Great journalism lives at the crossroads of facts and imagination

Great journalism lives at the crossroads of facts and imagination. Bill Boyarsky makes his facts sing and us care about his songs.-- blj
Immigration Detention Centers Put Rule of Law to Shame
Bill Boyarsky
These are prisons—unnoticed by most—where immigrants who often have committed no crime are held in limbo, sometimes locked up for years in centers located in small towns far from their homes, families and friends. Their complaints of rape and other abuses are generally ignored. It’s all but impossible for these inmates to get a lawyer. They are trapped in an example of the police state methods the Trump administration would like to impose on the rest of us.
The centers have operated since the 1980s. They were expanded after the 9/11 attacks. Increasingly harsh treatment of immigrants continued under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama but has intensified drastically in the Trump administration, which plans to build more detention centers, hire more immigration cops and make it easier to arrest and deport immigrants.
In January 2017, Trump issued an executive order telling immigration agents to not only deport those convicted of serious crimes—the Obama administration standard—but also those they believe have committed acts that “constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”
These people are placed in detention centers whose population includes many immigrants who have not committed any crimes at all. More than 400,000 immigrants are imprisoned every year in 249 detention centers under control of the Department of Homeland Security’s immigrant enforcement arm, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Some inmates are in the United States without documents that permit them to be here, which is a civil violation, rather than a criminal offense. Others have documents, including the green card, which gives them permission to be in the United States. But they may have come to the attention of ICE by driving under the influence, which in most cases is not a felony, or by committing lesser offenses.
Others are citizens, arrested by immigration cops suspicious of dark skins and accents and attracted by faulty brake lights or some other minor automotive defect. It’s up to these people to prove they are citizens. Do you carry your passport or birth certificate with you when you leave home? If you have a dark skin and an accent, you should.
In April, the plight of these immigrants got a rare airing when Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), an immigrant advocacy organization, filed a civil rights complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. The complaint charged that Homeland Security received a total of 33,126 complaints of sexual and other physical abuse from January 2010 to July 2016, but only 225 were investigated.
“The data is particularly disturbing given that rape and sexual assault are known to be highly underreported in immigration detention facilities due to fears of retaliation, social isolation, language barriers and the knowledge that allegations are not seriously investigated,” said Rebecca Merton, independent monitor and program coordinator of CIVIC’s National Visitation Network.
CIVIC is one of a number of activist grass-roots groups that are standing up for immigrants. Its members verbally battle their way into detention centers to inspect them and to force reluctant jailers to permit relatives to visit the prisoners.
David Manuel Hernandez of UCLA explained in a paper that such jailings are considered administrative, not punitive, a fine point of law that allows ICE to keep such immigrants in detention, often for many months or even years. The immigrants, once detained, can continue to be held while immigration authorities investigate their backgrounds, searching for reasons to deport them.
“They are not being held for punishment of a crime,” Christina Fialho, CIVIC co-founder and executive director, told me.
“Many people we work with said immigration detention is far worse than prison, ” she added. “That’s because … it is not supposed to be punishment, (so) they are not protected by the laws. … Inmates there have no rights to a court-appointed attorney, no right to a phone call, no legally protected right to be visited by family and friends.”
The detention centers operate under a system that frees them from accountability for the conduct of the jailers who run them.
“Sexual abuse in immigration detention is clouded in secrecy,” CIVIC said in its complaint to the Department of Homeland Security. “People in immigration detention are afraid to file grievances for fear of retaliation, complaints are promptly closed or not investigated and government data on sexual abuse is routinely withheld.”
The secrecy is maximized by the way the detention centers are operated—mostly by two big private companies, the GEO Group and CoreCivic, which have contracts to run them. Detention center guards work for the private companies. “They don’t have good training for their guards, and since the whole system operates out of public sight, the guards who perpetrate this are going unpunished,” Fialho said.
I contacted ICE for comment on Dec. 21, but have not heard back. The agency, however, gave this comment to NBC when CIVIC filed its complaint: “During the 6-year time frame covered by this report, ICE, for instance, recorded more than two million admissions to its detention facilities nationwide. While ICE’s goal is to prevent all sexual abuse among its custody population, given the volume of individuals who annually pass through its detention system, the agency believes the overall incidence of such activity is very low.”
As usual with Trump, rhetoric rules, on immigration and other matters—at least rhetoric as he expresses it on Twitter. But to understand the immigration story, you have to go behind the rhetoric and look into administration intentions—jail people and keep them locked up under dangerous conditions until they can be deported, waiting for a hearing in overloaded immigration courts with their infamous waiting lists.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who runs the Justice Department, is calling the shots, along with Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, who headed the Department of Homeland Security. Their eagerness to lock up immigrants and throw away the key may be a road map for how they will try to change the entire criminal justice system in Trump’s remaining years in office.
Housing-homeless up to Garcetti, Ridley-Thomas
By Bill Boyarsky
Pressure will be heavy in the coming year on Mayor Eric Garcetti and county supervisors board chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas to show much more progress with the so-far insoluble housing-homeless problem.
They are the two most powerful and prominent elected officials in our tangle of local government, which consists of Los Angeles County, the city of Los Angeles and 87 other cities within the county boundaries.
Garcetti was the prime backer of the city's $1.2 billion Los Angeles city bond, Measure HHH, to build housing for the homeless. Ridley-Thomas was the most vocal and active of the five supervisors campaigning for a separate measure, the quarter-cent sales tax that voters approved in March to provide mental health, substance abuse counseling and other services for the homeless. The way it is supposed to work is that the bond will finance apartments and county funds will provide for social workers, nurses, doctors and counselors for the residents. Help and housing, all in the same building.
The other four supervisors will hate this column for singling out Ridley-Thomas. They all think they are queens and kings of their sprawling districts. The Los Angeles City Council members will hate it too. They are under the impression they are royalty in their districts. To them, the mayor is an annoyance, detracting from their glory.
But Garcetti is the political leader of the city, with great appointive and budget power. Of the county supes, Ridley-Thomas has more political smarts than his colleagues, with connections they can only dream of. And he is the most influential African American lawmaker in local government.
Right now, the homeless-housing situation is a mess. So many agencies are involved that I have found it impossible to get my arms around it. Their bosses speak in a bureaucratese that even I, well acquainted with the issue, find completely confusing.
City Atty. Mike Feuer says Los Angeles needs hire someone to lead the effort. We already did that when we elected Garcetti to another term. Garcetti should get a daily report on what's being done with the bond money to provide housing--and for constructing shelters in the short term. And he should share the information with us.
As for Ridley-Thomas, he should use his power and smarts to hammer county mental officials to provide the services the homeless need. I've seen the pages of questions that homeless people must answer to get into the system that is supposed to provide them help. Believe me, this bureaucratic approach makes it almost hopeless.
Everyone who walks by the growing number of homeless encampments wants to know who is to blame. Well-meaning and industrious reporters offer explanations. But journalists get lost in the weeds of the homeless-housing issue. I know. I've been lost in those weeds, too.
Let's make it simple and bring it down to two people with the power to clean up the mess--Mayor Garcetti and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.
As City Atty. Feuer and Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin said, this is an emergency. It's as bad as flood or fire. Garcetti and Ridley-Thomas should meet every week on it, and give joint public progress reports on their web sites, Twitter and Facebook and in press conferences. Hopefully, the local media will cover them. A shaken-up housing-homeless bureaucracy may start acting as first responders instead of desk jockeys.
It won't happen without Ridley-Thomas and Garcetti. Nothing will work unless they work together.
LA Observed
History matters even in Los Angeles
By Bill Boyarsky
Los Angeles, both forgetful and ignorant of its past, is constantly worrying about the future. The past, however, shapes the future, and that was the theme of a report released Thursday, Space To Lead: A Century of Civic Leadership In Los Angeles.
The report was done by Future of Cities: Los Angeles," an organization foundedand headed by civic and political activist Donna Bojarsky. I went to its unveiling, well attended by academics, politicians and others who worry about LA. It was held appropriately at La Plaza de Cultura Y Artes “ near where Los Angeles had been created by Spain.
The report noted the good and the bad. "If necessity is the mother of invention, the diffuse power structure of Los Angeles has necessitated an experimental aesthetic and sense of innovation often revered," the report said. "Yet there is a danger in such reverence because Los Angeles has a history of erasing or forgetting the past in pursuit of the reinvention of civic identity unmoored from historical precedents or ties. The destruction of Chavez Ravine and Bunker Hill are the best-known examples of this amnesia."
By chance--or through my own stupidity--I got a good view of the immensity of the task facing the futurists. I had made the usual male mistake of not reading directions. So I got off Metro at Seventh Street and walked to what I thought was the address, 501 Main Street. I ended up at Fifth and South Main, the gateway to Skid Row. I looked at the directions. The address was Fifth and North Main.
As I walked the 10 blocks to my destination, I saw the immense amount of work confronting those trying to build a better L.A. The revived downtown, increasingly beloved by millennials, is a few blocks south, in the Staples Center area. But I was on a neglected, uninviting portion of Main Street. The Los Angeles Theater, once one of America's great movie palaces, was gated. The single room occupancy hotels looked grim. Sad looking homeless people walked the streets.
Once I reached the "Space to Lead" event, I heard some of the speakers talk of the earlier L.A. when rich white male bosses build the old downtown but also created the conditions that led to its demise. The complex causes of homelessness--mental illness, substance abuse, racism, unaffordable rents and more--are rooted in the past of a city run by those who pretty much didn't look beyond their country clubs and mansions.
"A diverse city but not an inclusive city," Bojarsky said of today’s Los Angeles.
Hopefully, the city will blend its past with the far-different present. One of the speakers was Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu, a Korean American, who noted he was elected by a coalition of voters. City Councilman Bob Blumenfeld said his family "is a coalition." His wife is African America and they are raising their kids as Jews.
The report is useful, as was the gathering celebrating its release. It doesn't have definite answers but gives perspective to today's problems. "History matters, " said William Deverell, director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West.