Communities Turning up the Heat on ICE Atrocities
While charges of abuse from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency continue to rise, cities and communities across the country have decided they have had enough. They are now putting the agency “on trial” for how it has treated people.
Why ICE Is on Trial
By the numbers, what is behind this is that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) currently detains 40,000 people every single day within more than 200 locations across the country. On an annual basis, it continues to hold about 400,000 people, pending investigation and prosecution of those in custody on the grounds of entering the country illegally. This is despite the idea behind detention supposedly being that it is temporary and that the detainees are supposed to be released, at least in some large percentage, while awaiting rulings on their asylum requests. In one specific area, El Paso, Texas, ICE apparently does not let those seeking asylum to do so outside of detention. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports that all 349 parole requests for asylum seekers in El Paso between February and September 2017 were denied.
The numbers alone do not tell the story, unfortunately. Thanks in no small part to the often racist and distorted anti-immigrant rhetoric from candidate and now President Donald Trump, a crackdown on even the slightest hint of illegal immigration activities is turning ICE into an agency of thugs operating at the edges of the law.
As part of its operating practices, ICE now includes the following as part of its standard toolkit for dealing with potential illegals:
As an example of this, on April 10, 2018, ICE staged the largest raid in 10 years on a single business. On that day, agents from the special Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) part of ICE went into the Southeastern Provision meatpacking plant in Morristown, Tennessee. There, according to ICE reports, it “encountered 97 individuals who are subject to removal from the United States.” As part of the assault on the site, “10 of those encountered were arrested on federal criminal charges, one was arrested on state charges and 86 were arrested on administrative charges.” The Department of Justice said that HSI, the Internal Revenue Service and the Tennessee Highway Patrol were all involved in the raid.
Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), conducted interviews with workers at the plant after the raids. According to what she learned, “some workers described themselves as blocking
exits but not actually participating in the action itself.” Roads around the plant were blocked off, a helicopter hovered overhead throughout, and those in and around the facility said they saw “ICE storming in” from multiple entrances simultaneously. “It was like the building was just taken over by ICE.”
According to advocates for the workers, those captured during the raid were ordered into vans and sent to a National Guard armory. Teatro says that “nobody was given a chance to know why they, in particular, were being arrested or what they were being arrested for.” There were also indications that some were scooped up just because they were Latino and without any proof that they might be illegal immigrants.
The impact of the raid, besides just the displacement of the workers alone, was to raise fear in the community as to what might happen next. Traumatized by the event, more than 550 students in the local Hamblen County school district stayed out of school the day after it all happened. The town is still reeling from the event.
Locking Up Asylum Seekers Indefinitely
Another tactic in the current bag of tricks being used by ICE is to take those who are not illegals but who are lawfully seeking asylum in the United States and keep them in custody for extended periods of time. Not only is there no legal justification for it taking this long but the long delays in ruling on their cases create fear in those who legitimately desire asylum to even apply for it. They also leave those in custody with little recourse for caring for their families or seeking any other means of refuge.
This has resulted in a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of nine plaintiffs by the ACLU and immigrant rights groups. It alleges that five U.S. ICE field offices have detained almost every adult seeking asylum at their port of entry. It was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., in March 2018.
This detention is happening despite a 2009 ICE directive that those who cross into the United States to apply for asylum can, provided they have a “credible fear” of torture or persecution in their home country, be released from detention for humanitarian reasons. In 2013, that resulted in 92% of asylum seekers being let go under this policy. According to the current lawsuit, however, few are released at all today.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is on record as saying the asylum process was “subject to rampant abuse and fraud.” But he also said that the release of immigrants awaiting asylum decisions just created “incentives for illegal aliens to come here and claim a fear of return.”
The lead plaintiff in the specific case noted here is Ansly Damus, a 41-year-old former ethics teacher who fled from Haiti because of alleged political persecution. Even though he was granted asylum twice by a judge, he has remained in lockup in Ohio for more than 16 months while the government continues to appeal his asylum grant by the court.
Sexually, Physically and Emotionally Abusing Detainees
Sexual abuse. Although not condoned in any way officially, this is now being reported more often than ever. Inappropriate comments, touching and rape are not uncommon for female detainees. Even if they end up being able to report the incidents, their fear of reprisal after complaining is high, and many of the detainees who report such incidents are treated like criminals rather than victims. One well-documented case involved Laura Monterrosa, a detainee who crossed the border in Texas. When she reported her sexual assaults, officials from ICE’S Office of Professional Responsibility and two deputies from the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office asked her if her sexual relationship with the guard involved was consensual. “They treated me like a liar,” she says. “I didn’t feel like they were helping me. I felt they were accusing me of something.” Another individual, R. Santos, in detention in York County Jail in Pennsylvania, was on her way to meet with a lawyer – a good thing. Then she was told by the officer escorting her that he would be sexually assaulting her afterwards. She reported the incident but, lacking any corroborating evidence to the contrary, ended up being put in solitary confinement for 11 days – as retaliation, she says.
Physical and emotional abuse. Again, this is not officially condoned by senior officials at ICE, but the practice is happening more and more often. Because of the nature of the facilities, many of which are underfunded and overcrowded, such abuse can happen just by forcing people to stay there. Unfortunately, however, there are examples such as a recent case that happened at a for-profit detention center known as the West Texas Detention Facility. A group of approximately 80 immigrant men from the countries of Somalia, Kenya and Sudan arrived there to be held for deportation proceedings. Within a week, the group had been subjected to pepper-spraying, racial slurs, threats, beatings and even sexual abuse. Related investigations by the Texas A&M University School of Law Immigration Clinic and RAICES, a Texas-based legal organization, involved 30 Somali men detained at the same West Texas Detention
Facility. In the period from February 23 to March 3 this year alone, all of those detainees said they had been pepper-sprayed at least once a week, and almost half of them had been subjected to physical abuse. One detainee, a man named Dalmar, even reported that while he was in the nurse’s office, the warden hit him in the face four times. He said he asked the medical staff at the time, “Are you going to let this happen?” and the staff member responded quickly with “We didn’t see anything.” Dalmar said, “I was eventually placed in solitary confinement, where I was forced to lie facedown on the floor with my hands handcuffed behind my back while I was kicked repeatedly in the ribs by the warden.”
The West Texas Detention Facility is run by private corporation Lasalle Corrections.
In each of these cases, the disgusting and illegal treatment of detainees is encouraged by statements from the White House and within the Department of Justice about the need to crack down on immigrants. Even Trump, who many thought could not make any more extreme statements about immigration, said in a recorded Q&A session:
“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in – and we’re stopping a lot of them – but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”
(Trump’s protective staff now claims he meant the statement as referring to MS-13 gang members, but there is nothing in his statement to even suggest that. It also doesn’t matter. The statement is out, and those who rally behind Trump will be guided by it without further comment.) With leadership like that at the top, extreme treatment will be considered justified and even encouraged by those charged with enforcing immigration laws.
Separating Children From Their Parents
One of the latest things ICE agents have been doing as a tactic against those coming across the border is arresting parents, separating their children from them and sending those children to social services or foster care.
Trump had planned to arrest both parents and children, but several court decisions have blocked him from being able to prosecute kids. So, instead, he has issued a directive that children now have to be separated from their parents when families cross the border illegally, a directive that went into effect earlier this year. This is intended as an intimidation tactic, something that Trump and Sessions hope will spread fear far and wide to those seeking to cross the border, whether seeking asylum or hoping for a better life in the United States. In mid-may, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly applauded the new policy, saying that he hopes it will be a “tough deterrent … the children will be taken care of – put into foster care or whatever.”
This policy is also the subject of a recent major controversy when the government discovered it could not find approximately 1,500 of the immigrant children it had placed in the homes of sponsors. That came up when Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, which is part of the Department of Health & Human Services, gave a report to a Senate Subcommittee in April about the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). (ORR is responsible for the care of all unaccompanied immigrant children, including those separated from their parents when they arrive illegally.) In his report, Wagner said that the Department of Homeland Security had sent more than 40,000 immigrant children to the ORR during the 2017 fiscal year.
As news about the missing children spread, things became even worse when Trump attempted to blame the Democrats for a policy that he and Sessions created and launched after Trump took office. The following is a Tweet he wrote on May 26:
Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there parents once they cross the Border into the U.S. Catch and Release, Lottery and Chain must also go with it and we MUST continue building the WALL! DEMOCRATS ARE PROTECTING MS-13 THUGS.
The pushback over what Trump is asserting has now turned into a national campaign with the hashtag #Wherearethechildren.
There is no question about the Trump administration creating the policy of separating families and it was a Republican administration that created MS-13 back in the 1980s when Reagen-bush waged a campaign of terror against the people of El Salvador and setup a drug distribution network through El Salvadorans in Los Angeles to fund the Contras who terrorized Nicragua.
It is true that MS-13 is a serious problem and its members engage in brutal sadistic actions. The group could be described as evil or satantic. Calling them animals is an insult to animals.
Putting ICE on Trial
Besides the individual and class-action cases behind some of the actions described above, the Detention Watch Network (DWN), a coalition of organizations with a focus on the horrors and injustices of immigration detention, arranged a series of 10 events in 10 different cities to put ICE on trial with real testimony and cases.
As the DWN notes in its online materials, “Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) track record of abuse is long-standing, well documented and overwhelming. And under an explicitly anti-immigrant and racist Trump administration, ICE is emboldened to be less transparent, unaccountable and act with increased impunity. This is an agency that regularly lies, actively hides information from the public and retaliates against anyone who speaks out.” As Alan Dicker, who helped organize one of the events in El Paso, said, these special hearings are needed because “ICE is, in effect, a lawless law enforcement agency.”
Since the DWN announced its campaign to put ICE in a courtroom environment, it has held “People’s Tribunals” in New York, California, Washington, D.C., Alabama, Texas, Colorado and Washington State. In most cases, the tribunals are held in or around actual immigration detention centers.
Real trials have been attempted to deal with what ICE has done. Both Propublica and The Philadelphia Inquirer have pulled together many stories of ICE agents committing racial profiling, conducting warrantless searches, holding people without cause, fabricating evidence, and using bribery to achieve their objectives. “But in none of these cases have agents or officers been put on the stand to respond to the allegations,” write Dale Russakoff and Deborah Sontag, two journalists behind these stories.
As for why the tribunals are being held to address this issue rather than pursuing real trials, this is just part of a large trend for calling “truth to power” and holding the government accountable.
As Richard Falk, Princeton professor of international law, said, such tribunals “have emerged to fill the normative vacuum created by the hypocrisies of international justice.” The history of such trials goes back to 1967 when Jean-paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell held a People’s Tribunal to address the U.S. military’s culpability in war crimes during the Vietnam War. In that same year, rather than arranging for a destructive protest, or what many saw as a likely ineffective attempt to get justice in a real courtroom, organizers held a People’s Tribunal to judge what happened in Detroit during what was known as the Algiers Motel Killings. There, white police officers killed three black teenagers and badly beat others at the scene.
In more recent times, Monsanto was put on trial at a People’s Tribunal at The Hague in the Netherlands. The charges were related to Monsanto’s alleged criminal acts in making and selling glyphosate and other chemicals, such as DDT, 4,5-T (part of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange), and the bovine growth hormone despite knowing the high likelihood of broad harm with their use. As the tribunal organizers noted about what they were trying there, “Monsanto promotes an agroindustrial model that contributes at least one third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions; it is also largely responsible for the depletion of soil and water resources, species extinction and declining biodiversity, and the displacement of millions of small farmers worldwide. This is a model that threatens people’s food sovereignty by patenting seeds and privatizing life.” When the tribunal ruled, it found Monsanto guilty of multiple crimes against humanity.
In the El Paso tribunal about ICE, there were four jury members, three expert witnesses and a collection of evidence provided by numerous detainees and their families. There, ICE was on trial for three charges:
• The agency does not fulfill its legal obligations to migrants in its custody.
• It does not live up to moral and ethical standards of the surrounding community.
• It oversees an inherently dehumanizing, exploitative and destructive system.
Nellie Alvarado, a 42-year-old El Paso native, was one of those who testified at this tribunal. Her husband, Oscar, had been shot by an unknown attacker and then asked for asylum when coming across the U.S. border in Juárez, Mexico, in 2015. He had tried to ask for help on the Mexico side, but the officials did not believe his story of what had happened to him. After making it across the border, he was taken to a hospital, treated and then put into ICE custody while awaiting a decision from ICE regarding his asylum.
Oscar Alvarado eventually spent 16 months in detention, including 33 days in solitary confinement.
According to Nellie, Oscar was treated badly from the moment ICE got their hands on him. He was given inadequate medical treatment for the gunshot wound. Then, while in custody, although diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, he was given insufficient access to medication for anxiety and sometimes missed doses. He lost weight, was blocked from access to anyone for large periods of time and had poor care throughout. When Nellie finally saw him after he was eventually deported to Juárez, she “expected to find the man who went in, but the man who came out was different.” She said he was very quiet, didn’t talk much and spoke of suicide.
All this happened despite ICE’S claims that all “detainees … can expect timely and appropriate responses to emergent medical requests” and that “ICE takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care.”
Another man who also testified at El Paso was JeanClaude, who had come from the Ivory Coast and sought asylum. He was held in detention for almost a year. During that time, he received poor treatment, was isolated and rarely knew what was happening with ICE. As he said during the tribunal, “Detention has killed everything in me – my soul and my spirit.” Despite those feelings, Jean-claude was one of those fortunate enough to eventually be granted asylum. He now lives in Maryland as a “free” man but is still affected psychologically by all that happened to him while he was being held.
After hearing about Oscar Alvarado, Jean-claude and others, the jury at the El Paso tribunal found ICE guilty on all three counts. The jury further called for the community to press the government to abolish ICE, shut down the detention centers and help those who are still being detained.
As for the future, awareness of what is happening with ICE and the government in general is a major first step. Next comes making sure the word spreads about the abuse of power that ICE is demonstrating, along with the illegal actions it takes while holding individuals. After that comes a call to action at the highest levels of government.
Whether all of these steps can happen with Trump and Sessions in charge in their respective positions is unclear. As for the DWN, its role in helping people learn about all the things ICE and the detention system are doing with asylum seekers is just the beginning.
American Responsibility for Refugees
The United States is not responsible for creating the conditions that drive every refugee to leave their home, but it is certainly responsible for a large portion.
Many of those entering the U.S. illegally or overstaying visas do so because they have no better options.
A century of U.S. interference in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala has ensured that the countries have no hope for real democracy and will be unable to liberate themselves from the Cia-controlled drug gangs that rule them.
In Nicaragua, U.S. interference has compelled the population to put with the corrupt regime of Daniel Ortega because the alternative is far worse.
In Mexico, Cia-orchestrated drug gangs have corrupted virtually every level of government and continue to terrorize the nation.
U.S. support of Saudi Arabia and its rabid form of Islam — Wahhabism, has created a global campaign of violence and Islamization that is driving people out of their home countries not just in the Middle East but also in Europe and Africa.
Many other countries have been impoverished and/ or corrupted by predatory development lending by the World Bank, IMF and Wall Street that were engineered to primarily benefit U.S. corporations and manufacture poverty.
Discouraging illegal immigrants through brutality degrades the entire nation. A better approach is to stop interfering in other countries and creating the conditions that drive illegal immigration.
It is time that the United States acknowledge the consequences of its "America First" foreign policy, accept responsibility for the damage it has caused and start undoing some of the damage that continues to drive people from their homes.