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Harsh detention and deportation policies haven’t deterred migrants.

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Originally published by The Hill

Migrants seeking asylum were forced to clean the Arizona Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center where they were being held as they were fed rotten food and denied protection from the coronavirus, a federal lawsuit filed Monday alleges.

The La Palma Correctional Center just outside of Phoenix has had some of the highest rates of infection, with more than 70 people detained there having tested positive for coronavirus last week, according to the Arizona Republic. 

Two of the migrants were allegedly asked to clean the trash from the infirmary’s office, where sick migrants were treated. One said they were forced to clean feces from a cell without gloves.

In addition to the lack of anti-coronavirus measures, migrants alleged they were denied basic hygiene like daily showers and toilet paper.

Migrants who protested the conditions were punished with verbal threats and indefinite lock-ins, the lawsuit alleges. In one instance migrants were “sent to the hole,” or solitary confinement, for refusing to work in the kitchen out of fear of the coronavirus.

The kitchen eventually closed in May and the migrants were fed pre-packaged sandwiches with rotted ham and bread.

The attorneys for the 13 migrants at La Palma and nearby Eloy Detention Center told MSNBC the facilities are “tinderboxes on the verge of explosion.”

The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Arizona, was spearheaded by the Arizona-based Florence Project, the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Perkins Coie.

“Our clients have told us over and over again it’s impossible to practice social distancing in detention,” Laura Belous, an advocacy attorney with the Florence Project, told MSNBC. “It’s impossible to maintain that six feet of distance when the telephone you’re sitting on to talk to your lawyer is one to three feet from the other guy on the phone. When you’re in communal showers. When 40 to 50 guys are touching the same door. That disease is going to spread like wildfire. And the fact is, it has.”

An ICE official told The Hill the agency does not comment on pending litigation, but said work assignments at the agency’s facilities are paid and voluntary.

Read more:https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/502056-lawsuit-migrants-were-forced-to-clean-arizona-ice-facility-with-high

Originally published by The NY Times

MORTON, Mississippi – The Koch Foods chicken-processing plant dominates the small town of Morton, where even the sides of the roads are dotted with feathers.

For more than a decade, the lives of Pedro Vasquez and Zoila Orozco have revolved around the plant. It set the stage for some of their greatest joys: They fell in love there, had a little boy and eventually saved enough money to buy a small house in town, far from their native Guatemala.

It also has been the source of some of their most profound sorrows: Zoila claims she was the victim of an abusive supervisor there years ago, and last August, Pedro was swept up in a massive raid at the plant targeting immigrants working in the United States illegally. Nine months later, he’s still being held.

Now, more than 150 miles apart, they both tested positive for the novel coronavirus within a week of each other as their lives intersected with two hotbeds for the pandemic in the United States: immigration detention centers and meatpacking plants.

President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order aimed at reinforcing the country’s meat supply chain by keeping plants open, despite concerns about rising infections at the facilities. The United Food and Commercial Workers union said last week that at least 30 meatpacking workers across the country have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and at least 10,000 have contracted it.

Scott County, where Koch Foods employs about 3,000 people, including those at the Morton plant, has the highest per-capita coronavirus infection rate in Mississippi, according to a Reuters analysis of Mississippi State Department of Health data compared to population data from the U.S. Census. Elizabeth Grey, a spokeswoman from the department, said the state epidemiologist found about one-third of the cases in the county are among employees of chicken-processing plants. It is unclear where Zoila contracted the virus.

At the same time, nearly 950 detainees in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody have tested positive for the virus, and one detainee has died of complications from the disease. But only around 1,800 out of the nearly 30,000 being held nationally have been tested, according to ICE. One of the largest outbreaks is in Richwood, the facility in Louisiana where Pedro is now being held. As of May 13, 64 people there had been infected, in the third-biggest outbreak among immigration detention centers in the country, according to ICE.

Zoila’s income at Koch Foods, which strongly denies her abuse allegations from more than a decade ago, is now the family’s only source of support. As her symptoms progressively worsen in quarantine, she worries about the future of her job.

With Trump’s order aimed at keeping meatpacking plants open, families like theirs across the country are facing difficult choices of how to maintain livelihoods while keeping themselves safe in the middle of a terrifying pandemic that has already killed nearly 300,000 people worldwide.

 

When the coronavirus started sweeping through ICE detention centers and meat-processing plants, Pedro and Zoila didn’t want to worry each other.

Pedro didn’t tell Zoila for days after he started feeling feverish with severe stomach pains that he had tested positive for the virus and been placed in quarantine with a couple dozen other sick men.

“He would only say, ‘Oh, I have a little cold,’ or, ‘My throat hurts.’ He didn’t want to scare me,” Zoila said.

And when she came down with terrible body aches and fatigue, she kept quiet at first, too.

“I didn’t want to tell him how bad I feel,” she said. “He is already in jail – I don’t want to make it worse for him in there. When you really love someone, you try to imply something positive to make them feel better.”

LIFE BEFORE

When Pedro and Zoila met at the plant, she inspected cut chicken for quality, and he loaded packed boxes of meat.

“We worked together in the same area,” Pedro, 51, recalled over a series of telephone interviews – in 15-minute increments – from detention. They became a couple eight years ago; she was having problems with her husband, Pedro said, and he had split with his wife in Guatemala.

“I had been alone in the United States for a long time. So, when I saw her by herself, she would ask for help and I would give her rides,” he said. “Little by little we got to know each other.”

Zoila, 42, said she started working when she was only 8, traveling with her father and 11 siblings to pick coffee for months out of the year. Pedro grew crops on his family’s small plot of land. More than a decade ago, lured by the promise of better wages in the United States, they made their way to Mississippi, where relatives had already settled and found jobs in the sprawling chicken industry.

They both eventually moved to the deboning section of the plant, Pedro said, where he would rapidly slice more than 1,000 pounds of chicken a day with large knives. The work was grueling – long days on their feet with few breaks – but it paid more than their previous positions, because they earned per weight of meat processed instead of by the hour. Pedro was able to send half of his biweekly check of around $700 to his three older daughters back in Guatemala. The money helped put them through school and they all graduated with professional degrees, he said proudly.

After Pedro and Zoila moved in together and had their son, Jostin, they bought a small cream-colored house in town with a front porch, roses and manicured bushes lining the lawn.

“I don’t want my son to suffer like I suffered as a child,” Zoila said of Jostin, whose 7th birthday is next week. “We want him to grow up well and study so he can end up better than us.”

Although the pay far outstripped anything they could have earned in Guatemala, life at the plant wasn’t always easy.

Pedro said that before they became a couple, he saw Zoila being harassed and berated by one supervisor he didn’t name, including an incident in which the supervisor tried to stuff raw chicken in her mouth when he found a piece that had gone through quality control without having been completely deboned.

Others working at the plant at the time had similar complaints. In 2018, the Illinois-based Koch Foods paid nearly $4 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of more than 100 workers at the Morton plant over claims the company knew – or should have known – of sexual and physical assaults against its Hispanic workers from 2004 to 2008. Zoila said she started working at the plant soon after arriving in the United States in 2006; Pedro said he started a year later before leaving for a few years and then returning full time in 2010.

 

The lawsuit, which Zoila said she participated in, began as an individual complaint that was later picked up by the EEOC. Workers alleged that a manager would grope women while they were cutting meat, punch employees and throw chicken parts at them. They also alleged that supervisors coerced payments for everything from medical leave and promotions to bathroom breaks.

A spokesman for the EEOC said the agency couldn’t confirm or deny whether Zoila was part of the lawsuit because of privacy laws. An attorney involved in the litigation on behalf of plaintiffs said some workers who didn’t officially sign on to the lawsuit were still victims of abuse.

Mark Kaminsky, the chief operating officer at Koch, said the company admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement and maintains that all the allegations in the lawsuit are false. He added that he believed the plaintiffs made uncorroborated claims against the company as a means to obtain visas for crime victims who collaborate with U.S. authorities. He said there was “zero evidence” that incidents like the one Pedro described ever took place.

THE RAID

In the wake of the allegations, Pedro said there was a management shake-up and life at the plant improved.

 

Then one morning last year, everything changed.

The couple had just arrived on Aug. 7 and were donning their gear to start on the cutting line when ICE officers surrounded the plant and closed off the exits so no one could leave. In coordinated raids, authorities arrested 680 people at more than half a dozen agricultural processing plants owned by five companies across the state. At the Morton plant, 243 workers were caught up in the raid.

It was the biggest workplace sweep in the country since December 2006 and became a symbol of the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on immigrants living or working in the United States illegally, a central goal of his administration. Koch Foods said it has been vigilant about complying with employment eligibility laws and is cooperating with the government’s investigations.

Zoila, who says she has legal permission to work in the United States, was briefly held and then sent home. But Pedro, who does not, was taken into custody.

“At first I wasn’t too worried. I thought they would only go after people who had criminal records, like for something violent or drunk driving, or people who had been deported before. I don’t have anything like that,” Pedro said from detention. “I never thought I would be where I am now.”

Since that day, he’s been fighting in immigration court to stay in the United States, losing his initial case and now waiting on an appeal. He hopes ICE will release him to wait with his family while his appeal is decided. He is arguing that his deportation after more than a decade in the United States would cause extreme hardship for his family.

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox confirmed the details of Pedro’s arrest and detention and said federal law allows for anyone in the country illegally to be deported solely for that reason. He said the agency did not have a record of Zoila, which he said could be an indication of her legal documentation.

“We are just working people,” Zoila said. “We are just trying to earn money so we can feed our families. I don’t know why they don’t release him. He is an older man who is not doing anything wrong, not a kid who goes around getting in trouble.”

Attorneys at the Mississippi Center for Justice, a public interest law firm, submitted a request to ICE for humanitarian parole for Pedro, arguing that detention centers such as Richwood are “particularly ill-equipped” to contain the spread of dangerous infectious diseases such as the novel coronavirus.

ICE has said it is encouraging its detention centers to follow all U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines. Cox said he couldn’t comment on any detainee’s specific medical conditions or treatment but that anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus is isolated.

Zoila says their son, Jostin, still doesn’t fully understand what happened to his father.

“He asks me a lot of questions,” she said. “He asks why his father doesn’t have papers like I do. He asks why I didn’t do more to stop them from taking him away. He asks why his father can’t just run away from the detention center. It’s so painful.”

THE VIRUS

With Pedro detained – and later moved across state lines to Louisiana – Zoila went back to work, taking on extra shifts to cover expenses.

Pedro had been complaining of a sore throat and cough for weeks before he was moved into quarantine and tested April 14 for coronavirus, according to his medical records.

Then, on April 21, Zoila got the call she had also tested positive for the virus.

While Pedro slowly recovered and was eventually moved back into the detention center’s general population, Zoila took a turn for the worse, losing her appetite and having trouble getting out of bed. One day, she felt so bad she called 911 and was taken to the hospital. But, she said, the doctors sent her home with some pills.

“I feel like there are knives in my throat,” she said on Friday. On Saturday, more than two weeks after her diagnosis, she felt too shaky to even take more than a few steps around the house. She recently has been diagnosed with pneumonia.

Pedro worries that her body was left weakened by all the extra work she took on at the plant during his detention, making her symptoms worse.

Roger Doolittle, attorney for the UFCW local union that represents workers at the Koch plants in Morton and nearby Forest, said he was aware of a handful of positive cases at the Mississippi plants.

Kaminsky, from Koch Foods, said he couldn’t provide exact numbers of workers infected at the company’s poultry operations but said they aren’t experiencing the kind of mass outbreaks that have shut down beef and pork plants around the country. He said the company is taking every precaution to protect workers, including daily temperature checks and nightly cleaning of the facility with sanitizers and virus-killing chemicals. It’s also training workers about social distancing, staggering lunch breaks and reducing production where possible, he said.

“We are certainly cognizant that there is balancing act between feeding the nation and keeping our people safe,” he said. With the country already reeling from the economic and social effects of the public health crisis, he believes there is a real danger to slashing meat production.

“I know one thing that causes mass panic,” he said. “No food.”

Workers who test positive for the virus can access sick time, Kaminsky said, but it may not be enough to cover them for two weeks, the recommended time for quarantine.

Zoila said she’s still figuring out how to collect her last paycheck and isn’t sure when she might be recovered enough to return to work.

Adding to her stress, she said, the father of her two adult children died in recent days after complaining of coronavirus-like symptoms. He lived in town and worked in landscaping, but never was tested.

The money Zoila has available to deposit in Pedro’s phone account in detention is dwindling. They can only talk for a few minutes at a time, and she doesn’t pass the phone to Jostin for fear of infecting him.

Even before she got sick, she was struggling to help Jostin with schoolwork. She has limited schooling and doesn’t speak English, and had relied heavily on Pedro. Now it is even more difficult for her because Jostin is learning remotely at home while separated in a different room from her.

During the series of phone calls, it was only when he spoke of Zoila falling ill and having to quarantine herself from Jostin that Pedro began to cry. “I just think about my son,” he said. “What is he going to do all by himself?”

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; editing by Kari Howard. Additional reporting by Courtland Wells in Morton, Mississippi.)

 

Read more:https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/05/14/world/americas/14reuters-health-coronavirus-meatpacking-family-specialreport.html?searchResultPosition=6

Originally published by The Washington Post

SILVER SPRING, Md. – A federal judge declined to order the release of two people from immigration detention facilities in Maryland after their lawyers argued that they are at a high risk of death or serious illness from a coronavirus infection.

But U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang said he would quickly consider a similar release motion from the two men if COVID-19 is reported within their detention centers or if the centers do not adequately test people with suspected symptoms of the virus.

Chuang’s ruling late Friday came in a lawsuit filed by immigrants’ rights advocates. It follows other recent court orders to free people from immigration detention during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two men who sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Maryland case have been held in civil detention at the Worcester County Detention Center and the Howard County Detention Center while waiting for their immigration cases to be resolved.

One of the plaintiffs, a 52-year-old citizen of El Salvador, has diabetes. The other, a 54-year-old citizen of Guatemala, has hypertension and prostate problems. They were among more than 35,000 people who were in ICE custody as of last weekend.

Practicing social distancing and better hygiene is impossible in crowded detention centers, plaintiffs’ lawyers argued.

Even with the measures ICE has purported to take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in its facilities, immigration detention centers are a hotbed for spread of the virus, the March 24 lawsuit said.

Neither Maryland detention center has a single confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case, Justice Department attorney Vincent Vaccarella said during a Thursday court hearing. A purely speculative risk of contracting COVID-19 doesn’t entitle the plaintiffs to immediate release, Vaccarella said in a court filing.

In denying the plaintiffs’ temporary restraining order, Chaung wrote that he didn’t find the threat of the new coronavirus in society as opposed to inside a detention center inflicts unconstitutional punishment on high-risk detainees.

To adopt petitioners’ position would be to hold that the detention of any high-risk immigration detainee during the pandemic is necessarily unconstitutional, a position that the court is not presently prepared to adopt, he wrote.

But should COVID-19 cases turn up in the detention center or tests aren’t made available, Chaung wrote that the plaintiffs likely would be successful in their case based on deliberate indifference to their serious medical needs.

The Maryland plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Maryland.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in other states, including California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington state, according to the ACLU.

Earlier this week, federal judges in California and Pennsylvania ordered ICE to release several detainees who sued.

Read more:https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/judge-for-now-wont-release-immigrants-with-high-virus-risks/2020/04/04/41674990-76c5-11ea-ad9b-254ec99993bc_story.html

Originally published by The New York Times

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON – Federal inspections of the U.S. government’s only dedicated detention unit for transgender immigrants last year found hundreds of unanswered requests for medical attention, poor quarantine procedures and deficient treatment for mental illnesses and other chronic diseases, Reuters has learned.

Details of the inspections of the transgender unit at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico, which have not been reported previously, were contained in internal reports from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) health corps and a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) civil rights office.

The problems, which led to the transfer of all detainees to other facilities in January, were described to Reuters by congressional aides who were briefed on the documents and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The reports come to light as Democrats in Congress accuse ICE of not living up to the agency’s own standards for caring for detained transgender immigrants.

April Grant, an ICE spokeswoman, did not comment directly on the specifics outlined by the congressional aides but confirmed that a December 2019 report by the ICE health corps found “several health care-related deficiencies” at the center, such as failing to complete laboratory orders or arrange for HIV patients to see infectious disease specialists within 30 days of arrival.

Grant said many of those problems were addressed in December, for instance by speeding up backlogged lab orders and educating staff on detention standards and medication policies.

However, the concerns led to the transfer of all of the approximately two dozen detainees in the transgender unit, as well as other chronically ill detainees in the general population. About half were sent to a facility Aurora, Colorado, and the others to one in Tacoma, Washington, according to transgender detainees, former detainees and their advocates.

At Cibola, some told Reuters, detainees had made desperate attempts to get adequate care.

“Every time we felt sick the first step was to raise a request, but they never answered,” said Kelly Aguilar, a 23-year-old transgender woman from Honduras who said she had been detained at Cibola for two years before being transferred to Aurora.

“When people had fevers, headaches, stomach problems, we just tried to help each other by giving sips of water or buying pills in the commissary, but a lot of times we didn’t have money.”

 

ICE was not able to immediately comment on individual cases described in this story.

Amanda Gilchrist, a spokeswoman for CoreCivic Inc, the private prison company that operates Cibola and holds immigrant detainees under an ICE contract, said the company was “committed to providing a safe environment for transgender detainees” including training staff about preventing abuse and harassment.

A DEBATE IN CONGRESS

Revelations about the medical concerns at Cibola come as Democrats in Congress are scrutinizing care for the approximately 100 self-identified transgender detainees in U.S. facilities, a small portion of migrants in immigration custody. Many are awaiting resolution of asylum claims.

Democratic lawmakers are pushing ICE to enforce the agency’s existing detention standards for transgender immigrants laid out in a 2015 memo. The memo, signed by former ICE Director Thomas Homan during the Obama administration, offers such protections as allowing immigrants to be housed according to their gender identity (transgender women with other women, for instance), as well as to be given access to medically necessary hormone therapy and mental health care.

Homan told Reuters it had proven difficult to find facilities willing to modify their contracts to adopt the transgender care standards. Currently none have done so.

Some ICE facilities, like Cibola, are operated by private prison companies. Others are run by federal, state or local governments. In December, Democrats directed ICE, in legislative guidance that accompanied a spending package, to adhere to the memo – but ICE rebuffed the request at the end of January, according to a congressional aide. The legislative guidance from Democrats is “not legally binding upon the agency,” according to an ICE statement that was provided to Congress and seen by Reuters.

Legislative guidance accompanying spending bills is commonly followed by government agencies, former federal officials and legal experts say.

Grant said several of the country’s more than 200 immigration detention centers have “informally” implemented aspects of the 2015 memo. She said ICE is continuing to look for facilities willing to run a dedicated transgender housing unit and “remains optimistic that some locations will sign the formal contract modification.”

Sharita Gruberg from the Washington D.C.-based liberal nonprofit Center for American Progress, one of the groups that filed complaints with ICE about the treatment of transgender detainees, said the transfers only shuffled the problems to other facilities.

“Congress is asking ICE to adopt its own standards for care,” she said. But “instead of complying with their own standards and complying with congressional direction, they went with secret option number three of just transferring (detainees) to other private prisons.”

Since taking office in 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump has rolled back protections for transgender people in the U.S. military, public schools and federal prisons.

Trump also has made an immigration crackdown – including increased detention of unauthorized immigrants – an important part of his presidency and his 2020 re-election campaign.

FROM HOPE TO DISAPPOINTMENT

ICE opened the dedicated transgender unit at Cibola in 2017 after a similar facility in California ended its contract with the agency.

Some detainees told Reuters that arriving at Cibola initially seemed a respite, allowing them to live among others like them, without the fear of abuse they had suffered in their home countries and other U.S. detention centers.

Zsa Zsa, a 54-year-old Jamaican who asked that her last name be withheld, said that after stints at ICE facilities in the general population of male detainees in San Diego and El Paso, she felt safer at Cibola. But soon, she said, she came to believe that the medical care in Cibola was “very poor.” She said she repeatedly tried and failed to get a specific medication to control her high blood pressure, becoming dizzy from lack of treatment.

Honduran detainee Shantell Hernandez, 29, said she had asked repeatedly for hormones at Cibola, but to no avail. It took her transfer to detention in Washington to get the medication she said she needed.

Before that, she said, “They never gave them to me.”

Read more:https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/03/02/us/02reuters-usa-immigration-transgender-exclusive.html?searchResultPosition=10

 

Originally published by The NY Times

A whistleblower report provided to BuzzFeed News alleges U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has systematically provided inadequate medical and mental health care to detained migrants, leading to complications that included the removal of part of an 8-year-old boy’s forehead.

The report published Thursday says poor medical care contributed to two preventable surgeries and contributed to four deaths in detention. It renewed harsh criticism from migrant advocates and Democrats of President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown, during which there have been reports of squalid conditions in packed cells and crying children left to fend for themselves after being taken from their parents.

At the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, a man who was bleeding through his skin continued to receive aspirin even though he had extremely thin blood. The man was eventually taken to a hospital in critical condition and not expected to survive, according to a report summarizing the complaint that was delivered to ICE leadership in March.

In Arizona, a detainee at the Eloy Federal Contract Facility had worsening psychosis-related symptoms, but the psychiatrist failed to treat him, the report says.

And at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, a boy was initially diagnosed with an external ear infection, only to have seizures two weeks later. Doctors at the hospital diagnosed him with Pott’s puffy tumor, an infection that leads to abscesses formed under the skull. They treated it by extracting part of the boy’s frontal bone, BuzzFeed reported.

ICE said in a statement that it takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care, including those who come into ICE custody with prior medical conditions or who have never before received appropriate medical care.

The BuzzFeed report provides the latest series of allegations that ICE and other immigration agencies don’t properly care for the people in their custody as the Trump administration has ramped up its use of detention.

ProPublica last week revealed that surveillance video showed a 16-year-old boy who died of the flu at a Border Patrol station in South Texas laid unresponsive in his cell for several hours before someone noticed. Carlos is one of six children to have died after being detained by border agents since last December.

And advocates have long warned that the ICE Health Service Corps misdiagnoses or disregards symptoms.

The complaint obtained by BuzzFeed lists four adults who died in ICE custody in 2017 and 2018. After one person at Eloy was listed as dying of coronary heart disease, a person alleged that was very misleading and didn’t account for the lack of readily available emergency medications or the mistakes of the facility’s psychiatrist.

In another case, a man died in what was ruled a suicide after telling jail staff at Stewart that he would be dead in three days. The report did not say how he killed himself.

Trump and ICE officials silently watch as chaos, cruelty and inhumane indifference ensues, said Pili Tobar, deputy director for the advocacy group America’s Voice. Rather than use the resources already allocated for medical care, they instead cover up, deflect and turn a blind eye to migrants seeking medical help.

Read more:https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2019/12/13/us/ap-us-immigration-detention-health-care.html?searchResultPosition=10

Originally published by The Washington Post

A second Indian man who refused to eat for more than 70 days in U.S. immigration custody has been released after a year in detention.

Gurjant Singh left a detention center in El Paso Monday, according to his lawyer, Jessica Miles.

Singh refused meals starting on July 9 along with another detainee who was also released last week . Their lawyers say they resumed eating after ICE agreed to their release.

His lawyer says the 23-year-old fears returning to India because he was beaten on several occasions for supporting a minority political party before fleeing to the U.S. to seek asylum.

Immigration officials say he entered the country illegally and was ordered deported after a judge denied his asylum application.

Authorities let him be released while he appeals the decision.

Read more:https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/2nd-indian-hunger-striker-released-from-immigration-custody/2019/09/30/e1e8a670-e3d1-11e9-b0a6-3d03721b85ef_story.html

Originally published by The Vox

When public defender Sophia Gurule tried to visit her client in ICE detention in June, she was hit with a roadblock: His facility in Bergen County, New Jersey, was under quarantine due to a mumps outbreak. She wouldn’t be able to talk to her client in person for the next three weeks.

For 25-year-old Ousman Darboe, daily communication with his legal representation is essential. In May, he lost his removal proceedings case in immigration court. Now, he is pending deportation to his birth country of Gambia.

While he was quarantined in a unit with little air ventilation in the middle of summer – his family a two-hour bus commute away in the Bronx – Gurule has been fervently at work on an appeal. She is exploring all options, including sending a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his release. This is the final chance she has to help keep his family together. Darboe has never held his daughter, now 17 months old, outside of a detention facility.

Like many ofthe approximately 10.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, Darboe came to the country as a child. He was 6 years old when his parents brought him and his three older siblings to New York in 2001, settling in the Fordham Heights neighborhood of the Bronx, one of the poorest congressional districts in the country.

Navigating life in a strict Muslim home, where he helped care for his younger siblings, was occasionally at odds with his assimilation as a kid in Fordham Heights. But Darboe worked quickly to fit in. He shed his accent and learned English. He played basketball and often kept quiet. And, much to his family’s disapproval, he sometimes cut school, often to avoid the heavy violence and policing on campus.

Based on the color of his skin alone, it’s not a surprise that Darboe went on to face numerous interactions with law enforcement as a teenager and young adult – a series of stops, alleged misidentifications, and arrests that led him to be locked up in Bergen County.

According to the Bureau of Justice of Statistics, black and Latinx residents are more likely to be stopped by police than white residents, and when stopped, police are twice as likely to threaten or use force against them. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, these statistics are even starker in New York City: Black and Latinx people were the targets of four out of every five reported stops between 2014 and 2017, and black and Latinx people were more likely to have force used against them.

But as many immigrant justice advocates will tell you, if being black makes you a police target, then being black and undocumented in a poor neighborhood will make you vulnerable to surveillance, punishment, and exile. Darboe wasn’t born of privileged social class or with means to a prestigious education; he did not fit the exceptional immigrant model preferred by US immigration policy. The odds of Darboe living not only a free life, but any life at all in this country, were stacked against him from the moment he stepped on US soil.

Darboe has instead found himself inwhat criminal justice reform activists call the prison-to-deportation pipeline, a coded system that works to funnel black and Latinx immigrants from the criminal court system into Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) custody, to the immigration court system, and ultimately back to their nations of birth – with very little recourse or space for adjudication.

For example, low-level crimes such as marijuana possession are lumped into the offense of drug trafficking in immigration court – even if it’s recognized as a misdemeanor in the criminal courts – mandating automatic deportation without any leeway for a judge to consider an individual’s circumstances, according to Human Rights Watch. As a result of this one-size-fits-all policy, deportations over drug convictions of any sort increased 43 percent from 2007 to 2012.

Peel back the numbers further, and black immigrants make up a disproportionate amount of criminal-based deportations. According to the advocacy group Black Alliance for Just Immigration, which reviewed data on immigrants from African and Caribbean countries from the Department of Homeland Security Yearbook and the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, 76 percent of black immigrants are deported on criminal grounds, compared to 45 percent of all immigrants. Despite making up only 7.2 percent of the noncitizen population in the US, more than 20 percent of people facing deportation on criminal grounds are black.

There’s a particular intersection of vulnerability – immigrants in general are vulnerable, and there’s often poverty and racial aspects to their vulnerability as well, said Jodi Ziesemer, director of the Immigrant Protection Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group, a nonprofit that provides comprehensive free legal services and advocacy. Black and undocumented immigrants are at particular risk because they’re targeted racially by a lot of our institutions … while being also targeted for ICE and enforcement actions.

As a young quiet kid, Darboe would have never guessed that his existence in the US – and in the Bronx in particular – would put him on a trajectory of altercations with law enforcement, eventual incarceration, and possible deportation. Darboe’s sister Adama said her brother once told her, I came to this country thinking it would be better for me, but they’re actually against me.

A path that began with police targeting

Darboe’s first interaction with police came at age 16: On June 25, 2010, he was falsely accused of stealing headphones at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Jerome Park neighborhood of the Bronx. Situated just around the corner from the famed specialized high school Bronx High School of Science, DeWitt has a history of police patrolling the hallways and metal detectors that caused hour-long delays, a system that left students feeling like inmates, according to a 2005 New York Times report. It was a situation so toxic that more than 1,500 students marched over to the Department of Education at the beginning of the school year.

When Darboe was at the school five years later, not much had changed. He told the court earlier this year that there were a lot of gang wars, fights, and cuttings. DeWitt Clinton was a harsh place to go to school, because most of the time there’s gang wars – there’s weapons being found at school, Darboe testified. Basically nobody went to class. Gurule says Darboe witnessed police being given free rein to stroll the school, on top of the standard school security that already existed on campus. (DeWitt Clinton High School has not responded to Vox’s request for comment).

His eldest sister, Adama, in contrast, went to Marble Hill High School for International Studies, a smaller school with an above-average reputation and an emphasis on dedicating resources to college preparation. Adama tells Vox these schooling differences significantly impacted the siblings’ trajectories, placing Darboe in an environment that put him under police scrutiny, and with a friend group that grew accustomed to being viewed as criminals.

Though Darboe was quickly found not to have stolen the headphones and his case was dismissed, the incident would prove to be the first in a long string of interactions with police. According to court documents, Darboe said that while the kids in Fordham Heights were not the best of influences, they would often be attacked by the police officers because the neighborhood was simply known to be violent.

Broken windows policing was common in neighborhoods with large black and Latinx immigrant populations such as Darboe’s area of the Bronx. By focusing on low-level crimes in so-called unkempt neighborhoods – with vandalism, loitering, and drug offenses – police departments theorized they could prevent bigger crimes from happening there. In the 1990s, police in cities like New York took this practice one step further and instead of waiting for people to commit misdemeanors, they enacted stop-and-frisk – stopping, questioning, and frisking anyone who looked suspicious.

According to a 2013 study by the Vera Institute of Justiceat least half of all recorded stops by police in New York City involved people between the ages of 13 and 25, and more than 40 percent of young people who’ve been stopped said they have been stopped nine times or more – with nearly half reporting that threats or physical violence were used against them. Broken windows and stop-and-frisk policing created an environment where kids from certain neighborhoods, and often of a certain skin color, were repeatedly profiled as criminals. In fact, in 2013, a US district judge in New York ruled stop-and-frisk unconstitutional and ordered police to stop the practice in the Bronx specifically, because of the way it targeted young black and Latinx men.

But that ruling – which outlawed stop-and-frisk but didn’t put an end to broken windows policing – came several years after Darboe was already caught up in the system.

In October 2010, four months after being falsely accused of stealing the headphones, Darboe was fingered for stealing a purse and was adjudicated as a youthful offender. When asked in court why he stole it, Darboe said that he didn’t have any school supplies, or a book bag, and he couldn’t ask his parents because he knew they didn’t have the money. I felt, I felt bad because I felt like I had to take [a] drastic measure to get the stuff that I needed, he said.

Three months later, in the following January, he was stopped and frisked on Webster Avenue – just down the block from his childhood home -and charged with marijuana possession, but was only found guilty of disorderly conduct. And in March 2012, he was charged for cellphone theft, which landed him in Rikers Island – a jail complex infamous for its excessive use of violence in inmate discipline – as a violation of his previous youthful offender agreement over the purse theft.

During his time at Rikers, having just turned 18 and awaiting his cellphone theft hearing, Darboe spent nearly 10 months total in solitary confinement for fighting, and five of those months he says he was not even aware he was able to step outside for an hour a day and get fresh air.

When he was finally sentenced in July 2013, Darboe was sent to Greene Correctional Facility in upstate New York to serve time for both petty theft charges; nine months later, he was released on parole – meaning that he spent more time in pre-trial detention awaiting his sentencing than his actual sentence. His disappearance was so abrupt that his longtime friend from high school, Lashalle Poston, now his wife, initially thought he had left the city. At first I thought, African parents, when they get in trouble, they send their kids to Africa, Poston tells Vox. He just disappeared.

Despite having spent the latter half of his teen years being in and out of facilities, a youth offender record is not a criminal record; it is automatically sealed and does not have to be reported as a criminal conviction. It wouldn’t bar him from applying for things, Gurule said, referring to documentation that wouldn’t leave him vulnerable to deportation. A judge can be, ‘I see you got arrested for doing that and I don’t like that, that makes me think you’re a bad person,’ but it doesn’t bar him for applying.

So upon his release in 2014, at age 20, Darboe took steps to make a fresh start. He moved back in with his parents; started dating Poston, who served as his support system during his incarceration; and began attending Getting Out and Staying Out, a Rikers reentry program for young adult men.

But despite his best intentions, staying out would prove to be not so easy.

The pipeline from juvenile to immigration court

In September 2014, less than six months after Darboe’s release, a neighbor in his parents’ building was walking when she had her gold chains robbed from her neck. Given that he was recently paroled, Darboe was identified as a person of interest by the NYPD. Darboe says on the day of the incident he was at Getting Out and Staying Out (the organization was only able to confirm his regular participation but not his specific whereabouts that day, according to court documents).

When police searched his belongings, they were unable to find any items that tied him to the description given by the neighbor. However, the victim identified him in a police lineup, both recognizing him as a resident in the building and perceiving him to be the assailant: She thinks that he did it because it was a ‘big black man,’ Adama says, and [that’s who] Ousman was.

Darboe was charged with multiple offenses – three counts of robbery plus assault, criminal possession of stolen property, and harassment. He was now considered an adult. At his arraignment, he entered an initial plea of not guilty and was released on bail after 60 days.

But his release was turbulent: He had multiple police interactions for a variety of unrelated charges, such as gun possession and possession of a false check, both of which were dismissed (they were committed by an associate of his, according to court documents). He then landed back in Rikers because the robbery charges were a violation of his parole. While in jail, he was accused of illegally possessing a razor, an offense of which he was acquitted.

Worn down from being in and out of detainment and solitary confinement – and fearful that the NYPD, in its persistence to obtain evidence, would generate a second witness willing to corroborate the alleged robbery story to better their own circumstances – Darboe made an about-face in February 2017 and took a plea deal of one count of felony robbery for time served. According to court documents, Darboe said he took the deal because he was disappointed in himself – not because he had committed the crime, which he maintains he did not, but because of his past. I had to blame myself for my previous cases, because if I would have never caught [charges in] those previous robberies, I would have never been a target for [the gold chains] robbery.

While pleading under duress is a common scenario for black men with extended stays in pre-trial detention, doing so has significant implications for immigrants.

Five months later, Darboe was at his parents’ apartment in their new Bronx neighborhood of Kingsbridge when ICE knocked on the door. Even though his recent case dismissals meant he was supposedly no longer under threat of incarceration, ICE officers gained entry to the apartment saying they were police, under the pretense of having a warrant for someone else in the neighborhood, says Gurule. This tactic is reportedly used by some agents to get immigrants to let them in a residence: ICE officers announce that they’re law enforcement and that they have a warrant, even though the warrant is only administrative and not signed by a judge.

Once inside, agents proceed to make arrests after they validate that the person in the home is the same person who may be already flagged on their watchlist as a target, with a particular emphasis on undocumented persons. (ICE has not responded to Vox’s request for comment on its arrest or warrant process, or Darboe specifically, but an ICE spokesman denied to Documented in 2018 that they pose as local law enforcement; however, he said ICE may use the universally recognized ‘POLICE’ when initially making contact with someone during a field operation.)

This is the kind of tactic advocates and lawyers warned immigrants to guard against during the recent ICE raids announced by the Trump administration. But Darboe didn’t know that the warrant wasn’t signed by a judge, and that he was thus protected by the Fourth Amendment from having to open the door. He was quickly taken away by ICE agents to the Hudson County Detention Center in New Jersey.

Darboe was detained on July 31, 2017 – the same day he was scheduled to have his forged check charge dismissed. A handful of days later, his girlfriend Poston discovered she was pregnant with their first child – a girl, Sanai, to be born the following April. She wouldn’t be ableto visit Darboe for four months.

Outside of transferring facilities to Bergen County, Darboe has not left ICE custodysince July 2017, having been denied bond after an extended delay due to dangerousness, according to a judge in the NYC immigration court. This is despite having only one adult conviction and significant roots in the city: He has eight siblings and parents who, at this point, are all legal permanent residents or have birthright citizenship. He also married Poston in Hudson County Detention in December 2017.

Poston’s initial I-130 petition, the first step to authenticate and establish a record of marriage in the visa application process, was denied by the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS), stating that the couple did not have joint assets such as property or bank accounts, and therefore the marriage was possibly fraudulent. (When asked for comment, USCIS told Vox it doesn’t comment on specific cases.)

They tried to tell me that we didn’t submit enough evidence, that my relationship wasn’t real, Poston tells Vox. Me pushing out a kid in labor for 29 hours wasn’t enough?

While the decision was ultimately overturned on appeal, Gurule points out that the logic behind the authentication is classist. She notes that in tandem with ICE, the USCIS has become a form of law enforcement in their own way, expanding from an organization intended to manage benefits and services for immigrants to an investigation service of its own.

The delays in the spousal visa process extended Darboe’s detention by ICE for another year. In the meantime, Poston has navigated pregnancy and early motherhood alone.

Laws make the case for the exceptional immigrant – but don’t account for the systemic hardships immigrants face

In 1996, the Clinton administration signed into law two key pieces of legislation: the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which both served to retroactively tie immigration status to criminalization. Congress expanded what fell under its aggravated felonies classification when it came to deportable offenses, and standard deportation protocol could now be circumvented for fast-track removal proceedings. (Under the Trump administration, for example, an undocumented immigrant who cannot prove over two years of residency is eligible for fast-track proceedings.)

Deportable offenses – previously, murder, drugs, and firearms trafficking – now included nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors, such as theft, filing a false tax return, illegal entry in and of itself, or failing to appear in court. During the Bush administration, the largest increases in deportations were of undocumented immigrants convicted of traffic violations: 43,000 total during his last five years in office.

Even in the Obama era, immigration detention and deportations rates continued to rise astronomically: From2009 to 2015, the administration engaged in over 1 million interior removals – excluding those who were apprehended while attempting to cross the border – a rate that was nearly double that of the prior administration. According to a New York Times’ analysis of internal government records, two-thirds of the deportation cases during the Obama administration involved immigrants who were either convicted of minor infractions or had not yet been convicted of a crime.

Obama also played into the good vs. bad immigrant schism that has helped fuel hostility toward immigrants in this country: His infamous Felons, not Families speech kicking off the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program failed to reconcile immigration policy with the systemic surveilling and incarceration issues that plague people of color; he implied there is no scenario in which a person selected for deportation could be both a felon and part of a family.

The exceptional immigrant paradigm was further reinforced by immigration reform that only emphasized pathways to citizenship for young immigrants who exhibit good moral character. Policies like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals established a temporary deferred status via a rubric that is difficult for many young immigrants to meet: The college-bound DREAMer, or undocumented immigrant in the armed services with a spotless police record, doesn’t represent the lived reality of many young immigrants. According to the United States Department of Education, 54 percent of undocumented youth earn a high school diploma, and only 5 to 10 percent of undocumented high school graduates enroll in a higher education institution – far fewer successfully graduate with a degree.

A spotlight on ‘exceptional’ black immigrants often erases and makes invisible the lived experience of black immigrants who experience police brutality, state surveillance, poverty, and workplace discrimination, among other things, says Nekessa Opoti, a communications strategist at the UndocuBlack Network, an advocacy organization comprised of black immigrants.

This is a plight that Darboe knows very well: He was not a perfect student. His case does not make for an exceptional immigrant soundbite. It’s easy to look at Darboe’s rap sheet and dismiss him as someone who has continually erred, particularly as a teen, and is therefore not entitled to sympathy.

This is the fundamental shortcoming of the emphasis on model minority narratives: They lack space for the acceptance of a world in which an immigrant lived a regular life, especially one that’s subject to heavy police surveillance. Attending an over-policed high school where students were constantly under suspicion, living in a neighborhood where the color of his skin was enough for police to stop him, Darboe had little chance of being seen as a model citizen.

He certainly wouldn’t be given much of a chance to grow up and turn his life around; he wouldn’t even be seen as worthy of such an opportunity.

His daughter, he said in immigration court earlier this year, helps me feel that I got something to fight for, that I got something to go to, that … I really got to stop doing what I was doing my previous years as a teenager. Now I got to mature, not only for me, but only to be a better example for my daughter.

Darboe’s youthful offenses – pilfering a cellphone and a purse as a teenager – are far from the actions of MS-13 villains trotted out by the Trump administration to justify strict immigration policy. But such indiscretions are much more common reasons for being removed from this country than any salacious violence.

Even sanctuary cities are limited in protecting immigrants from ICE

Even when there are laws in place to ostensibly help immigrants understand the criminal court process, they can fail. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Padilla v. Kentucky that criminal defenders must ask their clients about their immigration status so they can inform them of the possible deportation consequences of a guilty plea before sentencing.

That should happen, Ziesemer says. But because courts are often backed up and public defenders often have massive caseloads, I think there’s a lot of pressure on both ends that make that not a perfect system and … are not super protective of due process rights, she says.

This gap in due process even happens in places like New York City, which have reputations as sanctuary cities and are supposed to limit their cooperation with ICE. But as the Intercept reports, ICE has evaded sanctuary rules by using NYPD fingerprint records to send letters to immigrants arrested – usually for low-level misdemeanor offenses – asking them to come into the agency’s Manhattan offices. In the cases of two immigrants who complied and went down to the office – neither of whom had open removal orders against them or criminal convictions – both were detained.

As explained by Albert Saint Jean, the New York organizer for Black Alliance for Just Immigration, no matter how noncompliant a city administration vows to be, broken windows policing serves as a feeder system for ICE.

If you’re doing heavy policing in black neighborhoods in NYC, guess what? Undocumented people live in those neighborhoods too. When you’re policing heavily black and brown communities, that’s where the bulk of our immigrant community and undocumented community live. So in essence, every time these people get fingerprinted, every time these things happen … ICE gets notified.


A spotlight on ‘exceptional’ black immigrants often erases and makes invisible the lived experience of black immigrants who experience police brutality, state surveillance, poverty, and workplace discrimination, among other things, says Nekessa Opoti, a communications strategist at the UndocuBlack Network, an advocacy organization comprised of black immigrants.

Read more:https://www.vox.com/identities/2019/9/30/20875821/black-immigrants-school-prison-deportation-pipeline

Originally published by LA Times

SAN DIEGO –  

Annie Bwetu Kapongo cannot stop smiling.

Her husband – who was separated from her and their seven children nearly two years ago by officials when they asked for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border after a grueling and perilous journey from their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo – is finally home.

Constantin Bakala was released from immigration detention in Georgia and reunited with his family on Monday at the San Diego airport surrounded by what has become known as the ConstanTeam, a group of Americans spearheaded by members of St. Luke’s North Park who have befriended the family and pushed for Bakala’s freedom.

There was only joy, the pure joy of seeing my family, Bakala said in French of the moment when he came down the airport’s escalator and saw his wife and children for the first time in 21 months.

Joy was also the word that came to mind for his wife Bwetu Kapongo, whose face has shed the tiredness that had been etched into it for months by the trauma of losing her husband just when she thought they were finally safe.

3087361_sd_me_reunited_father+_GASx003.JPG

Today is joy, Bwetu Kapongo said in French, her smile glowing across her whole face at the family’s apartment in southeast San Diego on Thursday. The joy I have, it’s been all day, all of the days [since he came back]. I don’t know what to say.

Several of their children sat at the kitchen table, relaxed, the heaviness that had clung to the air of their home from missing their father now lifted.

Bakala marveled at how much his children, particularly his youngest, had grown. When he was split from his family at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in November 2017, his youngest was 3 years old. Now his son is 5, and Bakala can no longer put the boy up on his shoulders.

He’s been with his wife for two decades, he said, and all of his children were born at home. Before this, they had never experienced life without their father for so long.

Though none of their court cases are yet finished, meaning they don’t know whether they will ultimately be granted asylum, their relief at being a whole family once more is palpable.

Bakala and his family fled Congo after they were all targeted because of Bakala’s activity in a political party that promoted democracy there.

As Bwetu Kapongo first recounted to the San Diego Union-Tribune in February, Bakala was kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured in Congo. When Bwetu Kapongo went to the police to try to find her husband, she was beaten and raped.

Later, someone released poison into the house while the family was sleeping.

Finally they escaped, traveling to Brazil and then north to the U.S. border. On the way, they almost drowned in a shipwreck, but somehow, all of the family members survived.

When they went into the San Ysidro Port of Entry to request asylum, Bakala recalled Thursday, they were immediately separated. Bwetu Kapongo and the children were taken to a holding cell with other women and children. Bakala went into a holding cell with other men.

Bakala didn’t realize at first how permanent that separation would be, but he believes that it was in that moment that he first began experiencing high blood pressure, a medical condition that would stay with him through his time in detention.

He began to worry about when he would see his family again. When he asked an official, he was told that he wouldn’t receive any information until he reached the next detention center. He found himself on a bus heading to Arizona, where he stayed for a short time before transferring to a detention facility in Georgia.

It was through a psychologist there that he finally found out what had happened to his loved ones.

I don’t have that type of problem, he recalled telling the psychologist when the counselor began asking probing questions. My problem is I don’t know where my family is.

About a month after he had last seen them, Bakala finally had a phone number to call to find out how his wife and children were doing and where they had ended up.

They were released and living in San Diego, only a short drive from where he had last seen them at the port of entry.

Meanwhile, Bakala’s case was split from the rest of his family’s and it moved forward much more quickly because the government prioritizes the cases of those held in custody.

At his first hearing, the judge encouraged him to find a lawyer and gave him a list of free and low-cost attorneys to try.

Bakala said he called every number. No one answered.

Someone else gave him another list of attorney phone numbers. He tried every one – still no answer.

At the next hearing, the judge told him that he would have to represent himself.

Bakala did his best to fill out the asylum application in English, a language that he does not yet speak beyond a few phrases. He had access to an interpreter only when he was in front of the judge, but everything that he submitted to the court had to be in English, including the documents he wanted to present as evidence.

He couldn’t find anyone to translate them from inside the detention center, so he submitted the original French.

When the day to present his case before the judge finally arrived, the hearing lasted for hours. The judge refused to consider the evidence he’d submitted that was in French.

Because Bakala had not managed to write all the details of what had happened to him in English on the application, and despite the fact he told the judge about them in court, the judge denied his request for asylum.

Bakala appealed. The first time he sent in appeal paperwork, it was rejected because he hadn’t correctly followed the instructions that were written in English.

Using a red Larousse French-English dictionary that now sits on a bookshelf in the family’s living room, he tried again. This time it worked. He sent a brief asking the Board of Immigration Appeals to overturn the judge’s decision.

It was only after he had mailed his appeal that Bakala met Julie Hartle, an attorney who had agreed to help the family after members of St. Luke’s North Park learned about the situation.

His appeal was dismissed, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement prepared to deport Bakala. Hartle got to work with the help of other lawyers to write motions to stop his deportation and reopen his case.

Piece by piece, the outcomes began falling in his favor.

First, his deportation was paused. Then, his case was reopened and the Board of Immigration Appeals sent it back to the judge for another decision.

Bakala’s team, now a full community of supporters, pushed for ICE to release him on what’s called parole while he waited for his next hearing. When he learned of that request, Bakala said, he began to pray intensely.

Then, on Sunday, when he called his family at a time when he felt sure everyone would be home and able to speak to him, his wife asked him a question.

Do you have some news, she asked.

I’m in custody, he responded. I don’t have access to news.

Then his wife told him what she’d learned from her daughter when she got home from work. Bakala would be freed.

Bakala confirmed with his attorney. Then he called his wife back and confirmed with her. He would be getting out.

When he got off the phone, he said, he began to dance and sing and to thank God for helping him.

As he recounted his experience in their home Thursday, his wife, who sings in the St. Luke’s choir with daughter Marie Louise, sang to him a song of celebration.

The next morning, ICE let him go.

When asked for a statement on Bakala’s case, ICE confirmed that he had been released while his case is decided again in court.

ICE is now awaiting the outcome of his legal proceedings to determine appropriate future steps, said Lindsay Williams of ICE.

An attorney who had been helping the ConstanTeam picked him up where ICE released him and took him for a haircut.

Then they went to eat. He chose shrimp as his first meal of freedom.

Then another volunteer flew with him to San Diego.

Since then, he learned how much his family has already integrated into the San Diego community, he said. His children are active in church, playing sports and speaking English well.

Since he’s not yet allowed to work, he’s spending his time cooking dinner and helping with housework to support his wife.

Once he gets his permit, he plans to take professional courses to brush up on his skills in information technology and find work in that field.

I hope to take responsibility for my family in my hands, he said, and help the children understand true integration into the American community, help the children grow in the respect of American culture and help them understand the value of respect for others and grow up with the feeling that they have to help those who have nothing.

He heard about St. Jude’s, a U.S. hospital that helps children with cancer, while he was in immigration detention. He plans to donate to the organization as soon as he has income, he said.

After he was released, the family got another bit of good news. His case was moved to San Diego, which, statistically speaking, gives him better odds for winning his case than the Atlanta court, which is known for being especially tough on asylum seekers.

The family’s case was scheduled for its final hearing next month, but that was rescheduled for late next year to make room for San Diego judges to hear more cases from the Migrant Protection Protocols or Remain in Mexico program.

Most asylum seekers who find themselves alone in immigration detention, without an attorney and without English language skills, do not end up where Bakala is today.

For his part, Bakala doesn’t think his miracle happened by chance. He credits God with bringing people into his life who could save him from a looming deportation and return him to his family.

Though his time in immigration court is not yet finished, he will now be able to face it as he did with the many other challenges he faced on his journey to the U.S. – with his family.

Morrissey writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


He’s been with his wife for two decades, he said, and all of his children were born at home. Before this, they had never experienced life without their father for so long.

Though none of their court cases are yet finished, meaning they don’t know whether they will ultimately be granted asylum, their relief at being a whole family once more is palpable.

Bakala and his family fled Congo after they were all targeted because of Bakala’s activity in a political party that promoted democracy there.

As Bwetu Kapongo first recounted to the San Diego Union-Tribune in February, Bakala was kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured in Congo. When Bwetu Kapongo went to the police to try to find her husband, she was beaten and raped.

Later, someone released poison into the house while the family was sleeping.

Finally they escaped, traveling to Brazil and then north to the U.S. border. On the way, they almost drowned in a shipwreck, but somehow, all of the family members survived.

When they went into the San Ysidro Port of Entry to request asylum, Bakala recalled Thursday, they were immediately separated. Bwetu Kapongo and the children were taken to a holding cell with other women and children. Bakala went into a holding cell with other men.

Bakala didn’t realize at first how permanent that separation would be, but he believes that it was in that moment that he first began experiencing high blood pressure, a medical condition that would stay with him through his time in detention.

He began to worry about when he would see his family again. When he asked an official, he was told that he wouldn’t receive any information until he reached the next detention center. He found himself on a bus heading to Arizona, where he stayed for a short time before transferring to a detention facility in Georgia.

It was through a psychologist there that he finally found out what had happened to his loved ones.

I don’t have that type of problem, he recalled telling the psychologist when the counselor began asking probing questions. My problem is I don’t know where my family is.

About a month after he had last seen them, Bakala finally had a phone number to call to find out how his wife and children were doing and where they had ended up.

They were released and living in San Diego, only a short drive from where he had last seen them at the port of entry.

Meanwhile, Bakala’s case was split from the rest of his family’s and it moved forward much more quickly because the government prioritizes the cases of those held in custody.

At his first hearing, the judge encouraged him to find a lawyer and gave him a list of free and low-cost attorneys to try.

Bakala said he called every number. No one answered.

Someone else gave him another list of attorney phone numbers. He tried every one – still no answer.

At the next hearing, the judge told him that he would have to represent himself.

Bakala did his best to fill out the asylum application in English, a language that he does not yet speak beyond a few phrases. He had access to an interpreter only when he was in front of the judge, but everything that he submitted to the court had to be in English, including the documents he wanted to present as evidence.

He couldn’t find anyone to translate them from inside the detention center, so he submitted the original French.

When the day to present his case before the judge finally arrived, the hearing lasted for hours. The judge refused to consider the evidence he’d submitted that was in French.

Because Bakala had not managed to write all the details of what had happened to him in English on the application, and despite the fact he told the judge about them in court, the judge denied his request for asylum.

Bakala appealed. The first time he sent in appeal paperwork, it was rejected because he hadn’t correctly followed the instructions that were written in English.

Using a red Larousse French-English dictionary that now sits on a bookshelf in the family’s living room, he tried again. This time it worked. He sent a brief asking the Board of Immigration Appeals to overturn the judge’s decision.

It was only after he had mailed his appeal that Bakala met Julie Hartle, an attorney who had agreed to help the family after members of St. Luke’s North Park learned about the situation.

His appeal was dismissed, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement prepared to deport Bakala. Hartle got to work with the help of other lawyers to write motions to stop his deportation and reopen his case.

Piece by piece, the outcomes began falling in his favor.

First, his deportation was paused. Then, his case was reopened and the Board of Immigration Appeals sent it back to the judge for another decision.

Bakala’s team, now a full community of supporters, pushed for ICE to release him on what’s called parole while he waited for his next hearing. When he learned of that request, Bakala said, he began to pray intensely.

Then, on Sunday, when he called his family at a time when he felt sure everyone would be home and able to speak to him, his wife asked him a question.

Do you have some news, she asked.

I’m in custody, he responded. I don’t have access to news.

Then his wife told him what she’d learned from her daughter when she got home from work. Bakala would be freed.

Bakala confirmed with his attorney. Then he called his wife back and confirmed with her. He would be getting out.

When he got off the phone, he said, he began to dance and sing and to thank God for helping him.

As he recounted his experience in their home Thursday, his wife, who sings in the St. Luke’s choir with daughter Marie Louise, sang to him a song of celebration.

The next morning, ICE let him go.

When asked for a statement on Bakala’s case, ICE confirmed that he had been released while his case is decided again in court.

ICE is now awaiting the outcome of his legal proceedings to determine appropriate future steps, said Lindsay Williams of ICE.

An attorney who had been helping the ConstanTeam picked him up where ICE released him and took him for a haircut.

Then they went to eat. He chose shrimp as his first meal of freedom.

Then another volunteer flew with him to San Diego.

Since then, he learned how much his family has already integrated into the San Diego community, he said. His children are active in church, playing sports and speaking English well.

Since he’s not yet allowed to work, he’s spending his time cooking dinner and helping with housework to support his wife.

Once he gets his permit, he plans to take professional courses to brush up on his skills in information technology and find work in that field.

I hope to take responsibility for my family in my hands, he said, and help the children understand true integration into the American community, help the children grow in the respect of American culture and help them understand the value of respect for others and grow up with the feeling that they have to help those who have nothing.

He heard about St. Jude’s, a U.S. hospital that helps children with cancer, while he was in immigration detention. He plans to donate to the organization as soon as he has income, he said.

After he was released, the family got another bit of good news. His case was moved to San Diego, which, statistically speaking, gives him better odds for winning his case than the Atlanta court, which is known for being especially tough on asylum seekers.

The family’s case was scheduled for its final hearing next month, but that was rescheduled for late next year to make room for San Diego judges to hear more cases from the Migrant Protection Protocols or Remain in Mexico program.

Most asylum seekers who find themselves alone in immigration detention, without an attorney and without English language skills, do not end up where Bakala is today.

For his part, Bakala doesn’t think his miracle happened by chance. He credits God with bringing people into his life who could save him from a looming deportation and return him to his family.

Though his time in immigration court is not yet finished, he will now be able to face it as he did with the many other challenges he faced on his journey to the U.S. – with his family.

Morrissey writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


Read more:https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-08-26/asylum-seeking-congolese-father-rejoins-his-family-after-nearly-two-years-in-detention

Originally published by The New York Times

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon said on Wednesday that it would build temporary housing along the southwestern border for 7,500 migrant adults facing deportation, the latest step in the administration’s efforts to respond to a surge of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers trying to enter the United States.

The Defense Department will loan military-style tents to the Department of Homeland Security, Pentagon officials said. In a statement emailed to reporters, Maj. Chris Miller, a Pentagon spokesman, said that military personnel would only set up the tents and that the operation of the facilities would rest with homeland security.

The cost for putting up the tents – to be constructed near Tucson, as well as near Tornillo, Donna, Laredo and Del Rio, Tex. – will be determined after the Pentagon conducts on-site assessments over the next two weeks.

Detention centers at the border have been pushed to overcapacity as an increase of migrants, most of them from Central America, have crossed into the United States. Officials recently said they would spend millions on the construction of tent cities in Texas, and they also began flying migrants to facilities with more space in Del Rio, Tex., and in California.

Defense Department officials said that the acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan approved the request for assistance that the Department of Homeland Security made on May 9.

A day after receiving that request, Mr. Shanahan notified Congress that he intended to shift $1.5 billion that had been designated for the war in Afghanistan and other projects to help pay for work on Mr. Trump’s border wall.

At the time, Mr. Shanahan, who is expected to be nominated as defense secretary, said that the money from the Pentagon’s other programs would be the last that it moves to help build about 80 miles of fencing and barriers along the southwestern border. That shift was in addition to the $1 billion that the Defense Department transferred to wall construction in March from the Army’s personnel budget.

Mr. Shanahan’s acquiescence to the president’s efforts to use the military along the border is likely to affect what was already expected to be a contentious confirmation battle. Many Democratic lawmakers view the border wall as unnecessary and have expressed concerns about the increasing use of the military to help in the president’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers trying to enter the country.

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Since Mr. Trump declared what he called a national security crisis at the border that warranted the deployment of active-duty troops, some officials at the Defense Department had sought to limit their role. But the administration has kept them in the mix.

The Posse Comitatus Act, dating to Reconstruction, bars American forces from engaging in law enforcement activities within the borders of the United States.

In recent months, homeland security has also diverted to the border officials who provide security elsewhere in the country. The department has requested volunteers from agencies like the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Coast Guard to assist with processing migrants at the border.

Customs and Border Protection officials in April detained 109,144 migrants at the southwestern border, including at its legal ports of entry, the highest total since 2007.

Read more:https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/22/us/politics/pentagon-border-deportation.html?searchResultPosition=5