Things That Matter

One Los Angeles Activist Refuses To Stop Protesting Until All Migrant Families Are Reunited

For two months, Marco Flores has been helping to organize activists through Occupy ICE LA to protest the separation of migrant families. One way he organizes is holding weekly Friday vigils in remembrance of families who have been separated or are in the reunification process. On August 3, the vigil was to honor the memory of a migrant child who allegedly died after being released from a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Dilley, Tex.

The 31-year-old activist, who identifies as indigenous by way of his Mixtec roots from Oaxaca, is both an organizer with AIM SoCal (American Indian Movement Southern California) and a backer of the Occupy ICE LA movement “since day one.” 

A typical week for L.A.-based organizer Marco Flores includes assembling nightly watch groups at a downtown L.A. detention facility. 

CREDIT: Courtesy of Marco Flores

“I’m usually there every night,” he said. 

The watch groups usually consist of 15 to 20 people who are ready to camp outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles, including blockading one of the driveways. The location was picked for a strategic reason. Flores noted the building next door has Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers inside.

According to Flores, the weekly vigil and protests are meant to bring awareness to both politicians and citizens to push against ICE and the Trump administration.

“We are trying to bring awareness to the issue that first started out with the separation of families,” Flores said. “The Trump administration was supposed to reunite the children with their families on July 26, but that didn’t happen. Nothing has been fixed. ICE is complicit in all of this. It’s wrong and we want our elected [leaders] to stand up against it.”

Every Friday night, the watch group starts with a candlelight vigil for the victims of Trump’s zero-tolerance family separations.

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As AIM celebrates its 50 year anniversary, it stands in solidarity with #OccupyICELA, which is honoring 50 days of occupation. Native Americans are no strangers to family separation. Beginning in the late 19th century, the U.S. government allowed missionary groups to enter reservations, seize Native children, and put them into boarding schools intended to destroy Native Indian tribal identity. They were forced to speak English, worship Christian gods, take Anglo-Saxon names, and adapt to the ways of the “civilized” world. “We as Native Americans have our worst memories resurrected when we see children torn from their parents at the hands of law enforcement, taken to unknown locations, and with an unknown path to reunification. Indigenous communities have historically suffered the consequences of such forceful removal of its children from parents and caretakers that created intergenerational harm that our communities still struggle to address” – AIM SoCal member AIM SoCal will lead this week’s vigil on Friday August 8, 2018 at 8 p.m. We will be at the Metropolitan Detention Center on Aliso between Alameda and Los Angeles (for Google Maps, use: 308 W. Aliso, Los Angeles, CA). Dee Dee Ybarra, a descendent of the Gabrieleño Kizh people, tribal chair of the Rumsen Ama Turataj Ohlone and a member of AIM will start the event with an opening prayer honoring the people of this land. Graywolf, AIM SoCal chapter director, will be one of the speakers as well as other AIM members. WHEN: Friday, August 10, 2018 from 8pm to 10PM WHERE: 308 Aliso St, Los Angeles, CA 90012 We will have candles, but please feel free to bring your own

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“Ultimately, we want to abolish ICE. ICE has become a tool for the Trump administration to perpetuate their hate, it’s pretty much become a terrorist organization,” Flores said. 

For the August 3 vigil, Flores said four or five speakers came out and were invited to share about themselves and how the death of the migrant toddler affected them.

Afterwards, those in attendance were asked to share their name and why they chose to attend the vigil. 

One of the speakers at the August 3 vigil was activist Tai Sunnanon, a native Texan with Thai and Ecuadorian roots who has had experience galvanizing community support for 22 years.

Could the process take in fact years to resolve, as Sunnanon claims? Technically, it can.

Niels Frenzen, a law professor at the USC Gould School of Law and the director of the school’s immigration clinic, explained once families are reunited, the “asylum process is incredibly complicated because there are so many different scenarios that people can find themselves in.”

“Most adults who have been subjected to the family separation process have been subjected to expedited removal, unless they can establish a ‘credible fear,'” Frenzen said. “If they pass the credible fear test, then they can start an asylum application before an immigration judge.”

If a person establishes a ‘credible fear’ in their home country that they are fleeing from, then they cannot be subjected to deportation from the United States until the person’s asylum case is processed.

The legal clinic heard about a couple of cases through the American Immigration Lawyers Association: AILA, particularly with community groups in El Paso, Texas and picked up two cases over two weeks ago.

He is keeping a close eye on the ACLU litigation in San Diego and elsewhere in the country, since they “might get some court orders that say something about what can happen to these parents of these children that have removal hearings that will take years,” Frenzen said. “ICE could ignore them and let them stay here as long as the kid has a removal process hearing that is pending. It’s unknown because things are happening so fast.”

Flores says he will continue his vigils until families are reunited and elected leaders stand up for human rights.

READ: Artists Constructed A Massive Cage At Burning Man To Protest ICE And Some Folks Got Upset On Social Media

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Nearly 9,000 Unaccompanied Child Migrants Have Been Expelled From the U.S. Under Trump’s COVID-19 Restrictions

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Nearly 9,000 Unaccompanied Child Migrants Have Been Expelled From the U.S. Under Trump’s COVID-19 Restrictions

On Friday, previously undisclosed court documents revealed that almost 9,000 unaccompanied migrant children seeking refuge were denied access to the U.S. and subsequently expelled from U.S. soil. None of these children were given a chance in court.

According to reporting done by CBS News, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials have “suspended humanitarian protections” for most migrants crossing the border, on the grounds that “public health law overrides asylum, immigration and anti-trafficking safeguards” in the era of COVID-19.

CBS news made the shocking discovery when investigating the problematic and increased practice of holding and detaining minors in unregulated, privately contracted hotel rooms.

The government is arguing that the practice is keeping the American public safe from possibly COVID-19 exposure from unauthorized migrants.

“What we’re trying to do…is remove all individuals, regardless of whether they’re children — minors — or they’re adults,” Customs and Border Patrol official Mark Morgan said in an August media briefing.

He continued: “We’re trying to remove [the migrants] as fast as we can, to not put them in our congregate settings, to not put them into our system, to not have them remain in the United States for a long period of time, therefore increasing the exposure risk of everybody they come in contact with.”

via Getty Images

But critics are claiming that the Trump Administration is using COVID-19 as an excuse to unlawfully expel as many migrants as possible–regardless of their age.

On Friday, federal Judge Dolly M. Gee ordered the administration to put an end to the practice of detaining children in hotel rooms, saying that hotels do not “adequately account for the vulnerability of unaccompanied minors in detention”. She asked the government to put an end to the practice by September 15th.

It is in the court documents regarding the above case that 8,800 expelled migrant children number was revealed.

“The numbers are stunning,” said executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, Lindsay Toczylowski, to CBS News. “…To find out that our government has literally taken children who are seeking protection and sent them back to the very places they fled in such high numbers really took my breath away.”

via Getty Images

US Border Patrol Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz has defended the unsafe hotel detainment and speedy expulsion of migrant children, saying that stopping the practice would increase risk of exposure to health and customs officials alike.

But even if the practice comes to an end, the staggering number of unaccompanied migrant and refugee children left to their own devices is sitting heavy on the soul of advocates and activists.

“It’s just completely contrary, not only to all child protection norms and standards, but also just completely contrary to our values as a nation around protecting the most vulnerable,” said vice president for international programs at Kids in Need of Defense Lisa Frydman to CNN. “Because we are just wholesale shipping them out without making sure that it’s safe for them to go.”

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2020 Has Been A Tragic Year As A Record Number Of Migrants Die In ICE Custody

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2020 Has Been A Tragic Year As A Record Number Of Migrants Die In ICE Custody

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The news out of 2020 continues to devastate and it’s getting harder and harder to be shocked by just how horrible things are looking. However, the level of neglect inside ICE detention centers is so shocking that it’s leading to a record number of deaths. No matter what year it is, that is shocking.

It’s been 14 years, during the presidency of George Bush, since ICE detention centers have recorded the level of deaths that they’re recording this year. Despite warnings from health and immigration experts, ICE has largely refused to release immigrants from overcrowded cells despite an ongoing and out of control global health pandemic. This blatant disregard for life has had a huge impact as at least 18 people have died while in ICE detention centers so far this fiscal year.

ICE is responsible for the well-being of individuals in its custody and has broad discretion to release people for humanitarian reasons. The government should test everyone in its custody for COVID-19 and increase releases to prevent further deaths.

Three recent deaths in ICE detention centers bring 2020’s total to the second highest since 2006.

The death toll for immigrants in ICE custody reached the highest level since 2006 after three more people died this week.

Last week, it was reported that two men died while in ICE detention on August 5. One of the men who died last week was James Thomas Hill, a 72-year-old Canadian citizen who tested positive for COVID-19 about a month before his death. He was detained for three months at Farmville Detention Center in Virginia, despite being high-risk due to his age.

A 51-year-old man from Taiwan, Kuan Hui Lee, also died on August 5. Lee had been detained at Krome Detention Center in Florida for 7 months because he had overstayed a visa 16 years ago. While further details of his medical condition and death have not been reported, ICE has a long history of medical neglect of people in its custody with serious health conditions.

Then on August 11, Buzzfeed News reported that a 70-year-old Costa Rican man died in ICE custody at a Georgia Hospital on August 10, 2020, after testing positive for COVID-19. The man had been detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. According to AJC.com, the detainee suffered from diabetes and hypertension and had been hospitalized since August 4, 2020. ICE officials confirmed the death to BuzzFeed News, but have not released any additional details yet.

These tragedies increased the total deaths in ICE custody this fiscal year to 18, the highest number since 2006. Many—if not all—of the deaths that occur in ICE custody are avoidable.

“Many of these deaths were avoidable, unnecessary, and a direct result of the Trump administration’s refusal to take basic steps to protect the health and safety of detainees,” John Sandweg, a former ICE director during the Obama administration, told BuzzFeed News.

Many deaths have been attributed to Covid-19 but that’s not the complete picture.

Coronavirus has swept through ICE detention centers like wildfire and this has had a major impact on the health and welfare of detainees, the community, and even ICE employees.

So far this year, more than twice as many people have died in ICE custody over last year. And, unfortunately, there are at least 1,065 active Covid-19 cases in ICE detention centers, meaning more people are likely to get sick and die before the year ends.

The number of deaths is especially alarming considering the average number of people detained has been significantly lower this year than in recent years.

Farmville, an ICE detention center in Virgina, has the largest COVID-19 outbreak in immigration detention. As of August 6, over 97% of people held in this ICE facility had contracted COVID-19. The outbreak began as a super-spreader event caused by a transfer of 74 people from Florida and Arizona.

Advocates have consistently criticized ICE for failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the people it detains.

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