Things That Matter

ICE Targets Immigrant Helpline After It Appears In Episode Of ‘Orange Is The New Black’ Proving The Cruelty Is The Point

In it’s seventh and final season, Orange Is The New Black aired a storyline to shed light on the dehumanizing features of immigration detention centers. However, there was a glimmer of hope presented in the fictional Netflix series: a hotline for immigrant detainees that provided free lawyers. Best of all, the hotline existed in real life. It’s not crazy to think that the level of exposure the show provided for the hotline could literally save lives. 

But even on the show, use of the hotline came with a warning: “You have to be careful, though. Apparently, if they figure out that you’re using the hotline, Big Brother shuts it down,” Gloria warns Maritza in the seventh season. 

In a chilling twist, consistent with the Trump administration’s war against immigrants, two weeks after the series aired, the hotline was shut down. It’s nothing short of gut-wrenching. 

Immigration advocates want answers. 

The California group Freedom for Immigrants, an organization that runs visitation programs in detention centers nationally and who provides the hotline, believes ICE’s decision to shut down the hotline was a direct response to Maritza’s immigration storyline. 

On Thursday, Freedom for Immigrants responded to the shutdown with a cease and desist letter. The letter claims that termination of the hotline is a violation of free speech and is retaliation by the government. Over 100 organizations and six actors from Orange is the New Black signed the letter addressed to ICE Director Matthew Albence. 

“Even a freely given benefit such as the pro bono hotline can’t be taken away simply because the government is now unhappy with how we are sharing with the public what we know from our communications with people inside,” said Christina Fialho, co-executive director of Freedom for Immigrants.

Maritza’s story is too familiar.

Diane Guerrero who portrays Martiza in the show has been an outspoken advocate of immigration reform. Born to undocumented immigrants from Colombia, Guerrero, who is a citizen, stayed in the U.S. after her family was deported when she was 14. She told her story in the memoir In the Country We Love. Just as it is for most Latinxs living in the U.S., immigration for Guerro is clearly personal. 

When Maritza’s character is essentially left for dead at an immigration detention center, she is told about the Freedom for Immigrants hotline by Gloria. The hotline was toll-free, a pivotal detail because immigrants don’t have the right to a free phone call after they are detained. Heroically, the duo passed the hotline number to other detainees. It was a small act of liberation, as was featuring it on the show. 

Abolish ICE.

ICE told the organization that that tollfree numbers for pro bono attorneys and organizations require approval by the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Funny, it was never an issue before. Almost seems like this administration is actively seeking legal loopholes to be as cruel and callous toward immigrants as possible. Freedom for Immigrants has provided the hotline since 2013. The organization received as many as 14,000 calls a month from detainees and is run by volunteers who connect immigrants with free lawyers. Losing this service will have a cascading negative impact on immigrants and their loved ones.

The cruelty is the point.

Meanwhile, the ACLU is suing the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana for the unlawful jailing of Ramon Torres. Despite providing his passport, social security card, and driver’s license to police officers to prove his citizenship, he was jailed for four days. The Sherriff’s Office deputies told Torres that every Hispanic person was being automatically held for immigration review. Yes, they’re rounding us up. Because we know, because we been knew, this was never about immigration status. This has always been about race. 

“Ramon Torres was held in jail for four days simply because he has brown skin and a Latino name,” ACLU of Louisiana legal director Katie Schwartzmann said. “This is racial profiling, which is unconstitutional and deeply harmful to our communities. What happened to Mr. Torres is inexcusable. Locking people up based on race or ethnicity is antithetical to our most cherished American values.”

We won’t be silenced.

There’s no sugar-coating what is happening in the United States. While it has never been the American Dream we were promised, now it is increasingly dangerous to be Latinx in America. Our stories and visibility matter most of all during this time. Art has the power to enlighten and normalize experiences. Art has a way of bringing the unseen to the forefront. This usually activates its viewers for the better. However, we have an administration that lacks any and all humanity. “Now we see life mimic art in the most destructive way,” she said. “I wish this were more of a fictional situation and we were exaggerating reality, but it’s kind of the other way around,” said Laura Gomez who plays Blanca, another character who falls victim to ICE on the show.

Doctors And Nurses Protested Outside CBP Office Demanding Flu Shots For Migrant Kids, Many Were Arrested

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Doctors And Nurses Protested Outside CBP Office Demanding Flu Shots For Migrant Kids, Many Were Arrested

@WendyFry_ / Twitter

United States Customs and Border Protection would not allow a group of doctors access to provide flu vaccines to children in a San Diego detention center. At least three children, according to the Guardian, have recently died in immigration custody due to the flu. They were ages two, six, and 16. 

Just recently, the death of 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez garnered national attention when ProPublica uncovered surveillance footage that revealed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials did not appropriately tend to his flu symptoms. 

Groups like Doctors for Camp Closure, Families Belong Together, and Never Again Action participated in a protest and effort to provide children detained by CBP the vaccines. 

“We see this as medical negligence on the part of the US government,” said Dr Bonnie Arzuaga, co-founder of Doctors for Camp Closure, told the Guardian. “People are being held in close confinement and usually are under a lot of physical and emotional stress … and maybe malnourished and may not have access to hygiene supplies. That puts them at risk.”

Physicians were turned away at a Chula Vista border patrol station.

A group of licensed doctors went to the detention center to run a free flu clinic. CBP would not allow them in. The agents said it was not “feasible” to offer any migrants medical assistance.  

“More people will die without the vaccine,” Dr Hannah Janeway, an emergency medicine physician that was turned away told the Guardian. “There’s no doubt. They are being locked in cages in cold weather together, without any vaccination, in a year that is supposed to bring a horrible flu epidemic.”

Janeway also works with asylum seekers in Tijuana and believes the government has a moral obligation to provide vaccinations to children. 

 “Our government, who is creating these conditions and allowing them to persist, is basically saying some people’s lives are worth more than others, and it’s OK for children to die,” Janeway said. 

Doctors have repeatedly been turned down by CBP. 

Doctors have mobilized for over a month in an attempt to allow the US to vaccinate migrants. In November, they made a formal proposal to operate a free pilot clinic. CBP rejected the proposal alleging it is too logistically difficult to set up because of time constraints. 

“[Migrant detainees] should generally not be held for longer than 72 hours,” CBP spokesman Matthew Dyman told the Guardian in an email. “Every effort is made to hold detainees for the minimum amount of time required.”

Dyman asserted that the larger system in place provides adequate medical care to migrants who are in detention centers for the long-term. However, government records prove that both adults and children are often detained for longer than 72 hours, in crowded conditions — sometimes held for weeks without explanation. 

“It has never been a CBP practice to administer vaccines and this not a new policy,” an official statement from CBP said. “Individuals in CBP custody should generally not be held for longer than 72 hours in either CBP hold rooms or holding facilities. As a law enforcement agency, and due to the short-term nature of CBP holding and other logistical challenges, operating a vaccine program is not feasible.”

52 people protest in front of CBP facility demanding to be allowed to provide medical care. 

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, at least 52 people, largely licensed doctors and medical students, marched from Vista Terrace Neighborhood Park to the detention facility demanding to be let in or to let the children out to receive vaccines from a mobile clinic they set up. 

“We have the team here. We have the vaccines. It would not take 72 hours to do,” said Dr. Mario Mendoza, a retired anesthesiologist who was present. “What I can say is we are not leaving here until they let us enter. We are doctors. We are against death and we are for humanity.” 

Mendoza is an immigrant from El Salvador. He fled the dangerous country because his mother was an advocate for teacher’s rights — a noble cause that put her life in danger. 

“My heart hurts a lot for the immigrants that are here, both the adults and the children. I came here undocumented from El Salvador in 1981. We ran for 12 hours through the desert. We survived only by the grace of God and the strength of my mother,” said Mendoza. 

Doctors are arguing that it doesn’t matter how long migrants are detained, they should be entitled to life-saving services. Dr. Arzuaga believes that all CBP has to do is let them in. Others feel the fact that CBP won’t allow them to provide services is a testament of how they have dehumanized migrants altogether. 

“They are having difficulty prioritizing something like this, because they have so far dehumanized people. My question is, why not?” Danielle Deines, a neonatologist at the protest. “If you want to hold people in detention, you can provide people the basic flu vaccine … You’re saying death is acceptable to you, and that you don’t value human life.”

New Jersey’s Governor Says He’ll Sign Bill Allowing Undocumented Residents Access To Drivers Licenses

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New Jersey’s Governor Says He’ll Sign Bill Allowing Undocumented Residents Access To Drivers Licenses

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Undocumented migrants in the United States and other Global North countries make a significant contribution to the economy but they often are left out of key economic areas and industries. Among the most basic things that a worker needs to perform certain jobs is a drivers license. Without it job prospects in most industries are pretty limited. Distances in the United States, particularly in the middle of the country and states such as New Jersey tend to be vast and commuting by public transport is not always the best option, or even feasible. Working parents and other people caring for a family member (such as an ageing mother or father, or someone with a disability) often need to pack a lot of activities in a day, and using a car is the only possible way for them to be able to make ends meet. 

So a very possible change in New Jersey law would make a world of difference for undocumented migrants and their families. 

So yes, New Jersey might start providing drivers licenses to undocumented migrants, and this is great and a welcome development towards economic assimilation.

Credit: New Jersey Advanced Media

The New Jersey State Assembly Judiciary Committee held a hearing Monday at the Statehouse in Trenton to discuss the possibility of pro providing undocumented migrants with drivers licenses. As you can imagine, the issue has been quickly politicized and the Latino community has been lobbying for a positive outcome.

This is of course a highly contentious issue in a state that has swung from blue to red and blue again, and where factory workers, many of which are reticent to migration, are an important segment of the electorate. As explained by Assemblywoman Anette Quijano, D-Union” “We know this legislation will change thousands of lives in the Garden State, a state with both urban, suburban and rural communities that require residents to drive a car to get from point A to point B.”

Another key benefit of this bill is that it will make roads safer, as currently there are people driving without a license and without having passed a test that ensures that rules and sings are understood by everyone on the road. More than 30 people gave their testimony, and as reported by NJ.COM they “shared stories of the fear they face when seeing a cop in the rearview mirror, whether they are completing a mundane task like grocery shopping or attending a crucial doctors appointment. And how their paychecks go to fighting traffic tickets and court fees”. 

Chants of “Si, se puede!” and “Licensias si, promesas no!” were heard as the hearing was being held.

Credit: Trasport Topics

Advocates for the bill were as young as 9-years-old. David Cuautle, a young boy whose parents cannot drive him, spoke truth in his testimony: “I’m sick and tired of you guys making these promises for at least 18 years. Are you going to wait until I am 18 ? It’s been a long time. And you think this is rough? This is rough for everybody.”

The exclusion of migrants from key activities has a huge effect on their daily lives and also limits the prospects of their families for assimilation and for socioeconomic advancement. And David got a response that gives hope to those hoping that the bill will be passed: “David, you are absolutely right. And David, I’m sick and tired as well of promises not being kept.” These words were said by state Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, D-Burlington, a co-sponsor of the measure.

Opponents to the bill fear that having a license will allow undocumented migrants to vote (which fuels Trump’s conspiracy theory of “millions” of votes having been cast by undocumented migrants). They also claim that this measure could increase human trafficking, which also resonates with racial stereotypes pushed by conservatives. 

The measure is supported by the New Jersey governor, Democrat Phil Murphy.

Credit: MADD.org

The bill needs to go through three hurdles before coming into effect: the State Assembly, the State Senate and finally get signed by the governor, who has said that he will definitely sign it if it comes to him and he has the last word. But just how many people would be affected positively by the bill? About half a million, a huge number by all standards.

As NJ.COM reports: “There are more than 466,000 undocumented immigrants of driving age in New Jersey, according to a 2018 study by left-leaning think tank NJ Policy Perspective”. That is whole lot of people. The bill would also generate jobs and revenue for the roads and transport authorities. The bill has been on the cards for years, but hasn’t advanced this far before. There is hope but in policy everything can change in a minute.