Immigrant Mothers Separated From Children Are Being Held in a SeaTac Prison

by Heidi Groover • Jun 7, 2018 at 3:19 pm || The Stranger

The Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, where immigration lawyers say asylum seekers are being held. FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS

The Trump administration’s latest crackdown on immigrants has reached the Northwest.

Seattle area immigration lawyers say the Department of Homeland Security may have transferred more than 100 people seeking asylum, including women who were separated from their children at the southern border, to the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac. UPDATE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed to The Stranger that the agency is transferring detainees to federal prisons, including the facility in SeaTac. The agency has entered an agreement with the Bureau of Prisons to access 209 beds at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center. Asked whether that means 209 detainees have in fact been transferred to SeaTac, ICE spokesperson Danielle Bennett said, “I don’t have any additional info on that.” In total, ICE will now have access to more than 1,600 beds in five federal prisons across the country. Bennett said the move was due to “the current surge in illegal border crossings and implementation of the U.S. Department of Justice’s zero-tolerance policy.” The agency intends to use the federal prisons as “a temporary measure until ICE can obtain additional long-term contracts for new detention facilities” or until a decline in border crossings, Bennett said.

Staff at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project are still working to understand the exact situations of the detainees in SeaTac. They have spoken to several asylum seekers at the facility and are currently working to talk with more, said NWIRP Legal Director Matt Adams. Based on what they know so far, they believe the inmates were first detained in Texas. There, NWIRP staff believe they were separated from their children, charged with unlawful entry (a federal misdemeanor), and sentenced to time served. Rather than being released to continue the asylum seeking process, they were recently transferred to SeaTac and remain detained.

The three women NWIRP staff have spoken to so far are from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Their children are 15, 16, and 11.

The Trump administration has instituted a “zero tolerance” policy on families who enter the country illegally. That has resulted in parents being detained in federal prisons while their children are sent separately to shelters.

Simultaneously, the government has begun holding people seeking asylum from violence in their home countries in prison. That has drawn legal challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups. The ACLU is also challenging the process of separating parents from their children.

Much of this crackdown has played out on the southern border. The asylum seekers at SeaTac are “the first group we’ve seen [in the Seattle area] that have been affected by the administration’s new policy,” Adams said. A representative for the Federal Detention Center did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

NWIRP staff have spoken with three women at the facility, each of whom described being separated from their children in Texas and then transferred to SeaTac. The women also shared what they know about other detainees, Adams said. The women said they were part of a group of 60 women. NWIRP believes there is a second group of 60 people being held in another part of the detention center. NWIRP staff planned to meet with nine more detainees today, Adams said.

“The women we talked to didn’t even know where their children were,” Adams said. “That is what is brand new: this naked display of power by the government, using the misery of separating families in order to deter other asylum seekers from trying to come to the United States.”

Adams said it is “very unusual” that the asylum seekers were transferred to SeaTac instead of to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. That also makes it more difficult to reach them and learn about their conditions. NWIRP does not have the same presence at the SeaTac facility as it does at the 1,500-bed Tacoma detention center, which holds immigrants facing deportation. There, NWIRP regularly conducts legal trainings and works with immigrants on their cases. The organization first learned of the women at the facility in SeaTac through a lawyer who worked on their cases in Texas.

“They’re kind of hidden away there,” Adams said. “They were not getting access to the services that we provide.”

Adams said NWIRP may release more information about the detainees in coming days after learning more.

The Mexican Revival of Small-Town America

Around half of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania residents are from Mexico and they’ve contributed significantly to the economy and vibrancy of this community.  Anti-immigrant conservative America is shooting America in the foot with its exclusionary policies and practices. 

The Mexican Revival of Small-Town America

By Alfredo Corchado |
The New York Times Opinion Section
Mr. Corchado is the Mexico border correspondent for The Dallas Morning News.

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. — Amid all the anti-immigrant fervor, nativists have overlooked a fundamental fact: In recent years, Mexican immigrants and their Mexican-American offspring have been rescuing the most iconic places in America — its small towns.

In the past 10 years, the number of Mexican immigrants living in the United States has declined by more than one million; some left by choice but tens of thousands more left through deportation. Americans who dream of an America without Mexicans should consider Kennett Square.
A town of more than 6,000 people, about an hour outside Philadelphia, Kennett Square proudly calls itself the mushroom capital of the world. The $2.7 billion mushroom industry in southeastern Pennsylvania employs 10,000 people. On New Year’s Eve, Kennett Square drops a bright mushroom cap. These days the festivities are overshadowed by fear.
“Mexicans are leaving, and that’s bad news for everyone,” Chris Alonzo, president of Pietro Industries, one of the biggest mushroom companies, and a third-generation mushroom farmer, told me. “All the negativity, the fearmongering, the anti-immigrant feeling is hurting our small town. We’re seeing labor shortages, and that threatens the vibrancy of our community.”
Kennett Square isn’t an anomaly. Across the country, cities of all sizes are coping with the loss of immigrant labor, but the impact is felt strongest in small-town America. From the meatpacking plants of Lincoln, Neb., to the service industry in Lake Geneva, Wis., immigrants and their employers are increasingly nervous. It may get worse if the trend continues. The birthrate in the United States has dropped to a 30-year low. Rumors of the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents force immigrants to plan for the worst.
In Lake Geneva, I heard a longtime gardener talking to his family of four, half of them living without proper work documents. Should he and his wife be deported, he told their children, they must continue the family landscaping business. If not, their livelihood was at stake.
Overall, immigrants have helped both wealthy and poorer rural towns cope with an aging, declining population. They’ve rescued abandoned communities, some that had been losing population since the 1920s. Immigrants make up 13 percent of the national population and 16 percent of the labor force, but they constitute 18 percent of small-business owners, according to one of the most comprehensive reports on the subject, which was done by the Fiscal Policy Institute’s Immigration Research Initiative. Nationally, immigrant-owned small businesses employ 4.7 million people and, according to the report, generate $776 billion in receipts.
In the Midwest, immigrant renewal includes neighborhoods overrun by heroin and meth addiction. These same illegal drugs fuel violence in the hometowns of these immigrants back in Mexico.
Trouble back home resonates here in Kennett Square. When I discovered the quaint town by chance on an early wintry evening in the 1980s, the men were just lonely workers, coming mostly from the central Mexican state of Guanajuato. I was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal looking for a story.
Then and now, the most compelling sight in the town was its white steeple church. The town was part of the land owned by William Penn, the Quaker who also founded Pennsylvania. In the background, the music from Los Bukis, a Mexican band, played, as we gathered outside one of the shacks, next to a fire, waiting for grilled cabrito (goat), tortillas and jalapeños. I was appalled by their poor living conditions — rundown trailers and outhouses tucked into the landscape, as if they weren’t part of the town.
The men talked about leaving. They didn’t integrate, much less assimilate. Most were desperate to reunite with their families back home. Thanks to President Ronald Reagan’s landmark Immigration Reform and Control Act, though, an estimated 2.7 million people were legalized beginning in 1986, enabling Mexicans and other immigrants to roam freely in greater numbers in search of opportunities.
In Kennett Square, instead of leaving as they had originally hoped, the men saw the value in an industry that provided year-round work. In rural America they saw the ideal place to raise a family. Today, about half of Kennett Square’s residents are Hispanic, of whom an estimated 80 percent are Mexican, according to La Comunidad Hispana, which provides medical, educational and legal services for immigrants.
For more than three generations, the newcomers have contributed to the renewal of Kennett Square. Some Mexican immigrants have started their own mushroom farms. Some own hair salons. Others own Mexican grocery stores. There’s even a taco war, as locals debate who makes the best tacos: Are they downtown or in nearby Avondale? Hundreds of children are now high school graduates, and many went on to earn college degrees.
“The Mexicans changed the community for the better,” Loretta Perna, program coordinator of the Walk in Knowledge Program at Kennett High School, told me. “They became part of not just the mushroom community but part of the overall community, bringing color, richness to an otherwise bland life.”
One of Ms. Perna’s students is Sofia Soto, 18, daughter of Jaime Aguilera, a veteran mushroom worker who built his own landscaping business. Mr. Aguilera now sits in a detention center, waiting for an immigration judge to decide his fate, that of his family and in a more general sense, the future of his adopted hometown. Ms. Soto, like her two siblings and her mother, is an American. She’s determined to attend West Chester University this fall, a promise she made to her father. But she said: “If he’s deported, it won’t be easy. He’s my inspiration.”
Such stories worry Mr. Alonzo, the mushroom grower. Workers aren’t applying for jobs. In fact, many of them avoid walking or driving in town, afraid of giving authorities any reason to check their documents.
Surprisingly, on my most recent visit, some of the newcomers were Central American. At first glance, the immigrant story seemed to be repeating itself. But with the climate of fear, Mr. Alonzo isn’t so sure. “If this continues,” he told me, “the vibrancy of this small, rural community will be gone.”
Alfredo Corchado (@ajcorchado) is the Mexico-border correspondent for The Dallas Morning News and the author, most recently, of “Homelands: Four Friends, Two Countries, and the Fate of the Great Mexican-American Migration.”

Sessions vows to prosecute all illegal border crossers and separate children from their parents

From the Washington Post

‘It is a national matter:’ Sessions vows to prosecute all illegal border crossers

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on May 7, that the Justice Dept. will begin prosecuting every person who illegally crosses the Southwest border. (The Washington Post)

by Sari Horwitz and Maria Sacchetti May 7

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that the Justice Department will begin prosecuting every person who illegally crosses into the United States along the Southwest border, a hard-line policy shift focusing in particular on migrants traveling with children.

In separate speeches — one in Scottsdale, Ariz., the other in San Diego — Sessions said the Department of Homeland Security will begin referring such cases to the Justice Department for prosecution. Federal prosecutors will “take on as many of those cases as humanly possible until we get to 100 percent,” he said.

“If you cross the border unlawfully . . . then we will prosecute you,” Sessions said. “If you smuggle an illegal alien across the border, then we’ll prosecute you. . . . If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”

[Top Homeland Security officials urge criminal prosecution of parents who cross border with children]

DHS officials say they have seen a significant increase in illegal border crossings over the past year, including a rise in the number of families and unaccompanied children. In the past month, Border Patrol officers say they have encountered more than 50,000 immigrants trying to enter the United States. From April 2017 to April 2018, the number of apprehensions and “inadmissible” border crossings tripled, according to DHS.

Advocates for migrants have said most are fleeing violence in Central America and should be treated as asylum seekers, not criminals. The American Civil Liberties Union has already filed a federal lawsuit in California over past separations.

A 4-year-old boy weeps in the arms of a family member after he and others were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents upon crossing illegally near McAllen, Tex., on May 2. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Sessions indicated that while he has “no doubt” people illegally crossing the border are fleeing danger or despair, “We cannot take everyone on this planet who is in a difficult situation.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), who has battled the Trump administration in court, signaled that he was following the issue closely.

“As a father, the last thing I would do is separate fathers and mothers from their children and I would hope the federal government thinks twice about doing this,” Becerra said. “There are constitutional protections we can look to.”

In San Diego, Sessions was interrupted by a heckler with a megaphone.

“We don’t want you in our state,” the man yelled. “Are you going to be separating families? Is that why you’re here? Why are you doing this? Do you have a heart? Do you have a soul? Why do you work for this administration?”

Senior immigration and border officials called for the increased prosecutions last month in a confidential memo to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. They said filing criminal charges against migrants, including parents traveling with children, would be the “most effective” way to tamp down on illegal border crossings.

The “zero-tolerance” measure announced Monday could split up thousands of families because children are not allowed in criminal jails. Until now, most families apprehended crossing the border illegally have been released to await civil deportation hearings.

The Trump administration piloted this approach in the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico, between July and November 2017, and said the number of families attempting to cross illegally plunged by 64 percent.

The New York Times reported last month that hundreds of children have been taken from their parents at the border since October.

Nielsen told lawmakers in April that DHS aims to keep families together “as long as operationally possible.” She said families are separated to “protect the children” in case the adults traveling with them are not really their parents.

Sessions, who as attorney general has been especially aggressive on immigration, said that to carry out the new enforcement policies, he was sending 35 prosecutors to the Southwest and 18 immigration judges to the border to handle asylum claims. Those moves were announced last week.

Criminal prosecutions at the border have soared over the past two decades, from fewer than 10,000 cases in 1996 to more than 90,000 at their peak in 2013 under former president Barack Obama, according to TRAC, a Syracuse University organization that tracks criminal immigration prosecutions. Last fiscal year, the number of immigration prosecutions declined 14 percent, to nearly 60,000.

The most common criminal charge is “improper entry by alien” — or illegal entry. First-time offenders usually face a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison or fines. Repeat offenders can be imprisoned for up to two years and fined, or charged with the more serious offense of “illegal reentry.”

After President Trump called last month for renewed efforts to reduce illegal border crossings, Sessions ordered U.S. attorneys on the border to prosecute migrants “to the extent practicable.” His remarks Monday appeared to signal that federal prosecutors will make this a higher priority.

“Eleven million people are already here illegally,” Sessions said in his speech. “That’s more than the population of the state of Georgia. . . . We’re not going to stand for this. We are not going to let this country be invaded. We will not be stampeded. We will not capitulate to lawlessness.”

Illegal Immigration Does Not Increase Violent Crime, 4 Studies Show

From NPR

The Trump administration regularly asserts that undocumented immigrants are predatory and threaten public safety. Immigrant advocates say that talk demonizes an entire class of people.

Now, four academic studies show that illegal immigration does not increase the prevalence of violent crime or drug and alcohol problems. In the slew of research, motivated by Trump’s rhetoric, social scientists set out to answer this question: Are undocumented immigrants more likely to break the law?

Michael Light, a criminologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, looked at whether the soaring increase in illegal immigration over the last three decades caused a commensurate jump in violent crimes: murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

“Increased undocumented immigration since 1990 has not increased violent crime over that same time period,” Light said in a phone interview.

Those findings are published in the current edition of the peer-reviewed journal Criminology.

In a separate study, these same researchers previously looked at nonviolent crime. They found that the dramatic influx of undocumented immigrants, similarly, did not drive up rates of drug and alcohol arrests or the number of drug overdoses and DUI deaths.

“We found no evidence that undocumented immigration increases the prevalence of any of those outcomes,” Light said.

A third study, by the libertarian Cato Institute, recently looked at criminality among undocumented immigrants just in Texas. The state records the immigration status of arrestees, creating a gold mine for criminologists.

Cato found that in 2015, criminal conviction and arrest rates in Texas for undocumented immigrants were lower than those of native-born Americans for murder, sexual assault and larceny.

Finally, a research paper appearing in the current edition of the U.K. journal Migration Letters shows that youthful undocumented immigrants engage in less crime than do legal immigrants or U.S.-born peers.

All of this comes as no surprise to Art Acevedo, the police chief in Houston, which has one of largest undocumented populations in the nation. The chief has been publicly critical of the immigration crackdown.

“There’s no wave of crime being committed by the immigrant community,” Acevedo said. “As a matter of fact, a lot of the violent crime that we’re dealing with is being committed by people that are born and raised right here in the United States.”

For decades, social science focused on the extent of crime committed by legal immigrants. These new studies are important because they’re among the first to explore the link between crime and illegal immigration.

The research proves what Acevedo and others suspected.

“Having worked around this community my entire professional career, which is about 32 years, I know that the vast majority of them that I’ve encountered are hard-working. They’re here to earn an honest living,” Acevedo said.

But the new research may not move the needle in the immigration debate. Texas Republicans, for instance, have potent opinions about undocumented immigrants.

“I have no quarrel with anybody of any ethnicity, but I don’t like criminals. And I think that not having people be citizens leads to criminality,” former La Grange, Texas, City Councilman Arnold Romberg says. He’s sitting on the courthouse square in Fayette County, where voters went for Trump by a 4-to-1 margin.

Ed Dykes, a local electrical engineer, says a crime committed by an undocumented immigrant is one too many.

“It’s actually immaterial whether they commit more crimes or not because they commit additional crimes,” Dykes says. “They are crimes that would not be committed. There are American citizens who’d be alive today if [unauthorized immigrants] were not in this country.”

A recent poll showed that 7 out of 10 GOP voters in Texas support the proposition that all undocumented immigrants should be deported immediately regardless of whether they have committed a crime there.

Serving our sisters and brothers in the immigrant community

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