Tag Archives: homeland security

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke could head Homeland Security

Donald Trump met with Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke at Trump Tower Monday afternoon, presumably to discuss tapping Clarke for a position in his administration. Insiders say the bizarre head of Milwaukee County law enforcement is under consideration to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

Like Trump, Clarke is a lightning rod of the radical right who is known nationally for his history of making shocking statements and engaging in outrageous behavior.

Although Clarke runs as a Democrat, his right-wing Republican beliefs are known nationwide. He addressed the Republican National Convention over the summer with a fiery conservative speech that  drew a standing ovation. Clarke is a frequent guest on Fox News and a well-known personality on right-wing talk radio. He has his own program on The Blaze network that’s called The People’s Sheriff.

In October, when it seemed as if Trump would lose his race against Hillary Clinton, Clarke urged his Twitter followers to take up their “pitchforks and torches” against her in case she won.

Clarke, who is African American, frequently blasts Black Lives Matter as a “vile” and “slimy” racist group. He condemns what he calls the “ghetto” culture of African-American neighborhoods in the inner city.

Clarke sets himself apart from other urbanites — both black and white — by degrading blacks and often appearing in public wearing cowboy boots and a 10-gallon cowboy hat. The costume matches his John Wayne-style tough talk, including the boast that he’d increase Gitmo’s population to 1 million as Secretary of Homeland Security.

Clarke provides cover for the racist right wing of the Republican Party, wrote Congresswoman Gwen Moore in an op-ed.

“It’s clear that Fox News and Sheriff Clarke have developed a symbiotic relationship,” Moore wrote. “He needs the cable news network for its national platform; Fox needs a black sheriff to give voice to the dog-whistle narratives its anchors dare not vocalize themselves.”

Also like Trump, Clarke is well known for his temper tantrums and unfiltered remarks. Using a school-boy insult later borrowed by Trump, Clarke once questioned the size of Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s genitalia.

Clarke was widely criticized for cutting security for President Obama when he visited Milwaukee. After one of his budget requests was denied, Clarke asked Milwaukee County citizens to take up arms and essentially become vigilantes to help his understaffed squad of deputies enforce the law. At the same time, his deputies were conducting sting operations to entrap gay men on sexual charges in public parks.

Clarke has a penchant for filing frivolous right-wing lawsuits that amuse his white, suburban Republican base but have cost county taxpayers over $400,000.

But there have also been numerous lawsuits filed against him. The latest prospective suit comes from Shadé Swayzer, the mother of a newborn who died in Milwaukee County Jail last July.

Swayzer’s lawyer wrote that she told a corrections officer she was going into labor around midnight, but that the officer laughed and ignored her, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office contends that Swayzer never told jail staff she was going into labor. The company responsible for medical care at the jail has said Swayzer’s child was stillborn.

But Swayzer insists her child was “born alive, cried profusely and was breastfed.”

The infant was one of four people who’ve died in a Milwaukee County jail cell since April — and one of 12 who’ve died there since he took office. In September, a man died of dehydration in the jail after guards ignored his pleas for water.

Milwaukee County Supervisor Supreme Moore Omokunde has called for Clarke’s resignation over the deaths.

“The simple fact that four deaths have occurred in a six month period under his watch demonstrates that Sheriff David Clarke is unfit to manage the Milwaukee County Jail,” Omokunde said. “Media reports and the statements of witnesses indicate that at least three of the deaths appear to have occurred as a result of actions or inaction by Sheriff Clarke’s corrections officers.  Yet not a single officer has been disciplined, and Sheriff Clarke remains silent. This is totally unacceptable.

“Accountability starts at the top. Sheriff Clarke has failed to establish a culture of professionalism, has failed to call for independent investigations when warranted, and he has abdicated his responsibility to hold his officers accountable for their actions or lack of action. He should resign immediately.”

For all of these reasons,, Clarke will face a contentious battle for confirmation by the Senate, if Clarke should nominate him for a cabinet-level position.

“David Clarke is extremist, bombastic and incompetent at his job,” said Scot Ross, executive director of the progressive group One Wisconsin Now.

“David Clarke with his speeches filled with bombast, childish insults and advocacy for Tea Party extremism aren’t making anyone safer,” Ross continued. “His actions and his rhetoric are Exhibit A of the dangerous extremism being abided by the leaders of today’s Republican Party.”

 

‘High threat’ Texas border busts aren’t always

Drivers in Texas busted for drunken driving, not paying child support or low-level drug offenses are among thousands of “high-threat” criminal arrests being counted as part of a nearly $1 billion mission to secure the border with Mexico, an Associated Press analysis has found.

Having once claimed that conventional crime data doesn’t fully capture the dangers to public safety and homeland security, the Texas Department of Public Safety classified more than 1,800 offenders arrested near the border by highway troopers in 2015 as “high threat criminals.”

But not all live up to that menacing label or were anywhere close to the border — and they weren’t caught entering the country illegally, as Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is Texas’ chairman for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, has suggested.

In response to the AP’s findings, the Department of Public Safety said it will recommend removing child support evaders from the list and signaled a willingness to stop classifying other arrests as “high threat.”

However, it defended the data overall, saying it isn’t intended to measure border security, even though the figures are included in briefings to lawmakers.

“It’s deceptive to say the least,” Democratic state Rep. Terry Canales, from the border city of Edinburg, said of the data. “I would say it’s shocking that a person arrested with a small amount of cocaine in Odessa is used to show supposedly high-threat criminal arrests on the Texas-Mexico border.”

The AP used open records laws to obtain a list of 2015 Texas Highway Patrol arrests classified as “high threat” in a broad 60-county area that the DPS has defined as the border region, then reviewed online court and jail records for cases in Hidalgo and El Paso counties, which had the most such arrests.

Among the “high threat” incidents was a trailer that unlatched from an RV and rolled into oncoming traffic, killing another driver in a town more than 150 miles from the border. Other crimes lumped in with suspected killers and human traffickers were speeding teenagers and hit-and-runs that caused no serious injuries.

Republican leaders have used crime, smuggling and immigration data to justify an intensified deployment of troopers, armored boats and spy planes to the border since 2014. And Trump’s promises to wall off the border with Mexico resonate with many in Texas, where Republican lawmakers tripled border security spending last year, and in 2017 will consider approving another $1 billion.

A threat overview published by DPS in 2013 defined high-threat criminals as “individuals whose criminal activity poses a serious public safety or homeland security threat.” But about 40 “high threat” offenses can be overly broad. For instance, nearly half the 2015 arrests were for possession of a controlled substance, but DPS doesn’t distinguish between a gram of cocaine and a drug smuggler’s 50 pounds of marijuana. And failure to pay child support is included with sex crimes under offenses against the family.

High-threat arrests, which are tracked statewide, are among nearly three dozen “border security related” metrics collected by DPS, according to agency briefings given to lawmakers.

But DPS Director Steve McCraw told the AP that high-threat data isn’t used to assess border security but rather is included in briefings for the sake of transparency. McCraw said the term “high threat” was never meant to suggest only the worst of the worst, but rather to distinguish more serious crimes.

“I don’t care, we can change the name,” McCraw said. “Just so long as, internally, we have a way of differentiating.”

Hidalgo County, in the Rio Grande Valley, is one of the busiest corridors for drug and human trafficking in the U.S., and where Texas deployed an influx of troopers, National Guard patrols and camera surveillance. While dozens of 161 high-threat arrests for drug possession were alleged pot smugglers, about 1 in 5 were charged with having less than a gram or other low-level drug charges. Drunken drivers who didn’t pull over are also counted the same as fleeing traffickers.

In El Paso County, more than half of 190 high-threat arrests last year were for drug offenses. Of those, about three in 10 were arrests for less than a gram of drugs such as cocaine or small amounts of marijuana.

Some lawmakers, including members of Texas’ House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety, said they didn’t pay attention to high-threat arrests and that the data isn’t included in high-level briefings.

But following a border visit in March, Patrick incorrectly tweeted that DPS had arrested about 14,000 high-threat criminals in the previous year. Patrick senior adviser Sherry Sylvester said the lieutenant governor had been “unintentionally unclear,” but then herself falsely described the arrests as “criminal illegal aliens” who she said pose a “serious threat to public safety in Texas.”

Supreme Court will review Obama’s executive order on immigration

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to review President Barack Obama’s December 2014 executive order granting up to 5 million undocumented residents the right to work legally in the United States, including 34,000 in Wisconsin.

The justices said they’ll consider the constitutionality of Obama’s plan, which lower courts blocked from taking effect after 26 Republican governors, including Scott Walker, filed suit against it. The court’s announcement comes amid a presidential campaign in which anti-immigrant fervor has galvanized the Republican Party.

AP reported the case will be argued in April and decided by late June, a month before the major political parties hold their nominating conventions.

Immigration reform groups were buoyed by the high court’s announcement, despite its 5–4 conservative majority. Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of the Milwaukee-based immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera, said she’s expecting a favorable decision because the president’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program stands on strong constitutional ground.

“What (Obama’s) doing is not changing the law, but making a choice about priorities in terms of how we should use our immigration resources,” explained Neumann-Ortiz. “(The president’s) providing protection from deportation for five millions people. It’s not a permanent solution. That can only come from Congress. But it gives people three-year renewable visas, valid social security numbers and access to drivers’ licenses.”

Democratic officials also praised the court’s action. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said that “law-abiding men and women continue to live in constant fear of being separated from their children. These families must be allowed to step out of the shadows and fully contribute to the country that they love and call home.”

At the center of the litigation is Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program. It would allow people who have been in the United States more than five years and who have children who are in the country legally to “come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

Obama’s Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. contends that blocking Obama’s plans forces millions of people “to continue to work off the books, without the option of lawful employment to provide for their families.”

So far, the federal courts have blocked the administration from issuing work permits and allowing immigrants to receive some federal benefits. But Neumann-Ortiz said the legal jurisdictions that have been involved so far are untra-conservative and biased.

The case originated in the Western District of Texas and lost its second appeal at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

If the Supreme Court does side with the administration, that would leave only about seven months in Obama’s presidency to implement his plans. “We are confident that the policies will be upheld as lawful,” White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine told AP after the court’s action today.

Initially, the Obama administration said Texas and the other states that filed to block the immigration action didn’t have the right to challenge the plan in federal court. The lower courts decided, however, that Texas does have the standing to sue because at least 500,000 people living in the state would qualify for work permits and become eligible for driver licenses, the cost of which are subsidized by the state. “Texas would incur millions of dollars in costs,” the state said in its brief to the Supreme Court.

Texas asked the Supreme Court not to hear the case, but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was pleased the justices will examine the president’s constitutional power to intercede without congressional approval.

The future of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally has been much discussed by Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton has pledged to go further than Obama to protect large groups of immigrants from deportation.

Republican candidate Donald Trump has proposed deporting all people who are living in the U.S. illegally, an idea embraced by some GOP candidates and dismissed by others.

Obama said he was spurred to act on his own by Congress’ failure to pass comprehensive immigration legislation. An earlier program that is not being challenged, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, shields immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. Under that program, more than 720,000 young immigrants have been granted permission to live and work legally in the United States.

The White House also has shifted its enforcement actions to focus on criminals, those who pose a threat to national security or public safety, and recent border-crossers.

The change means that people who are here illegally but who are not otherwise violating the law are less likely to face deportation.

About 235,000 people were deported in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

That was the smallest number since 2006 and a 42 percent drop since a record high of more than 409,000 in 2012.

Still, the administration drew criticism from Democrats and immigration advocates for raids this month that resulted in the arrest of more than 120 immigrants from Central America who came to the country illegally since 2014. Those recent arrivals are not among immigrants who would benefit from Obama’s plan.

Homeland Security planning immigration raids in early 2016

The Homeland Security Department is planning nationwide raids aimed at deporting adults and children who have already been ordered removed by an immigration judge.

The Washington Post reported that the operation from Immigration and Customs Enforcement would begin as soon as next month and would likely affect hundreds of immigrants who fled violence in Central America since the start of 2014.

ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen would not comment on the details of the Post report. In a statement, Christensen said that as part of civil enforcement priorities announced by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson in November 2014, the agency will focus on individuals “who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.”

That group includes people who have been caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally and those who have been ordered removed from the country since January 2014.

“As Secretary Johnson has consistently said, our border is not open to illegal immigration, and if individuals come here illegally, do not qualify for asylum or other relief, and have final orders of removal, they will be sent back consistent with our laws and our values,” she said.

The Obama administration disclosed that in the 2015 budget year, the U.S. deported the fewest immigrants since 2006.

ICE said that of the 235,413 people removed or returned during that time period, 98 percent met one or more of ICE’s enforcement priorities.

In a statement from his presidential campaign, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “I am very disturbed by reports that the government may commence raids to deport families who have fled here to escape violence in Central America. As we spend time with our families this holiday season, we who are parents should ask ourselves what we would do if our children faced the danger and violence these children do? How far would we go to protect them?

“Our nation has always been a beacon of hope, a refuge for the oppressed. We cannot turn our backs on that essential element of who we are as a nation. We need to take steps to protect children and families seeking refuge here, not cast them out.”

Baldwin calls for social media background checks in screening process

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin joined more than 20 Senate Democrats in urging Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and the agency to require social media background checks be a part of the screening process for all foreigners seeking an American visa.

The Senate Democrats also requested more information from the department on the existing screening process, such as if the agency faces any resource barriers to implementing these background checks, to ensure the process is as rigorous and comprehensive as possible.

The letter, signed by 22 Senate Democrats, follows reports that the female assailant in the San Bernardino terrorist attack may have expressed radical jihadis sentiments on social media platforms before her fiancé — the male attacker and a U.S. Citizen — ‎applied for a K-1 fiancé visa on her behalf.

Here’s the letter by Senate Democrats to the Johnson:

We write to express our deep concern regarding reports that critical background information of individuals participating in American visa programs has been largely omitted from the visa security screening process. 

According to recent reports, the female assailant involved in the San Bernardino terrorist attack may have expressed radical jihadist sentiments on social media platforms before her U.S. citizen fiancé, the male attacker, ‎applied for a K-1 fiancé visa on her behalf. Media reports have also indicated that Department of Homeland Security officials are able to conduct social media background checks as a part of certain immigration programs, but are doing so inconsistently. We believe these checks, focused on possible connections to terrorist activity, should be incorporated into DHS’s vetting process for visa determinations, and that this policy should be implemented as soon as possible. 

Therefore, we request that you provide the following information so that we may work with you to implement a more rigorous screening process:

Do you plan to integrate social media background checks into the screening process for all visas?

Do you face resource and/or technical barriers to ‎implementing these background checks? If so, please describe them.

Does the Administration conduct social media background checks in any of the existing screening processes for visa programs? If so, please describe how they are conducted.

Ensuring that the screening processes for our nation’s visa programs are rigorous and comprehensive must be a top priority, as these programs are critical to our security, our economy, and for our bilateral relationships with nations around the world. 

We look forward to working with you to establish a more robust social media background check process for all visitors and immigrants to the United States.

Mid-size U.S. cities are largely unprepared for Paris-style terrorist attacks

For Tuscaloosa, Alabama, there are lessons to be learned from the terror that gripped Paris just over a week ago.

After the Islamic State attacks, Democratic Mayor Walter Maddox took note of the Parisian security staff that prevented a suicide bomber from entering the French national soccer stadium. His thoughts turned to Bryant-Denny Stadium — where more than 100,000 people gather for University of Alabama football games. He considered the impact a terrorist attack could have on his 95,000-person city.

But experts say that unlike Maddox, many chief executives and police departments in midsize U.S. cities may not realize that terrorism could put their people and infrastructure at just as much risk as high-profile targets like New York City and Washington, D.C.

“The larger cities understand and grasp this,” Maddox said. “I’m not sure that at the midlevel cities the awareness is that high.”

Terrorism can and does happen in those places. This year, two men suspected of communicating with overseas terrorists were killed when they attempted to attack a free-speech event in Texas. A gunman killed four people at a military recruiting center in Tennessee, though it was unclear if he had worked with known terrorist organizations.

In the days following the Paris attacks, New York City deployed the first 100 officers in the city’s new Critical Response Command. The 500-officer program will be dedicated to counter-terrorism in the city, which spent $170 million this year to bring 1,300 new police officers to its 34,500-officer force. 

Conversely, in Wichita, Kansas, where an airport worker was arrested after he tried to execute a suicide attack at the local airport in 2013, the 437-officer police force was struggling to stay fully staffed this summer. 

While it’s difficult to know just how prepared every state and municipality is for a potential terrorist attack, security specialists say the ability to prevent and react well depends on a communication system and local counter-rism efforts that are still underdeveloped, even 14 years after 9/11.

Chet Lunner, a security consultant and former senior official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the FBI has counter-terrorism investigations in every state, but most places probably lack the resources to prevent or respond to an attack.

“You might think that all 50 states are responding to that kind of warning, but I’m not sure that they are at the appropriate level,” Lunner said.

The Paris attacks on “soft” targets like the restaurant and the concert hall — places with minimal security — should signal to local governments in the U.S. that they, too, could be at risk.

Lunner and Michael Balboni, a security consultant and former New York State senator who wrote homeland security laws for his state, say even if smaller cities and towns aren’t at high risk for violence and are short on the financial resources that big cities have, they should still plan and practice for terrorist attacks.

“State and local personnel are literally the tip of the spear,” Lunner said. “They owe it to themselves as well as the communities they serve” to be as prepared as possible.

Communication is key

Despite repeated efforts and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on collecting and sharing information nationwide about potential terrorist threats, questions remain about how much filters down to local officials, especially in smaller municipalities.

In 2003, DHS and the U.S. Department of Justice began creating fusion centers to encourage and ease the sharing of information between federal law-enforcement and counter–rism officials in states and major urban areas. But a 2012 U.S. Senate subcommittee report found the centers yielded little counter-terrorism intelligence.

In 2011, the White House released the first national strategy and plan to empower local governments to prevent domestic violent extremism and homegrown terrorism. The plan advocates enhancing federal engagement with local communities that may be breeding grounds or targets for violence, though it has been criticized for disproportionately focusing on and alienating Muslims.

Until there is centralized information-sharing between the national and local governments, it will be difficult to get localities invested in sustained anti-terrorism work, Balboni said.

Balboni, who also served as a New York State homeland security adviser, said the fusion centers need to morph into what he calls “command and control centers” that gather intelligence and work in places where a potential threat or terrorist activity surfaces.

Outside big cities

People who don’t live in big cities typically viewed as likely terrorist targets may not think about terrorism affecting their communities or about devoting the resources to countering the possibility they could be hit. But they ought to.

Less-populated locales are where terrorists may settle in to plan or practice attacks, Lunner said. It is up to local police to get to know people and seek out information about potential threats.

“In this country, if you dial 911, the CIA does not show up at the end of your driveway,” Lunner said.

In Minot, a North Dakota city of less than 50,000, dealing with terrorist threats became a reality in the wake of the Paris attacks as the names of six people stationed at the Minot Air Force Base appeared on an Islamic State hit list.

The biggest challenge in responding to such a threat, Police Chief Jason Olson said, is the limited amount of resources his department has to focus on gathering intelligence and analyzing data.

Minot is a good example of a place that most people would not consider at risk for terrorism. And all Olson and local officials can do is push for relevant and timely information from the federal government.

But, Lunner said, they are probably not as informed as their counterparts in places like New York City.

Although states were quick to spend billions of federal dollars funneled to them after 9/11, they couldn’t sustain salaries needed to run long-term local surveillance programs with that one-time infusion of money. Since then, local spending on anti-terrorism has been reduced, said Doug Farquhar, a program director with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“The problem is that they knew this was one-time dollars,” Farquhar said. “You can buy a firetruck or build a building, but you can’t hire employees.”

Localities have also been unlikely to pay more attention to anti-terrorism because of the infrequency of attacks, he said.

Maddox said Tuscaloosa is unique in its willingness to dedicate money and resources to prepare for terrorism and disaster. He credits much of that willingness to training that he and his staff received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in 2009.

“It’s getting your team to believe that we need to prepare for a moment that may or may not ever come,” he said.

Disaster prep equals terror prep

For many states and municipalities, counter-terrorism has become just a part of general disaster preparation, Farquhar said.

Maddox, who has been credited with an exemplary response to a 2011 tornado that destroyed 12 percent of the city, said the same elements of responding to a natural disaster or a major violent crime — providing emergency medical care, shelter and food, and good law-enforcement — extend to counter-terrorism.

“Whether we have a natural disaster or an active shooter situation, my protocols are going to be nearly identical in how we approach that situation,” he said.

And in Minot, which has suffered a number of disasters in recent years — including a train derailment and subsequent ammonia spill, a chemical warehouse fire and historic flooding — Olson said responding to terrorism has become just a part of the disaster preparedness plan.

Stateline is a news service of The Pew Charitable Trusts.


Immigrant mothers allege mistreatment in US detention centers

Five immigrant mothers held in facilities with their children are seeking millions of dollars in damages from the U.S. government for what they contend is psychological and physical harm as a result of being detained , according to court papers filed this week.

Andrew Free, a Nashville immigration lawyer representing the women, filed tort claims against the Department of Homeland Security, alleging the detained women and their children received inadequate medical care, suffered psychological trauma and in some cases were wrongfully imprisoned.

The tort claims, a precursor to a federal lawsuit, also target U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE oversees two family detention centers in South Texas and another in Pennsylvania that currently hold about 1,400 people.

The filing comes just days after the government fought a federal judge’s ruling calling for the immediate release of children and their mothers from detention, saying it intends to turn the facilities into short-term processing centers and that limiting family detention could spark another surge in immigrants from Central America.

Tens of thousands of immigrant families, mostly from Central America, crossed the Rio Grande into the U.S. last summer. Many have petitioned for asylum after fleeing gang and domestic violence back home.

ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen refused to comment on the pending litigation as a matter of policy. But she said the agency ensures that the centers operate in an “open environment” and are “an effective and humane alternative for maintaining family unity as families go through immigration proceedings or await return to their home countries.” The facilities provide access to play areas, educational services, medical care and legal help, she said. ICE officials have also said that it was necessary to detain families to ensure they didn’t vanish.

But Free said that the reality of family detention is far different and that the government has “fallen below the standard of care that they owe to these detainees,” as well as violated their rights as asylum seekers by using detention as a deterrent.

“We expect this will be the first in a large set of filings on the mistreatment of these women and children on behalf of the government,” Free said.

Claimants in the 60-page filing, all from Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador, include a woman who said she received poor care for an injured ear because she could not speak to the medical staff in her indigenous language.

Another said her children were among 250 kids given an erroneously high dose of a hepatitis A vaccine, despite their having proof of previous vaccination.

A mother and daughter fleeing gang violence and held for more than six months were both diagnosed by a psychologist with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression exacerbated by their long detention.

A Honduran mother reported that her 8-year-old daughter attempted to breast-feed again, and another woman and her son said they had languished in detention for 28 days after having passed their credible fear interview, the first legal hurdle for asylum. When the same woman sought treatment for her broken fingers and wrist, she was allegedly told to “drink more water” by medical staff and her son was rushed to the hospital after “a virus apparently had gone untreated for a dangerously long time,” according to the court papers.

“By bearing witness and helping these women assert these claims, we are undermining the government’s narrative that this is a kindler gentler, detention policy,” Free said.

More than 170 House Democrats have asked that Homeland Security end family detention. Immigrant rights organizations have filed complaints asking for investigations into the facilities, which include similar allegations of inadequate medical care and detention exacerbating or causing psychological trauma.

Class-action suit seeks lawyers for minors facing deportation

Three children who witnessed the killing of their father in El Salvador left the violence seeking refuge in the United States. They now face deportation hearings, and expect to go to court without a lawyer.

A 15-year-old boy abandoned and abused in Guatemala came alone to the United States. He too faces a deportation hearing without a lawyer.

As does a 17-year-old boy who fled gang violence and recruitment in Guatemala to live with his dad in Los Angeles.

These minors are among the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit charging the federal government with failure to provide thousands of children with legal representation in deportation hearings.

The American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel and K&L Gates LLP filed the lawsuit earlier this month, at the same time a surge of tens of thousands of minors coming to the southern border became a central issue in the U.S. capital and in midterm elections across the country.

The plaintiffs came to the United States from Mexico and Central America. Some were seeking refuge from the violence in their homelands and all of them are scheduled for deportation hearings this summer but lack legal representation.

“If we believe in due process for children in our country, then we cannot abandon them when they face deportation in our immigration courts,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “The government pays for a trained prosecutor to advocate for the deportation of every child. It is patently unfair to force children to defend themselves alone.”

The Obama administration recently announced a limited program to provide legal assistance to some youth facing deportation hearings, but the attorneys in the case say the proposal does not come close to meeting the need.

“Each day, we are contacted by children in desperate need of lawyers to advocate for them in their deportation proceedings,” said Kristen Jackson, a senior staff attorney with Public Counsel, a nonprofit law firm that works with immigrant children.

She said pro bono efforts have been valiant, but they cannot meet the need.

The complaint charges the U.S. government with violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provisions requiring a “full and fair hearing” before an immigration judge. 

It seeks to require the government to provide children with representation in their hearings.

“Requiring children to fight against deportation without a lawyer is incompatible with American values of due process and justice for all,” said Beth Werlin, deputy legal director for the American Immigration Council.

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Complaint alleges abuse of immigrant children by U.S. Customs

A complaint filed this week alleges widespread abuse of unaccompanied immigrant children at the hands of U.S. border officials. Human rights and civil rights groups say more than 100 children reported experiencing abuse and mistreatment while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the border enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Border Patrol agents are committing appalling abuses of children all along the border,” alleged Ashley Huebner, managing attorney of the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project at the National Immigrant Justice Center. “Even worse, Border Patrol has been committing these abuses for years, and our organizations have notified the agency numerous times, yet nothing has changed. The recent increase in arrivals of young people at the border makes it especially urgent that CBP ensure all children in their custody are treated safely and humanely.”

“Border agents operate in a zone of impunity,” James Lyall of the ACLU Border Litigation Project said in a news release. “Given CBP’s recent promise to be more accountable and transparent, we call on the agency to finally address these systemic abuses in a serious and meaningful way.”

The administrative complaint with DHS — the department’s only mechanism for seeking redress — was filed by the National Immigrant Justice Center, the ACLU Border Litigation Project, Americans for Immigrant Justice, Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project and the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project.

Children detained by CBP across the country have reported verbal, sexual and physical abuse; prolonged detention in squalid conditions; and a severe lack of essential necessities such as beds, food and water.

The complaint describes Border Patrol agents denying necessary medical care to children as young as 5-months-old, refusing to provide diapers for infants, confiscating and not returning legal documents and personal belongings, making racially-charged insults and death threats, and strip searching and shackling children in three-point restraints during transport.

Reports of such abuse have been documented and reported for years, but no reforms have been implemented, nor have any actions been taken to hold agents accountable.

Children referenced in the complaint, many of whom fled violence and persecution in their home countries, include:

• H.R., a 7-year-old boy, was severely developmentally disabled and suffering from acute malnourishment when he was apprehended, but CBP held him in custody for approximately five days without any medical treatment. He was eventually hospitalized and underwent emergency surgery.

• D.G., a 16-year-old girl, was detained with adults. When CBP officials searched D.G., they violently spread her legs and touched her genital area forcefully, making her scream.

• M.R., a 15-year-old girl, traveled from Guatemala with her 2-year-old son. Both M.R. and her son became sick while in CBP custody, but M.R.’s requests for medical attention were ignored or dismissed for approximately five days, until she and her son were finally taken to a hospital.

• K.A., a 14-year-old girl, had her asthma medication confiscated by CBP officials and proceeded to suffer multiple asthma attacks in the filthy and overcrowded CBP holding cells. After the first asthma attack, officials threatened that they would punish her if she were faking.

• C.S., a 17-year-old girl, was detained in a freezer in wet clothes. Her clothes did not dry for three and a half days due to the frigid temperature in the holding cell. The only drinking water available to C.S. came from the toilet tank, and the bathroom was situated in plain view of all other detainees with a security camera mounted in front of it.

“We have instances where CBP shackled 13- and 14-year-olds, infants became sick while held in cells maintained at freezing temperatures, and many children were held in CBP custody beyond the legal 72-hour period, without food or blankets,” said Erika Pinheiro, directing attorney for community education programs at Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project.

The complaint’s recommendations include:

• Enhanced CBP oversight, including creation of an independent oversight body;

• Binding and enforceable short-term detention standards;

• Creation of a uniform complaint process at DHS that includes confidential, expedited processes by which children can safely report abuse and receive timely recourse;

• Adequate training for all officers who may encounter unaccompanied immigrant children;

• Timely investigation into the complaints of abuse;

• Accountability for any agent who violates the law and/or agency guidelines;

• Publication of the results of any investigations.

The complaint was filed with the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties as well as the DHS Office of Inspector General.

Feds housing hundreds of migrant minors in makeshift center in Arizona

Officials are working to improve conditions at a makeshift holding center in southern Arizona where immigration authorities are housing hundreds of unaccompanied migrant minors.

A federal official said that mattresses, portable toilets and showers were brought in over the weekend for 700 of the youthful migrants who spent the night sleeping on plastic cots inside the Nogales area center.

The Homeland Security official told The Associated Press that about 2,000 mattresses had been ordered for the center — a warehouse that has not been used to shelter people in years.

With the center lacking some of the basics, federal officials have asked Arizona to immediately ship medical supplies, Gov. Jan Brewer’s spokesman Andrew Wilder said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security started flying undocumented immigrants to Arizona from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas last month after the number of immigrants — including more than 48,000 children traveling on their own — verwhelmed the Border Patrol there.

Immigrant families were flown from Texas, released in Arizona, and told to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office near where they were traveling within 15 days. ICE has said the immigrants were mostly families from Central America fleeing extreme poverty and violence.

The Homeland Security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no authorization to discuss the matter publicly, said the holding center opened for unaccompanied migrant children because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had nowhere to turn.

At the holding center, vendors are being contracted to provide nutritional meals, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, meanwhile, will provide counseling services and recreational activities.

The Homeland Security official said the number of children at the warehouse was expected to double to around 1,400. The warehouse has a capacity of about 1,500.

The Arizona Daily Star reported that Jimena Díaz, consul general of Guatemala in Phoenix, visited the center and said there were about 250 children from Guatemala, with the rest coming from El Salvador and Honduras.

Diaz told the newspaper that the children are being kept in separate groups, divided by age and gender. Most of them are between 15 and 17, Diaz said, with a few much younger than that. Teenage mothers with their children are also being detained separately, he said.

The warehouse began sheltering children flown from South Texas in early June. And there are flights scheduled through mid-June.

Federal authorities plan to use the Nogales facility as a way station, where the children will be vaccinated and checked medically. They will then be sent to facilities being set up in Ventura, California; San Antonio, Texas; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Customs and Border Protection in Arizona “is prepared to and expects to continue processing unaccompanied children from South Texas,” said Victor L. Brabble, a spokesman for the agency in Tucson.

The children being held in Nogales are 17 or younger. The official estimated three of every four were at least 16.

Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino visited the facility Saturday, but he did not get inside the site where the children were being held. Garino said he did meet with Border Patrol officials. He was told some of the children are as young as 1 year old.

“I have all the faith in the world as mayor and as a citizen of Nogales that our Border Patrol is doing the best and the most kind and humane thing with the children,” Garino said.

The town has begun collecting clothing donations for the kids, he said.

“Border Patrol has always been good to the city of Nogales, and they work very closely with us,” Garino said. “Now, as a city, we need to help Border Patrol so that they can accomplish their goal of making sure these children are all taken care of.”

Immigration officials can immediately return Mexican immigrants to the border, but they are much more hard-pressed to deal with Central American migrants. The Homeland Security official said that legally, only their parents or guardians can take custody if the government makes the children eligible for release.

Officials in Central America and Mexico have noticed a recent increase in women and children crossing the border. Father Heyman Vazquez, the director of a migrant shelter in Huixtla in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas, said he and others advise children that it’s too dangerous.

Yet Vazquez is seeing more and more youths heading north.

“I remember a little boy of 9 years old and I asked if he was going to go meet someone and he told me `No, I’m just going hand myself over because I hear they help kids,’ ” Vazquez said.