The scene in a Tucson, Arizona, parking lot in the late afternoon of August 7 looked something like the aftermath of a local graduation ceremony, with small groups of people clustered around smiling young people in caps and gowns. But these nine “graduates” were smiling in part because they had just left the nearby Eloy prison, where six of them had suffered the torture technique of solitary confinement for the offense of going on a hunger strike to get phone contact with the outside world.
These are the nine young people known as the Dream 9, who have lived much or most of their lives in the United States and threaten to put a human face on the cruel and unjust activities known generally as I.S. immigration policy. On August 1, police arrested more than 40 peaceful demonstrators for taking part on an immigration sit-in on Capitol Hill. What if civil disobedience connects with the moral rot of American policy?
The cynic might suspect that the Dream 9 were released because they’ll be less of a problem for the government scattered to their homes around the country than they were inside where they were organizing, protesting, gathering stories of other detainees, and shining some light on one of the darker corners of authoritarian America.
On any given day, the United States holds more than 30,000 people in immigration prisons, with more than 300 of them in solitary confinement. It is a system in which the use of torture techniques is unquestioned, and is outsourced by the government to private contractors like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) which runs the Eloy prison, which has a horrific reputation for conditions and a history of detainee deaths, including two suicides in March this year. [CCA has not responded to inquiries.]
HEADLINE: “Dream 9 released from custody after 17 days in detainment”
That was the early headline on NBCLatino on line as the story of the release broke. The tone of that headline and the happy-face story that follows illustrates how compliant media can create the appearance that “the system works” when the evidence is overwhelming that American immigration law is unjust and the Obama administration policy that has deported more that 1.7 million people is cruel and inhuman.
That much is clear from the experience of the Dream 9, whose civil disobedience took the unusual step of committing a legal act for which they assumed they would be arrested and jailed. The legal act? Crossing the border and asking the authorities for asylum. The government obliged by arresting and sending them to a for-profit prison, where they were further mistreated.
As reported August 1 on Colirlines.com, CCA’s mistreatment included singling out “ringleaders” for special, attention:
“Shortly after arriving at Eloy, the Dream 9 say their phone use was unfairly restricted. In protest, they began a hunger strike—but six were placed in solitary confinement for their decision to do so….
“At the time of publication, 24-year-old Lulu Martinez and 22-year-old Maria Peniche have spent 104 out of the last 108 hours in complete isolation…. when Martinez and Peniche are brought out of their individual cells and into the yard once a day, they are shackled and interact only with guards….
“Thesla Zenaida, who met the Dream 9 at Eloy and is now participating in a hunger strike along with other women detainees, explained in a phone call that a guard’s treatment at the detention facility drove a fellow detainee to suicide.
“’Look, a girl hanged herself. A girl was hanged here. [After] she was hanged, they didn’t want to take her body down. And for the same reason—because they treat us poorly. A guard treated her poorly, and that guard is still working here. They us like the worst dogs.’”
Jesus Magana Is A Citizen And An Air Force Veteran – His Sister Is A Prisoner
On the same day the Dream 9 got out of Eloy, Jesus Magana, 24, posted a short video about his sister, Alejandra Pablos, 29, on the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) channel on Youtube.
Alejandra Pablos has been a prisoner for about two years, even though her mother is a citizen and her brother is a citizen and served four years in the Air Force (part of the time in a combat zone). Alejandre Pablos made her first mistake when she came to the U.S. when she was only two, accompanying her mother.
She never lived in Mexico after that. She went to school in Arizona and graduated from the University of Arizona with high honors and a business degree. She was planning on returning to school for her masters before the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security decided it needed to detain her and revoke her permanent residency status over two misdemeanor convictions.
The U.S. is trying to deport Alejandra Pablos. She is resting deportation because she has no ties to Mexico and is fearful about what would happen to her there. This is essentially the same situation each of the Dream 9 faces, and served as the basis of their argument for asylum in their home country, the U.S.
For whatever reason, Homeland Security has now decided that the Dream 9 have reasonable fear for their well being if they are sent back to Mexico and has released them, pending an immigration court hearing on their asylum requests. Why do security officials exercise such inconsistent standards? They don’t say, even on those rare occasions when they’re asked. Surely it’s not only to protect CCA’s profit margin.
Why Didn’t The President Respond To The Moral Challenge Of The Dream 9?
Stonewalling is the bedrock of American immigration enforcement. On July 30, Rep. Mike Honda, a Democrat from California, sent a letter to President Obama, also a Democrat, asking him to intervene on behalf of the Dream 9. More than 40 other members of Congress have signed the letter.
Rep. Honda spent four years of his early childhood in a Colorado internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. In 1965, Honda joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in El Salvador, where he became fluent in Spanish. Rep Honda’s letter began by reminding the President that:
“… last week, three leaders of the undocumented youth movement in the United States crossed the border into Mexico and turned themselves in at the Morley border crossing near Nogales, AZ, along with [six] other DREAM Act-eligible youth currently living in Mexico. They took this courageous step because they are fighting to reunite families separated by the border and mass deportation policies, including their own. These youth are the victims of our broken immigration policy, and they deserve to come home to the United States, where they can continue to work towards fulfilling their dreams of higher education.”
In a July 30 press release announcing the delivery of the Obama letter, Rep. Honda said: “These courageous, undocumented young people shine a light on the painful family separation caused by our broken immigration system. One who took part in this protest is Lizbeth Mateo, a constituent. It had been 15 years since she last saw her family in Mexico, and overcame incredible odds to gain admission this fall to Santa Clara University Law School. While we are working hard to achieve comprehensive reform in Congress, DREAMers like Lizbeth need action now for the opportunity to live, learn, and succeed in our country.”
President Obama has not responded to the letter.
[EARLIER REPORT] American Police State Tactics
U.S. Jails and Tortures Dreamers: Would-be Citizens, Brought Here as Children. Solitary Confinement Is A Form Of Torture, All Torturers Agree
By William Boardman (7.29.13)
The United States officially opposes the humanitarian parole of nine young people who grew up in this country, but came here as children without proper documentation, only to mature and commit civil disobedience against the laws that stigmatize them as un-people.
For these Americans-in-all-but-papers-
While this is just another routine constitutional crisis obscured from most Americans, it’s a vivid illustration of the moral brutality with which the American government acts almost reflexively in response to immigration issues – issues the government has made little effort to fix for fear of depriving politically generous agribusiness and others of cheap, semi-slave labor.
As of July 29, the Dream 9 had been jailed for a week, with six of them in solitary confinement as punishment for the hunger strike they undertook in protest against Corrections Corporation of America’s denial of telephone access to their lawyers and family. The Corrections Corp. is a publicly traded, for-profit company contracted by the U.S. government, which apparently sanctions torture by this contractor. Solitary confinement is internationally recognized as an element of torture.
Government Decides How to Enforce the Law, Doesn’t Explain
Homeland Security, Immigration, and other officials refuse to discuss these cases. Eloy prison officials did not respond to a request for information. Reportedly officials will meet with detainess early in the week.
The Homeland Security website as of July 29 offered a policy statement that says, in part, with regard to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA):
“As the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to focus its enforcement resources on the removal of individuals who pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety, including individuals convicted of crimes with particular emphasis on violent criminals, felons, and repeat offenders, DHS will exercise prosecutorial discretion as appropriate to ensure that enforcement resources are not expended on low priority cases, such as individuals who came to the United States as children…. “ [emphasis added]
All nine members of the Dream 9 being held in Eloy prison first came to the United States as children under 16, one as young as four months old.
The Dream 9 Protest Started With The Dreamers in Graduation Garb
A week earlier, on July 22, they were all wearing graduation caps and gowns, signifying their high school and college diplomas and degrees, as they walked from the Mexican side of the border in Nogales to the U.S. immigration offices, where they sought to re-enter the U.S. legally.
Six of them had come to this country as children and lived most of their lives here, becoming American is almost every way but legally, eventually getting caught up in the byzantine application of immigration law enforcement that effectively exiled them from their own country. The other three members of the Dream 9 voluntarily left the U.S. in order to take part in this action, to highlight the injustice of U.S. immigration law and to test the government’s ability to exercise prosecutorial discretion and to act justly.
At the U.S. immigration office in Nogales, the Americans promptly took the Dream 9 into custody, even though each of them presented officials with documents that supported their individual stories, along with formal requests for admission to the U.S.
Tucson attorney Margo Cowan represented the Dream 9 and formally asked the federal officials to grant each of the nine a humanitarian parole, which would allow them to return home in the U.S. to await formal proceedings. She argued that her clients were not a flight risk and wanted only to go home and continue their lives. Each of the Dream 9 also requested asylum in the U.S., a request the U.S. has ignored.
The Private Prison Contractor Has An Ugly Public Reputation
The government promptly and arbitrarily denied every request, without holding any hearing. The government sent the nine to prison, first in Florence, and then to the private prison run by the for-profit Corrections Corp. in Eloy. The nine remained there as of July 29, six of them in solitary confinement, with no action scheduled on their cases.
The Eloy prison has a horrific reputation as a savage place going back at least as far as 2007, when detainee deaths in Homeland Security custody drew attention even from the New York Times. Already this year there have been two more detainee deaths, apparent hanging suicides two men aged 24 and 40. At least one other prisoner, a U.S. military veteran, is currently being force-fed because he was on a hunger strike.
The website DREAM ACTIVIST, the “Undocumented Students Action & Resource Network offers brief biographies of some ht the Dream 9, whom some now consider prisoners of conscience or political prisoners:
• Claudia Amaro, 37, from Monterrey, Mexico moved to Colorado when she was thirteen years old. Her mother fled Mexico after her father was murdered and the family was threatened. In 2006, while living in Wichita, Kansas, Claudia’s husband was detained while driving to work. ICE detained Claudia while interpreting for her husband.
Living in Mexico has been hard for Claudia and her thirteen-year-old US citizen son. Finally, her mother gained legal status last year and was able to visit her grandson for the first time in seven years. Claudia is coming home to put the family back together that deportation tore apart.
• Adriana Diaz, 22, from Mexico City, first came to Phoenix, Arizona when she was just four months old. Adriana graduated from Crestview Preparatory high school in 2010 with many accolades, including the Citizenship Award. To this day, two of her murals decorate its walls. Adriana left Phoenix three months before DACA was announced. She left because she was tired of living in fear under [County Sheriff] Arpaio, not knowing each night if her mom was going to come home.
Once in Nogales, Adriana tried to go to school. Because she lived so long in the US, Mexico recognized her as a foreign student and would not accept her US degree. Instead of going to school, Adriana has been working with migrants at the Juan Bosco shelter in Sonora. Adriana is coming home because she has no memories in Mexico. Her entire life was in Phoenix—she has memories of school, birthdays, going to prom—even her partner of four years lives in Phoenix. Everyone deserves to come home.
• Luis Gustavo, 20, from Michoacán, Mexico has lived in North Carolina since he was five years old. He graduated from McDowell High School. Luis left Marion, NC, in August 2011 with the hopes of being able to finally go to school in Mexico. Luis, not being able to stand being away from his family, tried to come home in June 2012 when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was announced.
Luis never made it; he was caught by border patrol. The responding agent sympathized with him, and filed for DACA on his behalf, but saw it rejected. Luis was subsequently deported. Desperate to come home, Luis attempted to re-enter three more times, and failed on each attempt. Luis is coming home to be with his mother, sister, and four brothers.
Maria Peniche, 22, from Mexico City first came to Boston when she was just ten years old. She graduated from Revere high school in 2010 and went on to attend Pine Manor College. By 2012, paying the high price of tuition became too difficult, and she dropped out. Three days before DACA was announced, Maria left for Mexico to continue her schooling. “Here in Mexico you can only do one thing, either work or go to school,” she said. Maria has had to put off her studies and work in order to provide for her family. Maria is coming home to provide for herself and her family, and pursue her education.
• Ceferino Santiago, 21, came to Lexington, Kentucky, at the age of thirteen in order to be with his older brother, Pedro. Ceferino is a permanent part of the Lexington community; he helped paint a mural at one of the local middle schools. During high-school, Ceferino ran for the school cross country team and was honored as one of the program’s top student-athletes in 2010. After graduating from high school, Ceferino was forced to return to Oaxaca, Mexico because of an ear infection which required surgery that cost $21,000. Ceferino is coming home so he can be with his brother, his community, and to continue with his studies.
A sixth member is Mario Felix, who joined this action at the last minute. He is currently being held in solitary confinement, along with Claudia Amaro and Ceferino Santiago. All three are currently in solitary confinement.
The other three members of the Dream 9 all voluntarily left the U.S. in order to take part in this demonstration of immigration injustice.
• Lizbeth Mateo came to the U.S. before she was 16 and grew up in Los Angeles. Before returning for the Dream 9 action, she had not seen her family in 15 years.
• Lulu Martinez, who came to the U.S. at the age of three, has spent years as an activist for justice in immigration rights and LGBT rights.
• Marco Saavedra is a poet and painter who graduated from Kenyon College in Ohio. Before joining the Dream 9, he worked at his family’s restaurant in New York City. He came to the U.S. before he was 16.
Dream 9 Attorney Says Government Policy Amounts To “A War on The Poor”
The attorney representing the Dream 9 is a longtime activist for immigrants’ rights and is a staff attorney at the Pima County Public Defender’s office, where her biography is posted:
• Margo Cowan – Graduate of the Antioch School of Law, Washington, D.C., 1985; admitted to the State Bar of Pennsylvania in 1986; admitted to the State Bar of Arizona in 1995; substantial experience as an attorney in general immigration practice since 1986; General Counsel, Tohono O’Odham Nation 1993-2003; Of Counsel, Congressman Raul Grijalva, 2004; extensive pro bono work, mainly in the areas of border/immigration policy development and representation of undocumented persons and refugees; Defense Attorney in the Law Offices of the Pima County Public Defender since 2004.
In March 2007, the National Association for Social Workers- AZ Branch II awarded Margo with the Cesar Chavez Humanitarian Award for her dedication in advancing human rights for over thirty-five years. An example of this dedication is her co-founding of the group No More Deaths. This group provides assistance to migrants returning from the U.S. to the border towns of Mexico, and their sole purpose is to reduce the amount of deaths in the Arizona Desert.
In a book published in 2010 by Beacon Press, “The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands,” author Margaret Regan refers to Cowan as“the indefatigable pro bono attorney for No More Deaths.” Regan quotes Cowan as describing U.S. immigration policy as “a war on the poor.”
About her own work, Cowan said: “Everything we do is transparent. We’re just a group of people who think migrants shouldn’t die in the desert on their way to clean toilets.”