Success in advoacting for the release of a mother from detention

Yanelly, Jovita’s daughter and Fran Montgomery, Detention Dialouges visitor and advoacate.

Last week, Jovita Landa Mota, a mother and grandmother who has lived in the United States for seventeen years was released from immigration detention after three years of imprisonment. Jovita was detained for fourteen months by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, California. Meanwhile her five U.S. citizen children and grandchildren suffered the trauma of losing thier mother. Fran Montgomery, a volunteer with Detention Dialogues and CIVIC, visited Jovita on Friday’s for the past year and suggested that her case would benefit from a public campaign.

Reverand Deborah Lee with the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights took the lead and organized community members to visit the San Francisco Immigration Courthouse at 630 Sansome Street. About 30 community members attended this action, including Jovita’s attorney and requested to speak with the ICE deportation officer in charge of Jovita’s case. The ICE officer promised to review the case and consider Jovita’s community ties and support. After the first action, we never heard any news back from ICE after repeated attempts to contact them. We organized a follow up action to call for Jovita’s release. The press conference/rally was merged with the breaking of a 5 day fast undertaken by 11 students in solidarity with migrant children at the border. The fasters extended their solidarity to call for Jovita’s release. Yanelly, Jovita’s 19 year old dauhter who has been the primary caretaker for her younger siblings, traveled 10 hours to attend the rally along with her younger brother. She spoke of the pain of being separated from her mother. She also spoke of the hope she felt from the support of strangers helping her to advocate for her mother’s release.

Jovita has been released from immigration detention and united with her family. Unlike many others released from detention, Jovita is not required to wear an ankle monitoring bracelet while her application for a U-Visa, a special visa for survivors of domestic violence. proceeds. The decision to release Jovita was made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, who have broad powers of discretion and may release individuals from detention, even when immigration law states that a person must be manditorily detained without the ability to request bond and release from an immigration judge.

Please be in touch with Christina Mansfield of CIVIC (cmansfield@endisolation.org) if any readers are interested in how to initiate similar advocacy efforts in your community. ICE will not use their power of prosecutiorial discretion without sustained community pressure. Also, I want to extend a special thanks to Fran Montgomery, Suzanne Llewellyn, Rev. Deborah Lee, and all of the community members who tirelessly advocated for Jovita’s release, including collecting 300 signiatures on a petition.

Immigration Detention: Christina Mansfield Speaks Out on Our Broken System

April 5, 2013 by  · Leave a Comment

486737_166876533463595_567981636_nOn this blog, I try to share both my thoughts and those of others standing for welcome at LIRS and nationwide.  Today, I’d like to introduce an interview by Luke Telander, Program Associate for Outreach at LIRS, with Christina Mansfield, co-founder of Detention Dialogues, the first detention visitation program in California, co-founder and co-Executive Director of CIVIC (Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement), and member of the steering committee of the Detention Watch Network.

The human cost of America’s immigration detention system is staggering.  While it’s not splashed across the news as frequently as other immigration issues,  conditions in detention frequently fall below United Nations standards, and include treatment such as solitary confinement. A lack of access to counsel and other basic human rights are all too common.

That’s why the work of activists like Christina Mansfield is so important. She and her colleagues are organizing detention visitation networks and advocating for humane and just alternatives to detention.  Through the dedicated work of activists, we can begin to move past our unnecessary and destructive detention paradigm.  Here are her thoughts, shared via email:

Luke Telander (LT): What first motivated you to work in immigration detention visitation?

Christina Mansfield (CM): I started studying the immigration detention system in 2007 when I was earning my M.A. degree in Cultural Anthropology.  I decided that I wanted to study a pilot program along the border called Operation Streamline, which criminally prosecutes people who are apprehended crossing the US/Mexico border.  As part of this research, I traveled to Tucson, Arizona, and sat in on an Operation Streamline court proceeding.   I was absolutely shocked by what I witnessed in that courtroom.  In the span of only one hour, 80 men and a few women, none of them white, were mass prosecuted for “entry” or “reentry” and sentenced to various terms in federal prisons.  The defendants were brought out in orange jumpsuits and shackled at the hands, ankles and feet.  The judge read out where each person was apprehended, at what time, and instructed him or her to plead guilty or not guilty.  No one pleaded not guilty.   When it was time for sentencing the defendants were brought before the judge in groups of 10 and each group of 10 was assigned to one public attorney.  The judge proceeded to sentence these migrants who risked their lives to cross the border to terms in prison, sometimes for years.   All of the defendants were criminally prosecuted and banned from returning to the United States for at least 10 years.  I remember being struck by how the experience felt like a sham performance, and an incredibly cruel one at that.  Even worse, I was the only person sitting in that courtroom.  I felt my own privilege that I had taken for granted and a tremendous sense of responsibility in witnessing that proceeding.  Outside it was a beautiful spring day and inside criminals were being manufactured, as human beings were sentenced to imprisonment and social death.  There are some significant differences between Operation Streamline, which criminally prosecutes migrants and immigration detention, which is a consequence (and punishment) for a civil violation of immigration law.  But at the end of the day, whether the system is criminal or civil, it is criminalizing (making criminals) immigrants and migrants, punishing them, and tearing families apart.

LT: What has been the most difficult thing about working in detention?

CM: I find the most difficult thing is witnessing the racism that I believe is the root cause of the immigration detention system and all of the unnecessary suffering it causes.  Also, I often feel an extreme sense of helplessness because our ability to advocate for people in immigration detention is restricted by the policies of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the jail/detention center staff with whom they contract.  For example, there is no legally protected right to visitation or a free phone call for immigrants in detention.  As a result, the people we meet in detention are very isolated, separated from their families and everything that makes life meaningful.  This is heartbreaking and our ability to end isolation and protect against human rights abuses is often thwarted by restrictive phone and visitation policies and concerns for “security.”  The concern for “security” is invoked often and what it really means is that jail/detention center staff and ICE will not allow CIVIC volunteers to remain in contact with people in detention.  The stated justification for perpetuating this isolation is that the government or jail staff is protecting the privacy and safety of people in detention.  However, I think this logic of “protecting” people by isolating and imprisoning them, while making a profit, is clearly ridiculous.  Although I am astonished every day by how advocates in CIVIC’s network are able to support immigrants in detention in inspiring and creative ways, for me there is always an underlying sense of defeat and despair.  I think this feeling is simply the nature of working to improve a system that is so corrupted and broken.

LT: One of Detention Dialogues’ programs focuses on student awareness.  What has been the response among students to this issue?

CM: Detention Dialogues and CIVIC, the national network of visitation programs that I co-direct, have engaged many students in education and advocacy to support immigrants in detention, including students who are directly affected by the system and students who are not.  The response among students who are not directly affected by immigration detention seems to be a combination of disbelief and outrage.  Students do not understand how a country predicated on the values of freedom and civil rights can so systematically deny these values to immigrants.  I think the subsequent outrage students feel is quite healthy and often translates itself into a foundation for strong and empowered advocates. Students who are directly affected by the immigration detention system do not share the privilege of disbelief that the other students feel, but their sense of outrage is often palatable and refined.  As a leader who has not been directly affected by immigration detention and who began this work as an ally, I rely upon the guidance and sense of urgency that people who have suffered the consequences of the immigration detention system bring to our work.

LT: What is the most common public misconception about detention?

CM: I think the most common misconception about immigration detention is that it is an unfortunate, but necessary system.  However, we know that there are many viable community-based alternatives to immigration detention (ATDs) that cost less, are much more humane, and that still achieve the governments goals of immigration regulation.  The reason these ATDs are not implemented is because the counties and private detention facilities with whom the government contracts to hold immigrants in detention would not be able to make exorbitant profits from these alternatives.  I think the recent releases of people from detention that occurred due to “the sequester” are the perfect example of this corrupt profit motive.  The government did not release people from detention in response to serious allegations and documentation of human rights abuses that occur in immigration detention across the country.  Instead, they released people from detention (in many cases on alternative forms of monitoring) simply because they ran out of the money required to hold them.  This makes clear the priorities of the government with regards to the immigration detention system and the way fiscal costs take precedence over human costs.

LT: Why must detention reform be a critical part of comprehensive immigration reform?

CM: Detention reform must be a critical part of comprehensive immigration reform because of the way families have been, and continue to be, torn apart by immigration enforcement and immigration detention.   I know that plans for comprehensive immigration reform, which may include a pathway to citizenship for some immigrants, also include a tightening of border security with programs like Operation Streamline that criminally prosecutes migrants to the United States.  CIVIC’s network of advocates understand the potential consequences of this tradeoff.  For example, we know of many people who spent up to years of their life in civil immigration detention, only to be deported in the end.  These same people risked everything to again cross the border and reunite with their families in the United States.  Many of them were caught in the dragnet of Operation Streamline and sentenced to years in federal prison for “reentry.”  This means that people who were held for long periods of time in civil immigration detention are now being criminally imprisoned for attempting to reunite with their families.  Plans for comprehensive immigration reform will only exacerbate these problems.  I believe comprehensive immigration reform must take into account the damage that has already been done to immigrant families through the enforcement and detention system and it must take responsibility for alleviating these consequences.

LT: What makes you hopeful for the future of immigration detention?

CM: The only thing I remain hopeful about with regards to the future of immigration detention is that the system may not have a future in this country.  The United States is plagued by a sense of amnesia and an unwillingness to take responsibility for injustices in our past.  I believe the immigration detention system will go down in history as another unjust and unnecessary system of social control.  I believe people in the future will feel ashamed of the way their country imprisoned vulnerable people who do not deserve such punishment.   I remain hopeful that through education, advocacy, and movement building we can induce this kind of reflection in the present and not wait until it is too late to act, when these injustices are only memories that live safely in the past.

Why the AP’s Choice to Drop the I-Word is a Crucial Victory

Why the AP’s Choice to Drop the I-Word Is a Crucial Victory

by Rinku SenShareThis | Print | Comment (1)

Wednesday, April 3 2013, 8:29 AM ESTTags: Associated PressDrop the i-word

We applaud the Associated Press’s announcement that it is eliminating the phrase “illegal immigrant” from the 2013 style guide. The AP Blog quotes Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll on the decision:

The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term “illegal immigrant” or the use of “illegal” to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that “illegal” should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally…

Change is a part of AP Style because the English language is constantly evolving, enriched by new words, phrases and uses. Our goal always is to use the most precise and accurate words so that the meaning is clear to any reader anywhere.

The change reflects new practice in newsrooms across the nation, where editors have been replacing the word when they run AP stories on immigration.

This decision is a victory for immigrant communities. We took a word that has been normalized by anti-immigrant forces and revealed it as unfit to print because it is both inaccurate and dehumanizing. We startedDrop the I-Word in 2010 because we could see the harm that it was doing to our readers and community. In the early days, many people told us it didn’t matter, that the policy was all-important. But the word itself has blocked any reasonable discussion of policy issues, and we have been unable to move forward as a nation while its use has remained common.

The AP’s new guidance is also a victory for journalists, who strive daily to be accurate and honest with their readers. News people have nothing if not our ability to dig underneath the labels, as the AP says, that provide convenient categories for complex people and problems. When communities also experience those categories as demeaning of their humanity, we have failed at our jobs. The AP just gave us a little more clarity about how to avoid that. They’d like to hear our reactions, so send them a little note.

For years, immigration restrictionists have been stopping all discussion cold with “what about illegal don’t you understand?” Well, we did understand—that the word hid severe problems in the policy, that it has been applied selectively to people of color (undocumented, green-card holding, and citizens alike), and that it fuels hateful action.

People have lost their lives behind this word. Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadoran immigrant was beaten to death on the streets of Brooklyn by men yelling that he was a “f__ illegal.” That state of affairs could not be allowed to continue and thousands of people just like you took a stand to bring it to an end.

[INVESTIGATION: HOW THE RIGHT MADE RACISM SOUND FAIR—AND CHANGED IMMIGRATION POLITICS]

This campaign is inspired and instructed by historic and contemporary struggles over language. The civil rights movement made us stop saying “colored” and worse. The women’s movement changed newspaper standards to use “Ms.” The LGBT community and GLAAD got “homosexual” replaced with gay and lesbian. And most recently, the disability rights community has been pressing us all to stop using the r-word.

Ours is not the first generation to debate the i-word. In the 1980s, the “No Human Being is Illegal” campaign, which was named by Nobel prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and led by immigrants through the Sanctuary movement, helped humanize immigrants and mobilize support for the 1986 reform. Wiesel’s phrase has been the unofficial tagline for many people supporting this campaign.

Many people contributed to this moment. It would take pages to name them all, but you can see the early adopters here. The tireless staff of the Applied Research Center and Colorlines.com, especially Coordinator Monica Novoa, has lost sleep over this campaign. Roberto Lovato provided critical encouragement and was key to the early campaign strategy.

Before us, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists called for journalists to reevaluate use of the term and the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities challenged local outlets, including the Boston Globe, to make the change. Presente.org and the National Hispanic Media Coalition were stellar partners and Jose Antonio Vargas drove the project home with his impassioned plea to journalists last fall. Linguists, journalists, attorneys and public officials made it clear that they could not use the word in good conscience.

There’s more coming. The New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, who notes her own conversion to dropping the word but has nothing to do with their style guide, writes that a robust discussion is going on at the Times, but they aren’t likely to make such a sweeping change. Perhaps we could offer a broom? Conservatives like John McCain have pledged not to drop the word, but it’s only a matter of time now before even his own people recognize the last gasp of a dying strategy to divide American communities.

Finally, thanks to the ARC and Colorlines community for your relentless attention to this question of language. Your stories of what it’s like to live under the shadow of that word, your tweets, your petitions, your voices made all the difference. Immigrants, myself included, have had a bit of our humanity restored today, and we are most grateful.

JAIL POSTCARD-ONLY POLICIES SHOULD BE ‘RETURNED TO SENDER,’ SAYS NEW REPORT

Check out this press release and report by the Prison Policy Initiative called Return to Sender: Postcard-Only Mail Policies in Jail.  The report documents a new and disturbing trend in the incarceration industry – postcard-only mailing policies.  This trend came to CIVIC’s attention recently when we learned the Sacramento County Jail plans to limit mail communication to postcards beginning in a couple of days on February 10, 2013.  The Sacramento County Jail contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold immigrants in ICE custody whose immigration cases are pending.  The Sacramento County Jail or any other facility that contracts with ICE and implements a postcard-only mailing policy is in violation of ICE’s own 2011 Performance Based National Detention Standards which state that “[f]acilities shall not limit detainees to postcards and shall allow envelope mailings.”  The effect of isolation and disenfranchisment the postcard-only policy will have on immigrants and inmates who are detained will be detrimental.  See an excerpt of the report below the press release which explains in detail the many negative effects this policy will have and the untold suffering it will cause.  

JAIL POSTCARD-ONLY POLICIES SHOULD BE ‘RETURNED TO SENDER,’ SAYS NEW REPORT

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 7, 2013
Contact: Leah Sakala, (413) 527-0845, lsakala@prisonpolicy.org

Local jails should think twice before cutting off letters from home, says the research think tank Prison Policy Initiative in a new report, “Return to Sender: Postcard-only Mail Policies in Jail.”

The report argues that the growing jail trend to ban letters and restrict mail to only postcards deters communication that is essential for keeping people from reoffending after release. “Letters are one of the three main ways that people in jails maintain family ties. Phone calls are outrageously expensive, and limited visiting hours often make letters the only viable way to stay in touch,” said Leah Sakala, the report’s author and a policy analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “The social science research is clear — people in jail need to maintain strong outside ties to keep from coming right back after they’re released.”

Sheriffs often claim that restricting incoming and outgoing mail to postcards will reduce the time it takes to screen for contraband, but, Sakala said, “the public must insist that sheriffs balance vague claims of cost savings against the very expensive risk that individuals whose community ties have been jeopardized by the postcard-only policies will return to jail.”

The report demonstrates, often with examples from successful lawsuits, why postcards are inadequate substitutes for letters. Not only does communication via postcard cost 34 times as much as via letter, but banning envelopes forces people to choose between exposing personal information to anyone who sees the postcard or not communicating at all. “Requiring family members who want to stay in touch to pay extra and expose private information ensures that they are punished, too,” Sakala explained. “The security practices of all state and federal prisons show that correctional facilities can effectively screen mail without resorting to postcard-only policies.”

The report also finds that postcard-only mail rules contradict the best practices outlined by major professional organizations, including the American Correctional Association and the American Jail Association.

The postcard-only policy trend began five years ago with controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, and caught on at first among administrators of small county jails. Today, dozens of jails in at least 13 states have instituted postcard-only policies. Most recently, the San Diego County Jail embraced the policy in September, and the Sacramento County Jail is set to enforce its own version on February 10. Also last fall, a prison in New Mexico was poised to be the first state prison to implement a postcard-only restriction, but at the last minute the state Department of Corrections intervened and indefinitely postponed the policy.

A federal trial is currently underway in Oregon to determine if the Columbia County Jail’s postcard-only policy violates the free speech rights of incarcerated people and those who correspond with them. While the trial is ongoing, the judge has already issued a preliminary injunction against the jail’s postcard-only policy.

The report calls for jails with postcard-only policies to rescind them, and calls on state and federal agencies to refuse to contract with facilities that have postcard-only policies.

The report is available at http://www.prisonpolicy.org/postcards.

Excerpt from Report concerning Immigrants who are detained,

POSTCARD-ONLY POLICIES ARE OVERBROAD AND HAVE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Sweeping postcard policies are particularly inappropriate for jails because of the diversity of functions jails serve and populations they contain. As the National Research Council of the National Academies observed, “The breadth of custodial arrangements accommodated by local jails and the dynamics of the jailed population make jails a critical feature of the justice system—albeit one that defies neat definition and measurement.”[55] For example, jails contain both juveniles and adults, people who have just been arrested and those who have been convicted, people from the surrounding area and those transferred from far away, people facing misdemeanor, criminal, and civil immigration charges, and people being held under local authority and under contract with the state or federal government. Unilateral postcard-only mail policies preemptively chill all correspondence that jail officials decide is not explicitly of a legal, or in some cases “official,” nature, regardless of how legitimately critical a letter may be for either the sender or the recipient. Crafting a postcard-only restriction that anticipates and makes exceptions for all essential communication to and from the diverse jail population is impossible. Even if such a policy were feasible, the administrative challenge and expense of implementing complex mail screening rules would surely be more of a burden for jail administrators than the process of opening envelopes.

Immigration detainees facing civil charges are one example of a population that is uniquely vulnerable in the face of postcard-only jail mail policies, as more than half of detainees are held in local jail facilities.[56] Unlike defendants in criminal cases, people facing civil immigration charges do not enjoy a right to counsel and most people facing deportation do not have access to a lawyer.[57] Individuals without a lawyer, who appearpro se in court, must navigate the entire process, from the period of detention to the aftermath of the outcome, as their own advocates. Postcard-only policies can dramatically hinder civil immigration detainees from advocating on their own behalf and arranging their affairs, and have the potential to exert a devastating impact on both the process and the outcome of immigration cases.

Because pro se immigration case advocacy requires extensive communication with family members, employers, and other community members that postcard-only policies can impede or prevent,[58] Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s standards specifically decree that immigration detainees should not be subject to postcard-only mail restrictions.[78] Detained individuals must assemble a significant amount of written information from individuals on the outside, such as letters of support from a doctor or employer, testimony from family members, legal documents such as birth certificates or green cards, and educational documents such as diplomas, degrees, or GED certificates. Even in situations where family and community members are able to travel to the jail facility during visiting hours to assist with pro se defense, many facilities do not allow exchanges of paper or documents during in-person visits. In such situations, non-postcard mail is the only way that detained individuals can coordinate their own defense to deportation.

Additionally, detained individuals are responsible for arranging the logistics of their cases, such as securing witnesses to appear in court, submitting motions, and filling out and submitting any necessary forms and applications, some of which may need input from family members. All of these tasks are impossible to perform from any jail that prohibits people from sending or receiving full sheets of paper in envelopes to or from family and other community members. Although jail postcard policies generally include an allowance “legal” mail, and a handful of others also provide for other kinds “official” mail, jail officials have complete discretion to decide what is considered to be a legal or official matter and what is not. Even when letters to and from family members, friends, or colleagues are of the utmost legal importance, they are automatically in jeopardy of being rejected from any jail with a postcard-only policy.

Unobstructed written contact during the period of detention is particularly crucial for parents, grandparents, children, siblings, extended family members or close friends who are facing the possibility of being permanently deported from the United States. Immigration detainees in local jails are frequently involuntarily transferred away from their own communities to remote facilities that contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.[59] When individuals are detained far from home in a jail facility with exorbitant phone calling rates, mail is often only feasible method of communication with family and friends at home.

Sweeping postcard-only policies cannot be crafted to accommodate all of the essential uses for non-postcard mail to or from a jail facility.

Impeding immigration case proceedings is just one example of the potential for harm caused by extreme and sweeping restrictions on written correspondence between people in jail and those on the outside. But while policy experts and jail officials can perhaps anticipate many of the mail needs of immigration detainees—and should ensure that facility mail policies accommodate those needs—letters to and from jail serve myriad other unforeseen legitimate purposes, which are as varied as the populations that jails contain. Simply put, sweeping postcard-only policies cannot be crafted to accommodate all of the essential uses for non-postcard mail to or from a jail facility.

 

 

Alameda County Public Protection Committee Hearing on “ICE Detainers”

 

“Our Families Belong Together” poster by Jesus Barraza, September 2012

Yesterday, Thursday January 10th, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors held a County Public Protection hearing on “ICE Detainers,” organized by ACUDIR (Alameda County United in Defense of Immigrant Rights), a coalition of over 30 member organizations and individuals in Alameda County who believe in the right of families to stay together and live with dignity and justice.  Community members, advocates, and organizers offered testimony on the devastating impacts of detention and deportation, urging Alameda County to adopt a new policy that ends the enforcement of ICE holds. 

 

Unfortunately, only 2 of the 5 Alameda County Board of Supervisor members were present, Scott Haggerty (District 1) and Richard Valle (District 2).  To begin the meeting, Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern gave a presentation on Alameda County’s participation in Secure Communities, a file-sharing program that automatically alerts Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when a non-citizen is arrested at the point of fingerprinting.  ICE then requests that the local county holding such an individual put a “detainer” on them so that ICE may take them into custody within 48 hours. 

California Attorney General Kamala Harris recently advised all law enforcement agencies in the state that ICE detainers are a request from the federal government, clarifying that counties are not legally obligated to honor ICE detainers.  However, despite this guidance, there is still confusion over who has the legal authority to decide whether complying with ICE detainers is mandatory for counties and also whether the policy is constitutional.  Sheriff Ahern himself expressed this lack of clarity, stating that despite the opinion of Attorney General Kamala Harris, he still believes Alameda County is required by the federal government to participate in Secure Communities.  Moreover, he expressed his department’s support of the policy and desire to continue to hold individuals at the Santa Rita jail who are flagged through Secure Communities as potential non-citizens until ICE can take them into custody.  He reiterated several times that the goal of the program is to make the county of Alameda safer.  

The problem with this program, as many advocates argued on Thursday, is that it operates pre-trial, pre-conviction, and without due process, taking individuals into ICE custody that may not have any criminal background.  As Attorney General Harris stated, ICE may issue detainers “without the review of a judicial officer and without meeting traditional evidentiary standards.” 

Alameda County Public Protection Committee Hearing on “ICE Detainers,” January 10, 2013

Several local non-profit organizations offered presentations in support of the opinion of Attorney General Harris that ICE detainers are not mandatory, urging Alameda county to follow the example of other California counties that have refused to honor ICE detainers, including San Francisco and Santa Clara county.  Angela Chan of the Asian Law Caucus and Angie Junck of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center gave presentations that countered and refuted much of Sheriff Ahern’s presentation.  Their presentations demonstrated that Secure Communities does not in practice make communities any safer, contrary to Sheriff Ahern’s rationale for supporting the program. 

Local community members who testified backed the assertion that S-COMM is in fact damaging to communities, repeatedly calling Secure Communities by its nickname “Insecure Communities.”  They testified to the effects on the local community when people are afraid to report crimes and abuse to the police.  When local police act as enforcers of civil federal immigration laws, community members are afraid of the police whose job has traditionally been to protect all community members, regardless of immigration status.  Several community members offered powerful testimony about terrible crimes that went unreported for fear that they, the victims, would be turned over by the police to immigration authorities, resulting in possible detention and/or deportation.  This testimony draws attention to the fact that crimes my continue to go unreported in immigrant communities and as a result, criminals who commit such crimes will remain at large.  Thus, the purported goal of Secure Communities, which is to make communities safer, is deeply flawed.

A large group of young community members who are part of the group 67 Sueños testified to the effects of living in fear that they or their family members are constantly in danger of separation, detention, and/or deportation.  These directly affected individuals told heart wrenching stories about the incredible suffering Secure Communities and the honoring of ICE detainers creates in Alameda County.  Several young women testified about their family members who were detained and deported.  One young man of 17 testified about how he had to take on a fatherhood role when members of his family were detained and deported.  He said, “I am just a young boy.  I am only 17 years old.  I am just trying to finish high school,” explaining that he was not ready for the role of responsibility that was thrust upon him.   Another young member of 67 Sueños shared a spoken-word poem in honor of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas who was struck and tased to death by border patrol officers in June of 2010.  When the young man used an ‘obscenity’ to describe this act of horrific violence, Supervisor Valle intervened and chastised the young man, stating that he liked the poem up until the use of the ‘obscenity.’  Later, another woman clarified that the real obscenity was not the use of a bad word, but the systematic violence and death on the border that the word described. 

I took my turn and testified to the conditions inside of detention facilities, particularly at the nearest local county jail that contracts with ICE to detain immigrants (long-term), the West County Detention Facility, where Christina Fialho and I co-founded Detention Dialogues.  I urged the Board of Supervisors to consider not just the cost of participating in Secure Communities for counties (Alameda County claims it is not adequately reimbursed for the cost of honoring the 48 hour ICE detainers), but also the profit that is made from immigration detention (over $100/day, per person imprisoned for ICE in long-term contract facilities like West County, excluding the profits made from exhorbitant phone charges).  I stated that I do not believe the incentive for immigration enforcement is purely the promotion of public safety, but is also the gross profit that is made by local counties and corporations across the country that contract with ICE to detain immigrants.  Lastly, I attested to how it is easy for privileged people like myself to turn off the reality of what is happening to immigrant communities.  Privileged citizens have a choice about whether to pay attention to the suffering immigration policies are causing.   However, I shared that I lie awake every night haunted by the suffering I bear witness to through this work and that I hope the hearing will induce a similar level of reflection for Board of Supervisor members and the Sheriff’s office.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Alameda Board of Supervisor member Valle, the only remaining member present of the initial two, assured the community present at the hearing that the Board would continue dialog on this issue.  He stated that he too, loses sleep over these issues, and hopes that the Board, the Sheriff’s office, ICE, and the Alameda Community can come to a reasonable resolution.

-Christina Mansfield, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)

 

FCC Takes Action on the Wright Petition for Fair Prison Phone Rates

For more pictures, visit http://nationinside.org/.

On December 26, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) finally acknowledged the exorbitant cost of phone calls for prisoners and immigrants detained across the U.S. and their families. The FCC released a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the Wright Petition, an appeal to the FCC that has been ignored for the last ten years.

Filed in 2003, the Wright Petition for rulemaking calls upon the FCC to cap all inter-state inmate calling services at no higher than $0.20 per minute for debit calling and $0.25 per minute for collect calling. The FCC sought comment on the petition in 2007, but there was little movement, until this year. The recent movement is energized by the organizing efforts of the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice and FCC Commissioner Clyburn’s public announcement of her support of the Wright Petition in September of 2012.

At a November 15th rally outside the FCC, organized by the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn reiterated her support for the Wright Petition. She announced that FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski would circulate a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the Wright Petition for a vote. Over the next few months, the FCC will receive public comments as they determine how to regulate interstate prison phone calls, with an official vote of the FCC on this issue pending.

Following the November 15th rally, Nebraska, Louisiana, and Cook County, Illinois are all taking matters into their own hands, pursuing steps to lower the rates for inmate telephone calls at the local and state levels. 

State prison systems make $362 million in annual gross revenue because of exclusive contracts between the prisons and private phone corporations that provide what are essentially kickbacks to state and local governments. These payments inflate the cost of the calls by upward of 42 percent nationwide, according to Prison Legal News (PLN). This $362 million that the state prison systems rake in annually does not include the revenue generated from similar contracts between local county governments and jails that contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold immigrants in detention and telecommunication companies, which also subject immigrants in detention and their families to high phone rates.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, Maryland state prisons contract exclusively with the telecommunication giant Securus in exchange for lucrative commission payments paid to the state of Maryland. Local calls from prisons in Maryland cost 85 cents, intrastate calls cost $2.55 plus 30 cents per minute and interstate calls cost $2.70 plus 30 cents per minute. Commission payments to the state of Maryland are up to 60 percent of the price of phone calls, generating $5.2 million for Maryland in 2010.

Unfortunately, the FCC cannot ban commission payments, which are passed to those imprisoned and their families. However, 8 states nationwide have banned commission payments through legislation. In these states, the costs of calls from prison have dropped significantly. In Michigan, for example, rates fell from $3.99 plus 89 cents per minute to a flat rate of about 15 cents per minute after commissions were banned in 2008, according to data from PLN. Similarly, prison phone rates in New York dropped by almost 69% when the state banned commission payments in 2008.  California enacted S.B. 81 during the 2007-2008 session, which prohibited and phased out commission payments reducing the cost of calls from prison by 61%, according to PLN.  

It is clear that the state legislative bans on commission payments in the state prison systems have resulted in greatly reduced calling rates.  However, such state legislation has not banned commission payments to local governments.  As a result, county jails across the country that contract with ICE to hold immigrants in detention can enter into lucrative contracts with prison phone corporations and charge immigrants in detention exorbitant calling rates.  

Although the FCC cannot ban commission payments to local and state governments from telecommunication companies they contract with, the FCC can regulate and cap the cost of interstate or long distance phone rates from state prisons, county jails, and detention centers across the country, protecting both state prisoners and immigrants who are detained by ICE.

Hundreds of families submitted letters of support urging the FCC to act on the Wright Petition. These letters are part of the broader Campaign for Prison Phone Justice. Without this increased and concerted public pressure, it is doubtful that the FCC would have acted on the Wright Petition. During the coming months, the FCC will be reviewing a wide array of stakeholder input, in order to act fairly on this issue.

CIVIC urges individuals and families who have been affected by the high price of phone calls from the immigration detention system to submit letters of support for the Wright Petition to the FCC. It is important that the FCC recognize that the power to regulate interstate call rates has the potential to protect immigrants in detention as well as state prisoners. Stories of the hardship that immigrants in detention and their families must endure due to the high cost of phone calls are an important contribution to the FCC docket, as they educate commissioners about the dire consequences such costs have on the ability of families to remain in contact.

In the end, it is a question of value. If we, as a society, recognize and value the right of families to maintain contact with one another, over and above the right of corporations to make a profit, then the FCC must act to protect our family values. If you would like to submit a letter of support for the Wright Petition to the FCC, please contact Christina Mansfield, cmansfield@endisolation.org.

New Coalition Organizing to Support Immigrants Detained in Plymouth, Massachusetts

(originally published by Enterprise News.com)

 Last week, Christina Mansfield of CIVIC met with representatives of the Brazilian Immigrant Center (BIC), the Brazilian Women’s Group (BWG) and Boston United for Families: Resist the Raids (BUFF) to discuss how to support immigrants who are detained in Massachusetts and their families.  The group plans to use a manual CIVIC developed, entitled, “A Guide to Touring U.S. Detention Facilities and Building Alliances,” (being released on December 18th to honor International Migrants Day and the December Visitation Month of Action).  The manual outlines how to use a policy Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued in 2011, called the Visitation Directive, in order to start a Community Visitation Program.

The new coalition has decided to focus its effort on supporting immigrants who are detained by ICE at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  While immigrants detained at the Suffolk County Facility in Boston benefit from the consistent community support of the Refugee Immigrant Ministry (RIM), the Plymouth County facility lacks any consistent community presence.  The coalition plans to request a tour of the Plymouth County Correctional Facility sometime in February.  As part of the tour, the group will also have the opportunity to interview and talk with immigrants who are detained in Plymouth to learn about their needs and how the coalition can organize to address them.   CIVIC will assist the coalition in how to use this tour as the first step in starting a consistent Community Visitation Program at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility.  The coalition has identified and reached out to other immigrant rights organizations in the area, inviting a representative of each to accompany the group on the tour, in the hopes that these representatives will act as the point of contact for future community organizing. 

Community Visitation Programs end the isolation of men and women in U.S. immigration detention by providing them with a volunteer visitor who may act as a friend and advocate.  Visitor volunteers help to connect immigrants in detention to their family members, to pro-bono legal counsel, and other networks of support.  Community Visitation Programs are often the only regular outside presence in U.S. detention facilities, placing visitor volunteers in a unique position to protect against human rights abuses in detention and ensure that each person is treated with dignity.  If you are interested in joining CIVIC’s movement to end the isolation and abuse of immigrants in detention, please email info@endisolation.org.  Christina Mansfield and Christina Fialho, Co-Executive Directors of CIVIC, can provide one-on-one and sustained capacity building support to groups that would like to start a Community Visitation Program in their community.  Visitation programs transform communities by engaging community members in what is happening in their own backyards.  As a result, immigration detention is no longer an invisible practice because visitors are sharing stories from within detention with their families, friends, churches, and schools – building awareness and hope.