Things That Matter

An Ex-ICE Attorney Is Calling Out The Agency For Using False Evidence To Deport And Detain Innocent Migrants

A former Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) lawyer has revealed that in several cases ICE agents corroborated against immigrants in order to achieve their deportation. In an in-depth interview with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates those on power, Laura Peña revealed many of the behind the scenes details of the how the government agency pursued the deportation of migrants and asylum seekers. The investigative piece highlights some of the trials and tribulations that Peña has lived through as a legal assistant to the agency where, in different cases, there was a common factor: lack of evidence to accuse immigrants of any fault that prompts their deportation.

Now she’s getting to tell her side of the story. 

Who is Laura Peña and how did she end up working for ICE?

Credit: @ProPublica / Twitter

Growing up in Harlingen, Texas, which is close to Mexico, Peña was immersed in the migrant community. Living so close to the U.S-Mexico border gave her a unique perspective on what many Latino migrants endured. She went to school with friends who were undocumented and friends whose parents also worked for the Border Patrol. After graduating high school she left the area and would get a job in the State Department. 

She would eventually take her career path in the same footsteps as her father to become a lawyer. After graduating from Georgetown Law, she saw that ICE was looking for trial attorneys but the opportunity wasn’t as easy as it seemed. Peña wasn’t sold on the concept of helping see migrants get deported, especially growing up in a migrant community herself. Family and friends were in disagreement with the thought of her working on behalf of ICE. 

 But her father, who himself was a struggling attorney, consoled her and reassured her not to pass up an opportunity like this. “Do what you need to do,” he counseled her. “Don’t worry about what others think.”

 A fellow mentor, who was also an immigration attorney, also encouraged her to take the position. He said this could be an opportunity to take the job and try to make the government agency more humane. “We need people of your mindset working on the government’s side,” she told Peña.

Peña was hired in 2014 as an ICE attorney which would be the start of a turbulent and controversial time working on behalf of the agency. These are some of the stories she told ProPublica about her experiences. 

Credit: @HispanicCaucus / Twitter

One of the mentioned cases in the investigative piece was that of Carlos, a migrant who applied for political asylum. As soon as he made his request, border and immigration agents accused him of being a member of the notoriously famous MS-13 gang in El Salvador, so this made Carlos not eligible to enter to the United States. 

This is where Peña, who followed the case, started to see the ugly true side of ICE. She did not find any semblance of a connection between Carlos and the gang, not even tattoos, that are a key part of the gang’s look or even criminal record in his own country. To the contrary, Carlos even carried an official letter from the Ministry of Justice of El Salvador certifying and clearing him of ever setting foot in a jail cell. Peña demanded proof from immigration agents that he was connected to the gang but did not obtain any. Despite the lack of any evidence of his gang affiliation, Carlos did not obtain his asylum.

Another case she revealed was that of a 6-month-old baby who was scheduled to be deported because he had been separated from his mother. Peña would eventually reunite the child with his mother but the woman was accused of carrying a false document. The immigration judge used that against her and would then order her child’s removal from the country.

This would all lead to Peña taking a step back from the agency. She now works pro bono with clients seeking asylum at the border. 

Credit: @bykenarmstrong / Twitter

All of this immigration work would overwhelm Peña over time, especially during the Trump administration’s family separation policy went into effect in Spring 2018. “Everything was stacked against the immigrants. Most couldn’t afford to hire an attorney. Few would ever win their cases.”

Peña would go on to acknowledge that the immigration system refuses to provide due process to an immigrant. but also realizes that there’s not much that could be done there. She is now working pro bono as a visiting attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, helping migrants with asylum cases. She now hopes she can properly bring justice to the countless of people that have been wrongly deported or separated at the hands of ICE. 

READ: This New Border Wall Mural Features QR Codes That You Can Scan To Hear Emotional Stories Of Deported Migrants

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In Bombshell Report, ICE Agents Are Accused of ‘Torturing’ African Asylum-Seekers to Get Them to Sign Their Own Deportation Documents

Things That Matter

In Bombshell Report, ICE Agents Are Accused of ‘Torturing’ African Asylum-Seekers to Get Them to Sign Their Own Deportation Documents

Photo: Bryan Cox/Getty Images

A bombshell report published in The Guardian alleges that ICE officers are using torture to force Cameroonian asylum seekers to sign their own deportation orders. The report paints an even starker picture of Immigration and Customs Enforcement–an agency that is already widely criticized as corrupt and inhumane.

The deportation documents the immigrants have been forced to sign are called the Stipulated Orders of Removal. The documents waive asylum seekers’ rights to further immigration hearings and mean they consent to being deported.

The asylum seekers allege that the torture in ICE custody consisted of choking, beating, pepper-spraying, breaking fingers, and threats on their lives.

“I refused to sign,” recounted one Cameroonian asylum-seeker to The Guardian. “[The ICE officer] pressed my neck into the floor. I said, ‘Please, I can’t breathe.’ I lost my blood circulation. Then they took me inside with my hands at my back where there were no cameras.”

He continued: “They put me on my knees where they were torturing me and they said they were going to kill me. They took my arm and twisted it. They were putting their feet on my neck…They did get my fingerprint on my deportation document and took my picture.” Other witnesses recount similar violent experiences.

Experts believe that the escalation of deportations is directly related to the upcoming election and the possibility that ICE might soon be operated under a different administration. The theory is that ICE is coercively deporting “key witnesses” in order to “silence survivors and absolve ICE of legal liability.”

“In late September, early October of this year, we began to receive calls on our hotline from Cameroonian and Congolese immigrants detained in Ice prisons across the country. And they were being subjected to threats of deportation, often accompanied by physical abuse,” said Christina Fialho, executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, to The Guardian.

Many of the Cameroonians who are in the U.S. to seek asylum have legitimate claims to danger back in their home countries. Many of these Cameroonians come from an English-speaking minority in Cameroon that are violently target by the government there–some have died. The violence has been condemned by The United Nations and Amnesty International.

As with many immigrant stories of people who are seeking asylum, these immigrants’ lives are in danger in their home country. They are coming to the United States for a better life. But instead, they are faced with the agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whom they claim brutally mistreat them.

According to report, the U.S. is deporting entire airplanes full of asylum-seekers back to their home countries–deportations that have not been given due process and have been authorized under duress.

An ICE spokesperson contacted by The Guardian called the reports “sensationalist” and “unsubstantiated” while roundly refuting the claims. “Ice is firmly committed to the safety and welfare of all those in its custody. Ice provides safe, humane, and appropriate conditions of confinement for individuals detained in its custody,” she said.

Read the entire report here.

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Joe Biden Promises To Fight For Dreamers If Elected In November

Things That Matter

Joe Biden Promises To Fight For Dreamers If Elected In November

Biden For President / Flickr

An overwhelming majority of Americans support protecting Dreamers. Hundreds of thousands of young adults rely on the protection from deportation and work authorization to live with dignity and out of the shadows. Presidential nominee Joe Biden wants to make sure they stay protected.

Dreamers are looking to a Biden administration to finish what an Obama administration started.

Credit: Biden For President / Flickr

According to the official Biden campaign website, the presidential nominee will work with Congress to reinstate DACA protections and to create a pathway to citizenship. DACA was won by undocumented activists putting fear aside and publicly fought to change the minds of Americans and politicans.

“Undocumented ‘youth’ are no longer youth,” says Moises Serrano, DACA activist and the man profiled in the documentary “Forbidden.” “DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants have been living in fear and instability for decades now. We survived eight years under the Obama administration and four years under the Trump administration. Immigration reform was promised under the Obama-Biden platform; a promise that is still unfulfilled.”

He added: “We hope that President Biden puts an end to the instability in our lives once and for all, or we are ready to hold him accountable in the same way we held Obama accountable in our fight for Administrative Relief.”

Biden’s policy proposes protecting Dreamers and helping them advance in this country.

Credit: Biden For President / Flickr

Biden promises to reinstate DACA to protect Dreamers and will be looking into ways to protect their families. The policy put forth by a potential Biden administration is pivotal in giving those who are DACA recipients a chance to live without fear and with all of the rights as their fellow citizens.

“After living through a deep loss in 2016 after losing my second mother and only being granted access to be on her deathbed in Mexico through my ability to get advanced parole through DACA I learned that no loss would ever be greater than that,” said Cindy Nava, a DACA recipient, political operative and policy advocate. “However, November rolled around and another loss took place. One that impacted my life, that of my family and my community.”

DACA is a very important issue as hundreds of thousands of Dreamers are on the line.

Credit: Biden For President / Flickr

People like Nava are hopeful that a Biden administration will bring that dignity back to the immigrant community. It is a community that is vibrant and has contributed vastly to American culture. A BIden administration would be a chance for Nava to see herself reflected in government.

“I am hopeful to see the daughter of immigrants, a woman of color, and a woman I can finally feel represented by be sworn in as the first woman VP of this country,” Nava says. “I will look forward to an administration that listens to the communities it intends to represent. An administration that empowers the entire country to work with each other to support, strengthen, respect and uplift each other each and every day. An administration that values and is grateful for the contributions that immigrants bring to the foundation of our country each and every day.”

Nava wants to see an immigration reform that puts immigrant humanity at the forefront. One that understands the needs for people to seek refuge and a better life in a foreign country.

“No immigrant seeks to find a fix on a silver platter. Nor do they believe that this will be an easy task,” Nava says. “The only thing our families ask for is a chance. Una oportunidad para recordarle a este pais that their lucha and determination comes from a deep sense of ganas to create a life filled with more opportunities than they ever had.”

The battle over DACA is far from over but it is clear that the Trump administration is on the wrong side of public opinion. Biden’s plan would strengthen DACA and restore the program to its full functionality.

READ: Trump Administration Limit DACA Renewals, Blocks New Applications

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