September 2020

This September, America mourned the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg’s career was devoted to expanding equality and delivering justice for women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and immigrants. Justice Ginsburg helped secure monumental victories for immigrants in America: she voted in favor of Dreamers, blocked a citizenship question from being added to the census, and rejected as unconstitutional the indefinite detention of undocumented immigrants. Her vacancy on the Supreme Court looms large given the power a single Supreme Court appointment can have over the fate of millions. The partisan battle unfolding over the GOP’s attempt to rush a confirmation before the 2021 inauguration has potentially huge implications — for the future of the ACA, DACA, TPS, and our democracy writ large.

Meanwhile, the November election is fast approaching, and Trump seeks to brand himself as the law and order candidate at the expense of immigrants and communities of color. In a transparently cynical ploy to advance that narrative, ICE reveals that it is planning a new enforcement crackdown in sanctuary cities before the election, just adding to this month’s assaults on immigrants and immigration.

Artwork by Francisco Reyes Jr. Courtesy of Amplifier & MoveOn.

1. The Courts Make It Clear That TPS Is on the Ballot This November​​​​

On September 14, a federal appeals court ruled that the Trump Administration was acting within its authority when it terminated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for hundreds of thousands of people living in the United States after fleeing conflict or natural disasters in their home countries. The decision leaves some 400,000 people in legal limbo.

The court accepted the Trump Administration’s defense: that TPS inadvertently granted permanent status to people who no longer need refuge. In doing so, they rejected the claim that the administration’s attempt to end the program was part of a larger effort to expel nonwhite immigrants from the country regardless of the conditions they might return to, and that stripping TPS holders of their status would sabotage a fragile economy they help support.

The decision will almost certainly be challenged and could end up before the Supreme Court. Although the likelihood of a judicial reversal appears slim, the fight to ensure that TPS holders can continue to live and work in this country is far from over. The Trump Administration has agreed to preserve the status of people from Haiti, Sudan, Honduras, and Nicaragua through March 2021 and through November 2021 for people from El Salvador. This means that the ultimate decision to terminate or preserve the program will be made by the winner of the presidential election.

Although legal challenges will continue to wind their way through the courts, the fate of TPS — like that of DACA — rests in the hands of the American people.

2. A Complete Disregard for Immigrants’ Reproductive Health in ICE Detention Centers​​​​

This month, news broke that immigrant women at a Georgia ICE detention center were allegedly being coerced into hysterectomies. A whistleblower reported that Mahedra Amin, a gynecologist working at the center, was administering this invasive and irreversible surgery on women who hadn’t received a full explanation of the procedure, did not have access to a translator, and were yelled at when they resisted.

The Irwin County Hospital, where the hysterectomies would have taken place, reported that just two immigrant women have undergone the procedure since 2017. But the allegation incited public outcry and 173 lawmakers demanded a DHS inspector general investigation, which revealed a disturbing pattern: Women who complain of (sometimes gynecological) pain are taken to Dr. Amin, who performs an ultrasound without asking permission, does not use lubrication for a manual exam, and diagnoses a cyst for which he recommends surgical removal.

The New York Times interviewed sixteen women at the center and had their cases reviewed by five gynecologists, all of whom agreed that Dr. Amin overstated the risks associated with cysts (which are common and generally do not require treatment) and consistently — and inappropriately — recommended surgery. The medical records of several patients included symptoms they never had and medical requests they never made. In some cases, patients underwent unnecessary procedures they did not understand or consent to.

Independent doctors who treat ICE detainees are paid for the procedures they perform with funds from the Department of Homeland Security; Dr. Amin was sued in 2013 for overbilling Medicare and Medicaid for practices including unnecessary procedures on terminal patients.

This blatant disregard for human dignity, health, and reproductive rights, while abhorrent, is not new. It is part of a long history of the forced sterilization of immigrant women, the continued practice of shackling pregnant detainees, and the contemporary standard of harm that immigrant detention centers inflict upon their inhabitants.

3. ICE Unnecessarily Transferred Detainees — and Caused a Massive COVID-19 Outbreak — so That Agents Could Police Black Lives Matter Protests in Washington, DC

A story broke this month in the Washington Post that epitomizes ICE’s standard of medical neglect: A COVID-19 outbreak in a Farmville, VA detention center was caused by ICE’s relocation of 74 detainees to facilitate the transfer of immigration agents to police Black Lives Matter protestors in Washington, DC this June.

ICE employees are not permitted to travel on charter flights unless detainees are also on board. To circumvent that rule, ICE engaged in unnecessary and dangerous transfers that brought detainees and ICE agents to Farmville, just a few hours outside of DC. Agents left the facility to brutalize and intimidate protestors in Washington; more than half of the transferred detainees tested positive upon their arrival in Farmville. The outbreak soon became the worst in the country: more than 300 detainees (the vast majority of the center’s population) have contracted the virus and one person has died.

An investigation is underway concerning ICE’s responsibility for the death of a detainee, but these callous practices are characteristic of facilities across the country. To date, more than 6,000 immigrant detainees have tested positive for COVID-19.

4. ICE Plans to Raid Sanctuary Cities As the November Election Approaches

As President Trump’s poll numbers plummet, his extremist campaign tactics are ramping up. His campaign has stoked fear about calls to defund the police, and earlier this summer he deployed federal agents to intimidate, brutalize, and incite violence among Black Lives Matter protestors in Portland.

In a continuation of that crusade, ICE is planning to carry out arrests in sanctuary cities starting as early as this week. The raids will purportedly begin in California and expand to other sanctuary jurisdictions including Denver and Philadelphia. These actions in “Democrat-run” cities are intended to show conservative voters that Democratic governors and mayors are failing to protect residents from criminals. The reverse is true: this political stunt compromises the trust of communities of color and the safety of the cities writ large.

5. Farmworkers — Who Have Already Borne a Heavy Burden During This Year’s Crises — Work Through California Wildfires

Wildfires along the west coast this summer grew so severe that thousands were forced to evacuate their homes, thick smoke made the air unsafe to breathe, and the sky turned an ominous, opaque orange. But in Sonoma County evacuation zones — where the threat of flames was severe enough to push residents from their homes — the county agriculture commissioner offered access passes to dozens of agricultural producers so that their (largely undocumented) workforce could continue harvesting grapes for local wineries.

Farmworkers have already suffered in grossly disproportionate numbers during the pandemic and the accompanying economic collapse; now they bear the brunt of this year’s climate crisis, too. This is just one consequence of an economy that treats its workforce as expendable in a country that leaves workers with nowhere else to turn.

In Sonoma County, half of the confirmed COVID-19 cases are Latinx patients, and the damage the smoke could do to farmworkers’ lungs adds yet another risk factor. This is neither a coincidence nor an outlier: Across the country, the counties with the highest per capita rates of coronavirus are some of the top producers of crops — harvested largely by undocumented people.

And despite the additional risks farmworkers have assumed this year, they do not receive adequate protective gear or hazard pay. In fact, a new study showed that low-wage workers have been subject to wage theft at higher rates during the pandemic. As the cashflow thins, those most vulnerable to wage theft are also the least likely to speak up — either because they fear retaliation via immigration enforcement, or because they tend to be less aware of their rights.

In the months and years to come, it is up to each of us to rebuild a more just economy — and that starts with creating a path to citizenship for these aspiring Americans.

6. In New Polling Data, There Is a Silver Lining

Despite the relentless attacks against immigrants this month and this year, there is reason for hope: the gap between this Administration’s actions and public support has become a chasm.

In partnership with Civiqs, Emerson Collective surveyed registered voters in seven battleground states on a wide range of immigration issues. The results are promising: A majority of respondents in all seven states, including pluralities of Republicans, disapprove of Trump’s immigration practices and believe that immigrants give more to the economy than they take. And there is supermajority support for concrete changes to rebuild our broken immigration system, including: deprioritizing the removal of undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions, creating an earned path to citizenship, and ending government contracts with for-profit prisons that house immigrant detainees.

This November, we can ensure that our government commits to those preferences and reflects the will of the people. The stakes of this election could not be higher. Make a plan to vote early this fall and demand that the next administration enact policies the public wants and needs.

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Managing Director of Immigration at the Emerson Collective. Advocate for humanity, sports junky, 1/2-assed Buddhist, proud papa and spouse. Views obv my own.

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Marshall Fitz

Marshall Fitz

Managing Director of Immigration at the Emerson Collective. Advocate for humanity, sports junky, 1/2-assed Buddhist, proud papa and spouse. Views obv my own.

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