The Biden administration is struggling to address the flow of migrant children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without their parents, many fleeing extreme violence, poverty and natural disasters in their home countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. News reports show more than 3,500 children were detained at the border in just the first nine days of March, with many being held longer than the legal limit of 72 hours. “We can call it a crisis. We can call it a surge,” says Aura Bogado, senior investigative reporter at Reveal. “What we shouldn’t call it is a surprise.”
Archive for category: Immigration
Dozens of immigrant women detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia have joined a class-action lawsuit against ICE over allegations they were subjected to nonconsensual and invasive gynecological procedures and surgeries that were later found to be unnecessary, and in some cases left them unable to have children. The lawsuit cites sworn testimony from at least 35 women about their treatment by Mahendra Amin, a physician in Ocilla, Georgia, and describes retaliation and threats of deportation for speaking out. “We have more than 40 women who filed sworn testimony in court despite consistent attempts by ICE to silence them,” says Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director at Project South and co-counsel for women at Irwin who say they were subjected to these procedures. We also speak with two women who say they underwent unnecessary medical procedures: Wendy Dowe, who was deported to Jamaica after she says her fallopian tubes were removed without her consent, and Elizabeth, who is detained at the Irwin County ICE jail and who says she faced retaliation for speaking up about her unnecessary medical treatment.
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At Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, New Jersey, at least six people who are being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have entered their 25th day of a hunger strike. The detainees are protesting inhumane conditions which make them vulnerable to coronavirus. They are demanding to be released so that they can await the outcome of their deportation hearings from outside of jail. Four of the detainees are now unconscious, and protesters are ramping up pressure on the jail to release them. Nearly 100 demonstrators gathered outside the jail on Sunday afternoon, and people have been protesting daily in solidarity with the detainees since November 27.
Conditions at Bergen County Jail are deplorable. Although it has not yet experienced a coronavirus outbreak, crowded living conditions with insufficient access to hygiene makes the facility extremely vulnerable. Detainees claim that the heating has been shut off, their medical needs are not addressed, and they have to resort to drinking water from toilet bowls due to being denied drinking water.
These dire and outright dangerous conditions in jails and detention facilities across the country predate both the coronavirus pandemic and the Trump administration, and Democrats and Republicans alike have upheld them. The ACLU reports that despite the huge increase in immigration detention in recent years, “there are no regulations or enforceable standards” for medical and mental health treatment, access to phones and other means of communication, legal services, or library materials. As a result, immigrants are routinely denied even these basic rights. Detainees at Bergen County Jail have complained that the jail is rat- and mold-infested, leaving detainees susceptible to myriad diseases and infections.
With this in mind, fears of a deadly coronavirus outbreak are warranted. Over 7,000 ICE detainees have been infected across the country, and research has shown that detainees are infected at 13 times the rate of the general population. These numbers are likely much higher due to lack of transparency, low testing rates, and abysmal compliance with health guidelines. Detainees in Alabama were put in solitary confinement for merely asking to be tested.
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This is far from the first hunger strike among ICE detainees. Since the pandemic began in March, around 2,500 people have refused food as part of at least 42 different hunger strikes, up from 1,600 over the last four years. These strikes have ramped up as detainees rightfully protest the dangerous conditions that make facilities a hotbed of coronavirus infection. Resistance has been met with brutal repression, including pepper spray and rubber bullets, while officers have subjected hunger strikers to forced feeding and hydration.
Bergen County Jail is one of several jails in New Jersey that have lucrative contracts with ICE to house detainees at their facilities. Between 2015 and 2018, ICE sent over $150 million to three counties in New Jersey, all of them controlled by Democratic politicians. Bergen County Jail received over $12 million from ICE in 2018 alone. Local governments see ICE contracts as a source of much-needed revenue, and the private corporations which serve the facilities profit handsomely from detainees being locked up for as long as possible. These perverse incentives encourage counties across the United States to fill their jails with ICE detainees, including those who are merely awaiting the verdict of their deportation trial.
Workers must show solidarity with these detainees on hunger strike and demand their release. But we cannot stop there: ICE is a violent, oppressive arm of the state that, like the police, must be abolished. The agency works tirelessly to brutalize Black and Brown people, and during the coronavirus pandemic, it has continued detentions and deportations, putting lives at risk. We must also demand the decriminalization of border crossing, a moratorium on deportations, and full rights for migrants.
Eddie Conway talks to Azadeh Shahshahani, Project South Legal and Advocacy Director and lawyer for Dawn Wooten, a nurse at Irwin County Detention Center and the whistleblower who sounded the alarm on ICE abuses, including the case of ICE detainees being forced to have hysterectomies while in custody. Six of the victims who filed complaints have now been deported. Seven more women may be deported soon, resulting in the loss of critical witnesses.
See Conway’s September report on alleged abuses at Irwin County Detention Center below:
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The post Stephen Miller’s Second-Term Immigration Agenda Is Worse Than He Wants People to Know appeared first on The Nation.
The hardline adviser is said to be ready to unleash executive orders deemed too extreme for a president seeking re-election
The architect of Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policy, senior adviser Stephen Miller, is said to have a drawer full of executive orders ready to be signed in “shock and awe” style if Trump is re-elected.
The former homeland security department chief of staff, Miles Taylor, said this wishlist was reserved for the second term because it included policies that were too unpopular for a president seeking re-election.
In the lead up to Election Day, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is trumpeting its raids of undocumented immigrants, expediting deportations, and putting up “wanted” billboard ads of “criminal aliens” across Pennsylvania. Rights advocates say these tactics appear aimed at boosting President Donald Trump’s reelection chances by intimidating immigrants, Latinos and other Black and Brown voters, who are more likely to favor Democratic candidates.
“We are walking a fine line,” says Philip Wolgin, managing director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a think tank that is influential with the leadership of the Democratic Party. “We want to make sure that people are aware of what’s going on and how to be prepared, particularly local officials who have the onus of protecting elections, while also not causing fear in immigrant communities and ending up doing the type of voter suppression that we think the DHS and the government are trying to do right now.”
As voter participation sets record numbers, DHS may be seeking to dampen this enthusiasm, critics say. On October 21, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE)—a DHS agency in charge of combating “unauthorized” immigration—announced the implementation of its expedited removal policy, whereby it can arrest individuals anywhere in the country and deport them in a matter of days without a court hearing if individuals cannot prove, to the satisfaction of the officials, that they have resided in the United States for at least two years. The timing of the announcement of this policy, suggests Wolgin, could dampen voter participation.
“Most U.S. citizens probably do not carry on them documents that show that they’ve been in the country for two years. I personally do not carry my passport with me at all times,” says Wolgin. “So, there’s a real concern that, given the long history of racial profiling and using immigration to go after Black and Brown people, we could end up with ICE detaining some folks based on this provision. That’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
False rumors have amplified this possibility. According to an October report by the Brennan Center for Justice—a nonpartisan law and policy institute at the New York University School of Law—groups that are intentionally trying to suppress the vote among people of color have spread the falsehood that ICE agents will surely patrol the vicinity of polling places. “Some of these rumors appear to have come from groups that are intentionally trying to suppress the vote among Latinos and other people of color,” states the report. “These rumors create real fear in communities ICE has targeted with increasingly aggressive tactics.”
On top of expedited removals, DHS appears to be publicly championing its crackdown on immigrants. Earlier in October, the Acting DHS secretary, Chad Wolf, touted in two press releases the arrests of almost 300 immigrants after week-long operations in six cities and the whole state of California. The operations, however, did not mark a shift in course but were consistent with the Trump administration’s high arrest rates.
Rights advocates say the timing of these public statements about DHS arrests is no coincidence. “The DHS is doing everything it can to promote these political stunts two weeks before the presidential election,” says Salvador Sarmiento, national campaign director at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), a grassroots organization that promotes immigrant workers’ rights. Sarmiento adds that the Trump administration’s objective is to instill fear in immigrants and people of color, who out of caution may be discouraged from interacting with any kind of officials, including at the polling stations.
NDLON has denounced a prominent DHS initiative to criminalize undocumented immigrants. In early October, ICE started putting up in Pennsylvania six billboards with “wanted” ads showing the pictures of “criminal aliens”—all of them people of color. ICE claims the individuals pose a “safety threat,” even though five of them have not been convicted. According to a memo by the Center for American Progress, the “wanted” ads represent a new gambit. “Such race-baiting may especially lead to escalated risks for Black and Brown citizens seeking to cast their vote, which in turn could have a chilling effect on their ability to participate fully in the election,” states the document.
New tactics are paired with the old myth that undocumented immigrants do vote and sway elections. With no proof whatsoever, Trump himself repeated as recently as 2018 that millions of undocumented immigrants voted in California in the 2016 election. He set up an investigative commission led by Vice President Mike Pence and then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, which failed to find any evidence of voter fraud.
Despite the commission’s failure, ICE did manage to announce in August 2018 charges against 19 foreign individuals for voting illegally in North Carolina in 2016, although in similar cases elsewhere people were just confused about their eligibility to vote. Those votes were negligible considered the 4.8 millions votes cast in 2016 in North Carolina. These stunts could contribute to mobilizations across battleground states for the “Army for Trump’s election security,” which was convened by Donald Trump Jr. and aims to establish a 50,000-strong army of “observers.”
Climate of intimidation
There is already reason to be concerned that this climate is encouraging vigilante intimidation of voters. As of October 23, there have been at least four documented instances of voter intimidation during the early voting processes. In September, a group of Trump supporters waving campaign flags in Fairfax, Virginia, stood in the way of voters attempting to reach the polling station. In Florida, a police officer in uniform was photographed outside a voting site wearing a pro-Trump mask and a holstered firearm. In Philadelphia, the Trump campaign videotaped citizens depositing their mail-in-ballots, which local authorities considered improper conduct. And in St. Petersburg, Florida, two armed security guards at a polling station prompted officials to station deputies at five voting sites.
There have been initiatives to prevent further voter intimidation. In Minnesota, the Council on American-Islamic Relations sued the private security company Atlas Aegis for recruiting ex-U.S. military special operations soldiers to deploy to polling places, calling it a breach of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In Michigan, the Secretary of State ordered a ban on the open carrying of firearms within 100 feet of polling places.
In this atmosphere, rights advocates worry that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP)—part of the DHS—could deploy its paramilitary unit Bortac (Border Patrol Tactical Unit) as it did in July during the protests against police brutality in Portland, Oregon, where the the force kidnapped protesters and threw them into unmarked vans. In the midterm elections of 2018, CBP planned to conduct a “crowd control exercise” near at least one polling location. Those plans were scrapped after an uproar.
“Our big fear is that we see a reprise of Portland, with ICE and CBP being used to intimidate voters on election day or around election day, whether by sending agents directly into the polls as members of the government have said or just by deploying them around cities,” says Wolgin.
Although polling station disruptions could happen on November 3, they should not be overstated, says Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center for Justice. Deploying armed forces in polling sites is illegal. Amplifying this possibility could in itself dissuade people from voting. At the same time, acknowledging that voter intimidation attempts are real allows local officials and activists to strategize on how to offset them.
“I do have some concerns that one of these incidents would get out of hand. Similarly, I worry that the police may be too quick to engage, or that some jurisdictions would be too quick to call law enforcement sort of preemptively because of these fears,” says Morales-Doyle. “I worry that people are going to respond in these moments of heightened tension by escalating rather than by de-escalating.”
This election will be less protected against voter intimidation than the previous one. During the 1981 New Jersey’s gubernatorial race, aggressive intimidation tactics by off-duty law enforcement agents were so blatant that a decree adopted a year later sharply limited the Republican National Committee’s poll monitoring activities. That decree expired in 2017.
“This would be the first presidential election where there has not been a federal judicial consent decree in place that prevents the Republican Party from engaging in certain types of ballot security operations and polling intimidation efforts,” warns Morales-Doyle. With fewer legal protections, several initiatives are planning to ward off any endeavors to tamper with the voting process.
The Voter Protection Program, for example, was formed by litigators with state and federal government experience in both Republican and Democratic administrations, as well as national experts on voting rights and election protection, and communications professionals. It also includes a bipartisan board of former governors, attorneys general, and local, state and federal law enforcement leaders.
Advocates, meanwhile, say the voters targeted by the intimidation tactics have a vital role to play in this election—and their participation is sorely needed. “Immigrants across the country have demonstrated the greatest examples of courage that we can be inspired by when they show up to work in the middle of the pandemic or when they walk thousands of miles to give their children a better life,” says Sarmiento. “We are all called today to show that same courage.”
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