ACLU alleges abuse of children by Customs and Border Protection

University of Chicago Law School students review documents with professor Claudia Flores, the director of the school's International Human Rights Clinic. (Photo credit: Lloyd DeGrane / University of Chicago Law School as reported by The Chicago Tribune )

University of Chicago Law School students review documents with professor Claudia Flores, the director of the school’s International Human Rights Clinic. (Photo credit: Lloyd DeGrane / University of Chicago Law School as reported by The Chicago Tribune )

Immigrant children who crossed the border suffered abuse and neglect from federal officials, according to a report released May 23 by the ACLU’s Border Litigation Project in partnership with the University of Chicago Law School.

“Elbowing children in the stomach. Lifting a child by the neck. Kicking a child in the ribs. These are all things the American Civil Liberties Union says immigrant children who crossed the border alone experienced while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” The Chicago Tribune reports.

Unaccompanied children who cross the border are placed in juvenile detention centers while they await court decisions on whether they can be released to a relative in the U.S., or if they will remain in custody or be deported.

The allegations stemmed from a review of 30,000 pages of documents by three law students, according to Claudia Flores, director of the University of Chicago’s International Human Rights Clinic.

Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Daniel Hetlage said in a statement that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General completed an investigation and found that the claims were unsubstantiated.

CBS News Asking How Trump Policy Works With Court Backlog



“What happens when a federal push to ramp up arrests and deportations hits a severely backlogged federal court system?” It’s a good question being asked by CBS News as it notes that “… President Donald Trump is taking what he portrays as a hard-nosed approach to undocumented immigrants, issuing an order this week to boost the number of U.S. border patrol agents and to build detention centers.”

Omar Jadwat, an attorney and director of the Immigrant Rights Project at the ACLU, offers an answer: “It’s a recipe for a due process disaster.” CBS backgrounds: “Just how backlogged is the system for adjudicating deportations and related legal matters? America’s immigration courts are now handling a record-breaking level of cases, with more than 533,000 cases currently pending, according to Syracuse University’s TRAC, a data gathering site that tracks the federal government’s enforcement activities. That figure is more than double the number when Mr. Obama took office in 2009.”

Read the excellent reporting here:

Overloaded U.S. immigration courts a “recipe for disaster”

L.A. Times Takes Issues With Denying Immigrants Phone Access

Protestors at the Metropolitan Detention Center during one of several May Day marches in Los Angeles, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Protestors at the Metropolitan Detention Center during one of several May Day marches in Los Angeles, California. (David McNew/Getty Image

The Los Angeles Times, in an editorial, is heralding a decision to increase phone access to people facing immigration hearings. Among other issues, the LAT notes that part of the problem is that the government contracts detention of those people to private firms, which have their own policies. The newspaper also notes that lack of phone access equates to lack of legal representation, which is a key factor in deciding who gets to stay and who has to go.

The editorial notes that “… a legal settlement this week should help remove one obstacle facing detainees: their lack of access to telephones. In a case filed in a San Francisco federal court, detainees represented by the ACLU and other civil rights groups argued that the conditions of their detention in four California facilities interfered with their right to find counsel, to gather evidence on their own behalf and to receive a fair hearing when they make their cases in court. How were those rights being impeded? Through policies that severely limited their use of telephones.”

In another point, the Times says that “… part of the problem is the immigration detention system itself, which relies primarily on contracts between the federal government and the county jails or private companies that house detainees as well as other prisoners. Those facilities have their own rules about inmate access to telephones that also apply to immigration detainees even though the latter have not been charged with or found guilty of crimes.”

Read the editorial here: Why should immigration detainees be denied access to telephones?

Colorado City Settles ‘Debtors Prison’ Case

Nicole Beemsterboer/NPR

Nicole Beemsterboer/NPR

You can add Colorado Springs, Colo., to the list of American cities learning that turning “civil” cases like traffic tickets into jail-time cases might be illegal. National Public Radio did a deep-dive into the situation this week, offering the context that “… debtors’ prisons have long been illegal in the United States. But many courts across the country still send people to jail when they can’t pay their court fines. Last year, the Justice Department stepped in to stop the practice in Ferguson, Mo. And now, in a first, a U.S. city will pay out thousands of dollars to people who were wrongly sent to jail.”

The NPR story said that Colorado Springs and the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado announced “… a settlement that will end the practice of jailing people too poor to pay their court fines. The city will even give payouts to people who were incorrectly sent to jail. Last year, the ACLU of Colorado discovered nearly 800 cases where people had gone to jail in Colorado Springs when they couldn’t pay their tickets for minor violations. Most of the people were homeless — and they were ticketed for things such as panhandling or sleeping in a park overnight. The settlement calls for people to receive $125 for each day they were in jail. One man featured in the story, illegally jailed after being fined for holding up a sign at roadside, will receive some $11,000.

NPR quoted ACLU attorney Mark Silverstein explaining that “… putting people in jail when they can’t pay their fines — without giving them alternative options such as community service — has been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court” and also cited their previous work on the issue: An NPR investigative series in 2014 found the practice is widespread across the country. “The law is supposed to treat us equally,” Silverstein says. “So when people with means can simply pay a fine and move on and then the poor get sentenced to jail, because they’re poor, that’s a two-tiered system of justice that violates the principle of equal protection of the laws.”

That previous NPR investigation, which is truly alarming, noted that “… one of the first instances NPR found of fees charged to criminal defendants was in 1965 when California required payments to reimburse crime victims. By the 1980s, states started billing criminal defendants to reimburse taxpayers. Michigan, in 1984, passed the first law to charge inmates for some of the costs of their incarceration. By 1990, Texas reported that fees from offenders made up more than half the budget of the state’s probation agencies.” California now can charge people for their jail stays, public defender costs and other fees, as can 48 other states.

Read the Colorado Springs story here:

Colorado Springs Will Stop Jailing People Too Poor To Pay Court Fines

CBS Details Route To ‘Debtor Prison’ In U.S.

Starting with the story of a Georgia teenager who spent five days in jail for an illegal left-hand turn, the CBS News “Market Watch” program is outlining how the civil-case to jail-case route actually happens. It turns out that the 19-year-old driver could not pay $838 quickly enough. Eventually, a lawsuit over the case was reportedly settled for $70,000, but CBS says the practice remains common nationally.

Of course, the poster child for the practice, and what it can trigger, is Ferguson, MO, where the city’s finance director famously offered advice to the police chief in a March 2010 letter, warning that “unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year,” the city faced a budget shortfall, said Norquist. He added that a state lawmaker had told him police officers would get little notices along with their paychecks, warning: “If we don’t get more tickets, there won’t be pay increases.”

Read about the new American debtor’s prison here: How you could go to debtors’ prison in the U.S.

AZ Case Shows How Little Border Patrol Fears Courts

Anyone looking for an example of Border Patrol officials basically ignoring the U.S. courts might check out a southern Arizona case. Migrants there have long complained about dirty and overcrowded cells, explains the Arizona Republic newspaper, and about being held in frigid cells deprived of adequate food and water, not to mention denied medical care. The ACLU and other groups sued, and the Republic explains that “… a federal judge then ordered the Border Patrol to save all video surveillance tapes dating back to June 10 at the eight holding facilities in the Tucson sector, one of the nation’s busiest, in response to a request from the ACLU seeking evidence to prove its case.”

But it turns out the Border Patrol has since “willfully” destroyed video recordings in direct violation of U.S. District Court Judge David C. Bury’s order, the newspaper says. Government officials say it was a technical problem. The judge issued sanctions (no doubt strongly worded!) but otherwise there seem few consequences to defying the court.” See the story here.

Journalist Notes Change In U.S. ‘Trick’ Deportations

Los Angeles-based journalist Charles Davis, writing online at VICE, has noted changes in one of the more troubling immigration polices coming to light amid the ongoing child-refugee border crisis. He reports on an Aug. 27 court settlement that “… the [U.S] government will no longer use ‘threats,’ ‘misrepresentations,’ or ‘subterfuge’ in order to trick undocumented immigrants into agreeing to voluntarily deport themselves.”

Davis quotes from written arguments by Gabriel Rivera and Mitra Ebadolahi from the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties: “For years, countless families throughout Southern California have been torn apart by immigration enforcement agencies’ coercive and deceptive ‘voluntary return’ practices… as a matter of standard practice, ICE and Border Patrol have misinformed immigrants about the consequences of ‘voluntary return,’ including withholding the fact that ‘voluntary return’ can trigger a ten year bar against returning to the United States.”

The VICE post paints a truly alarming picture of what’s been going on in our immigration process, including intimidation and suggesting that failure to “go along” might mean trouble for family members.

You can read it here.

ACLU Leader Outlines Immigration Lawsuit Argument

As reported by NPR: Detainees sleep and watch television in a holding cell where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed at a U.S. Customs facility in Nogales, Texas.

As reported by NPR: Detainees sleep and watch television in a holding cell where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed at a U.S. Customs facility in Nogales, Texas.

With armed “citizen groups” starting to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border and angry crowds protesting the arrival of children into their communities, the ongoing “unaccompanied children immigration” crisis is growing worse. Clearly, this is a tragic worst-case example of what happens with “rationing justice” in our civil courts, and California has the biggest caseload backup with tens of thousands of kids awaiting a day in court.

In a major Los Angeles Times opinion piece, the director of the ACLU of Southern California outlines theories behind this week’s lawsuit against the U.S. Government, filed by his group and other civil rights groups. Among other issues, the groups argue for legal representation, saying that 
“… the appointment of counsel is the only way to ensure that children with potentially valid claims can present the necessary arguments and proof. Given the complexities of immigration law and the language and cultural barriers immigrants face, it should surprise no one that attorneys matter in immigration proceedings. A 2012 study of New York immigration courts showed that immigrants who proceed without representation are five times more likely to lose their cases than those who have counsel.”
The ACLU director also argues that, while we may use the term “immigration,” these children are more accurately classified as refugees fleeing for their lives. These are the emerging talking points on the escalating crisis, and you can find them here: Kids caught at the border deserve due process, including lawyers

After Fed Court Ruling, ICE Detainee Requests Go Unheeded

Reflecting on the fact that many immigration detentions are civil, rather than criminal, actions, more than 100 jurisdictions across the United States have stopped enforcing “holds” issued by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE. The policy changes follow a federal court ruling in Oregon declaring such practices unconstitutional.
More than a dozen of the counties changing the practice are in California, including Los Angeles and San Diego, where authorities have stopped complying with the ICE detainer requests, reports the Orange County Register. The newspaper quotes Julia Harumi Mass, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California: “Detaining people based on suspected civil immigration violations without probable cause not only wastes scarce local public safety resources and contradicts our sense of fairness – it undeniably violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” 
Read the Register report by Roxana Kopetman here.