Things That Matter

California Passed A Ban On For-Profit Immigrant Detention Centers But It Looks Like ICE Is Ignoring The New Law

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) posted a request for new private migrant detention centers in California, a mere five days after Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill effectively banning such detention facilities. 

California is the first state to ban privately-run, for-profit immigration detention centers popular with the Trump administration. The new law will also ban private prisons and put a stop on new contracts after January 1, 2020, along with phasing out existing detention centers by 2028, according to the LA Times

However, on October 16, ICE posted a request for offers on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website to open up at least four new for-profit detention centers. Legislators and advocates believe ICE is attempting tp circumvent the law before the new year’s deadline by rushing new contracts through. 

Senator Kamala Harris calls out ICE’s controversial tactic.

“Let’s be clear: By rushing through new contracts before California’s ban takes effect, ICE is violating the spirit of California law and risks wasting taxpayer dollars in an attempt to lock away even more human beings,” said California Senator Kamala Harris. “We need to fight back.” 

In ICE’s request, according to Mother Jones’ review of FBO documents, they’re looking for “turnkey ready” detention centers in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles for “the exclusive use of ICE and the ICE detainee population.” ICE wants approximately 6,750 beds spread across the four facilities with contracts that would last five to 15 years. 

“The facilities shall be turnkey ready at the beginning of contract performance and able to provide housing, medical care, transportation, guard services, meals, and the day to day needs for ICE detainees,” the FBO solicitation says. “Due to mission needs, proposals for new construction will not be accepted for this solicitation.”

ICE already has four privately-run detention centers in California. 

“I’m not prepared to allow ICE to improperly violate AB 32 and hurt Californians,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta who wrote the bill. 

ICE has tried to undermine’s California’s status as a sanctuary city before.

“ICE is doing everything they can to circumvent California law,” Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, told the Desert Sun. “It’s not surprising that ICE is doing this.”

It may not come as a surprise to Shah because ICE has used unscrupulous tactics before. Adelanto, the second-largest detention center in the country, was independently owned by GEO Group. When the city terminated its contract with ICE and GEO, the very next day ICE organized a deal directly with GEO, last June.

According to Desert Sun, “A September 2018 report from Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General found significant health and safety risks at Adelanto, including the issue of detainees hanging nooses made from bedsheets. At least three inmates have died at the facility since 2015 and seven inmates attempted suicide between December 2016 and October 2017.”

ICE criticizes California’s new law. 

ICE spokesperson Lori Haley claimed the only people that will suffer from the ban are California residents. 

“If this law takes effect, ICE would simply have to transfer individuals a greater distance from their arrest location to other facilities outside the state,” the agency said. “Thus, the impact would be felt by residents of California who would be forced to travel greater distances to visit friends and family in custody, and not by ICE.”

Advocates might say that convenience isn’t the issue at hand when it comes to for-profit detention centers. Nevertheless, Hamid Yazdan Panah, an immigration lawyer in the Bay Area claims that the rush to push through contracts might be evidence ICE has realized it won’t be too easy to transport migrants states and that they would actually have to detain fewer people, according to the LA Times. 

“They pick people up at certain points, have to process them and get them to a detention facility usually by evening,” he said. “The reality is they have a lot of protocols they have to go through and manpower considerations they have to deal with.”

For-profit immigration centers have got to go according to advocates. 

Over 70 percent of detained migrants are held in privately owned facilities, like GEO Group and CoreCivic. The Hill found that both organizations donated to Trump’s presidential campaign in 2017, then received $985 million in contracts with ICE. 

The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General found food safety issues, nooses, restrictive segregation practices, and unreported security incidents ran rampant at private detention centers, who are known to cut corners because they are businesses. Instead of holding the owners or managers of these facilities responsible with the usual financial penalties, the IG suggested ICE waived such fees and allowed the conditions to continue. 

“These twisted somersaults to push and bend federal protocols are a sign of desperation,” Bonta said. “It’s what you’d expect from a dying industry.”

A California City Is Being Sued Because Of Evictions Of Black And Latino Residents Considered Discriminatory

Things That Matter

A California City Is Being Sued Because Of Evictions Of Black And Latino Residents Considered Discriminatory

Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a lawsuit against the city of Hesperia and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department alleging discrimination against black and Latino renters. The suit, filed earlier this month, takes aim at a 2016 Hesperia rental ordinance that requires landlords to evict tenants who had allegedly committed crimes on or near their property. 

Making matters more troublesome is that the housing law was passed at a time when Hesperia, a Mojave Desert city of just under 100,000 people located 35 miles north of San Bernardino, saw it’s Latino and African-American populations growing. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of Latinos living in Hesperia rose 140 percent, and the number of African-Americans by 103 percent, according to Census Bureau data.

The housing law, called the “Crime Free Rental Housing Program” led to the eviction of countless families, including children, for alleged criminal activity that included one tenant or even some non-tenants. This was in addition to the eviction of family members who had reported domestic violence to the police. The housing act even involved allegations from authorities of criminal activity even if the individual wasn’t arrested, charged or convicted. 

According to federal authorities, city councilmembers’ statements in creating the controversial ordinance show that it was designed to reverse “demographic” changes in Hesperia.

The suit, alleges that the housing law was put in place for one primary reason, to drive minorities out of the city of Hesperia. The DOJ is seeking to stop future similarly discriminatory housing laws and for financial compensation for those tenants that were affected by the ordinance. The housing law was put in effect from Jan. 1, 2016 to July 18, 2017.

The DOJ says that the ordinance violated the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. With the city’s sheriff’s department having determination in which tenants would be evicted, there was an instance when an older Latino couple was removed due to their adult son, who did not live with them, being arrested, the suit said. 

When the measure was initially being drafted, Hesperia Mayor Eric Schmidt made comments about the number of renters that were coming into the city from parts of L.A. County that were known for having large minority populations. According to prosecutors, Schmidt allegedly said that groups left L.A. County  “because it’s a cheap place to live and it’s a place to hide,” and that “the people that aggravate us aren’t from here,” they “come from somewhere else with their tainted history.”

Another questionable comment came from city councilmember Russ Blewett who allegedly said that Hesperia needed to “improve our demographic,” and that he wanted “those kind of people” that the ordinance would particularly target to get “the hell out of our town. 

“I want their butt kicked out of this community as fast as I can possibly humanly get it done,” Blewett said, according to the suit.

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances intended to push out African-American and Latino renters because of their race and national origin, or from enforcing their ordinances in a discriminatory manner,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in the press release. “The United States Department of Justice will continue zealously to enforce the Fair Housing Act against anyone and any organization or institution that violates the law’s protections against race, national origin, and other forms of unlawful discrimination.”

As of now, the city of Hesperia has denied any and all wrongdoing in regard to the DOJ lawsuit. 

Rachel Molina, a spokeswoman for the City of Hesperia, told the Victorville Daily Press that the information presented in the DOJ lawsuit is “factually incorrect and grossly misleading.”

“First and foremost, I would like to say that Hesperia is a very diverse community,” Molina said. “We love and embrace diversity in Hesperia. At no time did the City’s crime-free ordinance discriminate against residents of any ethnicity. There are crime-free programs across the United States aimed at providing residents with safer communities — in the recent past HUD supported such programs.”

Before the DOJ filed its own lawsuit, the ACLU took legal action two years ago against the city on similar premises of housing discrimination. 

This isn’t the first time the city and it’s sheriff’s department have faced legal action over the ordinance. Back in 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California filed a suit on the claim that the housing law restricted housing and services for those individuals who had criminal records. In retaliation, Hesperia made adjustments to the law to make the program voluntary for landlords. Just last year, the city agreed to settle with the ACLU lawsuit for $485,000 dollars. 

That lawsuit was filed on behalf of Sharon Green, who leads the Victor Valley Family Resource Center, a housing nonprofit organization. Green told the LA Times that the DOJ suit is important in regards to other cities that might be considering similar discriminatory housing laws. 

The DOJ suit will “send a strong message to cities around the country that they cannot discriminate. Our homeless numbers are far too large and there are far too many obstacles to housing already to be dealing with this kind of foolishness.”

READ: Schools In Mexico’s Yucatan Have Made Mayan Language Classes A Requirement And Here’s Why That Matters

Border Patrol Agents Threw Away Meaningful Items Belonging To Migrants, Now There’s An Art Show Displaying Dozens Of Items

Things That Matter

Border Patrol Agents Threw Away Meaningful Items Belonging To Migrants, Now There’s An Art Show Displaying Dozens Of Items

Tomkiefer.photographe / Instagram

Photographer Tom Kiefer worked as a custodian at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Southern Arizona from 2003 to 2014. When migrants and asylum seekers crossed the Southern border officials would throw away their belongings, medications, and nonessentials during processing. Kiefer collected all of those belongs, arranged them systematically, and photographed them.

The photos will be displayed in the exhibition “El Sueño Americano / The American Dream: Photographs by Tom Kiefer” at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. 

The result is eye-catching and colorful art that, upon closer inspection, reveals the rich inner lives of migrants. Kiefer’s photographs of the CDs they were listening to, the medications they were on, and even diary entries provide insight into the almost ordinariness of migrants. These were just people carrying things that meant something to them the way anyone else going somewhere would. Then the U.S. government deemed those personal and sentimental items trash. 

What Kiefer provides is a rarely seen snapshot of what migrants cared about when they came to the United States looking for a better shot. 

Kiefer was documenting American history through his lens and labor. 

“It was my way of documenting a piece of our nation’s history,” Kiefer told the Washington Post

In one of his haunting photos, there are 32 CDs lined up. Some CDs are from artists like Trapt but others are mixed CDs with intimate labels like “Brown Pride” or “Super Sappy Songs for Issa 2.” The image reminds the viewer that these migrants were real people — and we don’t know who any of them are and because of the United States’ ever-changing immigration policies, we don’t know if they’re even OK. 

Kiefer began to find the belongings when he asked if he could donate the canned goods that Border Patrol authorities seized to food pantries. He went through the trash bins to look for the nonperishables, but what he found instead was a wealth of humanity. 

“The Bibles, the rosaries, the family photographs. I was shocked,” he said. “And I didn’t know what to do, because it was obviously being condoned.”

Kiefer knew he would get into trouble if he took other items so everything he gathered was by intuition. Altogether in his years working there he collected 100,000 items. 

“I had to do it all very quick, discreet,” he said. “It was just rapid-fire, split-second decisions about what I could keep and what had to go in the trash, stay in the trash.”

Throwing away migrants’ possessions is particularly cruel, Kiefer feels.

 “[It] underscores the cruelty of the tentative punishment that the government feels the need to levy against these people. It’s clear the majority of which are decent, contributing and who want nothing more than a better life for themselves or for their family,” he told the Los Angeles TimesWhen Kiefer first began going through the trash looking for cans, he found mostly toothbrushes. However, when things appeared to be more personal like religious items and diaries, he felt compelled to save them because, he says, “no one would believe me if I had not collected these items.” He purposefully used colorful backgrounds to humanize the items. He didn’t want a cold, white background that would make things look sterile, more like products than personal items. 
“[The photos are] like a knife to the gut, and that’s precisely something that I think gives this work its power — that it draws you in with its beauty and then it has this really profoundly sad backstory,” Laura Mart, Skirball curator, told the Los Angeles Times.

He hopes the legacy of his exhibition is empathy above all else. 

“Dora the Explorer. A personal belonging carried by a migrant or someone seeking asylum. When apprehended by USCBP while crossing the desert most personal belongings considered non-essential or potentially lethal are confiscated and discarded,” Kiefer wrote in a caption of a children’s Dora the Explorer purse. 

Things like children’s toys, backpacks, and clothing items are enough to infuriate and sadden just about anybody.

“Whether it’s an individual object, shoelaces, I present them in a way that I hope the viewer can not just identify, but just kind of be empathetic, or put themselves in the person or persons’ shoes: ‘Wow, a person carried that.’ ‘That’s the same cologne I use, the same toothbrush or toothpaste,” Kiefer said. 

While he was a custodian during the Obama administration, Kiefer says he didn’t witness the abuses of powers reported under the current president. Kiefer personally condemns the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants and hopes his exhibition will change some peoples’ stances. 

“Is this the nation we want to be?” He said. “The way things are now is not sustainable.”