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Iraqi man in detention punished for protesting for his rights

The Daily Beast reported this month that an Iraqi asylum seeker has gone on hunger strike twice to protest his treatment at Laredo Processing Center in Laredo, Texas. Safaa’s wife, Zinah Al Shakarchi, told the Daily Beast that “he is broken” after officials retaliated against him for hunger striking. Guards put him in solitary confinement with freezing cell temperatures, threatened to cut off his phone calls with his wife, and threatened to force feed him, eventually breaking his strike.

 

Laredo Processing Center, run by private prison company CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA), was upheld in December 2017 in a report issued by the Office of the Inspector General stating that detainees were “generally positive about staff treating them with respect.” ICE would not answer any questions regarding the guards’ punishment of Saafa for going on hunger strike.


Detainees have gone on hunger strike in other facilities to protest inhumane detention conditions in Texas in Brooks County Detention Facility, in Karnes Family Detention Center in 2015, and in Hutto Detention Center in 2015.

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Whistleblower reveals harrowing details from inside Karnes family detention center

Olivia Lopez testifying at Congressional Progressive Caucus hearing on family detention
Olivia Lopez testifying at Congressional Progressive Caucus hearing on family detention
Social worker Olivia Lopez spoke to media and House Democrats in late July about the troubling inner workings of the GEO-operated Karnes family detention camp near San Antonio, Texas. She called what was happening at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility “tantamount to torture” and said that she was shocked when she began working at the facility to find that it was “really a prison.”

Lopez revealed that she was rebuked for attempting to provide basic social services such as showing the families the geographic location of the facility and creating better ways to document their concerns. In December, Lopez received this directive from her boss: “ICE: We don’t tell them anything.” She recalled that psychologists were encouraged to falsify records in order to leave a clean paper trail, and that they reported families’ stories to ICE agents.

She also observed severe medical neglect inside the facility, including instances where GEO staff ignored severe abdominal pain and cranial bleeding in toddlers and infants until the emergency became so severe that they were flown to a hospital to undergo major operations. Additionally, Lopez said during one chicken pox outbreak, each “resident” was forced to submit to a blood draw in a way that terrorized children and left many with heavy bruising.

Lopez also confirmed reports of retaliation against leaders of a hunger strike that took place inside the facility earlier this year. She says that leaders of the strike were placed in isolation, sometimes being separated from their children, who were placed in the care of guards with no childcare license. Children were not told of their mothers’ whereabouts and were left to sleep alone without protection.

At various points, Lopez observed that ICE officials condoned and participated in the environment that GEO created, which isolated and terrorized the detained mothers and children. Lopez stated that she was compelled to resign from her position in April after being asked to withhold information from federal officials and follow policies that violated her social work license. Her full testimony the the Congressional Progressive Caucus is available here.

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Paralegal says ICE banned her from Karnes County Detention Center over Texas Observer article

A letter banning Victoria Rossi from entering Karnes as a paralegal.
A letter banning Victoria Rossi from entering Karnes as a paralegal.

An Austin-based attorney and paralegal team claims that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has banned the paralegal from entering the Karnes County Residential Center after The Texas Observer published an article she wrote that was critical of the family detention center.

 

Paralegal and former Observer intern Victoria Rossi told the Observer that she thinks the timing of her banishment from working as a paralegal at the Karnes family detention center is suspicious because it comes after she published an article that detailed what she saw inside Karnes.

 

“I’m hoping it’s just a technical error, but the timing of it, I worry that it’s reactive to the article,” Rossi said.

 

Attorney Virginia Raymond, who employs Rossi as a paralegal, agrees. “It’s straight-up interference with access to counsel. It’s an intimidation tactic.”

 

The story begins in October 2014, when, Raymond submitted a security clearance application for Rossi which was approved by ICE. From then on, Rossi says she faxed the required intent-to-visit notices to Karnes, 24 hours in advance to any future visit to the facility.

 

Then, on January 15, Rossi arrived at the Karnes facility where officers stopped her from entering and questioned her about the purpose of her visit.

 

ICE officials told Raymond that there had been a clerical error on Rossi’s initial application and that Rossi only had permission to work in the facility as an interpreter, not as a paralegal.

 

Rossi and Raymond decided to reapply for paralegal access.

 

After completing a lengthy re-application for clearance process, Rossi and Raymond were denied once again on March 23. This time, the letter received from ICE gave no reason except that Rossi could not enter, “in the capacity of a paralegal.”

 

Rossi’s article for The Observer was published in February and, described her experience working at the Karnes family detention center:

We’d driven to Karnes because a family we represent—Reza and her daughters, Julie and Dalia (not their real names)—was scheduled to be released that night. Though a judge had set their bond impossibly high—impossible, that is, for an impoverished Honduran woman—we’d cobbled together the funds from individual donations and the San Antonio-based Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. An $8,000 money order had been deposited at an ICE office in San Antonio that morning. Now it was 3 p.m.; if everything went smoothly, Reza, Julie and Dalia would be free by nightfall.

Growing up, I always heard that immigrants came to this country “in search of better lives,” for “more opportunities.” They wanted to make money and to educate their kids, I was told. But the people in Karnes are scared. They’re running from something. And they’re not running just to the United States. According to the U.N., asylum applications to countries surrounding violence-torn El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala increased by 712 percent between 2008 and 2013. What happened on the U.S. border last summer was not, as some have said, an immigration crisis. It was a refugee crisis.

I could understand Virginia’s urge to see Reza. Karnes seemed like the sort of place where things could go wrong. Phones weren’t allowed past the metal detectors. There is no Internet access inside, and all the walkways and buzzers and antechambers separating the receptionist’s desk from the visiting area meant that communication with the outside world was difficult.

The Karnes detention center was at the center of two hunger strikes this month. In the first, 78 women refused to eat or use any services in the facility from March 31 to April 4. Ten days later, 10 women restarted the fast to protest their detention.

 

This isn’t the first time that ICE has been accused to retaliating against legal service providers. Raymond also told truth-out.org that another paralegal, RAICES' Johana De Leon, was banned from working inside Karnes after ICE accused her of organizing the hunger strike.

 

The Karnes facility holds 532 beds and cribs for refugee women and children and is operated by GEO Group.

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Hunger strike and use of solitary confinement reported at the Reeves County Detention Center

Reeves County Detention Center
Reeves County Detention Center
According to News West 9, a hunger strike broke out at the Reeves County Detention Center on March 4. Prisoners and their families say they were put into solitary confinement as retaliation for talking to an attorney.

 

The wife of a prisoner at Reeves said her husband was among those placed in solitary. "They're punishing them. Those who spoke with a lawyer, or were wanting to speak with one, they put them in solitary confinement," she said.

 

William McBride, an attorney who says he had a meeting with 56 prisoners at Reeves on March 2, told News West 9 that prison officials suddenly prevented him from speaking with clients on March 3. McBride says prison officials gave no explanation for why he couldn’t meet with clients.

 

“[The warden] didn’t give me a reason why. He just said, “We’re not going to let you see them today, tomorrow or in the future,” McBride said.

 

McBride also told reporters that the prison blocked prisoners from calling his phone number from inside.

 

The reports of retaliation and a hunger strike at Reeves come just weeks after McBride announced that he would pursue a $15 million lawsuit against the Willacy County Correctional facility. The Reeves and Willacy facilities are two of the nation’s 13 segregated, federal “Criminal Alien Requirement” (CAR) prisons for immigrants. Most of those incarcerated in CAR prisons have been convicted of crossing the border. McBride said he wants to include all five of the CAR prisons in Texas in the lawsuit. McBride told NewsWest 9 that prisoners say they only eat rice and beans and that 4 computers must be shared among the 2,300 prisoners, making it nearly impossible to look for legal representation.

 

McBride also said medical care is withheld at Reeves. He says a diabetic prisoner who lost all of his five toes and part of his foot because of an infection went untreated.

 

The hunger strike allegations at Reeves come just days after a major two day uprising where 2,000 immigrant prisoners at the Willacy County Correctional Center last month. Willacy is operated by the Management and Training Corporation (MTC) and, according to an ACLU report, is home to the same abuse and poor medical care.


News West 9 contacted GEO Group to comment on McBride’s access to the inmates. In a statement, they said, “As a matter of policy, our company cannot comment on operational and legal matters."

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Immigrant mothers on hunger strike in Karnes family detention center say they face intimidation and retaliation

Last week immigrant mothers detained at Karnes Detention Center near San Antonio told reporters that they faced retaliation after declaring a hunger strike to demand their release and protest the conditions in which they and their children are being held.

Advocates say that although 40 to 45 women initially began participating in the hunger strike, that number decreased after three women perceived as leaders were placed in isolation in a dark medical clinic with their children overnight on Monday.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is expected to investigate these allegations.

There are also reports that facility guards threatened women participating in the strike with deportation or having their children taken away. Additionally, there are anecdotal reports that all food was cleared from the fridges, even for those women who were not fasting, and that facility officials tightly monitored calls and cut off any conversation that mentioned the hunger strike.

One San Antonio paralegal was accused of inciting the protest and has been banned from the facility, despite multiple statements from both the women inside and advocates that the detained mothers are acting of their own accord. The hunger strike spanned 4 days, from the morning of Tuesday March 31 to Saturday April 4.

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Immigrant mothers begin Holy Week hunger strike in Karnes City family detention lock up

Hunger Strike Announcement Letter
Hunger Strike Announcement Letter

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Page 2

Yesterday, reports emerged that nearly 80 immigrant women at Karnes family detention center near San Antonio signed a letter announcing that beginning this morning they would participate in a Holy Week fast, during which they would not eat, send their children to school, or use any facility services until they received an answer to their demands.

 

According to their letter, the purpose of the strike is to demand their release and protest the conditions in which their children are being held. 

 

The original hand-written letter is pictured above, and a translated version reads as follows:

 

“In the name of the mothers, residents of the Center for Detentions in Karnes City, we are writing this petition whereby we ask to be set free with our children. There are mothers here who have been locked in this place for as long as 10 months.

 

We also have mothers, that because they have had a previous deportation, are not granted a bond.  They are granting a bond to their children, but they are not allowing an out to the mothers. This is the motive that we have taken the initiative of uniting ourselves and initiating a Hunger Strike, so that you can see and feel our desperation.

 

We have come to this country, with our children, seeking refugee status and we are being treated like delinquents. We are not delinquents nor do we pose any threat to this country.

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Page 3

 

During this Hunger Strike, no mother will work in the center of detention or send our children to school.  We will not use any of the services provided by this place until we have been heard and our freedom has been approved.

 

All of the mothers demand that you give us a solution. Included amongst us are mothers whom this is the first time they have been in this country.

 

Asylum Officials have conducted Credible Fear Interviews and determined them to be Positive. Even after having a result of positive, we are still detained because we are not able to pay the elevated bond and in some cases we are not given the opportunity to pay the bond.   

 

You should know that this is only the beginning and we will not  stop until we achieve our objectives.  This strike will continue until every one of us is freed.

The conditions, in which our children find themselves, are not good. Our children are not eating well and every day they are losing weight.  Their health is deteriorating.

 

We know that any mother would do what we are doing for their children.  

We deserve to be treated with some dignity and that our rights, to the immigration process, be respected.There are some mothers that lost their appeal for Asylum and were forced to sign deportation papers. We believe that this is unjust because they have come to this country asking for Asylum because they are in danger in their country. And now they are being deported back to the place where they could even lose their life.

 This petition is signed by all the mothers, of this center, in detention.”

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Immigrant denounces alleged rape at Joe Corley Detention Center

Douglas Menjivar, an immigrant just released from the Polk County Detention Center in Livingston after 22 months in detention, says he was raped in September and October 2013 while detained at the Joe Corley detention center. Joe Corley is an immigrant detention center in Conroe, Texas run by the private prison corporation GEO Group.

Menjivar says he reported the rape to the supervising Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer known only as "Mr. Hernandez," immediately after it occurred, but was ridiculed and called “stupid” for "allowing himself to be raped."

Menjivar officially reported the incident to an ICE doctor in December 2014. The agency concluded its investigation in February, stating that the results of the investigation “do not corroborate the accusation.” However, Menjivar told Semana News that he couldn't provide the names of the four witnesses to the rape because he feard for the safety of his family in El Salvador.

While at the Joe Corley Detention Center, Menjivar participated in a hunger strike last year to call attention to the inhumane conditions at the facility. The hunger strike at Joe Corley was inspired by hunger strikes at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Shortly after protests in June 2014, ICE transferred some of the immigrant protesters detained at Joe Corley to other facilities, but the majority were deported.

Menjivar has been issued an order of deportation but says he fears for his life if returned to El Salvador. Menjivar's attorney appealed to the 5th Circuit Appellate Court to stop his deportation on the grounds that since he does not have a criminal record in this country, he should not be an enforcement priority. Though the legal process has not yet been successful, advocates credit Menjivar's recent release to a congressional letter by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee requesting a stay of deportation. Additionally, due to the danger he would face if deported, the Salvadoran consulate did not issue departure papers, which further delayed his deportation. 

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