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To DOJ: Investigate DHS officials for Federal Crime of Conspiracy Against Rights in Family Detention

For Immediate Release

Contact: Bryan Johnson,, 631-647-9701                                           July 6, 2015

REQUEST TO DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: Investigate DHS for federal crimes of Conspiracy Against Rights; Kidnapping; and Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law Against Lilian Oliva Bardales and her 4-year-old son in Family Detention. 

In the afternoon of June 3, 2015, our client Lilian locked herself in her dormitory bathroom, wrote a suicide note, and then attempted to kill herself by cutting her wrist with her broken U.S. government-issued identification card.

From June 3 to the day Lilian and her son were deported to Honduras on June 9, two or more DHS and GEO officials made a plan and executed it: she and her son would be deported even if it meant committing federal crimes.

From June 3 to June 5, Lilian was forced to strip all of her clothing, wear a straitjacket,  remain locked up in a solitary confinement cell, and forbidden to see her son or meet or speak with an attorney. She was also deprived of any meaningful mental health treatment.

The request below, sent by email on July 3 and by U.S. mail today, lays out the facts as told by Lilian and other direct witnesses to the events of June 3 to June 9.

An investigation into the events of June 3 to June 9 must take place. In order for this to happen, DHS must parole Lilian and her son back into the United States.


July 4, 2015

Robert Moossy Jr.

Section Chief, Criminal Section

Civil Rights Division

United States Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530

RE: Request For Investigation into Possible Federal Crimes of Kidnapping, 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1); Conspiracy Against Rights 18 U.S.C. § 241; and Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law, 18 U.S.C. § 242.


Dear Honorable Mr. Moossy Jr.:

We represent Lilian Yamileth Oliva Bardales (A # 206-769-267) and her son, Christian (202-127-486), who are 19 and 4-years-old, respectively. We hereby request that the Criminal Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division appoint special counsel to investigate the actions of one or more officials in the Department of Homeland Security and the GEO Group, Inc from June 3, 2015 to June 9, 2015 that resulted in severe physical and mental suffering of Lilian and her son as well as their removal from the United States without any due process of law.

We also request that the U.S. Department of Justice demand that DHS immediately parole Lilian and Christian into the United States so that a thorough investigation can be conducted.


 Lilian and her child were removed from the United States on June 9, 2015 after being detained for over 8 months at the Karnes County Residential Center (“KCRC.”) The following information was obtained through several direct telephone conversations between the undersigned and Lilian, as well as with other direct witnesses to the events.

In the afternoon of June 3, 2015, Lilian locked herself in her dormitory bathroom, wrote a suicide note, and then attempted to kill herself by cutting her wrist with her broken U.S. government-issued identification card.

One of her roommates found her in the bathroom bleeding and called for help. Several GEO officials, including at least one nurse, came to see what happened. Another GEO official brought a handheld video camera and recorded the encounter with Lilian. There was not a significant amount of blood.

Lilian was immediately brought to small cell within the medical unit, which is a series of rooms wholly separated from the general dormitories at the KCRC. Her wound was disinfected and covered with a bandage. GEO officials ordered her to remove all of her clothing. She refused initially, but GEO officials threatened to rip her clothes off if she did not do it herself. GEO officials stated that the removal of her clothing was for her own safety. Lilian was then ordered to put on a straitjacket, which severely restricted her range of movement and ability to sleep over the next 2 days. When she was first transferred to the isolation room, officials told her that there were rules to be followed and that she needed to learn to follow them.

She was not at any point transferred to a hospital for treatment.

Lilian was isolated in this small cell with a straitjacket until the evening of Friday, June 5. A GEO official observed her for the entirety of her stay there through a window at the entrance to the cell. The lights remained on at full power for her entire stay in the cell. She asked GEO officials to turn off the light but her request was denied. She barely ate anything in those two days. The only meal provided to her—spoiled ham sandwiches—was inedible.

The only nutrition she received in those 2 days in the isolation cell was a pear and some juice. Although Lilian did not want to eat any of the food given to her, she relented when GEO officials warned her that she would not see her son if she did not eat. In those two days, Lilian barely slept due to the severe cold; discomfort caused by the straitjacket, which had no insulation to prevent loss of body heat; and the bed made of plastic that “felt like a rock.”

Lilian did not receive any mental health treatment in the isolation cell. She did not see a mental health professional until after 7 am on June 4. She was brought to another medical isolation room where a Spanish-speaking woman, purportedly a psychiatrist, appeared via internet video. The “treatment” provided was an interrogation. The woman on the video asked Lilian why she hurt herself, that it was not right, and that an attorney told her to do it to herself. When Lilian denied that anyone had told her to harm herself, the woman became more aggressive, demanding further to know who had instructed Lilian to hurt herself and warning her that she could not change the decision of immigration by what she did.

Lilian responded by telling the woman that she did not know the problems that the families have in detention and that she had been in jail with her son for 8 months. “You have not suffered what we have here,” Lilian told her. The woman responded, “I understand, but you will not be helped if you try to kill yourself, you will not change your fate. We will give you medicine. This medicine is only for you to relax, so that you do not feel sad.”

Lilian was not given any medicine until the morning of June 6, a Saturday. From there, she took one additional pill in the evening and again twice the following day, June 7. The only effect the pills had was to make her sleepy.

The nurses brought Lilian to her son’s room, which was also in the medical unit. He was sleeping when she entered his room. When he woke up, the first thing he asked was for was a bath. He smelled bad because he had been washed for 2 days. He wanted a bath and asked that his teeth be brushed immediately, because the women he was with had not cleaned him or anything but changed his clothes. His dirty clothes were in a pile on the ground in his room. Christian asked his mom if he could eat something from the commissary, such as soup, but Lilian told him that she could not go there because they were not in their normal room.

After only one hour with Christian, Lilian was directed to leave her son’s room and return to hers. She heard her son crying and crying. Before she left for the night, Christian begged his mom so he could sleep with her. Before her suicide attempt, Christian slept in the same bed with his mother in their dormitory room. One night, she yelled out to him and asked why he was crying. Christian said that he was sad because the woman who was watching him left. Christian reported to his mom afterwards that he was left alone at night for long periods of time, and a nurse came to check on him every so often.

On June 4, 2015, ICE officials brought an official from the Honduran consulate to speak to Lilian. In the conversation with the Honduran official, Lilian asked for her help in getting out of the isolation room. Lilian did not request that the official issue travel documents for her removal to Honduras. Around the same time, several ICE officials came to the room and asked her how she felt. She told them that she was doing badly, and what they were doing to my child and me was wrong. The same officials asked her whether she had any family in the United States. She responded that she did not. However, she also informed ICE that she had family friends in Brentwood, New York that were willing to care for her and her son if she was released from detention.

Lilian was barred from meeting any of her attorneys from June 3 to June 9, despite her numerous requests to do so. Her only communication with an attorney, Fatima Menendez, was for a brief 10 minutes on or about June 5. In that conversation, Fatima told Lilian that GEO and ICE claimed that she was receiving medical treatment. Fatima further told Lilian not to sign anything.

One of her attorneys, Javier Maldonado, was prepared to file a petition for review and emergency stay of removal with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Lilian and Christian’s behalf. However, his requests to meet with her were summarily denied from June 3 to June 9. He could not file any paperwork with the 5th circuit because the documents necessary to do so were in Lilian’s possession.

On June 7, all phone access was cut off at approximately 4 pm, according to a detained mother who is now released. The same witness reported that the internet access was also cut off at around the same time. When the mother asked GEO staff why the phones were not working, she was told it was a maintenance issue.

Phone access was not restored until 10 am on June 8, 2015, after Lilian and the three other families had already been transferred out of the KCRC to the motel 6.

On June 4, 2015, I asked Mr. James De La Cruz, a Senior Federal Field Specialist Supervisor in the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Unaccompanied Children’s Services Program, whether DHS had transferred any unaccompanied minor children from the KCRC to ORR custody in the last 24 hours. I followed up this request in writing through e-mail.

Mr. De La Cruz inquired regarding Christian with ICE’s Juvenile Family Residential Management Unit (JFRMU), the entity in charge of transfers of UAC’s to ORR custody. On June 8, 2015, I followed up with Jacqueline Du Puy, ORR’s Lead Intakes Program Specialist, to determine if DHS ever responded to their inquiry regarding Christian. She wrote back: “We have followed up with DHS and have not heard anything.”

On June 8, ICE officials took Lilian and her son from KCRC at approximately 5 am and were then transferred to a Motel 6 with 3 other Honduran families. Lilian did not know that she was going to be removed until this exact moment. When she realized she was going to be deported, she collapsed. ICE officials told her that she would be taken tied up if necessary and then she would lose her son if she did not cooperate. At the Motel 6, ICE officials stood guard outside of her room while she and Christian were detained inside a room for the entire day.

In a conversation with Deportation Officer Gabriel Pacheco, the undersigned inquired into why Christian was not transferred to the custody of HHS given that he was an unaccompanied minor. Mr. Pacheco responded that he had been “close” to his mother. However, Christian had no contact whatsoever with his mother for 3 complete days and then only 2 hours out of 48 hours in the last two days he was detained at KCRC.

ICE’s conduct towards Christian differs significantly from what occurred in a similar case of a woman and child, who are also clients of the undersigned. In the other case, a young mother, Bernice, was detained in the South Texas Family Residential Center (“STFRC”) in Dilley, Texas, with her 4-year-old daughter. On March 5, Bernice attempted to kill herself by swallowing a bottle of shampoo after learning her bond would not be lowered and that she and her child would continue to be detained.

That same day, Bernice was transferred to a local hospital for treatment and observation. From the hospital, Bernice was transferred to the Laredo Detention facility, an adult detention facility. DHS referred her daughter for transfer to ORR custody on March 7, 2015 at 7:50 pm, and she was subsequently transferred to a foster home under ORR custody on March 8.

ICE followed its own procedure by transferring Bernice to a hospital for treatment because that she attempted to take her own life. ICE also complied with statutory law by transferring her daughter to ORR custody within 72 hours.

On June 8, I sent a request for the immediate stay of removal of Lilian and Christian to Andrew Lorenzen Strait, Deputy Assistant Director of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (“ERO”) branch; Enrique Lucero, the Field Office Director of ICE ERO in San Antonio; Norma Lacey, an assistant to Mr. Lucero; Richard Rocha, a communications advisor with ICE ERO Headquarters; Scott Shuchart; Senior advisor to DHS’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties; Juanita Hester; Assistant Field Office Director to ICE ERO in San Antonio; and Deborah Achim, Assistant Field Office Director to ICE ERO in San Antonio.[1]

On June 9, 2015 at 3 am in the morning, ICE officials took Lilian; her son, and the other families from the motel room and placed them on a bus. She and several other Honduran families were then driven to a remote airstrip, forced to board a plane, and then flown back to Honduras later in the morning of June 9.

ICE’s Public Claims Regarding Lilian and Christian

ICE officials made several statements to the press regarding Lilian’s case in her last days in the United States. On June 4, 2015, in a statement made to the general pool of journalists, an ICE spokesperson issued the following statement: “An adult resident housed at the Karnes County Residential Center for U.S. immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is being observed by mental health professionals onsite who confirmed that the minor injury was not life-threatening, but that the help of specialized mental health care providers was appropriate…ICE is closely monitoring the situation and continues to investigate the circumstances. ICE will determine the next steps for the resident’s child who also resides at the facility.”[2]

On June 9, 2015, An ICE official wrote in an email to the Huffington Post stating that Oliva and her son had been deported and that “all of her legal appeals before ICE the Executive Office of Immigration Review and the Board of Immigration Appeals.” The official also conceded that ICE only permitted Lilian to speak with an attorney once in the last 6 days before removing her from the United States.[3]

On June 17, 2015, ICE again reiterated Lilian that “Lilian received proper medical attention after the incident, including mental health care.”[4]

Applicable Laws and Regulations

Section 4.5 of ICE’s family residential standards require ICE to transfer a person who appears an imminent danger to her own life to a hospital for medical treatment. “if danger to life or property appears imminent, the medical staff has the authority to isolate and transfer the resident from the general population to the nearest hospital.” The section goes on to state that “observation of imminently suicidal residents by medical or residential staff shall be one-to-one until the resident is transferred or released by the medical authority.”

18 U.S.C. § 241, Conspiracy against rights, states that if two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States…they shall be fined…or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

Lastly, 18 U.S.C. § 242 states that any person, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States…shall be fined or imprisoned not more than one year.

Lilian was not transferred to a hospital for medical treatment after she tried to kill herself. ICE officials took extraordinary precautions that contradict its claims that medical isolation for 5 consecutive days prevented her from meeting with any of her attorneys.

ICE demanded that Lilian remove all of her clothing, including her underwear. Presumably, the removal of clothing was to prevent her from using anything to hang herself with. In addition to stripping her, ICE took even more extreme measures by placing Lilian in a straitjacket, which limited her mobility and caused sleep deprivation or 2 consecutive days. If her clothing was removed and she was under 24 hour one-to-one observation, there was no need to take such extraordinary and restrictive measures, which in any setting would cause a patient at suicide risk to deteriorate in their condition.

Two or more officials in DHS made an agreement the moment that Lilian cut her wrist: she and her son would be immediately removed even if it meant intentionally depriving her of numerous fundamental rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, including her 5th amendment right to procedural due process; her right to adequate medical treatment; nutrition; and shelter, all derived from the 5th amendment; and her 8th amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

Given that the principal reason that Lilian attempted to kill herself was due to her and her son’s prolonged detention, the appropriate and required action under ICE’s own regulations was to transfer her to the nearest hospital for treatment and observation.

If she were transferred to a hospital, she would not have suffered severe physical and mental pain as a result of ICE’s retaliatory conduct. In fact, in the instance of Bernice, a client of the undersigned who attempted to kill herself in early March of this year, DHS adhered to its own policy: she was immediately transferred to a hospital outside of the detention center in Dilley for medical treatment.[5] Once she was no longer deemed a risk to harm herself, she was transferred back to DHS custody.

Lilian was entitled sufficient medical care, food, and shelter. She was also entitled to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. ICE’s conduct against Lilian after she attempted suicide constituted punishment—she was separated from her son, placed in a straitjacket, and deprived of all contact with anyone but GEO or ICE officers for 3 consecutive days in a frigid room. At the end of those 2 days, she was again held in isolation but allowed to see her son one hour per day for approximately 2 days.

ICE’s intentional deprivation her of her 5th amendment right to counsel in removal proceedings and removing her from her sleep in pre-dawn operation further supports her allegation that ICE’s conduct was primarily to punish her. Insofar as ICE has claimed their actions were for Lilian’s own well-being, it was only to ensure that ICE would be immune from further negative publicity in the event that she attempted to kill herself again.

From June 3 to June 9, 2015, ICE officials denied numerous requests by her attorneys to meet with her in person and also denied Lilian’s multiple requests to meet with her attorneys.

Even assuming Lilian was capable of filing the complicated legal work to reopen her removal order or file a petition for review and emergency stay of removal with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, she was barred from doing so because she was imprisoned in the isolated medical unit within the KCRC.

According to Fatima Menendez, ICE’s justification for denying these requests was because Lilian was in a severely bad shape from her attempted suicide and needed medical attention.

However, ICE claimed that it did not deprive Lilian of her right to counsel because she was allowed to speak with attorney Fatima Menendez for approximately 10-15 minutes on the phone on June 5 out of the 6 days that she was disappeared into the confines of two rooms within the KCRC. When Fatima arrived at the KCRC she was denied access to Lilian because GEO staff said she was under medical observation. Fatima was then told by an ICE official that Lilian would be in medical isolation because there was so much blood when they found her.

Attorney Menendez was only allowed to speak with Lilian after she questioned why the Honduran Consulate was allowed to see her. ICE allowed Fatima a phone call with Lilian, during which Lilian told Fatima she had only received minimal care, was very cold because she was only wearing a robe, and she had not seen her son in two days.

The reason that attorneys most needed to have direct access to her was because Javier Maldonado, who agreed to file a petition for review with the 5th circuit court of appeals, needed a copy of the BIA decision to file with the petition. Attorneys also needed to engage in detailed consultation to determine Lilian’s wishes for representation. However, this was categorically prevented because two or more officials already concluded that she would be removed from the United States no matter what.


The federal crime of Kidnapping, 18 USC § 1201(a)(1), is committed when a person unlawfully seizes, confines, inveigles, decoys, kidnaps, abducts, or caries away and holds…any person and then willfully transports that person in interstate or foreign commerce in furtherance commission of the crime. The federal statute does not require that the defendant to have intended or committed another offense in addition to the initial unlawful confinement and subsequent carrying away.

8 U.S.C § 1232(c)(2) requires DHS to transfer unaccompanied minors to the custody of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) within 72 hours of initial apprehension, except in the case of exceptional services.

An unaccompanied alien child is defined in 6 U.S.C. 279(g)(2) as any child who (A) has no lawful immigration status in the United States; (B) has not attained 18 years of age; and (C)with respect to whom—(i)there is no parent or legal guardian in the United States; or (ii) no parent or legal guardian in the United States is available to provide care and physical custody.

The moment that Lillian attempted to kill herself, she was no longer available to provide care and physical custody of Christian. Furthermore, Christian was completely separated from his mother for a minimum of 2 consecutive days. In those two days, Christian’s mother did not provide any care or physical custody for her son.

ICE was obligated to refer Christian for transfer to the custody of HHS as soon as his mother was unable to provide any form of care or custody for her son. Even after 2 days, Christian remained an unaccompanied alien child under the law. ICE permitted Lilian to spend one hour on June 5; one hour on June 6; and one on June 7 with her son attempt to circumvent its obligations under federal law to transfer Christian to the custody of HHS within 72 hours of the effective date of initial apprehension (when he was physically separated from his mother.)

What Lilian learned on June 6 further supports the fact that Christian was unaccompanied: he was not bathed for two consecutive days. GEO staff members, who are not licensed to provide for care of children, took custody of Christian. The fact that Christian was not bathed, or allowed to play with any of the other children in the facility, or allowed to see his mother, show that ICE intentionally disregarded the federally mandated laws to transfer children to the custody of HHS, which provides for licensed 24/7 residential care for a child of Christian’s tender age. He was also left alone for long periods of time at night and only periodically checked on by nurses throughout the night. He was a boy all alone in a solitary confinement cell in a secure jail designed for adults.

Given that DHS did not respond to an affirmative inquiry from ORR regarding a child alleged to having been unaccompanied in the KCRC, it is clear DHS did not even attempt to initiate the process to transfer Christian to ORR custody.

Two or more DHS and GEO officials conspired to violate Christian’s right as an unaccompanied minor to be transferred to the custody of HHS solely for the following purpose: to ensure his and Lilian’s removal from the United States. If Christian was transferred to HHS custody, a live witness to their crimes would have been left inside the United States and outside of the control of DHS.

Given the foregoing, I believe several officials at the Department of Homeland Security and GEO Group participated in the federal crime of kidnapping with respect to Christian and Conspiracy Against Rights and Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law against both Lilian and Christian. An investigation must take place to determine who is responsible

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter. If you have any questions or would like to speak with our clients please contact us at 631-647-9701 or through e-mail at

Very Truly Yours,

________________________                                    ____________________________

Ala Amoachi, Esq.                                                      Bryan S. Johnson, Esq.

Amoachi and Johnson, PLLC                                     Amoachi and Johnson, PLLC

1918 Union Blvd.                                                       1918 Union Boulevard

Bay Shore, NY 11706                                                 Bay Shore, NY 11706

(T) 631-647-9701                                                       (T) 631-647-9701

(F) 631-647-9705                                                       (F) 631-647-9705

CC:      The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C.  20528

Sarah Saldaña

Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

500 12th St., SW

Washington, D.C. 20536

John Roth

Inspector General

Department of Homeland Security

245 Murray Lane, SW

Washington DC, 20528

Timothy Moynihan

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Office of Detention Oversight (OPR)

950 L’Enfant Plaza, SW Suite 200

Washington, D.C. 20536

Kenneth Magidson

United States Attorney

Southern District of Texas

1000 Louisiana, Ste. 2300

Houston, Texas 77002

Megan H. Mack

Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Department of Homeland Security

245 Murray Lane, SW

Washington DC, 20528

[1] See attached e-mail printouts.

[2] Family detention center rocked by suicide try, release of pregnant detainees, McClatchy Washington Bureau, June 4, 2015,

[3] Mother who attempted Suicide in family detention center is deported, Huffington Post, June 9, 2015.

[4] Teen mom who attempted suicide speaks out after deportation, Mcclatchy Washington Bureau, June 17, 2015,

[5] “Soul-Destroying” one migrant mother’s story of life at Dilley Detention Center, The Guardian, May 22, 2015,

Immigrant Justice Corps: We Work For Jailers of Immigrant Children.

Immigrant Justice Corps appears to have an impeccable pedigree. Its board consists of the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Robert A. Katzmann, Former Manhattan District Attorney, Robert Morganthau, and former non-profit star Deborah Winshel, who in 2013 was anointed one of the 50 most powerful women in New York.

But then everything falls apart. Winshel also wears the hat of Global Director of Blackstone Investment Group’s impact investment division. BlackRock is the majority owner of the GEO Group (over 10 percent of shares worth over $350 million), a private prison corporation that incarcerates refugee babies and children at the Karnes County Family Jail in South Texas Blackrock also owns over $300 million worth of shares in the Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the South Texas Family Jail in Dilley, Texas. The Department of Homeland Security, GEO, and CCA have and continue to commit crimes, even torture, against thousands of children. Some of those victims are our clients.

One adorable girl, who is now 5 years old, was locked up with her mother in solitary confinement for 9 consecutive days while suffering from untreated pneumonia and severe decay in all of her teeth. Instead of releasing the child to her family’s home to recover, she was locked up in a small cell to writhe in pain for virtually every waking minute for 9 days.

She was tortured so that the Obama administration could remove her to deter others like her and her mom from coming in the future and so that Blackrock could earn a return on its near billion dollar investment in detention and deportation business. To corporations like Blackrock, a 5 year old baby’s health and right to be free from cruel and unusual punishments did not exist to GEO or CCA. In fact, it’s almost like Blackrock does not recognize her existence at all.

A 4-year-old boy and his 19-year-old mom, Lilian, cower in hiding in Honduras after ICE subjected them to torture for 6 days and then deported them with in secret in the dead of night without a the slightest sliver of due process. Lilian and her boy were jailed for 8 months. They were never given the chance to apply for their strongest defense: special immigrant juvenile status. When she could no longer bear to watch her fail to thrive due to malnutrition and depression arising from the conditions of the jail, she tried to save her son by killing herself.

Even in this desperate act, she was just another number to be discarded back to her home country at any cost. ICE and GEO tortured Lilian for 5 days in retaliation for her attempt to kill herself. Instead of providing her with medical care as she was entitled to under the law, ICE stripped her naked, forced her into a straitjacket, threw her into a freezing solitary confinement cell, and watched her suffer as she begged over and over again to see her son.

No one knows what happened to Christian in those 5 days. He was left alone in a secure jail with no one to care for him but men and women whose job it was to deport him. But Ms. Winshel’s employer made a profit.

These two examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Every child in who has been jailed in these facilities suffered extraordinary harm. So why does an organization that purports to stand for justice for immigrants have a board member who is a prominent director for a corporation that profits handsomely off crimes against children?

In total, Blackrock owns over $700 million worth of shares between CCA and GEO. Blackrock profits off of injustice against the most vulnerable immigrants. Children. Babies. Toddlers. And the mothers who risked everything to save them.

The conflict of interest is not just academic. Our office’s advocacy has included calls for the prosecution of CCA officials responsible for crimes committed against children in family detention. We will continue to demand that individuals who knowingly engaged in conduct that deprived children of their fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution, or constituted child abuse, be criminally prosecuted. The victims deserve no less.

What would happen if an Immigrant Justice Corp Fellow represents a child who was jailed in family detention? Can that fellow aggressively pursue a U-visa for that child arising from criminal investigation against officials in CCA or GEO? Will the fellow be pressured to not call for the end of family detention because one of his employer’s board members stands to lose on its investment? 

Even if not directly applicable to the attorney’s representation of immigrant clients, the specter of such despicable corporations on its board will likely create a culture that favors the corporation’s interests at the expense of the client.

There is a real and direct conflict of interest at Immigrant Justice Corps. The board member has vested interests in the success of Blackrock, which in turn has a vested interest in detaining some of the same immigrants that the nonprofit Corps will represent.

If the distinguished Robert A. Katzmann and Robert Morgenthau really care about immigrant justice, they should demand that Blackrock divest its holdings in GEO and CCA or make a donation to of $700,000,000 for pro bono counsel on the ground in Dilley and Karnes.

Otherwise, they will have the blood of children on their hands.

Demand for release of 19 year old mother and her 4 year old son from ICE detention

Below is the letter I sent to DHS this morning:

Secretary Johnson:

I am an attorney representing Lilian Yamileth Oliva Bardales, a 19-year-old girl who attempted to kill herself on June 3, 2015 by cutting her wrists in the Karnes County Residential Center. She was driven to this desperate act because, in her own words, she would “rather be dead than” see her son fail along with her.

I am also a retained consultant for the Plaintiffs’ counsel in connection with negotiations to end the illegal practice of family detention.

Through this letter, I demand the immediate stay of removal and subsequent release from detention of Lilian and her son. If Lilian and her son are not released from detention to a safe place in the United States by the close of business today, evidence will be released that shows DHS has willfully detained Lilian, her son, and hundred of other families for over a month in clear violation of the law.

The depravity of DHS’ actions against Lilian is breathtaking.

Immediately after Lilian was found bleeding from her wrist by prison guards, she was thrown into a solitary confinement cell as punishment and stripped of all of her clothes except for a robe.

Her 4 year old son became an unaccompanied minor yet inexplicably remained detained in a secure, lock-down prison for 5 days in clear violation of 8 U.S.C. 1232(b)(3), which requires DHS to transfer unaccompanied minor children to the custody of HHS within 72 hours. This innocent baby boy was terrorized so that DHS could remove him and his mom before she could tell her story.

Only one day after Lilian’s attempt to kill herself, ICE officials brought her to the Honduran consulate so that she and her son could be removed immediately. Yesterday, I confirmed with an ICE official that Lilian and her son were transferred for removal to her native country of Honduras.

Lilian is entitled to remain in the U.S. through several avenues of relief, including special immigrant juvenile status (“SIJS”) because she is under the age of 21 and reunification with her parents is not viable due to neglect or a similar basis under New York State law.

I am act alone in this letter. I understand that you may question the motives in penning this correspondence. Lest there be any doubt, I write this because my conscience requires it. I cannot sit back and watch DHS continue to brutalize my client,  her son, and hundreds of others without any regard for the law and basic human decency.

I sincerely hope that you act quickly in staying my client’s removal and releasing her and her son from detention immediately.

Very Truly Yours,
Bryan S. Johnson, Esq.

AILA Response To Our Letter to Rescind Cecilia Muñoz As Keynote Speaker

The Executive Director of AILA declined our request to rescind Cecilia Muñoz’s invitation as keynote speaker at annual conference.

Her response is below. I am not convinced.

Dear Mr. Johnson et al:

Thank you for your letter regarding the invitation of Cecilia Munoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council, to deliver the keynote address at the 2015 AILA Annual Conference.  I understand and share your outrage over family detention and over the way that Central Americans seeking safe refuge are being treated by our government.  As discussed below, AILA has been working vigorously to end family detention and seek fair treatment of asylum-seekers.

Different organizations use keynotes for different purposes.  Some aim to inspire the attendees. Others try to set the tone for the conference.  Still others use it as the jumping-off point for the remainder of the proceedings.  AILA?  AILA uses the keynote as one of several tools to promote government accountability.

If you look at AILA annual conferences over the years, you will see one recurrent theme in our keynote speakers: it’s virtually always a government official.  Last year it was the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.  Frequently it has been the Director of USCIS or the Director of ICE.  Before the days of DHS, it was almost always the Commissioner of INS.  Many of these speakers have not been friends, and have engaged in practices anathema to all that AILA stands for.  In addition to the keynote, we turn over an entire track for an entire day to government open forums—panels of government officials from the different agencies involved in immigration.

All of this is for a reason. The AILA annual conference is the single largest gathering in the country of people who know immigration.  Who know the law, and know what is happening in reality in the field. When a government official stands in front of AILA, he or she is standing before a group that can’t be fooled by pretty words or general sound bites and slogans.

Which gets us to the question of why Cecilia Munoz. I’m not going to quarrel with your characterization of her individual role, since what matters is not what she has done privately or publicly on these issues. What matters is that she holds senior office in the White House, and thus can stand in front of a room of immigration lawyers and speak for the White House. And the White House must be held accountable for what it has done. The best way to do that is to put a White House official in front of a couple thousand immigration lawyers and talk about what the Administration has done.  The good and the bad.  The popular and the unpopular. DACA and Executive Actions. Record deportations and family detention.

If the experts on immigration law, and on the truth of what is happening in the field, are not willing to raise this challenge, who else will?

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what our members have been doing, pro bono, to represent these families and unaccompanied children.  I recognize names of committed volunteers among the individuals on whose behalf your letter is signed.   Beyond that, we as an organization have pursued, and continue to very actively pursue, all available avenues to #EndFamilyDetention.  Today’s press conference by Members of Congress in opposition to family detention came about after Congress has heard repeatedly about the cases AILA lawyers have won and through the constant efforts by AILA and other advocates.  We’ve shared information with editorialists and reporters around the country, including the New York Times editorial board, to keep the family detention situation in front of them; several recent editorials and opinion pieces attest to those efforts. Similarly, we have spent countless hours in that frustrating coin of Washington—meetings and phone calls—to try to turn the government tide on these issues.  We also have worked closely with coalition partners to get grass roots attention on these issues.

So, no, we will not be disinviting Ms. Munoz.  We will have her come and speak to our conference. We will behave professionally, but we will also challenge her to account for the Administration’s actions. Our mission as an organization requires no less.



Request To Rescind Cecilia Muñoz As AILA Keynote Speaker

Should a person who has harmed tens of thousands of children fleeing harm be awarded a keynote address at a human rights organization? No.

Should a person who has harmed tens of thousands of children fleeing harm be awarded a keynote address at a human rights organization? No.

Below is the text of the letter. This is the link to sign the letter online:

May 21, 2015

Crystal Williams,

Executive Director

AILA National Office

1331 G Street NW, Suite 300

Washington, DC 20005

Dear Director Williams and AILA leadership:

I write this letter on behalf of the undersigned and for our law firm. I am also scheduled to speak as an expert on the panel titled UACs, Guardianships, and Other Minor Issues. Together, we represent hundreds of immigrant children who are being or have been intentionally harmed by Cecilia Muñoz’s decisions as Domestic Policy Advisor to President Obama and as Director of the Domestic Policy Council.

We hereby request that AILA rescind Cecilia Muñoz’s invitation to deliver the keynote address at our annual conference given that she is directly responsible for causing children to suffer severe and prolonged physical and mental harm in detention centers in Artesia, New Mexico; Leesport, Pennsylvania; Karnes City, Texas; and Dilley, Texas.

Additionally, Ms. Muñoz has fully backed President Obama’s multi-pronged policy to prevent Central American children from escaping death, severe bodily or mental harm, and rape. She is one of the principal architects of shocking, widespread, and ongoing human rights violations against vulnerable children fleeing Central America. As such, she should not be elevated or rewarded with the most prominent speech at AILA’s annual conference.

Ms. Muñoz’s actions and words, in part, directly caused the children described below to suffer unimaginable physical and mental harm.

  1. A 1 year old rushed to the hospital with pneumonia only to be sent back to detention immediately upon discharge.
  1. A 7-year-old boy raped and detained for months afterwards in the same facility as his abuser. He was released upon his family paying a $10,000 bond set by an immigration judge.
  1. A 4-year-old girl locked in an isolation jail cell with her mother for 9 consecutive days while suffering from untreated pneumonia and severe decay in all of her teeth.
  1. A 3-year-old who coughed up blood for more than 3 days who was told to just drink lots of water until finally she was brought to the hospital for treatment.
  1. A 2-year-old boy with a 107 fever whom, according to the emergency room doctor, was close to suffering cardiac arrest if he had arrived any later.
  1. A 4-year-old girl placed in foster care for two months after her mother attempted suicide in the Dilley internment camp because ICE extinguished her hope: she faced the certainty that life would end, either with indefinite detention or deportation to death in Honduras.

Dozens and dozens of similar accounts reverberate among us. Children suffer immense pain because of detention, and even death because of deportation. The above accounts are not unknown to Ms. Muñoz. Several high profile news outlets have reported on the physical and mental harm children experience as a direct consequence of detention.

Family detention is not even the worst of Ms. Muñoz’s acts. Starting last summer, she and the White House were desperate to do anything to stop Central American children from escaping into the U.S. in such high numbers. President Obama went so far as to request Congress to gut the 2008 Trafficking and Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”) so that unaccompanied children from Central America could be detained pending deportation without even seeing an immigration judge.

In the midst of the crisis, Ms. Muñoz told PBS News Hour that “the vast majority of those kids end up going back. There may be some isolated cases where there is some basis for them to be able to stay, but the borders of the United States are not open, not even for children who come on their own, and the deportation process starts when they get here, and we expect that it will for the vast majority of these kids.”

Contrasted with the reality that the vast majority of recent child arrivals are eligible to remain in the United States lawfully as special immigrant juveniles or asylees, Ms. Muñoz lied to the public to justify the unthinkable: deporting children back to be killed, abducted, raped, or harmed.

Opposed by Democrats in Congress, the White House was unsuccessful in eliminating the law’s protections. The President and his advisors went to plan B: hire Mexico to apprehend and rapidly deport Central American children back home while en route to the safety of the United States.

The White House’s plan is ongoing and the primary cause of the drop in Central American apprehensions in 2015: Mexico deported 3,289 Central American children in January and February of 2015 alone, a 105 percent increase from 2014.

The White House’s plan to trap children in countries torn asunder by a war even reaches the conditions of financial aid designated to ameliorate the crisis. In the 2015 budget bill, any Central American recipient of aid to improve conditions such as safety, security, and education would be stripped of all aid if the respective nations fail to keep their own citizens from fleeing harm to the United States.

Admittedly, it is important to maintain communications with the White House. However, even leading Senate and House Democrats speaking out against family detention as early as October of 2014 were unable to secure significant changes in the policy.

Rather, the administration continues its aggressive and unlawful campaign to deter Central American children and their families from lawfully obtaining asylum or other relief in the United States.

Family detention surged forward in its no-release-no-matter-what form until litigation in the District Courts in Washington D.C. and Central California blunted its power in February and April of 2015, respectively. However, litigation is not a miracle cure. Public pressure, which has been difficult to gain steam up until recently, plays a large role in affecting policy decisions from the White House and others. Public pressure is not gained by affording a leader who has ignored all pleas to stop harming children with more agency than all of the 14,000 AILA attorneys present at the conference.

Given that Ms. Muñoz is responsible for such unconscionable human rights violations against children fleeing to save their lives, we respectfully request that her invitation as the keynote speaker be rescinded immediately.

Very Truly Yours,

Bryan S. Johnson, Esq.

Ala Amoachi, Esq.

On behalf of the following:

Matthew Kolken, Esq.                                               Christine Popp, Esq.

Amy Maldonado, Esq.                                               Daniel M. Kowalski, Esq.

Ivan Yacub, Esq.                                                         Matthew Udall, Esq.

Norma Sepulveda, Esq.                                               Mac Nayeri, Esq.

Matthew Archambeault, Esq.                                     Isabel Guzman, Esq.

David Bennion, Esq.                                                   Carol Anne Mauer Donohoe, Esq.

Robert Barron, Esq.                                                    Scarlett Leiva, Esq.

Danielle Rosche, Esq.                                                 Bridget Cambria, Esq.

Marty Rosenbluth, Esq.

Job Position at Berks County Residential Center: “always a possibility suicidal behavior”

Two job postings, one current, at the Berks County Residential Center reveal that the facility is indeed a secure facility under Pennsylvania law.

Job #1 is for a “Shelter Care Counselor” and requires the employee to provide “care for dependent children and families within a minimum secure, residential environment.”

The job also requires the employee to have the “ability to physically restrain residents of all ages.”

Lastly, the working environment is described as follows: “Due to emotional status of residents, the environment can become tense and there is always a possibility of dealing with suicidal behavior.”

Job # 2 is for a “Residential Center Supervisor” and also requires the employee to provide for care in a minimum secure environment.

Crucially, the employee must have “working knowledge of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare 3800 regulations governing residential and secured facilities.

The employee must have the “Ability to safely manage crisis events using de-escalation techniques first and physical intervention as a last resort. 

Lastly, the employee must know that “Work is conducted with potential exposure to emotional and physical assault. 

Secure enough for you?

Does ICE Chief Sarah Saldaña Endorse Solitary Confinement for Children or Is She Greatly Disturbed By It?

"If that's a fact, that disturbs me greatly..."

“If that’s a fact, that disturbs me greatly…”

On April 14, 2015, ICE Director Sarah Saldaña testified before the House Judiciary Committee and was grilled by Representative Hank Johnson on the alleged placement of a mother and her 11 year old son in a medical isolation unit as punishment for protesting the conditions of her family’s detention.

On May 7, 2015, Saldaña’s lawyers, who work for the Department of Justice, submitted a brief in connection with a lawsuit filed by the mother and her 11 year old son requesting that ICE be barred from punishing her and her son for protesting the conditions of detention.

What Saldaña testified to, under oath, at the House Judiciary Committee is directly contradicted by what her lawyers wrote to Federal District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez.

Here is the exchange:

Rep. Hank Johnson:

“would it trouble you to know that women and children because their mother participated in what is called a fast, others call it a hunger strike, but she participated in it and was assigned as a punitive measure to that medical isolation unit?”

ICE Director Saldaña:

“Congressman, if that’s a fact, that disturbs me greatly…”

Saldaña’s lawyers:

“Protesting…is a ‘major offense’ at an ICE family residential facility” and “requires separation from the general population…Medical observation rooms may be used to facilitate this separation.”

The lawyers go on to justify the punishment of “separation” of mothers and children by saying that these draconian actions “reflect reasonable determinations by ICE that necessarily balance any right the resident may have to protest…against the health and safety of resident participating in the strike, and the health and safety of others in the facility…”

Ms. Saldaña was either being dishonest with Rep. Hank Johnson, or her lawyers do not speak for her. Which one is it?


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