Things That Matter

ICE Is Taking Advantage Of Migrants Who Can’t Read Or Write In Their Court Proceedings

Last summer, images of undocumented immigrant children went viral. These images didn’t show them crying, or being taken away from their parents. These children were pictured alone in court. The nameless children had no one by their side, no one to represent them, and had no clue what was going on, despite the fact that they were there trying to seek asylum. In some cases, these children wore headphones as a means to translate what the judge was saying. However, given that they were just children, the translation was almost useless. Reports are now servicing that immigration officials are using the language barrier as a means to keep them out of the U.S. 

An op-ed, written by a volunteer at the border, states that asylum-seeking immigrants cannot read or write in English or in their native tongue and immigration officials are taking advantage of that.

Emily Reed, a recent grad student from Barnard University, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post that stated she witnessed this manipulation from immigration officials against illiterate undocumented people. Reed was at the border in Texas volunteering with classmates at the South Texas Family Residential Center volunteering with the Dilley Pro Bono Project when she witnessed this manipulation. 

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection often conveniently exploit asylum seekers who cannot read. Along with an unfamiliarity with our deliberately complex immigration system, the illiteracy of Central American migrants, especially women, facilitates the deportation of parents and separation of families,” Reed wrote. She added, “By manipulating illiterate refugees who often unwittingly sign away their rights, the U.S. government is violating the basic tenets of the internationally recognized and protected right to seek asylum.” 

Reed added that her volunteer program with the legal center provided Spanish documents to the migrant families, but they couldn’t under that either.

“Simple translation is not enough,” she wrote. “The Dilley Pro Bono Project provides documents in Spanish, but even this paperwork was difficult for many migrant women to understand. Many women I helped to fill out paperwork struggled simply to write their children’s birth dates.”

The migrant families are being rushed within the court and legal process, which in turn, is causing deportation to happen a lot faster.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that the haste paperwork at the border made it possible for immigration officials to rush and deport undocumented immigrants. The ACLU stated this process should not be rushed because people need to take their time and understand what is going on and what it is that they’re signing. 

“This waiting period is crucial to ensure that parents have an opportunity to make an informed decision about whether to fight their own removal cases, leave their children (who may have their own asylum claims) behind in the United States, or make some other decision,” the ACLU stated lasted year. “In short, families will be making life-altering decisions after months of traumatic separation — and the fact that the government is trying to shortchange them a matter of days to do so is galling.”

A New York Times report showed that 58,000 asylum seekers are currently stuck in Mexico under Trump’s policy because they’re awaiting asylum hearings.

The backlog for these asylum hearings is up to six to eight months, and when they’re ready for their hearing the majority of them won’t understand what needs to be done. This is why they need proper representation, and a patient legal system so they comprehend what is being asked of them and what the next steps are. 

What makes this matter even worse is that there’s not enough legal representation for each family unit, or individual, at the border. 

Last year, it was very apparent that there were not enough lawyers or legal help for undocumented immigrants at the border, and this year there’s even more undocumented people awaiting help and attempting to seek asylum. There people like Reed who want to help asylum seekers, but it’s not as easy as they might think. 

“People see the crisis happening, and they want to do something right now, which is great. But when we explain that this is a long-term fight, and we need your long-term commitment. That’s when people sort of back off.” Zenén Jaimes Pérez, the communications director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, told Huffington Post last year. 

If, however, you are willing to put in the time, or you’re interested in learning more about how you can provide legal help, or assist legal teams at the border, please reach out to: the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (“ProBAR”); the Immigration Justice Project (“IJP”); the ACLU of Texas; and RAICES.

READ: Selena Gomez Announces New Netflix Series ‘Living Undocumented’

STD Rates In The US Are At Record Levels And Many Blame Trump’s Policies Targeting Clinics Like Planned Parenthood

Things That Matter

STD Rates In The US Are At Record Levels And Many Blame Trump’s Policies Targeting Clinics Like Planned Parenthood

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For years, we’ve been hearing that Millenials and Gen Z are having less sex with fewer partners than previous generations. They’re also waiting until older than previous generations. However, despite those facts, America’s STD rates are spiraling out of control.

But the numbers are clear: With nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis diagnosed in 2017, rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are at an all-time high in the U.S., according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

A new report from the CDC shows just how extreme the increase in STIs really is.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an annual report revealing that the number of combined reported cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia reached a record high last year. Titled “Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report”, the report noted that in 2018, there were more than 2.4 million syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia infections combined — an increase of more than 100,000 from the previous year.

There was also a 71 percent increase in syphilis cases since 2014, along with a 22 percent increase from 2017 in the number of newborn deaths related to congenital syphilis.

What’s harder to pinpoint, however, is the reason behind those soaring statistics.

On paper, it seems like STD rates should be dropping. Condom use is up. Teenagers and millennials are having less sex with fewer partners than generations past. Stigmas around sexuality and sexual health are beginning to break down. And yet, for four consecutive years, STD rates have broken records. Why?

The problem is complicated, says Dr. Bradley Stoner, medical director of the St. Louis STD/HIV Prevention Training Center at Washington University in St. Louis. But a good portion of it, he says, can be traced back to lackluster funding for federal resources like the CDC, which has seen its budget for STD prevention sit stagnant for almost two decades. Increasing federal funding, he says, could allow organizations like the CDC to hire more people focused on STD prevention, increase public health education campaigns and make testing and treatment resources more accessible.

Without adequate resources, however, the STD prevention community doesn’t have the manpower to take steps that could really work — things like building out systems and procedures for contacting and screening the partners of people who are diagnosed with infections, who may be carrying and spreading STDs without knowing it. Many STDs are asymptomatic, often making it difficult to know if you have one.

The nationwide closure of publicly funded STD clinics hasn’t helped matters, either

While the CDC did not explicitly state it, STI testing is becoming harder to come by for vulnerable populations because free test clinics — including some Planned Parenthood clinics — are being defunded by Trump administration policies. Ironically, the Trump administration’s pro-life policies have put newborn babies at a higher risk for death. Indeed, the Trump administration’s policy decision to cut off Title X funding to health care centers that provide abortion care is resulting in the closing of clinics that don’t offer abortion services, but do offer STD testing.

“While we’ve been battling sky-high STI rates, [Republican] politicians…have spent years relentlessly working to chip away at Ohioans’ reproductive health care,” Kersha Deibel, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, told Vice in September. “This is the world they want to see: one where women lose access to birth control, where information about how to access abortion is held hostage, and where, if you don’t have money, it’s almost impossible to access an STI test or a cancer screening.”

According to the CDC report, defunding public programs is merely one part of a larger problem.

The Center said data suggests there are multiple issues at play: reduced access to STD prevention due to drug use, poverty, and stigma; decreased condom use among gay and bisexual men; and cuts to STD programs at the state and local levels.

“In recent years, more than half of local programs have experienced budget cuts, resulting in clinic closures, reduced screening, staff loss, and reduced patient follow-up and linkage to care services,” the CDC said.

What’s even more wild, is that in 2000 syphilis was nearly eradicated from the US.

Since the recession, some programs were cut because STDs weren’t seen as such a threat, but many of the cut programs didn’t have their funding restored post-recession. Compounded with newfound resources flooding other initiatives, like the Trump administration’s federal budget supporting abstinence-only programs, STD prevention programs have few resources now. According to the National Coalition of STD Directors, more than half of local STD programs have experienced budget cuts.

Yet when reports like this one from the CDC are published, while it is meant to raise awareness, it can often perpetuate the stigma around sexual health and STDs.

Jenelle Marie Pierce, Executive Director of TheSTDProject.com and Spokesperson for PositiveSingles.com, told Salon in an email that “using language like ‘skyrocketing,’ ‘devastating,’ and ‘astronomical,’ for example, is fear-mongering, and it only serves to further stigmatize STIs by extrapolating one component of a giant report without including thoughtful analysis, supportive resources, or content that moves the conversation around STIs forward.”

More Than 700 Women Have Disappeared From A Texas ICE Detention Center And Their Lawyers Don’t Know Where They Are

Things That Matter

More Than 700 Women Have Disappeared From A Texas ICE Detention Center And Their Lawyers Don’t Know Where They Are

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Across a network of more than 200 migrant prisons and municipal migrant jails, the US government is detaining roughly 18,000 people at any given moment. And that’s not including the more than 12,000 minors who are held in other facilities under the supervision of the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s.

And amid this network of for-profit private prisons and government-ran detention centers, migrants are constantly being shuffled around – often without little notice to their lawyers and even family.

This time, the agency is accused of moving more than 700 women without notifying their lawyers, family, or anyone else.

According to attorneys from the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), ICE has moved more than 700 women out of a Texas detention center. And ICE gave their lawyers zero way of locating them, which is especially damning considering many of the women face serious medical conditions.

Starting on Sept. 20, the women being held at the Karnes County Residential Center were sent to other centers around the country so that the facility could be used to detain families. More than two weeks later, their lawyers from RAICES have no idea where the majority of these women are being held, and they can’t find any updated information in ICE’s online detainee tracking system.

Many of these women have serious medical conditions and not being able to advocate for their health could have fatal consequences.

“I’m really fearful that their conditions could worsen,” Meza said. “I don’t want them to be in another ICE press release about death in detention.” 

The situation highlights a common problem for migrants in ICE custody: They can be transferred between facilities with little notice and yet their new locations are not promptly updated in the system. If their existing lawyers and family members can’t find them, they may have to go through their cases without legal representation, especially in remote areas where legal counsel is sparse. And those with serious health issues could die if advocates who don’t know where their clients were transferred are unable to fight for their right to medical treatment. 

According to ICE, advocates shouldn’t worry because “adequate medical care is being provided to all detainees.”

An ICE official told HuffPost that “Comprehensive medical care is provided to all individuals in ICE custody” adding that staffing includes registered nurses, licensed mental health providers, a physician and access to 24-hour emergency care. The official acknowledged that the women at Karnes had been transferred to other facilities, but did not explain why their locations were not showing up in the online system.

But given the deaths that have occurred in ICE facilities and the overall cruelty towards people in their custody, few people trust ICE’s ability to care for migrants.

At Karnes, some of the immigrants were allegedly being denied lifesaving care, such as cancer and HIV treatment, and that suicidal patients were not receiving psychiatric counseling. One woman with cancer in her uterus said she had not received medical treatment for more than two months. Another immigrant, who is HIV positive, said she was not getting her medication or being evaluated by a doctor, even as her symptoms worsened.

The lack of medical care in immigrant detention facilities is well-established. Eight immigrants have died in ICE detention centers this year, and six minors have died in Border Patrol centers, in many cases because they didn’t receive proper medical help for their illnesses. 

Technically there’s no legal requirement for ICE to inform detainees’ lawyers that they are being transferred. 

According to Andrea Meza, Director of Family Detention Services for RAICES, ICE is not at all required to inform anyone when a detainee is transferred to a new location.

There is one exception: ICE is mandated to provide notice of transfer for Salvadorans, per the Orantes Settlement Agreement — but only Salvadorans.) Otherwise, Meza says, “There’s not really anything that requires them to give us notice as to where our clients are.” 

But even if ICE did update the platform used to track migrants in their custody, lawyers said it’s rarely that reliable.

It can take up to a few weeks for someone who is transferred to a new facility to show up in the system, which means families are often left wondering whether their loved ones have been deported back to life-threatening situations in their home countries.

“I think FedEx does a better job of tracking its packages than ICE does of tracking the people it detains,” Lincoln-Goldfinch, an immigrant rights attorney told HuffPo.  

Of the women RAICES has been able to locate, some are being housed at a private prison in Mississippi that the Justice Department found so poorly-managed it issued a scathing 65-page report detailing its problems. The Federal Bureau of Prisons to ended its contract with the prison earlier this year, but now immigrant women are being sent there.