July 20, 2021
Organizers with A Community Voice, ACORN’s Louisiana affiliate were suddenly burning up the phone lines in crisis mode. Members were being called for donations and responding. In the beginning I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Snippets of conversation that I caught in passing were trying to find out where Ferriday, Louisiana was located and how long a drive it might be. Callers were asking how many people owned vans or big Chevy Suburbans that could carry a crowd. Eventually, I was able to piece it together. ACV was responding to immigrant detainees from all over the world being held in Louisiana detention centers who were being released and, in many cases, simply left on the road without resources or translators in north and central Louisiana.
Days later this is a front-page story in the local papers and news sources, but ACV was responding to a call from allies and former staff members trying to arrange transportation for detainees to reunite with families after release. Louisiana has the second highest number of immigration detainees of any state in the country, even though the state doesn’t border any foreign country. Parish sheriffs running local corrections facilities seemingly couldn’t resist the lure of the top dollars being offered by ICE, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, for housing detainees. They liked the money and the ability to fill as many of their beds as possible as a mini-Hilton for immigrants, but they definitely didn’t like following the rules once their guests were released to pursue asylum appeals or stay with family awaiting backlogged immigration hearings.
ACV, joined other allies, in signing onto a civil rights complaint naming ICE, Homeland Security, Justice, and anyone who might force the law to be obeyed. The ICE rules are clear:
The time, point and manner of release from a facility shall be consistent with safety
considerations and shall take into account special vulnerabilities. Prior to release, the detainee shall be notified of the upcoming release and provided an opportunity to make a free phone call to facilitate release arrangements. Facilities that are not within a reasonable walking distance of, or that are more than one mile from, public transportation shall transport detainees to local bus/train/subway stations prior to the time the last bus/train leaves such stations for the day.
The local centers just did not follow them. In fact, in some cases they fabricated instructions (in English only) to cover their own violations. Instead, they were often not allowing a phone call to arrange transport. In many cases, they were forcing detainees to pay from $200 to $600, if they could raise it, to hire cabs to take them to train, bus, or plane. In some cases, they were sending them to centers that they knew were closed.
Volunteers, including ACV/ACORN members were having to step into the gap with 10-person vehicles heading north or when lucky to the Baton Rouge bus station to then ferry immigrants to the New Orleans airport to head home or more frequently to house with relatives elsewhere in the states. One load was from Argentina. Another was a mixture of Spanish-speaking Hondurans and French-speaking Cameroonians. The world comes to Louisiana only to be stranded and abandoned.
The complaint is demanding action from ICE to straighten out the Louisiana and Mississippi detention centers by the end of July. In the meantime, a good thing – release from detention centers – is becoming yet another hot mess in what should be understood as the scandalous and inhumane way that we are treating immigrants, in good times and bad.