Things That Matter

ICE Continues To Send Migrants To Private Prisons Where Cruelty Is The Norm

One of the services traditionally provided and operated by the State is security and correctional facilities. Traditional modern democracies are arranged in such a way that governments provide these services, and run them. However, neoliberal policies instituted during the 1980s, when people like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were in power, have translated into an increased privatization of these types of services. Basically, arresting and locking people up is a big and very profitable business. 

In the past few years ICE has captured hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants and people looking to enter the United States as refugees.

Many regions of the world are literally on fire. Gang warfare has spread like an epidemic in Central America, Mexico is still fighting a seemingly endless war against the drug cartels, African migrants are trying to get to America after Europe has proven to be hostile territory, the Middle East continues to suffer from endless conflict… and the list goes on and on.

The United States Customs and Border Patrol has been increasingly tough during the Trump administration, and the number of detainees of all ages and genders is increasing. Enter private correctional facilities, with which ICE has struck deals. The number of arrested migrants is huge.

According to The Washington Post: “The number of migrants taken into custody along the southern U.S. border soared to nearly 1 million during the government’s fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data released Tuesday.”

Enter LaSalle Corrections, which has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons: detainees have been committing suicide in their facilities, including a Cuban man named Roylan Hernandez-Diaz.

ICE has to take all these people somewhere, and it has chosen a company that is infamous for its alleged malpractices: LaSalle Corrections, which operates out of Louisiana. This company was founded in 1997 by a former nursing home owner who had experience in running facilities where people are kept under strict disciplinary control.

During the Trump administration eight contracts have been drawn with the service provider. This past month Roylan Hernandez-Diaz,  a 43-year-old Cuban man killed himself in his cell after the immigration court told him he needed to provide more information relating to the political attacks he would face if he returned to his homeland. 

Hernandez-Diaz was angry at his legal situation, but also at the conditions in the jail where he had been kept.

The Washington Post reported on October 21: “Hernandez-Diaz, the second detainee to die in ICE custody this month, has a backstory that points to several new realities in the immigration system: An influx of Cubans, who are stuck in detention due to policy changes during the Obama administration. An increasing reliance by ICE on rural jails in Louisiana, where detainees charge they have been kept for months on end. And reports of deaths, suicide attempts, and hunger strikes from those detainees.”

It does sound like a very precarious situation, particularly given the fact that these people are not criminals in the traditional sense. 

Think Orange is the New Black but much worse and real life.

Credit: Orange Is The New Black / Netflix

Viewers of the Netflix show Orange is the New Black might get an idea of what the privatization of correctional facilities and the use of these by ICE means for actual human beings. Of course the show was a romanticized version of reality, and we are sure that the brick and mortar versions of these prisons are much worse. This is what happens when the lives or human beings are assigned a number in terms of profit, and when companies make a a buck out of suffering. 

Abusive guards, moldy food, LaSalle’s facilities seem to be hell on Earth.

As The Washington Post reports: “Nathalia Rocha Dickson, a Louisiana immigration lawyer, said conditions in these facilities are dire: Guards who don’t speak Spanish and who are largely untrained, rotating in and out. Tasteless food served at strict meal times, and a commissary that’s expensive or is unavailable entirely”. Yuselys, a Cuban woman detained in one of these places told VICE: ““All of the people who are detained there are suffering. They’re anxious, they’re depressed, they lay in bed all day and don’t want to get up for anything because of how depressed they are”. It sounds como un infierno en vida. 

Guards working for LaSalle have been found guilty of brutal practices.

Guards at one of the correctional facilities operated by LaSalle, a place called Richmond, were found guilty of pepper spraying inmates who were handcuffed and kneeling down. This happened when Richmond was holding civil offenders, not migrants. However, critics say that their practices have not changed much, and that there are other red flags such as the lack of medical support based of financial reasons. The philosophy seems to be: if it is gonna cost us, then you are on your own. 

Here’s Everything You Should Know About Trump’s Plan To Further Limit Asylum For Migrants And Refugees

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Here’s Everything You Should Know About Trump’s Plan To Further Limit Asylum For Migrants And Refugees

Nicolas Chamm / Getty Images

In what many are calling the most sweeping changes to asylum law ever, the Trump administration has proposed new rules regarding how migrants and refugees qualify for asylum protection in the U.S.

The rules would have a major impact on the ability of people with a legitimate fear for their safety – or that of their family – to prove their case before U.S. asylum courts. In some cases, asylum seekers may not even be given a chance to pleas their cases before an immigration court as the rules could leave some decisions in the hands of front line screeners, such as Border Patrol agents.

Trump administration unveils sweeping plan to limit asylum claims.

The Trump administration has released its furthest-reaching plant yet when it comes to trying to change asylum law in the U.S. The administration is trying to change the meaning of “persecution” to make it harder for migrants and refugees, with legitimate fears of persecution and danger, to be able to secure asylum in the U.S.

The 161-page proposal, officially posted Monday in the Federal Register, would also streamline the asylum-approval process, letting immigration judges rather than immigration courts make rulings in asylum cases and redefining the definition of a frivolous application.

“Essentially, this rule tries, in a way that hasn’t been done before, to define what can be grounds for asylum,” said Jessica Bolter, an associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.

The rule change could potentially bar relief to anyone who has passed through two countries before reaching the U.S. or who spent 14 days or more in one other country prior to arriving here. The administration also wants to bar asylum to anyone who has failed to timely pay U.S. taxes or who has been unlawfully present in the U.S. for a year or more.

It wants immigration judges to weigh someone’s illegal presence in the U.S. against them even though federal law specifically says people can seek asylum by crossing any part of the border and asking for it. And in addition to making fewer people eligible for asylum, it would give officers more power to deny initial asylum claims preemptively, with no need of a court hearing.

Critics of measure say the proposed changes would ‘represent the end of the asylum system as we know it.’

Credit: Nicolas Chamm / Getty Images

The new rules were quickly condemned to advocates like Families Belong Together, which called the proposed rule change “an assault on the fundamental right to seek asylum.”

“If fully implemented, they will gut years of progress in the U.S. to create bridges to safety for so many whose governments could not and would not protect them from severe harm and even death,” said a statement from Tahirih, which advocates for immigrants escaping gender-based violence.

The rule change would also put some of the most vulnerable people at increased risk of persecution.

Credit: Nicolas Chamm / Getty Images

For several years, the Trump administration has been working hard to keep asylum seekers from even reaching the U.S. border. As part of the government’s plan, the administration has signed ‘safe third country’ agreements with several Central American country’s – but several of these deals have shown to leave asylum seekers in increased danger.

In its deal with Guatemala, hundreds of non-Guatemalans have been sent to the country to apply for asylum there – predominantly women with young children, who may have well-founded fears of persecution. And the system has become so convoluted that many migrants and refugees were effectively compelled to abandon their asylum claims and return to the places they had fled in fear.

Meanwhile, at the U.S.-Mexico border, asylum seekers have been denied the most basic procedural safeguards, including the opportunity to present evidence or acquire a lawyer. Many had endured demeaning and coercive treatment by Border Patrol.

One Salvadoran woman told KITV that she was coerced into signing her “voluntary deportation” form at 2 a.m., believing it to be an asylum application. Soon afterward, officials chained her around her waist, ankles and wrists and sent her to Guatemala. “To them we are like bugs,” she said.

The new rules on asylum come just as the U.S. Supreme Court has said that Trump acted illegally in trying to end DACA.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled the Department of Homeland Security – and the Trump administration – had violated a federal administrative law with its policy ending DACA. DACA is the Obama-era program allowing undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children to live and work legally in the US.

The decision came as a bit of a surprise as many expected the court’s conservative majority to strike down the program in favor of Trump. However, the ruling effectively leaves the program in place until Congress a can take up the legislative process behind immigration and get something done for the benefit of DACA recipients and the nation.

ICE Detention Centers Are Allegedly Using Dangerous Disinfectants That Cause Burns And Bleeding

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ICE Detention Centers Are Allegedly Using Dangerous Disinfectants That Cause Burns And Bleeding

Chris Carlson / Getty

As soon as the Coronavirus pandemic began to ravage the globe, ICE detainees and migrant rights groups have all worried about a potentially devastating outbreak inside ICE detention centers.

And in fact, dozens of migrants have become infected with the virus while in ICE custody – and so far two men have died. Despite this, ICE still refuses to mass release detainees to ensure their safety and well-being. Instead, ICE has doubled down on migrant detention amid a global pandemic and they are using potentially deadly chemicals to ensure a sanitized environment.

Immigrant detainees say ICE is using Coronavirus disinfectant sprays that cause bleeding, burns and pain.

Credit: David McNew / Getty

Two immigrant advocacy organizations have filed a complaint against ICE detention centers ran by the GEO Group, alleging that the center is using a Covid-19 disinfectant on the facility over 50 times per day.

The spray the center is allegedly using is called HDQ Neutral. On the bottle, according to detainees, it says “that it can cause ‘irreversible eye damage and skin burns. Avoid breathing in. Do not get in eyes or on skin. Wear goggles and face shields. Wash thoroughly after using.”

According to the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice and Freedom for Immigrants, the disinfectant is being used inside un-ventilated areas – causing direct danger to detainees. In fact, the company that manufactures HDQ Neutral – Spartan Chemical – warns that it is harmful and can cause skin burns and serious injuries when inhaled.

Several groups of migrants have spoken out about the harm and danger they’re facing.

Detainees who have been interviewed by the migrant rights organizations have said that many migrants have become severely ill, with at least nine requiring medical attention since May 11. One detainee told Insider, “When I blow my nose, blood comes out. They are treating us like animals. One person fainted and was taken out, I don’t know what happened to them. There is no fresh air.”

According to another detained migrant, the guards have started spraying the chemical everywhere, all over surfaces that are used by detainees, all the time.

Another inmate said he started profusely bleeding after coming into contact with the bathroom, which an official sprayed with disinfectant. They said the official told them it was HDQ Neutral. 

GEO Group Inc. — the company that runs the detention center — has also come under fire for not doing enough to protect detainees from Covid-19 infection.

Credit: Chris Carlson / Getty

The GEO Group, which runs many of ICE’s detention centers, has frequently come under fire for its treatment of detainees. In fact, the Adelanto Detention Center – where several have complained about the chemicals use – has previously had complained filed against it and its staff.

Throughout the course of the coronavirus pandemic, GEO facilities have been criticized for not taking the spread of the novel coronavirus seriously — leading to a massive number of COVID-19 cases among those imprisoned 

And in New York City, where GEO Group runs the city’s only private prison, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez tweeted her outrage at the conditions of the facility where at least 38 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19. 

“Conditions at these detention centers are so poor that this man contracted #COVID19 TWICE,” Velázquez tweeted. “These institutions are not a safe place for inmates or those detained. We need compassionate release of vulnerable populations who present no public safety risk.”

News of the incidents have started circulating on social media and people are demanding action.

Thousands have taken to social media to share their outrage and demand action. Some have even likened the poor ventilation and exposure to toxic chemicals to the gas chambers used to kills Jews, homosexuals, and other targeted groups during the Holocaust.

The immigration detention centers have also been frequently called concentration camps, especially after a wave of unaccompanied minors from Central America arrived in the US in the summer of 2018. Many of them were swiftly locked in detention facilities, shocking the world with images of small children locked in cages. 

A Change.org petition has gathered more than 250,000 signatures demanding ICE stop using the dangerous chemicals.

People are also demanding action. A Change.org petition has more than 259,000 signatures demanding that the facilities immediately stop using the dangerous chemicals.

For their part, ICE has responded saying it’s “committed to maintaining the highest facility standards of cleanliness and sanitation, safe work practices, and control of hazardous substances and equipment to ensure the environmental health and safety of detainees, staff, volunteers and contractors from injury and illness.”