Bake for Bonds (and more ways to help immigrants)

After Contra Costa Sheriff David Livingston announced on July 10, 2018 that he was terminating the County’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), several local groups that had been working to support the immigrant detainees at West County Detention Facility in Richmond mobilized to help ICE detainees who were at risk of being transferred out of state. These transfers would have left the detainees far from their families, communities, and attorneys. Learn more about the Sheriff’s decision at our article.

There are many ways you can help!

  • Bake for Bonds! Support the Freedom for Immigrant Community Bond Fund – help make these fundraisers, organized by the El Cerrito Progressives, a success. The bake sales will raise bond funds for approximately 150 adults. Drop by one of the many bake sales, or volunteer to bake and/or staff a table. You can see all of the dates and locations sign up here. Any questions? Email Sherry Drobner.
  • Donate to the West County Detention Facility Community Fund, organized by the  Contra Costa Immigrant Rights Alliance and other groups, to pay bond for detainees who can’t afford it, and to pay for related expenses such as phone calls from detention centers.
  • Another fundraiser by the El Cerrito Progressives seeks to raise $5,000 to get at least one detainee out of WCDF. They’ve already raised over $3,000, help them get to their goal! Donations go directly to the West County Detention Facility Community Fund, and will be managed by Freedom for Immigrants. Updated August 24, 2018: The El Cerrito Progressives has informed us that as of August 19 there were only eight ICE detainees remaining at the West County Detention Facility because ICE transferred the rest of the detainees out of state although they had court dates in San Francisco. Rebecca Merton of Freedom for Immigrants, the organization handling the Community Bond Fund has said: we definitely still need more fundraising! We are actually running low on funds. And now, in addition to bonding people out, we need to pay for last-minute airfare for folks from cities like Denver, Honolulu, and Tacoma back home.”

Other ways you can help!

Contra Costa County Sheriff skates on thin ICE

Protesting works! Activism pays off! That’s a message we got loud and clear from Contra Costa Sheriff David Livingston’s July 10, 2018 press conference announcing that he is terminating the County’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In practical terms, this means the West County Detention Facility (WCDF) in Richmond will no longer be used to “incarcerate undocumented migrants.” In resistance terms, it’s a victory that many, including members of Indivisible East Bay and our CA-11 team, have long worked to accomplish.

For months previously, WCDF had been the site of increasingly frequent and larger protests over the immigrant detainee issue. The matter gained additional traction in the chaos caused by the Current Occupant’s policy of separating refugee children from their parents. In announcing the termination, Livingston admitted that the public’s growing opposition and mounting political pressure significantly affected his decision. As we said, score one for the effectiveness of persistent protesters.

Cancelling the ICE contract was praised by most local politicians and officials, including Supervisor John Gioia, who declared that housing ICE detainees “erodes the trust between local government and local law enforcement and our immigrant communities. Ending the contract is a critical step in rebuilding this trust.”  Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), who previously called for termination of the contract, also spoke out in support.

Not everyone shared this view. At the press conference, County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said she was sorry to be losing the contract. One concern was about how the County would make up for lost revenue; the ICE contract reportedly provided around $3 million in profit. Another was that detainees would be moved to sites much further away from family members, supportive communities, and their immigration lawyers.

A solution to the relocation problem, advocated by the Contra Costa Immigrant Rights Alliance and other groups active in assisting immigration detainees, would be to release currently held detainees as they await their immigration hearings. Not relying on the administration to release the detainees, these same groups have organized the West County Detention Facility Community Fund to raise donations to pay bond for those who can’t afford it and to pay for related expenses such as phone calls from detention centers.

There’s more than a bit of irony to the Sheriff’s decision. While he deserves credit for  finally terminating the ICE contract, we can’t forget that he has long supported and defended it — which is why people have been protesting at WCDF. His decision looks more like political pressure forcing a one-time capitulation rather than a change of heart. The Sheriff himself has given us much reason to take such a harsh view. To see why, let’s take a closer look at Livingston’s political history:

Looking back

David Livingston was first elected as Sheriff for Contra Costa County in 2010. His initial term passed with apparent little controversy, leading to his unopposed reelection in 2014. Over the next four years, his tenure took a dramatic turn.

In 2017, the East Bay Times‘ Editorial Board objected to Livingston’s heavy-handedness and “bombastic bullying” in dealing with those who “dare disagree with his policies.” As one example, the article noted that the Sheriff rejected a police dispatch contract for El Cerrito as “punishment” for the city’s opposition to an unrelated Livingston-supported West County jail expansion plan.

Later in 2017, twenty-seven WCDF inmates sent a letter, detailing allegations of abuse, to civil rights organization Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC — the national group recently re-named itself Freedom For Immigrants). Among the allegations, detainees described being locked up for hours and told to use bags in their cells when they needed to go to the bathroom. In response to the letter,  Rep. DeSaulnier asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the claims of mistreatment. Numerous other politicians were similarly critical of the Department. Sheriff Livingston denied the accuracy of the letter but did pledge an investigation (we are unaware of any publicly released results). 

In March of 2018, the Mercury News reported that Livingston banned CIVIC volunteers from entering the jail for a routine visit. The advocacy group labelled it as “retaliation” for their prior publicizing of the allegations of abuse. Human Rights Watch supported CIVIC’s complaint, noting that the Sheriff’s decision appeared to be “in response to protected speech, rather than alleged violations of policies and procedures.” In other words, Livingston was again deploying his tactic of “bullying” opponents.

In April, Livingston was accused of publishing the release dates of inmates in what appeared to be an attempt to assist ICE in tracking the inmates upon their release. In response, the California Senate began debate on a bill that would end the ICE contract and prevent “law enforcement from communicating and cooperating” with ICE. Not surprisingly, Livingston strongly opposed the bill, calling it a “disaster.”

During this same period, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt sought to have a tour of the West County facility and Rep. DeSaulnier sought to visit a local children’s shelter that was housing two adolescent girls separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Both politicians were denied permission initially, but by July, close to the time of the ICE contract termination, permissions were granted.

Looking ahead

Amidst all of this controversy, Livingston was again running — unopposed! — for re-election as Sheriff. A strongly worded editorial in the East Bay Times lamented the lack of an opponent to Livingston and his “wrong-headed ideas and practices.” Similarly, IEB asserted that we should “speak out against his record and make sure none of our Democratic representatives supports him.”

Given the lack of an opponent, IEB and the CA-11 team, and several other groups, endorsed a “no confidence” write-in campaign against the Sheriff, rather than asking people to leave the ballot blank. Although the County’s official final vote tally shows Livingston receiving 100% of the vote (160,926), that is misleading — the County told us prior to the election that only write-in votes for “qualified candidates” would be reported. In fact, Assistant Registrar of Voters Scott Konopasek has now informed us that the “total unqualified write in votes for Sheriff-Coroner was 5563.”  That is 3.46%, a significant increase over Livingston’s prior races:

  • 2010: 0.41% (692) of those voting for Sheriff used the write-in option
  • 2014: 1.22% (1,328) of those voting for Sheriff used the write-in option

David Livingston is now on track to be the Contra Costa County Sheriff until at least 2022. In response, the CA-11 team, in coalition with other groups, may consider a recall effort. Recalls are very difficult, so we’ll also continue to search for someone to oppose him in the next election. One problem is that California law requires that a Sheriff candidate be in law enforcement — and it has been difficult to find qualified candidates willing to oppose Livingston.

In the meantime, we will continue to closely scrutinize his actions, ready to protest again whenever the situation demands, and to support those vulnerable populations who suffer most from his policies and practices. It worked this time. It can work again!

How you can help!

Reunite families fund

  • Actions at West County Detention Facility: The Interfaith Coalition for Human Rights holds a monthly vigil there, usually the first Saturday each  month – check their calendar for date & time. And Kehilla Community Synagogue’s Immigration Committee holds a protest there the second Sunday of each month, from 11 AM to 12 PM.
  • Keep the Heat on ICE! Join the weekly El Cerrito Shows Up protests organized by a coalition of groups including IEB and CA-11 team members; every Thursday from 6 to 7 PM at western entrance to El Cerrito Plaza
  •  Work with, support and/or donate to Contra Costa Immigrant Rights Alliance and Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement
  • Donate to the West County Detention Facility Community Fund    
  • This local fundraiser by the El Cerrito Progressives seeks to raise $5,000 to get at least one detainee out of WCDF. Donations will go directly to the West County Detention Facility Community Fund, and will be managed by Freedom for Immigrants.
  • Want to work with IEB and the CA-11 team to organize against the Sheriff? Email indivisibleca11@gmail.com or join the @moc_team_ca11 channel on IEB’s Slack.

REUNITE Immigrant Families

In a July 17, 2018 press conference, Senator Kamala Harris, with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), introduced a comprehensive bill to reunite immigrant families ripped apart by the administration’s disastrous policies. Senator Harris’s press release reports that the Reunite Every Unaccompanied Newborn Infant, Toddler and Other Children Expeditiously (REUNITE) Act:

  • Requires the DHS and HHS Secretaries to publish guidance describing how they will reunify families. This guidance must include how to ensure sustained, no-cost contact between parents and children, access to children by legal counsel and other advocates, and unannounced inspections by child welfare organizations.
  • Requires immediate reunification of children who remain separated from a parent and legal guardian.
  • Creates presumption of release on recognizance, parole, or bond for parents of separated children.
  • Restores the Family Case Management Program.
  • Creates presumption that parents will not be deported until their child’s immigration proceeding is over or the child turns 18.
  • Prohibits DHS from using information, including DNA information, obtained pursuant to this Act for immigration enforcement purposes.
  • Creates privacy protections around the use of DNA testing to establish familial relationships.
  • Requires the Attorney General, the DHS Secretary, and the HHS Secretary to establish the Office for Locating and Reuniting Children with Parents, an interagency office, to expedite and facilitate the reunification of children and parents separated after enter the U.S.
  • Redirects $50 million in appropriations from ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) for the enforcement of this Act.

The last point is particularly important in light of Slate’s recent shocking disclosure of internal documents from the Office of Refugee Resettlement showing that

HHS plans to pay for child separation by reallocating money from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which, according to its website, ‘provides a comprehensive system of care that includes primary medical care and essential support services for people living with HIV who are uninsured or underinsured.’ Per the documents, the process of transferring those HIV/AIDS funds has already begun.

Key points at the press conference included Senator Harris’s insistence that family reunification is not enough if it means family incarceration, as is apparently the administration’s desire. Sen. Cortez Masto pointed out that in other situations, non-detention case supervision and management programs have superlative proven track records. Both Senators Harris and Cortez Masto, career prosecutors before their elections, stated that the detention centers – which they had visited – were identical to jails and in no way places for families or children. Moreover, Sen. Cortez Masto pointed out, they are staffed by contractors, not employees of the government who (at least theoretically) have a mission to take care of and reunite families.

Watch video of the press conference here.

What you can do:

  • Thank Senator Harris for introducing the REUNITE Act. (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Tell Senator Feinstein to support the REUNITE Act. (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Spread the word! Promote the REUNITE Act on social media; tell your friends and family to contact their Senators.
  • Some things you can say:
    • Almost 2,600 children remain separated from their parents. I stand with @SenKamalaHarris – Congress must pass the REUNITE Act & safely reunite these children with their parents and guardians. #FamiliesBelongTogether
    • The US Government has committed a human rights abuse by separating children from their parents. I support @SenKamalaHarris’ REUNITE Act because every child needs their parent or guardian. #FamiliesBelongTogether
    • Family detention is not a solution to family separation which is why I support @SenKamalaHarris REUNITE Act to reunite families as soon as possible and not lock them in cages. #Familiesbelongtogether
  • Read what Senator Harris has to say on Twitter and Facebook and retweet/like and share

Some other things you can do:

  • Volunteer with or donate to Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC).
  • This great coalition of groups is raising bond funds to get detainees released before they’re moved from the West County Detention Facility to other locations far from their families and immigration lawyers.
  • This local fundraiser by El Cerrito Progressives seeks to raise $5,000 to get at least one detainee out of WCDF. Donations will go directly to the West County Detention Facility Community Fund, and will be managed by Freedom for Immigrants.

Read our latest article on actions you can take to fight the administration’s war against immigrants. For more background on the family separation issue, please see our other earlier articles here and here

 

 

Thousands Protest Immigration Policies at “Families Belong Together” Demos

It was a dark time for the Rebellion. The armies of the Empire had thwarted the attempts of those seeking asylum from violence in their homeland — forcing refugees to choose between returning to the dangers of their home or being forcibly separated from their children at the border — perhaps forever. This unconscionable action could not stand. And it did not. Responding to growing protests even among his own supporters, Emperor Trump at last rescinded his order.

But for those families who had already been separated, it remained unclear when or how they would be reunited. Further, a recent court filing indicates the Justice Department plans to keep migrant families in detention. To keep the pressure on for a quick, humane and complete solution, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered on Saturday June 30 at more than 700 “Families Belong Together” nationwide rallies. At the largest rallies, numbers reportedly ranged from 35,000 in Washington, D.C. to 70,000 in Los Angeles.

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Families Belong Together in Washington, D.C.

Indivisible East Bay communities held several notable protests, and IEB members were out in force. Some of our reports:

West County Detention Facility (Richmond)

“We joined thousands of protesters at the Richmond, California West County Detention Facility (WCDF) to make it LOUD and clear that families belong together,” IEB and Indivisible El Cerrito member Melanie Bryson said. She also sent a special thank you to the dedicated people who’ve been attending monthly vigils and bi-weekly protests at WCDF, and to all those attending weekly vigils in El Cerrito.

Families Belong Together protest at West County Detention Facility, June 30, 2018
Families Belong Together protest at West County Detention Facility

IEB member Mandeep Gill estimated the “massive” crowd at over 2,000, also noting that the energy level was high, and the noise level loud at the Richmond rally. He added that “our sustained several minute ‘Abolish ICE’ chant roar was loud enough that I saw several folks covering their ears. Good! This is the kind of fierce collective energy that’s going to carry us all forward.”

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A protestor at the Richmond rally

Berkeley

Over 1,500 people gathered together in Civic Center Park in downtown Berkeley. Carrying a wide variety of creative signs, the protesters were enthusiastic but peaceful. Undeterred by the week’s string of Supreme Court defeats, including the decision to uphold Trump’s Muslim travel ban, the crowd positively responded to the exhortations of the speakers — including State Senator Nancy Skinner — that we remain committed to the fight and maintain our confidence that we will be successful in the end.

Members from several Indivisible groups were among the crowd. Daron Sharps, a speaker from Indivisible Berkeley, called on demonstrators to phone-bank and vote President Donald Trump and his allies out of office.

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At Berkeley rally, protesting is a “family affair”

Livermore…and more

Several hundred people turned out for each of a trio of rallies in Tri-valley cities Livermore, Dublin and Pleasanton. The largest was in Livermore, where CA-15 Congressman Eric Swalwell was a featured speaker.

 

Concord

CA-11 Congressman Mark DeSaulnier spoke to a large crowd attending the Migrants March at Todos Santos Plaza in Concord.

See our article for many actions you can take to continue to fight for immigrants.

Photos by CNN, Heidi Rand, Mandeep Gill, and Ted Landau

CoCo Sheriff Retaliates Against Advocates Helping Detainees

The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, under investigation for mistreatment of ICE detainees, has retaliated against the group that helped the detainees and helped spark the investigation.

On March 6, 2018, the office of Sheriff Livingston terminated the visitation program at the West County Detention Facility (WCDF) that the non-profit advocacy group Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) had operated to assist detainees and their families. Since 2011, CIVIC volunteers have been providing services to the families of detainees and post-release support to those who are released or deported. They are sometimes the only people the detainees can talk to about their cases, or their only contact with the outside world if their family is far away or can’t visit.

The Sheriff claimed that volunteers violated policy, but CIVIC asserts that the revocation was in retaliation for its part in bringing immigrants’ allegations of abuse at the facility to the light of day, which led to investigations by state and federal officials.

While CIVIC works with the ACLU to contest the revocation, here are several things we can do to help CIVIC and the detainees and their families:

  • Learn more about CIVIC here and sign up here to get updates and alerts from the Friends of CIVIC about how you can help.
  • Read the ACLU’s letter to the Sheriff’s office.
  • Attend events to support the detainees held at WCDF, 5555 Giant Highway, Richmond. The Interfaith Coalition for Human Rights holds a monthly vigil there, usually on the first Saturday of every month – check their calendar for exact date and time. Kehilla Community Synagogue’s Immigration Committee holds a protest at WCDF the second Sunday of each month, from 11 AM to 12 PM.
  • Call the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office at (925) 335-1500 to express your concern about the Sheriff’s current action, and urge them to restore CIVIC’s visitation program.
  • Please sign petitions that Together We Will Contra Costa launched, and which IEB and many other groups have co-sponsored, to ask local Democratic representatives who have endorsed Sheriff Livingston to rescind their endorsements.

Are you a constituent of Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11)? If so, please thank him for his hard work in support of immigrants, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 9:

U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier says it’s time for Contra Costa County to end its relationship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Democratic congressman from Concord, who recently toured the Richmond jail that the county leases to the federal government for detention of undocumented immigrants, said that the Contra Costa County sheriff’s office’s move this week to ban volunteers from visiting immigrants inside the jail — to check on their well-being — was the last straw.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095

Read our article about the statement released by the ICE Out of California Coalition, signed by IEB and other groups.

Photograph by Boardhead (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Artists for Humanity Benefit for Detained Immigrant Bail Fund

By Sherry Drobner

Every year Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains thousands of immigrants nationwide, including many lawful US residents, for reasons ranging from anonymous tips to criminal arrests. The immigrants are incarcerated in detention centers; as Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) puts it, this practice “removes people from their families and communities, endangers their houses, jobs, public benefits and healthcare, and prevents them from adequately defending their right to remain in their home.“

Detained immigrants aren’t provided an attorney to navigate the legal system, and most can’t afford the $3,411 average bond to be released while waiting for a hearing. It’s not unusual for immigrants to wait years for a hearing while remaining behind bars, away from family and unable to work. In 2014, more than 50% of detainees in Northern California had lived in the United States for 10 years or more; 77% had families in the United States; and 65% had jobs before entering detention. Families are literally broken apart by the system. To address this injustice, CIVIC initiated the Bay Area Bond Fund, a revolving fund to ensure that immigrants can fight their deportation cases outside the confines of jail, in their communities, reunited with their family and friends.

Artists for Humanity, a local artist and cultural activist group, is holding a benefit to support the Bay Area Bond Fund on January 28, from 2:30-5:30 PM at Ashkenaz, 1317 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley.  The concert features dancers Calpulli Huey Papalotl Cultural Group; musicians Dance Chant; jazz band Humanistic featuring Otoe Mori on saxophone, Greg German on drums, and Vince Khoe on keys; and powerful poetry by local artist and activist Pennie Opal Plant. Suggested donation $10-$30. See more information about the program here.

Sherry Drobner is an adult literacy advocate in the city of Richmond.