This week, we are joining the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), the Haitian Bridge Alliance, and other local and national organizations on a week of action in defense of Black immigrants. With waning media coverage of the administration’s horrible treatment of Haitian migrants in Texas since mid-September, the Biden administration believes that it can now sweep ongoing mistreatment of Haitians and other Black migrants under the rug.
Now is the time to mobilize and to show the administration that we are watching—and that we’ve had enough.
Yesterday, our community partners in New Orleans at Unión Migrante organized a march to City Hall for immigrant justice. Later this week, there are actions planned in Washington D.C., California, Louisiana, New York, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Arizona, and North Carolina. Visit the No More Deportations website, or click the link HERE, to find an action in your area.
And if you don’t see an action near you? Get together a few friends and community members, use the Haitian Bridge Alliance toolkit to organize your own, and add click “Host an Event” on the No More Deportations website. An action could be as simple as a small vigil in honor of the families and children deported under Title 42, or a rally in front of a local or federal government building.
Currently the number of people being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is just over 20,000. This number has fallen off dramatically from the all time high of over 55,000 registered last August (2019). At the beginning of the current fiscal year (Oct 1, 2019) there were still over 53,000 people being held. Which means that over the last 12 months there has been a 62% fall off in the number of people in ICE detention.
ICE contracts with 175 different facilities around the country to hold people. Many of these facilities are run by county sheriffs or state departments of corrections. However, the larger facilities, which in total hold close to 75% of the people in detention, are run by private companies, the largest are CoreCivic and the GEO Group, followed by LaSalle Corrections.
With a collapse of nearly 62% of the number of people being held, you’d expect these companies to really be hurting. But they are not. The reason they are not on the verge of collapse is because the contracts for managing most of these facilities guarantee payment for a minimum number of beds, whether those beds are occupied or not. Indeed, across the 44 private facilities that have a guaranteed daily minimum, the total number of people they are guaranteed to get paid for is 30,242. (See full ICE stats YTD here)
In those same facilities, the average daily population for the whole year was just 22,006 – or 8,236 a day below the guaranteed minimum. So, over the course of this year, which ends on September 30, the federal government has paid for an equivalent of 3,014,376 days of detention for empty beds (remember it was a leap year!). The actual amount that companies get paid for beds per day in individual contracts is not public. However, the funding enacted for ICE detention in FY2020 was $3.1 billion, based on an anticipated daily average of 50,126 beds, or an average cost of $168.97 per bed per day. This means that, based on the average daily bed costs in the budget enacted this year, ICE may have paid as much as $509,339,113 for empty beds in FY2020.
Daily averages for the year aside, it is worth pointing out that at this moment there are 20,000 people in detention in the entirety of ICE’s network. And the companies housing three fourths of them are still getting paid for 30,242 people a day. (To be clear, we are not advocating ICE fill those beds.)
With all of the extra money, you’d think services would have improved. But no. Health services remain abysmal – and even in the midst of a global pandemic, ICE contractors cannot be bothered to provide adequate services for people in detention – or for their own staff. Indeed, the companies are cutting staffing levels and services given the lower overall numbers, not providing better services.
For CoreCivic’s part, revenue in the second quarter of 2020, the peak time of the COVID-19 crisis, and the lowest detention rates in 20 years, was still $471 million. This, they note, was down just 3.6% from the first quarter (which puts revenue for the first half of 2020 near $1 billion). On an investor call in August, company leadership made clear that the guaranteed minimums have insulated the company somewhat from the overall decline in ICE detention. Asked if ICE or the US Marshal service was trying to renegotiate the minimums at this time, Damon Hininger, CoreCivic’s President and CEO, responded, “No. So it is the contrary.” He then noted the recent 10-year extension for their contract at the T Don Hutto detention facility in Texas, and the expectation of a 10-year extension for their contract at the Houston Processing Center – the oldest private detention facility in the country – as evidence of ICE’s commitment to maintain “detention capacity.”
The GEO Group had revenue of $588 million during the second quarter of this year. On a recent investor call, company directors also discussed the decline in ICE detention but noted that “most of our GEO Secure Services contracts contain fixed price or minimum guaranteed payment provisions.” For both GEO and CoreCivic, the guaranteed minimums are crucially important for cash flow and “investor confidence.” The GEO Group was also able to celebrate another 10-year deal for an ICE facility in southern Texas. ICE seems hell bent on protecting both of these companies from lost revenue.
As I’ve written before, the reason detention numbers are so low is that the Trump administration has effectively closed the border – summarily expelling 175,000 people since March 19, 2020, many of whom would have otherwise been transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention network. Stephen Miller wants to keep the border closed indefinitely. The GEO Group and CoreCivic do not. So, while the first three years of Trump’s presidency were sort of a bonanza for these companies, the last year has been a struggle (in the way that a 3.6% decline in revenue for companies that make billions off incarcerating people is a “struggle”). Oddly enough, what this means is that a Biden victory is probably better for them in the short term, as Biden has indicated he will overturn the order that closed the border. Of course, prior to Trump taking office, Biden was part of the administration that set the previous record for detention rates, with a daily average of over 38,000 people in 2016. That administration also signed many of the sweetheart contracts with daily minimums that are keeping these companies afloat today. Capitalism surely makes for strange bedfellows, even when most of the beds are empty.
We have been tracking the story of hunger strikers being held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention in Jena, Louisiana. That hunger strike has now passed 90 days, and the men’s lives are in grave danger. From the Guardian’s in depth report in today’s edition:
Five men are on a hunger strike that has gone on for longer than 90 days, protesting against their detention at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) facility in Jena, Louisiana. Now advocates worry the men are on the brink of death.
The men have applied for asylum in the US and are waiting for an immigration judge to rule on their cases.
Advocates have filed an official complaint against Ice, condemning the organization for not providing the men with proper medical treatment during the strike. Two men have reportedly been force-fed – an act that multiple medical associations and human rights groups in the United States have said is inhumane and unethical.
A second complaint was filed alleging Ice has not released the medical records of two of the men for independent review, a right that exists for those in Ice detention to ensure they are getting proper treatment.
The men are all from south Asia and are seeking asylum in the US out of fear of religious persecution or retaliation for their political beliefs back home. Advocates say all five have friends and family in the United States who are waiting for them to be released.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is currently holding 40,000 people in detention – 25% are asylum seekers who have already passed credible fear interviews.
You can take action to support the hunger strikers and demand their immediate release! From Freedom for Immigrants:
1.) We found a pressure point. Please call and email John Hartnett, the Acting ICE Field Office Director in New Orleans (318-992-1594 and John.Hartnett@ice.dhs.gov) and demand these men be released to the care of their family, friends, and doctors in the community.
Below is a sample script:
“MY NAME IS [NAME] AND I REPRESENT [ORGANIZATION/COUNTY WHERE YOU LIVE]. I AM CALLING IN STRONG SUPPORT OF THE 5 SOUTH ASIAN ASYLUM SEEKERS DETAINED AT LASALLE DETENTION FACILITY. THEY HAVE PASSED DAY 90 OF THEIR HUNGER STRIKE FOR FREEDOM AND ARE ON THE BRINK OF DEATH. ACCORDING TO MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS, DAY 75 OF A HUNGER STRIKE IS WHEN VITAL ORGANS BEGIN TO FAIL. I URGE ICE TO RELEASE THE MEN.
CONTINUING TO DETAIN THESE MEN RISKS WHOLLY PREVENTABLE DEATHS IN ICE DETENTION. I URGE YOUR OFFICE TO RELEASE THESE MEN INTO THE CARE OF THEIR COMMUNITIES.”
Thank you to everyone who has called so far, let’s keep fighting for our friends behind bars.
2.) Bond funds. One of the men fighting for his life has a bond hearing on Thursday the 30th, just one day before his final asylum hearing. We are hopeful the judge will give him a fair chance where ICE is failing. However, judges in Louisiana have the worst approval rate in the country. He also has no legal representation for his asylum case, a reality faced by far, far too many. THIS is why he is striking. In order to prevent him from having to represent himself before a judge while weakened by day 90 of his hunger strike, the total bond amount must be paid in full that same day.
There is no upper limit for immigration bonds, but Freedom for Immigrants has documented a range of $1,500 to $250,000, with most totaling $5,000 to $20,000. Our National Bond Fund is currently very low on funds but there is still an overwhelming need. Any donations made during this hunger strike will be prioritized to pay for the mens’ bonds.
Donate here. Learn more about immigration bonds here.
Call. Email. Share. Support. Let’s continue to work together to free these men who are literally putting their bodies on the line for freedom and justice!
Six people have died while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since the beginning of the fiscal year in October 2019. Six people in less than four months. By comparison, eight people died in ICE custody in all of the previous fiscal year. Two of the six men were seeking asylum in the United States, and had been placed in ICE custody during processing of their asylum claim. Two had overstayed visas, and had been transferred to ICE by local law enforcement upon release from jail. Another man had overstayed his visa as well. He was picked up at a border checkpoint in Texas. There is no indication he had a criminal record. The sixth man is from Cuba. How he ended up in ICE custody has not been reported yet, but according to press reports he had deportation order going back to 2000. Three of the six men appear to have committed suicide. Three were being held in facilities run by private prison companies; two were in county jails run by local sheriff departments in cooperation with federal authorities.
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.
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, and was placed in solitary confinement. We was found dead in his cell, apparent suicide by hanging.
Akinyemi overstayed his visa and was arrested in Baltimore a year later for sexual assault. He was convicted and given a suspended sentence and probation on Dec 20. However, ICE had issued a detainer so he was not actually released from custody but handed over to Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). He committed suicide (apparently, still under investigation) that night (5:00 a.m., December 21) at the Worcester County Jail where ICE was holding him.
Mavinga arrived in New York on 28 November 2018, under the Visa Waiver Programme, which said he would need to leave the country no later than 27 February 2019, according to ICE. He was detained by border police at a checkpoint in Texas on 11 November 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. A month later, on 11 December, he was transferred to the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia, New Mexico.
Mavinga was taken to hospital the next day and found to be suffering from a twisting of the large intestines causing bowel obstruction. He remained under medical care until he died on Sunday 29 December.
Ben James Owen from Britain, January 26, 2020. Baker County Detention Center (Baker County Sheriff’s Office)
[Owen] died at the Baker County Detention Center in Macclenny, Florida, and officials said that the preliminary cause of death appeared to be “self-inflicted strangulation; however, the case is currently under investigation.”
ICE officials said Owen, who had entered the country on a temporary visa in July, had been arrested by the Port Orange Police Department on suspicion of felony aggravated stalking, felony false imprisonment, domestic assault, and violating the conditions of his pretrial release.
ICE officials arrested him after he was released from criminal custody on Jan. 15. He was then placed into deportation proceedings.
On Monday, January 27, 2020, A 63-year-old Cuban man died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a hospital in Florida. No report yet of where he was being previously held in detention. He had been in custody since January 14. Early reports are that cause of death is cardiac arrest.
In a CNN report, ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox was cited as claiming that deaths in ICE detention are “exceedingly rare” and happen at a rate 100 times lower than federal and state custody. The reality is a bit different. So far this year 6 immigrants have died of the 83,000 people booked into ICE detention facilities. That is a mortality rate of 7.22 deaths per 100,000 incarcerated. It is far lower than federal and state prison mortality rates, which vary annually, but average about 260 deaths per 100,000. It is not, however, 100 times less, but 36 times less. Meanwhile, the average length of stay in ICE detention is about 36 days – in a federal prison its closer to 3,650 days. So the actual risk to an individual of dying in ICE detention is comparable if not higher. And, of course, the mortality rates in U.S. prisons are an egregious example of the utter inhumanity of our increasingly carceral state, not a standard of best practices by which to measure “success.”
Here are two simple actions you can take TODAY to confront the Trump administration’s detention machinery:
Block new detention contracts in TX!
Earlier in January we wrote about Immigration and Customs Enforcement looking to extend 10-year long contracts to three facilities in Texas. Today we are sharing a campaign from Texas-based Grassroots Leadership and our partners at the Detention Watch Network. See below:
Since the creation of the first detention center in the US, communities across the county have actively fought to shut down immigration jails that lock away loved ones, neighbors and friends. Immigration jails are inhumane, strip people of their dignity and agency, and must be shut down for good.
Right now, ICE is working to extend contracts for three Texas detention centers that will prolong detention in the state for the next 10 years. The facilities are the T. Don Hutto Residential Center near Austin, the South Texas Detention Complex near San Antonio, and the Houston Processing Center.
Members of Congress need to hear from you now. Death and ongoing allegations of abuse should be enough of a reason to close down these facilities full stop.
Fill out this form, and Grassroots Leadership will send a postcard on your behalf to your representatives and members of key committees with the power to intervene.
Texas already incarcerates a quarter of all immigrants detained nationwide—we cannot allow for this to become the state’s reality for the next decade and serve as a model for detention expansion nationwide.
Gain release of hunger strikers in LA!
We’ve also been following the case of hunger strikers at LaSalle Detention facility in Jena, Louisiana. The men have passed the 75 day mark – approaching 80 days! Freedom for Immigrants has launched a petition demanding their release you can add your name to here.
Five South Asian men have reached the 75th day of a hunger strike in the GEO Group-operated LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana where they have been subjected to the tortuous procedure of forced-hydration and force-feeding. According to medical professionals, 75 days without adequate nutrition is when vital organs begin to fail.
The growing number of hunger strikes in ICE prisons across the country are no coincidence. It is indicative of complete disbelief in a fair legal process and the lengths ICE is willing to go to indefinitely detain them. Some of these men have been locked up for nearly 2 years. We are deeply concerned that ICE appears willing to let these men die in detention to make an example of them rather than be released to the community, where each man has family or close friends willing to provide housing and support.