Immigrant Youth Shelters: ‘If You’re a Predator, It’s a Gold Mine’

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Michael Grabell and Topher Sanders / ProPublica.

Just five days after he reached the United States, the 15-year-old Honduran boy awoke in his Tucson, Arizona, immigrant shelter one morning in 2015 to find a youth care worker in his room, tickling his chest and stomach.

When he asked the man, who was 46, what he was doing, the man left. But he returned two more times, rubbing the teen’s penis through his clothing and then trying to reach under his boxers. “I know what you want, I can give you anything you need,” said the worker, who was later convicted of molestation.

In 2017, a 17-year-old from Honduras was recovering from surgery at the shelter when he woke up to find a male staff member standing by his bed. “You have it very big,” the man said, referring to the teen’s penis. Days later, that same employee brushed the teen with his hand while he was playing video games. When the staff member approached him again, the boy locked himself in a bathroom.

And in January of this year, a security guard at the shelter found notes in a minor’s jacket that suggested an inappropriate relationship with a staff member.

Pulled from police reports, incidents like these at Southwest Key’s Tucson shelter provide a snapshot of what has largely been kept from the public as well as members of Congress — a view, uncolored by politics, of troubling incidents inside the facilities housing immigrant children.

Using state public records laws, ProPublica has obtained police reports and call logs concerning more than 70 of the approximately 100 immigrant youth shelters run by the U.S. Health and Human Services department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. While not a comprehensive assessment of the conditions at these shelters, the records challenge the Trump administration’s assertion that the shelters are safe havens for children. The reports document hundreds of allegations of sexual offenses, fights and missing children.

The recently discontinued practice of separating children from their parents has thrust the youth shelters into the national spotlight. But, with little public scrutiny, they have long cared for thousands of immigrant children, most of them teenagers, although last year 17 percent were under 13. On any given day, the shelters in 17 states across the country house around 10,000 adolescents.

The more than 1,000 pages of police reports and logs detail incidents dating back to the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America in 2014 during the Obama administration. But immigrant advocates, psychologists and officials who formerly oversaw the shelters say the Trump administration’s harsh new policies have only increased pressures on the facilities, which often are hard-pressed to provide adequate staffing for kids who suffer from untold traumas and who now exist in a legal limbo that could shape the rest of their lives.

“If you’re a predator, it’s a gold mine,” said Lisa Fortuna, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center. “You have full access and then you have kids that have already had this history of being victimized.”

Southwest Key wouldn’t discuss specific incidents, but said in a statement that the company has a strict policy on abuse and neglect and takes every allegation seriously. HHS declined ProPublica’s requests to interview the refugee resettlement program’s director, Scott Lloyd. The agency released a statement saying it “treats its responsibility for each child with the utmost care” and has a “zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse or inappropriate behavior” at the shelters.

But the reports collected by ProPublica so far show that in the past five years, police have responded to at least 125 calls reporting sex offenses at shelters that primarily serve immigrant children. That number doesn’t include another 200 such calls from more than a dozen shelters that also care for at-risk youth residing in the U.S. Call records for those facilities don’t distinguish which reports related to unaccompanied immigrants and which to other youth housed on the property.

Psychologists who’ve worked with immigrant youth said the records likely undercount the problems because many kids might not report abuse for fear of affecting their immigration cases.

It’s unclear whether any of the children mentioned as victims in the reports were separated from their parents at the border, but the reports include several children as young as 6 years old. The government faced a court deadline Thursday to reunite the nearly 3,000 children who were separated from their parents. But the administration told the court that more than 700 of those children remain in shelters or foster care because their parents have already been deported or have been deemed ineligible for reunification for various reasons.

Not all the reports reveal abuse. The shelters are required to report any sexual allegation to the police and many reports detail minor incidents and horseplay not uncommon in American schools. For example, the BCFS International Children’s Shelter in Harlingen, Texas, called the police in February after one minor entered another’s room and rubbed a small styrofoam ball on the juvenile’s buttocks.

And, once secure in the shelters, some immigrant children report assaults that occurred not at the shelters, but in their home countries. Last November, a 14-year-old girl staying in a shelter in Irvington, New York, told staff she had been raped in Honduras by a man who was now in immigration custody.

But the reports show that the allegations of staff abuse and inappropriate relationships that occurred in Tucson aren’t isolated. In February, a 24-year-old youth care worker at KidsPeace in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was placed on administrative leave after kissing a teenage boy in the laundry room. Just over a year earlier, a 21-year-old staff member there was accused of kissing a 16-year-old girl in the hallway. The BCFS shelter in Harlingen was written up by state regulators in 2017 after a staff member flew to New York to visit a former resident. And at a Southwest Key shelter outside San Diego, reports show, a female employee who had been accused of kissing a juvenile quit after being confronted with information that the teenager had the woman’s Snapchat account written on a piece of paper.

KidsPeace wouldn’t discuss personnel matters but said “the safety and well-being of our young clients are our top priority.”

BCFS said the staff member was terminated for violating agency policy and that it has “very strict and clear boundaries for our staff.”

The reports also reveal dozens of incidents of unwanted groping and indecent exposure among children and teenagers at the facilities. Some kids fleeing threats and violence in their home countries arrived in the United States only to be placed in shelters where they faced similar dangers. In March, a 15-year-old boy at the Southwest Key shelter in Tucson reported that his roommate lifted up his legs as he was trying to go to sleep, made thrusting motions and said, “I’m going rape you.” And in late 2016, a 15-year-old at KidsPeace told police that another boy there had been forcing him to have oral sex. After an investigation, one teen was transferred to a more secure facility. (KidsPeace said it wouldn’t discuss specific information about kids in its care.)

While it’s difficult to get a complete count, the police reports show that children go missing or run away from the shelters roughly once a week. Several shelters, including Southwest Key’s Tucson facility, have seen a significant increase in missing person and runaway calls since the start of 2018. St. PJ’s Children’s Home in San Antonio, which primarily cares for immigrant children, has had 26 such calls in the first half of the year, records show, compared to 14 for all of last year and nine for 2016.

St. PJ’s Children’s Home responded after publication and said its spike in runaways involves U.S. children, not immigrant youth.

The police reports also raise questions about how Southwest Key, the largest operator of immigrant shelters, handles such incidents. In the molestation case involving the 46-year-old staffer, police had obtained edited surveillance footage but later sought a complete, unedited version. Southwest Key, however, had taped over the footage. And in another case, police noted that Southwest Key refused to give officers records from an internal investigation.

Southwest Key CEO Juan Sánchez declined an interview. The Texas-based nonprofit has received more than $1.3 billion in federal grants and contracts in the past five years for the shelters and other services. Jeff Eller, a spokesman, said, “We cooperate with all investigations.”

Government officials and advocates say most immigrant youth shelters were never intended to house children long-term. But in recent weeks, the average length of stay has climbed to 57 days from 34 days just two years ago.

Maria Cancian, deputy assistant secretary for policy at HHS’s Administration for Children and Families from 2015 to 2016, said typically the shelters only housed immigrant kids for the “honeymoon period” when they first arrived in the U.S.

“The kids didn’t have a chance to get bored and ornery,” she said. “The longer kids are there, the more trouble you’re going to have, and the more opportunities there are for relationships to evolve in ways that are more challenging.”

Cancian, who served under President Obama, said the shelters were well run when she was there. “But if you’re serving 65,000 children in a year,” she said, “there are going to be some bad incidents.”

The network of federally funded shelters sprang up after HHS took over the responsibility of caring for unaccompanied children arriving at the border in 2003. For most of their existence, the shelters received little attention, serving fewer than 8,000 children a year. But in 2014, that number surged to nearly 60,000 as a flood of teenagers fleeing gang violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador sought asylum in the U.S.

The shelters — whose operators have been paid about $4 billion over the past five years — were designed as temporary way stations, where new arrivals could get acclimated while staffers tried to locate family members who could care for them while their immigration cases wound through the courts.

There are now approximately 100 shelters scattered from Seattle to suburban New York, but concentrated in Texas and Arizona. They range from old motels to stand-alone homes, from a converted Walmart to a former estate set amid mansions, where on a recent day a deer could be seen prancing through the leafy grounds.

The children arrive with a host of needs, said Nayeli Chavez-Dueñas, a clinical psychologist who helped develop shelter guidelines on behalf of the National Latina/o Psychological Association.

Many children have experienced traumatic events in their home countries, are desperate for stability after the long journey, and have little understanding of American laws — all things that make them particularly vulnerable.

“When a perpetrator is trying to pick a victim they’re picking somebody that they think is less likely to report the abuse,” Chavez-Dueñas said. “Children and youth that are coming from outside of the country, that have no legal status here, that don’t speak English, that don’t have access to lawyers or people who can protect them — they already might think they’re not going to be believed.”

In the back of their minds, she said, is the fear that speaking up could ultimately hurt their immigration case.

The worker who was convicted of molesting the boy in Tucson isn’t the only shelter employee to face criminal charges. Last year, according to court records, a youth care worker at a Homestead, Florida, shelter was sentenced to 10 years in prison after she sent nude photos of herself to a 15-year-old boy who had recently left the shelter and asked him for sex. In 2012, a case manager at a Fullerton, California, shelter was convicted of molesting several teenage boys when they went into his office for regular calls with family, court records show.

The shelters must complete background checks complying with both federal standards and state licensing requirements. They are overseen by an overlapping system of regulators that ostensibly provides a lot of enforcement tools. When incidents occur, shelters are required to alert the police and the ORR. They may also have to notify state agencies that license child-care facilities.

Bob Carey, who was director of ORR from 2015 to 2017, said each week he read through a stack of significant incident reports submitted by the shelters, summarizing everything from behavior problems to allegations of sex between staff and minors. Looking at them over several years, he said, there weren’t many serious incidents that stood out.

“When I was there, the overwhelming majority of what was reported was one kid slapping the butt of another kid in the cafeteria line,” he said. “But you want to make sure that when the more serious incident does happen, that people know what do.”

When there were serious problems, he said, the agency would initiate an investigation that could result in “corrective actions,” ranging from increased monitoring to the termination of the grant. Field staff assigned to the regions where the shelters are located can make unannounced visits day or night. In Texas, licensing officials can also issue fines, order shelters to make changes and ultimately revoke a shelter’s operating license. But in practice, the harshest tools have rarely been used.

Monitoring the shelters can be extremely difficult as the number of unaccompanied children can fluctuate wildly from year to year.

The rise and fall means the shelters are in a constant state of flux, making it difficult to retain and train staff. Last spring, Southwest Key laid off almost 1,000 employees — only to have to ramp up several months later. Current and former employees describe a stressful environment where overstretched and underpaid care workers do the best they can with little training to handle kids in crisis.

“It’s really hard to imagine how difficult it is to quickly ramp up appropriate care for children,” Cancian said. “The more people you have to bring in fast and the less experienced your staff, the more challenges there are to maintain standards.”

In response to the influx in 2014, Carey and other officials developed a plan to restructure the ORR to improve oversight of the unaccompanied minor program by increasing staff and supervision, shifting field employees to regions where new shelters had popped up and trying to resolve longstanding data problems. The plan began to take shape at the end of 2016.

But it’s unclear what happened when the Trump administration took over and initiated a hiring freeze. An HHS spokeswoman would only say that the plan “was never implemented by the last administration” and that “today, operations are constantly reviewed and improved on an ongoing basis.”

Several police reports obtained by ProPublica raise questions about how serious incidents were handled by shelters.

In one case in Tucson in 2015, two female employees told managers that a maintenance supervisor had groped them, tried to pull one of them into a room, and then made a sexual gesture with a broom handle. When no action was taken, an assistant shift leader notified the police.

The employees told police that the assistant program director said he had lost one of women’s statements while another manager told them to “drop it and leave it alone.” The assistant director told police that the company held a sexual harassment class and suspended the maintenance supervisor while it investigated, but couldn’t prove or disprove the allegations because the supervisor denied them. When a police detective asked for copies of the employees’ statements, police records say, a lawyer for Southwest Key refused to provide them.

According to the police report, the employees said they feared that if the maintenance supervisor was “doing this to female employees, who’s to say he’s not doing this or worse to the several hundred female refugees staying at the center.” The man had full access to the building, they told police, and the minors might be hesitant to speak up.

The reports also show that when inappropriate touching or abuse occurred among residents at the Tucson shelter, the staff and police often left it up to minor victims to decide whether to file charges against other children.

The process for reporting and investigating incidents was inconsistent at other shelters as well.

A former employee at KidsPeace in Pennsylvania said that staff members frequently attended police interviews of residents who reported misconduct, potentially creating a conflict of interest. KidsPeace spokesman Bob Martin said the agency’s interactions with police and other governmental entities are “scrupulously conducted” to ensure that neither kids’ “personal well-being nor their legal rights are put at risk while they are in our care.”

At a Southwest Key shelter in Conroe, Texas, in May, a boy told a youth care worker that his mental health counselor brushed his shoulders, rubbed his arm and caressed his face while continually peeking out of the office’s blinds “as if he was checking to see if someone was coming.” The counselor began to unbuckle his own pants, but stopped, the police report said.

The boy later repeated the story to a state child welfare worker. The counselor was suspended during the investigation. But a more formal forensic interview didn’t take place until six days after the incident.

At that point, the police report said, the boy “made no outcry regarding any criminal offense” and the case was closed.

Waiting six days for a forensic interview is not on its face unusual, said David Palmiter, a psychology professor at Marywood University who has conducted forensic interviews of abused children. But he noted that the interview should be done sooner rather than later.

“Everything from legitimate confusion to some calculation of what the consequences could be or whether they would please or hurt the adults around them could impact the child,” he said. “There could be any number of reasons why the story changes.”

A large part of the current pressure on the shelters stems from a series of changes made by the Trump administration in how it handles unaccompanied minors, immigrant advocates say.

As part of an information-sharing agreement, the ORR is now required to provide Immigration and Customs Enforcement with potential sponsors’ names, dates of birth, addresses and fingerprints so that ICE can pull criminal and immigration history information on the sponsor, usually a family member, and all adult members of the sponsor’s household.

Officials say the vetting is being done to protect children. In one case a few years ago, the agency unintentionally turned teenagers over to a smuggling network that forced them to work on an egg farm to pay off their debts.

But immigrant advocates say the policy is deterring family members who are often undocumented from coming forward, leaving children to languish in shelters where they may become increasingly desperate.

The police reports detail repeated calls about runaways.

“It wouldn’t be that difficult for kids to run away from these facilities if they really wanted to,” said Carey, the former ORR director. “But they were expecting to be pretty quickly reunited with a parent or sponsor. That didn’t create a big incentive for them to try to run away.”

As the lengths of stay increase with sponsors less likely to come forward, he said, “that might conceivably create an incentive to voluntarily depart.”

For many of the teens, who may have already run away from gangs in their home countries, as well as predators along the route and the Border Patrol, bolting from the shelters is unsurprising.

In February, a recent arrival at Southwest Key’s Tucson shelter, whom staff and ICE believed was older than he claimed, jumped off a second-floor balcony into the parking lot, climbed a light pole and bounded over the fence.

At the Lincoln Hall Boys’ Haven in the New York suburbs, four boys disappeared in 2016 after being taken to a clinic for X-rays and other medical treatment. Last summer, two boys who were awaiting deportation at the Southwest Key shelter in Conroe, Texas, took off running as a large group of students was being escorted to a class.

According to ORR’s policy guide, agency staff are supposed to assess whether a child is an “escape risk” in deciding whether to place him or her in a more secure setting.

But in most facilities, the kids can’t be forcibly restrained from leaving.

“We are not a detention center,” said Eller, the Southwest Key spokesman. “If a child leaves the property, we cannot force them to stay, but we talk to them and we work with law enforcement to ensure their continued safety.”

Court records describe the Honduran teen by the initials M.A.C. He’d crossed the border in McAllen, Texas, and was taken to the Southwest Key facility in Tucson, where he was told caseworkers would help reunite him with his father in South Carolina. He’d been in the U.S. just five days and the next day was his 16th birthday.

In the dim morning hours that Saturday, a man M.A.C. knew only as Oscar walked into his room, wearing a Southwest Key T-shirt that read “I Love My Job.”

Oscar Trujillo, 46, was one of the first people M.A.C. met when he arrived at the facility on Friday, April 10, 2015. He viewed Oscar as an adult he could trust.

Standing at the boy’s bedside, Trujillo lifted M.A.C.’s blanket and began tickling him on the chest and stomach, according to transcripts of his 2017 trial. The boy testified that he was confused, but he didn’t shout or pull away because he saw Trujillo as a grownup and a teacher.

M.A.C. didn’t know that Trujillo had already violated one of Southwest Key’s major rules by entering the child’s room alone.

“That is something that is instilled in our minds day one,” said Jeff Cotton, a former Southwest Key employee who was the shift supervisor the day Trujillo entered the boy’s room. “Do not be alone with these kids because there could be an instance where you are accused and if you are accused, you want to have a witness.”

Trujillo left the boy’s room, but returned a short time later and lifted the child’s blanket again. He resumed the tickling, but this time he also rubbed M.A.C.’s penis through his clothing, court records show. The boy moved Trujillo’s hand.

“I know what you want, I can give you anything you need,” Trujillo told the boy, according to police records.

Trujillo left the room, and again returned a short time later. Surveillance cameras caught Trujillo entering and exiting M.A.C.’s room alone each time. On his third trip into the boy’s room, Trujillo attempted to lift the child’s boxers and slip his hand in the boy’s underwear, according to trial records.

This time M.A.C. pulled away. Trujillo asked the child not to tell anyone or else his job could be at risk, the records show. The boy, feeling violated and confused, got dressed and stood in line at the cafeteria.

“I felt uncomfortable over everything that had happened,” M.A.C. told a jury last year. “I knew it was something that shouldn’t be happening in a place like that, and I knew that I needed to say something to someone about that, because it was something that was serious. So I asked to speak to my counselor.”

After M.A.C. was interviewed by police and a psychologist, Trujillo was arrested and never returned to the Southwest Key facility.

Trujillo could not be reached for this story, but in court he testified that he went in and out of M.A.C.’s room to give him toiletries and to teach him how to make his bed.  Trujillo’s attorneys also claimed that M.A.C. concocted the abuse claim in order to become a candidate for a U-Visa, which allows immigrants who are victims of crimes to remain in the country.

The jury wasn’t convinced. Trujillo was convicted of one count of molestation and sentenced to three years of probation.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that children and youth that are coming from other countries are arriving here and trying to play the system and apply for things that even people that have been here for years don’t know about,” said Chavez-Dueñas, the clinical psychologist, who is also an associate professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

Arthur Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association, said the problems revealed in the police and court records are to be expected given the “very significant needs” of the children and the staff’s lack of specialized training. His organization has offered its membership’s expertise to assist the facilities.

With such a mismatch in needs and capacity, he said, “You’re more likely to have kids running away. You’re more likely to have incidents of sexual and physical abuse.”

Such a result, Evans said, is “not surprising.”

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Republican running for state house in Tucson admits he killed his mother

[Bobby] Wilson told the crowd he was “living proof” that the only one who can stop someone trying to harm somebody is a “good guy with a gun.”

He didn’t say at that event that the person he shot was his mother.

Rep. Daniel Hernandez, a Democrat who represents the same district Wilson is running in, was at the forum. He said Gabby Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot in Tucson in 2011, and other gun violence survivors were in the audience. Many were shocked, he said. read more

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PHOENIX — Transporter of Stolen Migrant Children was ‘Black Contract’ Operator in Iraq and Afghanistan

Read more of this story here from CENSORED NEWS by Brenda Norrell.

(Top photo) MVM's secret black contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed when MVM was sued by an employee. Now in Phoenix, MVM was caught on video stashing migrant children in an abandoned office building. (Photos 2 and 3) MVM advertised for youth care workers in Phoenix in June. In the photos, Native youths can be seen taking young migrant children into the black site in midtown Read more

Government Contractor Acknowledges Migrant Children Were Held Overnight in Vacant Office Building

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by By Aura Bogado / Reveal.

The defense contractor that initially stated it held migrant children in a vacant Phoenix office building only for short periods of time while awaiting flights acknowledged Wednesday that it sometimes kept them there overnight.

It was, MVM Inc. spokesman Joseph Arabit said in an emailed response, “a regrettable exception” to the company’s policy to find a hotel instead, if needed, when there are delays in transporting children in custody to various placements designated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. It also appears to violate the company’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We work diligently … to minimize the time that these children are in transit,” Arabit said. “The process is a complex logistical undertaking with many things outside of MVM’s control, complicated by a recent spike in the number of children and families MVM was asked to escort, a lag in flight availability, and unforeseen placement changes.

“While far from the norm, this led to some recent unavoidable delays when the period before a flight extended beyond just several hours,” he said, adding that tighter controls, a full review and “appropriate actions” to prevent this from happening in the future are underway.

The use of the office came to light after a neighbor began videotaping the children’s arrivals, concerned that they might be being trafficked or at a minimum kept in inhospitable conditions.

When Reveal got to the site last week, the children were gone, leaving behind shreds of evidence that they had been there more than a few hours: a medication schedule for one child, an inflatable mattress, a box marked “baby shampoo.” The office has only a few bathrooms and no kitchen facilities – in fact, under its lease, cooking is not allowed. It is not licensed by the state as a child care facility.

Next door neighbor Lianna Dunlap reacted to the news that her hunch was at least partially correct, calling it horrifying and criticizing MVM for trying to “hide it from us.”

“It just shows that they’re not really following any rules or protocols,” she said. “Those poor children.”

MVM, a private firm with ties to the CIA, has contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement worth up to $248 million to transport children. The company leased the nondescript one-level office building in March, shortly before the Trump administration’s push to separate children from their parents at the border began.

The company’s admission came after Reveal began to confirm details of who the children held in the office were and, in the process, learned that at least two were in MVM’s custody for more than 24 hours.

One arrived to the United States on her own. One was split from her parents. Some are toddlers. Others are in their late teens. And at least one is pregnant. All had made their way, alone or with friends and family, from Latin America to the United States in late spring.

And all found themselves in the unmarked office building over the course of several weeks in May and June.

One of them also ran away—and remains missing.

Phoenix Police Sgt. Vincent C. Lewis told Reveal that officers made a missing persons service call to that office on the morning of May 27, responding to an MVM staffer’s request.

“The teen who fled from them was described as approximately 16 years old in the call, but the police report lists him as 17,” Lewis said. The teenager, originally from Honduras, was first in the custody of Customs and Border Patrol in Tucson before he was handed over to ICE. He was being transported by MVM to his destination and was at the Phoenix office for roughly 40 minutes, Lewis said, when he took off. He hadn’t been at the office alone.

“Although officers made no observations of any children during the contact with staff, the report states that the juvenile would have been one of approximately 90 juveniles passing through this transfer facility on their way to the airport,” Lewis said.

By early June, neighbors say they began seeing children, sometimes more than a dozen at a time, quietly ushered into the MVM office. On June 22, they saw white vans pull up and take a large group away.

The videos and eye-witness accounts, along with new records obtained by Reveal, indicate that more than 200 children made their way through the vacant office building over the course of a month. The number may be much higher.

ICE previously told Reveal that, under its contract, MVM is “authorized to use their office spaces as waiting areas for minors awaiting same-day transportation” to the custody of the agency charged with caring for unaccompanied children. MVM also told Reveal last week that the Phoenix office “is not a shelter or a child care facility. … It’s a temporary holding place” for minors being flown out of the local airport and other locations.

“These offices are not overnight housing facilities, per the contract with ICE,” ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said last week.

After obtaining a database of children’s names, identification numbers and dates of arrival in Phoenix that was originally shared among MVM employees, Reveal compared some of those names to federal records that indicate the date a child was admitted into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

In one case, a teenager from Honduras who made her way to the border without her parents was listed as having arrived at the Phoenix office the morning of June 3. But the 16-year-old wasn’t admitted into a shelter until two days later, on June 5. Records also indicate that teenager is pregnant.

In another case, a 15-year-old from Guatemala appears to have arrived at the MVM office on June 3 but was not admitted into a shelter until the following day. Records reviewed by Reveal suggest she had been taken from her parents at the border.

That girl currently is listed at a shelter in Texas. A man she entered the United States with, who may be her father, is currently detained in California. And, until Tuesday, a woman the teenager entered the U.S. with, likely her mother, was in an immigrant detention center in Colorado.

The woman’s name disappeared from detention records Wednesday morning. It’s unclear whether that means she was released into the United States or deported.

ICE spokeswoman Elzea requested complete details of any cases in which children appear to have spent the night at the MVM office – saying she would be happy to look into it if Reveal could provide full names and other unique identifiers. Reveal provided details about one girl. Elzea said ICE would look into the case.

“I don’t have a specific timeline for a response, but will keep you posted,” she wrote in an email.

Reveal reached out to Elzea again after MVM confirmed it had kept children there overnight. She said ICE was “looking into” it.

When contacted by Reveal earlier Wednesday with details about one case, Arabit—who runs MVM’s homeland security and public safety division—said he’d need more time to respond. Asked whether he could answer one question, “Did children ever spend the night at the MVM office in Phoenix?” Arabit said he would send a statement.

At 4:11 p.m. he emailed: “Thank you for your patience, the answer to your question is yes. Please see statement below.”

Citing “unavoidable delays,” the four-paragraph statement included the following:

“On those occasions and because MVM does not operate shelters, it is our policy to accompany the children affected to an appropriate accommodation such as a local hotel. When we identified several instances in which our policy was not followed, MVM instituted tighter controls and gave employees additional instruction to prevent these regrettable exceptions from happening again. “Since 2014, we have escorted 130,000 individuals and have always committed to the best interest of each individual child and family while they are in our care, adhering to the highest professional standards. In light of this recent experience, we have initiated a Program review and will take appropriate actions based on our findings.”

 

This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast.

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California, Long a Holdout, Adopts Mass Immigration Hearings

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ELLIOT SPAGAT / The Associated Press.

SAN DIEGO — A federal judge was irritated when an attorney for dozens of people charged with crossing the border illegally asked for more time to meet with clients before setting bond.

It was pushing 5 p.m. on a Friday in May, and the judge in San Diego was wrestling with a surge in her caseload that resulted from the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy to prosecute everyone who enters the country illegally.

“It’s been a long week,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Nita Stormes said, suggesting that the court needed more judges and public defenders.

On Monday, the court will try to curb the caseload by assigning a judge to oversee misdemeanor immigration cases and holding large, group hearings that critics call assembly-line justice. The move puts California in line with other border states, and it captures the strain that zero tolerance has put on federal courts, particularly in the nation’s most populous state, which has long resisted mass hearings for illegal border crossing.

Immigration cases were light for the first few months of the year in the Southern District of California. There were no illegal-entry cases in February, only four in March and 16 in April, according to the clerk’s office. But when zero tolerance took full effect, the caseload skyrocketed to 513 in May and 821 in June.

Those numbers pale when compared to other border districts that have been doing mass hearings for years. The Southern District of Texas’ four border-area courts handled nearly 9,500 illegal-entry cases in the eight weeks after zero tolerance took full effect, though those courts saw their numbers balloon too. The District of Arizona carried more than three times California’s number of cases in May.

The mass hearings can be traced back to December 2005, when the Border Patrol introduced “Operation Streamline” in Del Rio, Texas, to prosecute every illegal entry. Over the next three years, the practice spread to every federal court district along the border except California, whose federal prosecutors argued that scarce resources could be better spent going after smuggling networks and repeat crossers with serious criminal histories.

In Tucson, Arizona, a judge sees up to 75 defendants a day, about five to seven at a time, in hearings that last about two hours. The immigrants show up in the clothes they wore when they were arrested, wearing headphones for translation.

In the McAllen, Texas, federal courthouse 73 people who were cuffed at the ankles lined up in six rows of wood benches. They pleaded guilty at the same time in a morning session last month. About two-thirds were sentenced to the few days of time served. The rest got between 10 and 60 days because they had been previously deported or had criminal convictions.

Carol Lam, the U.S. attorney in San Diego when Streamline began until 2007, said zero-tolerance programs are “ultimately ineffective,” saying they boost conviction numbers but don’t have a proportionate impact on reducing crime.

“The sentences become much shorter to the point where everyone is getting time served or a few weeks in custody, and they’re turned around and come back in again,” she said. “At the end of the day, the system grinds down to a halt and things start deteriorating.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has held up Streamline as a model, was the first attorney general to seriously challenge California’s position. In May, he announced that the Homeland Security Department would refer every arrest for prosecution, which led to widespread separation of children from their parents. Adam Braverman, the newly appointed U.S. attorney in San Diego, had no room to push back.

When prosecutors in California began trying more cases in May, Chief District Judge Barry Moskowitz formed a committee of attorneys and government agencies to minimize the impact, writing that the increased load would cause “strains, issues and problems.”

The court has struggled to get people X-rayed for safety reasons, attorneys say. Jail space has been lacking, requiring some defendants to be housed at jails in Santa Ana and San Bernardino — at least an hour’s drive away — and some in San Luis, Arizona, a nearly four-hour drive from San Diego. Court often runs beyond business hours, once lasting until 10 p.m.

The U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego said in a statement that it was “committed to securing the border and enforcing criminal immigration laws in a way that respects due process and the dignity of all involved.”

The office noted that other districts along the border — in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — have operated this way for about a decade. Prosecutors from San Diego visited Tucson last month for a firsthand look.

Defense attorneys object to the new court. Reuben Camper Cahn, executive director of Federal Defenders of San Diego Inc., called it separate but unequal and compared it to slavery tribunals.

“They will appear in chains … their cases will be heard en masse,” he wrote the chief judge.

“In this moment, all of us — citizens, lawyers, jurists — must seek the better angels of our nature to navigate the challenges presented,” Cahn wrote last month. “If the Court does this, it will surely reject the (Justice Department’s) abhorrent proposal.”

___

Associated Press Writer Astrid Galvan in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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Immigrant Protections Eroded as Trump Took Office

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by AMY TAXIN / The Associated Press.

The Trump administration’s move to separate immigrant parents from their children on the U.S.-Mexico border has grabbed attention around the world, drawn scorn from human-rights organizations and overtaken the immigration debate in Congress.

It’s also a situation that has been brewing since the week President Donald Trump took office, when he issued his first order signaling a tougher approach to asylum-seekers. Since then, the administration has been steadily eroding protections for immigrant children and families.

“They’re willing to risk harm to a child being traumatized, separated from a parent and sitting in federal detention by themselves, in order to reach a larger policy goal of deterrence,” said Jennifer Podkul, director of policy at Kids in Need of Defense, which represents children in immigration court.

To those who work with immigrants, the parents’ plight was heralded by a series of measures making it harder for kids arriving on the border to get released from government custody and to seek legal status here.

The administration says the changes are necessary to deter immigrants from coming here illegally. But a backlash is mounting, fueled by reports of children being taken from mothers and distraught toddlers and elementary school age children asking, through tears, when they can see their parents.

About 2,000 children had been separated from their families over a six-week period ending in May, administration officials said Friday.

Among the parents caught up in the new rules is 29-year-old Vilma Aracely Lopez Juc de Coc, who fled her home in a remote Guatemalan village after her husband was beaten to death in February, according to advocates. When she reached the Texas border with her 11-year-old son in May, he was taken from her by border agents, she said.

Her eyes swollen, she cried when she asked a paralegal what she most wanted to know: When could she see her son again?

“She did not know what was going on,” said paralegal Georgina Guzman, recalling their conversation at a federal courthouse in McAllen, Texas.

Similar scenarios play out on a daily basis in federal courtrooms in Texas and Arizona, where dozens of immigrant parents appear on charges of entering the country illegally after traveling up from Central America. More than the legal outcome of their cases, their advocates say, they’re worried about their children.

Since Trump’s inauguration, the administration has issued at least half a dozen orders and changes affecting immigrant children, many of them obscure revisions. The cumulative effect is a dramatic alteration of immigration policy and practice.

The measures require a senior government official to sign off on the release of children from secure shelters and allow immigration enforcement agents access to information about sponsors who sign up to take the children out of government custody and care for them.

The crackdown expanded in April, when the administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy on the border to prosecute immigrants for entering the country illegally in the hopes they could be quickly deported and that the swift deportations would prevent more people from coming.

Parents are now being arrested and placed in quick federal court proceedings near the border. Since children cannot be jailed in federal prisons, they’re placed in shelters that have long existed for unaccompanied immigrant children arriving on the border alone.

The administration insists the new rules are necessary to send a message to immigrants.

“Look, I hope that we don’t have to separate any more children from any more adults,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last week. “But there’s only one way to ensure that is the case: It’s for people to stop smuggling children illegally. Stop crossing the border illegally with your children. Apply to enter lawfully. Wait your turn.”

Immigration on the southwest border has remained high since the zero-tolerance policies took effect. Border agents made more than 50,000 arrests in May, up slightly from a month earlier and more than twice the number in May 2017. About a quarter of arrests were families traveling with children.

In addition to those trying to cross on their own, large crowds of immigrants are gathered at border crossings each day to seek asylum. Some wait days or weeks for a chance to speak with U.S. authorities. On a Texas border bridge, parents and children have been sleeping in sweltering heat for several days awaiting their turn.

Under U.S. law, most Mexican children are sent back across the border. Central American and other minors are taken into government custody before they are mostly released to sponsors in the United States.

The arrival of children fleeing violence in Central America is not new. President Barack Obama faced an even larger surge in border crossings that overflowed shelters and prompted the authorities to release many families. Nearly 60,000 children were placed in government-contracted shelters in the 2014 fiscal year.

Obama administration lawyers argued in federal court in Los Angeles against the separation of parents and children and in favor of keeping in family detention facilities those deemed ineligible for release.

Immigrant and children’s advocates said the new measures are not only cruel but costly. They argued that children fleeing violence and persecution in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras will continue to come to the United States and remain in government custody longer, costing taxpayers more money.

The government pays more than $1 billion a year to care for unaccompanied immigrant children, Sessions has said.

In May 2014, the average length of stay for children in custody was 35 days. So far this fiscal year, it’s taking 56 days for children to be released to sponsors — in most cases, their own relatives.

Many children were released to sponsors who did not have legal immigration status. That’s yet another concern child advocates now have since the Trump administration is requiring fingerprints of sponsors and their household members and will turn that data over to the immigration agency in charge of deportations.

Advocates say the new information sharing might lead some parents to shy away from sponsoring their own children and ask others to do so, a situation that can lead to cases of trafficking or neglect.

Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the immigrant advocacy program at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia, said he’s never worked with immigrants who said U.S. policies influenced their decision to move. They are fleeing violence and persecution, and he doesn’t see that changing even if the government deports parents.

“Look six months out from now,” he said. “Are these moms going to stay in Guatemala? Hell no, they’re going to come back looking for their kids.”

Truthdig is running a reader-funded project to document the Poor People’s Campaign. Please help us by making a donation.

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Video Exposes Border Patrol Running Over Tohono O’odham in Topawa Today

Read more of this story here from CENSORED NEWS by Brenda Norrell.

. Video exposes U.S. Border Patrol agent intentionally run over young Tohono O'odham man in Topawa community on the Tohono O'odham Nation on Thursday, June 14, 2018. The Border Patrol agent fled the scene in this hit and run, and the O'odham victim was treated at the hospital. Watch video on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MissSalcidoXIII/videos/10155575421518030/?hc_ref= Read more

1st Lawmaker Expelled Since #MeToo Seeks Office in Arizona

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Melissa Daniels / The Associated Press.

A former Arizona lawmaker who became the first kicked out of a state Legislature since the #MeToo movement began because of a lengthy pattern of sexual misconduct is running for office again.

Don Shooter, a Republican expelled from the Arizona House in February, said he filed around 900 signatures Wednesday to seek the GOP nomination for a state Senate seat in the same southern Arizona district he used to serve.

He wouldn’t comment on the circumstances surrounding his expulsion, which came as lawmakers of both parties faced a national reckoning over sexual misconduct that began last fall.

Politicians accused of impropriety have resigned, been stripped of leadership posts and faced other repercussions. A Democratic state representative in Colorado also was expelled this year.

Sitting in the lobby of the Arizona secretary of state’s office waiting to file his signatures, Shooter said “Let’s dance.”

He said he wants to talk about policy issues, such as the water needs of the agricultural industry and public education. Arizona teachers launched an unprecedented statewide strike this year over a lack of education funding.

“That’s the only thing I miss about being away from here, was the ability to solve problems,” Shooter said.

Shooter was elected to the Senate in 2010 and moved to the House in 2017. The lawmaker was known as a politically incorrect jokester who threw booze-fueled parties in his office on the last day of legislative sessions.

A female lawmaker, Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, accused him in November of propositioning her for sex and repeatedly commenting on her breasts. House Speaker J.D. Mesnard ordered an investigation after Shooter accused Ugenti-Rita of having an inappropriate relationship with a staffer, but she was cleared.

Other women soon came forward to accuse Shooter of inappropriate sexual comments or actions.

Shooter eventually apologized for what he called his “jarring, insensitive and demeaning” comments but argued that he never sought to touch anyone or have a sexual relationship with them.

An investigative report released prior to his expulsion found he engaged in “repeated pervasive conduct (that) created a hostile work environment for his colleagues and those with business before the Legislature.”

Shooter filed a $1.3 million claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, in April alleging that the governor’s office targeted him because he tried to expose widespread fraud in the state procurement system. It also accused Mesnard of changing House rules on harassment to remove Shooter from his committee chairmanship and ultimately to force the expulsion vote.

To get on the November ballot, Shooter will have to win the GOP primary. Incumbent state Sen. Sine Kerr, a dairy farmer who was appointed to fill the seat, has filed signatures along with Brent Backus, a conservative who owns a consulting business.

Democrat Michelle Harris, who served in the Air Force for 21 years, also is running for the seat.

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1st Lawmaker Expelled Since #MeToo Seeks Office in Arizona

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Melissa Daniels / The Associated Press.

A former Arizona lawmaker who became the first kicked out of a state Legislature since the #MeToo movement began because of a lengthy pattern of sexual misconduct is running for office again.

Don Shooter, a Republican expelled from the Arizona House in February, said he filed around 900 signatures Wednesday to seek the GOP nomination for a state Senate seat in the same southern Arizona district he used to serve.

He wouldn’t comment on the circumstances surrounding his expulsion, which came as lawmakers of both parties faced a national reckoning over sexual misconduct that began last fall.

Politicians accused of impropriety have resigned, been stripped of leadership posts and faced other repercussions. A Democratic state representative in Colorado also was expelled this year.

Sitting in the lobby of the Arizona secretary of state’s office waiting to file his signatures, Shooter said “Let’s dance.”

He said he wants to talk about policy issues, such as the water needs of the agricultural industry and public education. Arizona teachers launched an unprecedented statewide strike this year over a lack of education funding.

“That’s the only thing I miss about being away from here, was the ability to solve problems,” Shooter said.

Shooter was elected to the Senate in 2010 and moved to the House in 2017. The lawmaker was known as a politically incorrect jokester who threw booze-fueled parties in his office on the last day of legislative sessions.

A female lawmaker, Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, accused him in November of propositioning her for sex and repeatedly commenting on her breasts. House Speaker J.D. Mesnard ordered an investigation after Shooter accused Ugenti-Rita of having an inappropriate relationship with a staffer, but she was cleared.

Other women soon came forward to accuse Shooter of inappropriate sexual comments or actions.

Shooter eventually apologized for what he called his “jarring, insensitive and demeaning” comments but argued that he never sought to touch anyone or have a sexual relationship with them.

An investigative report released prior to his expulsion found he engaged in “repeated pervasive conduct (that) created a hostile work environment for his colleagues and those with business before the Legislature.”

Shooter filed a $1.3 million claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, in April alleging that the governor’s office targeted him because he tried to expose widespread fraud in the state procurement system. It also accused Mesnard of changing House rules on harassment to remove Shooter from his committee chairmanship and ultimately to force the expulsion vote.

To get on the November ballot, Shooter will have to win the GOP primary. Incumbent state Sen. Sine Kerr, a dairy farmer who was appointed to fill the seat, has filed signatures along with Brent Backus, a conservative who owns a consulting business.

Democrat Michelle Harris, who served in the Air Force for 21 years, also is running for the seat.

Read more