No. 70December 1, 2021
At a recent demonstration in New York City, construction workers stood with fellow immigrant workers to block efforts by state-fomented racists to attack the immigrants. The handful of racists brought cameras in an attempt to intimidate undocumented immigrants present at the demonstration. The immigrant rights forces, with many undocumented workers present in the spirit of Undocumented and Unafraid, demonstrated in Times Square for 11 days. The action, which was joined by many others across the country on November 11 and 12, culminated on the twelfth day with an 11-mile march from midtown Manhattan to the home of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer in Brooklyn.
An undocumented immigrant organizer with National Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) who helped block the racists explained, “What they do is put their camera in your face and demand to know your name. Then they post it online and tell their followers to ID you so you can be reported to ICE.”
The effort to bully the undocumented immigrants failed, however, as the racists found themselves facing a wall of building and construction unionists from Laborers Local 79. “They were there to agitate,” said Christina Culpepper, president of the women’s committee of Laborers Local 79. “But unionists, who are not a separate community from immigrants, weren’t going to back down.” The racists were sent packing as all stood together. As one participant brought out, the strong unity is the result of many years of building relationships and recognition of the importance of a united fight for rights.
(Photos: NICE, Laborers Local 79)
On Veterans Day, November 11, undocumented workers and many others, joined together for Eleven Miles for Eleven Million, an 11 mile march demanding full rights for the 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S. and all immigrants. There were a number of marches including in New York and Washington, DC, many with military veterans participating.
In Texas, this included actions in El Paso as well as Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio. All opposed deportations and detentions of immigrants and demanded their rights, as immigrants and as workers. The El Paso march included veterans. Many veterans were told by the government that if they served they would gain citizenship, and they now find themselves still undocumented and many have been deported. An initiative by veterans — Deported Veterans Support House — has been organized to fight for these veterans in Juárez, El Paso’s sister city in Mexico. A pathway to citizenship for those veterans still interested in securing it, many of whom have waited decades, was among the demands in El Paso.
Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) hosted the El Paso march together with more than 15 local and state level organizations, including unions. As one organizer explained, “The 11 miles represent the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country, and we are calling for a reform to the asylum and refugee systems.” He added that the many joining together want an end to the violence and brutal attacks at the border, including against women and children from Haiti, and the many more people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. “We want to stop the abuse to immigrants and asylum seekers at the border,” said the organizer.
People marched the 11 miles to the international bridge, ending at a high school, and rallying people on the way with about 200 joining in and many others honking their horns in support. They chanted as they marched, letting Biden know they will step up the fight, “Biden! Escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” (“Biden! Listen! We are in the struggle!”)
(Photos: A. Dominguez, LUPE)
A class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of people detained at the Tacoma, Washington State detention camp, owned by the GEO Group, demanded that people be paid the state’s minimum wage of $13.69 an hour, instead of the $1 a day they were receiving. As one of those involved put it, “These detained immigrants are just emblematic of other workers in this economy who are in exploitative labour situations.” People detained reported that they worked through the night buffing floors and painting walls and only got chips and candy.
A jury agreed that people in the detention camps are employees and must be paid minimum wage. They provided for $17.3 million in back pay for about 10,000 people. The case also set the minimum wage standard for all those in state detention camps from now on.
Washington State also filed a lawsuit against GEO that secured a similar result. GEO was ordered to turn over $5.9 million to the state. GEO had claimed detainees are not employees and thus the minimum wage did not apply. This is a ploy used by many monopolies, especially those like Uber and Lyft who create positions for “contract” workers. Washington State said GEO was “violating state labour law and enriching itself unjustly.” While the state acts in a similar manner, exempting prisoners at state, county and municipal facilities from the minimum wage law, GEO is federal and private so it is not exempt, based on these cases.
Tacoma is the fourth-largest immigrant detention camp in the country. People there have fought for years against the horrendous conditions, including lack of medical care, minimal food rations, violence and overcrowding. Women at Tacoma recently went on a hunger strike demanding safe conditions given the pandemic. They protested the dangerous conditions they faced including overcrowding, a lack of access to medical care and basic necessities such as soap.
Hunger strikes have occurred over the years at detention camps as the people detained fought for their rights, a reality known to the people of Tacoma. GEO has faced a variety of lawsuits in other states, including a class action suit by current and former detainees at a Colorado facility, also opposing forced labour.
All the detention camps across the country are notorious for their inhumane conditions. Like GEO, people are forced to work, often for $1 a day, to secure funds for personal needs, phone calls and to avoid retaliation from guards. Commonly those detained do the work needed to make the facility run, such as laundry, painting, cleaning and cooking meals. At Tacoma they did virtually all non-security functions. Thus GEO can secure massive profits by essentially using slave labour. A multi-billion dollar company, GEO took more than $165 million in profits in 2021.
Like GEO, many U.S. detention camps are privately run but publicly funded by the government, specifically Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Most people are detained unjustly for months and even years. For GEO, despite the many examples of the rotten conditions repeatedly provided by people in the camps and their lawyers, ICE renewed GEO’s contract for 2015-2025.
The minimum wage law for people detained applies only to Washington State. But these cases will assist now in securing similar wages for all GEO and other privately run detention camps.
A U.S. organization defending the rights of Haitians, Haitian-Americans United, has charged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with detaining the many Haitian asylum seekers in overcrowded and inhumane conditions. As occurs across the country to the many asylum seekers, including children, from Central America and elsewhere, they were denied medical care and treatment. This denial of medical treatment included pregnant women and sick children, leading to at least one miscarriage. The group filed a complaint and are demanding an investigation into the unjust and illegal conditions at the border.
The Haitians left a dangerous situation in Haiti, which the U.S. government itself acknowledged, yet were being driven back into Mexico and forced to remain for 10 days in an outdoor camp beneath the border bridge in Del Rio, Texas. They were denied access to water, food, sanitation, hygiene products and basic protection against the elements, including blankets. The same was true after they were transferred to detention facilities. According to the complaint filed, many were detained for up to 49 days, and families were given minimal food, “only apples or a slice of bread to share for days,” according to the press release. In addition the families were denied translators for those speaking Haitian Kreyòl. They ask that DHS provide a report concerning their inhumane treatment and that it be made available to the public and Congress.
Among other demands being made are:
– An immediate DHS and Inspector General investigation into how racial animus and national origin discrimination produced the unlawful detention conditions at the border.
– Immediate testing for COVID-19 and vaccine access for immigrants.
– An end to prolonged detention, including a commitment to release immigrants from DHS custody within 72 hours, which is the law.
They also condemned the conditions facing Haitians and all the refugees seeking asylum, demanding access to food, shelter, medical care, and hygiene along with the immediate reduction of overcrowded conditions that place families at imminent risk of life-threatening COVID-19 infection, illness, and death.
– National Immigration Project, Haitian Bridge Alliance –
On November 5, a group of immigrant rights advocates and organizations delivered a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) demanding access to legal services for Haitian migrants detained at the Torrance County Detention Facility in New Mexico. ICE has repeatedly denied access despite multiple attempts by advocates to speak and meet with the migrants, many of whom were detained at or near Del Rio, Texas, in September. The letter demands that ICE halt the deportation of Haitians until they have had an opportunity to consult with counsel, that ICE grant access to pro bono attorneys to meet with all Haitian migrants at the facility for group and individual legal consultations within five days of the request, and that ICE ensure Haitians’ access to confidential legal calls. Attorney Allegra Love and immigrant rights groups Innovation Law Lab, National Immigration Project, Haitian Bridge Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, and the American Immigration Council delivered the letter.
As of September 30, based on interviews with migrants in the facility, the groups believe there were at least 45 Haitians detained at Torrance. In addition to ICE’s denial of their access to legal support, local groups have observed court dockets for Black migrants from Haiti moving disproportionately fast, leading to unfair, rapid deportation orders. Haitian detainees describe poor food, inadequate medical care and mistreatment, common to Torrance and ICE detention centres nationwide, as well as insufficient access to information in Haitian Kreyòl, which together amount to racist discrimination.
Immigrant rights groups that signed and delivered the letter made statements including:
“Many in the U.S. have no idea that our government is running what amounts to black sites designed to isolate and deport migrants. ICE has forcibly disappeared Haitian asylum seekers at Torrance, holding them in terrible conditions and hiding them from pro bono attorneys in an effort to swiftly send them back to a country reeling from a violent political crisis, earthquake and powerful tropical storms. This is not how we believe the U.S. should treat anyone, including Black migrants seeking safety. As long as immigration detention exists, we will join people in their fight for freedom.” — Casey Mangan, Innovation Law Lab
“At least 45 Haitian asylum-seekers are currently detained at Torrance County Detention Facility where they are being denied access to legal support and fast-tracked for deportation. Immigration detention needlessly deprives thousands of immigrants their liberty each day and the situation at Torrance further highlights how Black migrants are disproportionately impacted by an immigration system that is inherently cruel and racist. Our demands in this letter are clear: ICE must immediately halt the deportations of Haitian migrants at Torrance County Detention Facility and allow them access to the legal services and support they need.” — Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director, National Immigration Project
“For the last 42 days I have been begging ICE to provide us with information and access to the Haitian men detained at Torrance so we can provide them with critical pro-bono legal assistance and meeting resistance each step of the way. ICE is doing everything it can to deport these Haitian men without any semblance of due process. It’s racist, it’s wrong, and I am fed up with it. Torrance is a black box, especially for Black migrants.” — Allegra Love, immigration attorney
“It is unconscionable for ICE to block access to legal counsel for these Haitian asylum seekers who have already suffered horrific treatment at the hands of the U.S. government just for seeking protection from harm. By rushing their cases the government seems determined to deport these men to Haiti, where they face abuse and potentially even death, without due process and in some instances before they have even had a chance to talk to an attorney or submit their asylum application.” — Rebecca Sheff, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU of New Mexico
After repeated demands, complaints and broad public outrage with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents boarding Greyhound buses without any cause to terrorize, harass, detain and deport immigrants, Greyhound has been forced to settle a lawsuit brought by Washington State. Greyhound is to stop allowing CBP on buses anywhere in the state and pay $2.2 million in damages. Spokane was a main focus of the unjust sweeps by CBP.
The lawsuit said Greyhound failed to warn customers of the sweeps, misrepresented its role in allowing the sweeps to occur and subjected its passengers to discrimination based on race, skin color or national origin. The sweeps are without warrants or any cause. The suit also said the sweeps caused harm, which Greyhound admitted. Passengers were subjected to armed CBP agents interrogating them, rifling through luggage while others watched, demanding identification (which is not required on a bus), forcing people off the bus, and imposing arrests, detention and deportation.
For years, Greyhound has worked with CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) all across the country, in carrying out these unjust and illegal sweeps. They are an integral part of raids by these highly militarized agencies that act with impunity. It was public outrage and organizing that forced Washington’s Attorney General to bring the case, something that will now no doubt be demanded in other states.
The $2.2 million will be used in part to provide restitution for passengers who were detained, arrested, or deported after CBP boarded their bus at the Spokane Intermodal Center. Greyhound is also required to enforce a policy denying CBP agents permission to board its buses in Washington State without “warrants or reasonable suspicion.” They must also train drivers and other workers to tell CBP that is the policy. Whether CBP complies, or fabricates “reasonable suspicion,” remains to be seen and is something bus riders and all concerned are on the look out for.
Greyhound also has to:
– Issue a public statement, at minimum in English and Spanish, clarifying that Greyhound does not consent to immigration agents boarding its buses without a warrant or reasonable suspicion. It must put this statement on its website and communicate it to federal immigration law enforcement agencies and the City of Spokane, which owns the Intermodal Center;
– Place stickers on or near the front door of its buses stating that it does not consent to immigration agents boarding its buses without a warrant or reasonable suspicion;
– Provide placards for its drivers to give to immigration agents stating that Greyhound does not consent to immigration agents boarding its buses to conduct warrantless or suspicionless searches;
– Provide and display adequate notice to its customers of the risks of warrantless and suspicionless searches in the State of Washington wherever it sells bus tickets;
– Implement a complaint procedure for passengers who want to complain about the presence of immigration agents on Greyhound buses or at Greyhound bus stations, and notify the Attorney General’s Office of any such complaints received;
– Provide semi-annual reports to the Attorney General’s Office, including reporting whether immigration agents have boarded Greyhound buses in the State of Washington.
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