCarthy, PhD, Director of Justice and Peace at Conference of Major Superiors of Men: 

“Today’s action was focused on increasing the visibility of Catholics willing to take more risks to significantly improve treatment of children and end child detention. We see the urgent inhumanity and injustice. We are challenged by our faith to enter more deeply into solidarity, inspire others to take on more risks, to increasingly non-cooperate with injustice, and to live the Eucharist — being one body, ready to be broken for others. This is only the first phase of a 3-part campaign to end child detention and thus create more political space to challenge family detention and beyond.”

Lawrence E. Couch, director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and a coordinator of the Catholic Day of Action:

“While I dreaded the loss of liberty that I risked with my act of civil disobedience, it is nothing compared to the experiences of our sisters and brothers on the border who live in fear and cruel, inhumane conditions. I was particularly moved this morning by the photographs of the innocent children who died in custody or on their journey to safety. I raise them up in prayer and say ‘no more.'”

Several bishops have sent statements of support for this gathering and civil disobedience action. For full details, click here.

List of Endorsing Organizations

The protest was also covered by ABC News.

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Daily Dispatch 7/18/2019

No one is welcome

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Daily Dispatch

July 18, 2019



U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is the agency tasked with governing authorized immigration, processing applications for citizenship, work visas, and green cards, and also managing some aspects of the asylum application process. USCIS has seen record delays in processing visas, causing much frustration among business leaders and immigrants waiting for renewals of documentation necessary to work in the United States. Processing of naturalization is also delayed

“Over the past few years, we have seen significant increases in processing delays and case backlogs at USCIS. The backlog of citizenship applications nearly doubled from 367,000 in late 2015 to about 740,000 in September 2018. In my district, most applicants for citizenship now must wait at least a year for their application to be processed, and sometimes even 2 years,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

The delays were subject of a Congressional hearing this week. In the context of such delays, the acting head of USCIS, Ken Cuccinelli, is asking his staff to consider volunteering their time with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The email to staffers, sent Wednesday by USCIS deputy Mark Koumans and obtained by BuzzFeed News, asked employees to volunteer for administrative work in ICE field offices across the country, including processing files that are part of a program forcing immigrants seeking asylum to remain in Mexico as their cases are adjudicated, and supporting public document requests.

“Current conditions are placing extreme stress on our colleagues at Immigration and Customs Enforcement … USCIS has agreed to seek USCIS volunteers to provide ICE with support,” Koumans said in his message. “I appreciate your willingness to consider helping our colleagues fulfill the DHS mission.”

A USCIS staff member told Buzzfeed, “I am sure [ICE] needs people to help process paperwork and keep track of people. Of course, if they stopped detaining them, separating families, and sending people back to Mexico, you wouldn’t need help.” 

The full story on this request is on Buzzfeed.

In the context of hearings about USCIS delays, Marketa Lindt, an immigration lawyer and the president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, under cut the idea that there has been a surge in USCIS case loads, leading to delays. She penned an op-ed in The Hill preceding her testimony.

One might think these delays are caused by a surge in immigration to the country. And, in attempting to defend its record of increasing processing times, USCIS attributes its case backlog in significant part to what it characterizes as high application rates and limited resources. However, the data shows that to the contrary, in fiscal 2018 the agency’s application receipt rates significantly declined, its budget grew, and yet its case processing times still increased by 19 percent.

In fact, the evidence shows that it is the agency’s own inefficient policies and procedures that are the key drivers of these delays. For example, USCIS reversed many years of prior practice by instituting a new policy requiring its officers to re-adjudicate extensions of previously processed petitions, even where no facts had changed in the filing. 

We have seen spikes in unnecessary Requests for Evidence — often seeking unnecessary or previously provided information — that freeze case processing and waste USCIS officers’ time and resources. Under a new and unprecedented policy, every employment-based green card applicant now needs to appear for an in-person interview at a local USCIS office, even where USCIS officers themselves deem those interviews unwarranted. And the list goes on. 

So, just to be clear, the Trump administration does not support “legal” immigration. They just can’t do much about it except make it harder – which they are doing. Trump won’t celebrate this the way he does his border crackdown. But the evidence is clear. For example, denial rates for H-IB visas have increased from 6 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in the current quarter – with no change in law!

And, it is worth noting for the millionth time that seeking asylum in the United States is legal – Trump trying to make this impossible at the border is not legal. Seeking refugee status is legal – reducing the refugee cap the way Trump has is within his authority, but highly immoral – and certainly violates the spirit of international agreements the United States has signed onto.

Trump has so distorted the framing of immigration in this country that many people can no longer tell the difference between what is legal, what is not, or see through the specious justifications put forth for this administration’s actions. In Trump’s “America” basically no one is welcome (except maybe Norwegians). Start there and the rest becomes much clearer.

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Daily Dispatch 7/17/2019

White House blows up the asylum process

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Daily Dispatch

July 17, 2019


Image:CNN

Yesterday, a new Department of Homeland Security rule went into effect that denies the right to seek asylum to anyone who travels through a third country before reaching the border. The only exceptions are for those trafficked into the United States or those who first sought asylum in another country, but were denied. The administration says that for those already registered at the border, but currently waiting in Mexico to have their credible fear interview, a first step in seeking asylum, the new rule would not apply. For everyone else, asylum would no longer be an option.

As the rule goes into effect, there is confusion about what this means. Apparently there was little direction given to border agents about how to implement the rule, and so a day in, little has actually changed. The rule was immediately challenged in court.  From NBC News:

The ACLU was joined by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights in the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The suit was filed on behalf of immigrant rights groups — the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Al Otro Lado, Innovation Law Lab and the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles.

“This is the latest — and deeply dangerous — effort by the Trump administration to inflict maximal cruelty on vulnerable people fleeing desperate conditions for safety here,” Baher Azmy, the legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in the statement.

The lawsuit is asking for a declaration “that the interim final rule is unlawful and invalid,” as well as a preliminary and permanent injunction stopping its implementation and enforcement.

Trump’s administration has been working to get an agreement with Mexico as a “safe third country.” Such a designation would require asylum seekers to first request protection in Mexico before attempting to get asylum in the U.S. Mexico’s current administration has made clear they cannot move forward on such an agreement without approval from the legislature, something that may not happen. The administration was also pressing Guatemala’s government to enter into a safe third party agreement – despite the fact that Guatemala is the country many people are fleeing. That effort fell apart over the weekend. From the New Yorker:

On Sunday afternoon, the Guatemalan government issued a statement cancelling a highly anticipated meeting, scheduled for Monday, in Washington, between Jimmy Morales, the President of Guatemala, and Donald Trump. The subject of the meeting was a deal between the two countries that would allow the U.S. government to begin sending asylum seekers to Guatemala under the terms of a so-called safe-third-country agreement. The idea was to outsource part of the American asylum system to Guatemala, despite the fact that many of the Central-American asylum seekers arriving at the U.S. border are Guatemalans fleeing poverty, hunger, and violence in their home country. “Opposition to the deal was widespread in Guatemala,” Lucrecia Hernández Mack, a newly elected member of the Guatemalan congress, told me. “Morales was acting alone.” Over the weekend, the country’s Constitutional Court was considering three separate petitions filed in an attempt to block the deal; on Sunday night, a few hours after Morales cancelled his plans for Washington, citing the pending legal case, the judges issued their ruling: Morales was forbidden from negotiating the deal on his own, without consulting the Guatemalan congress. According to a member of the Trump Administration, “if the injunctions didn’t happen in Guatemala, then the deal would have been signed on Monday.”

Trump’s new asylum rule seems to be a response to the failure to secure these agreements with Mexico and Guatemala. Unable to outsource asylum processing, he simply ended it. The impact of this will ripple out to Mexico and into Central America as people will be increasingly denied entry into the United States. If arrested inside the United States, many may be sent back into Mexico, something that has already occurred to 15,000 or more Central American asylum seekers.

It is hard to imagine this rule standing up to a court review. It violates existing U.S. law as well as international legal obligations under the UN Convention on Refugees – which the United States did not sign onto until 1967 revisions extending protection to asylum seekers. From the Texas Tribune:

Tom Jawetz, the vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, said that’s only part of the reason the rule “violates the statutory scheme laid out by Congress and is illegal, plain and simple.”

“Congress has explicitly provided only two circumstances in which time spent in a third country could justify barring a person from receiving asylum: if the United States has entered into a ‘safe third country’ agreement with that country or if the person firmly resettled in that country,” he said in a written statement. “The United States does not have a safe third country agreement with Mexico and its neighboring countries — and none of those countries credibly could be called ‘safe.’ Second, merely passing through another country cannot and does not constitute firm resettlement in that country.”

With this latest move, Trump is side stepping the U.S. congress, and, in effect, the legislative process in Mexico and Guatemala. He’s done this without any period of public comment on the proposed rule, and, as is par for the course, with no advanced directives to the people meant to enforce the rule, creating confusion about how this is to actually roll out. It is the kind of bullying approach to politics we’ve come to expect from this administration – never seek compromise, just blow up the system and see what happens once the courts and advocates seek to repair it. He gets his “win” for taking action with his base and others pick up the pieces. Along the way, tens of thousands of lives are wrecked. Congress, where are you?

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Daily Dispatch 7/16/2019

Resources, resources, resources….

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Daily Dispatch

July 16, 2019


Trump’s threatened raids did not materialize this weekend – not yet at least. However, in response to these threats, advocates and activists around the country have prepared for a new wave of raids. Thousands of people have taken to the streets – including in hundreds of “Lights of Liberty” vigils this past Friday, independent actions at detention centers, and this week, planned civil disobedience in the Capitol rotunda.

What this means is that there is a lot of activity and A LOT of information circulating. Today we are simply sharing some of what we’ve seen and encourage you to share – widely – so that people are ready to take action.

From the Immigrant Defense Project

These last few days there has been increased news coverage around ICE raids practices, specifically around ICE’s use of ruses. IDP has unredacted copies of DHS’ Ruse Memos and Fugitive Operations Manual along with other internal trainings and guidances on raids, which we received from our FOIA, available at: https://www.immigrantdefenseproject.org/raids-foia/  We also created infographics of common ICE ruses, available at: immdefense.org/infographics.

ICE Raids Toolkit: Defend Against ICE Raids and Community Arrests, the product of IDP’s and CCR’s collective work against ICE arrests under Bush and Obama, serves as the first comprehensive guide and organizing resource to fight back against the Trump administration’s efforts to criminalize communities and deport millions of people. (Updated in July 2019)

From CLINIC

Rapid Response Toolkit 

The toolkit provides a plan of action for you and your community to support and guide people during and after a raid. You also can build your own inclusive rapid response team by using the included how-to guide and model notebook.

Local Raids Response Hotlines and Contact Information 

This resource provides information on hotlines and rapid response networks in all of the cities that are likely to be targeted for large enforcement actions, as well as other localities. 

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: A guide to interacting with law enforcement

CLINIC’s KYR resources cover interactions with law enforcement in public, home and work settings, an emergency planning checklist, and what to do if a loved one calls you from an immigration detention center. This resource is available in nine languages, including Amharic, Arabic, Chinese (Simplified), English, Farsi, Haitian Creole, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Emergency Planning for Immigrant Families: A 50-State Resource
 
Use this resource to identify experts who are able to provide the proper assistance to families who need to make alternative childcare arrangements; for example, naming a temporary guardian.

Shooting at Northwest Detention Center

On Saturday, a protester was shot and killed by Tacoma police. Willem Van Spronsen was attempting to set vehicles on fire at the detention center when he was engaged by police and killed. Below is a statement from La Resistencia about the shooting – which, importantly clarifies some misunderstanding in media reporting about the incident. Also, without defending Spronsen’s tactics, the statement reminds us that Detention Centers are inherently sites of violence. 

La Resistencia Statement on Shooting Death of Northwest Detention Center Protester

July 13, 2019

Contact: Maru Mora Villalpando, maru@latinoadvocacy.org 206 251 6658

Tacoma, WA– Early this morning, a person who appears to have been engaged in protest against the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma was shot and killed by members of the Tacoma Police Department. Today marks yet another death linked to the detention center, and another death at the hands of the police. Based on available information, including the police scanner recording, Willem Van Spronsen, the protester killed, appears to have been targeting not the detention center itself, as has been widely reported in the media, but the parking lot across the street from the detention center which houses the NWDC’s transportation infrastructure. This infrastructure includes a fleet of buses that transports immigrants to be caged at the detention center, and that transports immigrants from the detention center to the Yakima Airport, from which they are deported. 

Mr. Van Spronsen was apparently trying to set the deportation buses on fire when he was shot and killed. His actions sadly reflect the level of desperation people across this country feel about the government’s outrageous violence against immigrants, which includes the use of detention centers to cage migrants both currently living in the U.S. and those seeking asylum. This death results from the federal government’s unresponsiveness to the anger and despair people feel at the horrors unfolding both at the border and in the interior, and from the inability of officers to de-escalate rather than shooting to kill.  

But for the City of Tacoma allowing the GEO Group’s facility to be built and expanded in Tacoma, this death, and the death and suffering of those inside the detention center would have been avoided. The NWDC has become a liability not just for the tens of thousands who have been caged there, but for the city of Tacoma itself. It’s past time for the city of Tacoma to cancel GEO’s business license. It’s clear that this “business” is a deadly one, that has only brought pain and suffering to our region.

La Resistencia calls on the City of Tacoma to hold immediate public hearings addressing the Tacoma Police’s actions today that resulted in the loss of life at the Detention Center and why the City continues to allow GEO to operate with a city business license. 

#####

La Resistencia (formerly NWDC Resistance) is a grassroots collective led by undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens based in Tacoma, Washington. It is an unincorporated association founded to confront human rights violations at the Northwest Detention Center and dedicated to ending the detention and deportation of immigrants. 

www.nwdcresistance.org 

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Daily Dispatch 7/15/2019

Mass raids announced for weekend didn’t happen…yet

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Daily Dispatch

July 15, 2019


Much anticipated raids threatened by the Trump administration did not begin this weekend. The administration had been threatening to launch a large scale operation targeting 2,000 or more people in families that have been issued final removal orders. By targeting families, the operation was intended to send a message to deter people from coming to the United States to seek asylum. The raids will still likely happen at some point, possibly even this week. The latest tweet threats had indicated the raids would start Sunday and run through Thursday.

It is unusual for the administration to announce such actions in advance. While it makes little operational sense, the fear that has spread in the weeks since Trump first threatened to deport “millions” is real enough. On Sunday, in immigrant communities around the country, people stayed home, hoping to avoid any encounters with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Part of the fear is born from experience with ICE raids – where agents pick up anybody they can, not simply the individuals for whom they have warrants (if they have warrants). 

A final point worth mentioning, is that ICE did not exactly take the weekend off. Agents routinely round up people on a daily basis, currently removing 7-8,000 people a month. The talk of when the raids will begin, then, is somewhat misplaced, as they have been going on for a long time. This particular operation is larger than most – and I suspect Trump relishes the media attention and fear they are generating. But ICE is out in our communities every day looking for people to arrest and deport.

However, Trump did just try gut our asylum laws

While the media inquires about what happened to the raids, Trump’s administration actually did do something on asylum – that if allowed to stand would make it almost impossible for the vast majority of people seeking asylum at the southern border to apply. From CBS News:

According to a new rule published in the Federal Register, asylum seekers who pass through another country first will be ineligible for asylum at the U.S. southern border. The rule, expected to go into effect on Tuesday, also applies to children who have crossed the border alone. The new rule will affect asylum seekers coming through Mexico from countries like Guatemala and El Salvador.

There are some exceptions: If someone has been trafficked, if the country the migrant passed through did not sign one of the major international treaties that govern how refugees are managed (though most Western countries have signed them) or if an asylum-seeker sought protection in a country but was denied, then a migrant could still apply for U.S. asylum.

The new rule will certainly face legal challenges – but is the most draconian effort to kill asylum claims I can remember. In effect, only people from Mexico would be allowed to seek asylum at the southern border (the rate of approval for asylum requests from Mexico is very low). This would impact tens of thousands of people from Central America, but also people from all over the world who travel long distances to get to the U.S. southern border to seek asylum – including people from Haiti, Cameroon, Cuba and many other countries.

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Daily Dispatch 7/11/2019

Congress hears testimony on border detention conditions

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Daily Dispatch

July 11, 2019


Yesterday, the House Oversight Committee heard testimony about the conditions in detention facilities at the border, including testimony from Yazmin Juárez, whose daughter died after 20 days in detention at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Dilley, TX, operated by CoreCivic, a private prison contractor. Some background:

Yazmin Juárez is a young mother of a baby girl who died after falling gravely ill and being neglected by medical staff while in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) custody. Mariee Juarez entered Dilley a healthy, 19-month old baby girl and 20 days later was discharged a gravely ill child with a life-threatening respiratory infection.

Within a week of entering Dilley, Mariee was running a 104-degree fever while suffering from a cough, congestion, diarrhea and vomiting. Yazmin sought medical treatment for Mariee many times as her condition worsened, only to be told to give Mariee ibuprofen, antibiotics, and Vicks Vaporub

The medical staff who discharged her weeks later noted none of these conditions and cleared her for travel without observing Mariee, conducting any kind of examination or taking her vital signs. After being released, Mariee spent six weeks at New Jersey and Philadelphia hospitals where doctors and specialists tried, to no avail, to save Mariee as her lungs collapsed from a respiratory infection.

Yazmin’s testimony detailed treatment at Dilley, as well as three days at a border patrol facility, in the “ice-box.” The full hearing can be viewed below. Yazim’s testimony takes place from minutes 29 to 54 with translation, questions follow. A transcript of her full testimony can be read here. A portion below:

My Mariee had always been a happy, healthy baby. She made the journey from Guatemala without any problems. When we crossed the border and made our claim for asylum, she was the normal, giggly baby she’d always been. We were immediately held in CBP custody for three or four days in a facility known as “la hielera” because it is freezing cold at all times. We were locked in a cage with about 20 other people, including children, and forced to sleep on a concrete floor.

Four days later, we were sent to the ICE detention center in Dilley, Texas. A nurse examined Mariee when we arrived and found her perfectly healthy. At Dilley, we were packed into a room with five other mothers with children, a total of 12 people in our room. I noticed immediately how many sick kids there were – and no effort was made to separate the sick from the healthy. One of the other little boys in our room who was about Mariee’s age had a constant cough, runny nose and was sleepy all the time. His mom tried to bring him to the clinic, but they kept being sent back without getting care. I found out then that the clinic was only open during certain times, so if you were still in line when it was supposed to close, they sent you away without being seen and told you to come back another day.

Within a week at Dilley, it started to happen to Mariee. She got sick – first it was coughing and sneezing. I brought her to the clinic, where I waited in line with many other people in a large room like a gymnasium to get medical care for her. We were able to get in and see a physician’s assistant, who examined Mariee and said she had a respiratory infection. She gave her Tylenol, honey for her cough and told me to follow up in six months.

But the next day, Mariee was worse. She was running a fever over 104 degrees and began having diarrhea and vomiting as well. She wouldn’t eat, and I remember her head felt so hot.

I was terrified so I brought her back to the clinic and waited in line again. This time a different physician assistant told me she had an ear infection and gave her antibiotics, but I know my baby and I knew it was something more serious. I begged them to conduct more exams, but they sent us back to our room and said to come back if Mariee got worse.

A second panel of experts, including human rights advocates followed. Among them, Clara Long from Human Rights Watch submitted testimony, the full transcript of which can be read here. Long was part of a team that inspected border facilities in June. She notes:

Our in-depth interviews with children revealed that the US Border Patrol is holding many children, including some who are much too young to take care of themselves, in jail-like border facilities for weeks at a time without contact with family members, or regular access to showers, clean clothes, toothbrushes, or proper beds. Many were sick. Many, including children as young as 2 or 3, were separated from adult caretakers without any provisions for their care besides that provided by unrelated older children also being held in detention. These conditions are consistent with those Human Rights Watch documented in our February 2018 report, “In the Freezer.” In contrast with the conditions as of February 2018, the harms of CBP detention for children are now compounding over weeks instead of days.

Ronald Vitiello, former head of Customs and Border Protection, and current acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also testified as part of the second panel. His testimony emphasized deterrence as a strategy to discourage people from coming.

On Friday, there will be a full committee hearing on conditions at the border.

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Daily Dispatch 7/10/2019

The judge is your destiny in immigration court

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Daily Dispatch

July 10, 2019


The immigration court system is a unique institution. Indeed, it is not really composed of courts in a traditional sense of the word. There is no right to an attorney, and decisions are made at the sole discretion of a judge. Appeals are possible, but they are often in reference to administrative guidelines, and the Attorney General has the authority to change those guidelines. The whole operation is under the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) – not the federal court system. As a result the Attorney General can issue new rules, hire judges and change the process part of “due process” with near unilateral authority. Importantly, the system is designed to engage in administrative review of civil cases. It is not a criminal court, and the people before the judges are not there facing criminal charges. And yet, the people are often treated as criminals, and judges may engage in punitive decision making. 

There is a backlog of 900,000 cases. A backlog that expanded significantly under Trump’s first AG, Jeff Sessions, who, among other things, restricted the rules under which judges could clear their dockets. In doing so, he set in motion a review of 350,000 cases already taken “off-docket.” Sessions then pushed a quota for clearing cases, 700 a year per judge, that guarantees a failure to treat each case with the attention required.  

Among the more challenging cases judges determine are asylum claims. In fiscal year 2018, the EOIR reviewed 42,200 asylum cases (this number may double in FY 2019) and approved asylum in 35 percent of those cases – the lowest approval rate in 20 years. For Central Americans, the asylum approval rate was even lower than 35 percent: El Salvador, 23.5 percent; Honduras, 21.2 percent; Guatemala, 18.8 percent. The chart above suggests that there is a relationship between the quantity of cases and the denial rate – the higher the number of cases, the higher the denial rate. A trend, that if it continues into this year, will likely see denials increase even more.

Judges operating in this system have too many cases, increasingly arbitrary rule-making behind them, and are operating in a highly politicized environment. What could go wrong? If you are an immigrant seeking asylum, quite a bit. Indeed, whether or not one gets asylum, depends not just on the rules – Trump has made this harder, which explains the overall drop in asylum approvals – but what judge you end up in front of. The difference in asylum approval rates across courts and individual judges is enormous. The judge is “your destiny.”

To get a sense of what this means for people stuck in this system, I strongly encourage folks to read Gabriel Thompson’s article in the July edition of Topic Magazine, “Your Judge is Your Destiny.” Thompson profiles judge Agnelis Reese, who presided over 200 asylum cases over a five year period – and denied every one of them. Though an extreme example, the story gives a strong sense of the arbitrariness that constitutes “due process” in immigrant court proceedings.

In 2008, for example, a Government Accountability Office study found that asylum seekers in Atlanta were 15 times more likely to be denied asylum than in San Francisco, and eight times more likely than in New York City. A follow-up study, in 2016, reported that little had changed. And a 2017 investigation by Reuters, which analyzed more than 370,000 immigration court cases across the country, concluded that whether a person is deported or not “depends largely on who hears the case, and where.” One attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, speaking to the Christian Science Monitor in April, was more blunt: “Your judge is your destiny.”

Thompson’s article does a great job of integrating the stories of people that come before Judge Reese and the work of attorney Homero Lopez, Jr., who represents people in the Pine Prairie detention facility in rural Louisiana who come before Reese’s court, with background information on the court system and detention. One particular case stands out:

“S” explained that he was taken to Karshali prison, in the Eritrean capital of Asmara, where he was beaten daily for six months. Reese asked if he had suffered any other harm. While detained at Pine Prairie, S. had disclosed to a doctor that he had been sexually molested at Karshali. “I’m embarrassed to tell this. It’s very hard for me,” S. told Reese. The court took a break and went off the record. When the hearing resumed, S. explained that two soldiers at Karshali had taken him into a cell and “covered my nose with plastic, and they inserted their genital organ in my mouth.” As they did so, he told Reese, they said, “Where is Jesus to save you?” He said guards did this on three separate occasions, and also inserted a stick into his anus. 

Reese asked if he had ever told anyone about this before revealing it to the doctor at Pine Prairie. “I did not,” he said. “This is very shameful for me to tell.” 

Later, S. said that, despite daily beatings, he refused to convert to Orthodox Christianity. “And every time you said no?” asked Reese.

“Yes, based on Matthew 10:22,” he replied. 

“I didn’t—sir, I’m not asking you to quote scripture,” said Reese.

“Jesus is asking me to talk for him.”

Reese snapped. “And when you lied to the asylum officers or failed to disclose your sexual abuse, what do you think Jesus thought about that?” The judge followed that up with a lengthy diatribe, chastising S. for not revealing the abuse earlier. 

“S” testified that he then spent 12 years at a forced-labor camp near the Sudanese border until he escaped. He didn’t know the name of the prison, only that it was near a military base called Sawa. Reese found his lack of knowledge of the prison’s name implausible, though if she had looked at a map of secret prisons in Eritrea published by Amnesty International, she would have found one at Sawa, which is reported to hold religious prisoners of conscience. Though he continued to refuse to renounce his faith, S. explained he began to pray aloud to various saints, as Orthodox Christians in Eritrea do, instead of directly to Jesus, so as to lessen the attention guards paid him. 

“Well, wasn’t that a lie?” Reese interjected. S. answered that after a good friend died in prison, he had begun to lose hope. 

“Do you know what Corinthians 15 and 54 says?” Reese asked, now asking him to quote scripture. S. apologized to Reese, saying that he didn’t remember. 

“It says to be steadfast and unmovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord. So starting to pray to the saints, which you said you no longer believe in, that doesn’t sound steadfast. Does it?” 

I read the transcript three times. I try to imagine being in S.’s situation, struggling to recall a particular passage of the Bible and then being lectured about my lack of faith. What bearing does such a line of questioning have on an asylum claim? What other purpose does it serve Reese than to assert her dominance over another, in a tiny courtroom with no observers? My thoughts turn to Trump, who has ridiculed asylum seekers, and to former attorney general Jeff Sessions, who has described the asylum system as “subject to rampant abuse and fraud.” Both men would no doubt consider Reese’s record a model for judges across the country. 

Reese denied asylum, saying “S” lacked credibility – which underscores one of the more problematic aspects of judicial authority in these cases. The judge becomes the sole interpreter of credibility, and if a judge has any doubts about one’s story, this can be used to deny asylum. In such a system, where one can hardly stop in the process of fleeing to secure affidavits and documentation about your individual case, one is literally at the whim of a judge’s predisposition to believe, or not. Under the Trump administration the entire edifice of enforcement is based on the argument that people are gaming the system, asylum claims are largely bogus, and harsh treatment is needed to deter people from even trying – and these folks get to pick immigration judges. 

Due process indeed.

Read Thompson’s full article here.

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Daily Dispatch 7/9/2019

Trump’s administration drags us into another week of fear mongering

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Daily Dispatch

July 9, 2019


Three weeks ago, Trump tweeted that “millions” of unauthorized immigrants were going to be rounded up and deported. Within a few days it became clear that ICE was planning a major enforcement operation targeting 2,000 people, mostly families that had been issued final removal orders and may (or may not) still be in the country. By the end of that week Trump announced that the enforcement action had been delayed for two weeks and that unless Congress acted to change asylum laws, “deportations begin.” 

Two weeks later and Trump is saying the operation will begin “soon.” Cuccinelli, acting head of U.S. Immigrant and Citizenship Services, not ICE, was on Face the Nation to defend the plan. Cuccinelli claimed that 1 million people have been issued final removal orders and are still in the country. All can be deported – though he admitted most would not be. The 1 million people are the “pool” of people who will be targeted. How many people will be deported, he would not say. 

The talk of mass raids has spread fear in many communities – this fear ultimately being the point of the whole exercise. As many as 7,000 people a month are already deported as the result of internal removal operations (distinct from border deportations). Those operations continue. By throwing around numbers like a million or more immigrants being targeted, the administration is trying to scare people. Trump’s spokespeople are clear about this. Acting head of ICE, Mark Morgan, described the proposed operation as a “powerful message of deterrence” to those who might seek to come to the United States. 

CBS News ran a story today about the impact of the threatened operation in Langley Park, Maryland. From the story:

Nick Katz and his Langley Park-based immigrant advocacy group CASA have been making sure local immigrants are aware of their rights and are operating a hotline for people to report ICE activity. He stressed, however, that it’s important for them not to amplify the panic he believes the administration is looking to instill in immigrant communities.

“That’s what they want,” said Katz, an attorney who is the senior manager of CASA’s legal services. “They want people to be afraid to go to the grocery story. They want people to self deport. They want immigrants to essentially be afraid to engage in the basic activities of life in this country.”

Still, he said the danger for many immigrant families is real. 

“ICE is out there breaking up families every day. And I have no doubt that these raids, there’s definitely a danger they will move forward, and we’ll see a period of time when even more people are picked up. So, there are real consequences for families,” he said.

Companies profiting from immigrant detention, losing funding sources

Following the disclosure of inhumane conditions in detention facilities along the U.S. border in recent weeks (and years of disclosures, previously ignored), Congress will hold hearings on Friday about detention facilities. Heads of Border Patrol and Homeland Security are expected to testify, as well as members of the attorney delegation whose report on conditions in the Border Patrol’s Clint, Texas facility sparked much of the latest outrage.

Amid the increasing criticism of the conditions in facilities, SunTrust became the latest bank to announce they would no longer provide funding to private prison companies profiting from immigrant detention. Though Border Patrol detention facilities are not operated by private prison companies, nearly three-fourths of those people held by Immigrant and Customs Enforcement are in privately managed and/or owned facilities, CoreCivic and GeoGroup being the largest companies involved. Over the last year, numerous funders have announced they are cutting ties with these companies:

SunTrust did not specify what prompted its move, though its decision followed an online petition drive from various activist groups opposing the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies.

Bank of America staked out a similar position last month, just days after Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced her plans for banning private prisons. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. made similar commitments earlier this year.

“Following an ongoing and deliberate process, SunTrust has decided not to provide future financing to companies that manage private prisons and immigration holding facilities,” SunTrust said in a prepared statement. “This decision was made after extensive consideration of the views of our stakeholders on this deeply complex issue.”

The Geo Group’s stock price has taken a hit with every announcement – but seems to bounce back. It is capitalism, after all, someone will float their operations. But if all the bad publicity is increasing their cost of borrowing, and ultimately making it harder for them to profit, that is good news.

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Daily Dispatch 7/3/2019

Crimes against humanity? Yes.

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Daily Dispatch

July 3, 2019


Screenshot from OIG Report on Conditions

On International Human Rights Day last year, Prof. Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, penned an op-ed titled, The Worst Cruelty is Our Indifference. Melzer dedicated a large portion of this piece to the treatment of migrants:

Today, I am particularly concerned about the unspeakable suffering of people on the move, those millions of women, men and children who have left their homes to seek safety and opportunity elsewhere, but who all too often get trapped in border-zones, detention centers, deserts or at sea, exposed not only to deliberate abuse, but also to the worst cruelty of all: our own indifference.

We know these people are exploited by smugglers, traffickers and corrupt officials, we know they are being tortured, raped, enslaved, and butchered for their organs. We know they have nowhere else to go. And yet, no one feels responsible. Instead, we erect physical and mental barriers, we think and speak of hostile invasion and send the military to defend our borders. But today I ask: against whom? Against this ragtag “army” of emaciated bodies, carrying their belongings in plastic bags and babies in their arms?

Have we shrunk so far from our own humanity that we can no longer recognize theirs? Or are we simply too comfortable to recognize that much of our own prosperity grows on the ashes of other peoples’ lives, on the swamps of inhumane working conditions, on the blood spilt by conflicts fought with our weapons, on the smoldering remnants of an environment destroyed by our extractive companies? After we have exploited their labor, ransacked their environment, colluded with their dictators and fueled conflict that turned their lands into battlefields – are we really surprised they come knocking on our doors saying they would rather live at our place now?

Last year, Melzer’s office wrote an extensive report on the treatment of migrants and the emerging practices of states that amount to torture or ill-treatment. We reviewed this report in light of specific practices in the United States related to detention, which you can read here. Melzer’s statement upon release of the report concluded with, “Moreover, State officials or private citizens must be aware that their personal involvement in shaping, promoting and implementing policies and practices which expose migrants to torture or ill-treatment may amount to complicity or other participation in crimes against humanity or war crimes.”  

In recent weeks the situation of people in detention at the border has received increasing attention in the media. Members of Congress have visited facilities, and yesterday the Department of Homeland Security’s, Office of Inspector General released a report on conditions in five border facilities operated by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). You can read the full report here, a summary from Associated Press of key findings include:

The report details several potential violations of federal law or Border Patrol standards:

— Two facilities inspected had not provided children access to hot meals until the week that auditors arrived. Some adults were only receiving bologna sandwiches, causing constipation and in some cases requiring medical attention.

— Of 2,669 children detained by the Border Patrol in the region, 826, or 31 percent, had been held there longer than 72 hours. More than 50 children under the age of seven were waiting to be moved to long-term facilities, some of them for more than two weeks. In one photo, women and children appeared to be sleeping on the ground under Mylar blankets.

— Many adults hadn’t showered despite having been held for as long as a month. Some were being given wet wipes to clean themselves.

The report also detailed “security incidents” at multiple facilities, including one case in which detained migrants refused to re-enter their cell after it had been cleaned. People detained have also in some cases clogged toilets with their Mylar blankets and socks in order to be let out of the cells.

Conditions at the Clint, Texas CBP facility emerged last week in a separate exposé from the Associated Press, based on interviews with attorneys who were inspecting the facility to evaluate compliance with the Flores Settlement Agreement, which details the treatment of children held in detention. 

Meanwhile, the situation of people seeking asylum in the United States, who have been sent back to Mexico as part of Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, is deteriorating quickly. Human Rights Watch released a report yesterday based on dozens of interviews with asylum seekers who have been returned to Mexico to await an asylum hearing. From the executive summary of the report:

Among those asylum seekers Human Rights Watch interviewed and those interviewed by a local advocacy organization, several reported attacks on themselves or others in the town, including violent assaults, sexual violence, and kidnapping. A US government screening process to remove people from the MPP program who face harm in Mexico is allowing less than 1 percent of returned asylum seekers to exit the program and pursue their claims within the United States.

Meanwhile, asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico have no meaningful access to due process. Immigration attorneys and advocates in El Paso, Texas, told Human Rights Watch the need for legal services for returned asylum seekers in Mexico is overwhelming and that attorneys working to provide low-cost or free representation face serious barriers to providing that representation, including returned asylum seekers’ lack of fixed addresses and telephone numbers.

Human Rights Watch also confirmed reports that US Border Patrol agents have routinely refused or failed to return asylum seekers’ personal identification documents. Without identification, asylum seekers face difficulties proving the custody of their children or receiving money wired by family members. They may also be barred from travel, meaning they cannot freely seek asylum elsewhere or return home in cases of extenuating circumstances.

The Migrant Protection Protocols program is separating families, including people who are the primary caretakers of children, siblings, and parents. The separations can wreak severe psychological harm and split shared claims for protection across US jurisdictions, adding to the already hefty immigration court backlog.

The US should immediately cease returning asylum seekers to Mexico and instead ensure them access to humanitarian support, safety, and due process in asylum proceedings. Congress should urgently act to prohibit using government funds to continue this program. The US should manage asylum-seeker arrivals through a genuine humanitarian response that includes fair determinations of an asylum seeker’s eligibility to remain or not in the US. The US should simultaneously pursue longer-term efforts to address the root causes of forced displacement in Central America.

Everyday the Trump administration is engaged in crimes against humanity, and not just on the battlefields in Afghanistan and indiscriminate bombings in Syria. It is happening on our border with Mexico with the treatment of people seeking asylum and in detention centers scattered across our country, where people are held for indeterminate amounts of time, under well documented, abusive conditions.

The conditions, we keep reminding people, are not new. Indeed, if there were an actual trial for crimes against humanity concerning the treatment of migrants Clinton, Bush and Obama would be there too. But Trump’s brash rhetoric, unapologetic celebration of cruelty and expanded use of the worst institutionalized techniques he inherited, all to drum up political support, has made this a particularly dangerous time. Trump’s presidency is in some ways a legacy of past indifference, a time when immigrant communities and advocates mobilized and educated, protested and demanded change, to be received with inaction from political leaders. Those times are changing, we hope. Certainly the voices are multiplying.

Yesterday, people around the country protested these conditions in the streets and in congressional offices. Here, at least, for the moment, “our indifference” is giving way to action. The question is, will the political leadership in this country listen? Will they end the practice of immigrant incarceration, which as we documented last week, impacts at least 100,000 people on any given day? Until they do, they are complicit in crimes against humanity.

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