Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Ports and Courts Supplemental Material

Michael Seifert
ACLU of Texas Border Advocacy Strategist
Brownsville Office
956 459 6827

With occasional commentary at

Michael Seifert
ACLU of Texas Border Advocacy Strategist
Brownsville Office
956 459 6827
With occasional commentary at

The Communities of the Rio Grande Valley, Texas

·         1.5 million people live in the four counties that make up what is known as the Rio Grande Valley.
·         300,000 of the residents live in unincorporated communities known as “colonias”
·         “Mixed-status” families (the same family with US citizens, or legal permanent residents sharing life with unauthorized people), form a part of the heart and soul of our Valley.
·         The poorest region in the USA has no public hospital.
·         Border Patrol checkpoints on the two highways leading out of the region restrict access to needed medical care for families of mixed immigration status. A potentially fatal chokepoint in case of hurricane evacuation.
·         According to FBI statistics, the area is one of the safest (in terms of violent crime). Despite this, it is a militarized zone with:
ü  More than 3,000 Border Patrol Agents (a workload of roughly three (3) arrests per agent per month).
ü  230 State Troopers
ü  1000 National Guardsmen
ü  Local police under the strictures of SB 4 (Texas’ anti “sanctuary cities (sic)” law)

Updated material will be at the foot of this document


A guide to understand some of those most common misperceptions around immigration:
Since January 2018
A scholar sets out how the Trump anti-immigrant machine got set into place:
The Fresh Air interview with the author is excellent:

Immigration and the Rio Grande Valley
How the federal government came to adopt the notion that it is ok for people to die trying to save their lives:

State troopers use a sniper who kills two immigrants just outside of McAllen:

State troopers roam our neighborhoods, hunting human beings:

In Court: The Government Does Not Want You to See This

A sketch artist goes to immigration court (be sure to watch her video at this site):

A volunteer lawyer goes to try and observe court in the famous “tent courts” recently set up to block public access to the lack of due process and justice for asylum seekers now a part of our national pastime:

The Border Wall

Bottom line: Residents of the Rio Grande Valley are overwhelmingly against the construction of a border wall. We already have an existing border wall which has been unnecessary (the amount of immigration is at an all-time low; terrorists, drugs and other threats to our nation's well-being come through the border across bridges (smuggled in) or through our northern border.

There are currently more than sixty miles of border presently in place. This construction causes flooding, pushes immigrants into more dangerous crossing areas (remember that most immigrants are young families seeking to surrender to Border Patrol), and benefits human smugglers and government contractors.

For a comprehensive explanation of the wall:

Our New Friends:  Immigrants fleeing violence

Samantha Bee offers an irreverent, but accurate overview of what asylum seekers experience crossing into the Rio Grande Valley:

A moment of great shame was the release of the audio of the screams and tears of children separated from their parents:

Local attorney Jodi Goodwin helps reunite a mother and her child.

Ports of Entry:

On April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions notified all U.S. Attorney’s Offices along the Southwest Border of a new “zero-tolerance policy” for offenses under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a), which prohibits both attempted illegal entry and illegal entry into the United States by an alien. A person who entered the United States, but avoided inspection by a Customs and Border Protection agent could be charged with this crime. In the past, Border Patrol used their discretion whether or not to enforce this offense.  With this announcement, the discretion was removed from CBP and all people who were apprehended were charged with this violation.

Why this matters:
1.      Adults who were in CBP detention centers would be brought to federal magistrate’s court for the hearing on this charge. During their absence, federal agents would remove children from the facility and place them with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). More than 2800 children were separated during this time.
2.      This action was one more in a series of moves by the federal government designed to criminalize and humiliate asylum seekers.

Starting June 15, 2018, Customs and Border Patrol agents (CBP) began refusing to allow people seeking asylum their right to a timely entrance into the USA. Before this, asylum seekers would typically cross the international bridge, go inside the Customs and Border Protection offices, present themselves to an officer, and tell the official that they were seeking asylum. After June 15, CBP stationed two or three armed agents at the International Boundary Line on the bridges, stopping asylum seekers for setting foot into the United States.

Why this matters:
1.       There is now no “right way” to enter into the United States. Even is an individual wanted to follow the rules, the US blocks this process from the beginning

Asylum-seeking families were made to wait on the international bridges without access to food, water or restroom facilities. The US would admit only two or three individuals a day, a process that authorities have quietly acknowledged came “from above.”  After the Mexican election (July 1, 2018), Mexican immigration agents began to inspect refugees at the bridge, refusing entry to those without travel documents, detaining and deporting many. During this time, immigrants created a self-organized “list” of those awaiting entry. The list was taken over by the Mexican immigration authorities on the Gateway bridge, demanding bribes of up to $500 for people to jump line on the list.

Over the year, the number of people waiting in Matamoros grew to a thousand people, half of them children. Volunteers from Brownsville and from across the United States responded, offering basic necessities (food, water and other basic needs). There was no access to public restrooms or showers. Many people decided to cross the Rio Grande to enter; most people coming to the northern border were not given the option by their smugglers of even going to the bridge.

On June 10th, 2019, the US threatened Mexico with tariffs if they failed to cooperate with the US in preventing Central Americans from coming to the border with the United States. The president of Mexico created a special national guard charged with enforcing Mexican (read, “American”) immigration law.

On July 19, 2019, the United States implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols in Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley. Asylum seekers who managed to cross into the United States were processed, and then returned to Mexico where they were to await their court date. Several large “soft-sided” structures were set up next to the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville. These were intentionally constructed on federal land so as to more easily block access to these courts that are supposed to be open to the public.

Asylum seekers who have been given a hearing date are to report to CBP officers on the bridge at 4a.m. where they are inspected for lice and other skin diseases. If one passes this inspection, the hearing takes place with a judge on a video camera. There is no public access to these hearings (in the actual tent court). One can witness the hearing from an immigration court from which the judge is presiding (in Harlingen), although this access is limited as well if the judge is broadcasting from the Port Isabel Processing Center.

Detention Facilities:

The Customs Border Protection operates a number of processing/detention centers in the Rio Grande Valley. These were the sites of the infamous “iceboxes” and “dog kennels.” The ACLU of Texas staff interviewed hundreds of people who were detained in these facilities. The testimonies were horrific evidence of wide-spread abuse of children, of adults, and of our law.

The facilities:

Recently released reports from the internal review of Customs and Border Protection’s detention practices:

New additions to this document:

Ports and Courts opinion piece published:

Immigration as deterrance does not work

Interesting podcast episode attempts to keep Latin American migrants out of the US have had the opposite impact

We built a wall to keep Mexican migrants out. In fact, the wall has kept them in. People who would otherwise have gone home stayed so long they've put down roots. In March of 2016, Douglas Massey, along with Jorge Durand and Karen Pren, published a brilliant paper in the American Journal of Sociology, Why Border Enforcement Backfired, in which they ask a hypothetical question. What would have happened if the United States had done nothing over the past 30 years, frozen the budget and staff of the border patrol at 1986 levels, allowed for some circular migration?
The researchers estimate the undocumented Mexican population of the US would be about a third lower, a third lower than it is now. This is according to the people who know more than anyone else about Mexican migration, who have access to one of the biggest immigration databases in the world, and what is their conclusion? That the attempt to solve the problem of illegal Mexican migrants is what has caused the problem of illegal Mexican migrants. You can just hear the frustration in Douglas Massey's voice.
For me, I've been watching this train wreck in real time for the past two decades, really. And I kept trying to tell people that when it comes to border enforcement, less is more and if you militarize the border, you're going to produce a larger undocumented population. I said this before the House Judiciary Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Immigration.
And what happens after Massey testifies? The same thing happens every time. Nothing.
And then the ranking minority member, who's Representative King from Texas, gets up and basically says, "Take your lying data and go home because we know what the truth is. We're being invaded and we've got to stop this."
Massey says we need to do the exact opposite of what we're doing now. When we raised the cost of crossing the border, that shut down circulation. If you want to restore circulation, then you should make the border easier to cross, reduce the size of the Border Patrol; don't increase it. Make it easier for migrants to get legal status; not harder.
If you want to lower the number of Mexicans living in the United States, give them green cards and a lot of them will go home. The US is not that nice of a place for people, for Mexicans these days, but they have families here. They've got US-born kids and, if they know they can come back, they'll go home.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Redistricting field hearings

A huge opportunity for us to directly impact our electoral history is coming up in a couple of weeks. The House of Representatives will hold field hearings in Edinburg on Friday, December 13, 2019 at 3:00 PM (Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, Conference Halls A & B located at 118 Paseo Del Prado, Edinburg, TX 78539) and in Harlingen on Saturday, December 14, 2019 – 11:00 AM at Texas State Technical College Cultural Arts Center located at 1825 N. Loop 499, Harlingen, Texas 78550.

This is a chance to directly address issues around the manner in which voting districts are drawn.

To that end, the ACLU of Texas, the League of Women Voters and others are offering a workshop (to help prepare comments) in Brownsville, this coming Saturday from 2:30-4:30pm at the Brownsville Public Library, 2600 Central Blvd, Brownsville, TX 78520

Please preregister here
Below is information about field hearing as well as some resources from the League of Women Voters of Texas on how to develop your testimony. In the field hearing link, you can find resources for parking as well as a map of the building. Please arrive at least 30 minutes early so you can register to testify. There should be either an iPad kiosk or a form to register. If you aren’t able to make it to the hearing to testify, you can email, call, or write letters to the lawmakers on the House Redistricting Committee: Redistricting Committee. (Important links below)

Information about the hearings happening in Edinburg and Harlingen.
               WHATEdinburg redistricting field hearing
WHEN: Friday, December 13, 2019 – 3:00 PM
WHERE: Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, Conference Halls A & B located at 118 Paseo Del Prado, Edinburg, TX 78539

WHEN: Saturday, December 14, 2019 – 11:00 AM
WHERE: Texas State Technical College Cultural Arts Center located at 1825 N. Loop 499, Harlingen, Texas 78550
 If you can't make the training sessions, here are some helpful resources to help you with writing your testimony:
 Important LINKS:

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Stranger as Threat

The Threat of the Outsider

For our purpose of understanding "the stranger" in biblical terms, it is important to acknowledge the likely connection between the general sociological term "habiru" and the odd, nameless hovering mass of unnamed humanity  mentioned often in the texts of the "insiders" as being at various times an inconvenience, a worry, and a serious threat.

The habiru are the large mass of people who can find no right "place" in the system, perhaps because they do not sufficiently conform, and perhaps because the community needs some outsiders for the menial functions of society. In the texts, the habiru are marginal people who in good times did menial work, in war times might have been hired cannon fodder, and in bad times lived by raids and terrorism, because they did not have any approved modes of access to land, power, or even food.

While at times useful to the established social system of the empire, the habiru were generally a threat. The empires used great energy to contain, administer, resist, and when possible nullify and eliminate them. It is in the character of the empire to want to include everyone on its own terms, everyone who will accept the dominant norms, who will perform according to approved expectations, and who will accept a system of benefits which may be unequal but is nonetheless less normative.

While wanting to include everyone, however, it is also the case that the empire exists for and by the uneven distribution of goods. The necessary and inevitable social stratification dictates that some will have more, some much less, and perhaps some will have nothing.'

That disproportion is what a socio-economic political monopoly is all about. The monopoly is not an accidental by-product, but the point of such power. Those who do not benefit from that disproportion are inherently a threat, because sooner or later, they notice the disproportion and want it adjusted. As they become a threat, the outsiders must be kept at a distance. One way of maintaining such social distance is by labeling as "stranger" the ones who do not conform enough to be included "in."

For our purpose of understanding "the stranger" in biblical terms, it is important to acknowledge the likely connection between the general sociological term "habiru"and the biblical term "Hebrew," which most scholars believe is simply an alternative rendering.

"Hebrew" apparently comes from the verb 'abar, to "cross over." Thus the Hebrew is one who crosses over boundaries, who has no respect for imperial boundaries, is not confined by such boundaries, and crosses them in desperate quest of the necessities of life. The Hebrew is driven by the urgent issue of survival. Note that the term "Hebrew" is not, in this reading, an ethnic term but a sociological category referring to those who are not contained in or sustained by the social system but who must live outside the system and its resources and benefits. Thus we can conclude that the people who finally become the "people of God" in the Old Testament are some among those whom the empire had declared "strangers," "outsiders," "threat."

While the position of the outsider is often rooted in political and economic matters, there is a different distinction between insider and outsider in Gen. 43:32. In the midst of the Joseph narrative, it is written of Joseph:

They served him by himself, and them by themselves, because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.

The distinction between Joseph and the Egyptians is not ethnic but sociological. The Egyptians in the narrative are an embodiment of the Egyptian empire, the classic insiders. Joseph is a Hebrew, an outsider who does not qualify to eat with the imperial insiders. This verse provides important clues for our understanding of the stranger:

1. The text contrasts Egyptians and habiru, those in the empire who control the monopoly and those who are disqualified outsiders.

2. The contrast concerns access to food and, therefore, to life, worth, security, and dignity. "Food" refers to the means of life. But it also concerns the most intimate of social transactions, where social distinctions are likely to be most rigorously observed.

3. The contrast concerns the issue of social power, but the matter of power is articulated as a religious-moral matter. The word "abomination" (to'eveh) suggests that the Hebrews are morally inferior socially dangerous, and ritually impure. It is remarkable how sociological distinctions become reflected in ritual categories.

4. The biblical narrative notices the oddity of this arrangement of eating and therefore of social power. The narrator makes no explicit comment, but the fact that the eating arrangement is mentioned at all means that full notice is taken by the narrator of the discrimination.

The biblical narrative is restless with this social arrangement of discrimination that the empire had come to regard as routine. Creating outsiders is initially done to have a means of monopoly from which some are excluded. This monopoly of power is readily translated into a monopoly of sanctity and virtue, of holiness and righteousness.

In the Old Testament, this ritualizing of social distinction is carefully articulated in terms of laws of purity that concern food, the priesthood, and sexuality. In Leviticus and Ezekiel especially, we find an intense sorting out of what is acceptable and unacceptable, the unacceptable being categories treated as morally inferior, socially dangerous, and ritually impure. But these "religious" categories are never far removed from the realities of social power and access to social goods. In the New Testament, this way of identifying, categorizing, processing, and administering strangers shows up in Jesus' legal disputes with the advocates of the laws of holiness and righteousness (cf. Mark 7).

The practice of defilement and uncleanness turns out to be a labeling process with enormous social implications.

Landless and Not Belonging

I suggest now a third dimension of generating strangers that is intimately tied to the first two and may in fact be more foundational: strangers are those who do not have land, who are not judged as entitled to it, and who have no chance of acquiring any of the land." Thus the "Hebrews" are those who "cross over" (abar), trespass, pass, do not respect the property or property rights of others because they are so desperate or resentful that they will not finally acknowledge edge present social settlements.

It is not accidental that strangers in our society are often experienced as dis-placed persons, that is, people without a place. They have no place (or have lost it) because the social system, with its capacity for inclusion and exclusion, has in fact assigned their place to another and so denied them any safe place of their own.'

Strangers are often those who are cut out of the history of the land, denied the fruit of the land, and therefore denied social power, social security, or social worth. Every society, including eventually the Israelite community itself,  has clear rules about who may own land, how to acquire land, and how to retain it. But the rules governing possession are made by those who have and know how to get land, so whenever those rules are made, some end up without land. When some are excluded from the land, they do not belong, do not have voice or vote, do not know how to penetrate the closed systems of legislation and the courts) Finally, they drop from view and no longer exist.  

Very often those denied land will settle for such a fate decreed by the landed. They become passive, docile, and hopeless; even then, however, they continue to be an unsettling presence, worrisome, and embarrassing. On occasion, those consigned to "nonexistence" refuse to accept their fate. They want in; they push, insist, and become a threat. Either way, in docile despair or hope-filled insistence,  the outsider is always a threat to those who own, control, and administer land, goods, power, sanctity, and virtue.

Walter Brueggemann. Interpretation and Obedience

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Hidden Courts, Hidden Injustices

Testimony from Deirde Roney and friends:

Here are our notes on our attempt to gain access to the secret tent courts at the bridge on 10/10/2019:
"Deirdre Roney, Darleen G and Rob R approached the secret tent courts. We spoke with immigration attorney Kenna Giffin who shared a wealth of information with us on the sidewalk. She ended our conversation when the guards appeared and she asked, are my clients here, they said something I didn’t hear and then she said, Oh that’s great, thank you and gave them a thumbs up and said she had to go see her clients.
Then we approached the three male guards at the entrance, Moreno, Diaz and Garza. They were wearing a uniform labeled, Paragon Security Systems. We asked to enter the courts to observe the proceedings. They asked if I was an attorney. I said yes. They asked if I had clients here. I said no. They said that we could not enter unless we were lawyers appearing with our clients, lawyers who had gone through an application and screening process. I said citizens cannot enter to observe? No they cannot, they answered. I asked whether journalists could get access. No, they answered.
They referred us to the Public Affairs office. I asked why they were referring us to a publicity person. Does that person have any authority over security measures? No, they answered. I said we want to talk with someone who has authority to grant access and who can explain why we can’t have it, because every other court I’ve been to in our country citizens and journalists can observe proceedings. They said that if we went to the Public Affairs office we could fill out paperwork and get screened and then maybe we could observe. I said, but you just told me that no one but lawyers can get access so why would they have application paperwork available for citizens and journalists? I don’t understand why we can’t enter and I don’t understand why are you referring me to a person who doesn’t have authority to grant access.
Deputy Garza said, I’m not going to go back and forth with you. I’m going to get my supervisor. Great, I said. After he left, I asked Deputy Moreno if Paragon Security Services was a private company. He said, yes. I said, why does a private company provide security for our public court system? He said he didn’t want to answer my questions anymore.
Deputy Douglas of the Federal Police Service appeared. I asked if we could enter the courts and observe the proceedings. He said there weren’t any proceedings happening today, all the courts were shut down because of what was happening on the bridge. [We'd just observed Kenna GIffin enter the secret tent courts on the information that her client was present and that they could proceed today.] He said that we could go to Harlingen if we want to observe court proceedings. I said I did not want to go to Harlingen. I want to observe these court proceedings.
Officer Douglas said that only lawyers with their clients can enter the courts. I said that in our country court proceedings are public everywhere else, citizens and journalists can enter and observe, why can’t they do so here. He said because of heightened security needs because the court is in a port of entry. I said who owns this land. He said the port authority. I pointed to the tents and said, these are courts not port facilities, right. He agreed. I said that in every other court I’ve been in the country it has been sufficient to protect everyone with metal detectors and wands and guards who pat people down. You are wearing your bulletproof vests and you all are armed with guns, just like court guards in other courthouses. What is different about these courts – not their location – but these courts?
Officer Douglas said that if we wanted to know more he would refer us to the Public Affairs office. I said, do they have authority over you? No, he said. Do they have the power to grant access to these courts? No, he said, but they can give you the paperwork to apply to get clearance and go through the process to enter these courts. I replied, you just told me that only lawyers with clients get access.
I asked, who is your supervisor, Officer Douglas? If you have a question or want clarity on something or need authority to do something, to whom do you report? I want to ask your supervisor why we can’t get access. He said, I report to Gary Weaver. Gary Weaver, I asked. Yes, Gary Weaver, he said. Where is he located, I asked. Officer Douglas pointed to the building next door to the court nearer to the bridge. Over there in that building, he said. I pointed to the building, that building right there: Mr. Gary Weaver is in that building right there? Yes, Officer Douglas said. For whom does Mr. Gary Weaver work? The CBP Port Authority, he answered. The CBP Port Authority, I asked, right there in that building? He said yes.
We went into the building Officer Douglas indicated and saw three customs and border patrol officers wearing bullet proof vests and armed. We asked to see Mr. Gary Weaver. All three officers said this building is a customs building not a port of authority border patrol building. In addition, they all said there is no Mr Gary Weaver here. I asked well where is the CBP Port Authority building. They said there are three and they are all several miles away. I said, well that’s weird because Officer Douglas just told us to come here into this building to talk to his supervisor, Mr. Gary Weaver.
One officer then said to another, “this has to do with the MFF”. When I repeatedly asked what MFF stood for the officers refused to tell me, repeatedly saying it stood for nothing and that they had to go."
So that was our experience trying to get into the tent courts.
Obviously, Officer Douglas lied to us. We googled CBP and Gary Weaver and we found a Gary Weaver CBP Technology Officer who won an award in 2017 and when he was located in Tucson AZ he was referenced in this article:"

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Immigration Judge: I Don't Believe You

From Virginia Raymond:


Imagine being a woman walking with a bag of groceries and personal hygiene needs. You are on the street. iIt is daylight. there are kids playing and women sitting in their frontyards.

You see four guys walking towards you. You can see that one is carrying a firearm. You deduce that from their clothing and bearing and tattoos that they are gang members, bc you are in a country in Central America where every neighborhood is controlled by a gang. it is your second day back in this country since your mother took you, your siblings, and your close cousin away, when you were ten years old.

You note another group of men, also ranging in age between approximately 17-30 years old, across the street. you hear them call to each other. you hear, Stop her.

The men walk faster and now all eight are behind you. you are walking faster, too, but four of the man get in front of you. And now the group has encircled you. You can see now that all of the “new” group of four men are carrying weapons. Five of the eight men who have surrounded you on the street have guns.

The children have all scattered...they’ve run to hide.

One of the armed men demands to know if you are a boy or a girl. You say you’re a girl. They are calling you names, vulgar names. They’re saying you look more like a guy. 

The man face to face with you pulls up your sweatshirt to look at your breasts. As he does this, you drop both your shopping bags.

The man behinds you pulls down your pants. He yells to the guy in front of you: see if she has a penis.

The armed men are all yelling at once. You pull up your pants. The people in their yards watch silently. You are humiliated, less than a person. 

Months later, your lawyer will ask if you’ve ever seen an adult undress another adult in broad daylight in the middle of a street. The ICE lawyer will object. Your lawyer will ask if you’ve ever seen anyone turn a kitten or puppy or an animal over to inspect the animal’s genitals. The ICE lawyer will object, saying this is not relevant . The judge will ask your lawyer to respond to the objection.

Your lawyer will say because this is not something we do to human beings. This is cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment, your honor, that’s why.

And you answer and both you and your lawyer are weeping. 

You can’t see the tiny face of the tiny judge on the screen. Your lawyer says, we both need a break, your honor. The judge grants a ten minute “comfort break.”

The bailiff reminds your lawyer for the second time today that she’s not allowed to touch you. The bailiff wants you to know, This is not my rule! Your lawyer confirms this, saying he, the bailiff, is a compassionate man.

The bailiff accompanies each of you out of the locked room, each to the bathroom that each of you — belonging to separate categories of personhood - may use. Altogether about six un-lockings and re-lockings of doors.

When you get back in the room that’s used as a “courtroom,” your lawyer apologizes again for what she is about to ask you. At the beginning of the hearing, she had asked the ICE lawyer if she would agree to stipulate to the fact that you are a lesbian. That way we won’t have to go through your sexual history. But the ICE lawyer says no, she will NOT so stipulate. You are going to have to testify that you’re a lesbian. Prove it.

So that’s what happens next. Do you remember your first sexual experience..... all these questions, until the judge finally interrupts and asks the ICE lawyer if she needs to hear more.  Or is she satisfied that you are a lesbian. She says she doesn’t need to hear any more.

Later, the judge will rule that he doesn’t believe this happened, because the asylum officer who conducted the reasonable fear interview did not write any of the things you’re now claiming happened down….  You say you had no idea what “particular social group” meant. 

And anyway, what you say happened was not persecution. There was no serious physical injury, no lasting physical damage, and you did not seek medical treatment.

con cariño,