News You May Have Missed: July 14

There’s a little light even as more information comes to light. The Lights for Liberty protests; the hard work of immigration nonprofits; the work of #AuthorsAgainstBorderAbuse, a group of writers offering consultations in exchange for donating to border organizations; and the many efforts to lobby Congress all suggest that a consensus about the detention of children is building. But see the piece from Reveal on the detention of infants, and see our backrounder on Sanctuary–as well as important science and health news, below.


“Classrooms, not Cages”: Lights for Liberty protests you may have missed

750 events were held around the country–including large ones in
New York, Philadelphia and Milwaukee and Southern California–and in Canada to protest the conditions in which asylum seekers are being detained. You wouldn’t know this unless you were there, however, or unless you read or listened to your local media outlet or saw USA Today. The events were ignored by the Washington Post and the New York Times. Among the participants at the DC event were members of the American Federation of Teachers, with signs reading “Classrooms, not Cages.” At that event, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, whose family fled the Sri Lankan civil war when she was a baby, said of immigrants, “We admit them not because they are American, but because we are American.” RLS

More detention centers holding children and infants–without their parents

The U.S. government is opening more shelters housing children and infants–without their parents, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting’s news site, Reveal. One such site in Phoenix has 12 children under 5, the youngest three months old. Another site in Arizona has a newborn, while a center in Modesto, California has a two-week old baby who was born in the U.S. and is therefore a citizen. Reveal  was unable to find out where the children’s mothers are.

Reveal notes that the children are supposed to be provided with legal services–but that the centers had delayed signing contracts with anyone who could provide them. Hundreds of children are being held in the Carrizo Springs shelter near San Antonio; attorneys at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), said that they intend to provide legal services for children at the center regardless of whether the Office of Refugee Resettlement gives them a contract. RLS

Massive child detention facilities planned

According to Fortune, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is soliciting bids for new, long-term (with initial twenty-year leases) immigration detention facilities for children. Sites in Georgia, Texas, and Arizona are reportedly under consideration. These plans imply that the government intends to make detention of children (and family separation) an ongoing practice, lasting well beyond the twenty-day limit mandated by the Flores Settlement. S-HP

If you have an opinion about child detention centers, you can voice it here.

Sexual assaults, punishments in retaliation against children at the border

Between April 10 and June 12, Health and Human Services (HHS) caseworkers collected almost thirty accounts of sexual assault and retaliation for protests from children being held in a Yuma, Arizona, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) facility, according to NBC News. All of these children had been held at the facility beyond the legal maximum of seventy-two hours. Children claim they’ve had their sleeping mats taken away after complaining about the quality of food and water, have been punished for sitting or standing too near windows, are called “putos” by staffers (an offensive term for male prostitutes that is often used as an insult implying both cowardice and homosexuality), and are kicked awake.

A fifteen-year-old girl described an officer conducting what was supposed to be a standard “pat-down” by grabbing her breasts and pulling down her underwear, all while joking with other staffers who watched the assault. A CBP spokesperson said such incidents did not align with common practices at their facilities and that the sexual assault was under investigation. According to the report from NBC News, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) visited this facility in April and described it as “the worst state of the human condition I have ever seen in my life” and that Homeland security and Border Patrol agents “were dealing with conditions that they had not trained for [and] were not equipped to handle.” S-HP

If you are inclined to speak up about this, the people who need to hear it are at this link.

Immigrants fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for taking sanctuary

The Trump administration has begun levying fines against individuals without documents with final orders of removal that have totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars, including those who have taken refuge in churches and other houses of worship where they have been offered sanctuary, ABC News reports. Edith Espinal-Moreno, originally from Mexico, who has been living in a church in Ohio since 2017 was issued a fine of $497,770 for “willfully” refusing to leave the country to comply with ICE orders, according to NPR. According to ICE, they have the right to impose fines of  up to $500 for each day an individual is in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act, although immigration lawyers say they have never heard of the law being used in this way. Pro-immigrant groups argue that imposing these fines is designed to instill fear in both immigrant communities and the churches who offer sanctuary. JML

Sanctuary in houses of worship explained

While it is widely believed that law enforcement is not allowed to enter houses of worship when they have offered sanctuary to those facing injustice, the matter is more complicated. There is a history going back to the middle ages of churches offering protection, although in the United States, there is no legal protection for this practice. Going back to the 1980s, the Sanctuary movement in the United States has been made up of faith communities– Presbyterians, Methodists, Unitarian Universalists, Catholics, Mennonites, Quakers, and others– offering Sanctuary to Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict but denied asylum due to federal immigration policies that made it difficult for Central Amercans to obtain. Starting in the early 2000s, the New Sanctuary movement was made up of faith communities publicly offering sanctuary to individuals facing unjust deportation orders, often housing a single person or family within the walls of the church while lawyers worked with courts or immigration authorities to obtain a more favorable outcome.

Members of the Sanctuary movement have participated in both civil disobedience (defying laws for moral purposes) and civil initiative (upholding laws they thought their own government was violating). While there are no protections in law for houses of worship, there is a 2011 memo issued by ICE stating that certain locations were considered sensitive and enforcement activities at these locations should be limited, CNN explained.. The locations in the 2011 memo were schools, hospitals, houses of worship, the sites of funerals, weddings, or other public religious ceremonies, and during public demonstrations such as rallies, marches, or parades, according to Justice for Immigrants. In January, 2018, ICE published a clarification to the memo stating that courthouses do not qualify as sensitive locations, although enforcement in non-criminal areas of courthouses should be limited or avoided. The Sensitive Locations memo doesn’t entirely prevent actions in these locations, but in many cases it has done so. Official guidance states that the primary reasons for enforcement actions is exigent circumstances, such as national security threats, pursuit of dangerous felons, imminent risk of harm, or risk of destruction of evidence in a criminal case. The policy also doesn’t apply to certain ICE activities such as obtaining records, serving subpoenas, or participating in community meetings. It also doesn’t apply to certain enforcement activities within 100 miles of any land or sea border, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol, in accordance with the 2001 Patriot Act.  Because the Sensitive Locations Memo is not a statute or regulation, it could be disregarded or eliminated at any time. JML

Subpoenas you might have missed

There’s a lot going on in the world of Congressional subpoenas. The House Judiciary Committee has approved subpoenas for twelve individuals who were key witnesses in the Russian Election Interference and Russian-Trump Campaign investigation led by Robert Mueller. These include former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter (that’s a lot of “formers”), as well as Presidential advisor/son-in-law Jared Kushner. Additional subpoenas for unnamed individuals have been issued in relation to the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that has led to family separations. In a related move, the Judiciary Committee has also voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for refusal to turn over documents related to the attempted addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. S-HP

If you’d like to thank the House Judiciary Committee, here’s how.

More subpoenas needed

Before resigning as head of the Department of Labor due to a potentially illegal plea deal brokered in 2007 for Jeffrey Epstein when he was accused of multiple counts of raping children (let’s skip the euphemisms “engaging in sex acts” and “underage women”), Alexander Acosta proposed an 80% cut to the Department of Labor’s International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB). “International Labor Affairs Bureau” may sound like a relatively boring, box-ticking sort of crew, but it is actually in charge of globally countering human trafficking (including child sex trafficking), child labor, and forced labor (in other words, slavery)—a rather odd move, given the administration’s frequent citing of child trafficking as a justification for its border policies. Last year the ILAB had a budget of $68 million. Acosta’s proposal would have reduced that budget to $18.5 million for next year. On the other hand, the budget passed by the House in June would increase ILAB funding to $122 million for next year. A Congressional inquiry into the process and reasoning by which Acosta decided on this proposed cut seems appropriate and could begin with a subpoena for the new Acting Secretary of Labor (and former Deputy Secretary of Labor) Patrick Pizella. S-HP

Do you want the House Judiciary Committee to look into this? Write the chair of the Committee.

US tries to move asylum-seekers out of the US, deprive them of attorneys

The Trump administration is working on a plan not only to declare Guatemala a “safe third country” but to send asylum seekers to Guatemala to await their hearings, according to the New Yorker. 

Guatemala is plagued by corruption and by violent criminal groups, according to Human Rights Watch, with women, girls, and LGBTQ+ people especially at risk. Hunger is rampant, due to crop failures and drought; 76,000 asylum-seekers from Guatemala attempted to cross into the US in February alone, accordinng to the NY Post.RLS

In January, the administration implemented the inappropriately named Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which require Central American asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico until their asylum cases are heard. The MPPs leave asylum-seekers stranded in dangerous, overstretched, under-resourced communities where contact with attorneys who could help them with the asylum process is very difficult.

The MPPs have been gradually expanded to different regions, and were made policy in El Paso-Cuidad Juárez more than three months ago. The Texas Tribune is now reporting on changes to the implementation of the MPPs in El Paso-Ciudad Juárez that are making the asylum process increasingly difficult and opaque. In late June, the Justice Department ordered an end to “know your rights” workshops that attorneys and immigrant rights groups held for those who would be facing asylum hearings, claiming that because technically the asylum seekers were in federal custody (even if not in the U.S.) only their attorneys were allowed to speak with them—but, as explained above, most asylum seekers don’t have attorneys because they are stranded in Mexico. This week the Justice Department has also ended the participation of “friends of the court,” trained volunteers who were allowed to assist judges and asylum seekers during hearings by explaining court procedures, providing translation, and relaying information to judges. The results have reportedly been an “exponential” increase in the chaos and level of fear in asylum courts. S-HP.


US Army Corps of Engineers admits to toxic releases of water in Florida

In a meeting of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, US Army Corps of Engineers Major General Scott Spellmon admitted that the agency was responsible for release of toxic waters polluted with massive blooms of blue-green algae into sensitive Floridian estuaries via canals from Lake Okeechobee, according to the Miami New Times. The blooms of blue-green algae are the result of agricultural runoff pollution spilling into the lake, which has had threateningly high water levels necessitating releases so as to preserve the integrity of the levee system. At issue is that the algae wreaks havoc on the environment and that the releases were, while possibly necessary, done without notifying affected communities.  JC

Non-profit hospital chain highlighted for ruthless collection practices

A ProPublica investigation has found that a system of non-profit hospitals in the Memphis area has pursued relentless collections practices despite clearing 86 million dollars in profits for 2018. Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare operates six hospitals serving a city with a poverty rate of 25%, clearing more than two billion dollars in revenue. Nonetheless, it filed suit against 8300 patients between 2014 and 2018 for unpaid medical bills, securing garnishment orders in 46% of those cases, according to Ars Technica. This has happened despite a nationwide easing of collections practices in the non-profit healthcare sector, after bi-partisan criticism of the punishing practices. Said GOP senator Chuck Grassley in a 2017 op-ed “The arrangement is a compact between tax-exempt hospitals and the entities that grant tax exemption. Federal, state, and local governments forgo billions of dollars in taxes to tax-exempt entities that have been deemed to meet a pressing societal need.” In one illustrative example. Carrie Bennett, who was treated in a two-night stay for shortness of breath and chest pain, accumulated a bill of just over $12,000, which has ballooned with interest judgments to $33,000. Ms. Bennett has never made more than $12 an hour and in 2018 earned a total of $13,800.  JC

No stats on bees

Citing fiscal cuts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that it is suspending National Agricultural Statistics Service data collection for and publication of the Honey Bee Colonies Report. This data is normally collected quarterly, but under the suspension, available data will run from January 1, 2018 to April 1, 2019. There will be no data for the May 2019-July 2019 quarter and those following. According to The Hill, this is the bee data-gathering project that has been scaled-back under the Trump administration. Earlier, the Trump administration had ended a 2014 ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides that was put in place because of the threat these pesticides represent to bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. How will the rollback affect bee populations? That’s going to be hard to find out. S-HP

Want to let someone know what the stakes are of the loss of bees? Here is a list of whom to write.

Get your (drug-resistant) UTIs cultured!

Urinary tract infections are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, according an article in the New York Times. A third of UTIs in Britain are resistant to the antibiotics ordinarily used; because we don’t have a nationwide health care system, we don’t know what the percentage is here. The increase is due in part to antibiotics used in poultry, according to a study published in the
American Society of Microbiology. UTIs are ordinarily caused by e coli, which reside in the colon. When people consume chicken–which may contain antibiotic resistant e coli–the bacteria end up in their gut–and can migrate to their bladders. Resistant UTIs can be dangerous, resulting in kidney infections; at a minimum they mean that the misery is prolonged while different antibiotics are tried. Getting a UTI cultured at the time of diagnosis can reduce how long that misery goes on as well as the consumption of the wrong antibiotic. RLS


  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist recommends this list of actions you can take to address issues at the border.
  • Some recommendations from Sarah-Hope’s list follow relevant stories; here are other opportunities to be heard.
  •  Martha’s list provides numerous opportunities to comment for the public record–on issues including privacy, the migratory bird hunting on Tribal lands, Alaska drilling, multiple state-by-state changing ozone standards, reducing energy efficiency standards for appliances – heaters and furnaces, and much more.
    Rogan’s list has many useful items, that ActBlue Charities has a fund supporting a group of organizations working at the border; a toolkit from Never Again, the Jews organizing against the detention camps; a locator from United We Dream that indicates how many people are being held where; and ways to take action on nearly any issue that concerns you.