Things That Matter

One Woman’s Investigation Revealed That Hundreds Of Migrant Teens Are Being Held In Prison-Like Conditions

One of the most criticized government agencies during the Trump presidency has been the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, which is in charge of putting immigration laws into practice. With the current administration’s hard stance on undocumented migrants, ICE has terrorized (believe us, we don’t use this word lightly) hundreds of undocumented migrants and their families with protocols that are veiled in secrecy and that seem to be punitive. From families being separated to migrant women being transferred to undisclosed facilities, ICE’s policies seem to want to set an example and trigger discouragement in migrants and those who want to escape perilous and life-threatening conditions in their home countries. 

Angelina Godoy, a human rights researcher, was about to find a VERY uncomfortable truth: why young undocumented migrants are being sent to facilities run like jails.

CNN revealed that Godoy, , director of the Center for Human Rights at the University of Washington,  dug deep into the ICE system to find out the location of young migrants who had been detained. She had heard that the authorities had been conducting raids where they swept up kids and took them to juvenile detention facilities. According to government documents accessed by CNN, the facilities were the government is authorized to detain a minor for more than 72 hours are: the Cowlitz County Youth Services Center in Washington state, Abraxas Academy in Pennsylvania (managed by GEO Group, a private company), and the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility’s juvenile division (NORCOR).  One of these facilities was close to Godoy’s home in Seattle, so she filed a public record request to understand why young people were being sent to this jail-like places and not to detention centers for migrant children. The facility was being cooperative, but then something happened. 

But ICE blocked her access to information.

Credit: Instagram. @amrsweetpea77

Yes, como lo leen, when Godoy was about to find the truth the facility withheld the info, directed by ICE. The county determined that Godoy and her team had the right to access that information, but the powers that be determined the opposite. Yes, like in a Hollywood movie where the protagonists gets dangerously close to la puritita verdad. The federal government went as far as going to court to keep the information from Godoy. 

This is why this is a thorny issue for the authorities: young migrants can basically be sent to jail.

Credit: Anderson Cooper Full Circle / CNN

Godoy found out that ICE has been taking minors who they deem as dangerous away from their families. The practice has been going on for about a decade. In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Godoy said: “I may not object to the fact they are being held. But I object to the fact that nobody can even know who they are (and) why”. There is a loophole in the system whereby youth who are detained when already living in United States territory can be put in facilities with other US youth. This means they can basically be put in juvenile detention centers that ICE has a contract with. 

There is basically zero information about these facilities, and families are left in the shadows regarding their loved ones’ fate.

Credit: Anderson Cooper Full Circle / CNN

Godoy revealed that there is a total lack of transparency surrounding these centers. They don’t show on the map of facilities provided by ICE, the agency does not provide information or reports on the condition of the facilities and families cannot find their loved ones through a detainee search because the database only accounts for adults. Once a young person is sent to these centers, it is como si la Tierra se los hubiera tragado. The detainees have limited access to lawyers who could help them understand immigration law and make a case for themselves. ICE says that the youth detained under these circumstances have “a serious criminal history” and it would be irresponsible to  but did not disclose what the parameters to determine the status are. 

Imagine being a mother and not knowing where your child is… quite traumatic right?

Credit: Anderson Cooper Full Circle / CNN

Stories are surfacing about mothers whose kids were taken by ICE to an undisclosed location. CNN reports, for example, on the case of an Honduran woman who escaped violence in her home country and established in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her son was taken to a private detention center in Pennsylvania. He was 16-years-old but looked younger, and had no criminal record. The mother is a cancer patient and the stress of ignoring her child’s whereabouts has worsened her health. The legal basis on which ICE is enforcing these detentions remains a mystery. 

This Guatemalan Mom Was Separated From Her Son At The Border After Enduring A Gunshot To The Face

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This Guatemalan Mom Was Separated From Her Son At The Border After Enduring A Gunshot To The Face

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In an exclusive interview with People Magazine, a 32-year-old Guatemalan woman recounts her experience fleeing her home country in August 2017 after being shot in the face at a demonstration. Not only does the woman—who goes by the false name Daniella—describe the event that catalyzed her desire to leave Guatemala, but she tells of the many months spent traveling north, and the many months spent in a detention center after reaching the border, separated from her young son.

On August 9, 2017, Daniella and her son, Carlos, were leaving their family’s house when they encountered a large protest against a new measure that would require people to pay for water. At first the protest was peaceful—but then bullets started flying through the air. Daniella and Carlos were just passing through, but a bullet had caught Daniella in two parts of her body: the left arm, and right below the eye.

“I threw my arm around Carlos to protect him—he was covered in blood, and I started to panic,” she told People. “Little did I know that the one bleeding was me.”

Because of rampant corruption in that part of Guatemala, Daniella knew that the police wouldn’t come—they were told not to interfere. So vigilant were certain members of the demonstration that Daniella’s father received a threatening call before she even made it to a hospital. The caller told her father that if they filed a report, he would kill the whole family. Later she learned that the man who had shot her lived just three blocks away from her mother. Fortunately, when she made it to the hospital, her husband—who had moved the the U.S. five years earlier to find work, sent money for the expenses.

After more than a week in the hospital, both bullets remain in Daniella’s body to this day.

“The doctor said that if they were taken out, I could be left in a vegetative state, or I could die,” she said. “To this day I still feel pain.”

After this harrowing experience, Daniella decided that it was time to follow in her husband’s footsteps and flee to the U.S. She knew that the journey would be anything but easy, but she could have never guessed how nightmarish a month lay ahead. Traveling by truck and by bus, there were many nights spent on the side of the road. When they finally made it to the Arizona border, they were not dropped off at an immigration center, as she had expected. Instead, she and Carlos were told to climb a tree, then jump from the tree to the border wall. From there, they could reach the other side.

“I told Carlos, ‘Mijo, you have to jump.’ He was so afraid that he wouldn’t move,” she said. “I looked into my son’s eyes, and I said, ‘Son, please trust me. Everything’s going to be all right.’

After they had both made it safely to the other side, they took just a few steps before the Border Patrol arrived. They were taken into custody and dropped off at “La Hielera”—The Icebox. There, Daniella was forced to sign papers she didn’t understand, and the officer who was present told her that the children would be taken to a shelter, then given up for adoption. Naturally, all the mothers were desperately frightened by this news.

Before leaving for court that same day, Daniella said goodbye to Carlos, unsure if they would ever see each other again. She told People Magazine that she held her son and said: “You’re a champion, Papa, and you’re always going to be in my heart.”

The mothers were not immediately told the whereabouts of their children. But five months after being moved to Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, Daniella learned that Carlos was in a New Jersey foster home.

A few months later, Daniella had her official court hearing. Her bail was posted at $30,000, and after filing an appeal to extend the bail deadline, Daniella was released from custody. She had been detained for 11 months.

The organization Immigrant Families Together had gathered the money for Daniella’s bail, and they helped her get back on her feet by providing her with food and clean clothes. They also took her to the airport to fly to Virginia, where Carlos had relocated to live with his uncle, her brother.

Daniella’s story isn’t unique—roughly 30,000 people are detained in the U.S. on a given day, and these numbers have seen major upticks throughout 2019. What makes Daniella’s story remarkable is her reunion with Carlos. Many families who have been separated at the border are not nearly as lucky.

While she and Carlos continue to deal with the psychological trauma of this experience, Daniella is grateful and focused on the future.

“Without the assistance from all the people that helped me, I wouldn’t be free,” said Daniella. “Now my only focus is my family, my son, starting a new life here in California . . . I don’t have to worry about being shot again or putting my son’s life in danger.”

The Supreme Court Is Deciding Whether It Should Criminalize Pro-Immigrant Speech

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The Supreme Court Is Deciding Whether It Should Criminalize Pro-Immigrant Speech

New York Immigration Center

The First Amendment seemed like one law that would go unchallenged in the United States. With bipartisan support and the general consensus that freedom of speech is a tenet of democracy seemed to ensure its safety. However, the Supreme Court has decided to hear the case of United States v. Sineneng-Smith. 

The judges will decide if pro-immigrant speech that might encourage undocumented immigrants to illegally enter the United States is unlawful. The verdict could have serious consequences not just for migrants but for their advocates as well. 

The Supreme Court has a conservative majority and the current iteration of the Republican party has taken a rather extreme anti-immigrant stance lately, two factors which could heavily affect the outcome of the decision. 

The case concerns an obscure “encouragement provision” of immigration law.

According to Slate, a section in our immigration code forbids the encouragement of an “alien” to reside in the United States if the individual has no legal status. The case made its away to the Supreme Court by way of Evelyn Sineneng-Smith. 

Sineneng-Smith was charged and convicted of fraud by the Trump administration when, as an immigration consultant, she incorrectly told clients they could stay in the U.S. under a program she had already known ended. However, prosecutors also convicted her on the encouragement provision. 

The issue is Sineneng-Smith is being charged for what she said on a very literal basis. The fraud is the obvious wrong-doing, but now the courts will have to decide: are the words themselves? 

What if it is an undocumented person’s best course of action to remain in the U.S. without papers, which may be the case with our esoteric and fluctuating immigration system, on top of the implied moral conundrum.

“An advocate or lawyer now has to worry, given the government’s position in this case, that this language … may trigger criminal liability just for correctly advising a noncitizen,” Manny Vargas, senior counsel for the nonprofit Immigrant Defense Project in New York City, told Slate.

Advocates will be forced to second guess the advice they give to clients in fear of facing legal action. 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Sineneng-Smith to appeal. 

Although the courts struck down Sineneng-Smith’s fraud appeal, they reversed the encouragement conviction. A three-judge majority believed the provision criminalizes constitutionally protected speech, therefore, violating the First Amendment. 

The judges asserted that the provision, “criminalizes a substantial amount of protected expression in relation to the statute’s narrow legitimate sweep,” and that it, “potentially criminalizes the simple words—spoken to a son, a wife, a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a coworker, a student, a client—’I encourage you to stay here.’”

However, the Trump administration decided to legally challenge the 9th Circuit sending the case to the Supreme Court who could choose to either accept or reject the case. They chose to accept it. 

The encouragement provision provides “appropriate punishment for defendants who seek enrichment by incentivizing or procuring violations of the immigration laws by aliens who illegally enter or remain in the United States,” the government wrote in a court filing. 

The Trump Administration also suggested the 9th Circuit’s “hypotheticals” are hyperbole and that the provision is an essential law enforcement tool. 

The ACLU stands against the encouragement provision. 

 “Anytime you hear a government lawyer saying ‘trust us’ when our free speech rights are at stake, you should run in the other direction,” ACLU deputy legal director Cecillia Wang said

Wang noted that there cannot be any discourse about immigration if individuals are banned from mentioning the subject on social media. 

“I write an op-ed saying, ‘I disagree with the U.S. immigration laws and I believe that ‘Dreamers’ should stay in the U.S., you belong here,” she said. “I can’t leave it up to good faith in prosecutors not to come after me and try to throw me in federal prison for doing that.” 

Vargas believes that the fact that the Supreme Court has taken on the case, coupled with the Trump administration advocating for the provision itself — is not a good sign. According to Slate, the provision is little known that has existed for years but has rarely been enforced until now. 

The only thing that’s different now is that the current administration has amped up anti-immigrant rhetoric along with increasingly extreme tactics to enforce those sentiments. 

“The fact that the U.S. is looking to get the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s finding … is an indication that the government wants to use this provision,” Vargas told Slate. 

If you’re wondering if the Supreme Court could really ban freedom of speech in a country that regularly bans people from even entering it, that banned couples from getting married, that fairly recently banned one race from using the same water fountains as another race, then you might be asking the wrong questions.