Saturday, March 24, 2007

INB 3/24/07: NJ Detainees Protest; Raids in Upstate NY

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 10, No. 8 - March 24, 2007

1. NJ Detainees Stage Protest
2. Raids Hit Hudson Valley, NY
3. SC: Tire Company Aids Arrests
4. Child Detainees Sexually Abused
5. Al-Arian Loses Appeal

Immigration News Briefs is a weekly supplement to Weekly News Update on the Americas, published by Nicaragua Solidarity Network, 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012; tel 212-674-9499; INB is also distributed free via email; contact for info. You may reprint or distribute items from INB, but please credit us and tell people how to subscribe.


On the morning of Mar. 18, at least 103 immigration detainees at Monmouth County Jail in Freehold Township, New Jersey, refused to eat or participate in any jail programs as a protest over insufficient food and lack of medical care at the facility. The detainees were also demanding repair of a broken television, among other issues. Undersheriff Ted Freeman, spokesperson for the facility, said the detainees' act of "passive resistance" had ended by the evening of Mar. 18.

Freeman said he knew of one detainee who did not receive a dental appointment as planned. "That was brought to the warden's attention and we had a dentist come in to handle it today," Freeman said late on Mar. 18. He also said the broken television was replaced. "The warden [William J. Fraser] has been meeting with [the detainees] all day, and their concerns have been met," Freeman said. "The demonstration--or whatever you want to call it--is over." Undersheriff Cynthia Scott, public information officer for the Sheriff's Office, said the warden has ordered that the medical charts of all the immigration detainees be reviewed by medical personnel.

Scott said detainees had complained of a lack of linens; she said additional linens have been provided. Freeman said the detainees were also demanding more Spanish-speaking officers, but Scott denied that was among the grievances. Freeman said detainees were satisfied that jail officials are working to address at least some of their concerns. Freeman said he did not expect food servings to change. He said immigration detainees, like all the 1,268 inmates at Monmouth County Jail, receive three meals daily, consisting of 3,400 calories. The diet is recommended by a nutritionist with the jail's food-service company, Freeman said.

New York resident Denton Osborne, a native of Guyana, said his younger brother, Ray Osborne, was among the detainees who complained about not getting enough food at the jail, and about the lack of medical attention. He said his brother had lost about 20 pounds since arriving at the facility in January. "They are just asking for the services they need to get, but [jail officials] are treating them like they don't care about them. [The detainees] do have rights also. They are human beings," Denton Osborne said. He said he had not spoken to his brother since Mar. 17, and was not convinced the issue is resolved. "These folks have been protesting and voicing their complaints quite a while now," Denton Osborne said. "The media has gotten involved so [the jail officials] are trying to save their necks today. They're trying to do a quick fix, and it's going to take more than that."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) pays the jail $80 a day per detainee to hold as many as 132 detainees. ICE detainees make up more than 10% of the jail's population. Mark Thorn, a spokesperson for the New York ICE office, said the situation at Monmouth County Jail is under investigation. "We sent a team from our office to look into the matter and are working with the Monmouth County Jail to address the situation," Thorn said. [Asbury Park Press (NJ) 3/19/07, 3/20/07]


Early on Mar. 19, ICE agents raided an apartment building in the village of Mount Kisco, in the lower Hudson Valley area of New York state, allegedly searching for a fugitive. Local police said the fugitive, Estanslao Lopez, is an immigrant with multiple criminal convictions--though they wouldn't release his rap sheet. Village police Lt. Patrick O'Reilly referred questions to immigration officials. "It was their operation," he said. The raided apartment building was apparently Lopez's last known address.

Lopez wasn't there, but ICE arrested 20 immigrants who lived in the building and took them to an ICE location in Manhattan for processing, police said. ICE New York spokesperson Mark Thorn said the fugitive who was the focus of the raid--he would not identify the person--had been ordered deported. Thorn said the apartment building was targeted because the agency had information the fugitive would be there. "When we're at a target location, we need to know who's on the premises for officer safety," Thorn said. "Everyone on the premises will be interviewed." Thorn said those taken into custody were arrested for immigration law violations and placed in removal proceedings. [Journal News (White Plains/Mount Kisco/West Nyack) 3/22/07, 3/23/07]

On Mar. 22, ICE agents carried out a raid at a house in Mount Kisco. Mark Thorn confirmed on Mar. 22 that a second operation seeking a fugitive had been carried out in Mount Kisco; he would not say whether the fugitive was the same person sought in the Mar. 19 raid. A couple who lived at the house said they were awakened that morning by agents forcing open the first-floor windows by their bed. They said they were handcuffed and taken with five other residents of the same house to Manhattan immigration offices where all seven were photographed, fingerprinted and released later in the day with court papers instructing them to return to immigration court for hearings.

Of the 20 immigrants arrested in the Mar. 19 raid, 14 had been released by Mar. 22, according to attorney George Echevarria. Several of those arrested on Mar. 19 said they spent one night in Manhattan and two nights at a New Jersey jail before being released with orders to appear before an immigration judge in Manhattan on April 2. One of the men said immigration officials put the group on a Manhattan subway bound for Grand Central Terminal. No one in the group had cash to pay for the train ride back to Mount Kisco, but one of the men was able to use a bank card and buy the needed train tickets. [JN 3/23/07]


On Feb. 22 and 23, federal and local officials arrested seven men and six women at a tire manufacturing plant in Aiken, South Carolina. All 13 workers were charged in separate indictments with fraud and misuse of immigration documents for allegedly using false green cards to obtain employment at Carlisle Tire and Wheel. All made appearances in federal court and were being detained awaiting trial on $250,000 secured bonds.

Officials say the investigation began last year after a local woman told the Aiken County Sheriff's Office that her identity was being used by someone employed at Carlisle; she discovered the identity theft when she was rejected for unemployment benefits. County investigators forwarded the information to federal authorities, who obtained employment records and found that a Carlisle employee had presented counterfeit documents--a green card in the name of the local woman--to get hired. After that employee was arrested, Carlisle officials asked ICE to review the immigration documents provided by other employees. That review prompted the Feb. 22-23 arrests.

"Carlisle's pro-active efforts in this matter are highly commendable," said Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt. The case was investigated by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Secret Service, Social Security Administration-Office of Inspector General, US Marshals, Aiken County Sheriff's Office, and the Aiken Department of Public Safety. [WLTX-TV News (Columbia, SC) 3/1/07; Aiken Standard 2/27/07, 3/2/07]


During the week of Mar. 19, federal officials transferred all 72 children out of a Texas detention facility for unaccompanied minors amid allegations that staff there had sexually abused some of the detainees. The 72 children held at the Texas Sheltered Care facility in Nixon were transferred to several destinations, said Tara Wall, a spokesperson at the federal government's Office of Refugee Resettlement. Some were sent to other child detention facilities in Texas, while others were deported. "No person who had made allegations of abuse was deported," according to Wall.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement oversees 36 facilities for unaccompanied minors throughout the US, including the one in Nixon. About 8,000 children a year, mainly teenagers from Central America who crossed into the US without permission, are held at these facilities while authorities determine whether to place them in foster care, hand them over to relatives in the US or deport them. Most are deported. The average stay at Texas Sheltered Care was 18 days. The 136-bed facility, operated by Away from Home Inc., usually held about 100 mostly teenage male undocumented immigrants.

The Bernardo Kohler Center is representing three children who say they were abused at Texas Sheltered Care. Sources familiar with the allegations said eight children made accusations against an employee; that employee has since been fired. Federal officials said they decided to move all the children out of the shelter until they determine whether to take other steps, including permanently closing the facility.

The Gonzales County district attorney's office had initially concluded that the local sheriff did not have jurisdiction in the case, and brought in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which launched an investigation in February or early March into the allegations of abuse. Erik Vasys, spokesperson for the FBI's San Antonio office, said investigators believed abuse had taken place.

But the US attorney's office announced on Mar. 22 that it had decided not to bring any federal charges in the case. "After a thorough review of the evidence and applicable federal law, this office concluded that the alleged activity...could likely be more effectively addressed by state of Texas prosecutorial authorities," Johnny Sutton, US attorney for the Western District of Texas, said in a statement. "The most we could prove would be a misdemeanor violation of civil rights, when the state has available to it a statutory violation that would result in a felony conviction," Sutton said. It is not clear whether the state will pursue the charges: "Our prosecutor is going to take a look at it, see if there are state charges," said Gonzales County Sheriff Glen A. Sachtleben. [Los Angeles Times 3/23/07; San Antonio Express-News 3/23/07; Houston Chronicle 3/24/07]


On Mar. 23, a three-judge panel of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Alexandria, Virginia, unanimously affirmed a civil contempt ruling against former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian activist who has refused to testify in front of a federal grand jury investigating Islamic charities in northern Virginia. Al-Arian had argued that a plea agreement in his Florida prosecution exempts him from testifying before the grand jury.

Also on Mar. 23, Al-Arian's family announced he will suspend his 60-day water-only hunger strike and begin a liquid-only fast. Al-Arian began the hunger strike last Jan. 22 to protest the grand jury subpoena and the contempt citation. He is detained at a medical prison in Butner, North Carolina. [St. Petersburg Times 3/24/07] Nahla al-Arian said she was able to convince her husband early on Mar. 23 to end his water-only fast. She said he had lost about 53 pounds--about 25% of his body weight--and was too weak to walk. [Daily Press (Hampton Roads, VA) 3/23/07 from AP] Shortly after his arrest in February 2003, Al-Arian carried out a liquids-only fast that lasted 140 days. [Tampa Tribune 1/24/07]

On Apr. 14, 2006, after being detained for more than three years, most of that time in solitary confinement, Al-Arian made a deal with the government, pleading guilty to one count of conspiring to provide support to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in exchange for what was supposed to be a sentence of time served and a speedy deportation. Instead, in May 2006 Judge James S. Moody Jr. of Federal District Court in Tampa sentenced Al-Arian to 57 months in prison--the maximum allowed under sentencing guidelines [see INB 6/10/06]. Last Nov. 16, Al-Arian was found in civil contempt for refusing to testify before the Virginia grand jury, and Moody extended his prison sentence by an additional 18 months. [SPT 11/17/06] In January 2007, Amnesty International sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, complaining that Al-Arian has been detained under what appear to be "unacceptably harsh and punitive" conditions. [Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace Press Release, 2/13/07, at]


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