CIVIC and Over 340 Organizations Call for End to Private Immigration Detention

Christina Fialho speaks at press conference in capital

On September 14th, CIVIC joined forced with over 340 immigrant rights, faith-based and civil- and labor-rights organizations to deliver a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson calling for the government to end its use of private prison companies to incarcerate immigrants.

Our letter documents concerns over the use of private immigration detention facilities, and points to the California State Legislature’s passage of the Dignity Not Detention Act, S.B. 1289, to limit its own municipalities’ involvement in private immigration detention contracting. 

We are calling on DHS to use its resources to create a plan to end the agency’s entanglement with private prison companies.

Bridging Borders: Community-Engaged Cookbook Project

By: Katie Dingeman-Cerda

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 4.59.30 PMFood bears significance beyond nourishing our bodies. It connects people across generations, cultures, and history. Faculty and students from the University of Denver recently partnered with the CIVIC-affiliated nonprofit Casa de Paz to pilot a bilingual English-Spanish cookbook featuring the stories of local migrants. Casa de Paz, directed by Sarah Jackson, offers solidarity with migrants detained in the private detention facility in Aurora by facilitating visitations and pen pals, as well as free housing and support for families torn apart by detention.

Students from the university course I teach, Crimmigration: The Criminalization of Immigration, spent a day with a formerly detained migrant serviced by Casa de Paz. The students went grocery shopping and prepared a meal that held special meaning to their designated migrant “chef.” The meals included John’s “Favorite Fufu” which brings him back to Ghana, José’s “Costillitas de Puerco” which reminds him of a lost love, and Erik’s “Family Style Citrus Chicken & Vegetables” which he ate as a child as a second-generation Chinese migrant in Mexico. In sharing food and stories, the project humanized migrants whose identities are lost amidst often hostile political rhetoric.

The students also learned about the power of borders, citizenship, and criminalization. They heard that Lupe’s “Spicy Chicken & Rice” was made in memory of her mother who died from cancer but whose funeral she could not attend in Mexico due to her undocumented status. Jose was paralyzed in detention after digesting a piece of metal in food described as “trash” and receiving inadequate medical care (they only provided him ibuprofen). “Costillitas de Puerco” was a meal for which José longed as he languished in detention for three years for crimes fraudulently committed in his name. After meeting Erik, the students learned he was to be deported and separated from his U.S. citizen wife and three children. The students have been raising awareness in their networks and they plan to attend Eriks’ removal hearing.

With guidance from James Beard Award-winning soul food author Adrian Miller, the students produced cookbook pages featuring migrants’ stories and recipes, and presented their findings in a potluck celebration at the University of Denver. Students from the university’s Spanish program are translating the pages under the guidance of Professor Zulema Lopez. Sarah Jackson is continuing the cookbook project with community and student groups in Denver. Once the book published, all proceeds will fund programming at Casa de Paz.

For more information on Casa de Paz:

To join Katie and CIVIC in creating the second community-engaged cookbook in this series, email


Stewart Detention Center in Georgia: One of the Most Isolated Facilities Nationwide

Georgia has 6 immigration detention facilities, and the immigration detention population is the fourth largest in the country. Georgia also is home to the largest immigration detention facility in the country, the Stewart Detention Center, run by the publically-traded Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) holding over 2,000 people each day.

Immigration detention is a civil form of confinement, and thus, detained migrants lack many of the safeguards of the criminal justice system. They have no right to a court-appointed attorney, a free phone call, or a speedy trial. While 46% of migrants are transferred away from family and friends, 84% lack attorneys. But in Georgia, this isolation is far worse; for example, only 6 percent of people detained at Stewart are represented by counsel  because there is not a single immigration attorney in the town of Lumpkin and the facility is 150 miles from Atlanta.  Many languish without visits from their family or the outside community because of the remote location of the facility and limited visitation booths.  In many of the visitation booths, including ones reserved for legal visits, the phones used to communicate through the Plexiglas are faulty. 

In March, CIVIC signed a letter written by the Southern Poverty Law Center to ICE, calling for CCA to 1) install and make available video teleconferencing (VTC) machines for detained immigrants to communicate with counsel; 2) designate duty officials to allow counsel to schedule calls with detained immigrants; 3) efficiently schedule meetings for immigrants in solitary confinement or administrative segregation; and 4) promptly replace faulty telephones. 

CIVIC is working toward building a country without immigration detention, especially for-profit detention facilities such as the Stewart Detention Center.  Until we achieve our goal, we will continue to visit and monitor detention facilities in Georgia and beyond.  To join us, sign up for our mailing list, become a volunteer with our hotline in Georgia, and check out our affiliated visitation and hospitality program in Georgia.

CIVIC’s ‘Dignity Not Detention Act’ Clears Senate


CIVIC’s ‘Dignity Not Detention Act’ Clears Senate 

SACRAMENTO, CA — The California State Senate approved this week a measure authored by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and co-sponsored by CIVIC and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center to help close a gap in the mistreatment of immigrants by taking a stand against the mass incarceration and inhumane immigration detention conditions.

Senate Bill 1289, the #DignityNotDetention Act, will prohibit local city and county actors from being complicit in allowing private, for-profit companies from operating immigration detention facilities in California and require all other detention facilities to uphold national humane treatment standards.

“We are taking a stand against the mass incarceration of immigrants in detention facilities and against inhumane immigration detention conditions,” said Senator Lara. “Our state and local governments should not be complicit in this awful practice of profiting off of human suffering. Immigrants matter and should not be treated like caged animals while corporations profit.”

ICE contracts with private companies to run detention facilities to hold immigrants, including undocumented people, asylum-seekers, long-time green card holders, and others who are awaiting their immigration hearings. In California there are four privately run detention facilities that hold upwards of approximately 85 percent of detainees statewide which amounts to roughly 3,700 people. The rest are held in county jail facilities that contract with ICE.

There have been consistent reports of human right’s abuses in detention facilities, including physical and sexual abuse, poor access to healthcare, little access to legal counsel, and overuse of solitary confinement, and even death. LGBT detainees have reported facing discrimination, harassment, and abuse due to their sexual orientation. In many of these instances, even the Department of Homeland Security has found these deaths were preventable. Tragically, the incidents often go unaddressed and victims have no recourse. Private, for-profit immigration detention facilities present a host of problems. The facilities are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act and operate with little to no oversight. Many also operate under a perverse incentive, where they are guaranteed a minimum number of detainees in their facility at all times, ensuring their profits. For example in Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, CA, ICE is guaranteed 975detainees at all times with a per diem rate of $111 per bed per day. 

“We applaud Senator Ricardo Lara for his leadership and the California Senate for voting for dignity,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and the co-founder/executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). “While masquerading as ‘civil custody,’ the U.S. detention system takes our treasured ideals of due process, access to counsel and protection of civil rights, and throws them under the bus.  As ICE is unwilling or unable to protect immigrants in its custody, it is time for California to abolish private immigration detention and ensure that all people within the state are treated humanely.  We are calling for dignity not detention, and this week, we made it one step closer to our goal.”

The Dignity Note Detention Act is co-sponsored by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). The bill now heads to the state Assembly. 


Gary (Indiana) Says No To A GEO Detention Facility

Visitor volunteers and advocates protest GEO at Gary meeting (Photo Credit:  Jonathan Miano, The Times)

Visitor volunteers and advocates protest GEO at Gary meeting (Photo Credit: Jonathan Miano, The Times)

An attempt to build an immigration detention center in Gary, Indiana, has failed!  A request for a zoning variance on property that was to be used for a new immigration detention center in Gary failed 9-0 Wednesday night.  CIVIC filed a letter with the Gary Common Council prior to the vote, and visitor volunteers and other advocates protested the new facility.  The community was heard!  GEO Group is an untrustworthy partner and immigration detention is inhumane, costly, and unnecessary.  Read more here.

United States v. Texas (DAPA challenge)

JanMeslin_Justice&Dignity CIVIC’s Jan Meslin at SCOTUS with thousands of passionate people supporting DACA & DAPA (April 18, 2016).


In November, 2014, President Obama announced executive action related to immigration.  The action, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), defers deportation proceedings for qualified parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents for at least three years.  The action also expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to include individuals who entered the U.S. before 2010. (The original policy, enacted in 2012, only impacted individuals who entered the country before 2007.  The original policy has not been challenged in Court.)  Soon after the announcement, Texas and 17 other states filed suit in federal court, seeking to enjoin, or block, the implementation of these policies.  A federal judge in Texas, followed by a divided Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, issued and upheld, respectively, a preliminary injunction.  This halted the performance of DAPA and the expansion of DACA.  The courts held that (1) Texas has standing to bring the lawsuit and (2) has a likelihood of success on the merits of the lawsuit.  The narrow procedural ground on which the courts concluded a likelihood of success was based on the government’s alleged failure to comply with certain requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), specifically the “notice and comment” rulemaking.  However, when the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to review the case, it took the unusual step of asking for additional briefing on the constitutional question of whether DAPA violates the “Take Care” Clause in the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the Supreme Court ordered the President to justify DAPA and prove that his executive action is consistent with congressional intent and does not create new law.  The first is within the Take Care Clause of the Constitution, while the second would violate the Constitution.


The real issue before the Supreme Court is whether DAPA or the expanded DACA violates the “Take Care” Clause in the Constitution.  Article II, Section 3, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution simply provides that the President, “…shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed…” The clause was designed to ensure that laws are dutifully or “faithfully” executed by the President, even if he disagrees with the purpose of that law.  It requires the President to obey and execute the laws passed by Congress.  However, the President possesses wide discretion in deciding how and even when to enforce laws.  Absent specificity in the law or clarification by the courts, the President also has discretion in interpreting the meaning of the laws he must execute.  What does this mean as applied to DACA?

The crucial finding will be either that Congress gave the executive branch a good deal of flexibility on how to enforce the immigration law so that deferred deportation is “faithful” to the law, or that Congress made its intent very clear so that little was left to executive discretion, and deferred deportation is “unfaithful” to the law, and thus invalid under the Take Care Clause.    In other words, the Court could view DAPA as a new law created by the President, or it could view DAPA as the President’s decision on how to enforce (or not enforce) laws created by Congress.(Despite asking for briefing on this issue, it is possible that the Supreme Court will decide the case on procedural or other grounds, such as deciding that Texas does not have standing to sue.  If the court does get to this constitutional issue, the Justices very likely will provide a full explanation of what the Take Care Clause means, which would be a first in Supreme Court history.)

In 225 years, the Supreme Court has never had occasion to ask the president whether he has reneged on his oath to take care that the laws are faithfully executed.  Further, in the last 60 years, every president has granted some form of immigration relief, without a question as to whether he violated the Take Care Clause.  In United States v. Arizona, the Supreme Court looked at the issue of the federal government’s power over immigration policies.  Although it was not analyzed in the context of the Take Care Clause, the majority opinion may shed some light on how the Court might decide this case.  Justice Kennedy wrote, 

  “Removal (of undocumented immigrants) is a civil, not criminal, matter. A principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials… Federal officials, as an initial matter, must decide whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all….Discretion in the enforcement of immigration law embraces immediate human concerns. Unauthorized workers trying to support their families, for example, likely pose less danger than alien smugglers or aliens who commit a serious crime. The equities of an individual case may turn on many factors, including whether the alien has children born in the United States, long ties to the community, or a record of distinguished military service. Some discretionary decisions involve policy choices that bear on this Nation’s international relations. The dynamic nature of relations with other countries requires the Executive Branch to ensure that enforcement policies are consistent with this Nation’s foreign policy with respect to these and other realities.”  

It should also be noted that Justice Kennedy wrote the decision for a 5-3 Supreme Court, as Justice Kagan had recused herself from participating in the decision.  The dissenters were Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito.  This balance would tend to bode well for the current eight member Court to decide in favor of the President’s power to enact DAPA.


Twenty-five states have joined Texas in opposing the implementation of DAPA.  Fifteen states and the District of Columbia support its implementation.  On April 18, the Court heard oral argument in this case.  The justices sometimes provide clues about which way they are leaning, based on the types of questions they ask, and who they ask.  During oral argument, the Court’s “conservatives” and “liberals” seemed divided.  The liberal justices, including Justice Ginsburg, Justice Kagan, and Justice Breyer, questioned whether Texas has standing to seek an injunction in the first instance.  Justice Sotomayor also took issue when the Solicitor General from Texas called President Obama’s action “unprecedented”. The conservative justices, including Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, were more focused on the language of the action, which refers to the beneficiaries of the program as being “lawfully present” in the United States, but still in violation of immigration law. (Justice Thomas was, typically silent, but usually sides with the other conservative justices.)  Of most concern to the survival of the program was questioning from Justice Kennedy, who is seen as a “swing” vote.  He seemed concerned that the President is expanding immigration policy on his own and asking Congress to join him.  He pointedly said, “That’s just upside down.”

If the Court upholds the decision of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, or is divided 4-4, the ruling from the Texas Court will stand, and DAPA will not take effect.  If the Court reverses the decision, or decides that Texas did not have standing to sue in the first instance, the executive action can move forward and have a positive impact on the almost 4.3 million undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful residents. However, if the Republicans win back the White House, reversal of President Obama’s action would be imminent.  Since the Supreme Court’s decision would not be handed down until approximately June, 2016, most people would likely wait until after the presidential election in November before they seek relief under DAPA. (If the Court is divided 4-4 on the issue of executive power and the Take Care Clause but wants to avoid another 4-4 decision on a major issue, one or more of the conservative justices might side with the liberal justices on the standing issue, thereby sidestepping the bigger question on the Take Care Clause.)

Teka Gulema died, but ICE has failed to report his death.

Read CIVIC’s Complaint regarding the death of Teka Gulema and a pattern and practice of medical neglect at the Etowah County Detention Center.

Teka Gulema has passed away, but ICE has failed to report his death. Mr. Gulema contracted an infection while he was detained in the Etowah County Detention Center. After a failure to properly treat the infection, ICE “released” Mr. Gulema from custody, although he remained immobile in the same hospital bed in Gadsden the ICE had transported him to, thereby avoiding the agency’s obligations to report Mr. Gulema’s death to government entities and the public. His death will not be counted in ICE’s death toll, but we will keep his memory alive.


Christina Fialho Discusses Discrimination Against Muslims in Immigration Detention

Since 9/11, the federal government has relied heavily on immigration law and policy to prosecute the so-called “War on Terror.” Because the process of arresting someone under immigration law rather than criminal law has fewer checks and balances, the federal government has abused the immigration legal system in a way that discriminates against Muslim immigrants. CIVIC, with its partner organizations such as the Islamic Shura Council, stand beside Muslim immigrants. Learn more about the detention of Muslim immigrants in this 10-minute talk given by CIVIC’s Christina Fialho to the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.