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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?

Department of (in) Justice: We can lock up children in solitary confinement

The Department of (in) Justice recently submitted a motion in opposition to a lawsuit filed by mothers and their children who want ICE to stop torturing their children by placing them in solitary confinement.

The DOJ now can be called the DOIJ for its monstrous defense and advocacy for the following policy:

ICE also has family residential standards that govern discipline and cover, among other things, a situation where a resident has participated in the offense of “insurrection,” which is defined as “[p]articipation or encouraging another to participate in unauthorized activity such as protesting or rioting.” See ICE/DRO Residential Standard, Discipline and Behavior Management, at 17, attached hereto as Exhibit O.6

The ICE disciplinary standards state that their purpose is to “provide a safe and orderly living environment” at ICE family residential facilities, and to “manage discipline and behavioral problems in a manner that ensures the safety and welfare of staff, residents, and visitors.” Exhibit O at 1. “Insurrection” is considered a major offense at ICE family residential facilities, and under the standards requires separation from the general population. Id. at 16-17. Medical observation rooms may be used to facilitate this separation.

In other words, if a mother protests or encourages another to protest, DOJ,  led by the lawyer-warrior in favor of locking up toddlers and children, Sarah B. Fabian, ICE has a right to punish the mothers’ children with solitary confinement.

In other parts of the United States (like our office), the DOJ’s position is not only wrong, but endorses the federal crime of deprivation of rights under color of law, 18 U.S.C. 242.

Whatever interests that ICE has in providing a safe and orderly living environment, it clearly does not mean that ICE can punish children with something that is widely considered torture because it causes extreme psychological harm:

Deprived of normal human interaction, many segregated prisoners reportedly suffer from mental health problems including anxiety, panic, insomnia, paranoia, aggression and depression, Haney says (Crime and Delinquency, 2003).

To Haney, evidence of these effects comes as no surprise. “It borders on being common sense, but it’s common sense with a lot of empirical research that supports it,” he says. “So much of what we do and who we are is rooted in a social context.”

More here:

Since the 1970s, research has been amassed indicating that solitary confinement does alter neural and therefore psychological states. One study examining the development of psychopathologies found that those in solitary developed pathologies at higher rates than those in the general population (28% vs. 15%).4 Another study of 20 prisoners who volunteered for a week of solitary confinement found that the prisoners exhibited decreased EEG activity, indicative of increased theta activity, which is related to stress, tension, and anxiety.5 Prisoners in solitary confinement have been found to engage in self-mutilation at rates higher than the general population.6

And more:

Extensive research on the impact of isolation has shown that adult prisoners generally exhibit a variety of negative physiological and psychological reactions to conditions of solitary confinement, including: hypersensitivity to stimuli;13 perceptual distortions and hallucinations;14 increased anxiety and nervousness;15 revenge fantasies, rage, and irrational anger;16 fears of persecution;17 lack of impulse control;18 severe and chronic depression;19 appetite loss and weight loss;20 heart palpitations;21 withdrawal;22 blunting of affect and apathy;23 talking to oneself;24 headaches;25 problems sleeping;26 confusing thought processes;27 nightmares;28 dizziness;29 self-mutilation;30 and lower levels of brain function, including a decline in EEG activity after only seven days in solitary confinement.31 One can reasonably conclude that, at a minimum, children too experience these negative effects.32 Indeed, given their stage of growth and development, children may be even less able than adults to handle solitary confinement.33 Psychologically, children are different from adults, making their time spent in isolation even more difficult and the developmental, What Is it Like for Children in Solitary Confinement? The devastating effects of solitary confinement on children have haunting consequences, as shown by this first-hand account from Lino Silva, written about her experience in solitary confinement in a juvenile facility in California: “Being in a room over 21 hours a day is like a waking nightmare, like you want to scream but you can’t. You want to stretch your legs, walk for more than a few feet. You feel trapped. Life becomes distorted. You shower, eat, sleep, and defecate in the same tiny room. In the same small sink, you ‘shower,’ quench your thirst, wash your hands after using the toilet, and warm your cold dinner in a bag. I developed techniques to survive. I keep a piece of humanity inside myself that can’t be taken away by the guards . . . There’s no second chance here.” Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights of the S. Comm. on the Judiciary, 112th Cong. (2012) (statement of Sumayyah Washeed & Jennifer Kim, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Books not Bombs Campaign). Alone & Afraid | 4 psychological, and physical damage more comprehensive and lasting. They experience time differently—a day for a child feels longer than a day to an adult—and have a greater need for social stimulation.34 The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has concluded that, due to their “developmental vulnerability,” adolescents are in particular danger of adverse reactions to prolonged isolation and solitary confinement. 35

It looks like ICE has set a new precedent by subjecting children under the age of 5 to solitary confinement.

Ms. Fabian, in her zeal to defend the interests of the federal government to incarcerate children, must have overlooked a sentence from an earlier affidavit written by Chief of the Family Detention unit in ICE, Stephen Antkowiak, written on April 23, 2015, in which he swears under oath that: “ICE fully respects the rights of all individuals to express their constitutionally-protected rights of expression including the use of hunger strikes.”

I hope Mr. Antkowiak is prepared to defend himself on perjury charges because separation of mothers and children from the general population for commission of the major offense of protesting is exactly the opposite of fully respecting “the rights of all individuals to express their constitutionally-protected rights of expression.”


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