Sunday, April 27, 2008

INB 4/27/08: Detainees Transferred After Riot

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 11, No. 9 - April 27, 2008

1. Detainees Transferred After Riot
2. Food Poisoning in Arizona Detention Center?
3. Palestinian Professor Transferred to ICE Custody
4. Georgia: Restaurant Labor Agents Indicted

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On Apr. 22, a riot broke out at the Mira Loma immigration detention center in Lancaster, California, which holds nearly 1,000 immigrants. The riot allegedly involved the South Siders and Paisa gangs, according to a detainee who spoke with the Los Angeles Daily Journal. Deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department fired tear gas grenades at the detainees; additional deputies came to the detention center from nearby Lancaster and Palmdale stations to assist the guards with separating detainees. The riot was diffused "within minutes," said Steve Whitmore, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. At least 10 immigrants were taken to a local hospital and treated for minor injuries, said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson Virginia Kice. Two detainees suffered serious, though not life-threatening, head injuries during the riot and were taken to a local hospital, Whitmore said, and about 20 other detainees suffered minor injuries. No deputies were injured, said Whitmore.

Detainees who spoke to the Daily Journal as the riot unfolded said the fight broke out after a deputy allegedly opened a gate allowing gang members into an area that housed rival gang members. Sheriff's Department and ICE personnel spent much of the night interviewing detainee witnesses, and some who instigated the riot may be prosecuted on criminal charges, authorities said. Kice said a federal team was dispatched to conduct an in-depth investigation into the riot. "We believe the original altercation was gang-related," Kice said.

On Apr. 23, ICE began moving dozens of detainees from the Mira Loma facility to undisclosed facilities. Whitmore said on Apr. 23 that 50 detainees involved in the riot had been identified as gang members and had been bused to other federal facilities. Whitmore would not say what gangs those detainees were affiliated with or which gangs were involved in the riot. Officials said the men would be transferred to detention centers in the western US. "We are moving people based on interviews conducted by ICE officials and sheriff's deputies," said Kice. "We are taking a zero-tolerance policy. We want to send a strong message that this kind of action is not appropriate." More than half of the immigrants transferred were Salvadorans moved to a downtown Los Angeles staging area. Reports circulated that some detainees were being deported. "If someone has a final order of removal and we have travel documents, then we are in the process of removing them," said Kice. [Los Angeles Daily Journal 4/24/08; Los Angeles Times 4/24/08]

Attorneys representing some of the detainees said they had little information about the pending transfers. "My client was taken to downtown Los Angeles for processing," said Nikhil Shah, a Los Angeles immigration lawyer who represents a Salvadoran man. "If my client is moved he would not be able to see his family," Shah said. "He would be penalized for something he didn't participate in, endorse or start."

In December, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $10 million plan to expand the Mira Loma facility just days after a detainee was killed while operating a jackhammer [see INB 12/30/07]. The US Department of Homeland Security agreed to pay the county $51 million to house 1,400 immigrants. Mira Loma does not house detainees with serious medical issues or convictions for violent crimes. [LA Daily Journal 4/24/08]


On Apr. 23, more than 80 immigration detainees at the Eloy Detention Center in central Arizona began suffering from vomiting and diarrhea. The Pinal County Health Department says it's unclear what caused the health problems, but is studying samples to find out. The detention center has closed its kitchen and is getting food from the nearby Saguaro Correctional Center. The center is also working on disinfecting the facility and "urging detainees to practice good hygiene," according to Associated Press. [AP 4/24/08]


On Apr. 11, Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian was transferred into ICE custody after completing a sentence on civil contempt citations for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury [see INB 3/29/08]. On Apr. 15, ICE agents transported Al-Arian from the Northern Neck Regional jail in Warsaw, Virginia to the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, Virginia. Just hours after he arrived at Hampton Roads, jail officials placed Al-Arian on suicide watch in a segregation unit and confiscated all of his belongings, allegedly because of his refusal to eat. Al-Arian had been on hunger strike since Mar. 3, protesting the government's refusal to release him. Jail officials told Al-Arian he would only be allowed one telephone call every 15 days, and would not be allowed any attorney calls. Some of these conditions were relaxed after thousands of supporters called the Hampton Roads jail to complain about Al-Arian's treatment. However, the jail is still keeping Al-Arian in segregation and has not provided him with adequate medical care. [Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace Press Releases 4/16/08, 4/23/08] Meanwhile, according to news reports, the Justice Department is apparently considering charging Al-Arian with criminal contempt. [St. Petersburg Times 4/23/08]

On Apr. 21, Al-Arian collapsed and lost consciousness for a few minutes. On Apr. 23, the 52nd day of his hunger strike, Al-Arian began to take a liquid nutritional supplement at the urging of his family, who would like him to regain his strength to be able to travel in the event that he is deported soon and allowed to finally rejoin them, as the government has promised. Concerned people are urged to call ICE Acting Field Office Director Vincent Archibeque in Fairfax, Virginia, at 703-285-6200 to demand that Al-Arian be treated with dignity and respect, and that the government honor its promise to deport him immediately. [Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace Press Release 4/23/08]


On Apr. 15 a grand jury in the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia handed down five indictments charging 15 people with providing unauthorized immigrants from Mexico or Central America to work in Chinese restaurants across the East Coast. The charges involve six employment agencies based in Chamblee, Georgia: Sing Rong Employment Agency; Ji Chang Sen Employment Agency; Grand China Employment Agency; Dong Sheng Employment Agency; Number One Employment Agency; and Da Zhong Employment Agency. The 15 people who were charged include employment agency owners, drivers who transported the workers to restaurants in other states, operators of "safe houses" in Chamblee where immigrants waited for jobs and smugglers who brought workers up from Florida. The agencies charged a commission of hundreds of dollars to place each worker, which was deducted from wages. According to the indictment, the agencies placed workers in restaurants in Tennessee, Kentucky, New York, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio. Restaurant owners and warehouse owners would approach the agencies to hire the immigrant workers, "thereby cutting costs and maximizing profits," the indictments said. The restaurant owners would pay the workers in cash and not withhold state or federal taxes. They gave them food and housing, but paid $3 or $5 per hour in some cases. [Atlanta Journal Constitution 4/16/08]


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