October 2015

Women in Texas ICE Detention Center Begin Indefinite Hunger Strike

 

A group of women detained in Texas’ T Don Hutto immigration detention center began an indefinite hunger strike last week in protest of poor conditions in the facility.

The strike began officially last Wednesday, when 27 women housed in the Taylor, Texas facility refused dinner. Administrators at the facility didn’t notice the strike until a few days later.

The women are unanimously demanding immediate release. They have no other demands.

18 of the 27 participating women penned letters describing their experiences of incarceration in Hutto and explaining their participation in the strike.

Magdrola, a Guatemalan woman participating in the strike, wrote, “There are grave injustices being committed, detentions spanning eight months, 10 months, a year, a year and a half, just to end with them telling us that we have no rights and we will be deported with disdainful words and gestures to make us feel worthless.”

Another woman participating in the strike, America, does not have enough money to pay her bail, and notes that prices for food at commissary have been raised during her time at Hutto.

The majority of the participating women are victims of state and/or domestic violence in their home countries. Many of these have already passed through an interview process for asylum in the U.S. that acknowledges that  each has escaped “credible fear” or “reasonable fear” in their home countries.

Although there has been no retaliation from Hutto officials to date, similar protests from detainees have elicited severe retaliation from ICE detention centers. Striking inmates have been moved to more severe detention centers, denied communications to their families or legal counsel, or had their access to water limited. Women and children engaged in a 5-day hunger strike at Karnes County Residential Center were reportedly locked in a dark room.

The detention center the women are housed in, Hutto, is operated by private prison company Corrections Corporation of American (CCA). The facility, a former state prison, was converted in 2009 from a family detention center to a women-only facility in response to lawsuits filed by the ACLU over unsuitable conditions for the children detained there.

 

 

Paul Ryan Pledges No Immigration Reform in Congress

 

 

Paul Ryan (R-WI), the current frontrunner to the Speaker of the House position in Congress, signed a letter today announcing that he will not allow comprehensive immigration reform legislation to pass under President Obama.

According to his statement in the letter, Ryan will not allow any immigration bill to reach the floor for a vote unless a “majority” of GOP members support it. “There will be no comprehensive immigration reform under this president,” Ryan told the National Review.

The letter was directed to the House Freedom Caucus (HFC), a group of conservative congressional representatives. It formalizes a set of agreements made between Ryan and the Caucus during closed door negotiations to support Ryan for the Speaker position. HFC backed Ryan for the Speaker of the House position last week, unofficially solidifying his support among Republicans for the nomination.

This is the first public promise that Ryan has made in his bid for the speakership.

Reform advocates are not pleased with Ryan’s statement, but remain displeased with congressional conservatives as a whole for their outright rejection of reasonable immigration policy changes.

Ryan’s previous record on immigration stood more ambiguous than his more recent statements, angering many HFC conservatives. He supported 2013 bipartisan efforts to push an immigration bill with a pathway to amnesty, and until now has been unwilling to take hardline positions on immigration reform efforts.

Ryan’s statements or potential service as Speaker of the House would not affect President Obama’s executive actions on immigration made early last year, which have been stayed in legal proceedings until further judgement.

New Report Finds ICE Detention Inspections Fail To Document Negligence

 

A recent report by the National Immigrant Justice Center has found that the U.S. federal government has failed to maintain basic human rights standards in its ICE detention centers, citing among its biggest offenders Stewart Detention Center in Georgia.

The report, entitled “Lives in Peril: How Ineffective Inspections Make ICE Complicit in Immigration Detention Abuse,”
reviewed 105 detention facilities by looking at internal inspection documents conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies. These documents are not available publically, but were released after 3 years of litigation and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

To date, there have been no third-party reviews, and only ICE officials have conducted in-person facilities inspections.

Many of the detention centers reviewed in the study are run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), an organization contracted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to run and maintain detainees. The 2009 Appropriations Act for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) mandates that ICE officials conduct annual faculty inspections to determine whether outside corporations, like CCA, should be allowed to maintain their contracts with ICE. This report suggests that these inspections reports are designed to help CCA and others re-approve their contracts.

Among these is the center in Stewart, which was found to have severe gaps in its medical treatment. Although Stewart houses up to 2,000 people at a time, the facility has only one doctor on staff, with another five vacant medical positions available to hire. ICE inspections reported that medical staffing at Stewart was “adequate.” Other reports, including those conducted by the Detention Watch Network (DWN) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) suggest that many immigrants in detention centers across the country suffer or die from treatable medical conditions.

The report also points to Stewart’s barriers to appropriate legal consultation. The center was found to deny visits from family or attorneys, making it difficult to prepare documents and prepare for hearings. Moreover, while detainees raised concerns about their limited access to the law library and lack of reliable phone access, these concerns were not reflected in any of ICE’s inspection reports. Without appropriate documentation, no steps can be taken to remedy these gaps in access.

 

Georgia DACA Students Continue Push for In-State Tuition

Georgia Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week for Olvera v. University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents, a case which will determine whether Georgia students with adjusted status under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) can receive for in-state college tuition in Georgia public colleges and universities.

A group of 39 undocumented students first filed a lawsuit against Georgia’s Board of Regents in August 2013, citing President Obama’s immigration executive actions of 2012. These changes give students who entered the U.S. unlawfully before their 16th birthdays temporary legal residence and exemption from deportation.
The Geogia Board of Regents currently do not allow Georgia DACA students to, citing a 2010 policy requiring students to be “lawfully present” in Georgia to receive in-state tuition rates. DACA students are arguing that given their executive change in legal status, they should be considered to be “lawfully present.”

To date, DACA students are not only barred from in-state tuition rates, but they cannot be admitted to Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and University of Georgia, schools among the state’s most selective public institutions. 20 other states in the U.S. have laws granting DACA students in-state tuition, but Georgia’s neighbors Alabama and South Carolina both currently have laws barring DACA students from in-state rates.

Georgia State Senate is considering a bill on this matter, SB-44, that would amend state policy to allow DACA grantees to receive in-state tuition at Georgia public universities. In an article supporting the bill, Azadeh Shahshahani , the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director of the ACLU Union of Georgia, wrote, “By imposing barriers on these students to attend higher education, Georgia is losing out, too. Without a college degree, it’s much more likely that these students will have no choice but to accept low-paying jobs that neither allow them to fulfill their potential nor help them climb the economic ladder.”

Moreover, Shahshahani argues, because successful undocumented students are unable to pay for local public schooling, they are further incentivized to pursue academic opportunities elsewhere.  “Many will be forced to leave Georgia to take advantage of equal educational opportunities elsewhere — states where such laws don’t exist. As such, they are forced to take their talents and high academic caliber elsewhere, rather than investing it back into the state that invested in them.”

Texas Will Continue Denying Birth Certificates to Children of Undocumented Parents

 

A district court judge in Texas ruled Friday that the state of Texas can continue their practice of denying U.S. birth certificates to U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants, a practice that flies flagrantly in the face of the 14th Amendment. As of now, if parents are able to provide only a consular documentation to state health officials, the state can refuse to issue U.S. birth certificates for any children they may have within U.S. territory.

The case in question was brought by a group of families who had been denied U.S. birth certificates for children born in the U.S. because parents presented matriculas consulares, documents issued from Mexico to citizens working within the U.S., as their only form of identification. These families filed an emergency injunction in May 2015, arguing that by denying children these documents, the state was hindering the children’s rights to medical care, education, child care, and social welfare programs, among others. They requested that a judge issue an order for the state to begin issuing documents to all U.S.-born children.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman declined, writing that “although the Plaintiffs have provided evidence which raises grave concerns regarding the treatment of citizen children born to immigrant parents, this case requires additional determinations which can be made only upon development and presentation of an evidentiary record which thoroughly explores the facts and circumstances of the issues raised in this case.” Ultimately, Judge Pitman concluded that “A birth certificate is a vital and important document. As such, Texas has a clear interest in protecting access to that document.”

The 14th Amendment guarantees citizenship rights to children born in the U.S.  Texas has been denying U.S. birth certificates to U.S.-born children of undocumented parents since 2013.

Jim George, who filed a brief in the case for Texas Appleseed on behalf of the families, disagreed. “The fundamental question left unanswered is how do they get birth certificates? The children cannot act for themselves. If they were orphans and had no families, the state would have the obligation to act as parents and ensure that they have all the rights of citizenship,” he told a reporter for the Austin-American Statesmen.

The case will proceed to a full hearing.

Sudden shift in Central American Children headed to U.S.

 

Tens of thousands of desperate asylum seekers streaming into Europe recall a smaller but significant migration crisis unfolding along the southern border of the United States: Waves of Central American migrants – many of them children – were detained at the border last year.

A large number of unaccompanied minors from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have tried to reach the Unites States in the past two years, risking detention by law enforcement, abuse by human traffickers and terrible conditions along their journey.

Since October of 2013 through July of this year, approximately 80,000 unaccompanied minors from those Central American countries were detained by United States authorities along the Mexican border.

Others were not as lucky to have made it that far. They were ransomed by the very smugglers to whom their families paid thousands of dollars to sneak them into the United States. Some lost limbs during their journey or found themselves sold into sexual slavery, and others turned back.

What would drive children to make such a perilous journey without their parents or another adult?

Constant gang violence in Central America and a lack of economic opportunity for young people, as well as governments unable to properly respond to those problems, have forced many young migrants north.

The situation has concerned American officials and forced them to confront a growing crisis to the south. The authorities responded by announcing a plan for $1 billion in development aid to help address the causes of the crisis.

Even before those funds have been approved, the number of migrants reaching the United States has begun to drop: Fewer Central Americans have been stopped along the southern border with Mexico in the last year. Some American officials believe this is the result of tighter border controls and better public information campaigns in the region. But despite this situation, there was a slight increase in migrants stopped at the border in August.

The problem seems to have simply been pushed further south. Many of the young migrants are now stopped entering Mexico instead.

The Mexican government detained approximately 92,000 Central American migrants from October 2014 to April 2015. During the same period, the United States held around 70,448 people from places  other than Mexico, according to data from the Washington Office on Latin America.

The desperation in Central America driving people north has not abated. The escape route for many migrants has, for now, just shifted.

Sheriff refuses to hold jailed immigrants for ICE

Riverside County sheriff’s officials have decided to meet federal immigration agents halfway regarding the jailed immigrants wanted for deportation.

The county’s largest police station has agreed to notify ICE officials of the impending release of jailed non-U.S. citizens.

But the Sheriff’s Department is rejecting ICE’s request to detain jailed immigrants for up to 48 hours beyond their scheduled release.

Until a few years ago, state prisons and county jails throughout California honored ICE “detainers” as if they were federal warrants, keeping immigrant inmates behind bars for up to 48 hours beyond their scheduled release dates.

With social and legal changes, the detainers are now considered requests rather than mandatory. A U.S. district court ruling even found that a sheriff’s department violated an inmate’s constitutional rights by simply honoring an ICE detainer.

Yet, refusing to cooperate with ICE is controversial. Especially with several high-profile cases such as the man who was charged with fatally shooting a woman in San Francisco who was walking on a pier.

Last year, ICE announced plans to focus on more serious offenders and to ask law enforcement agencies to at least notify federal authorities when immigrants wanted for deportation are being released.

As the Riverside County sheriff’s statement noted, ICE continues to have access to fingerprint data taken during jail bookings and uses the information to check inmates’ local criminal records and immigration status.

Princeton takes steps to becoming more immigrant-friendly

 

The city of Princeton New Jersey has long prided itself on opening its doors to immigrants. Princeton took steps this week to make the town a little more immigrant-friendly.

The council will be fully supporting a set of resolutions recommended by the town’s Human Services Commission that they hope will make immigrants feel even more comfortable in Princeton – whether they’re in the country legally or not.

Councilwoman Heather Howard stated that “This is really the result of a lot of efforts that have been done … to advance the status of immigrants in our community and to make sure we have a welcoming community and to reflect the rich contributions of everyone in our community to our economic life, to our cultural life.”

Council passed a resolution calling on the State Legislature to allow people without documentation to obtain state driver’s licenses, something they believe will make roads safer and allow them to travel more freely for work or pleasure.

Princeton is now one of 10 other cities who have passed similar resolutions.

Council also voted to join Welcoming America, an Atlanta-based organization that  works with cities and counties on initiatives to integrate immigrants into the fabric of community life, and Cities United for Immigrant Action, a coalition of mayors from around the country who support comprehensive immigration reform.

“Are we going to welcome people of all races and ethnicities and respect their social and economic contributions to the town and the state,” said John Heilner, the chair of the Immigrations Issues subcommittee, “or are we just going to take the easy road and leave things as they are and use people’s labor for our benefit but not treat them as equals in the necessities of life?”

Both council members and residents agreed that the driver’s license measure would result in fewer uninsured and unlicensed drivers on the road and could help bolster the local economy by giving them access to more jobs.

How US immigration officers use dubious identity papers to deport people

Patrice Talbot was taken out of York County Prison in southern Pennsylvania and told he was being deported. Immigration officers with ICE agency later showed Mr. Talbot the temporary one-way passport, known as a laissez-passer, they said they had secured for him from Cameroonian officials. ICE was required to produce a travel document in order to send him back to his native country Cameroon, which he mentioned he fled in 2002 after enduring arrests and brutal beatings by police. Talbot had been living without papers in Philadelphia after being denied political asylum in the United States almost nine years earlier. He was afraid to return home.

To Talbot, nothing about this passport seemed right. The photograph was so dark and grainy he hardly recognized himself. The single sheet was not printed on embassy letterhead. Instead of bearing the signature of the ambassador, the passport was signed by someone he had never heard of – Charles Greene of Houston, Texas. Talbot informed his ICE officer about his concern. When Talbot was charged in August of 2013 with resisting deportation, a federal judge stated in a ruling that she also doubted the document’s validity. By then, others had raised questions about the role of Charles Greene, a Methodist minister who served in a voluntary capacity with the Cameroonian ministry, in deportations.

Talbot’s story is not the only one of its kind. In a report released, “Smuggled into Exile,” the New York-based advocacy group Families for Freedom raises concerns about other cases in which ICE officials deported people based on falsified identity documents. The group identified at least four individuals who were removed from the United States from 2012 to 2015 with travel papers of dubious validity or without any papers at all. It says the actual number may be much higher. People who arrive in their country of origin without proper identity documents may have difficulty working or accessing local services and can even be subject to arrest.