New Jersey: End your contracts with ICE now!

New Jersey’s counties are making money with their contracts with ICE. That needs to end. Immigration detainees are held at county jails in Essex, Bergen and Hudson Counties. A private detention facility in Elizabeth also holds immigration detainees. In Hudson County, the two decades old contract for housing immigration detainees at the Hudson County jail in Kearny has a potential 2020 end date.

More than 90 percent of the Hudson detainees used to live in New York, and are being housed in the Kearney while their cases are being argued. Hudson County freeholders (a board of elected representatives for the counties in the state of New Jersey, which is unique to the state) voted 6-3 to put a 2020 end date on the contract, requiring freeholder approval if the county wants to extend it further.

Some have argued that the end of the contract would force the relocation of the undocumented to other facilities, at ICE’s discretion. For the 650 immigrant detainees at the jail, that would mean losing access to immigration advocates. According to Jersey City’s immigrant attorney Eugene Squeo, “If I had no contact with any of the detainees, my position would be clear: Close the facility down. The problem is I’ve come to realize these immigrants have legal services provided by New York, and those attorneys have a success ratio of about 50 percent. For detainees who do not have representation, that drops to about 5 percent.”

Other advocacy groups, including the American Friends Service Committee and the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, have long favored ending the contract to house detainees in Hudson County. The criticism that has been heaped upon those who are hesitant to end such contracts has been – surpise — money.

Freeholder Bill O’Dea, who voted against the resolution because he wanted more changes than the potential end date, noted, “Whatever anyone says about not closing the facility, their first motivation is the money. I’m not opposed to keeping this facility open until 2020, but you have to take the profit out. You’ve got to reprogram those dollars to pay for better benefits for the detainees.”

Exactly how much money do these counties make by housing detainees? On July 11th, Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholder voted 5 to 2 to approve a new 10-year contract giving ICE the authority to continue detaining 800 immigrants in Kearny, New Jersey. The new contract would raise the rate that ICE pays the county from $77 inmate per day to $120 per day. If all 800 beds are kept full, the county stands to make $35 million per year.

The County Freeholders are well aware of the abysmal conditions inside Hudson County Correctional Facility where ICE pays for the space. In the past year alone, four people detained their committed suicide. Numerous reports document the inhumane conditions, including food with maggots, dirty drinking water and insufficient medical care.

Neighboring Bergen and Essex Counties also take in millions of dollars each year from housing immigrant detainees. Between 2015 and 2018, the three counties raked in over $150 million. Since Trump took office, the annual take has increased by 46%. New Jersey, end your contracts with ICE NOW!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Socialist Worker) (Photo Credit 2: Monsy Alvarado / NorthJersey.com)

Australia, England, the United States build a global place of torture for migrant children: Tear it down!

Recently the war on children intensified to formally include torture. Australia kidnapped a 17-year-old boy clearly at risk of suicide and dumped him and his mother in Nauru. England faces a law suit for its “catastrophic failure” when it dumped a 16-year-old Vietnamese survivor of labor trafficking into immigration detention, Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre, where he was sexually assaulted. There was no catastrophic failure. There was hostile environment hatred and torture. This week, the United States announced that it would separate immigrant asylum seeking parents and children at the border. According to reports today, the government plans on sending the children to military bases, mostly in Texas. As two psychologists noted today, “The practice of separating families at the border is morally reprehensible and — based on the science — goes against international and U.S. law, because the suffering it inflicts constitutes torture of children.” One shouldn’t need a psychologist to know that the detention of children is bad for them. One shouldn’t need a psychologist or a pediatrician. One need only be human.

Fatemah and her 17-year-old son, Hamid, have been on Nauru for more than five years. Fatemah needs critical heart surgery. She has been waiting 18 months for the surgery. She refused to leave her son behind. Finally, two months ago, both were transferred to Taiwan. While in Taiwan, Hamid was examined. He suffers severe mental illness “caused and exacerbated by his detention.” Against all doctors’ advice, on Tuesday, before sunrise, Fatemah and Hamid were returned to Nauru.

Fatemah described the situation: “I’m a single mother of a 17 year old son. For 17 years I have been both mother and father to him. I fled from violations and insecurity caused by the Iranian government, but I never imagined that me and my son’s spirt would be wounded so deeply at a place of torture made by the Australian government … Look at what the Australian government has done to us! My son says to me, `Let’s attempt suicide together’ … He believes the only way to freedom is in death. I have sympathy for all the mothers and their children who live in Nauru. We are preyed on and our lives are subjected to cruelty … I don’t know what to say about the way the Australian government has treated us. I have been officially accepted as a refugee but still live in a tent. If I was imprisoned as a criminal in a third world country, that government would provide me with basic facilities … I only have these questions for you. Are you treating Australian murderers, rapists and smugglers the way you treat us? Have you kept them in 50 degree heat in a tent where water is dripping from the roof? … How many more people will be sacrificed before the Australian government realises the way it treats us is a crime?”

In England, in 2017, 44 children were detained. Of the 44, 20 were 11 or younger. Of the 44 children, 11 were deported: “The other 33 were put through the ordeal of imprisonment without any `departure’ at the end of it.” That’s the current overall situation. Last week, the story of H, a Vietnamese youth, emerged. At the age of 16, H was trafficked to work on a cannabis farm, in England. He was abused, violated, deeply hurt. Finally he was arrested, charged, convicted, sent to a young offenders’ institution and then on to Morton Hall, where, in 2016, he was sexually assaulted by his cell mate. The staff at Morton Hall did nothing to assist or support H, nor did they investigate. Only when attorneys began calling, recently, did Morton Hall begin to begin an internal inquiry.

H explains his situation: “My time in immigration detention was awful. After this incident, I was really paranoid that other detainees would hurt me all of the time. I felt scared all the time and I found it very difficult to sleep or eat. Morton Hall staff do not protect the detainees. Although terrible things have happened to me in the past, the effect of immigration detention made this even worse.”

This week, the United States announced it would intensify and increase the separation of immigrant children and parents. The government claims that, since October 1,  700 or so children were separated from their parents. Recently, the numbers have risen, and the State promises a steep increase. Mirian, 29 years old, and her 18-month-old child fled violence in Honduras. She reached the border, hoping for asylum, and her 18-month-old baby was taken away: “I had no idea that I would be separated from my child for seeking help. I am so anxious to be reunited with him.”

This is our world: a place of torture where nation-States take children from their parents and dump both in separate hell holes, all in the name of national integrity. The policies are cruel and criminal. When will we stop the torture of the innocents? Who will pay for the damage done to their psyches and souls? How many more will be sacrificed?

 

(Photo Credit: New York Times / Hope Hall / ACLU)

What happened to Teresa Gratton? Just another woman lost in Canada’s immigrant detention

 

On October 23, 50-year-old Teresa Michelle Gratton wrote a letter to her husband Herb Gratton, her partner of 32 years, “PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HERE I DON’T BELONG HERE!! HELP ME! HELP ME! PLEASE!!!!!! … I don’t see how they can continue to keep me locked up like a criminal. I have no charges. I had already paid my time for my crime. I’ll leave Canada if that’s what it comes to, but let me out until that’s what’s desided (sic) if it comes to that.” A week later, on October 30, Teresa Gratton – beloved mother, grandmother, wife, life partner, permanent resident of Canada – was “found in medical distress”. Herb Gratton received a phone call, “Your wife died.” That was all that was said. To this day, the family does not know, and demands to know, what happened to their loved one. What happened to Teresa Gratton? The State murdered her. Canada murdered her. The global system of `immigrant detention’ her. To the extent that the system of immigrant detention continues, we all had a hand in murdering Teresa Gratton.

Everything about Teresa Gratton’s story is familiar, the entire spectacular of State indignity, brutality, and silence, with the family’s anguish as backdrop and soundtrack.

Herb Gratton, 58 years old, was born in Canada. When he was 13, he and his mother moved to Nashville, Tennessee. In 1985, he met Teresa. He says for him it was love at first sight. They dated, the moved in together, they started a family. They have three sons, Matthew, now 30 years old; Stan, 27; and Jacob, 24. Matthew and Stan are married with children. After 18 years together, Herb and Teresa were formally married, in 2003. Not long after, they moved to Canada. Herb, Matthew, Stan, Jacob, and all their children, are Canadian citizens. Teresa Gratton had been a legal permanent resident in Canada since 2011.

In 2004, Herb Gratton suffered a back injury. The couple’s financial situation deteriorated. Teresa Gratton worked off and on as a house cleaner. Teresa Gratton lived with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, which resulted in chronic pain, and anxiety and depression. She relied on hydromorphone, an opioid, which she obtained legally.

Teresa Gratton had a series of minor run ins with the criminal justice system. At the advice of her attorney, she pled out. That resulted in Teresa Gratton suddenly ending up in the immigrant detention system. Despite all evidence to the contrary, she was deemed a flight risk, and so was moved from was transferred from the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in London, where her family lives, to the maximum security wing of Vanier Centre for Women, nearly 100 miles away. Herb Gratton doesn’t have a car. No one informed Herbert Gratton of the move. He had no idea where his wife was until she called him from Vanier.

Teresa Gratton was transferred on October 1 or 2. On October 30, she was dead. In the interim, she wrote daily letters to her husband, describing the torturous conditions in maximum security. A former resident recalls Vanier: “You go in wanting to kill yourself and the conditions just make you want to kill yourself more.” A former immigrant detainee of Vanier describes it as “terrible. There is nothing there…. Prisoners can only go outside twice a week for fresh air, for like 5 minutes… that’s it. We didn’t see sun, we didn’t see sky.”

Why was Teresa Gratton sent to Vanier Centre for Women? To die. Since 2000, at least 17 people have died in Canada’s immigrant detention system. In 2013, Lucia Vega Jimenez was found hanging from a shower stall in the `immigration holding center’ at the Vancouver airport. Reporters, friends, advocates asked many questions. Silence. Lucia Vega Jimenez’ case was a cause celebre, and yet here we are, four years later, and Teresa Gratton is dead, and her family, to this day, awaits information, something more than, “Your wife is dead.” Something more than silence. Something to answer their loved one, Teresa Gratton, crying, screaming in agony, “PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HERE I DON’T BELONG HERE!! HELP ME! HELP ME! PLEASE!!!!!!” PLEASE!!!!!!

 

(Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Jackson / Toronto Star) (Video Credit: YouTube / Toronto Star)

 

#ShutDownBerks: The Mothers of Berks and their children do not want to die

Yesterday, ICE agents took a 25-year-old Honduran woman and her five-year-old son from Berks County “Residential” Center, dumped them on a plane and sent them back to Honduras. The two fled Honduras after the mother witnessed her cousin being murdered, after which local gangs threatened her life and that of her child. She and her son fled to the United States. They were detained initially in Texas, and then sent to Berks, in Pennsylvania, where they’ve spent a little more than the last 16 months. That means her son has spent a little over a quarter of his life imprisoned in Berks for the crime of living with a mother who only wants the best for her son.

Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey spent yesterday trying to prevent the deportation, to no avail: “If they are really, with limited resources, going to focus on 5-year-olds instead of criminals, what kind of homeland security is that?” Attorney Bridget Cambria spent yesterday in court trying to protect the child: “We applied for the child this week who had qualified for a special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS) and brought it to ICE and the courts and we were in court today. We literally were arguing to include this child while immigration was watching the plane take off.” This is just another tragic story of yet another mother and child in Berks (or Dilley or Karnes), fleeing abuse, abused by the State. But then Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly stood up this morning and explained it all. No one deported that woman and that child, they were deported by something called the law: “You have to understand that ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security, John Kelly, I don’t, we don’t deport people. The law deports people.”

The law deports people.

The law does not deport people. People with guns deport people. The law does not persuade a terrified woman and her terrorized five-year-old son to move from the misery of Berks to the hell awaiting her in Honduras. The law does not terrorize children and then call the architecture of terror a “residential center” or a “family center”. Men with guns do all that.

Someone once wrote,

“The ministers lie, the professors lie, the television lies, the priests lie.
What are these lies?
They mean that the country wants to die …
These lies mean that something in the nation wants to die.”

The Mothers of Berks do not want to die, they are not the something in the nation that wants to die. Last October, 17 U.S. Senators, including Senator Casey, sent a letter to the previous Homeland Security Secretary urging him to close Berks, for the sake of the women and children inside Berks … and outside as well. This Tuesday, Senator Casey led nine other senators and 13 members of the House of Representatives in calling for the release of four mothers and their children, ranging in age from 3 to 16 years. Wednesday, he received his response. The law deported a 25-year-old woman and her 5-year-old son. Not us, not us, the law. You must understand. #ShutDownBerks

 

(Image Credit 1: End Family Detention) (Image Credit 2: PRI / Dan Carino)

#ShutDownBerks: The United States of Abandonment Devours Three Year-Old Immigrant Children

When three-year-old child Catherine Checas vomited blood, Berks staff told her mother to have her ‘drink lots of water’.

Last week, from Wednesday until Saturday, the Berks County Residential Center held a 3-year-old boy-child from El Salvador without his mother. He was only released because of the intervention of local immigration attorney Carol Ann Donahoe. Otherwise, that three-year-old would still be behind bars, alone. The State will tell you mistakes happen. There was no mistake here. This is part of the establishment of the United States of Abandonment, and it now reaches to three-year old children.

The story here is that the boy’s 21-year-old mother was taken to hospital, and so the boy was left behind. That’s it. No one thought to call the mother’s contacts or attorney or anyone. In fact, the three-year-old is now in Virginia, where his grandmother lives. Again, that only happened because of the strenuous labor on the part of attorneys and supporters. If you want to know what the climate, call it reign of terror, is inside Berks, the mother “asked that her name not be used because she feared repercussions from staff.”

Carol Anne Donohoe remarked, “This is outrageous. Picture a 3-year-old being detained without his mother, who is in the hospital. He has no idea what that means at the age of 3.” According to Donohoe, after three or four days of “State care”, the child is “emotionally traumatized”, not eating, throwing tantrums and kicking at doors. This is how we take care of children.

Picture a 3-year-old.

Earlier this year, an immigration judge, who is also responsible for training other judges, stated, in a sworn deposition, that immigrant 3- and 4-year olds can represent themselves in court, “I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.” The Legal Aid Justice Center, in Virginia, decided to picture the 3-year old and the 4-year old, and filmed them answering questions of law. The children failed … brilliantly and adorably, conclusively and predictably as well. Three short months later, a 3-year-old is left to fend for himself in prison.

This is the United States of Abandonment: “Zones of abandonment … accelerate the death of the unwanted.” These are the unwanted: “the mentally ill and homeless, AIDS patients, the unproductive young, and old bodies.” Add to that the Central American woman, and the list is complete.

Can a three-year-old represent herself in immigration court? No. Can a three-year-old take care of himself in immigration detention? No. No ethical human being can ask those questions. The questions are criminal. The posing of the questions is beyond inhumane. Nothing out of the ordinary happened in Berks last week. A three-year-old was traumatized, again, just like the four-year old boy-child last year in Karnes. A young mother was traumatized into anonymity and silence, again. The inhuman geography of the United States of Abandonment spreads and intensifies. End the carnage now. #ShutDownBerks #EndFamilyDetention #Not1More

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian) (Video Credit: Legal Aid Justice Center / Vimeo)

Texas built a special hell for immigrant women and children

Today, December 18, 2014, is International Migrants Day. On December 18, 1990, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. What better way to honor that convention than to build the biggest, baddest prison for migrant women and children? Welcome to Texas, welcome to the United States of America, welcome to hell.

Here’s how the United States builds hell. First, constitute migrants and immigrants as a threat. Include asylum seekers and refugees in this. Then, quickly translate threat into criminal element. Then build the prisons, et voilà! Hell! Homeland Security keeps building prisons for immigrants and migrants. It builds “family detention centers” for women and children. It then outsources the job to a limited number of mega companies. They keep failing at the job and then keep getting new contracts. The prisons keep “running into difficulties”, ranging from lack of health care and education and recreational facilities to overcrowding to sexual exploitation and violence by the staff.

Early this week, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson toured a site in Dilley, Texas, that `promises’ to be the largest “family residential center” in the country. By end of May, it will hold 2400 “family members,” overwhelmingly women and children, overwhelmingly from Central America. Meanwhile, earlier in December, after some debate and resistance, Karnes County agreed to expand its “family residence” from under 600 to close to 1200 beds. Forcing children and women to live behind razor wire is a growth industry in south Texas this year. Homeland Security sees dropping children into cages as “a deterrent.”

Here’s a typical story from Karnes: “Ana and Victor are from El Salvador, and along with their mother, Alta Gracias, and their 2-year-old brother, Martín, they have been held at the Karnes detention facility for over two months … As the years passed and her children grew up, Alta worried about raising her children in an environment rife with extreme poverty and violence … She was afraid her daughter’s pretty face and her son’s rambunctious spirit would get them into trouble. So she did what any good parent would do: look for a brighter future for her children. Because her husband was already in the United States, it seemed like the best option, despite the hazardous journey.”

Here’s another typical story from Karnes: “This fall, Zadia and her son Jose came to the United States to escape years of physical abuse by her common-law husband. With the help of members of their church, Zadia and Jose fled Honduras. But rather than find refuge, they have been locked up for the last seven weeks in Karnes City, Texas, at one of the federal government’s new detention centers for migrant families.”

The typical is actually worse. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and others have written letters, filed complaints, and sued the Federal government because of the conditions at Karnes. MALDEF has documented numerous cases of sexual abuse, extortion and harassment of women. The ACLU cites numerous women, who fled domestic violence at home, only to be locked behind bars in Texas.

None of this is new. It repeats the violence against women that marked T. Don Hutto Residential Center, five years ago also in Texas, and the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona and the Artesia “Family Residential Center” in New Mexico. Everyone of them a colossal snake pit of sexual violence, extortion, harassment of women and children. Everyone of them a death-in-life sentence for hundreds and thousands of children and their mothers. Each time the violence is “discovered”, the “residents” are shipped like so much cargo to the next killing field.

Honor International Migrants Day by celebrating the miracle of freedom, freedom of movement, association, life, choice and love. Celebrate the miracle of being truly human. Close the prisons. Tear down the walls. Beat the guns into plowshares and the barbed wire and batons into pruning hooks. Welcome the migrants with open arms. Welcome the stranger as yourself.

 

(Image Credit: NewInt.org)

Who tied the knot that killed Lucia Vega Jimenez?

42-year-old Mexican immigrant Lucia Vega Jimenez died on December 28, 2013. On December 20, she was found hanging from a shower stall in the `immigration holding center’ at the Vancouver airport. Apparently, she had been hanging, without oxygen, for at least 40 minutes, before she was cut down and sent to hospital. Who tied the knot? Canada. The global system of `immigrant detention’. Everyone.

Everything about Lucia Vega Jimenez’s story is familiar. And it doesn’t end with her death.

In 2010, Jimenez had applied for asylum in Canada, was rejected and deported. She returned to Canada in the Spring of 2013, got a job, off the books, as a hotel cleaner, kept her head down and her nose to the grindstone. Described by a friend as a `ghost’ in Vancouver, Jimenez worked and saved money to send home to her ailing mother, sister and her sister’s three children. In late December, she was picked up for not paying bus fare, and then was flipped over to `the authorities.’ They shuttled her off to jail, and then to the holding cell, a private facility in the basement of the airport, and there she ended her life. While in detention, the money she’d saved `disappeared.’

The CBSA did not release any information for almost a month, and the `information’ has been obstructionist and opaque. So, the world asks questions.

A reporter asked: “How often were detainees checked? Were those checks visual inspections? Were there cameras monitoring the cells? Does the CBSA put out press releases at the death of a detainee (which has happened several times in the past), and is there legislation that bounds the agency to announce the death of a detainee? What is the CBSA policy regarding visitors to the YVR [Vancouver International Airport] holding center? Are lawyers, family, friends, John Howard Society, religious counsel, etc. allowed in?”

No answer was forthcoming.

Friends and advocates want to know what happened. Why did no one see Lucia Vega Jimenez for at least 40 some minutes? The Mexican government wants to know what happens to its citizens in `holding centers’. The Mexican Consul-General, Claudia Franco Hijuelos, has a particular interest: “She was fearful of going back to Mexico – not to the country, but specifically to some domestic situation that she might face. That is why we provided some options for her of transition houses where she might be housed. She considered the options and she chose one of those options. Everything was set for her to fly directly to that city in Mexico where the transition house would receive her.” According to the Consul-General, Vega “seemed to be accepting the situation.”

What happened? The questions of time – how long it took to find Vega, how long it took to `report’ her death – are part and parcel of the structure of gendered indignity for immigrant women. Four years ago, a study on health, access to services and working conditions for undocumented migrants in Canada noted: “The effects of being non-status are invariably gendered. Non-status women have been noted to be extremely vulnerable to poverty, unemployment, poor and unstable living conditions, danger, exploitation, abuse, and high risk or complications during pregnancy. Lack of status limits women’s ability to access information, seek social assistance, counseling or health care, which contributes to their reliance on unsafe and underground employment or informal networks to obtain housing … Generally, non-status women have also been noted to experience more language barriers, social isolation, and fear, in addition to lack of control over partner abuse and the effects of this on their children. In relation to policies, regularization programs and other immigration policies have been noted to reinforce dominant power relations that consequently subjugate women as dependents of their opposite sex partners.”

Lucia Vega Jimenez lived, and died, the life of the undocumented women immigrant. Precarious doesn’t begin to cover it. But she persevered. And the State? The State chose to “reinforce dominant power … that subjugates women.”

 

(Image Credit: http://sanctuaryhealth.blogspot.com)