Originally published by LA Times

For a long time, Lilian Oliva Bardales worried about how her young son, Cristhian, was adjusting to their new life in Barcelona.

He squeezed her every time he saw a police officer. He got scared when people he didn’t know talked to him. Teachers told her he played violently at school, making dolls fight and pretending to be an officer placing other children in handcuffs.

They asked if he had suffered trauma. As Oliva saw it, he had.

Before coming to Spain, Oliva and Cristhian had sought asylum in the United States and spent eight months in the Karnes County Residential Center near San Antonio, one of three family detention centers run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Unlike hundreds of families taken into custody at the border in recent months under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy, Oliva and Cristhian were not separated.

Under fire for separating families, the administration has pushed to expand the use of family detention and loosen legal standards for facilities in order to keep migrant parents and children in custody. Administration officials and Republican leaders argue that facilities like Karnes are more humane than the alternative of family separation.

But to Oliva, 22, her son’s anxiety and aggressiveness were lingering effects of his time at Karnes.

I wouldn’t want another child to suffer what my son suffered, she said. A detention center is not a place for a child or a mother.

Family detention predates the Trump administration. It began in 2001 under the Bush administration and increased significantly under the Obama administration. Oliva and Cristhian, then 3 years old, were taken into custody in late 2014.

ICE officials recently issued a notice that they may seek up to 15,000 beds to detain families, though funding would be subject to approval by Congress. The three existing family detention centers – two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania – have space for about 3,500 parents and children.

Katie Shepherd, national advocacy counsel for the Immigration Justice Campaign, said the Trump administration is presenting a false choice by suggesting family detention is the only alternative to the policy of family separation. Some immigrants are released from detention with ankle monitors and telephone checkups. A study published Thursday by the American Immigration Council, an advocacy group, found that from 2001 to 2016, 96% of asylum seekers released from detention showed up at all of their court hearings.

While critics of family separation say splitting parents and children can traumatize children, Shepherd said children also can suffer when kept with their parents.

Shepherd represented families like Oliva and Cristhian who were detained in Texas under the Obama administration. She saw children regressing behaviorally, crying a lot, becoming listless, fighting more and lashing out.

She said children frequently got sick – the result of stress, eating unfamiliar food, and being held in what migrants call la hielera, or the icebox, because of the cool temperatures. She remembers some children passing out in their mothers’ arms and at least two being airlifted to San Antonio for medical care.

ICE officials challenge such characterizations. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this month, Matthew Albence, the agency’s head of enforcement and removal operations, described family detention centers as being more like a summer camp.

“These individuals have access to 24/7 food and water, he said. They have educational opportunities. They have recreational opportunities, both structured as well as unstructured.”

For Oliva, the road to family detention began in spring 2014. That May she was caught attempting to cross the Texas border by herself. She had traveled solo because her abusive ex-boyfriend had threatened to kill her family if she fled with their son.

Four months after she was deported back to Honduras, she fled again, this time with Cristhian because the boyfriend was then in Mexico, working for a drug cartel.

This time, Oliva and her son turned themselves in to immigration authorities at the border in Hidalgo, Texas. But she said that because of her previous deportation, she was told she wasn’t eligible for bond.

Oliva and Cristhian’s days in detention were slow and monotonous. They shared a room with two other families and lined up in the mornings for guards to count them – the first of three daily headcounts. They’d watch TV or play bingo.

She said she was written up three times for bad behavior: once for playing soccer and leaving her son in the care of the other mothers, once for wearing sandals instead of the canvas shoes issued to her, and another time for allowing Cristhian to play with the other children unsupervised.

Cristhian turned 4 in detention. He made friends with the other kids, but noticed that they began leaving while he and his mother stayed behind. He also took note of other things – the tall walls around the courtyard, the fact that they hadn’t seen any cars in months.

Oliva noticed things too. Some guards called immigrants stupid and told her that should ask her own government for help.

Why are we here? Cristhian asked her one day. This is a jail.

I told him, ‘We’ll be here a while and then we’ll get out,’ she recalled. After five months, I couldn’t tell him that anymore.

Lilian Oliva Bardales says of her time in a detention facility in Texas: "A detention center is not a place for a child or a mother."
Lilian Oliva Bardales says of her time in a detention facility in Texas: “A detention center is not a place for a child or a mother.” (Michael Ip / For The Times)


Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman said the agency maintains the highest standards of care for people in its custody. DHS take our responsibilities extremely seriously and perform them professionally and humanely, she said.

In June 2015, Oliva reached a breaking point. She had received a letter from immigration authorities informing her that her petition for asylum had been denied and that she would be deported.

Oliva scrawled a two-page letter on ruled paper, signing it with her full name and her alien number, which ICE gives to all immigrants in custody.

I write you this letter so you know how it feels to be in this damned place for eight months, she wrote. I do this because only God and I know what I suffered in my country. I come here so this country can help me but here you’ve killed me little by little with punishments and lies in prison when I haven’t committed any crime.

When the 4 p.m. headcount came, Oliva locked herself in the bathroom. Guards found her bleeding from her wrist.

Oliva was bandaged and, she said, locked in a room alone for three days.

A few days later, she and Cristhian were back in Honduras.

Immigration officials said Oliva was treated for a surface-level abrasion to her wrist that was minor and not life-threatening, according to a McClatchy report in 2015.

That year Oliva and Cristhian fled to Spain, their flight paid for by Oliva’s pro-bono lawyer, Bryan Johnson. Spain doesn’t require a visa for Honduran tourists.

She initially planned to stay only until she could successfully appeal her asylum case in the U.S. An immigration judge ruled in 2016 that she had not received adequate legal counsel and could return to the U.S. But when Trump won the presidency, Johnson advised her to stay put. She applied for asylum in Spain.

Spain is increasingly becoming a destination for desperate Hondurans. Last year, Honduras was among the top countries of origin from which migrants sought protective status in Spain, according to figures released by the country’s interior ministry. Nearly 1,000 Hondurans sought protection that year, a more than twofold increase over the previous year.

Oliva was glad to learn that she wouldn’t be detained when she applied for asylum. Instead, officials offered her education courses through a center for mothers. Gradually, Cristhian began to put detention behind him, but it took time.

In June 2017, after Oliva and Cristhian received their first temporary residency cards and social security numbers, he started telling anyone who would listen that they had legal status. One day, as they were crossing the street near their apartment, he spotted a police officer.

Hey, officer! he called out. You know, I have my Spanish papers now. And so does my mom.

She doesn’t talk to him about their time in detention. Now he’s better, she said. He’s starting to forget.

On a recent humid afternoon, she watched as Cristhian and a cousin played on the terrace. She had purchased a blow-up pool but the water hose had broken, so the pool was empty. Still, the boys found a way to play, tossing stuffed animals into the pool.

I’m a cowboy! Cristhian giggled as he swung the broken hose over his head like a lariat.

We’re always playing, all day, the cousin said.

Lilian Oliva Bardales and her son, Cristhian, center, are adjusting to life in Spain. Here Cristhian plays with a cousin at their apartment.
Lilian Oliva Bardales and her son, Cristhian, center, are adjusting to life in Spain. Here Cristhian plays with a cousin at their apartment. (Michael Ip / For The Times)


But for Oliva, it’s still hard to leave detention to the past. She recently dreamed about Karnes. It was unlike the nightmares she had the first few months after being deported, in which she’d wake up in a haste to line up for headcount.

In the new dream, Oliva had returned to Karnes as a Spanish citizen to observe the conditions and hear from detainees. She met mothers and fathers with their children from all over Latin America.

She asked the families when they expected to get out. They told her they were still waiting to find out.

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Originally published by The Washington Post

U.S. immigration authorities say about 40 men at a family detention center in Texas were involved in a disturbance.

The Justice Department says the incident happened Wednesday at the Karnes County Family Resident Center. The agency did not say what caused the unrest.

Officials say it resulted in 16 men being moved out of the facility overnight. They were expected to return Thursday night.

Authorities say no one was injured. Children were attending school at the time and not involved.

Some men at Karnes were reunited with their children under orders of a federal judge in San Diego after being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Justice Department notified the judge of the disturbance on Thursday.

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Originally published by The Washington Post

 A little boy with closely cropped hair was sitting quietly and grinning when he suddenly sprang to his feet and tried to swipe a brownie off a nearby tray. He couldn’t quite reach it, though, instead sending crumbs and napkins in all directions and eliciting happy squeals from two children nearby.

It’s a scene that could play out in elementary school cafeterias nationwide as youngsters prepare to head back to class. But inside the Dilley immigration lockup, it’s a glimpse of the epicenter of family immigration detention policies that the Trump administration has sought to tighten.

Federal authorities on Thursday allowed reporters to tour the 50 -plus-acre (more than 200,000-sq.-meter) compound that’s holding 1,520 women and children ages 1 to 17, the nation’s largest such facility, in a remote corner of South Texas, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) southwest of San Antonio. Agency ground rules prevented reporters from interviewing immigrants being held at the facility.

Another lockup in equally rural Karnes City, Texas, is housing 630 fathers and their sons, while a smaller detention center in Pennsylvania holds mothers and fathers and their children.

Border arrest figures released Wednesday underscore the strain that families have put on the detention system, which has a maximum capacity of around 3,000. In July, families accounted for 9,258 of the Border Patrol’s 31,303 arrests, or 29.5 percent. In June, they were 27.6 percent of total arrests.

The Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy of criminally prosecuting immigrants crossing the border illegally led to families being separated before public outcry prompted a presidential executive order halting the practice in June. About 10 percent of families at Dilley were reunited after being separated, but aren’t showing signs of trauma that would set them apart from other families being held, said Daniel Bible, field office director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s San Antonio sector.

What I think you’re seeing out here is the typical interaction that these people have all day, Bible said. We haven’t noticed that there’s been any change.

Many families at Dilley are fleeing gang or drug violence in their home countries, which are most frequently Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras. They are seeking U.S. asylum, a process that can take years, and argue that their lives could be in danger if they are deported.

The facility receives about 110 new immigrants daily, most apprehended in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. Dilley only accepts mothers with children and doesn’t take people with criminal records.

Women and girls ages 10 and older are given pregnancy tests upon arrival and everyone gets physicals, mental health and dental screenings and immunizations within two weeks. Posters featuring a long-nosed Pinocchio proclaim in Spanish: The No. 1 rumor you’ve heard about vaccinations. It’s not true, a reference to some beliefs that immunizations can be harmful to children.

Immigrants typically stay at Dilley around 15 days. A federal court decision prohibits the government from holding families in detention for longer than 20 days, though some stay longer by choice while appealing if they fail initial interviews as part of their asylum cases. Michael Sheridan, an ICE contract officer representative who led the tour, said most people at Dilley pass the initial screenings and are eventually released to live with relatives already in other parts of the U.S.

With an annual operating budget of $156 million, Dilley is a series of low-slung compounds on what was once an encampment for oil field workers. Mothers and their children are assigned to different neighborhoods named after animals and typically share trailers with bunk beds and communal bathrooms.

The cafeteria offers three meals daily and has a permanent salad bar, rice and beans station, and small ovens that keep warm the flour and corn tortillas that are always available. The most popular meal is chicken nuggets, Sheridan said. There are playgrounds, gyms, a salon trailer offering free haircuts and a library with thousands of books in Spanish and English where detainees can check their email and the internet – but can’t access social media such as Facebook.

In classroom trailers, students are taught Texas curriculum, though they don’t begin the day with the Pledge of Allegiance as in other schools statewide.

Immigrant families largely move freely about the grounds, many pushing identical gray strollers and wearing Dilley-issued, colorful but otherwise non-descript T-shirts, pants, shorts and baseball caps rather than uniforms.

It’s a non-correctional setting. It’s informal, Sheridan said.

Still, advocacy groups note concerns, including that Dilley doesn’t have a pediatrician on staff around-the-clock. The facility has three doctors who are generally present during business hours and other medical staff attend to patients during off-hours, though.

Katy Murdza, advocacy director of the Dilley Pro Bono Project, which works with detained immigrants, said children at the facility who need medicine have to line up, sometimes for hours, at pharmacy trailers that dispense medicine through windows reminiscent of ticket booths. She said the classes have trouble accommodating children who speak languages other than Spanish, like Mayan tongues common in Guatemala.

I think that all the families who come here are traumatized, Murdza said. A lot of people say they wouldn’t have wanted to leave their countries but feel they have no choice.

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Originally published by The NY Times

The Trump administration, faced with a public outcry over the separation of migrant families at the Southwest border, has said it is exploring a major expansion of family detention centers. But two of the government’s own medical consultants said this week that they had identified a high risk of harm to migrant children housed at such facilities.

A series of 10 investigations over the past four years, conducted during both the Obama and Trump administrations, frequently revealed serious compliance issues resulting in harm to children, the two physicians, Scott Allen and Pamela McPherson, said in a letter to the Senate’s Whistleblower Protection Caucus.

The doctors said they had watched in horror as migrant children were separated from their families over the past several months in a bid to deter illegal border crossers. But they cautioned that the Trump administration’s fallback position may not be much better.

The likely alternative – detention of children with a parent – also poses high risk of harm to children and their families, said the doctors, who currently serve as subject-matter experts for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. In our professional opinion, there is no amount of programming that can ameliorate the harms created by the very act of confining children to detention centers.

The examinations described in their report uncovered problems including a child who lost a third of his body weight and an infant with bleeding of the brain that went undiagnosed for five days.

In a separate filing this week with a court in Los Angeles, lawyers who conducted more than 200 interviews with migrant parents and children said they had collected shocking and atrocious reports about conditions at various government-run detention centers, especially at the initial processing centers operated by Customs and Border Protection along the Southwest border.

The interviews in that case were conducted over the past two months, although similar reports of unpleasant and even dangerous conditions in border processing facilities had emerged even before President Trump took office and imposed the current crackdown on the border.

In the latest interviews, migrants reported freezing conditions, filthy toilets, inadequate water and food that alternately was frozen or made them vomit. The burritos were spoiled, one wrote. The ham looked green, said another.

One woman, identified in the court filing as Lidia, said she and her 4-year-old son had to wait eight hours for water when they arrived at the processing center and were given only frozen sandwiches that could not be eaten. My son was crying from hunger, she said.


She arrived next at a family detention center in Dilley, Tex., with a kidney infection that had been exacerbated by the lack of drinkable water at the processing center, according to the filing. She said she was given only acetaminophen by a male nurse who, when she asked to see a doctor, told her to go to the mental health office because I was imagining my pain.

A 16-year-old girl named Keylin said the female guards at the border processing facility in McAllen, Tex., kicked her and other migrants with their boots to keep them awake. The female guards made me and the other girls strip naked in front of them and leered at us before their showers, she said in her declaration.

Spokespeople for the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment on the physicians’ whistle-blower letter. But in a response to the Los Angeles court filing, Justice Department spokesman Devin M. O’Malley cited a recent report to the judge from Henry A. Moak Jr., chief accountability officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who interviewed 38 children and a number of parents during eight unannounced visits to detention facilities. Mr. Moak concluded in his report that the government remained in compliance with a 1997 consent decree, known as the Flores agreement, providing for the humane treatment of migrant children.

The letter from Dr. Allen, former chair of the department of internal medicine at the University of California at Riverside, and Dr. McPherson, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Shreveport Behavioral Health Center in Louisiana, urges Congress to block the Trump administration’s proposal to possibly expand the population housed in these centers to 15,000 – a fivefold increase in the current population.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency currently operates three such detention centers, two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania, with a combined capacity of 3,326. Under the terms of the 1997 consent decree, children at such centers cannot be confined for long periods, usually interpreted as 20 days.

Yet one woman from El Salvador, interviewed as part of the Los Angeles court case, reported that she and her 10-year-old son had been held at the family detention center in Dilley for 58 days. Another woman said she and her 6-year-old daughter had been at Dilley for 45 days. Government officials say families could be detained for longer periods if a parent elects to remain in custody with a child, rather than having the child released to a relative.

While conditions at the border processing centers appeared to be the worst, as reported in the court filings, numerous problems were documented at the family detention centers, as well. Dr. Allen and Dr. McPherson were aided with their letter describing shortcomings at those facilities by the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit that works with government whistle-blowers.

During 10 investigations of family detention facilities between 2014 and 2017, the doctors reported, they uncovered serious failures to comply with standards, which could be expected to multiply under hastily deployed expansion of family detention.

Among other problems, they discovered significant weight loss in children that went unnoticed, such as a 16-month-old baby who lost 31.8 percent of his body weight because of untreated diarrhea. In another case, they described a 27-day-old infant who was born during his mother’s journey but was not examined by a pediatrician until the child had a seizure, an outcome of undiagnosed bleeding of the brain.

At one site, the doctors reported, numerous children were accidentally inoculated with adult doses of a vaccine. Several children suffered severe injuries, including lacerations and fractures of their fingers, when their hands got caught in a spring-loaded closure of heavy steel doors at the family facility in Karnes City, Tex., which was formerly a medium-security prison.

Detaining children in secure facilities, the doctors concluded, also results in possible permanent psychological harm, placing them at risk over the course of their lifetimes of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.

The Democratic vice chairman of the Senate’s whistle-blower caucus, Ron Wyden of Oregon, said in a statement that the doctors’ report adds to the mountains of evidence that this administration’s cruel and ineffective approach to immigration enforcement is doing permanent harm to children.

The cases cited by the physicians occurred between 2014 and 2017, beginning with the 2014 surge on the Southwest border, when Central American migrants fleeing violence and poverty began arriving by the tens of thousands.

In an attempt to stem the flow, the Obama administration began holding mothers with children at the 100-bed Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania and at two bigger facilities, Karnes City and Dilley, in Texas. A fourth facility, located in Artesia, N.M., closed in 2014 amid complaints about conditions there.

Facing widespread criticism, and constrained by the 1997 consent decree, the Obama administration began releasing families with their promises to appear in court to pursue their immigration claims.

Trump administration officials have said they are determined to detain families, to the degree possible, while their immigration cases are being considered – though the Justice Department recently lost its bid to amend the 1997 consent decree to permit family detentions of longer than 20 days. The government is expected to appeal the ruling or ask Congress to pass a law to override the consent decree.

The number of migrants in families who were apprehended by Border Patrol hovered around 70,000 in 2015 and 2016 and plummeted to about 30,000 in President Trump’s first year in office. But the number rose precipitously this year.


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Originally published by Yahoo

A California federal judge on Monday rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to detain immigrant families for long terms, calling it a “cynical attempt” to undo a longstanding court settlement.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee said the federal government had failed to present new evidence to support revising a court order that limits detaining children who crossed the border illegally for extended periods.

The Department of Justice asked Gee to alter a 1997 settlement, which provides the framework for how to handle detained immigrant children, so it could detain families together for longer periods.

The Trump administration said Gee’s previous rulings had made family detention unlikely and provided an incentive for a surge of immigrants to bring children across the border illegally with the expectation they wouldn’t be locked up.

Gee called the administration’s request “a cynical attempt” to shift responsibility to the court “for over 20 years of Congressional inaction and ill-considered executive action that have led to the current stalemate.”

Three years ago, Gee rejected a similar effort by the Obama administration. She ruled at the time that immigrant children generally can’t be held longer than 20 days.

More than 2,000 children were separated from their parents by U.S. immigration authorities at the border with Mexico this spring before President Donald Trump reversed course on June 20 amid an international outcry.

The application to change the Flores agreement – named for an El Salvador immigrant who was 15 when the case was brought in 1985 – was “procedurally improper and wholly without merit,” said Gee, who was nominated to the court by President Barack Obama.

The Department of Justice was reviewing Monday’s ruling and did not say if it would appeal.

“We disagree with the court’s ruling declining to amend the Flores Agreement to recognize the current crisis of families making the dangerous and unlawful journey across our southern border,” spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement.

Families can be detained together if their parents waive their right to release children to the custody of a family member.

Attorney Peter Schey, who represents detained children in the settlement, said President Donald Trump had falsely claimed the settlement required the separation of families.

“Sifting through the government’s false narrative, the court clearly found that the Flores settlement has never resulted in the separation of families,” Schey said. “President Trump needs to take responsibility for his own misguided policies.”

The ruling came the same day the government acknowledged it would not meet a Tuesday deadline set by a San Diego federal judge who ordered detained children under 5 to be reunited with their families.

Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian said 54 of the 100 or so infants and toddlers covered by the order would be reunited on time. She said the delay for others was due to a variety of reasons, including that the parents of some of the youngsters had already been deported.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, a nominee of Republican President George W. Bush, set a July 26 deadline to reunite all the children separated from their parents.

The government had claimed in its filings that Sabraw’s ruling trumped the Flores agreement. Gee rejected that argument on several grounds, saying the U.S. was relying on a “tortured interpretation” of the deal.

Read more:–politics.html

Originally published by Salon

Over the past few months, as President Donald Trump’s administration works to dismantle protections for asylum-seeking immigrants, the use of the term catch and release – a dehumanizing phrase that describes U.S. policies meant to provide certain rights to vulnerable immigrants – has skyrocketed on cable news networks.

Catch and release is generally used to refer to any policy that allows immigrants to be released from detention while their cases are being processed. These so-called catch and release policies recognize the basic humanitarian rights of unaccompanied minors, asylum seekers, and families with children. One such policy prohibits the detention of families for more than 20 days and enforces other standards for detention; another bars the U.S. government from deporting people back to places where they could be harmed or killed; and a third awards more cautious asylum hearing proceedings for [unaccompanied children], because it is thought that they are more likely to be victims of human trafficking. Experts have noted that rolling back these protections would lead to severe trauma for immigrants (and benefits for the private prisonindustry.)

Many observers have pointed out that the term catch and release evokes imagery of a fish or other animal being hunted and then released. The book “Governing Immigration Through Crime: A Reader” explains the disparaging effect of the term:

Although the term catch and release appears benign, it actually serves to dehumanize immigrants. The term comes from sport fishing, where it refers to the practice of catching fish and then throwing them back into the water. Using such a term in the context of immigration

But as the Trump administration continues to pick away at these protections, cable news outlets have ramped up their use of the phrase, with Fox News leading the way. An analysis of use of the term catch and release on cable news by the GDELT Project using data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive demonstrates a huge spike in the term’s prevalence throughout 2018 compared to previous years. Notably, on June 25, use of the term catch and release was the highest it has been since at least 2009 across MSNBC, Fox, and CNN:

Fox and other right-wing outlets have weaponized the phrase to fearmonger about a foreign invasion at the southern border, spreading misinformation about the policy and its effects.

The Trump administration’s policies to curtail immigrant protections have not deterred immigrants from making the journey to the southern border, as the administration had claimed. In fact, the number of apprehensions of unaccompanied minors at the border jumped 50 percent in May, shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared an end to so-called catch and release policies. Even so, Fox has argued that the policies encourage unbridled immigration to the U.S.

Alleged smugglers reportedly make up only .61 percent of the total number of family units apprehended at the border. Nevertheless, and Fox have pushed the administration’s misleading claim that protections for immigrants enable human smuggling.

Asylum seekers face a rigorous vetting process to prove their claims and, all too often, those with genuine fear of return are denied asylum. Yet Laura Ingraham argues that immigrants are taking advantage of the policies to falsely claim asylum with the expectation that they will be released and be able to disappear into the system.

In 2017, 60,000 immigrants attended their court hearings after they were released from custody at the border, compared to 40,000 who did not, and only 25 percent of cases were decided without a defendant in 2016. Yet, right-wing media have perpetuated the myth that the majority of immigrants do not show up for their court dates.

Like the terms illegal immigrant and chain migration, catch and release is just another tool that nativists use to dehumanize immigrants. And at a time when the president of the United States has painted immigrants as animals and immigration as an infestation, mainstream media should avoid using language that might serve to legitimize this deceptive narrative.

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Originally p[ublished by VOX

The Trump administration is keeping families together. In immigration detention. Indefinitely.

And they’re arguing that a court order preventing family separation gives them the legal power to do so.

In federal court Friday night, Trump’s Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, filed an announcement that it is now keeping families in detention during the pendency of their immigration cases. That could easily mean months of detention (or longer) for some asylum-seekers – or, alternatively, a form of assembly-line justice that moves families’ cases through too quickly to allow for real due process.

The administration was already trying to get the courts and Congress to approve indefinite family detention by overruling a 2015 order (made as part of the Flores settlement) that prevented children from being kept in immigration detention with their parents for more than 20 days.

But the administration now claims that a more recent court ruling – the order by US District Judge Dana Sabraw on Tuesday that barred the administration from splitting up any more families and ordered them to reunite the 2,000 remaining separated ones within 30 days – means that they are now allowed to detain thousands of families in temporary facilities for as long as it takes to either grant them legal status or (the administration’s preference) deport them.

Family detention has always been Plan A – but the Flores agreement kept Trump from doing it

President Donald Trump and his officials have argued for months that they should have the power to detain migrant families who cross the US-Mexico border together until their immigration cases are completed. And they claim they separated thousands of families over the past several months – with 65 families separated a day during the peak of the policy – only because they weren’t allowed to detain them together.

The executive order Trump signed June 20, which he claimed would end family separation, was in fact an instruction for the executive branch to start finding as much space as possible for family detention. It also told the Department of Justice to ask US District Judge Dolly Gee to reverse her own 2015 Flores settlement ruling that prevented the government from keeping children in immigration detention longer than necessary even when they were being held with their parents.

At the time, it wasn’t clear what exactly Trump would do if the DOJ didn’t get Gee to back down. (Congress could have avoided the showdown by passing a bill explicitly allowing for families to be detained for the length of their cases, but it looks unlikely that Congress will do anything of the sort in the next few weeks.)

But now, the administration’s no longer asking permission to detain families. It’s not even really begging forgiveness. It’s declaring that it is allowed to detain families indefinitely now, and telling Judge Gee that it would be helpful if she agreed.

The administration says it has two choices: detain families or separate them

According to Friday’s court filing, the administration acknowledges that it can’t separate families anymore (after Judge Sabraw’s ruling from Tuesday night). That means, the administration says, that it has to be allowed to detain families for as long as it takes to complete their cases.

Empirically, that isn’t true: There are options beyond detention and separation. The Trump administration has the option to release families together – what Trump and his officials deride as catch-and-release – or to use alternatives to detention to monitor migrants and make sure they show up to court, as Alexia Fernandez-Campbell has written for Vox.

But the DOJ maintains that it doesn’t need to use those alternatives if it doesn’t want to because the law always gives the government the power to choose to keep any adult in immigration detention, and even sometimes requires them to do so. And in the case of parents caught crossing the US-Mexico border between ports of entry, it is choosing detention.

The filing points out that neither the 2015 order nor the new order bans both separation and family detention at once. The Ninth Circuit’s most recent ruling on the Flores says the settlement does not require the government to release parents, only their children – leaving the door open to separation. And Judge Sabraw’s order banning separation said it didn’t affect the government’s decision to release or detain class members – i.e., the separated families who sued over the policy.

Instead of putting the two together to conclude that both separation and detention are independently banned, though, the government is saying Judge Sabraw’s order authorizes indefinite detention. And while it’s still asking Judge Gee to modify her 2015 interpretation of the Flores settlement to confirm that detention of families is okay, it now considers that more of a formality.

More people could be affected by family detention than family separation

The federal government is already working to build temporary facilities on military bases to house thousands of migrant families. The Department of Homeland Security has asked the Pentagon to provide space for 2,000 detainees within 45 days. Ultimately, it wants space to detain 12,000 more people in family detention. (Existing family detention facilities have space for about 1,500.)

If Trump follows former President Barack Obama’s lead, families in detention will be rammed through an expedited legal process. That would be disastrous for due process. Pro bono lawyers who went to temporary family facilities in 2014 reported that it was all but impossiblefor families to get due process for their asylum claims – with only one lawyer for every 120 detainees, and immigration judges trying to keep lawyers out of the room during their clients’ hearings.

If Trump wants to provide a full legal process – or simply doesn’t have the resources to expedite it – it will mean months, or years, in detention for many families. The long-term detention of immigrant children raises some of the same concerns that keeping them in custody without their parents does, in terms of trauma.

Family detention facilities may not be identical to facilities for adults, but they’re still, essentially, jails. In the facility currently used for long-term family detention, in Berks County, Pennsylvania, bright lights reportedly keep children from sleeping well, and they can be disciplined if they try to climb into a parent’s bed for comfort.

The Trump administration isn’t fighting to separate families; it’s fighting to detain them. The question is whether the latter is something that critics of family separation will see as an acceptable solution – and what they’ll do if it isn’t.

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Originally published by LA Times

Rather than continue to separate children from parents apprehended crossing the border illegally, the Trump administration wants to hold the families together, indefinitely, in detention centers, Justice Department lawyers told a federal court Friday.

In papers filed Friday evening, the Justice Department told U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles that they believe a decades-old court case that she has supervised gives them the authority to carry out the detention plan.

The government will not separate families but detain families together during the pendency of immigration proceedings when they are apprehended at or between ports of entry, the Justice Department said.

The lawyers wrote they were looking to explain to Gee how the government planned to adhere to an order issued earlier this week by another federal judge in San Diego, while not running afoul of a long-standing settlement agreement in the case Gee oversees.

In the San Diego ruling, U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw ordered an immediate halt to the practice by immigration authorities of taking children from their parents. Sabraw was unswayed by the government’s claim it needed to separate families in order to criminally prosecute adults for coming into the country illegally.

The judge gave immigration officials 14 days to reunite children under 5 years old with their parents and 30 days to reconnect older kids with their families. In all, the government says more than 2,000 children who were taken from their parents since May remain in government custody.

For the government, complying with Sabraw’s order, however, is complicated by the Flores settlement, a 20-year-old legal agreement named after a Salvadoran teenager who was caught trying to cross into the country illegally and sued the government over the conditions she encountered while in custody. After years of legal wrangling, the Clinton administration settled the case in 1997 with a sweeping agreement that set rules for how the government can deal with immigrant children in its custody.

The settlement requires immigration officials to release children to relatives or other custodians without unnecessary delay. Before Friday’s filing, the Trump administration had argued that requirement conflicted with the order issued in San Diego since the administration does not want to release any adults who crossed the border illegally while their asylum claims wind their way through immigration courts.

Until recently, the government released people with pending claims for asylum under supervision, allowing them to live in the U.S. until their asylum hearing. Trump has rejected that, calling it catch and release.

In the filing Friday, Justice Department officials took a new legal tack, arguing that the wording without unnecessary delay in the Flores settlement in fact opened the door for the government to detain families together. Sabraw’s order to keep families together, they wrote , makes delay necessary in these circumstances and so permits keeping children in detention with their parents indefinitely.

Despite the claim that they had legal authority to detain families, in the filing the government reiterated a request it made to Gee last week that the judge modify the Flores settlement in order to give the government more flexibility as it carries out its hard-line immigration policies at the border.

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Originally published by The Huffington Post

President Donald Trump rolled out his alternative to systematic family separations at the border last week with a new plan: a massive increase of family detention.

But the vision taking shape is sure to cost billions of dollars that Immigration and Customs Enforcement doesn’t have.

Rather than separating children and parents apprehended at the border, Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday that requires the Department of Homeland Security to detain families together and asks the military to make space available for detention facilities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency charged with detaining migrants facing deportation, followed up Friday with a Request for Information asking contractors to submit proposals for the creation of 15,000 more family detention beds.

San Antonio Office Director Enrique M. Lucero talks to members of the media at the Karnes County Residential Center, a family

San Antonio Office Director Enrique M. Lucero talks to members of the media at the Karnes County Residential Center, a family immigrant lockup in South Texas, on July 31, 2014.

Family detention centers are vastly more expensive than facilities designed to lock up single adults. By court order, they must be less secured than typical immigrant detention facilities because they house children. The federal government takes on the expense of educating the migrant kids they lock up, along with providing medical care, casual clothing, child care supplies including diapers and high chairs, and more open space.

All of that inflates the cost of the average family detention center bed to around three times the $134 per day that the federal government currently pays to detain a single adult. ICE now runs only three family detention centers ― two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania. They total about 3,750 beds, although, at least in Texas, they rarely fill to capacity because adults can only be housed within the same pods as children they are related to due to a state court order, citing a need to prevent abuse.

Homeland Security, ICE’s parent agency, is already looking at ways to reshuffle the money that it has within the department. The Coast Guard might cough up $77 million to lend ICE a hand, according to The Washington Post.

But ICE would burn through that cash in about two weeks if the agency’s family detention vision becomes reality. A back-of-the-napkin estimate for the cost of adding 15,000 new family detention beds puts the total cost at roughly $2 billion annually ― a figure that amounts to more than a quarter of ICE’s total budget for this year. Building new facilities means the agency would assume those expenses for years to come.

ICE just does not have the money for that, John Sandweg, who led ICE for seven months during the Obama administration as an acting director, told HuffPost. Without congressional approval, there’s nowhere near enough money to cover this.

The budget chasm separating the White House’s family detention dream from reality is likely even greater than those rough figures suggest. In addition to the high cost of locking up families, ICE would have to foot the bill for the construction of new facilities. When the Obama administration hastily contracted CoreCivic, the country’s largest private prison contractor, to build a family detention center in Dilley, Texas, in 2014, the daily cost per bed came out to roughly $450 and was renegotiated only later, according to Sandweg. ICE agreed to that high early cost partly to offset construction costs.

ICE has entered into some pretty bad contracts in the past, because they do them like this, said Alonzo Peña, the former deputy director of ICE. All of a sudden, there will be this emergency need and they enter these contracts and they’re not going to be advantageous to the government. The cost is very inflated. There’s not a lot of competition or oversight. They skip a lot of the normal bureaucratic processes that are involved.

Locating the new detention centers on military bases ― as the executive order suggests but the Request for Information does not ― might defray the cost somewhat by sparing the government from acquiring the land.

But it would do little to stifle the ongoing expense of running the centers, and other parts of the ICE budget would be sure to balloon as well, according to Tracey Valerio, ICE’s former executive associate director for management and administration. The White House insists that parents will still remain exposed to criminal prosecutions for illegal entry, for example, which would add transportation costs to shuttle parents to the new centers, then to criminal court and back to the centers again.

Even before attempting to take on such an ambitious detention project, ICE had already projected a roughly $300 million overrun in its detention budget, according to Valerio, who left ICE a few weeks ago.

This is a big stretch, Valerio said. Family detention is not an off-the-shelf commodity. For single adults, we can rent beds from a county jail. But the rest of the criminal justice system isn’t in that business.

ICE did not respond to multiple emails requesting comment.

Undocumented immigrant families are released from detention at a bus depot in McAllen, Texas, U.S., June 25, 2018. 
Undocumented immigrant families are released from detention at a bus depot in McAllen, Texas, U.S., June 25, 2018.
Even if ICE were able to come up with the money, family detention centers remain little more than lavishly expensive temporary holding centers, due to a 2015 order from U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee requiring ICE to release migrant children from family detention within 20 days. The ruling emanated from an ongoing lawsuit over the 1997 Flores Settlement, which requires the federal government to detain children in the least restrictive setting possible, which generally means release.

The Trump administration, whose officials deride the Flores Settlement as catch-and-release, asked Judge Gee last week to reconsider the ruling. But if her harsh rulings against the Obama administration’s attempts to rapidly expand family detention are any indication, the government will face a drawn-out process of appealing its way to a higher court if it has any hope of rolling the Flores ruling back.

That leaves ICE with a choice: Either go back to the status quo of releasing mothers and their kids from family detention with a notice to appear in immigration court, or return to the policy of splitting parents from their kids that sparked a humanitarian backlash against the Trump administration.

It’s a dilemma for Trump, according to Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, a progressive Washington think tank. Walking back his hard-line immigration stance makes him look weak on his core campaign issue, but moving in the direction charted by the White House is prohibitively expensive, legally complicated and increasingly repugnant to much of the public.

This is Trump’s Vietnam, Rosenberg said. He can’t win, and he can’t get out. They’re beginning to realize that he can’t really achieve what he said he was going to achieve.

For some of Trump’s critics, the cost of embracing such a massive expansion of family detention is all the more misguided because it discards far cheaper options.

The Obama administration experimented with alternatives to detention that used ankle-monitoring, case managers, frequent check-ins or a combination of all three to ensure that families who crossed together made their court appearances and kept in touch with ICE. One pilot project, called the Family Case Management Program, boasted a compliance rate on court appearances of 99 percent, according to a study by the Women’s Refugee Commission.

ICE doesn’t have to detain people to track them, Randy Capps, a research director at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, told HuffPost. They don’t have to detain people to make sure they come to their immigration court hearings. And they don’t even have to detain them to prioritize their cases for court hearings.

Running that program cost ICE only $36 a day per family ― 10 times less than locking up a single individual in family detention. Instead of expanding the program, the Trump administration scrapped it last year.

I don’t understand why the administration is so hung up on detention ― it’s outrageously expensive, Sandweg said. And what do you get for that? Obama tried it and you don’t even get deterrence. Deterrence comes from actually removing people.

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Originally published by CNN

President Trump’s Immigration Executive Order purports to bring a humane solution to the inhumane practice of breaking up families at our borders. But in reality, the order simply furthers the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies by continuing to conflate immigration issues with criminal ones. This hidden goal is revealed once we examine how the current “zero tolerance” policy is limited by the 1997 settlement of the legal case Flores v. Reno.

The “zero tolerance” policy seeks to deter people from seeking to enter our country by imprisoning as many of these people as possible. The policy achieves this by looking for all possible criminal violations. Once a criminal charge can be found, then the person seeking entry can be detained on a criminal charge and their children separated from them due to an existing policy barring children from being detained in criminal detention centers.
Understanding the insidious nature of this plan starts with knowing that immigration proceedings are civil in nature and not criminal. For example, asylum-seekers are not criminal defendants and therefore not processed in criminal courts. For this reason, asylum families would not normally be separated at the border unless prosecutors can find a criminal charge to use against the asylum-seeker.

Indeed, prior to the zero tolerance policy, thousands of people in civil deportation proceedings would not have been in the criminal court process either. But the zero tolerance policy has been used to change the status of thousands of non-criminal immigration cases into criminal cases simply by charging “illegal entry” and busing them from deportation facilities to criminal courts to plead guilty to minor misdemeanors. The punishment often has been nothing more than a fine and time served.
This deliberate conversion of non-criminal cases into criminal cases is what triggered the separating of thousands of children from their families at the border and what led to President Trump signing his executive order stopping this practice. But what the executive Ooder really does is to expand the ability of Trump administration to incarcerate people seeking entry into our country by directing DOJ to re-negotiate the settlement in Flores v. Reno.

The Flores case requires that children be held in the least restrictive conditions possible. It established minimum standards of care and limited the detention of children to no more than 20 days when accompanied by parents.
If successful, this re-negotiation could mean that whole families could stay incarcerated for whatever amount of time it may take to resolve the various cases of the parents. So by pretending to do a good thing — ending the separation of children from their families — Trump’s order really could just put more people in jail over immigration issues.
Trump’s latest tweets about immigration policy shed further light:

This then is the juvenile immigration fantasy of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions in which they do away with any need for immigration judges or courts of any kind and rule immigration by edict. Sessions recently inserted himself into an asylum case involving a battered woman so that he could do away with the ability of domestic violence victims to claim asylum. While numerous lawsuits and courts will likely check Trump and Sessions, that will do little to solve real immigration policy issues.

Real solutions require thoughtfulness and proper allocation of resources — neither of which is evident in the current administration. Session’s criminalization of immigration through zero-tolerance ignores the geo-political and socio-economic realities behind immigration and refugee patterns in favor of a one-size fits all “law & order” posture. Even in non-criminal immigration matters, Sessions seeks to convert immigration proceedings from adjudications into deportation factories by imposing quotas on immigration judges. This kind of thinking and approach dooms efforts at immigration reform and improvement.
Ultimately, the test of a society’s greatness is how it treats the less fortunate. We will need to do a lot better to pass this test.

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