Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 24, 2015

Take the young child, his mother and flee

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on December 24, 2015

The Flight Into Egypt_BassanoAbove, Flight into Egypt by Jacopo Bassano (1545) Norton Simon Museum

According to the December 24, Washington Post:

The Department of Homeland Security has begun preparing for a series of raids that would target for deportation hundreds of families who have flocked to the United States since the start of last year, according to people familiar with the operation.

The nationwide campaign, to be carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as soon as early January, would be the first large-scale effort to deport families who have fled violence in Central America, those familiar with the plan said. More than 100,000 families with both adults and children have made the journey across the southwest border since last year, though this migration has largely been overshadowed by a related surge of unaccompanied minors…

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has been pushing for the moves, according to those with knowledge of the debate, in part because of a new spike in the number of illegal immigrants in recent months. Experts say that the violence that was a key factor in driving people to flee Central America last year has surged again, with the homicide rate in El Salvador reaching its highest level in a generation. A drought in the region has also prompted departures.

According to this morning’s Wall Street Journal:

“Jeh Johnson wants to send a message to Central Americans: don’t come north. But Washington hasn’t solved the underlying problem of massive violence in their home countries that is causing them to come north in the first place,” said Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney in Anchorage.

Though illegal entries overall have dropped sharply in recent years, the Obama administration has been bracing for a surge of unaccompanied children and families from Central America in coming months. In recent weeks, it had begun to add capacity to handle the increase, because migrants are housed at least temporarily in government facilities.

More than 12,000 individuals in so-called family units were apprehended at the border in October and November, compared with about 4,500 in the same months last year.

The number of unaccompanied minors caught during those two months topped 10,000, compared with about 5,000 in the same period last year.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations:

El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras consistently rank among the most violent countries in the world. Gang-related violence in El Salvador brought its homicide rate to ninety per hundred thousand in 2015, making it the most world’s most violent country not at war. All three countries have significantly higher homicide rates than neighboring Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama.

Extortion is also rampant. A July 2015 investigation by Honduran newspaper La Prensa found that Salvadorans and Hondurans pay an estimated $390 million and $200 million, respectively, in annual extortion fees to organized crime groups; meanwhile, Guatemalan authorities said in 2014 that citizens pay an estimated $61 million a year in extortion fees. Extortionists primarily target public transportation operators, small businesses, and residents of poor neighborhoods, according to the report, and attacks on people who do not pay contributes to the violence…

The nature of the violence is distinct in each country, but there are common threads: the proliferation of gangs, the region’s use as a transshipment point for U.S.-bound narcotics, and high rates of impunity are major factors contributing to insecurity in the region.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, during FY2015 (through September 30):

Overall, the Department apprehended 406,595 individuals nationwide and conducted a total of 462,463 removals and returns. The U.S. Border Patrol reported 337,117 apprehensions nationwide, compared to 486,651 in FY 2014. At the same time, ICE removed or returned 235,413 individuals in FY 2015, with 86 percent of these individuals considered a “top priority” (Priority One) – those considered border security or public safety threats. 

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Comment by Vicki Campbell

December 24, 2015 @ 2:23 pm

Phil, thank you for this post, but while it highlights an important HS issue, it is consistent with a habit of doing so on this blog in a manner that is totally acritical of HS actions or policies, no matter how badly HS breaches domestic or international laws, or recent court rulings and orders, which they do regularly – or how badly undocumented immigrants of every category are being mistreated and having their most basic rights denied whether at the border or under the auspices of DHS in private detention centers – especially those most able to qualify for asylum under refugee laws. The situation really is pretty appalling, and has been for quite awhile – and a great deal has been researched and written about it, from a variety of professional perspectives – but you’d never learn about any of it simply by reading this blog. Why is that? Why doesn’t any much less all of that constitute “critical issues” in Homeland Security? I’m going to post somethings in relation to it over the holiday as I have the time. For now, below is a letter from Human Rights Watch and 63 other human and civil rights organizations to DHS and the Dept. of Justice about just one of many very troubling areas of gross violation by CBP, which is itself one of the most corrupt, dysfunctional, and generally unprofessional entity within DHS.


NOVEMBER 17, 2015
Letter to DHS Secretary Johnson and Attorney General Lynch on Protecting the Right to Seek Asylum

Human Rights Watch and 63 other human and civil rights organizations sent this letter urging Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to protect the right to seek asylum in the United States. Flawed border removals both return would-be asylum seekers to harm and punish them on return when they are barred from seeking asylum. We urge Secretary Johnson and Attorney General Lynch to allow asylum-seekers with prior deportations to apply for asylum.

November 9, 2015

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Department of Homeland Security

The Honorable Loretta E. Lynch
Attorney General of the United States
Department of Justice

RE: Access to Asylum for Foreign Nationals with Prior Removal Orders

Dear Attorney General Lynch and Secretary Johnson:

We write as a group of 64 civil rights, immigrant rights, victims’ services, labor, faith, and human rights organizations to alert you to our deep concern about rules which limit access to asylum for anyone subjected to a prior removal order. Well-documented deficiencies, particularly in the expedited removal process, result in protection claims overlooked or ignored, all too often deporting asylum seekers back to countries where their lives are at risk. Subsequently limiting their access to protection when those same refugees seek safe haven again in the United States compounds that error, and calls out for a fix.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “[e]veryone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”[1] The expedited removal provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) allow CBP officers to order the immediate removal of certain individuals without a hearing before an immigration judge.[2] In enacting these provisions, Congress established procedures intended to safeguard against returning bona fide refugees to situations of persecution and to ensure US compliance with its legal obligations under the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.[3] Pursuant to federal regulations[4] carrying out Congress’s mandate, enforcement officials must screen for potential asylum-seekers during the expedited removal process.[5] To complete this screening, enforcement officials must read specific information about asylum to the individual in a language he or she can understand and ask them if they intend to apply for asylum or fear harm upon return to their country. If the individual indicates an intention to apply for asylum or a fear of harm, the statute forbids CBP from proceeding with removal and CBP must instead refer the individual to an Asylum Officer who is specially trained to interview asylum-seekers.[6]

Despite this clear legal framework, widespread, systemic failures by CBP officers to follow the required screening procedures persist. The bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has documented the historic failures of U.S. border officers to implement safeguards designed to protect asylum seekers from mistaken expedited removal, including failing to read the protection language and not referring individuals to credible fear interviews after they had indicated a fear of return.[7] A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch entitled “You Don’t Have Rights Here,” documents these flaws via analysis of CBP data on CFI referrals obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and interviews with migrants who had been deported or were being deported through the expedited removal or reinstatement of removal process.

An analysis of CBP data obtained via a FOIA request showed a worryingly low number of CBP referrals for credible fear interviews, particularly given the violent country conditions from which many of them had fled. Between October 2010 and September 2012, of all Hondurans apprehended by CBP and placed in expedited removal and reinstatement of removal proceedings, only a miniscule minority— less than two percent—were flagged for credible fear assessments by CBP.[8] Honduras suffers from rampant impunity for human rights abuses. The murder rate, which has risen consistently over the last decade, was the highest in the world in 2013.[9] For young adult males between the ages of 20 and 34, the murder rate in Honduras exceeds 300 per 100,000.[10] The data also show low rates of credible fear referrals by CBP for nationals of Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Only 0.1 percent of Mexicans, 0.8 percent of Guatemalans, and 5.5 percent of Salvadorans in expedited or reinstatement of removal were referred to a credible or reasonable fear interview by CBP.

This extremely low rate of referrals resonates with the accounts of would-be asylum seekers who were deported from the US through expedited procedures. In interviews with Human Rights Watch these would-be asylum seekers said their interactions with CBP were brief and focused on explaining additional consequences of deportation, such as bars to return for set periods of time, rather than inquiring about whether they feared return. Many reported that they were never asked if they feared returning to their countries, were not informed of the availability of protection or that they were not referred to an asylum officer for a credible fear interview after they told a Border Patrol agent they were afraid to return to their country.[11] “The officers don’t pay attention to you. If you say you are afraid they say they ‘can’t do anything,’” Marlon J. told Human Rights Watch. “All they said to me was that if I came back they would give me six months in prison.”[12]?

Some would-be asylum seekers also reported that Border Patrol officers harassed, threatened, and attempted to dissuade them from seeking protection. Mateo S. who was deported in September 2014 told Human Rights Watch that when he informed a Border Patrol officer of the threats to his life in Honduras, “He told me there was nothing I could do and I didn’t have a case so there was no reason to dispute the deportation…. I told him he was violating my right to life and he said, ‘You don’t have rights here.’” “I asked for asylum,” said Jacobo E., who fled after being shot and seeing his mother killed for her failure to pay fees to gang members to run her small clothing business. “The officer told me don’t apply, 90 percent of the people who do don’t get it.”[13]?

Some deportees and detainees with whom we have spoken report that they resisted signing forms offered by Border Patrol because of their fear of deportation, or were coerced into signing something they did not understand. “‘Fingerprint, fingerprint,’ they just kept saying, I didn’t know what I was signing,” said Jacobo E. who was in hiding in Honduras after being deported.[14]

As part of expedited removal procedures CBP officers must take a “complete sworn statement” from foreign nationals “concerning all pertinent facts” to their deportation.[15] These statements may be introduced in court as government records created by sworn officers in their normal course of duty and used as impeachment evidence for migrants who are applying for asylum.[16] However, migrants frequently tell us that the documents prepared in their cases do not reflect what they told Border Patrol officers.[17]

Illustratively, several sworn statements have come to light in which very young children purportedly told Border Patrol agents that they had come to the United States to work in specific locations.[18] A U.S. Court of Appeals has also questioned the reliability of CBP interviews, noting that such interviews should be “carefully scrutinized for reliability before being utilized by the fact-finder.”[19]

As you know, one of the goals of US immigration law is to recognize and protect genuine refugees. When asylum seekers are deported back to a situation of persecution, they often have no choice but to return to seek protection again. Upon return, however, they risk prosecution for illegal reentry, and they are barred from accessing asylum. Under current policy and regulation, asylum seekers previously removed may only apply for withholding of removal.[20] This distinction places individuals at a distinct disadvantage, as withholding of removal requires a higher burden of proof, does not permit an individual to petition for or sponsor one’s spouse and children, and prevents the individual from applying for lawful permanent residence or citizenship. Those granted withholding are left in permanent limbo; they must apply annually for work authorization, they can be deported if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) determines that there has been a change in the conditions that supported their claim for protection, and they cannot travel outside of the United States.

In the interest of fairness, we urge you to address this problem in two ways:

Undertake rulemaking to allow all asylum-seekers, including individuals with prior removal orders, to apply for asylum, in addition to withholding removal. We are aware that a Petition for Rulemaking has been filed with DHS and is currently pending.[21] We urge you to grant that Petition and to allow noncitizens to seek asylum even if they have returned after having been previously issued a removal order. Such a rule would not interfere with any legitimate enforcement need; noncitizens claiming protection would still need to pass a pre-screening interview. But it would mitigate the grave harm done by current policy and regulation.

Exercise prosecutorial discretion to cancel or decline to enter reinstatement orders against individuals expressing fear of return, and who were issued prior expedited removal orders without having received a credible fear interview. It is undisputed that DHS has prosecutorial discretion to decide when to invoke the provisions of 8 USC §1231(a)(5). We see no reason why DHS could not choose as a policy matter to exercise its discretion in this matter, ideally by public memorandum. A policy of declining to reinstate expedited removal orders for individuals claiming a fear of return would avoid the grave injustice of depriving these individuals of the right to seek asylum on their second attempt for the sole reason that they were wrongfully deprived of that opportunity on their first try. Such a policy would by no means excuse DHS from the obligation of ensuring better protections for refugees; after all, an individual wrongfully removed to the country from which they fled may not be able to flee again to safety.[22]

Finally, we would note that this issue has arisen in litigation in various cases, including Ramirez-Mejia v. Lynch, 794 F.3d 485, 487 (5th Cir. 2015) (petition for rehearing pending), Perez-Guzman v. Lynch, No. 13-70579(9th Cir.) (argument forthcoming). We recognize that litigation frequently requires government counsel to defend agency action before full consideration by the relevant agencies. We would encourage you to promptly examine or reexamine your position on these matters now, before the courts act, while you may adopt a uniform, nationwide rule which protects asylum-seekers and advances our nation’s longstanding welcome to those fleeing oppression.


The Advocates for Human Rights
Alliance for Citizenship
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
American Gateways
American Immigration Council
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Amnesty International USA
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC
ASISTA Immigration Assistance
Border Action Network
Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition
Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)
Catholic Migration Services
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Refugee & Immigration Ministries
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA)
Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Detention Watch Network
Families For Freedom
First Focus
Fordham Law School’s Feerick Center for Social Justice
Friends of Broward Detainees
Georgia Detention Watch
Grassroots Leadership
Human Rights First
Human Rights Initiative of North Texas
Human Rights Watch
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Immigrant Justice Corps
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska
Justice Strategies
Kids In Need of Defense
Latin America Working GroupLutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Immigration Law CenterNational Korean American Service and Education Consortium
Needham (MA) Area Immigration Justice Task Force
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
Office of Immigration Issues, Presbyterian Church (USA) National Office
Pangea Legal Services
Public Counsel
Puentes: Advocacy, Counseling & Education
Reformed Church of Highland Park, NJ
Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)
Sisters of Mercy South Central Community
Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
Tahirih Justice Center
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic
University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic
UnLocal, Inc.
Villanova Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic
We Belong Together
Women’s Refugee Commission
Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago

[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. res. 217A (III), U.N. Doc A/810 at 71 (1948).
[2] 8 U.S.C. § 1225(b)(1)(A).
[3] See Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, July 28, 1951, 19 U.S.T. 6259, 189 U.N.T.S. 150 (entered into force Apr. 22, 1954); Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Jan. 31, 1967, 19 U.S.T. 6223, 606 U.N.T.S. 267 (entered into force Oct. 4, 1967; U.S. acceded 1968). The United States committed to the central guarantees of the 1951 Refugee Convention by its accession to the Refugee Convention’s 1967 Protocol. Among these is the right of “non-refoulement,” prohibiting states from returning a refugee against his or her will, in any manner whatsoever, to a territory where he or she fears threats to life or freedom. ?Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 189 U.N.T.S. 150, entered into force April 22, 1954, ?http://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html ; U.N. Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 606 U.N.T.S. 268, entered into force October 4, 1967. The United States acceded to the 1967 Protocol in 1968. The US, as a party to the Convention against Torture, is also obligated not to return someone to a country “where there are substantial grounds for believing that [they] would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”? Convention against Torture, art. 3(1).
[4] 8 C.F.R. 253.3(b)(2)(i) and (b)(4).
[5] See id.; see also 8 C.F.R. §§ 235.3(b)(2)(i), 1235.3(b)(2)(i).
[6] 8 C.F.R. §§ 235.3(b)(2)(i), 235.3(b)(4), 1235.3(b)(2)(i), 1235.3(b)(4).
[7] U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Report on Asylum Seekers in Expedited Removal, February 8, 2015.
[8] Calculated from CBP data on apprehensions provided to Human Rights Watch via a Freedom of Information Act request.
[9] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “Global Study on Homicide 2013: Trends, Contexts, Data,” April 2014, http://www.unodc.org/gsh/ (accessed October 9, 2014).
[10] Id.
[11] Human Rights Watch interviews, San Pedro Sula, Honduras, September 6, 7, 8, and 9, 2014.
[12] Human Rights Watch interview with Marlon J. (pseudonym), San Pedro Sula, Honduras, September 6, 2014. (“Los oficiales ya a uno no le prestan atención. Si uno dice que tiene miedo dicen que no pueden hacer nada, ‘I’m sorry,’ lo siento.”)
[13] Human Rights Watch interview with Roberto L. (pseudonym), San Pedro Sula, Honduras, September 9, 2014.
[14] Human Rights Watch interview with Jacobo E. (pseudonym), San Pedro Sula, Honduras, September 7, 2014.
[15] CBP Inspectors Field Manual, February 10, 2006, Section 17.15, available at http://www.aila.org/File/Related/11120959F.pdf.
[16] http://d35brb9zkkbdsd.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/AILA-Ami
[17] See NIJC et al., Inadequate U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Screening Practices Block Individuals Fleeing Persecution from Access to the Asylum Process, (Nov. 13, 2014), available at http://bit.ly/1xfFsog, and at 10 (“despite the clear requirements of the law and the grave stakes involved, CBP’s processing of arriving asylum seekers is marred by careless errors, subversion of even minimal procedures, willful indifference, and in some cases, outright intimidation or coercion.”).
[18] Elise Foley, Infants and Toddlers Are Coming to the US to Work, According to the Border Patrol, Huffington Post, June 16, 2015, available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/16/border-patrol-babies_n_7594618…..
[19] Qing Hua Lin v. Holder, 736 F.3d 343, 355 (4th Cir. 2013).
[20] 8 C.F.R. §§ 1208.31(e), (g)(2)(i). Withholding of removal is available by statute, see 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3), and under the Convention Against Torture (CAT), see 8 C.F.R. § 1208.16.
[21] Petition for Rulemaking to Promulgate Regulations Vindicating the Statutory Right to Seek Asylum Notwithstanding Reinstatement of Removal Orders, Aug. 7, 2015, available at http://bit.ly/1KPe5sw.
[22] As we’ve explained, many noncitizens are deprived of the opportunity to seek asylum due to neglect, oversight, error, or mistake by immigration agents. We acknowledge that some noncitizens fail to express fear or to request a credible fear interview because of their own confusion, because of language limitations, or because of misadvice from friends or acquaintances. We do not suggest that the Department adopt a policy which turns on who bears the “blame” for the prior removal order. That would strike us as inefficient and likely to lead to unjust results. Rather, we suggest that whenever a noncitizen expresses fear of return after a prior removal order, that the case proceed in a way that allows the noncitizen to seek asylum. If an immigration judge ultimately finds any blame in the noncitizen’s prior conduct, that can always be considered in the ultimate decision of whether to grant asylum in the exercise of discretion.

Comment by Vicki Campbell

December 24, 2015 @ 2:29 pm

And here is another letter from Human Rights Watch to ICE that simply addresses the abuses by DHS surrounding it’s restricting of refugees and asylum seekers legal rights to access legal council much less to complain about the many abuses they experience. It doesn’t even get into those abuses, which I will post about separately.


DECEMBER 10, 2015
Letter to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement expressing concern for detainees’ legal visitation rights

Human Rights Watch sent this letter on December 10, 2015, to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to express conernes over detainees’ due process rights, especially with regard to legal visitations.

December 10, 2015

Sarah Saldana
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement
500 12th St., SW
Washington, DC 20536

Dear Director Saldana,

I write to share our concerns regarding detainees’ access to legal visits at LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana, as well as our concerns regarding other issues reported by detainees. Two Human Rights Watch attorneys, Clara Long and Grace Meng, who are researchers in our US Program, visited the detention center on November 2 and 3. What they witnessed and heard raises serious questions about the ability of detainees in LaSalle to assert their due process rights, particularly with regard to their right to legal visits. The allegations made by detainees regarding the conditions of their detention, including food, medical care, and the grievance system are contrary to a fair and humane civil immigration detention system.

Detainees’ Access to Legal Visits

Incidents Specific to Our Visit

Events during our visit raised serious concerns that the facility staff were trying to restrict individuals’ access to attorneys. On the first day, we met with Francisco Rico, a detainee who has filed several grievances against the facility. We also met with one of 14 men who had been on hunger strike at the facility the previous week. We were not able to meet with everyone that day, as the attorney visiting room had been reserved by another attorney for the afternoon, so we planned to return to visit more individuals the following day. That night, another man who had been on hunger strike called us to say that his commissary and phone account had been shut down, and he feared he was about to be deported.

Given the timing of the call, we were naturally concerned that immigration officials were retaliating against this individual for his participation in the hunger strike or that they and facility officials were trying to keep him from meeting with us. We contacted ICE deportation officer Matt Reaves, who referred us to Brian Cox, who referred us to Brian Acuna, AFOD in New Orleans. We strongly expressed our concern that this hunger striker might be facing retaliatory action.

The next day, we asked to meet with this individual and again with Francisco Rico, along with six other individuals. We had also sent a request by email the night before and we arrived around 8:30 am. We were told that the hunger striker had left the facility to be deported, and that Rico, along with three other individuals, was in court in the ICE building next door, which allows for teleconferencing. When we asked the facility staff when they would be available, staff would not provide a definitive answer. Although we were allowed to meet with one individual immediately, only after repeated calls to Mr. Acuna did we receive a clear response that these individuals would be allowed to meet with us.

When we did meet with Mr. Rico several hours later, he told us that he had not had a court hearing that day, nor had he seen a judge. Since then, Mr. Rico has not been allowed to make secure calls to us. Before we arrived at the facility, Mr. Rico told us that he had posted Clara Long’s contact information in the detention center for detainees who wanted to report concerns, and that in response to his actions, he had been placed in solitary confinement.

After our departure, Mr. Rico requested but was denied a secure attorney call to Ms. Long.

There may be legitimate reasons for the decision to deport the hunger striker, the transfer of Mr. Rico to the court building when he did not have a hearing that day, or the apparent decision to place Mr. Rico in disciplinary segregation, but these actions are troubling given that both had been vocal about problems they had in detention and both were individuals we interviewed, and subsequently requested to meet. We also heard allegations of other potentially retaliatory actions against detainees at LaSalle for taking steps to assert their rights, including placement in solitary confinement.

General Concerns

We also wanted to raise more general concerns about attorney access at LaSalle. The facility has one attorney visitation room. If an attorney is occupying the room with his or her client, any other attorneys wishing to meet with individuals must wait. As you may know, LaSalle Detention Center is located in rural, central Louisiana. There are few immigration attorneys practicing near LaSalle. The few attorneys who represent individuals in LaSalle, including the provider of the Legal Orientation Program, drive for several hours in order to visit their clients. Many attorneys are not willing to represent anyone detained at LaSalle because of the challenges of meeting and preparing with their clients, and those who do are often asked to wait for hours while other attorneys meet with their client in the one attorney visitation room.

During our visit on November 2, which commenced at 9 am, we were told an attorney had reserved the room for 1 pm, and we would have to finish our meetings by 1 pm. The next day, an attorney arrived, having driven six hours from Dallas, and was told she could not meet with her clients until one of our researchers was done with the attorney visiting room.

The attorney room is not private. Conversations in the attorney room can easily be heard from outside.

The attorney room does not allow for contact visits. There are two phones that attorneys must use to speak to detainees. While we were there, at first, only one phone worked. By the end of our visit, none of the phones worked. We had to speak loudly through the openings in the window, which further reduced the ability to have a private and confidential conversation.

We greatly appreciated Mr. Acuna’s prompt efforts to facilitate our attorney visits with several of the individuals we met. But we remain seriously concerned about the allegations of retaliatory action and the limited and non-private access to attorneys. We request immediate investigation into whether retaliatory action has been taken against detainees at LaSalle Detention Center. Please inform us as to whether you intend to investigate, and if so, the results of that investigation and the steps you plan to take to ensure such retaliatory action does not happen again. We also request a plan with specific steps ICE will take to expand capacity and confidentiality for legal visits.

General Detention Conditions

During our visit, we interviewed ten individuals referred to us by attorneys and immigrant advocacy organizations. These individuals reported experiencing a range of problems, including unsanitary conditions, inadequate access to clean water, inadequate medical care, inadequate outdoor recreational time, and retaliatory use of solitary confinement.

Several detainees reported an incident a few weeks before our visit, during which time the water smelled and tasted bad, and some detainees developed rashes after showering with the water. Initially, they were told the water was fine. When they were finally given bottled water, one detainee stated they were not given enough water per person.

Several people also alleged that they had received inadequate medical care, that preexisting conditions were not being addressed, or that they had witnessed other detainees suffering from lack of care. Some noted that sick call was often very early in the morning, and if they are too sick to get up, they cannot request and access medical care during that particular day.

Several reported abusive behavior by facility staff, including threats of bodily harm and racist and derogatory language. Some alleged they had been placed in solitary confinement in retaliation for asserting their rights.

Although we cannot verify the specifics of any of these claims, we are deeply concerned by these allegations. We believe these reports warrant further investigation, as they seriously undermine ICE’s goal to maintain a civil, non-punitive detention system.

We would appreciate a meeting to discuss these issues. Please feel free to contact Grace Meng with any questions at (310) 477-5540 or mengg@hrw.org.


Alison Parker
US Program, Director

Cc: Brian Acuna, AFOD, New Orleans
Kevin Landy, Assistant Director of Office of Detention Policy and Planning, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, Deputy Assistant Director for Custody Management, Custody Programs Division, Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Megan Mack, Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Comment by Herod

December 24, 2015 @ 6:31 pm

I am the ultimate heathen, but even I recognized this post’s title and picture as an intense criticism of the DHS proposals. Not exactly a Merry Christmas greeting. But I should let Mr. Palin explain himself.

Comment by Vicki Campbell

December 24, 2015 @ 7:28 pm

I liked the picture and title Phil chose a lot actually, but intensely critical of DHS it is not – at least not compared to the immense problems and valid criticisms of them that are out there. To do that you actually have to “use your words” as my Mother used to say. I’m talking about actually naming and discussing a lot of serious issues involving real problems and wrong-doing by DHS that never even get mentioned much less admitted to or discussed in any DHS-like setting, but that many others outside DHS are critical of and discussing a lot.

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » “What are things like in America?” – Letters from Aleppo (Part 3 of 3)

December 24, 2015 @ 7:58 pm

[…] For some families it means listening for any noise suggesting homeland security raids have started, as Phil Palin posted earlier today: […]

Comment by Philip J. Palin

December 27, 2015 @ 7:20 am

Vicki and Herod: Thanks. I appreciate Vicki’s further evidence and critique. I am glad Herod (especially Herod) recognized my critique.

How we use our words is, it seems to me, a complicated design issue… especially when offering critique. It depends on my relationship with the target of the critique, the readiness/ability of the target to hear, my readiness and ability to adapt my critique to the sensibilities of the other, the purpose of my critique, more and more… And all of these bilateral issues are influenced by the wider context into which my critical words unfold. I expect what I intend to be constructive is often destructive. I expect most of what I offer is lost to the noise. I am glad there are others offering both praise and criticism.

On the issue of Central American refugees and refugees in general, the — to me — obvious ethical imperative to offer care and protection is in tension with the functional capabilities of the current system, some of the legal requirements of the current system, and the angry, perhaps fearful, prejudice of a large number of Americans.

There are steps being taken to address functional capabilities. But the emerging surge could easily overwhelm these measures. Many of the legal requirements are, in my judgment, misconceived and arbitrarily applied (Vicki’s comments are especially clear in this regard). But there is a large population of loud, angry, and increasingly empowered ethno-nationalist extremists who find current laws overly welcoming and my ethical concerns irrelevant, naive, or dangerous.

I am willing to acknowledge — even honor — their perception of risk. A very large number do not seem able to acknowledge, much less honor, my perception that we are dealing with children and others for whom we are obliged to offer practical care and a challenge that will only get worse unless we seriously engage sources of displacement.

I am experimenting with several different ways for my words to be constructive in this context. But as far as I can tell, to date every experiment has confirmed the null hypothesis.

Comment by Vicki Campbell

December 31, 2015 @ 1:56 pm

Phil, thanks. I do have to differ however in honoring “ethno-nationalist extremists” perceptions of risk. I don’t feel any inclination or obligation, either one, to do so. Bad risk assessments, especially those based on bigotry and ignorance, don’t need to be validated; they need to be countered with much better assessments and proper risk communication, which DHS has done fairly poorly, at least as far as I am aware. Emergency/threat assessment, communication and management aren’t supposed to be forms of group therapy, IMHO, nor do I think such an approach or tone would be a very good way to establish credibility and authority regarding threats or hazards.

But in terms of just discussing larger issues more generally, for me it’s not about being constructive or unconstructive, or about “listening” as you have often mentioned. I’ve listened until I’m blue in the face to the same bigoted, uninformed assertions that are both inherently very destructive and not usually offered in good faith to begin with for a very long time now – and I will continue to. But I’m not going to pretend I’m hearing something other than what I am, or offer false respect for something truly hurtful or immoral simply in order to feign some artificial equivalency or balance or attribution of merit where there is none. And yes, there’s a more or less nice or “constructive” way of going about that sometimes, but I also think that serious transgressions of opinion or policy have very real and detrimental impacts out in the actual real world, and that a serious critique that is properly reflective of such negations that is delivered forthrightly is ultimately the most constructive response in the long run, regardless of any temporary discomfort that might be experienced along the way.

Put differently, I feel pretty much no compulsion to suddenly become naturally therapeutic in political discussions, for many reasons, but especially because my diagnosis of the problem has little to do with some fundamental “not listening” between different positions or an enslavement to some painfully forced, politically correct prescription for how to interact across lines of political difference, etc. I think one of the biggest problems is the fairly gargantuan information gap that very clearly, accurately accompanies these lines of difference, that I see no easy solution for, nor is going to disappear anytime soon. Also, unfortunately, it is an issue that I am probably at my least understanding of, and couldn’t possibly have less patience for (even though I fully think that I actually should, by every criteria that I normally offer up understanding and patience – but I’m simply unable to at this point, at all really, to a degree that I do find troubling, but largely unable to alter).

I often feel that style gets elevated well above substance on this blog sometimes – and when it does I guess I just don’t find it that useful, or thought-provoking, especially in the face of the severity of some of the issues we face. You have also spoken here about finding the amount and kind of disputing seeming to permeate the ether these days as as all but intolerable, but I would submit that depending on who’s life you’re living, that there is plenty to dispute, and I firmly think it is both very noble and thankless work (that is much easier to screw up than get right)- and a whole lot harder than waxing poetic or philosophic instead, which. tmm, is what I feel is too often offered instead of an appropriately serious, meaningful analysis or critique.

I think that the truth has its own ring to it, even for those habitually not listening – and that it can sing its song, so to speak, in a wide variety of contexts and styles of communication, and should in no way be expected to be welcomed or even a little bit easy to hear often times – or perhaps more than anything, to be able to be heard immediately in the moment. I also think that social media is possibly an even more powerful invention than the printing press, and that potentially absolutely everything that is said through it has the possibility of being more influential than through any other venue or forum because of its extraordinary reach – and that is for good or bad what generally shapes my comments, or even my desire to comment at all. This has the downside of often leaving my comments less sensitive to my immediate context than they could, or probably usually should be. My bigger individual issue though is that I have at this point studied pretty extensively the effects and impacts of many of the issues raised here and elsewhere, and as a result actually live with a certain degree of anger, upsetment, frustration and often even trauma that is simply not the norm. And it invariably comes out in the certain “punch” or bite that my either the style or content of my comments often have. Sometimes I feel bad about it, and sometimes I don’t – but either way, it is what it is, and I do believe it has its own value within the larger universe of conversation.

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