Irwin, an ICE prison plagued by abuse allegations, is at the center of the Biden administration’s promises on detention reform.

Originally published by The Washington Post

NEW ORLEANS – Immigrant advocates in New Orleans claim in a federal lawsuit that federal rule changes made last year by the U.S. Department of Labor will make foreign workers fearful of reporting workplace abuses or human trafficking for fear of being deported.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Washington by the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, deals with visas issued to protect workers from deportation when they report workplace crimes. The lawsuit says that last year, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division began requiring that applications for such visas, known as U and T visas, be referred to law enforcement agencies before they are approved.

Conditioning certification on criminal law enforcement referral and approval has a chilling effect on fearful workers who are already reluctant to come forward and speak publicly about crimes occurring in their workplaces, the suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says.

Previously, WHD required referral of the underlying crime, but provided discretion to determine when to do so, and required consideration of the petitioners’ safety, according to the lawsuit.

The suit says the changes were illegally adopted without proper public notice and comment. It said the labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division also failed to provide a rational reason for the policy change. It asks a federal judge to declare the new policy was adopted in violation of the federal Administrative Procedures Act and to vacate it.

Federal lawyers had not filed a response as of Tuesday afternoon. The Wage and Hour Division did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.


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Originally published by Mother Jones

On March 25, Jennifer Avalos Barrios, a 24-year-old from Guatemala with two young boys in California, made a panicked call to her sister from an immigration detention center in Jena, Louisiana. Call my lawyer, she said, and tell her I’m suffocating.

Marlene Seo, a 47-year-old who’s lived in the United States since she was 3, sent texts. Alex, she wrote to her daughter through an app, they just sprayed pepper spray in here and everyone is practically dying from coughing we can’t breathe!!! The next message was one word: help!!!

That morning, officials from GEO Group at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s LaSalle detention center had assured Avalos Barrios, Seo, and their dorm mates that they were safe from the new coronavirus. Things went awry, and soon 79 women found themselves trapped in a room filled with pepper spray. They were coughing, fainting, crying out for help. It was an hour or so before they got out, Avalos Barrios later told her lawyer, Mariel Villarreal.

I’ve spoken to Avalos Barrios, five dorm mates, a woman who watched things unfold from a neighboring dorm, and many of their loved ones. Most are using their real names, a courageous decision at a time when GEO Group is retaliating against people who speak to the media.

Most of the interviews were done over video calls, with the women sitting in front of a backdrop reminiscent of school photo days-the realities of detention behind them obscured by a cartoonish mountain. The $0.21-per-minute calls occasionally afforded more intimacy than the phone, but they had a tendency to leave faces frozen at unflattering angles. The app we used, called GettingOut, refers to detainees by an unintentionally accurate euphemism: residents.

Even in a pandemic, getting out of the LaSalle ICE Processing Center isn’t easy. Nearly 1,100 of the 1,335 beds there were full earlier this month. While ICE has released some people with medical conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19, it continues to hold many more in tight quarters that make social distancing impossible.

The new coronavirus has brought tensions in detention centers to new extremes, but what happened on March 25 was months of neglect in the making, and ghoulish in its ironies. This is the story-in the women’s own words-of how a presentation about a virus that attacks people’s lungs culminated in guards in gas masks pulling women out of a toxic room.

Aside from the interviews with Marlene Seo, her daughter, and a woman from a neighboring dorm, what appears below is translated from Spanish. ICE and GEO Group did not respond to requests for comment.

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Originally published by HuffPost

The 3-year-old girl traveled for weeks cradled in her father’s arms, as he set out to seek asylum in the United States. Now she won’t even look at him.

After being forcibly separated at the border by government officials, sexually abused in U.S. foster care and deported, the once bright and beaming girl arrived back in Honduras withdrawn, anxious and angry, convinced her father abandoned her.

He fears their bond is forever broken.

I think about this trauma staying with her too, because the trauma has remained with me and still hasn’t faded, he said, days after their reunion.

This month new government data shows the little girl is one of an unprecedented 69,550 migrant children held in U.S. government custody over the past year, enough infants, toddlers, kids and teens to overflow the typical NFL stadium. That’s more kids detained away from their parents than any other country, according to United Nations researchers. And it’s happening even though the U.S. government has acknowledged that being held in detention can be traumatic for children, putting them at risk of long-term physical and emotional damage.

Some of these migrant children who were in government custody this year have already been deported. Some have reunited with family in the U.S., where they’re trying to go to school and piece back together their lives. About 4,000 are still in government custody, some in large, impersonal shelters. And more arrive every week.

The nearly 70,000 migrant children who were held in government custody this year – up 42 percent in fiscal year 2019 from 2018 – spent more time in shelters and away from their families than in prior years. The Trump administration’s series of strict immigration policies has increased the time children spend in detention, despite the government’s own acknowledgment that it does them harm. In 2013, Australia detained 2,000 children during a surge of maritime arrivals. In Canada, immigrant children are separated from their parents only as a last resort; 155 were detained in 2018. In the United Kingdom, 42 migrant children were put in shelters in 2017, according to officials in those countries.

Early experiences are literally built into our brains and bodies, says Dr. Jack Shonkoff, who directs Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child. Earlier this year, he told Congress that decades of peer-reviewed research shows that detaining kids away from parents or primary caregivers is bad for their health. It’s a brain-wiring issue, he said.

Stable and responsive relationships promote healthy brain architecture, Shonkoff said. If these relationships are disrupted, young children are hit by the double whammy of a brain that is deprived of the positive stimulation it needs, and assaulted by a stress response that disrupts its developing circuitry.

Younger children are at greater risk, because their biological systems are less developed, he said. Previous harm, and the duration of separation, are also more likely to lead to trauma.

One Honduran teen who was held in a large detention center for four months before reuniting with his mother said that, as each day passed, his fear and anxiety grew.

There was something there that made us feel desperate. It was freedom. We wanted to be free, he recalled. There was despair everywhere.

Another Honduran teen, who arrived in the U.S. at 16 and was detained in a series of increasingly secure shelters for more than a year, said he saw his peers harm themselves.

They would cry sometimes, alone, or they would hit themselves against the wall, he said. I thought that was because of them being here for such a long time.

The teens spoke on condition of anonymity out of concerns for their safety.

The 3-year-old Honduran girl was taken from her father when immigration officials caught them near the border in Texas in March 2019 and sent her to government-funded foster care. The father had no idea where his daughter was for three panicked weeks. It was another month before a caregiver put her on the phone but the girl, who turned four in government custody, refused to speak, screaming in anger.

She said that I had left her alone and she was crying, said her father during an interview with the AP and Frontline at their home in Honduras. ‘I don’t love you Daddy, you left me alone,’ she told him. The father agreed to speak about their case on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.

What the little girl didn’t, or couldn’t, tell her dad was that another child in her foster home woke her up and began molesting her, according to court records. As the days passed, she began urinating on herself and seemed unable to eat or drink, a foster parent said in the records.

She’s so small for something like that to happen, said her father, who found out about his daughter’s abuse while he was in detention. I felt like I couldn’t do anything to help her.

Desperate to see his daughter, he begged for a DNA test which, four months into his detention, proved their relationship. Still the government kept them apart. In June, he gave up and asked a judge to reunite him with his daughter and deport them. The government sent him back to Honduras alone. His daughter followed a month later in mid-August.

On an August afternoon in their hometown, the little girl had her hair tied up in pigtails. Her dress was a frilly lavender and her pink sneakers were decorated with bows. She played with her younger sister and snuggled up beside her grandfather, but ignored her father’s entreaties and refused to hold his hand, convinced he tried to leave her for good.

When I wanted to cradle her in my arms she started to cry, he said.

He didn’t know of any psychological support in their town to help her process the abuse she suffered.

For now we’re going to try to give her more affection, more love and then if there isn’t a change we’re going to try to find some help, he said.

The U.S. government calls migrant children held without their parents Unaccompanied Alien Children – UAC in bureaucratic jargon. Federal law requires the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement to provide them food and shelter, and medical and mental health care. But the HHS Office of Inspector General found there aren’t enough clinicians or specialized care in shelters holding migrant children.

HHS spokesman Mark Weber said that, with the largest number of migrant children in their program’s history, you must give credit to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the shelter network staff for managing a program that was able to rapidly expand and unify the largest number of kids ever, all in an incredibly difficult environment.

In an urgent request to fund an emergency shelter earlier this year, HHS warned Without a way to provide these services, there is an unacceptable risk that thousands of UAC would be without their basic human needs, which would result in injury/death of children.

In the September issue of the journal Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics says migrant children who are detained face almost universal traumatic histories. The group recommends specific therapies to help children recover and reunite with their families, warning of serious consequences if left untreated. But few of the thousands of children separated from their parents are receiving therapy after being deported back to Central America. Many are from impoverished communities where there are few, if any, accessible mental health resources.

The U.S. is now being sued for hundreds of millions of dollars by some families who say their children were harmed by being held in detention, and on Nov. 5 a federal judge ordered the government to immediately provide mental health screenings and treatment to immigrant families traumatized by family separations. The judge found attorneys for separated families presented evidence that the government’s policy caused severe mental trauma to parents and their children and that U.S. government officials were aware of the risks associated with family separation when they implemented it.

Child trauma expert Ryan Matlow at Stanford University says toxic stress in children is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, heart disease, cancer, and even early death.

So we want to be a country that inflicts further trauma on individuals who are experiencing intensive adversity and are seeking refuge and help in a neighboring nation? asked Matlow, who has met with detained migrant children inside several of the largest migrant detention facilities. Are we okay with the implications of doing harm to vulnerable children – to 2 and 3-year-olds and to teenagers as well? Is that something that we can accept?

This year President Donald Trump signed a law approving $2.8 billion for the government to house, transport and care for migrant children. Nine out of 10 come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, with fewer than 3% from Mexico. They’re fleeing Central America often to save their own lives, because violence and abuse, even murder, are committed with impunity under corrupt governments the U.S. has supported for decades.

While children have been arriving alone at the U.S. border for more than a decade, the number of children in government custody has grown sharply over the last two years, largely because they have been held for longer time periods. A few months after Trump took office, the federal agency was caring for about 2,700 children, reuniting them with awaiting relatives or sponsors in about a month. This June, that topped 13,000, and they stayed in custody for about two months.

U.S. immigration authorities have separated more than 5,400 children from their parents at the Mexico border, before, during and after a controversial zero tolerance policy was enacted and then ended in the spring of 2018.

Eskinder Negash, who heads the nonprofit U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, knows the trauma of separation and detention all too well, and has spent his life seeking solutions.

I was a refugee, I know what they have gone through, said Negash, who fled Ethiopia alone as a teen after his country was thrown into chaos by a military coup.

Negash also knows what it’s like to suddenly have to care for tens of thousands of migrant children caught at the border. He was heading the Office of Refugee Resettlement in 2014 under the Obama administration when more than 60,000 children surged over the border, mostly unaccompanied. Negash and his team scrambled to shelter them in a variety of situations, including on military bases. The fallout, at the time, was harsh: human rights advocates who today decry the way children are treated in government custody were, under Obama, frustrated with their care and urged that children be swiftly granted asylum.

Leaving government to head the nonprofit refugee support agency USCRI, Negash wanted to do better for children, both in the U.S. and abroad.

In El Salvador, USCRI now runs the Livelihoods project, teaching young adults who were deported from the U.S. skills to support themselves. On a recent visit, students clustered in small groups around workbenches to practice building circuits that would make small motors run. They learn everything from residential and commercial electrical installation to building substations and transformers. Other career tracks include auto mechanic, chef and bartender. Since 2016, about 400 young adults have graduated from the program, which is a partnership with the El Salvador government.

I don’t think about migrating anymore, said Jose Fernando Guillen Rodrguez, 21, who was apprehended in the U.S. at 18 and spent time in adult detention before being deported. Now he’s completed a year of daily electrical classes and works as an apprentice at an electrical construction company.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. this summer, USCRI also opened what Negash hopes is a model government-funded shelter in southern Florida, just down the road from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club. Rinconcito del Sol, which translates to A Little Corner of Sunshine, is different than other facilities holding migrant children.

There is no uniformed security guard at the entrance. The residents, girls 13-17, can call their families as needed, staff say, and there are more therapeutic services – including intensive treatment for victims of trafficking and abuse – throughout the week. They sleep two to a room, and are free to wander in a large, outdoor area, or shop in a store filled with donated items. Case workers hustle to reunite them with family in the U.S. quickly, averaging four weeks. And costs to taxpayers are a third of the $775 per day costs at large, emergency shelters where kids sleep 100 to a room.

Here, we change lives, said shelter director Elcy Valdez, who worked as an ORR federal field specialist visiting a variety of facilities for six years. She saw a variety of operations, and took note of best practices. Today they hope to share their practices with some 170 shelter programs in 23 states.

The girls come in very sad, nervous, not knowing what to expect, unsure what the future holds for them, she said. We give them that sense of security, of safety for the first time.


This story is part of an ongoing joint investigation between The Associated Press and the PBS series FRONTLINE on the treatment of migrant children, which includes the film Kids Caught in the Crackdown premiering on PBS and online Nov. 12 at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST.

Read more –

Originally published by CNN

Nearly 250 migrant children who were held at a Customs and Border Protection facility in Clint, Texas, will be shifted into the Department of Health and Human Services’ shelter system by Tuesday following reports of poor conditions at the facility.”Last week ORR identified shelter space in its network for 249 (unaccompanied children) who were located at the CBP Clint Station facility-these children should now all be in HHS care as of Tuesday, June 25th,” HHS spokesperson Evelyn Stauffer said in a statement Monday.

The announcement comes days after CNN reported on a team of lawyers, doctors and advocates warning of what they called major health and hygiene problems at multiple US Customs and Border Protection facilities in Texas, including the one in Clint.”The kids had colds and were sick and said they didn’t have access to soap to wash their hands. It was an alcohol-based cleanser. Some kids who were detained for two to three weeks had only one or two opportunities to shower,” Clara Long, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said of the Clint facility.

“One said they hadn’t showered in three weeks. Hygiene and living conditions like this creates a risk of spreading infectious disease. It makes me very concerned about the public health emergency.”Stauffer acknowledged Monday that unaccompanied migrant children are “waiting too long in CBP facilities that are not designed to care for children,” a result, she says, of the “unprecedented” number of children arriving.

As of June 10, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been transferred from the Department of Homeland Security to HHS — a 60% increase over last year, HHS says.The Trump administration made the legal argument last week that detained migrant children didn’t need toothbrushes, medicine and blankets in order to be held in “safe and sanitary conditions.”Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that “of course” those items are necessary basics for children but punted to Congress when asked about the Trump administration’s inaction.”My point is, it’s all a part of the appropriations process,” Pence said.

CNN’s Nick Valencia and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

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Originally published by Mother Jones

A private prison company worked to block the release of potentially embarrassing information about a suicide at one of its immigration detention centers this summer, according to emails obtained from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).

Efrain Romero de la Rosa, a 40-year-old Mexican immigrant diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, committed suicide in July after being held in solitary confinement for three weeks at the Stewart Detention Center in south Georgia. Immigration and Customs Enforcement pays CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America) more than $100,000 per day to hold at least 1,600 immigration detainees in Stewart.

After Romero’s death, the GBI, which investigates deaths in Georgia prisons and detention centers, opened an inquiry. Its agents collected video evidence and documents from inside the facility, looking for evidence of foul play. On October 1, as the investigation was coming to a close, a lawyer hired by CoreCivic sent an email to the director of the GBI’s office of privacy and compliance, arguing that a federal regulation barred the agency from publicly releasing any of the findings from its investigation.

Unlike most prison records with which the GBI ordinarily deals, the further disclosure of records obtained from Stewart…is limited by federal law, CoreCivic attorney Steve Curry claimed in an email obtained by Mother Jones through a public records request. He cited a post-9/11 federal regulation that grants the Department of Homeland Security control over most information about immigration detainees. It is our request that there not be a release of information, he wrote.

CoreCivic’s attempt to block the release of information about Romero’s death came about a year after the GBI released records related to the death of Jeancarlo Alfonso Jimenez Joseph, who committed suicide at Stewart under similar circumstances in May 2017. Jimenez was brought to the United States from Panama when he was 10 years old and grew up in Kansas, eventually earning protection from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, according to a CNN investigation. But by age 27, he had lost his DACA status following a mental health breakdown. He was struggling with schizophrenia when he was arrested and sent to Stewart, where guards put him in solitary confinement as punishment for what his sister later described as a suicide attempt. After 19 days alone in a cell, he hanged himself.

The GBI’s investigation into Jimenez’s death uncovered embarrassing details about the CoreCivic detention center. Security footage and internal records showed that a guard had falsified logs to conceal that he had not checked on Jimenez at the required 30-minute intervals. The day before Jimenez’s suicide, a volunteer who tried to see about his wellbeing was told that Jimenez couldn’t receive visitors, even though there were no such restrictions in place, according to one report. And earlier in his detention, as Jimenez attempted to fight his deportation case, the detention center failed to send his attorney requested documents.

The guard who falsified logs was fired the month after Jimenez’s suicide, and Stewart’s warden retired soon after the GBI’s investigation was closed. (CoreCivic told journalists the retirement was unrelated to the Jimenez case.)

Details about Jimenez’s death continue to surface, including an account from another detainee who heard Jimenez tell a guard about experiencing psychosis in solitary confinement two weeks before he committed suicide. Meanwhile, Jimenez’ family is suing the federal government to force it to reveal additional information about medical care, incident reports, and inspections at Stewart.

The case, including GBI’s photographs of the cell where Jimenez died, also drew attention to the practice of putting detainees with mental illness in what CoreCivic terms restrictive housing-solitary confinement. Expertssay solitary confinement can exacerbate suicidal urges and other mental health problems. In 2011, a United Nations special rapporteur on torture recommended banning the use of solitary confinement for any period longer than 15 days.

In his email to the GBI in October, CoreCivic’s lawyer referred to the release of information in Jimenez case. He also cited a federal regulation from 2002, which granted the Department of Homeland Security increased control over information about federal immigration detainees. The regulation was put in place to block an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking the release of the names, nationalities, and other basic information about Immigration and Naturalization Service detainees held in two New Jersey jails following September 11, 2001.

State and local agencies sometimes use the regulation to deny requests to release records about detained immigrants. Liz Martinez, the advocacy director for Freedom for Immigrants, an anti-detention activist group, says a sheriff’s office in California used the regulation to deny her group’s request for information about ICE detainees’ grievances in a local jail. The Justice Department has also cited the rule in its ongoing lawsuit against California’s sanctuary policies, arguing that a law allowing the state attorney general to inspect ICE detention centers violates the rule.

The regulation is just one of many tactics private prison companies use to block disclosure of government records about their operations. The Freedom of Information Act doesn’t apply to their operation of federal prisons. For more than a decade, Democratic members of Congress have introduced versions of a bill that would force private prisons to follow the same federal disclosure rules as their public counterparts. Private prison companies have lobbied against the bill, which has never gotten out of committee. On the state level, as Mother Jones reported in 2015, CoreCivic has intervened in public records requests to conceal information about lawsuits it has settled involving medical malpractice, wrongful deaths, assaults, and the use of force, arguing that such information constitutes trade secrets.

In response to questions about its attorney’s email, CoreCivic public affairs manager Rodney King said it was standard practice for the company to urge state agencies to defer decisions about releasing public records to federal authorities. This matter was investigated by a state agency, GBI, but it occurred in a facility we operate on behalf of a federal government partner, ICE. In these situations, it’s our standard practice to reach out to the state government body to ensure the necessary coordination with the federal government, which has the leadership role in determining how information about an individual in its care is shared, King said in a statement.

So far, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has gone along with CoreCivic’s wishes, declining to release its investigative file or answer questions about its conclusions about Romero’s suicide. The federal statute that prevents the release of these records was not known to the GBI at the time of the Jimenez death investigation and release of records, said Lisa Harris, the special agent in charge of GBI’s open records unit. Now that the GBI has knowledge of the statute, we will abide by it.

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Originally published by The Intercept

WHEN CARLOS HIDALGO was detained at the ICE processing center, in Adelanto, California, guards would mock the detainees lined up to get their meals by imitating the call of cows. Moo! Here are the cows, walking through!

Toiletries and clean clothes were in constant shortage and sick detainees were sometimes left in their soiled clothes, he told The Intercept. Detainees worked in the center’s kitchens for as little as $1 a day – or took cleaning shifts for no money but an extra ration of food. The food itself was so bad that it was sometimes infested with maggots, yet there was always too little of it – so that detainees would be forced to buy more at the center’s commissary. It’s all about money, said Hidalgo, who is now free on bond.

Staff at Adelanto ignored all but the most serious medical emergencies. After Hidalgo witnessed a detainee suffer seizures and staff do nothing to help him, he started organizing a detainee-run response team to help those suffering medical and mental health crises, which were frequent. When he asked the center’s staff for help, those working with the GEO Group, the private detention company that runs the center, would refer him to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If I asked ICE, they’d say, it’s GEO’s house, so ask them and go through them, Hidalgo said. Back and forth, so you end up getting nothing.

In two stints at Adelanto – for nine months in 2014 and three in 2016 – Hidalgo learned to navigate the system and became a bit of an organizer among the detainees. He arranged for transgender detainees to stay together for protection and helped fellow detainees file formal grievances – earning himself reprimands and once a month in disciplinary segregation.

A guard once told him, They don’t pay me enough to give a shit about you. During his time there, two detainees tried to hang themselves with their bedsheets. They just don’t give a damn, said Hidalgo. You’re just another number, you’re just another detainee.

This May 1, 2018 photo from the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) shows a noose fashioned from bedsheets in a cell at the Adelanto Detention Center in Adelanto, Calif., a desert community 70 miles (113 kilometers) northeast of Los Angeles. Federal inspectors found nooses made from bedsheets hanging in more than a dozen cells during an inspection in May, 2018, The OIG issued a scathing report after visiting the privately-run detention facility run by the GEO Group. There were at least seven suicide attempts at the facility between December 2016 and October 2017, and a 32-year-old man killed himself by hanging in March 2017, according to the report. (OIG via AP)

A noose made from bedsheets in a cell at the Adelanto Detention Center in Adelanto, Calif., on May 1, 2018.

Photo: Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General via AP

Suicide Failures

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, which is tasked with independently monitoring the department’s agencies, published a scathing report confirming some of the problems Adelanto detainees like Hidalgo have long denounced, including widespread indifference to attempted suicide. In one particularly disturbing detail, investigators mentioned finding several nooses, made of bedsheets, hanging in detainees’ cells.

The report was the result of a surprise audit at the facility last May, and it offers an indictment of the Adelanto facility in unusually blunt language for an official document. These violations pose a significant threat to maintaining detainee rights and ensuring their mental and physical well-being, the report states. Although this form of civil custody should be non-punitive, some of the center conditions and detainee treatment we identified during our visit and outlined in this management alert are similar to those one may see in criminal custody.

But the findings hardly surprised Hidalgo. There are other things that are worse that have been committed there, he said. That’s not the worst.

For years, detainees and their advocates have denounced inhumane conditions at the center, which can house up to 1,940 detainees, making it, along with the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, the largest privately run immigration detention facility in the country. The documented abuses include medical neglect, poor hygiene and nutrition, and violations of religious liberties, as well as suicides, deaths in custody, and sexual abuse at the hands of ICE staff and contractors.

According to the OIG report, inspectors visiting Adelanto found braided bedsheets hanging as nooses in 15 of the 20 cells they visited – a violation of ICE standards that prohibit detainees from hanging or draping objects from furniture or fixtures. In March 2017, a 32-year-old Adelanto detainee died after being found hanging from his bedsheets in a cell there. There were seven other documented suicide attempts at Adelanto between December 2016 and October 2017, at least two of them by detainees who tried to hang themselves using their bedsheets.

I’ve seen a few attempted suicides using the braided sheets by the vents and then the guards laugh at them and call them ‘suicide failures’ once they’re back from medical, one detainee told inspectors. The report says that a senior ICE official told inspectors that ICE management at Adelanto does not believe it is necessary or a priority to address the braided sheets issue.

The report also criticizes excessive segregation and severely inadequate medical care. Inspectors found that 14 detainees were held in disciplinary segregation – i.e., solitary confinement – at the time of their visit, before an administrative process found them guilty of infractions and without a written order of segregation. GEO Group staff indicated it is the center’s practice to place all detainees directly in disciplinary segregation after an alleged incident, the report notes, a clear violation of ICE standards, as well as detainees’ rights to due process.

The report also found that detainees held in segregation were further penalized by losing contact visits with family or access to the commissary, even when those penalties were not sanctioned by the center’s rules. And inspectors observed staff moving six detainees in handcuffs and shackles, and were told by guards that they place all detainees in disciplinary segregation in restraints when outside their cells – yet another violation of ICE standards, which gives the appearance of criminal, rather than civil, custody.

Inspectors also found that a disabled detainee was improperly held in disciplinary segregation for nine days, until they raised the issue with the center’s administration. According to the report, in those nine days, the detainee never left his wheelchair to sleep on a bed or brush his teeth. A bag of beddings and toiletries remained untouched in the detainee’s cell.

Inspectors observed nurses, doctors, and mental health providers conducting cursory walk-throughs and stamping their names on detainees’ records hanging outside their cells without entering or speaking to them. Inspectors only observed medical staff talk to four of the 14 detainees they visited – and even in those cases, staff merely asked, in English, if the detainee was OK. We confirmed with guards that these four detainees were non-English speakers, and the doctor left without any acknowledgement or response from the detainee, the report notes.

Between November 2017 and April 2018, detainees at Adelanto filed 80 medical grievances saying that they were denied urgent care, medication, and medical visits for persistent health problems. In 2017 alone, between 60 and 80 clinical appointments were canceled because no guards were available to escort detainees to their visits – despite a long history of medical neglect allegations at the center, including three deaths since 2015 of detainees who had denounced lack of care.

The inspectors also found that detainees are placed on waitlists for months and sometimes years to receive basic dental care, despite the fact that ICE is required to provide dental care to those it holds for longer than six months. Detainees described to inspectors having multiple teeth fall out as they waited more than two years for cavities to be filled, having to wait more than eight months for an extraction, and having the wrong tooth pulled. Interviewed by inspectors, a dentist at the center told them that he does not have time for cleanings or fillings, adding that detainees would be fine if they committed to brushing and flossing. When reminded that floss is only available to detainees with a commissary account, the dentist replied that they could use string from their socks to floss if they were dedicated to dental hygiene.

Both ICE and the GEO Group said the report lacked appropriate context, but pledged to review the center’s practices and address issues. A spokesperson for ICE said in a statement in response to the report that the safety, rights and health of detainees in ICE’s care are of paramount concern and Adelanto, like all ICE detention facilities, is subject to stringent, regular inspections.

The spokesperson added that ICE takes seriously the OIG’s findings and has agreed to conduct a full and immediate review of the center to ensure compliance with detention standards and expedite necessary corrective actions.

A spokesperson for the GEO Group, which runs Adelanto, as well as dozens of detention centers across the country, said in a statement, Our commitment is always, first and foremost, to high-quality care. For over thirty years, our employees have taken pride in our ability to provide quality services in safe, secure and humane environments for those entrusted to our care, and these findings of inadequacies are not consistent with our core values.

Zero Accountability

Adelanto is one of the worst immigrant prisons in the country, said Liz Martinez, director of advocacy at Freedom for Immigrants, a southern California-based immigrant rights group that has coordinated volunteer visits to Adelanto since 2012 and runs a national hotline for detainees. The OIG report confirms what we documented and exposed all along: that ICE and the GEO Group are systematically subjecting immigrants to intolerable conditions.

What’s more revealing, I think, is how the report details the unvarnished cruelty with which the staff and guards treat immigrants, Martinez said. The way they laugh after suicide attempts, the way they suggested using sock strings as floss. … They take pleasure in subjecting people to further misery.

Just recently, a detainee at Adelanto told Freedom for Immigrants that in his cell block, guards removed all restroom curtains – the only privacy afforded to detainees. And two detainees told a volunteer that one night in late August the food was so bad that many detainees refused to eat – to which guards responded by pepper spraying them. We hear stories all the time, Martinez added. The problem is when detained individuals report these kinds of incidents, no one believes them. And often they are retaliated against.

The ICE spokesperson listed a number of measures in place at the agency to monitor facilities, including reviews by a third-party contractor. Facilities receiving a less than acceptable rating must be scheduled for a follow-up inspection within six months, the spokesperson said, and if a facility receives two consecutive final ratings of less than acceptable, ICE must discontinue use of the facility. In 2009, ICE also created the Office of Detention Oversight, a unit tasked with conducting independent reviews of detention conditions. The DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties also conducts reviews whose findings are not publicly shared.

But as The Intercept has reported, while detention facilities are periodically inspected for compliance with ICE standards, the agency regularly gives its centers passing marks despite evidence of abuse and neglect. Last spring, the American Civil Liberties Union and nine other organizations wrote a letter to DHS denouncing ICE’s failure to comply with the detention standards set by Congress, criticizing the agency’s unregulated self-assessment and adding that a close look at the inspections themselves reveals alarming evidence that they are sham assessments.

Last June, a different OIG report concluded that ICE’s monitoring system is simply not working. The inspections do not fully examine actual conditions or identify all deficiencies, the OIG noted then. ICE does not adequately follow up on identified deficiencies or consistently hold facilities accountable for correcting them, which further diminishes the usefulness of inspections. ICE said in response to that report that the agency would continue to ensure its detention facilities comply with relevant policies and standards through an aggressive inspections program, and indicated that it would re-evaluate its inspection scope and conduct follow-up inspections.

Adelanto has gotten passing inspections every year, even when people have died there in ways that were due to medical neglect, said Grace Meng, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch focused on the U.S. immigration system. The inspection system is practically worthless. … Everyone gets a passing grade.

The OIG began conducting unannounced inspections in March 2016. But while immigrant advocates welcomed the latest report on Adelanto as confirmation of the abuse and neglect they have long documented, they were skeptical that the report would bring any changes. This isn’t new, it’s just been swept under the rug by ICE and the GEO Group for as long as they could and for as long as they were allowed to, said Martinez, of Freedom for Immigrants. There is zero accountability, which leads to a culture of impunity. â€¦ Adelanto is basically a microcosm of the horror that is the U.S. immigration detention system.

Unlimited Possibilities

If the Adelanto detention center is a microcosm of the larger immigration detention system, the city itself is a cautionary tale about the country’s binge on mass incarceration and the privatization of detention.

A dusty, rural settlement in the Mojave desert two hours east of Los Angeles, Adelanto in 2015 had a population of 32,000 people, in addition to the 10,000 incarcerated people distributed between the immigration detention center, a county jail, a state prison, and a nearby federal prison.

Facing bankruptcy, Adelanto, which bills itself the city with unlimited possibilities, struck a series of deals with the GEO Group and the state prison. But while the contracts and subsequent expansions brought thousands of detainees to the city and millions in federal dollars to the GEO Group, the deals only briefly plugged the city’s deficit. As documented in a 2015 report by Freedom for Immigrants, then known as CIVIC, the center’s sale brought just a few low-paying jobs to local residents – while more than 100 residents who were already working at the facility lost their jobs – and Adelanto remained on the brink of bankruptcy, with serious unemployment and a dearth of schools and basic services. Meanwhile, the city was contractually obligated to guarantee the GEO Group a minimum of 975 occupants – which at a rate of $111 per day meant the company was guaranteed an annual income of $40 million. While the city would also get a cut, that totaled no more than $100,487.50 annually.

After the deal, the GEO Group nearly tripled the capacity of its facilities in Adelanto – doubling the detention center’s capacity the year after signing its first contract and adding 640 beds for female detainees in 2015. But even before the deal with the GEO Group, Adelanto had a history of poor contracting – including a highly controversial and costly deal to host a minor league baseball team that cost the city $6.5 million in municipal bonds. The team paid a meager rent of $1 a day. According to the CIVIC report, Adelanto’s first high school was prevented from opening for two years because it was over budget by $3 million, while renovations at the local San Bernardino County Jail were completed on time despite being $25 million over budget.

There’s always just been nothing here except for prisons, said Mario Novoa, a local resident and activist cited in the report. And as far as I can tell they haven’t done much to help the city develop anything other than more prisons.

Adelanto city officials did not respond to The Intercept’s requests for comment.

Last year, California enacted two laws, including the Dignity Not Detention Act, that effectively froze the growth of private prisons in the state by putting a moratorium on municipalities entering into new contracts with private prison companies or modifying existing contracts for the purposes of expanding detention. That law also gave the California attorney general the power to investigate and monitor private detention facilities, and the office is currently undertaking its first-ever review of federal immigration detention centers in the state, whose findings are due next March. Currently, nearly 4,000 immigrants are detained in California on any given day – with 70 percent of them held in private, for-profit facilities.

The new legislation also provided for private detention contractors to be subject to local public records laws from which they had previously been exempt. But advocates say that so far, the private companies have refused to comply with that provision of the new law. That’s been in place since January, and we have tried to obtain information from these private facilities, said Martinez. But they keep saying that they’re not subject to the law. The GEO Group spokesperson told The Intercept that the group takes no position on immigration enforcement policies and added, We are provider [sic] of services to ICE and under our contracts, all requests for data and records must be made directly to ICE. ICE declined to comment.

Like Captain America to Me

Hidalgo, who is 51, arrived to the United States from El Salvador in 1981, carrying his 3-year-old sister in his arms. At the border, he was detained and filed for asylum. He remembers the officer who detained him spoke to him in Spanish with an American accent, encouraging him and patting his shoulder. That was like Captain America to me, said Hidalgo. We were processed through humane methods that they had, dignified, not jails.

His next encounter with the U.S. immigration detention system, after a conviction for petty theft in 2014, was another story.

It’s as if immigrants have no right to dream and have a better life, he told The Intercept. I’ve seen guys come in with high spirits, wanting to fight, and months later, they’re defecating on their hands, banging their heads against the wall, talking about suicide.

In there, it’s all about breaking you down, he added. The process they have is to demoralize you, break you down, and ship you out.

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Originally published by Salon

Arizona health officials threatened on Wednesday to revoke the licenses of 13 federally funded immigrant children shelters, accusing the facilities’ operator, Southwest Key, of displaying an astonishingly flippant attitude toward complying with the state’s child protection laws.

But a day after the state sent its blistering letter to Southwest Key CEO Juan Sanchez, it became clear that any shutdown would create a tumultuous chain of events for federal and state regulators, who lack options for housing tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who cross the border every year.

Shutting down the shelters would create a crisis for the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is charged with housing children caught at the border, said Maria Cancian, deputy assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families from 2015 to 2016.

Southwest Key is the country’s largest operator of immigrant youth shelters, housing more than 5,000 children in Arizona, Texas and California. As many as 1,600 children currently reside in its Arizona facilities.

The Texas-based nonprofit has become an increasingly critical asset for the federal government as the number of children in its custody has reached record numbers – even as the Trump administration has ended the practice of separating children from their parents. Southwest Key has received more than $1.3 billion in federal grants and contracts for the shelters and other services in the past five years.

Arizona’s investigation showing the company has been lax in protecting children in its care highlights the government’s fraught reliance on shelter operators – and the power those operators have, even in the face of failures. The federal government desperately needs every shelter as tougher immigration policies have put the system near capacity, housing five times as many children as last summer. Former HHS officials said closing 13 shelters in Arizona at once would throw the system into chaos.

It would create a humanitarian crisis, said one former official, forcing federal officials to scramble to find safe, licensed housing with trained and vetted staff for 1,600 children.

Arizona launched its investigation of Southwest Key’s shelters after news reports raised questions about background checks and other issues. A ProPublica story in August detailed the charges against Levian Pacheco, a former Southwest Key employee who is accused of molesting eight boys at a Mesa shelter over an 11-month period. Pacheco, who is HIV-positive, went without a background check for nearly four months. He was convicted earlier this month of 10 sex offenses connected to the molestation.

In response to media attention and complaints, Arizona health officials reviewed records on background checks at every Southwest Key facility across the state. Of the 13 shelters, the state found two additional facilities also had problems with background checks. In mid-August the company agreed it would verify that all employees had complete background checks by mid-September.

Arizona health officials also found that Southwest Key hadn’t vetted all employees by interviewing their previous employers and hadn’t ensured all employee files contained proof of tuberculosis testing. At some facilities, officials discovered bedroom and bathroom doors missing and problems with the size of residents’ rooms.

In Wednesday’s letter, Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, told Sanchez that his organization had failed to comply with the mid-August agreement.

Southwest Key’s lack of ability to deliver a simple report on the critical protections these children have against dangerous felons demonstrates an utter disregard for Arizona law, Christ wrote.

Jeff Eller, a Southwest Key spokesman, said the nonprofit has requested a meeting with state health officials to discuss the matter. We have apologized to DHS for missing the reporting deadline and are serious about ensuring that never happens again, he said in a statement. Eller declined to comment on the substantive issues raised in Arizona’s investigation. The state’s move to revoke the licenses was first reported by Arizona media outlets.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s office said in an email on Thursday he expects licensed facilities to comply with the law or his administration will hold them accountable.

Federal HHS spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said in an email Thursday that the agency was reviewing the letter and working with the shelters and Ducey’s office to get all of the facts regarding the Arizona Department of Health Services audit to determine the next step.

Former federal officials said they anticipate HHS will step in to help negotiate an outcome between Southwest Key and Arizona that will allow the children to remain in the facilities. Even Arizona officials acknowledged that the letter represents the beginning of what would be a long process.

In Texas, which has 16 Southwest Key facilities housing about 3,700 children, state health officials say they are not aware of similar issues with Southwest Key.

The Texas’ Health and Human Services Commission said its monitoring inspections have not produced evidence of a pattern of background check deficiencies within any SWK [Southwest Key] operation, nor any patterns of failure to comply with minimum standard training requirements.

An official with California’s Department of Social Services said in June the agency re-inspected all known facilities used by the US Office of Refugee Resettlement – including those operated by Southwest Key – and found no licensing concerns. The dust-up comes as the number of immigrant youth in federal custody has continued to grow. Immigrant advocates and former health officials say the record population doesn’t appear to be due to an influx of children at the border, but to the fact that children are staying in the shelters nearly twice as long as in the past.

They attributed that to a Trump administration policy that requires health officials to share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to vet potential sponsors for children in the shelters. As a result, they said, many parents and relatives who have traditionally served as sponsors worry they’ll be turned over to ICE if they come forward.

Matthew Albence, who heads ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, gave credence to that fear at a Senate hearing on Tuesday when he testified that ICE had arrested 41 people who either came forward as sponsors or lived with them.

Close to 80 percent of the individuals that are either sponsors or household members of sponsors are here in the country illegally, Albence said. So we are continuing to pursue those individuals.

Arizona’s move against Southwest Key is just the latest in a series of bad headlines for the nonprofit.

In addition to ProPublica’s reporting on Pacheco, two other cases involving abuse at other Southwest Key shelters in Arizona surfaced in July. An employee at a Southwest Key facility in Phoenix was arrested on allegations that he sexually abused a 14-year-old girl by kissing her and rubbing her breast and crotch, according to Phoenix news outlets. And The Nation reported in July that a 6-year-old girl, who had been separated from her mother, was allegedly fondled by a boy at a Southwest Key facility in Glendale in June.

At other Southwest Key facilities, police reports and call logs from the last five years detail dozens of runaways, inappropriate relationships with staff, sexual contact among kids, and allegations of molestation by employees, ProPublica found. In one case, a 46-year-old youth care worker in Tucson was convicted of groping a 15-year-old boy who had arrived in the United States five days earlier.

In response to each of these reports, a Southwest Key spokesman said the organization immediately reports any abuse claim to police, that it cooperates fully with all investigations and that it educates children in its care of their right to be free of abuse.

And in August, UnidosUS, formerly known as the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, suspended its affiliation with Southwest Key.

Both UnidosUS and Arizona officials highlighted similar concerns about the Southwest Key officials’ attitude toward the scrutiny it is receiving. UnidosUS said the organization failed to convey that it understands the gravity and magnitude of the situation and had failed to apologize to the victims in its care.

In response to UnidosUs, Eller told the Austin American-Statesman in August that the company was disappointed in the group’s decision and said any insinuation that Southwest Key didn’t take allegations seriously was grossly incorrect.

A former HHS official with knowledge of how the refugee resettlement agency operates said the recent developments with Southwest Key raise serious questions about the organization’s ability to meet the government’s needs.

It sounds like, based on their inability to respond or even communicate in a timely fashion that they have really significant internal operating challenges and that may or may not be indicative of the quality of care the children are receiving, the former official said.

Nonetheless, other former officials said shuttering the facilities might not be in the best interest of the children. The state might have more effective options, such as increasing unannounced visits to shelters.

Claudia Flores, director of the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School who has studied the conditions faced by immigrant youth at the border, highlighted the difficult position the federal government and Arizona are in with Southwest Key.

It’s not a response to say we can’t shut down the facilities when there are reports of abuse taking place, she said. It’s really not the kids in these facilities that should be suffering.

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Originally published by The NY Times

Three minors from El Salvador separated from their parents after crossing the U.S. border were sexually abused in shelters in Arizona, Salvadoran officials said Thursday.

Liduvina Magarin, deputy foreign relations minister for Salvadorans overseas, said authorities had received reports of the abuse of the children ages 12 to 17 by workers at unnamed shelters.

“They are sexual violations, sexual abuses, that is what this is about,” Magarin told journalists.

She added that the Salvadoran government is making lawyers available to the families, and it will be up to them to decide how to proceed.

The revelations come as the Trump administration has been facing heavy criticism over its slow pace in reuniting separated families. Most have been reunited, but hundreds remain apart.

Magarin said her government is pressuring the United States to begin reunification of the children with their families. “May they leave the shelters as soon as possible, because it is there that they are the most vulnerable.”

Magarin said the three minors were in good health but “the psychological and emotional impact is forever, and we are attending to that situation.”

Once back with their families, they will be offered psychological assistance.

Magarin urged U.S. authorities to respect due process and said “they have acted in accordance with the law.”

In late July, the news website ProPublica reported that police had received at least 125 reports since 2014 of sex offenses at shelters that mostly house migrant children.

Last month police in Arizona said a former youth care worker at a nonprofit that houses immigrant children separated from their parents was arrested on suspicion of molesting a 14-year-old girl at a Phoenix facility. At the time the organization declined to say whether the girl had been separated from family, but the employee was fired.

According to data provided by the United States, she said, 191 Salvadoran children were separated from their parents at the border in recent months, and 18 remain in shelters awaiting reunification.

According to Magarin, Salvadoran government data show a 48 percent drop in migration from the country to the United States so far this year compared with 2017.

An estimated 2.5 million Salvadorans live in the United States.

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Originally published by Slate

Early one morning in February 2018, an undocumented immigrant named Ana was told to report to a government office within the shelter where she was being housed. A month earlier, she had fled to the United States from Guatemala with her 2-year-old son after gang members threatened to kill her. Because she was 17, immigration officials placed her and her son in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which sent them to a shelter in New York. On this day-her 18th birthday-the staff instructed her to go to the office at 5 a.m. without her son. When she arrived, two Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers were waiting. They arrested Ana and transferred her to New Jersey’s Bergen County Jail. She was not allowed to say goodbye to her son.

What ICE did to Ana wasn’t just cruel. It was illegal. Under a federal law, the agency is required to place immigrants like Ana-undocumented minors who turn 18 in federal custody-in the least restrictive setting available. But under Donald Trump, ICE has ignored this rule, ripping immigrants out of shelters on their 18th birthdays and locking them in detention facilities with adults. Despite a raft of lawsuits challenging its actions, ICE continues to assert broad authority to imprison these teenagers. Its refusal to comply with the law is a powerful argument against calls to reform ICE instead of abolishing it.

In 2013, Congress enacted an amendment to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) that should clearly protect immigrants like Ana from unnecessary incarceration. The statute was designed to safeguard unaccompanied immigrant children who turn 18 in ORR custody. Under the law, ICE must consider placement in the least restrictive setting available so long as these teenagers are not a risk to themselves or the community, or a flight risk. These individuals shall be eligible to participate in alternative to detention programs, such as placement with an individual or an organizational sponsor, or in a supervised group home.

There is no question that Ana and her son qualified for an alternative to detention. She posed no threat or flight risk, and family friends in Texas had already agreed to sponsor her and her son. This couple had already submitted the necessary paperwork, as well as their fingerprints, when ICE snatched Ana and put her in jail. At no point did the agency undertake its legal obligation to consider that a less restrictive alternative was plainly available.

After the National Immigrant Justice Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ana and two other 18-year-olds illegally imprisoned by ICE, the agency released her on humanitarian parole. A federal court then ordered the release of the two other plaintiffs, ruling that ICE had broken the law by detaining them upon their 18th birthdays without considering alternatives. ICE, the court wrote, had acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner, ignoring its statutory obligations in order to effect unlawful deprivations of physical liberty.

That decision spared the named plaintiffs, two 18-year-old immigrants, from further detention. But the court has yet to certify the NIJC’s class action on behalf of all similarly situated immigrants. And until it does, advocates must keep fighting these wrongful imprisonments on a case-by-case basis. Kate Melloy Goettel, a senior litigation attorney at NIJC, estimates that about 100 undocumented children in federal custody turn 18 each month.Unless the courts intervene, ICE will automatically imprison most or all of these teenagers.

startling report published in the Miami New Times on Thursday provided a glimpse into the tactics ICE uses to traumatize these undocumented immigrants. At a shelter in Homestead, Florida, ICE agents routinely handcuff and shackle teenagers on their 18th birthdays and then transfer them to jail, often with no explanation. One teenager, Tomas Teletor Garcia, was separated from his father under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy. Another, Nolbiz Orellana, sought asylum after fleeing an abusive mother and gang members who threatened to kill him. On the day Orellana turned 18, ICE officials transferred him from the Homestead shelter to a for-profit adult immigrant detention center. At other shelters, ICE agents arrive a half-hour before an immigrant’s 18th birthday, then arrest them at midnight. Many of these teenagers are waiting for the government to approve potential sponsors when ICE arrives and transfers them to prison.

When they turn 18, it’s basically, ‘Happy birthday,’ and then they slap on handcuffs and take them off to adult detention centers, Lisa Lehner, an attorney with the nonprofit Americans for Immigrant Justice, told Miami New Times. Since early July, Americans for Immigrant Justice has filed seven lawsuits on behalf of 18-year-old immigrants in Florida and plans to file several more in the coming weeks. In five of these cases, ICE released the teenagers to relatives or guardians in the U.S. while the cases make their way through the courts. The other two cases are still pending.

None of ICE’s actions here are legal. The TVPRA directs the agency to consider a continuum of less restrictive alternatives before locking up these immigrants. That includes group homes and institutional sponsors such as shelters for young adult immigrants. Another alternative is granting the teenagers their release and requiring them to make periodic check-ins. ICE should have at least considered these options for the children at Homestead and other shelters. Its failure to do so is a plain violation of federal law.

The Obama administration generally complied with this least restrictive setting requirement after its enactment. It also had to contend with fewer unaccompanied minors aging out of ORR custody. Under Barack Obama, ORR prioritized placing these children with sponsors-families or individuals with whom they could stay after turning 18. Now the agency takes much longer to place immigrant children with sponsors, leaving thousands languishing in shelters for months.

Goettel cited two reasons for the delays. First, ORR Director Scott Lloyd has given himself the responsibility to personally sign off on the release of immigrants to sponsors, creating a bottleneck. (Lloyd, who gained notoriety for denying abortions to undocumented minors, is a micromanager who reviews a weekly spreadsheet of each individual in ORR custody who has asked to terminate her pregnancy.) Second, under Trump, ORR has begun sharing information about potential sponsors and their families with ICE. In theory, undocumented immigrants who live in the United States can sponsor unaccompanied minors, and they frequently did under Obama. Now, however, they are justifiably concerned that ICE will detain and deport them if they attempt to become sponsors. Legal immigrants with undocumented family members are also understandably afraid to volunteer as sponsors and draw scrutiny to their relatives. The upshot has been a surge in children turning 18 while trapped in ORR custody.

ICE’s treatment of these teenagers is especially alarming because it is so blatantly unlawful. Individual ICE officers have been caught breaking the law plenty of times-forging documentsfabricating evidenceperforming illegal arrests. But since Trump took office, the agency itself appears to have violated the TVPRA unceasingly as a matter of course. When challenged in court, ICE’s best defense for disregarding the law was that the vast majority of immigrants who turn 18 pose flight risks, so it is justified in imprisoning them. Put charitably, that argument is nonsense. Congress took care to enact special protections for this class of immigrants. As Goettel said, it cannot possibly be true that a desultory flight risk analysis swallows the entire purpose of this statute.

A federal court may soon compel ICE agents across the country to resume compliance with the law governing treatment of these 18-year-olds. But the courts cannot supervise ICE’s every move, and even if the NIJC’s class action succeeds, no judge can ensure that it always complies with court orders. The problem with ICE goes deeper than any one agent or even any one president. An agency this eager to torment immigrants is beyond reform. Congress cannot force ICE to follow the law when ICE is convinced that it is above the law. There is only one realistic solution to the manifold problems posed by this rogue agency: It must be scrapped altogether.

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