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“Kids in Cages” Warehouse detention center shuts down for renovations

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announces shut down of South-Texas “Ursula” warehouse detention center. The facility gained national attention when media coverage exposed the overcrowded, unsafe living conditions and showed “kids in cages” back in 2018. CBP officials say the facility will be closed for renovations until 2022. The renovations plan to redesign the facility and remove the chain-link partitions to provide more humane living conditions. 

Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash

Warehouse detention center shuts down

Anyone who has been paying attention to immigration reform issues over the past few years will be familiar with the term “kids in cages” and the deplorable living conditions faced by migrants who have been detained for prolonged periods in detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The “Ursula” warehouse facility in South-Texas became infamous when new coverage revealed the harsh, dehumanizing living conditions migrants faced within the facility. Freezing, overcrowded, and filthy the facility packed immigrants–a vast majority of which were young children separated from family–into small chain-link enclosures. 

“Children were in freezing, packed cages and sleeping on concrete,” said Hope Frye in an article with the New York Times. As a lawyer who oversaw a visiting team of inspectors at the Ursula facility, she witnessed first-hand the terrible and upsetting conditions. “It was bone-chilling. Young children were violently ill, separated from their family.” 

Photo by Miko Guziuk on Unsplash

Since then, efforts have been made to put an end to the inhumane treatment of immigrants in these facilities. These renovations are only the first step toward reform at the border. 

“The new design will allow for updated accommodations, which will greatly improve the operating efficiency of the center as well as the welfare of individuals being processed,” Thomas Gresback, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector, said in an article with The Washington Post.

The renovation, which will be paid for by funds allocated by Congress, will include room partitions that will “afford modest housing accommodations” as well as updating processing areas and providing a recreational area for children. 

At its peak, the center housed over 2,000 immigrants, many being young women and children. The renovated center will significantly lower those numbers, aiming to provide space for 1,100 individuals. 

Ursula’s history and origins

The Ursula center was first opened in 2014 during the Obama administration as a response to a surge of Central American immigrants arriving at the border in search of asylum. At the time, the facility was a welcomed improvement to the previous cramped locations. During the 2014 surge, the bare-bones facilities were not equipped to handle the large influx of individuals, leaving many families out in the heat for hours in exteriors locations. The Ursula warehouse was acquired to remedy this and provide an indoor, climate-controlled environment.  

In 2014, migrants were processed and released quickly from the facilities so the population never grew as overcrowded and unsafe as it has in recent years. However, after the Trump Administration’s crackdown on immigration the facility soon became overpopulated as migrants were detained for periods of weeks and months on end in unsafe conditions. 

This past year, due to the pandemic, President Trump invoked emergency powers under public health laws to halt most immigration. As such, the facility has been unused since March with thousands of immigrants turned back to Mexico. 

In the fight for immigration reform and as an effort to offer protection to young immigrants, a federal judge ordered last week for the Trump administration to stop expelling young people who arrive on their own looking for asylum in the U.S. 

The future of immigration reform 

While the news of the Ursula facility renovations is welcomed news to immigrant advocates, this is only the first step toward immigration reform at the border. Advocates cautioned that more fundamental changes will be necessary to ensure that migrants are no longer stranded in detention centers for prolonged periods of time. 

“This feels a little bit like window dressing. It is overdue from the perspective that no one should be housed in cages,” said Michael Bochenek, senior counsel in the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, in an article with the New York Times. 

“The more fundamental shift that needs to happen is rigorous application of federal law and an agency standard that calls for expeditious transfer to more suitable arrangements for children and families,” Mr. Bochenek continued. “Nobody was really looking out for the kids. All they had were mats and foil blankets,” he said, describing the conditions he witnessed when visiting the warehouse as part of a monitoring team in 2018. “We talked to teenage girls caring for toddlers in cages. We looked over and saw a boy 7 or 9 years old. The kid was beside himself in tears. He was in deep distress and there were no adults anywhere nearby to find out what was wrong.”

You might be interested: November 1 National Day of Remembrance of Latinxs killed by Covid-19

Latinxs children detention centers

Protests in Elizabeth, NJ about immigrant children detention. Photo credit Chris Boese – Unsplash.com

It’s clear that the current system needs to be reformed. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to do his part to reverse the Trump administration’s approach to immigration and border control. He plans to cut off funds to the expanded border wall and restore the process for welcoming asylum applicants into the country while their cases are in progress. 

Renovations to the Ursula detention center facility are estimated to last 18 months, which will leave border agents without a large-volume facility if a new immigration surge occurs. Last month, over 69,000 migrants were taken into custody along the southern border. Most have been processed at smaller, less-crowded facilities. Still, this 21 percent increase in migrants since September suggests a growing increase in immigration as many individuals are fleeing Central America after recent hurricane devastation, economic distress, and coronavirus related hardships.

Don’t let President Trump keep you from participating in the 2020 Census

The 2020 census is a time for every person residing in the U.S. to be counted and represented. And counting everyone means everyone, regardless of immigration status. Yet President Trump continues to make moves that are hindering the ability for all residents to participate in this constitutionally mandated census. 

How the Trump Administration is trying to deter Latinos from participating

In an article with The New York Times, Janet Murguía–president and CEO of UnidosUS, the country’s largest Latino civil rights organization–urges Latinos to participate in the census. 

“Latinos should not let the president intimidate them into not being counted,” she says.

In the past few months, the Trump administration has made various efforts to affect the census with the intention of excluding minorities who tend to lean Democratic so that federal funds and congressional representation could be redirected to Republican-friendly states. Last month, President Trump ordered the Commerce Department to do what it could to exclude undocumented immigrants and this past Monday it was announced that the 2020 census would end a month early. However, these efforts are in vain. 

“The president doesn’t have the power to overwrite the 14th Amendment, which calls for counting everyone, regardless of their immigration status,” Murguía writes. 

Legally, every resident must be counted. There are few exceptions to this, such as tourists or foregin businesspeople who are not long-term inhabitants of the U.S., but Murguía notes that this does not apply to immigrants who “whether undocumented or otherwise, have put down roots, who own businesses, have become members of their communities and raised families.” 

These efforts by the Trump Administration are simply scare tactics and stunts made to deter minorities from participating in the census, but it is crucial that they do. 

“When the census takes that once every ten years snapshot of our community, Latinas have to make sure that we are part of the photograph that is being taken in that moment,” says Amy Hinojosa, President and CEO of MANA, in the video below.   

Why census data is crucial in building thriving communities

Not participating in the 2020 census will cause real harm and lasting effects to states with large immigrant populations. 

“The fear brought about by the Trump administration’s latest action could result in immigrant-friendly states losing out on federal funds and congressional representation,” writes Murguía. “If immigrants, undocumented or not, or anyone married to an undocumented immigrant, fail to fill out a census form out of fear, they will not be counted and that could mean that children and adults who are U.S. citizens in that household would likely also not be accounted for. And like votes, every person counts.” 

Be A Census Taker (Photo courtesy of 2020census.gov)

Additionally, ending the census a month early will exclude minorities who are more likely to be counted by in-person census workers. Every single person counted helps to bring more funds and representation for their communities. Being counted means having a voice and say in how and where funds are distributed. 

“If just one person is deterred from filling out the census, that’s money that doesn’t go to community schools, hospitals, children’s health programs and the like,” Murguía writes. 

For minority communities, lack of funding can have damaging effects, leading to program cuts that many rely on. Census data is crucial to these communities because it is used to decided where funds will be allocated. These funds are used for programs like Head Start for students, for parks and recreation, and access to health care. 

“We need to make sure there is enough information so that we can build communities where Latino families can thrive,” says Amy Hinojosa. 

You might be interested: Fighting 2020 Census rumors: Test your knowledge quiz

Don’t fall for it: Make your voice heard!

The first step to building those thriving communities is to fill out the 2020 census and be counted. The scare tactics pushed by the Trump Administration hold no legal weight. 

“Just…don’t fall for it,” Murguía urges. “Mr. Trump’s supporters should realize that this will be just another empty promise to be tossed in the pile with others like the one about Mexico paying for the wall, that achieving 6 percent economic growth would be easy, the 2017 tax cuts would pay for themselves, or that the coronavirus would disappear by the summer.” 

Filling out the census form is quick and easy and your data will be protected. There are laws against sharing your data for anything other than its intended purpose, so do not be afraid to have your voice heard.

If you require help or would prefer to fill out the census in Spanish those options are also available to you here.

“Don’t let the president stop you from being counted and contributing to your communities,” Murguía concludes. “He doesn’t want Latinos and immigrants to skip the census because they don’t count, but because they do.” 

Your voice matters. Representation and funds for Latino communities is crucial to building thriving environments. So do your part today by filling out the 2020 census and ensure that your voice is heard.

Patricia Campos-Medina modern Latina

Patricia Campos-Medina on the art of being a modern Latina

What does it mean to be a modern Latina in today’s convoluted world? How hard is it for Latinas to achieve success in a corporate career, as a business owner or pursuing some interest in the non-profit or political sector?

Patricia Campos-Medina modern Latina

Patricia Campos-Medina, President of Latinas United for Political Empowerment (LUPE) PAC of NJ, and a co-founder Board member of PODER PAC. Credit: https://www.ilr.cornell.edu/

Patricia Campos-Medina, a nationally recognized labor and political leader, will be moderating a discussion panel on this topic at the Latina Symposium to be held by the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey in Lyndhurst, NJ, on May 4th.

With more than 20 years experience on grassroots and labor organizing, coalition building, electoral campaigns at the local and national level and a stellar resume, Patricia has served in several Administrations, run campaigns for high profile candidates nationally and statewide, served in transition teams for the White House and still finds the time to be a caring wife and the mother of twin boys.

“The goal of this panel discussion is to get a sense of what it takes to a modern Latina to be successful in corporate, business or the non-profit sector,” Patricia told LatinasinBusiness.us. “I will ask our guests at the Latina Symposium to share their stories of success, how they balance family and career goals and find common ground to achieve success.”

Patricia will be moderating a panel of guest speakers that includes Diana Albarracin-Chicas, In Orbit Test Director, Space Systems Loral; Jeanine Mendez, Regional Greenlight Manager at Uber; and Denise P. Laskody, Principal at USA Architects, all of them modern Latinas that juggle careers, family and personal interests.

Modern Latina Symposium SHCCNJ

What is the definition of success for a modern Latina?

“The definition of success might be different for each of us. For me, I feel successful when I attain a certain level of personal or professional achievement and at the same time, I’m able to take care of and nurture my family as my mother did,” Patricia said. “My parents were blue collar workers who migrated from El Salvador and worked two and three low-paying jobs to support our family,” she shared. “They still found the time to be with my siblings and me, put a roof over our heads, and send us to school. These are the models of success I cherish,” she said.

Patricia has lived by those ethical standards, reaching high levels of recognition in labor and political leadership. She conducts leadership development professional and education programming for local and national leaders in the labor and non-profit sector with the Workers Institute at Cornell University.

The President of Latinas United for Political Empowerment (LUPE) PAC of NJ, and a co-founder Board member of PODER PAC (Washington DC), two organizations focused on developing Latinas leaders run for political office and increase representation of Latinas in politics, Patricia is considered a policy expert on workers rights, Latino voting rights, trade and US immigration policy.

Because of her expertise on trade policy and worker rights, Patricia served on the Transition Team of President Barack Obama in 2008, and served as a staff member of the United States Office on Trade under Pres. Bill Clinton and Pres. George Bush.

Do modern Latinas have it rough in the United States to achieve success?

As a political consultant with her own firm Campos Strategies, Patricia has worked on the electoral campaigns of Governor Jon Corzine, Mayor and Senator Cory Booker, Congressman Bill Pascrell, Mayor Wilda Diaz of Perth Amboy and many other state-wide races in NJ. She has served on national roles as both Legislative and Political Director for several major international labor unions such as SEIU, UNITEHERE and UNITE.

“As a Latina, and especially many immigrant Latinas, it is hard for us to reach high decision-making levels in different sectors. For us, it is not enough to ‘lean in’ as Sheryl Sandberg said. Sometimes we lack that network of powerful or influential people who would open doors for us or help us overcome obstacles,” she explained.

Patricia Campos-Medina modern Latina

Patricia Campos-Medina

For that reason, Patricia believes one key element in achieving success is to build a network of people who would support your career goals, starting with your family, spouse or partner, and following with your network in your workplace or industry.

“Although it was a different generation, my father was always supportive of my mother in many ways. My husband shares many domestic tasks and children’s care because he understands how important my career is to me,” Patricia explained. “Women need to be careful when they choose a partner; it must be someone who understands your goals, is supportive of your dreams, and is not threatened by your success,” she said. “More and more Latino men now understand that women also have career ambitions and support them. Women, on the other hand, need to set the rules from the start so their expectations are met in the relationship.”

On May 4th, Patricia will moderate a panel with other three formidable women who will share their definition of success, and how they manage career expectations and family goals. For additional information and registration, email at chamber@shccnj.org or call 201 935 0035.