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New Orleans, Louisiana—Incarcerated immigrants and their families and advocates have reported dangerous, unlivable conditions and haphazard evacuations at remote immigration jails in Louisiana, where Hurricane Laura caused widespread damage and power outages as it rampaged across the state late last week.
Speaking to Truthout over the phone on Monday, an asylum seeker jailed at the Jackson Parish Correctional Center in northwestern Louisiana said her dormitory was on “lockdown” after one woman developed a high fever and symptoms of COVID-19. The asylum seeker, who asked to remain anonymous due to an ongoing immigration case, said people in the jail were living in fear of the coronavirus and had been without running water since the storm hit. She said immigration prisoners were using toilets filled with feces and urine and have been unable to take showers or access clean clothing.
“She was in the dorm for a very long time before they came and took her out later,” the asylum seeker said of the woman who fell ill with a high fever. “A dorm where there is poop and there is urine and we can’t [take a shower].”
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The asylum seeker said people held in the jail were desperate for nutritious food and drinking water.
“The food they give us is very small.… It’s not enough [drinking] water, we need more water,” she said, adding that the dormitory is hot and humid without air conditioning and smells of human waste.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which has sued the Trump administration over policies that allow for the indefinite detention of asylum seekers and inhumane conditions within immigration jails across Louisiana and the Southeast, says at least five Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) jails in Louisiana were located within Hurricane Laura’s path. On Monday, the group said ICE failed to publicly share emergency plans for keeping the hundreds of immigrants in its custody safe during the storm. Family members reported to the SPLC that immigration prisoners were “haphazardly evacuated” from the Allen Parish Correction Center in southern Louisiana without proper social distancing, potentially exposing them and prisoners at the facility where they were transferred to COVID-19.
“The devastation left in the wake of the storm, including widespread power outages, compounds existing crises of ICE detention in rural Louisiana: unsafe and dilapidated facilities, inaccessible hospitals and emergency care, and limited access to legal counsel and communication with the outside world,” said Luz Lopez, senior supervising attorney with the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project, in a statement. “On top of that, we’ve fielded reports of careless evacuation processes, exposing potentially hundreds more to a deadly virus that ICE has failed to contain in their facilities.”
The asylum seeker said people in the jail had been without running water since the storm hit.On Saturday, immigrants and asylum seekers caged in a men’s dorm staged a protest to call attention to the conditions at the Jackson Parish jail, where the asylum seeker Truthout spoke with is incarcerated. The jail is a privately run facility that enjoys a lucrative contract with ICE to detain migrants, flooding local jails in Louisiana amid the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown. A video apparently taken by an observer outside the jail and circulated among family members and activists shows dozens of people gathering in the jail yard after walking out of a dormitory.
In a statement on Facebook on Saturday, the Jackson Parish Sheriff’s Department said the incarcerated migrants “damaged their dormitory” and the protest was “squashed” by authorities. The department said that water has been restored to the facility, a statement that appears to contradict reports from the inside. The nearby town of Jonesboro, the department said, was running its water system on generators over the weekend and having trouble keeping water flowing. The sheriff’s department said on Sunday that utility workers were able to restore power to the jail during the protest, but that this step was unrelated to the walkout staged by the immigrants. Power outages in some local areas remained on Monday and schools were not expected to open by Tuesday or Wednesday, according to an additional statement.
Advocates say those incarcerated in the Jackson Parish jail are constantly worried about catching the coronavirus. According to ICE’s official count, at least 5,300 COVID-19 cases have been recorded in immigration jails across the country, including hundreds in jails run by ICE, local sheriff’s departments and private contractors in Louisiana. At least 17 people have died in ICE jails from COVID-19 and other causes so far this year, more than twice the number who died in custody last year.
Lara Nochomovitz, a defense attorney representing immigration defendants jailed in Louisiana, said a number of her clients have reported living without clean water and other unlivable conditions at Jackson Parish Correctional Center and other facilities across storm-battered Louisiana.
“I understand there was a hurricane, but that hurricane was coming and you should have people working on it 24 hours a day to clean it up, and you should be moving people [or] better yet, just release them,” Nochomovitz said in an interview.
Protests and hunger strikes have swept through ICE jails in Louisiana and beyond during the pandemic, and in some cases guards have deployed pepper spray and rubber bullets against protesters and placed them in solitary confinement, according to immigrants’ rights activists with contacts inside the jails. Cameroonian asylum seekers at the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in central Louisiana have reportedly staged protests for weeks, activists in Louisiana say, and on August 14 local police broke up a demonstration outside the jail with pepper spray after clashing with protesters who traveled from New Orleans.
César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, a law professor at the University of Denver and author of Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants, told Truthout in an interview that the reports from Louisiana are not surprising based on ICE’s negligent response to COVID-19 and the damage caused to immigration prisons during earlier storms that hit the Gulf Coast.
“It was like the hurricane came into the dorm itself … water was coming up from the ground.”“We’ve been living in a public health emergency in which ICE has been both incapable and frankly unwilling to reduce the threat that exists, not only to the migrants it detains, but to its guards and its staff and to the communities in which these facilities [are located] for quite some time now,” García Hernández said. “Jails and prisons are exactly the recipe for how you don’t want people living during a pandemic, but ICE continues to operate largely under a business-as-usual mode, and it’s not surprising that a hurricane would only worsen that situation.”
García Hernández said the dangerous conditions in ICE jails are exacerbated by the sheer number of people incarcerated under Trump administration policies that have resulted in the vast majority of asylum seekers arriving at the southern border being locked up for indefinite amounts of time. Before President Trump took office, asylum seekers were often allowed to live with family and sponsors in their communities while their asylum claims wound through the courts. Now thousands are bounced between remote jails and prisons across the country, potentially spreading the coronavirus along the way. Activists have demanded their release since the pandemic began.
“It’s disheartening to see that there are so many of these facilities that are housing hundreds and sometimes even thousands of ICE’s detainees, and so when you take a bad situation and throw a hurricane into the mix, that expectation should be that you are only going to increase the human suffering,” García Hernández said.
The asylum seeker at the Jackson Parish jail said the electricity went out when the storm hit and the floor of the dormitory became dangerously wet. People were terrified and injured themselves slipping around in the dark.
“It was like the hurricane came into the dorm itself … water was coming up from the ground,” she said.
An ICE spokesperson did not respond to an emailed request for comment by the time this story was published.
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WASHINGTON – NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s forthcoming decision to seek snapback of all UN sanctions on Iran:When the U.S. struck the nuclear accord with Iran in 2015, it was celebrated by the Iranian people who wanted an end to U.S. sanctions on the country and tarnished by hardliners who warned the U.S. could never be trusted to comply. The Trump administration’s actions have consistently victimized the Iranian people by undermining their hopes and dreams, while vindicating hardliners who have subsequently urged a confrontational position toward the United States. It is a profound tragedy, and one that was entirely avoidable if we had a President who wasn’t driven by sabotaging his predecessor’s achievements.Nothing about this situation is normal. The U.S. loudly withdrew from the agreement and violated all its clauses, claiming that it ceased participation, but now claims an unalienable right to invoke the agreement’s snapback clause that is reserved for participants in the deal. Where once the U.S. forged consensus in pressuring and then negotiating with Iran, the rest of the Security Council is united against the U.S. to preserve the deal we once crafted. Rather than defend the merits of the administration’s Iran approach and accept the determination of voters this fall, Trump and his team are trying to tear down the agreement before Biden has a chance to restore it.There are profound risks from what may be the Trump administration’s last, desperate attempt to prevent a Biden administration from following through on the campaign commitment to restore the deal. Iran may follow through and withdraw from the nuclear accord as well as the Non-Proliferation Treaty, escalating the nuclear standoff and precipitating crisis. The functioning of the Security Council will be deeply degraded, poisoning the well for future multilateral diplomacy just when it is needed to combat pandemic and the climate crisis, let alone other urgent geopolitical crises. And U.S. credibility will be tarnished further as its roguish unilateral behavior on the international stage is checked by a unified Russia, China and Europe.Ultimately, this move is likely to be stalled due to the refusal of adversary and ally alike to recognize and lend any credence to the U.S. snapback attempt. The real outcome will depend on November, when the world knows for sure whether Trump was a foolish one-term mistake or a new reality the U.S. seeks to impose on the world. It will be critically important for a Biden administration to move swiftly to reverse the harm caused by the administration’s reckless Iran mistakes, including the snapback attempt. That will start with returning the U.S. to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, a powerful signal that the U.S. intends to honor its international commitments unlike the current occupant of the White House.Read More
Inscribed on a wall across from the United Nations in New York City are ancient words of incalculable yearning:
“They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.” – Isaiah 2:4
I’ve stood with activists in front of that same wall singing “Down by the Riverside,” a song foreseeing the day we’ll lay down our swords and shields “and study war no more.”
Some observers have rushed to judge the protesters, highlighting the irrationality of looting and burning buildings in their own neighborhoods, ruining places that might even provide them services or jobs. Yet what could be more self-defeating and irrational than spending more money on nuclear weapons and possibly conducting nuclear bomb tests.
In memorably eloquent words spoken after the onset of COVID-19, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres had this message for the world:
“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown . . . [to] put aside mistrust and animosity. Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes. End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world. That is what our human family needs, now more than ever.”
Some of my closest friends now await sentencing for having embraced the call, quite literally, to “beat swords into plowshares.” On April 4, 2018, they entered the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in St. Mary’s, Georgia, a U.S. naval base that houses “one of the largest known collections of nuclear weapons in the world,” a fleet of Trident nuclear submarines.
Once inside, the activists—Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Martha Hennessy, Elizabeth McAlister, Patrick O’Neill, Carmen Trotta, and Steve Kelly—prayed, poured blood, spray-painted messages against nuclear weapons, hammered on a replica of a nuclear weapon, hung banners, and waited to be arrested.
Steve Kelly, a Jesuit priest, has been locked up in the Glynn County Detention Center in Brunswick, Georgia, ever since the night the seven entered the naval base. Now beginning his third year in jail, he writes that his cramped, dingy quarters are “a Twenty-First Century monastery.” He prays, reads, listens, learns, and writes.
The Glynn County jail only allows correspondence on tiny pre-stamped postcards. Kelly (no relation to me) has mastered the art of condensing his thoughts into short messages. “Nuclear weapons will not go away by themselves,” he says.
Kelly’s co-defendants have served varying lengths of time in the Glynn County jail and several had to wear ankle monitors during home confinement. Liz McAllister’s scheduling hearing, by telephone, is set for June 8. The others are currently scheduled to be sentenced on June 29 and 30, although there is some talk of postponement. All face years in prison.
In October 2019, a jury found the Kings Bay Plowshares seven guilty of destruction and depredation of government property, trespassing, and conspiracy. Judge Lisa Godbey Wood ruled that the jury wouldn’t be allowed to hear expert witnesses or learn what motivated each of the seven to nonviolently resist nuclear weapons. She also refused to allow faith-based testimony.
In 2003, the Sisters of St. Brigid of Kildare, Ireland, asked me to speak at a retreat for people whose faith-based convictions motivated them to nonviolently resist the impending U.S. war against Iraq. During the retreat, I listened to the concerns of five people who felt they were ready to risk their lives and futures to join our Iraq Peace Team in Baghdad.
But when I returned to Baghdad, I learned they had instead committed a Plowshares action at Shannon Airport in County Clare, Ireland.
Parked on the tarmac of Shannon Airport was a U.S. Navy warplane. Ireland is a neutral country, and the activists believed they were justified in trying to prevent an Irish airport from being used to stage a belligerent war in Iraq, against civilians already beleaguered by earlier U.S. attacks and thirteen years of economic sanctions.
The activists easily reached the warplane and hammered on it. Harry Browne writes about the action in a book titled Hammered by the Irish.
Fortunately, the activists were represented by extremely talented lawyers.
The judge wouldn’t allow expert witnesses, and in fact the only defense witness she would allow to speak was me, since the five said they resolved to take action after hearing me speak at their retreat. She also declared there would be no faith-based testimony in her courtroom.
Although the judge insisted war was not going to be put on trial, she had to comply with Irish law, which allows lawyers to say anything they want in the final summation. Near the end of the trial, one of the defendants, Brendan Nix, (since deceased), a man sometimes referred to as the last of the great Irish orators, rose to speak.
Nix assured the judge and jury that the greatest pacifist of all time was Jesus of Nazareth and the greatest pacifist document ever written was the Sermon on the Mount, adding “and I’m about to read it to you right now!”
Finishing the Beatitudes, Nix pointed to the defendants and described them as people who didn’t practice their faith as though they were at the delicatessen, choosing a bit of this or rejecting that. “They believe in their faith!” he said.
Nix reminisced to the jury about how happy he’d felt, recently, listening to children at play in a park near his home. The children chased the geese up a hill and then the geese chased the children downhill. What could be more beautiful than the sound of children at play?
Then he began telling about children in Lebanon, whose parents had taken them for a dip in the park the previous day. His face suddenly seemed to glower as he roared out that the children were dying in a pool of their own blood. He described an Israeli missile blasting into the swimming hole, killing them. And then it was as though he was putting all of us on trial.
“Would you not try, if you could, to stop a Hezbollah missile from slamming into southern Israel?” Nix demanded. “Would you not try, if you could, to stop an Israeli missile from slamming into a swimming hole in Lebanon? The question isn’t ‘Did these five have a lawful excuse to do what they did!’ The question is: “What’s our excuse not to do more?! What will rise ye?!’ ”
The jury acquitted the five defendants on all five counts. The lawyers had been able to skillfully introduce a necessity defense, which U.S. courts typically do not allow. This defense holds that an action is justified if done in order to prevent a greater harm.
The U.S. laws protect those who develop, store, sell, and use weapons. Those who call for disarmament and try to sound an alarm regarding the omnicidal consequences of nuclear weapons are tried narrowly on issues of property damage and trespass.
This past week, riots have broken out in cities across the United States as protesters have vented frustration and rage following the murder of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Some observers have rushed to judge the protesters, highlighting the irrationality of looting and burning buildings in their own neighborhoods, ruining places that might even provide them services or jobs.
Yet what could be more self-defeating and irrational than spending more money on nuclear weapons and possibly conducting nuclear bomb tests. Why squander resources on military capacity to burn other people’s homes and cities?
The prophet Isaiah’s vision arouses action on the part of people longing to build a better world. Nix’s questions should be ours today: What’s our excuse not to do more? What will rise us?
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With the leadership of the U.S. Postal Service soon to be completely under the control of President Donald Trump’s appointees, the agency has reportedly launched a review of its package prices and bulk delivery contracts as it faces the possibility of imminent collapse due in large part to the coronavirus crisis.
According to the Washington Post, USPS has in recent weeks “sought bids from consulting firms to reassess what it charges companies such as Amazon, UPS, and FedEx to deliver products on their behalf — often in the ‘last mile’ between a post office and a customer’s home.”
“The moves… underscore how Trump is moving closer to reshaping an independent agency he has dubbed ‘a joke,’” the Post reported Thursday, citing anonymous sources familiar with USPS decision-making. “Higher package rates would cost shippers and online retailers billions of dollars, potentially spurring them to invest in their own distribution networks instead of relying on the Postal Service.”
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Trump has threatened to block any emergency funding for the Postal Service if it does not agree to quadruple its package prices, a move that critics say would hurt small businesses more than large companies like Amazon, a frequent target of the president’s ire.
“President Trump’s clear intent is to raise prices and force a crisis at the Post Office so that his political benefactors at the corporate shippers can increase their company profits at the expense of the people,” warned the 200,000-member American Postal Workers Union. “Trump’s plan to increase package prices by four or five times would hasten the demise of the public U.S. Postal Service and end affordable, universal delivery to every address in the country.”
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) tweeted Thursday that “the president’s political agenda against the USPS is wrong and dangerous.”
“Higher package rates make it much harder for working Americans to get what they need — USPS is a vital public service and we need to provide relief to make sure it stays that way,” said Udall.
News of the Postal Service’s decision to launch a review of its prices comes as the Treasury Department is attempting to impose changes on the agency in exchange for a $10 billion emergency loan approved by Congress in March.
“Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have sought to attach terms to a $10 billion emergency loan to the USPS that would allow the administration to dictate package prices, review, and alter bulk-discount contracts known as negotiated service agreements (NSAs), appoint the next postmaster general, and direct negotiations with labor unions,” the Post reported.
The Trump administration’s interference with the independent government agency angered David Williams, the former vice chairman of the USPS Board of Governors who resigned in protest on April 30.
Just days later, on May 8, Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman also submitted his resignation, with some reporting indicating that he was forced out of his position. Stroman’s resignation, which will take effect on June 1, was particularly alarming to progressives because of his crucial role as the USPS point-man on mail-in voting.
“Stroman’s untimely departure signals deepening chaos and disruption inside the Postal Service at a critical moment during the 2020 election season,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We call on Congress to convene oversight hearings to determine whether the recent wave of leadership shifts at the Postal Service stands to harm the public by jeopardizing implementation of the Census and vote-by-mail amid the pandemic.”
Last week, as Common Dreams reported, the USPS Board of Governors announced its selection of Louis DeJoy, a top GOP and Trump donor, to serve as postmaster general following the retirement of current Postal Service chief Megan Brennan on June 15.
DeJoy will take charge of the agency as it faces an existential crisis: Brennan warned Congress last month that the Postal Service could completely run out of money by the end of September without an infusion of $75 billion in emergency funding.
USPS has been hit hard by the decline in mail volume caused by the coronavirus pandemic and it remains shackled by a 2006 congressional mandate requiring the agency to prefund its retirees health benefits through the year 2056. Unions representing postal workers have repeatedly warned that Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration could attempt to exploit the Covid-19 crisis to advance their longstanding goal of privatizing the agency.
House Democrats, in their $3 trillion HEROES Act, are proposing $25 billion in emergency funding for the Postal Service and attempting to bar the Trump administration from attaching conditions to the $10 billion loan authorized by previous coronavirus stimulus legislation.
“At the very moment House Democrats are trying to rescue the Postal Service by providing emergency cash and removing onerous loan terms, the president and his cronies continue to try and leverage this pandemic to privatize and dismantle the USPS,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told the Post. “It’s shameful and will hurt every American and business.”
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A selection of some of the most striking news photographs taken around the world this week. All photographs belong to the copyright holders as marked.Read More
A selection of some of the most striking news photographs taken around the world this week. All photographs belong to the copyright holders as marked.Read More