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ICE detention contracts banned from New Jersey prisons

New Jersey bans local and private jails from entering into new ICE detention contracts as Gov. Murphy signs bill into law. 

Under the new law, local and private jails in New Jersey are now banned from “entering into, renewing, or extending immigration detention agreements”  with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The bill was quietly signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy last Friday, making N.J. the fifth state to limit or ban contracts with ICE. 

“This win has been a long time coming, not just for immigrants in New Jersey but for every family separated by detention. Our state now joins the handful of others who are spearheading the fight to end ICE detention nationwide,” said Amy Torres, executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice in a statement.

Advocates push for termination of all ICE detention contracts 

While the new law is a great step forward in ending the inhuman detainment of immigrants, it does not affect current ICE contracts, only future ones. In Bergen and Hudson county, long-term contracts still stand. Additionally, a private jail in Elizabeth recently extended its contract until 2023 while the bill waited to be signed. 

“The people inside are the ones being impacted by the delay,” said Chia-Chia Wang of the American Friends Service Committee. “I can only say it’s a hard lesson learned, but I don’t know if that can fully describe the real hardships people face inside.”

For years, counties such as Bergen, Essex, and Hudson defended the controversial practice of immigrant detention, which allowed the counties to rake in millions by charging ICE as much as $120 daily per detainee. However, recently the Democrats running these counties have shifted in their stance toward the practice, with Essex County announcing in April that it would cut its contracts with ICE and the other counties hinting they would be open to terminating their contracts as well

State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (Image source)

Advocates are now pushing for more action, hoping to build momentum following the victory of this bill. Many are concerned about the hardships immigrants will face in the remaining facilities still under contract with ICE, especially as the COVID-19 Delta variant continues to spread. Wang has called for all N.J. ICE contracts to be terminated, and other advocates and officials continue to speak out and push back against ICE. 

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State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, a main sponsor of the law, chimed in stating “county jails and other entities should be used to house people accused of real crimes, not to arbitrarily hold people who are trying to live their lives and contribute like anyone else.”

“Many of these individuals are immigrants who have lived in New Jersey for years, enriching our communities, and strengthening local economies,” Weinberg added. “This is a common sense bill and a humane one.”

Health care bill expands Medi-Cal to undocumented elder immigrants age 50+

Health care trailer bill expands full-scope Medi-Cal to approximately 235,000 undocumented immigrants age 50 and older. 

At a health clinic in Fresno County on Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation making California the first state in the nation to expand full-scope Medicaid eligibility to low-income adults 50 years of age or older, regardless of immigration status – a major milestone in the state’s progress toward universal health coverage.

With the rise of the COVID-19 Delta variant and the prevalence of health disparities among low-income and minority communities, access to health care coverage for low-income, undocumented immigrants is crucial at this time. 

The new bill, AB 133, will make bold changes toward a more equitable and prevention-focused approach to health care through expanded behavioral health initiatives supporting California youth and people with severe behavioral health challenges, including those experiencing homelessness; extending Medi-Cal eligibility for postpartum individuals; supporting continued telehealth flexibilities; and advancing the state’s innovative CalAIM initiative.

Medi-Cal, Governor Newsom,

At Fresno health clinic, Governor Newsom signs health care trailer bill expanding Medi-Cal to undocumented immigrants age 50 and over. (Photo source: gov.ca.gov)

“We’re investing California’s historic surplus to accomplish transformative changes we’ve long dreamed of – including this historic Medi-Cal expansion to ensure thousands of older undocumented Californians, many of whom have been serving on the front lines of the pandemic, can access critical health care services,” said Governor Newsom. “I thank the Legislature for its steadfast partnership to bring California closer to universal health care coverage and advance comprehensive initiatives to ensure California’s communities come back from the pandemic stronger and healthier than before.”

Medi-Cal becomes the most inclusive health coverage for vulnerable persons in the country

Under AB 133, approximately 235,000 Californians aged 50 years and older are newly eligible for Medi-Cal, including preventive services, long-term care, and In-Home Supportive Services. 

In 2016, California extended Medi-Cal to undocumented children, and in 2019, California became the first state to extend Medi-Cal coverage to all eligible undocumented young adults up to the age of 26. With this newest expansion, the state has the most inclusive health coverage for vulnerable persons in the country covering all persons regardless of immigration status, except those aged 26-49.

AB 133 will also extend the postpartum care period. (Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash)

Additionally, AB 133 also extends the Medi-Cal postpartum care period from 60 days to 12 months without requiring a mental health diagnosis, including for eligible undocumented Californians.

Further benefits and expansions under the new bill 

Governor Newsom signed the legislation on Tuesday at a Clinica Sierra Vista location in Fresno. During his visit, the Governor highlighted the state’s multi-pronged strategy to reach communities with low vaccination rates and the first-in-the-nation measures announced yesterday to require all state workers and workers in health care and high-risk congregate settings to either show proof of full vaccination or be tested at least once per week. Local governments and businesses are encouraged to adopt similar measures amid the growing threat of the Delta variant.

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Changing the life trajectory of children and youth in California, the health care trailer bill creates a prevention-focused behavioral health system in which all Californians age 25 and younger are supported and routinely screened for emerging and existing behavioral health needs – enabling them to grow up healthier, both physically and mentally. The initiative includes the creation of a statewide portal to connect young people with telehealth visits.

AB 133 implements an important component of the California Comeback Plan’s $12 billion homelessness package, creating the Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program at the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to expand treatment and housing options for all Californians, including people experiencing homelessness who struggle with the most acute behavioral health needs. AB 133 implements the Plan’s $2.2 billion investment for DHCS to provide competitive grants to local governments to construct, acquire and rehabilitate real estate assets or to invest in mobile crisis infrastructure to expand the community continuum of behavioral health treatment resources. The Plan’s total investments in this space constitute the biggest expansion in decades for clinically enhanced behavioral health housing.

DACA, Dreamers,

DACA in doubt after court ruling: 3 questions answered

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Author: Kevin Johnson, University of California, Davis

Editor’s note: A federal court in Texas delivered a blow to an Obama-era federal program shielding hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children from being deported.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled on July 16, 2021, in Texas v. United States that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was unlawful. Hanen put a hold on new applications. The decision caught many people off guard because, in 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court had rejected then-President Donald Trump’s effort to dismantle DACA, leaving the policy mostly intact.

The federal government under President Joe Biden has been accepting new applications for DACA protections. That must now stop, Hanen ruled.

We asked legal scholar Kevin Johnson, who specializes in immigration law, to explain what impact Hanen’s ruling will have on DACA – and what comes next.

DACA, Dreamers,

Molly Adams from USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1. If the Supreme Court already ruled DACA could continue, how can it be unlawful?

In Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of University of California, the Supreme Court did not decide whether DACA, established by President Barack Obama in 2012, was lawful. It held only that in its efforts to end DACA, the Trump administration had not followed the proper procedures required by the federal Administrative Procedure Act to terminate the policy.

In a 5-4 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court ruled that President Trump’s attempt to end DACA was “arbitrary and capricious” because it had failed to adequately account for, among other things, the severe disruption of the lives of DACA recipients who had relied on the program in making life decisions.

By so doing, Trump had violated the Administrative Procedure Act, and, thus, his administration’s attempt to invalidate DACA was unlawful. As a result, the immigrants already protected by DACA would maintain their legal status, and the ruling seemed to require the administration to allow new DACA applications.

But the Trump administration refused to allow new applications to the program.

In Texas v. United States, Judge Hanen reviewed a different decision by a different president – the Biden administration’s decision to resume accepting new DACA applications. But his ruling relied on the Supreme Court’s analysis of President Trump’s attempted termination of DACA.

Hanen found that the Biden administration had not reopened applications following appropriate procedures under the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires allowing public notice and comment on the policy. As such, he ruled, the Biden administration could not accept new DACA applications.

2. What does the Texas court’s decision mean for current DACA recipients?

Judge Hanen’s ruling only bars the approval of new DACA applications. It does not eliminate DACA relief for the approximately 690,000 people already enrolled in the program.

Current DACA recipients may still apply for renewals every two years. The Biden administration is likely to grant those renewals absent a change in the applicant’s circumstances, such as a serious criminal conviction.

Put simply, for the time being, current DACA recipients are protected from deportation, but the Biden administration can no longer offer that same protection to other undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children – even if technically it seems they could apply for DACA.

3. What’s next in the DACA debate?

President Biden has said his administration will appeal Judge Hanen’s ruling, and the Supreme Court ultimately could take the case. If the ruling were reversed by a higher court, the Biden administration would be permitted to approve new DACA applications.

The courts aren’t the only place where DACA’s legal problems could be addressed. Biden, immigrant rights advocates and congressional Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin, are now calling for lawmakers to pass legislation permanently protecting DACA recipients.

The American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 – introduced to Congress during President Trump’s campaign to end DACA – would provide a pathway to citizenship for current DACA recipients. That immigration reform would give them lasting legal status, rather than the temporary – and revocable – relief from deportation offered by DACA.

[Understand what’s going on in Washington. Sign up for The Conversation’s Politics Weekly.]The Conversation

Kevin Johnson, Dean and Professor of Public Interest Law and Chicana/o Studies, University of California, Davis

border, fence,

Biden says influx of migrants at the border is nothing new

In his first press conference since taking office, President Biden claimed “nothing has changed” compared to earlier influxes of migrants and unaccompanied children at the border. 

Immigration surge “happens every year”

For the past decade the immigration issue has been a topic of focus. As the humanitarian emergency at the border continues, many are calling into question what the Biden Administration will do to address the issue which has persisted for too long. Others are criticizing President Biden for lack of inaction as numbers surge and questioning whether his new policies are contributing to the increased numbers. 

However, President Biden has said that the influx of migrants is nothing new. “It happens every single, solitary year,” he said at Thursday’s press conference. “There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. That happens every year.”

While it is true that the numbers are usually higher in the early months of the year, the current number of unaccompanied children arriving today is much higher than that of 2019 or 2020. 

This past February there were 9,297 unaccompanied children apprehended at the border. This is a 30% increase from 2019 when the last major surge occurred but still below the peaks of 11,000 unaccompanied children in May of 2019 and 10,000 in June of 2014. However, these records are likely to be broken this year according to experts. 

Over the past 30 days, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have apprehended an average of 5,000 undocumented immigrants per day–about 500 of which are unaccompanied children. The current influx is said to be different than previous years, with officials citing larger numbers of unaccompanied children and families. 

Influx of unaccompanied children leaves them without appropriate shelter

The influx of migrant children has also led to issues with housing them in appropriate shelters. Unable to open child shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services fast enough to accommodate everyone, many children are being forced to remain at holding facilities along the border.

As of this past Wednesday, more than 5,000 migrant children and teens were stuck in Border Patrol facilities awaiting beds in child shelters.

“Unfortunately, on any given day, we may have upwards of 9,000 people in custody, which certainly puts a strain on our resources,” a Border Patrol official stated.

The Biden administration is working with other agencies to find more bed space, using places like the San Diego Convention Center to hold unaccompanied minors so they’re not sleeping in cells as they await more permanent shelter.

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In the long term, the Biden administration plans to deal more directly with issues in Central America that have contributed to the influx in migration. These plans include developing more legal avenues for migrants to seek asylum. President Biden has also just sent three top officials to Mexico and Guatemala as part of efforts to tackle the root causes of migration, which Vice President Harris has been tasked with leading. 

The issues at the border are nothing new, but the influx of migrants and unaccompanied children is indicative of greater humanitarian issues. From poverty and corruption to widespread unemployment due to the pandemic, addressing these underlying issues will be central to addressing the immigration issue.

FEMA to help shelter influx of migrant children at the border

Roughly 4,000 young migrants were in Customs and Border Protection facilities this week, more than the 2,600 children and teenagers held in such detention facilities in June 2019. In February,  9,457 children, including teenagers, were detained at the border without a parent in February, up from more than 5,800 in January.

Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash

The Biden administration so far has not been able to quickly process the young migrants and transfer them to shelters managed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The administration has struggled to expand the capacity of those shelters, and has recently directed the shelters to normal capacity, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, the Biden administration is directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist in processing the increasing number of young migrants as criticism mounts over their treatment in detention facilities.

FEMA will help find shelter space and provide “food, water and basic medical care” to thousands of young migrants, Michael Hart, a spokesman for the agency, said in a statement.

Additionally, the Homeland Security Department has been asked to volunteer “to help care for and assist unaccompanied minors” who have been held in border jails that are managed by Customs and Border Protection.

The Health and Human Services Department also opened a temporary facility for the children and teenagers on Sunday in Midland, Texas, to help migrants out of the border facilities, according to Mark Weber, a spokesman for the agency. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans have characterized the increase in border crossings as a direct result of Mr. Biden’s goal to roll back President Donald J. Trump’s restrictive immigration policies.“They express surprise and shock about the fact that they are overwhelmed, when the Border Patrol and really everybody here in Texas has known that this is coming,” Mr. Abbott said.

However, President Biden has kept a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule that empowers border agents to rapidly turn away migrants at the border, with the exception of unaccompanied minors.

Latinxs children detention centers

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

Officials from the Health and Human Services Department have also been placed at border facilities in an attempt to find sponsors for migrant children faster. 

Last week, the administration rescinded a 2018 agreement that allowed the agency to share certain information about sponsors for the children with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigration advocates said the agreement discouraged relatives of the youths from stepping forward to sponsor them, creating a backlog in the system.

Representative Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas, said she found the situation at a processing facility that she had toured in El Paso on Friday “unacceptable.”

“A Border Patrol facility is no place for a child,” Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said in a statement on Saturday. “Our goal is to ensure that unaccompanied children are transferred to H.H.S. as quickly as possible.”

“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.”

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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.