Things That Matter

Detention Officers In Louisiana Allegedly Attacked Detainees Holding A Hunger Strike Over Conditions

The things that take place behind the doors of detention centers are often a mystery.  Undocumented immigrants disclose some things while immigration officials say another. The media is rarely given a chance to see what the facilities are like, and when they do, they don’t always get the whole picture. That is why advocates of these people are sometimes the only ones that not only get to visit the people inside, but they can also share with the public what is going on. Such is the case with an organization called Freedom for Immigrants who disclosed some incredibly awful events that took place at a detention center. 

This weekend, more than 100 immigrants were attacked inside their detention center while they were protesting with a hunger strike.

 Courtesy of Freedom for Immigrants

Freedom for Immigrants, a non-profit based in California, reports that immigrants detained at the ICE Processing Center in Pine Prairie, Louisiana, were attacked with excessive force by guards because they would not disperse during a hunger strike protest. The detention center is located in a remote area in Louisiana less than two hours west of Baton Rouge.

Freedom for Immigrants said that 115 immigrants had been on a hunger strike for five days, protesting their prolonged detainment.

Credit: @UUSC / Twitter

That is when guards pepper-sprayed them, shot at them with rubber bullets, tear-gassed, beaten, and placed in solitary confinement. They also report that the inmates were blocked from contacting their families or attorneys.

“When an individual in detention goes on hunger strike, it means the person is willing to put their body on the line just to be heard,” Sofia Casini, Southern Regional Coordinator with Freedom for Immigrants, said in a press release. “Multiple hunger strikes happening simultaneously are no coincidence: they are indicative of the desperation and suffering that immigrants are facing inside these human cages.

An ICE spokesperson confirms that the inmates were pepper-sprayed.

Credit: @EMc_42 / Twitter

Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman, told BuzzFeed that the incident took place saying, a “group of ICE detainees refused to depart the outdoor recreation area at the Pine Prairie facility Friday evening.” He added, “After repeated attempts by facility staff and ICE personnel to disperse the group and restore orderly operation of the facility, brief, calculated use of pepper spray was employed Saturday morning.”

However, he said that no one was injured, which contradicts the images that were released from the incident.

Courtesy of Freedom for Immigrants

Freedom for Immigrants notes that several other hunger strikes are taking place at various detention centers around the country, including at another facility in Louisana. They report that at least 1,396 people have taken part in a hunger strike and 18 detention facilities since May 2015.

The assault against immigrants got so bad that an ambulance had to be called.

Courtesy of Freedom for Immigrants

Mother Jones reports that they can confirm the assault took place as several detainees sent lawyer Lara Nochomovitz text messages. Here’s what some of those messages said: 

“There are lots of cops who came from another prison, they beat up the Cubans, they pepper spray them and handcuff them.”

Another said, “There’s even an ambulance here. Help us please this is ugly!” 

Lt. Bill Davis of the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office told that publication that the incident was only a small disturbance and said the group consisted of only 30 people. He also added that the person that was taken in an ambulance was suffering from anxiety issues. 

People who are imprisoned use hunger strikes to bring attention to the cruelty taking place inside.

Credit: @Haleaziz / Twitter

In some cases, detainees go long periods of stretches in a hunger strike protest, but officials have been known to force-feed them by using tubes. 

They do this to get the attention of officials and of the media to inform them about the injustices that are going on inside. Sometimes it is their only form of communication since they are unable to speak to family. 

Yanet Diaz is the aunt of Lisvani Perez Serrano who was transferred from Mississippi to Louisiana. She told Freedom for Immigrants that he passed his asylum interview and was granted parole. They informed him that he would be released in 15 days, but that never happened. 

“They haven’t informed him about his case, and he is constantly being threatened. He and the other detained men had no other option but to go on hunger strike.”

The National Immigration Law Center said that it is not surprising that ICE hasn’t officially reported about what took place at the ICE Processing Center in Pine Prairiesince they lack transparency and oversight. They said they are demanding answers and accountability.

READ: Immigration Detainees Joined Prisoners Nationwide To Strike Against Living Conditions And Very Low Wages In Prisons

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Rite Aid Refused To Give Undocumented Residents The COVID-19 Vaccine Even Though They’re Eligible

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Rite Aid Refused To Give Undocumented Residents The COVID-19 Vaccine Even Though They’re Eligible

As the United States ramps up its vaccination program (with more than two million people getting vaccinated each day), many Americans are eager to get that jab in the arm. But who is eligible varies from state to state and sometimes even county to county.

Despite the different eligibility thresholds in each state (depending on age group or risk factors), there is no immigration requirement whatsoever at the federal, state or local level. However, not all places are following that guideline and some undocumented residents are being incorrectly turned away.

The pharmacy chain Rite Aid is apologizing after two undocumented residents were denied vaccines.

The giant pharmacy chain Rite Aid has apologized to two undocumented immigrants who the company said were “mistakenly” denied COVID-19 vaccinations at Southern California stores. However, since then, the two women have been invited back by Rite Aid to get their vaccinations and the chain has issued an apology.

Rite Aid spokesperson Christopher Savarese described both cases as “isolated” incidents resulting from workers at the stores not following established protocols for vaccine eligibility. The employees will be re-educated on the protocols to make sure everyone is on the same page.

In a statement later sent to ABC News, Rite Aid officials said, “In such an unprecedented rollout, there are going to be mistakes and there will be always areas for providers to improve — we’re seeking out those opportunities every day.”

Savarese added, “This is very important to us that this is corrected. Both of the situations that we’re talking about have been resolved, and both of those people will be getting their vaccine at Rite Aid.”

To clarify, just who is eligible for the vaccine at this moment?

Although vaccine eligibility does vary from state to state, even county to county, there is nothing requiring that someone prove their immigration status to receive a vaccine. Rep. Tony Cárdenas, who represents Los Angeles, told ABC News that the legal immigration status of a person is not supposed to interfere with them getting vaccinated.

“That is not a requirement whatsoever at the federal, state or local level, and that organization (Rite Aid) has been told very clearly that that was wrong, and they immediately apologized for doing so, but it left the woman very distraught,” Cárdenas told KABC of Rager’s employee.

On Feb. 1, the federal Department of Homeland Security issued a statement that the agency and its “federal government partners fully support equal access to the COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine distribution sites for undocumented immigrants.”

“It is a moral and public health imperative to ensure that all individuals residing in the United States have access to the vaccine. DHS encourages all individuals, regardless of immigration status, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once eligible under local distribution guidelines,” the DHS statement reads.

However, the confusion over whether undocumented immigrants qualify to receive vaccine has continued to occur not only in Southern California, but elsewhere in the country. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley issued an apology to at least 14 people who were rejected Feb. 20 at its vaccination site because they could not provide proof of U.S. residency.

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Human Smuggling Is Suspected In The Tragic SUV Accident That Killed 13 Migrants

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Human Smuggling Is Suspected In The Tragic SUV Accident That Killed 13 Migrants

Another tragic story has unfolded at the U.S. – Mexico border, this time involving the deaths of at least 13 people who were allegedly being smuggled into the United States. Although investigators are still working to piece together the tragic chain of events, one thing has become clear: we need serious immigration reform now.

13 people died in a tragic SUV accident near the U.S.-Mexico border.

The tragedy unfolded when a Ford Expedition carrying 27 people smashed into a gravel truck near the town of El Centro, about 30 miles from the border. Officials say that the Ford SUV and a Chevrolet Suburban, which was carrying 19 people, were earlier caught on video entering the U.S. as part of a smuggling operation.

The Suburban immediately caught fire after entering the U.S., but all the occupants managed to escape and were taken into custody by Border Patrol officers. It’s still unknown why the first vehicle caught fire.

The Ford SUV continued along its route when it collided with a gravel truck. Ten of the 13 people who died in the accident have now been identified as Mexican nationals, Gregory Bovino, the Border Patrol’s El Centro sector chief told the Associated Press.

“Human smugglers have proven time and again they have little regard for human life,” said Mr. Bovino.

An SUV designed for 7 or 8 people was carrying 27 people.

California Highway Patrol said that the Ford Expedition was designed to hold seven to eight passengers safely. But in this case all of the seats had been removed apart form the driver and front passenger seats in order to pack people in.

“When I pulled up on scene, there were bodies everywhere,” Alex Silva, the Holtville fire chief, told the LA Times. “I’ve been doing this for 29 years and that’s the worst scene I’ve ever seen. I’ve been to calls where we’ve had four or five people dead. I’ve gone to calls where we had a bus accident that had 24 people. But it wasn’t the fatalities that we had in this one.”

“I’ve never seen an SUV with 25 people in it. I can’t even imagine what that must have felt like being cooped up in there.”

Officials are confident the tragedy is connected to a human smuggling operation.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said they suspected the deadly crash was tied to human smuggling after the Ford Expedition and a red Suburban were caught on surveillance footage coming through a breach in the border fence. Border Patrol agents insist they did not stop or pursue either vehicle, although community activists express skepticism. Either way, the outcome illustrated the high stakes involved in human smuggling.

While it’s unclear what caused the crash, Jacqueline Arellano, 38, who works with the nonprofit Border Angels, said crashes involving vehicles packed with people aren’t unusual in the region. Arellano, who grew up in El Centro, recalled a crash in 2003 in which she witnessed a Border Patrol vehicle chase an SUV packed with people on Highway 8 heading west toward San Diego.

Migrant advocates agree that major changes need to take place in our country’s immigration laws so that deadly tragedies such as this one never happen again.

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