The U.S. is the last hope for many long-displaced Haitians. But a Trump-era rule that’s still in effect is leaving them to suffer.

Originally published by The LA Time

Two core elements lie at the heart of nearly all of the Trump administration’s policies and actions governing immigrants: A strong desire to limit new residents from abroad, and a blind disregard for whatever cruelty might be inflicted in service of that goal.

The most recent example, from which the administration seems to be stepping back, was a plan to end a program that deferred deportation for migrants suffering from debilitating illness, including some who are taking part in clinical trials that could benefit others suffering from the same maladies. In one case highlighted by the New York Times, the government declined to renew a two-year deferral for Maria Isabel Bueso, a now 24-year-old Californian suffering from a severe and rare genetic disorder. Doctors had invited Bueso to the U.S. `17 years ago to take part in experimental treatments for the disease, which she had been told would probably have killed her before she reached her teens. No matter that her doctors in the Bay Area warned that returning Bueso to Guatemala, where the treatments keeping her alive are not available, would be a death sentence.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service said Monday it is reconsidering its decision to end the program, but the lack of specificity about its intentions – and this administration’s history of swiftly contradicting its own statements – suggests the public shouldn’t put much stock in the announcement. The nation has learned to not listen to what the government says, but watch what it does.

And it has been doing horrific things. In fact, one would have hoped that the disastrous decision to pull children away from their migrant parents for the crime of seeking asylum would have been the administration’s low point. But now we see that it is willing to go even lower, including consigning the ill to death simply because Stephen Miller and the rest of the nationalist bugs whispering in the president’s ear don’t want them here.

It’s the same animus behind the president’s effort to open up federal family detention centers to hold arriving families until their fate gets decided in immigration court, where the backlog exceeds 1 million cases (including several hundred thousand previously closed cases that are being reopened), and where cases have been pending on average for 705 days – a month short of two years. The administration wants these lengthy detentions to send a message to other families in Central America contemplating an attempt to find sanctuary here: Don’t bother.

The administration is willing to do this despite psychologists’ warnings that incarcerating children even for short periods of time, with or without their parents, can lead to mental health issues. And attending to the mental health needs of migrant children hasn’t exactly been the administration’s strong suit; a recent report by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services concluded that the government has failed to address mental health issues faced by minors who arrived unaccompanied after fleeing violence, or who were forcibly separated from their parents at the border. Yes, migrant parents can simply give up and agree to forego asylum and return to the deadly environments they are escaping. But what rational parent would do that? These policies force families into situations in which there are no good choices. And there are workable alternatives to detention that are far less costly.

Then there’s the remain in Mexico policy under which the Trump administration has sent at least 35,000 people with a legal right to seek asylum in the U.S. – mostly Central Americans – to wait in a completely separate country (and in some incredibly dangerous conditions) while their applications proceed. The reason? Again, to deter others who might exercise their congressionally granted right to ask the U.S. government for protection.

The administration also has adopted a new public charge rule (under legal challenge) denying green cards to immigrants living legally in the United States if they use or are deemed likely by the government to use certain safety net programs for more than 12 months within a 36-month period. Confusion over how that new policy works has led countless migrants to drop out of programs they are entitled to participate in, including those providing food and housing aid, for fear of jeopardizing their legal status. So the government’s response to people who might need a temporary bit of help is to slap – or scare – them away.

The level of cruelty inflicted by this administration in service of its anti-immigrant agenda is unconscionable and immoral.

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Originally published by Salon

While most of the nation was distracted by a corporate war over fried chicken sandwiches and the president’s claims to messiah status, the Trump administration managed to have one of the most destructive weeks on immigration yet. 

It began on Monday with a closed-door background briefing with reporters handpicked by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to selectively announce the unilateral cancelation of the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which limits the time children can spend in immigrant detention and establishes minimum standards for the holding facilities for families and children. The Trump administration now plans to hold children with no deadline for release, a practice known to cause long-term developmental harm

The Flores settlement was established in 1984 by a federal court, after two young girls were forcibly stripped naked and subjected to vaginal and rectal searches at a facility run by CCA, now known as CoreCivic. The same group now operates the Dilley detention facility in Texas, where migrants sleep on concrete floors in a refrigerated building with only the protection of Mylar blankets. As Martin Garbus reported from the facility earlier this year, Bathroom breaks are frequently not granted, or not in time, so both women and children often soil themselves.

CoreCivic contributed $250,000 to President Trump’s inauguration. A month later, the Department of Justice revoked an Obama-era initiative to phase out the use of private contractors to run federal prisons. Today, more than 65 percent of detainees held by DHS are housed in privately run facilities.

The administration, which has sought to eliminate the Flores Settlement for more than a year, was able to control the narrative for days before the rule changes were officially published on Friday. By limiting access to select journalists, the administration misleadingly described the Flores settlement as a loophole, claimed the new rules would provide high standards for the care of children, and argued this serves as a deterrent – which the courts have already rejected as justification for detention – with little pushback.

In reality, the administration’s new rule would grant DHS the ability to detain children with their families for prolonged periods of time, undermining Section VI of the settlement which stipulates to a general policy favoring release. Furthermore, Flores states that children may only be detained in facilities licensed by an appropriate State agency, which provides some measure of independent inspection and control. The Trump administration’s changes, on the other hand, allow for an “alternative” to licenses set by a third party.

This comes after the DHS Office of Inspector General reported nooses in detainee cells, overly restrictive segregation, inadequate medical care, unreported security incidents, and significant food safety issues. The new rules also eliminate access to facilities by attorneys allowed under Flores.

Unaccompanied minors are no longer afforded a bond hearing before an immigration judge, according to the rule changes. Instead, a government “hearing officer” from Health and Human Services (HHS), which also handles appeals, will oversee bond hearings, effectively wiping out any semblance of independence or impartiality.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration followed up its surprise announcement to ditch the Flores Settlement by announcing that it would not provide flu vaccines to families locked away in overcrowded migrant detention facilities, citing the short-term nature of CBP holding. At least seven immigrant children have already died in the Trump administration’s custody – three from infectious diseases. The U.S. had previously gone almost a decade with no children dying in U.S. immigration custody.

On Wednesday, the ACLU reported that a U.S. citizen was detained for four days in a Louisiana jail – despite carrying a valid passport, a driver’s license and a Social Security card. The local sheriff’s office defended his illegal detention by explaining that they had a policy of detaining all suspected Latino people for immigration review. Immigration enforcement and policymaking has increasingly devolved to the local level under the Trump administration as a means to avoid federal scrutiny, allowing for such blatant racial profiling. ICE has actively recruited and pressured county sheriffs to cooperate, and the president recently attacked North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, for vetoing a bill that would have forced such collaboration. 

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