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The Most Important Miami Immigration Stories in 2018

by / 0 Comments / 1 View / December 31, 2018

If Florida’s new Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis is to be believed, immigrants are flooding into Florida, taking our jobs at gunpoint, crashing busloads of sick children into our emergency rooms to get free healthcare, and driving around town lopping people’s heads off with axes. Florida’s retirees are trembling with fear.

Of course, none of this is remotely true, but that didn’t stop Florida from voting for Donald Trump in 2016 and DeSantis two years later. This state is a damned nightmare, and, in the last year, Florida followed Washington, D.C.’s lead and marched yet closer to Trump-branded fascism. There’s even a baby-immigrant prison operating just south of downtown Miami. Things are bad. Here’s an accounting of how we got to this nightmarish point during 2018:

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1. The Trump administration put 1,300 children at a migrant camp in Homestead and nobody found out until New Times sent a reporter there:

Roughly 1,000 migrant children are being held inside a secured compound in Homestead, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said today. It’s unclear whether the children crossed the border on their own or whether they were taken from their parents under President Trump’s new policy, which the United Nations says violates international law and which Catholic leaders have decried as “evil.”

The beige prison-like facility outside Miami, called the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, is the former Job Corps site at 960 Bougainville Boulevard. The facility opened under the Obama administration and was previously used to house unaccompanied migrant children.

Reporters last toured the facility in 2016, when the Miami Herald reported that about 200 children were being held there. But at a roundtable discussion today with immigrant-rights activists, Wasserman Schultz said the facility recently “reopened” under Trump. An immigrant activist who spoke with New Times today said the facility reopened “two months, three months” ago.

But there’s little information about where exactly the children inside came from. In 2016, the Herald reported that the kids arrived unaccompanied across the border and had been flown in from around the country; they were either sent back home or placed with sponsors and spent an average of about a month in Homestead. At the time, the federal government said the facility was equipped to hold only 800 kids.

Under Trump’s new directive, more than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents so far. As many as 30,000 youngsters could soon find themselves sent to detention centers under the plan.

A New Times reporter visited the Homestead facility grounds today. The prison-like compound sits near the Homestead Air Reserve Base in a sparsely populated stretch of Miami-Dade. When a reporter drove up to the front entrance (underneath a sign reading “Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children”), guards refused to let the reporter in or speak with anyone from the facility. The guards instead directed New Times to contact the Office of Refugee Resettlement for comment and then ordered the reporter to leave.

(The Associated Press reported last week that the Trump Administration is adding 1,000 beds to the facility, for a grand total of 2,300!)

2. On top of that, ICE is taking immigrants on their 18th birthdays from the Homestead camp and moving them right into adult detention facilities, allegedly violating the law:

When one of his abusive mother’s gangbanger friends held a gun to his chest and threatened to pull the trigger, Nolbiz Orellana knew he’d die in Honduras. So this past January, the then-17-year-old made the harrowing journey to the U.S.-Mexico border, crossed over, and asked for asylum.

Instead of releasing him to his relatives in Nebraska, though, the feds sent him to the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children. Orellana spent three months in the remote South Miami-Dade facility until April 8 — his birthday.

That’s when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents showed up at the children’s shelter, slapped handcuffs on Orellana’s wrists, chained them to his waist, and shackled his legs together. The agents drove Orellana to the Broward Transitional Center, an infamous immigration jail in Pompano Beach, where he was thrown into a cell with men twice his age.

Orellana’s saga isn’t just shocking — it’s also illegal, say Miami immigration attorneys who have succeeded in forcing ICE to release several other 18-year-olds in recent months. Even worse, they say what happened to the Honduran refugee seems to have become ICE’s national policy.

“When they turn 18, it’s basically, ‘Happy birthday,’ and then they slap on handcuffs and take them off to adult detention centers,” says Lisa Lehner, an attorney with the nonprofit Americans for Immigrant Justice who is representing Orellana.

Since April, at least 14 children at the Homestead center have been handcuffed on their 18th birthdays and taken to a jail cell in Broward, Lehner says. And at least one of those kids had been separated from his father under the Trump administration’s since-abandoned policy to rip apart families that crossed the border together.

3. Boca Raton private-prison giant GEO Group continued to consolidate its power as ICE’s top contractor and threatened to sue a local activist group, Dream Defenders, for libel after the group protested against the company:

The Dream Defenders, a Florida civil rights group formed near the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, has helped turn the GEO Group, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s single largest contractor, from a largely unknown private prison firm hated by justice-reform activists into a toxic company from which even some Republican politicians are now refusing donations.

GEO is, clearly, not happy about this work. So this past August 3, the multibillion-dollar, for-profit prison giant sent Dream Defenders a cease-and-desist letter claiming the activists were “libeling” the company through their protests and “inciting violence” outside GEO facilities.

Dream Defenders called the claims a joke, and now the American Civil Liberties Union is also hitting back. This past Friday, the ACLU’s Jacob J. Hutt called GEO’s legal threat “laughable” and said the company’s cease-and-desist amounted to little more than bully tactics from a gigantic corporation.

“The letter accuses Dream Defenders of making ‘knowingly false statements’ which ‘likely give rise to… claims for defamation and tortious interference with GEO’s contracts,'” writes Hutt, a fellow with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “Not content with making baseless defamation claims, GEO goes on to accuse Dream Defenders of ‘inciting a dangerous disruption’ and ‘encouraging threatening and violent behavior.’ Neither of these allegations passes the laugh test.”

GEO holds more than $400 million in contracts with ICE, runs at least one migrant facility in Texas that houses children, has been accused in court of forcing immigrants to work for food, and regularly dumps wads of cash into state and federal political races. Dream Defenders labeled GEO a “dream killer” and launched a series of targeted protests outside GEO facilities beginning August 7. In response to the “Dream Killer” campaign, GEO’s letter claimed that accusing the company of “caging” children or “separating” families was libelous.

Dream Defenders responded last Monday with a point-by-point rebuttal, noting GEO lists “steel cages” among its pieces of equipment online. Now the ACLU also says GEO’s complaints are hogwash. The civil rights organization notes that Dream Defenders’ criticisms are “protected statements on matters of public concern” and are ” far from verifiably false statements, which GEO would need to show in a defamation lawsuit.” The ACLU adds:

4. ICE arrested a Miami man working in Ohio by allegedly telling him they found his lost wallet:

Flavio Musmanno lost his wallet August 28. He has lived in North Miami Beach on an expired visa since emigrating from Argentina in 2000, but he’d since married an American citizen and is in the process of applying for permanent residency.

Musmanno had been away from his family while working construction jobs in Ohio when his wallet went missing over the summer. When he dropped the billfold, it contained little more than a few credit cards, an expired ID, and $40 in cash. But his family tells New Times that someone called back within just a few hours that day and asked Musmanno to meet at an Ohio truck stop to retrieve the wallet.

When he arrived, the supposed Good Samaritan who had found the wallet turned out to be an agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Musmanno’s stepdaughter Paola tells New Times.

“When I found out what was in the wallet, I was like, ‘Oh, Dad, why did you go?'” Paola asks rhetorically. “There was no phone number in the wallet. You wouldn’t go meet strangers who found you like that, right?”

Paola stresses that ICE agents never identified themselves on the phone with her stepfather. She says they simply painted themselves as good people trying to return his wallet. Musmanno is now sitting in Ohio’s Seneca County Jail and is slated for deportation sometime today.

5. ICE arrested a South Florida mother of three because she showed up voluntarily to a police department to pay off a traffic ticket:

Maria, an undocumented, 24-year-old mother of three from Guatemala, showed up at the Martin County Jail earlier this year to voluntarily pay a $150 traffic fine.

Instead, she wound up handcuffed and thrown into jail. And even though she paid a $750 bond to leave the facility, Martin County jail officials kept her money and kept her behind bars until Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrived and took her away. Now she’s stuck in a cell at the Broward Transitional Center, a privately run Pompano Beach detention center for “low-level” detainees being deported despite having either committed minor, nonviolent offenses like traffic violations or no crimes whatsoever.

She gets to see her children only once a week. And she told New Times in a phone call from the detention center that one of her children, who is 9 years old, was at one point held in federal custody. The child was so traumatized by the experience that she now fears even visiting her mother and possibly being detained again.

“They give me 60 to 90 minutes one time a week with my kids,” Maria told New Times. “Imagine. I am their mother! That is very little time. They cry. They sob. ‘Mami, vamos,’ they say. The 9-year-old is scared she will be detained. She comes to visit me, but she is waiting to be arrested. She says, ‘Mami, I don’t want to go back into detention.'”

6. Multiple immigrants sued South Florida cities for illegally holding them in jail on ICE’s behalf:

When Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez made a snap decision in 2017 to capitulate to Donald Trump’s threats and force the county to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, lawyers warned that innocent people would be hurt. The head of the Florida American Civil Liberties Union stood outside county hall and warned Gimenez that ICE was going to wrongfully detain some folks.

Now, there’s ample evidence the predictions were fulfilled. Multiple South Floridians have sued law-enforcement agencies in Miami and the Florida Keys, alleging they were held in jail for ICE even though they were American citizens and not subject to deportation. Others have sued after paying bail and being held anyway. Here’s a running list of South Floridians who’ve sued to challenge what they say are unconstitutional actions by ICE under Trump.

7. ICE banned two local activists from helping detainees:

Bud Conlin, a heavily bearded former high-school principal with a grandfatherly demeanor, has been showing up at the Krome Processing Center, an immigrant-detention facility in Miami, once a week since 2014. He’s the co-coordinator of Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees, a nonprofit that visits people at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, buys them books, and puts money on their phone cards. He tries to help people in what he calls “immigrant prison” feel like they’re still human beings.

But last Friday, Conlin says, he showed up for a regular meeting at 6 p.m., handed a security guard his ID, and was told not to come back.

“I recognized the guard, he took my license, but then he came back puzzled and said, ‘I’m told you can’t come in here anymore,'” Conlin tells New Times. “I said, ‘I’ve been coming here almost five years.'”

When he asked the guard, working for a private security contractor, why he’d been banned, Conlin says the guard replied, “I don’t know. ICE says you can’t.”

The guard then added that an activist Conlin works with, the Florida Immigrant Coalition’s Tomas Kennedy, “is banned as well.” Conlin says he demanded to know what had changed, but after a security guard contacted an unnamed “supervisor” via phone, the guards still refused to let him inside.

Conlin and Kennedy say ICE has still not explained why the two have been barred from helping detainees at Krome. But both activists say they assume the ban followed a July protest where they were arrested outside the ICE facility in Miramar. The charges in those cases are pending.

8. Activists repeatedly spoke out against conditions at Miami’s ICE headquarters in Miramar:

Immigrants are forced to line up before the crack of dawn for scheduled meetings at Miami’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office, which actually sits in Miramar in neighboring Broward County. New Times reported this month that immigrants there were forced to stand in the heat and rain for hours without access to bathrooms or water and must fend off predatory tow truck operators who circle the lot waiting to haul away illegally parked cars. Miramar city officials have issued the ICE property multiple code violations for providing immigrants inadequate parking and for letting the property turn into an weed-filled eyesore.

Now, after city officials toured the ICE office grounds with immigrant activists — and filmed one ICE employee threatening to have one immigrant arrested — Miramar’s city commission passed a resolution this week demanding ICE stop mistreating people on the property.

The resolution notes the city’s “disappointment with the alleged ill treatment of persons visiting the Facility, including lack of restroom facilities, shelter from the elements, and adequate sitting and waiting areas, and to request that ICE provide additional parking and improve the Facility by adding adequate facilities, shelter, and sitting and waiting areas to accommodate the volume of patrons visiting the Facility daily.”

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