Things That Matter

His Family Begged ICE To Keep Him On Life Support Until They Could Say Goodbye But The Agency Didn’t Listen

Though much of the nation’s attention has focused on the plight of migrants crammed into overcrowded Customs and Border Protection facilities along the southern border, Abienwi’s case highlights concerns over the immigration detention system in the interior of the U.S.

ICE detains more than 52,000 migrants a day in a sprawling network of 225 detention centers and jails spread throughout the country. Government watchdogs have highlighted problems in those facilities, including nooses found in cells, detainees on hunger strikes and substandard medical care.

Abienwi is the ninth migrant to die in ICE custody over the past year, according to ICE data. His family and supporters said they want to know how that could’ve happened to a healthy man who had no medical problems before his confinement in the USA

An asylum-seeking migrant detained by ICE was pulled off life support after his relatives said they requested that doctors continue the lifesaving measures.

ICE said Nebane Abienwi, a father of six, died Oct. 1 after being detained at San Diego’s Otay Mesa Detention Center following a “medical emergency.” Since then, his relatives have reportedly been unable to obtain all the information about his death they have requested and his brother has twice been denied a visa to travel overseas to identify the body and bring it home.

His relatives say the move transpired despite their requests that life support be continued, according to USA Today.

“We did not approve” Abienwi’s removal from a ventilator, his brother Akongnwi, who requested he be identified only by his last name, told USA Today. “One hundred percent, we did not.”

More than a month later, the man’s body remains in the USA.

His relatives said they have been given little information about his death, and his brother has twice been denied a visa to travel to the USA to identify the body and accompany it back home to Cameroon.

Ever since, Abienwi’s youngest brother said he has been scrambling between U.S. embassies in South Africa and Cameroon, pleading for a visa to travel to California to get some answers.

He said he wants to make sure it’s really his brother’s body and to perform cultural rites on the body before the casket is sealed. He wants to know why doctors removed the ventilator that kept his brother breathing after he asked them to keep it in place until a relative could arrive.

Abienwi died after becoming critically ill while in ICE custody and was placed on a ventilator.

Akongnwi, speaking from a hotel room in Cameroon on Monday, said he spoke by phone with ICE officials several times Sept. 30, when they first called to say his brother had become critically ill and was on a ventilator. He said the ICE officials passed the phone to Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center officials, who explained that his brother was bleeding profusely in his brain and a ventilator was the only thing keeping him breathing.

Akongnwi said he shared the information with his brother’s wife and others in the family, and they all agreed Abienwi should be maintained on life support until a relative could be by his side.

“The family spoke and said, ‘We believe in miracles. It has happened to other families, why not ours?’ ” Akongnwi said. During the next call with ICE, “I made clear that he should remain like that and the family would decide if we want to take him off that machine or not.”

report released by ICE detailed what happened next.

On Oct. 1, at 12:05 p.m., two doctors analyzed Abienwi’s examination results, concluding they “were consistent with brain death and pronounced him dead.” Thirty minutes later, Abienwi’s family was notified, according to the report. Two hours later, hospital staff “discontinued Mr. Abienwi’s ventilator support,” the report said.

Akongnwi, who was in the process of submitting his passport information to U.S. officials and planning to fly to California, said he was never informed that his brother was taken off life support. He said he learned of that decision only when contacted by a reporter who shared ICE’s summary of the case.

“They said, ‘It’s very unfortunate, but your brother didn’t make it,’ ” he said. 

Sadly, this isn’t the first time this migrant detention center has been accused of substandard care.

The Otay Mesa facility, which is owned and operated by the private company CoreCivic, has been accused of not adequately addressing detainees’ health issues in the past. In February, more than 70 detainees in the facility signed a letter saying they had experienced racism and medical neglect at the facility.

The internal ICE report regarding Abienwi’s death shows that Abienwi, who’d already suffered from hypertension before being put in ICE custody, fell off his bunk bed on Sept. 26. After the fall, he appeared to be confused and sweating, and had difficulty moving his left arm and leg, the report says. Doctors initially concluded that he was fine, aside from having elevated blood pressure, but a subsequent exam found that he was suffering from internal bleeding.

Despite A New Law, Some New York County Clerks Say They’ll Refuse To Give Undocumented Residents Driver’s Licenses

Things That Matter

Despite A New Law, Some New York County Clerks Say They’ll Refuse To Give Undocumented Residents Driver’s Licenses

@EddieATaveras / Twitter

The “Green Light Law” passed in New York last June, making it one of 14 states to allow undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses. The passage was believed to be a landmark victory as the measure was stalled for over two decades. However, some county clerks who reside in the more conservative areas of New York have resisted the policy. Some even say they will refuse to give undocumented immigrants their licenses in protest. 

The stance seems similar to one Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis made in 2015 when she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis was ordered to issue the licenses by a U.S. District Court and when she defied them, she was jailed for contempt of court. 

New York County Clerks rebel against a new law allowing undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses.

Some county clerks have threatened to even call Immigrations and Customs Enforcement on undocumented immigrants who try to obtain licenses. 

“If you come into my facility and you have done something illegal, it is my obligation to report you to the appropriate authorities, whether you’re a citizen or not,” Robert L. Christman, the Allegany County clerk, told the New York Times.

A federal judge threw out one of three lawsuits filed by the dissident clerks on Friday, claiming Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns did not prove any suffering due to the law. 

“It is apparent Plaintiff disagrees with the Green Light Law,” Judge Elizabeth Wolford wrote in her decision. “But the mere disagreement with a duly-enacted state statute does not entitle anyone — even an elected official — to seek intervention from a federal court.”

Attorney General Letitia James argued that the “Green Light Law” is a benefit to public safety. 

“The law aims to make our roads safer, our economy stronger, and allows immigrants to come out of the shadows to sign up as legal drivers in our state,” she said in a statement. “That’s why the claims made in this lawsuit not only disregarded these simple truths but were misinformed and disregarded the privacy rights of New Yorkers.”

Immigrant advocates believe the rebellion is a scare tactic to thwart immigrants away from the service. 

“This is a scare tactic,” said Jackie Vimo, a policy analyst at the National Immigration Law Center, told the Times. “They are mirroring the politics of fear we’ve seen nationally with the Trump administration.”

Clerks claim the influx of immigrants will overburden the system.

The clerks claimed that the law would overburden the system which would incur new costs like hiring additional workers and training staff to understand and process foreign paperwork. Mostly, they were outspoken about not wanting to serve immigrants. 

“You are asking me to give a government document to somebody who is in our country breaking federal law. That is 100 percent wrong,’’ said Joseph A. Jastrzemski, the Niagara County clerk. “It compromises my oath of office to defend the Constitution.”

However, proponents of the law say the revenue from the new applications would pay for the additional costs.

“The Fiscal Policy Institute, a left-leaning research institute, estimated that the state would earn$57 million in annual revenue and $26 million in one-time revenue from driver’s licenses, new car purchases, registrations and sales and gas taxes,” according to the New York Times. 

A law over two decades in the making has immigrant advocates stunned. 

“I grew up poor and undocumented and never imagined that one day I could help change the history of our state. Gracias mami for your sacrifice. We got Drivers Licenses for all!” NY State Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz tweeted. “After today, no child will have to know the fear of emergency planning in case mom or dad are picked up by ICE.”

In 2007, Governor Elliot Spitzer issued an executive order that allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses. After opposition from Senator Hillary Clinton and Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand along with bipartisan lawmakers and clerks, Spitzer rescinded the order just two months later. 

“For a long time, driver’s licenses had been the third rail of New York state politics,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “[This] put to rest the notion that you couldn’t do anything controversial around immigration.”

A driver’s license can help shield immigrants from deportation by allowing them to provide identification during things like routine traffic stops. It can also give them better access to housing, jobs, and public services. Oregon and New Jersey have begun to consider similar measures and discussions have initiated in six other states as well. 

“We are seeing momentum growing right now, especially following New York where it has been such a long and hard-fought struggle,” Vimo said. “This really changes political calculations and removes a lot of the excuses other states had not to pass similar legislation.”

A New Trump Rule Could Leave Thousands Of Asylum Seekers Out Of A Job

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A New Trump Rule Could Leave Thousands Of Asylum Seekers Out Of A Job

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The Trump administration has proposed denying work permits to asylum seekers who cross the border illegally, and any that have been convicted of a felony or arrested for certain crimes. The plan would also make it so that qualified asylum seekers have to wait longer to even apply for a permit. Currently, any asylum seeker is allowed to apply for a work permit regardless of how they entered. 

The Department of Homeland Security also wants asylum seekers to pay an application fee to obtain a worker’s permit, which would make it one of four countries on the planet to do so. The proposals are another tactic to deter asylum seekers from the southern border altogether. 

Advocates find the attacks on asylum seekers to be cruel and unlawful. 

“Asylum law explicitly permits applications regardless of the manner of entry,” an asylum officer told BuzzFeed News. “To single out those asylum seekers who couldn’t afford a visa and prohibit them from obtaining lawful employment is cruel and has no basis in the law.”

The policy would make receiving a work permit nearly impossible for any migrant who does not enter at the United States port of entry. It would also change the waiting time to apply for a permit from 150 days to 365 days from the day migrants filed their asylum applications.

“Employment authorization ensures asylum-seekers the ability to support themselves while the government processes their claims. It often means access to a temporary driver’s license that has a huge liberating impact in a ton of car-centric places,” said Andrew Free, an immigration attorney. “These changes would leave more asylum-seekers dependent, vulnerable to exploitation, and in the shadows, which is exactly where the regime wants them.” 

The new guidelines would broaden the scope of which officials could terminate work authorization for asylum seekers who have unfavorable outcomes in immigration court and from asylum officers. For example, immigration officials could request an asylum application or work permit request if a migrant missed an appointment. 

“Make no bones about it, denying asylum seekers the ability to work during the two to three years the asylum process can take—thus forcing them to starve, rely on charity, or work under the table—is arbitrary and capricious,” immigration attorney Eneida M. Román told Common Wealth.

The new policy could affect tens of thousands of people.

According to CBS News, the policy would extend retroactively, which means the government could reject work permit renewals from asylum seekers that are already authorized to live and work in the United States. 

“The effects of this would be seriously significant,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, told CBS. “We’re talking about tens of thousands of people potentially losing their jobs and hundreds of thousands no longer being eligible for work authorization.”  

Some cases can drag on for years, thus a work permit is of the utmost importance for migrants living here while they are being processed. According to Common Wealth Magazine, on average it takes two to three years for asylum to be granted.

“Because of the long delays in asylum processing, this rule means that some individuals would have to wait five or six years without being legally allowed to work,” Reichlin-Melnick said

According to BuzzFeed, the White House began aggressively pushing the policy in April. President Trump signed a memo asking U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to create a proposal for the policy which would then go through a process before being enacted. 

The Trump administration claimes asylum seekers are “gaming the system.” 

“Let’s not forget: People seeking asylum are legal immigrants,” said Doug Rand, a former immigration official under the Obama administration, told BuzzFeed. “This proposed rule sounds like another rush job calculated to scare vulnerable people in advance of inevitable lawsuits.”

However, Ken Cuccinelli accused many asylum seekers of being frauds. 

“Illegal aliens are gaming our asylum system for economic opportunity, which undermines the integrity of our immigration system and delays relief for legitimate asylum-seekers in need of humanitarian protection,” Cuccinelli said in a statement. “These proposed reforms are designed to restore integrity to the asylum system and lessen the incentive to file an asylum application for the primary purpose of obtaining work authorization.”

Following publication in the Federal Register, the new policy will have to go through a 30-day review period where the public can provide feedback. 

“When we wonder if the administration can go any lower, they prove that there is no bottom to the swamp by proposing a fee for asylum applications,” said Mahsa Khanbabai, the New England chapter head of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. 

“These are people who flee their homes with little but the clothes on their back, often enduring precarious conditions because of the dangerous conditions they face back home.”