By Suzanne Gamboa and Gwen Aviles
Democrats poised to hold committee positions in Congress that will give them jurisdiction over agencies in charge of keeping immigrants in custody, especially children, said Thursday they plan to step up scrutiny of immigration detention next year.
Democrats won control of the House in November, which means they take over leadership of committees and subcommittees in the next Congress, which opens in early January.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, who as the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations’ subcommittee on Homeland Security is in line to become its chairwoman.
On her to-do list: provide better access to legal counsel; use alternatives to detention, particularly for families; ensure that immigration facilities are more regularly inspected; and secure more funding for the hiring of social workers to work with unaccompanied child migrants.
“Mainly it’s going to be oversight, pushing for fairness and justice for these immigrants,” Roybal-Allard said.
Although illegal immigration has dropped significantly in recent years, the Trump administration has stepped up immigration detention, including holding parents and children from Central America who have been more likely to cross the border and surrender to law enforcement authorities and request asylum.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the incoming chair of the House Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Services, pledged to “get accountability for the taxpayers’ dollars” that are being spent to hold unaccompanied immigrant children in tents in Tornillo, Texas.
She criticized a White House request for another $190 million for the program to be added to the spending bill that Congress is negotiating, which she said would prolong the detention of immigrant children beyond the current average of about 70 days.
“I will do everything I can to prevent them from getting one more nickel,” DeLauro said.
Congress is trying to finish up the spending package this year, and there is debate over how much will be spent on immigration enforcement, including immigration detention and the border wall that President Donald Trump has promised to build at Mexico’s expense.
Immigration groups and other advocates are pressuring Democrats to prevent increases in spending on immigration enforcement and any additional spending on the wall.
The American Immigration Council, a legal group that advocates for immigrants, released a study this week that reported nearly two-thirds of people held in immigration detention in recent years were locked away in privately operated jails in remote areas far from their communities and legal support.
The analysis was based on records for the 355,729 people held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in 2015. According to the council’s report, the federal government also regularly moved people among its 638 facilities in its network.
The report, titled “The Landscape of Immigration Detention in the United States,” was released on Wednesday and was intended to have some impact on the negotiations on Capitol Hill.
“As Congress weighs the administration’s repeated requests for a massive immigration enforcement budget, these findings should be central to policy discussions about detention funding, oversight and reform,” said Kathryn Shepherd, the American Immigration Council‘s national advocacy counsel.
According to the council’s analysis, 67 percent of the 355,729 immigrants detained in 2015 were held in privately owned facilities, and 64 percent were in remote facilities. The average detention length among the more than 260,000 adults released from immigration detention centers in 2015 was 38 days.
The study shows that the majority of adults who were detained were transferred at least once during their detention, which led to confinement in multiple locations.
The report’s researchers found that 48 percent of detainees were confined at least once in a facility that was more than 60 miles away from the nearest nonprofit immigration defense attorney that specialized in defending immigrants threatened with removal.
In addition, 26 percent was held at a facility 90 miles away and 22 percent was 120 miles from that legal help, according to the report by Dr. Emily Ryo, an associate professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, and Ian Peacock, a sociology graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Providing access to legal counsel is going to be one of my priorities,” Roybal-Allard said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure easy access is available and they will be able to get legal counsel.” Immigrants held in detention do not have a right to an attorney under U.S. law.
The Migration Policy Institute, in a report released in May, reported that three-quarters of people in immigration detention in 2016 were held in facilities operated by private companies.
According to the institute, the Department of Homeland Security spent $126 a day on each detained person in fiscal year 2017 as costs soared to $2 billion annually. That has also led to increased profits for the private companies that run the facilities.
The American Immigration Council analysis showed that privately owned facilities outside of major urban areas had higher numbers of grievances.
In 2015, nearly 50,000 detention-related grievances from detainees and the public were made through ICE’s Detention Reporting and Information Line (a phone complaint and question line), the report said. Access to legal counsel and basic immigration case information were the most common type of grievances.
“The use of immigration detention in the United States has increased significantly in recent decades, while allegations of civil and human rights violations in detention facilities have persisted,” said Ryo. The issues raised in the report “could be exacerbated if the government expands detention use further,” she said.
Ana Raquel Minian, an author and a history professor at Stanford, wrote recently in an opinion article in The New York Times that immigration detention has a short-lived history in the country. The shift to greater detention of immigrants after a falloff in the 1950s came with the arrival of Cubans and Haitians in the 1980s and was later driven by for-profit companies that led to a massive detention infrastructure, Minian wrote.
Roybal-Allard, De Lauro and Rep.-elect Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said in the conference call Thursday that they would also push increased training of detention guards and personnel.
“Most of these contract facilities are run by folks who are used to dealing with hardened criminals and have no sensitivity or understanding with regards to the fact that they are dealing with a different population,” Roybal-Allard said.
Escobar called for more accountability and transparency in the contracts that are awarded to private companies.
“What we’ve seen with these huge no-bid contracts is they are ongoing,” Escobar said. “They keep getting renewed and … the amount of money and taxpayer dollars going to this is probably significantly more than we even know.”
Florida officials demand answers on DHS plan to send asylum-seekers to Democratic counties
By Dareh Gregorian
Florida officials are demanding answers about a Department of Homeland Security plan to send 1,000 “unlawful immigrants and asylum-seekers” a month to two heavily Democratic counties.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and a close ally of President Donald Trump, called the plan “not acceptable,” and said it might not be enacted.
“I’m going to be addressing this,” he told reporters on Friday.
“Nothing’s concrete,” DeSantis said. “This is not something that came down from the White House. This was something that came out of the agencies.”
An official with Customs and Border Protection, the DHS agency that local law-enforcement says told them the asylum seekers would be brought to the state within weeks, told reporters Friday there may have been some miscommunication, and no such move was imminent.
The agency acknowledged Friday it is looking at releasing immigrants in communities along the northern border and on the coast, where there is already a border patrol presence.
On Thursday, CBP had declined comment on the plan, referring questions to Homeland Security, which did not respond to questions from reporters — or area lawmakers.
In a letter to acting DHS boss Kevin McAleenan on Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he was told about the plan “to transport approximately 500 migrants per month from El Paso, Texas, to both Broward and Palm Beach Counties for release pending an asylum hearing” from local law-enforcement.
“Does the Department intend to transport migrants currently in custody at the southern border to states that do not share a border with Mexico?” Rubio asked, referring to the entrants as “unlawful immigrants and asylum-seekers.” “If so, why?”
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said they were informed of the basics of the plan this week by border patrol operations in Miami, but had not been able to get any specifics.
“The composition, according to what we were told, were supposed to be family units. We don’t know what that means. We don’t know if that means a 15 year old, a mother and a father, or a 5 year old and a mother, or just a father and a child,” he told reporters.
“What kind of health conditions do they have?” Bradshaw asked. “What are they going do when they get here?”
He said there appears to be no plan in place by the feds for what happens to the migrants after they’re processed at immigration facilities. He said CBP plans “to give them a notice to appear to come to a hearing at some later date, and then release them into the community. No accommodations for transportation leaving there, no accommodations for shelter or a place to live, just no real plan on what’s going to happen to these 500 people.”
He said charitable resources in the area are already stretched thin. “We have a homeless problem, we’re dealing with a Hepatitis A outbreak, we’re dealing with measles outbreaks,” Bradshaw said.
Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen said, “We will do everything possible to help these people,” but added, “this is irresponsible policy. To bring hundreds of people here every week without providing the necessary resources to house and feed them is inhumane.”
“If the president will not provide us with financial assistance to house and feed these people, he will be creating a homeless encampment,” Bogen said.
Rep. Ted Deutsch, D-Fla., said Congress has been kept in the dark.
“There’s a stunning amount of confusion surrounding the Administration’s outrageous immigration policy, even more today than usual,” he said. “I hesitate saying more about these reports because no one in the Administration seems to know what is happening.”
While Florida voted for Trump in 2016, the two counties that would be impacted by the plan are Democratic strongholds that overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. State voter data shows Broward County has 600,365 registered Democrats and 254,012 registered Republicans. Palm Beach County — home to Trump’s “Winter White House,” Mar-a-Lago — has 398,166 Democrats and 268,011 Republicans.
Last month, the president said he was “giving very strong consideration” to a plan to bus detained immigrants to so-called sanctuary cities as a way of retaliating against Democrats for blocking his efforts to change the country’s “very dangerous immigration laws.”
“We’ll bring them to sanctuary city areas and let that particular area take care of it,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “They say we have open arms, they’re always saying they have open arms, let’s see if they have open arms.”
Trump made the statement after it was reported that DHS had considered such a plan but rejected because it was “so illegal.”
Neither Broward nor Palm Beach counties are “sanctuary” areas that limit cooperation with immigration authorities, and a bill banning such areas in the state was approved by the state legislature earlier this month. DeSantis is expected to sign it.
The CBP official who spoke with reporters Friday said the agency is not considering whether or not the areas they’re sending migrants to are sanctuary cities — only whether they have the capacity to temporarily detain, process and release them.
DeSantis said a large influx of asylum-seekers in any part of the state would put a strain on state and local services, and that he would talk to Trump about the issue if necessary.
“This I would think would cause a lot of stress on our communities,” the governor said. “We have a lot of fish to fry with our own state and our own citizens.”
Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., an outspoken Trump critic, said in a statement, “Voters won’t like this attempt to manufacture crises in our communities and drain already strained resources, nor will they forget it when they head to the polls next year. Building encampments on the grounds of his beloved Mar-a-Lago, however, is something they likely can get behind.”
Brexit LIVE: 'Stop Boris!' Remainers draw up plot to block no deal Brexit
SEVEN Tory Ministers including former Home Secretary Amber Rudd are ready to block Boris Johnson’s bid to take the UK out of the EU without a Brexit divorce deal if he becomes Conservative Party leader, in a move which could ignite civil war in the Conservative Party.
Hundreds of migrants detained in Texas to be flown to San Diego
By Phil Helsel
Hundreds of detainees from immigration agency facilities in Texas and elsewhere will be flown to San Diego for processing, it was reported Friday, as authorities struggle to handle an influx of migrants entering the country.
Three flights a week carrying about 130 people a flight would arrive in the San Diego area from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, Customs and Border Protection Interim Chief Patrol Agent Douglas Harrison said Friday, according to NBC San Diego
Those people would come from facilities overwhelmed by a high number of immigrants, including those who are claiming asylum, but officials in Southern California are not expecting any unaccompanied minors, the station reported.
The federal border protection agency is calling the surge in migrants fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — a region sometimes called the Northern Triangle — a humanitarian and border security crisis.
“We’re in the middle of a humanitarian crisis and the numbers in Texas are staggering so the BP is helping out in those sectors to more efficiently process these folks,” an unidentified CBP official said, referring to the Border Patrol, according to Reuters.
The announcement comes as two Department of Homeland Security officials said the DHS is laying the groundwork for a plan to transport recent border crossers by plane to cities around the country and release them after processing.
Florida officials expressed anger on Thursday after learning the Trump administration was planning to release hundreds of migrants each month in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Beyond South Florida, DHS is considering other areas around the country where immigrants can be released, the two officials told NBC News.
It was not immediately clear if the flights from Texas to San Diego were part of that DHS plan.
Also on Friday, Customs and Border Protection warned people against trying to cross the Rio Grande River into the United States, calling crossings with small children an “alarming trend” that has resulted in deaths.
The agency said in a statement that since Oct. 1, 2018, there have been 10 water-related deaths in the Del Rio Sector, which covers parts of the Texas border.
On May 1, three people drowned, including a 10-month-old boy and a 7-year-old boy, when a raft carrying nine people capsized, sending everyone aboard into the water, CBP said.
Border Patrol agents rescued a man who was trying to cross the river with a 3-month-old boy strapped to his chest Thursday, the CBP said. The baby suffered water in his lungs and nearly drowned, the agency said.
“It’s disturbing what is taking place on our borders and witnessed by our Border Patrol agents every day,” Del Rio Sector Acting Chief Patrol Agent Randy Davis said in the CBP statement.
“This trend is not without tragic consequences,” he said. “Border Patrol agents are rescuing people, but have also had the grim task of recovering deceased bodies including children as young as 10-months-old from the Rio Grande River.”
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