Saturday, February 16, 2019

Abolish ICE? Do away with DHS? Let’s start by shutting down Stewart Immigration Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. (if only to protect ourselves from similar denial of justice and access to rule of law in the future

Photo: Jeremy Redmon, MBO / AP

Retired judge: Shut down this immigrant detention center [Opinion]

I recently spent a week as a retired-judge-turned-volunteer-lawyer at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga., helping immigration detainees get out of that tiny town so they can find lawyers. By week’s end, I’d concluded that Stewart should be shut down. Here’s why:
Lumpkin has fewer than 1,200 locals plus up to 1,900 men delivered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to Stewart from across the country, including Texas. The town has just one private immigration lawyer. Fortunately, it’s also home to Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative or SIFI, a nonprofit whose lawyers help detainees win release on bond so they can move to larger cities such as Houston where lawyers will represent them without charge.
Such a move dramatically increases detainees’ chances to win asylum and other relief. According to a leading study in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, detainees in small cities like Lumpkin are four times less likely to obtain counsel than those with hearings in large cities. And detainees with counsel are 10½ times more likely to succeed on their merits case than unrepresented ones. Getting out of Lumpkin is the first, critical step to finding counsel.
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To understand the urgency of SIFI’s mission, you have to appreciate Stewart’s isolation. After driving south from Atlanta for about two hours, the next 40 miles are vacant land. Then Lumpkin, with two main streets and about six side streets. At the end of a private road is Stewart, built by CoreCivic as a private prison but now operated by it to house men detained by ICE. Once there, these people are hundreds of miles and a world away from lawyers.
Any lawyer who makes the trek will find the visiting conditions abysmal. Laptops, mobile phones, voice recorders and Spanish-English dictionaries are prohibited; counsel may only bring in a notebook, pen and one business card per client.
The three small, dingy visiting rooms were built for a prison, so lawyers and clients are separated by thick plastic windows with communication via crackly wall phones. The detainees believe the phones are monitored even when lawyers are talking to clients.
The rooms are often full and access is erratic. CoreCivic is required to provide eight visiting hours daily, and technically it does. But when detainees are counted or shifts change, no one is allowed in or out, meaning that frequently the visiting hours are fewer than the posted hours.
With these restrictions, it’s no wonder that Stewart is a lawyer desert. SIFI struggles to fill this and similar gaps at five locations in the Deep South. And it supports a related project in the Houston area. Lumpkin is staffed by two lawyers, one project coordinator, and volunteers like me who rotate through weekly, screening people requesting representation, meeting with clients, and observing sessions at the courthouse attached to Stewart.
My task one afternoon was to meet with Akello who came from Congo seeking asylum based on religious persecution. (Details have been changed to protect his identity). Represented by SIFI, he had been granted bond at a hearing a few weeks earlier. With bond posted, he would join his relatives living in a large East Coast city; his asylum case would be transferred to that same city where SIFI had already found a lawyer to represent him without charge. All that stood between Akello and release after seven months at Stewart was $9,000.
Easier said than done, however. Unlike U.S. district courts where bond is posted at 10 percent, bond in immigration cases must be paid 100 percent cash to the government. Akello hoped his family could make arrangements with a bondsman. But my responsibility that day was to convey his family’s message that they could only get such a bond by posting $9,000 worth of real property, perhaps a house or car. There would be additional charges as well: the cost of monitoring an ankle bracelet, an upfront payment, interest on the loan. None of that mattered, though, because the family had no real property to post. My theme was to be: Don’t give up hope, SIFI is working on this.
The court visits were eye-opening, starting with the court’s organization. Unlike U.S. district courts that exercise independent judicial power, immigration judges are part of the executive branch. The attorney generalappoints the judges and appellate board, while retaining the power to change their decisions. If detainees could read Latin they would learn that the black-robed judges sit under a Justice Department seal that reads “Who Prosecutes on behalf of Justice.” This is a conflict-filled administrative process, not an independent court.
Because most immigration charges are civil offenses there is no right to appointed counsel, leading the judges to state repeatedly “you are entitled to a lawyer” followed by “at no expense to the government.” In that little town, however, if you don’t have money the advice is empty.
Why should citizens care about this when it doesn’t threaten us or our families? Because our Constitution guarantees that we operate under the rule of law, where, according to the U.S. Courts website, everyone is “accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, independently adjudicated, and consistent with international human rights.” The situation at Stewart undermines these bedrock concepts: detainees are intentionally isolated from access to lawyers; being unrepresented significantly decreases the chance of gaining asylum, and the judges are not independent.
By accepting this, we are developing a national tolerance for incremental changes to the rule of law. No matter where we stand on the immigration debate, we should all be concerned about how immigration laws as written and enforced are chipping away at the judicial system which has been our true north since we became a nation. We deserve better, and so do our generations to come. Let’s start by shutting down Stewart.
Morgenstern-Clarren served as a United States bankruptcy judge, N.D. Ohio, from 1995 until retirement in 2017.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Your tax $$$ at work: Immigrant Kids Sexual Abused in non-profit Southwest Key's Casa Kokopelli Shelter for young Asylum seekers in Mesa AZ.

Shelter worker sentenced to 19 years in prison for sexually abusing migrant boys

Court docs: Immigrant kids abused in center (2018)
Court docs: Immigrant kids abused in center (2018) 02:48
(CNN)A former youth care worker has been sentenced to 19 years in prison for sexually abusing teenage boys at a migrant shelter in Arizona, the Justice Department said.
Levian Pacheco, 25, of Phoenix was convicted last year on seven counts of abusive sexual contact with a ward and three counts of sexual abuse of a ward.
The abuse occurred between August 2016 and July 2017 at Southwest Key's Casa Kokopelli facility in Mesa, court records show. It was part of the US government's network of privately run facilities intended to care for unaccompanied minors, according to court documents.
Pacheco began working there in May 2016.
    The seven boys he was convicted of abusing, some on multiple occasions, were between 15 and 17, according to court documents. They were being held in detention pending possible deportation, and Pacheco, a youth care worker, supervised the minors, the Justice Department said.
    Pacheco touched six of the children's genitalia over their clothes, performed oral sex on two boys and attempted to have anal sex with one of them, court documents said.
    Pacheco's prison sentence is set to be followed by a lifetime of supervised release, the department said Friday.
    U.S. District Judge Steven P. Logan increased Pacheco's sentence because he exposed the victims to the HIV virus, officials said.
    CNN has reached out to Pacheco's attorneys for comment.
    Southwest Key replied to a request for comment, saying they still stand with a statement they released in September following Pacheco's conviction.
    "We are grieved that abuse occurred in one of our shelters and, with the victims, take comfort in justice having been served. As an organization, we believe in transparency,Testimony at trial clearly showed that when we learned of possible abuse, we acted immediately by calling law enforcement and suspending the individual involved," the statement said.
      "We then worked closely with law enforcement and the US Attorney's office throughout the investigation and the trial and will continue to do so as this case proceeds to sentencing. We continue to make the safety of the children our highest priority."
      The nonprofit group runs migrant children's shelters in several states, including Arizona, Texas and California.