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ICE Operations Continue Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

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  • As the coronavirus outbreak spreads, reports show that ICE agents have not slowed in their attempts to arrest undocumented immigrants across the U.S. 
  • Advocates argue that these operations should be suspended in the midst of the public health crisis and are calling for immigration courts to close.
  • Some are also pushing for those at high risk for the coronavirus to be released from immigration detainment centers, which are susceptible to high spreads.
  • ICE said they are taking precautionary measures but are still continuing daily operations.

ICE Arrests Carry On

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is continuing their arrests of undocumented immigrants during the coronavirus crisis, despite calls from many advocates and experts requesting that they temporarily suspend their operations.

On Sunday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom significantly boosted the state’s response to the pandemic when he ordered the closure of all bars, nightclubs, brewpubs, and wineries and encouraged all people over the age of 65 to stay home. But the Los Angeles Times revealed that just a day after this escalation, a group of ICE officers made rounds in the city to search for four of their targets. 

Though the agents greeted each other by bumping elbows instead of shaking hands and had respirator masks on deck just in case, they were not otherwise deterred by the coronavirus in their pursuits, nor by criticism they’ve received from immigrant advocates. According to the Los Angeles Times, this week more than 45 organizations have signed a letter to the Department of Homeland Security requesting that the enforcement actions of ICE be temporarily suspended.   

“We’re out here trying to protect the public by getting these criminal aliens off the street and out of our communities,” David Marin, the director of Enforcement and Removal Operations for ICE in L.A., told the Los Angeles Times. “Asking us to stop doing that basically gives those criminals another opportunity to maybe commit more crimes, to create more victims.” 

One of the individuals that the Los Angeles ICE agents handcuffed on Monday was Pedro Castillo Bravo, who was confronted on his way to work. Castillo had worries about his lack of food at home and the frenzy of panic buying. He had planned to pick up supplies and food on his way home that day.   

“I’m the head of the house,” Castillo told The Los Angeles Times, with the outlet reporting that he was teary-eyed. “If they have me here locked up, what about rent and food?”

ICE arrests don’t seem to be faltering anywhere else around the country either. In El Paso, Texas, raids in recent weeks have targeted small, Latino-owned businesses, which are prone to struggle during the outbreak. In Denver, there have been reports of arrests of at least two parents in the past week amid school closures. 

“It is reckless and extremely dangerous for ICE to be out there conducting hands-on arrests of people and then putting them in detention in what is a crowded facility that is just ripe for a disastrous outbreak,” Arash Jahanian of the Meyer Law Office, which handles local Denver immigration cases, told the Denver Post

Calls for Action

ICE said it is continuing daily operations. On their website, the agency noted that it does not conduct its operations at medical facilities “except under extraordinary circumstances,” which has been a concern of both public health and legal experts as it might deter undocumented immigrants from seeking needed medical help.  

ICE also noted that its agents are following CDC guidelines in terms of handling possible cases. 

“ICE transports individuals with moderate to severe symptoms, or those who require higher levels of care or monitoring, to appropriate hospitals with expertise in high risk care,” its website reads. “Detainees who do not have fever or symptoms, but meet CDC criteria for epidemiologic risk, are housed separately in a single cell, or as a group, depending on available space.”

While the ICE has suspended all social visits to immigration detention centers nationwide in efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus, many still have high concerns about the virus spreading among those detained. Similar fears have been rippling through the countries for those placed in federal prisons as well. In these places, the detainees typically live together in very tight quarters, making the preventative measure of social distancing impossible. Others have criticized and are worried about these facilities’ past displays of inadequate medical care and neglect.

“Immigration detention is like a cruise ship but obviously worse for many reasons,” Eunice Cho, a senior staff attorney and detention expert at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Mother Jones

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigration Rights Project filed a lawsuit demanding that nine individuals who are at high risk for the coronavirus be released from the Tacoma, Washington ICE detention center where they’re currently being held. The plaintiffs include those with an autoimmune disorder, lung disease, and epilepsy, among other ailments. 

“Release protects the people with the greatest vulnerability to COVID from transmission of the virus, and also allows for greater risk mitigation for all people held or working in a prison, jail, or detention center,” the lawsuit argues. 

“Release of the most vulnerable people from custody also reduces the burden on the region’s limited healthcare infrastructure, as it lessens the likelihood that an overwhelming number of people will become seriously ill from COVID-19 at the same time,” it said.

On Tuesday, immigration judges, attorneys for ICE employees, and public health agencies called for the immediate closure of all immigration courts for the time being to combat potential sharing of the virus during these gatherings. 

Also on Tuesday, in a turn of events, Guatemala closed its borders to U.S. deportations in fear of coronavirus cases striking their country. On their website, the ICE notes that it has been screening people’s temperatures before air charter removal from the country, but the Honduran government announced last week that three of its citizens who were deported from the U.S. exhibited symptoms of the coronavirus. 

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (CBS) (Washington Post)

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Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say

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The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.


COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card

Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.

Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.

On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.

The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.

Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.

The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.

Misuse of COVID Relief Funds

Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.

In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.

According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”

On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.

In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.

See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)

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FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses

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The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.


New FDA Authorization

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.

The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.

Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.

Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.

Hazy Recommendations, For Now

Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.

The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.

In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.

However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.

An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.

Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Paris Hilton Urges Lawmakers To Crack Down on Abusive Teen Treatment Facilities

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The heiress alleges that she was a victim of abuse in these types of centers for two years and wants to ensure that no child suffers through the same experience.


Paris Hilton Details Abuse Within “Troubled Teen Industry”

Socialite and entrepreneur Paris Hilton spoke outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to support the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which is set to be introduced in the near future.

Hilton joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to advocate for the legislation, which aims to create a “bill of rights” for children in treatment and behavioral centers.

The heiress has alleged that she spent two of her teenage years in these types of facilities and was subject to rampant abuse. She is far from alone. 

During a press conference, Hilton said that one night when she was 16, she woke up to two large men in her bedroom forcing her out of her house. She said she screamed for help because she thought she was being kidnapped, but her parents watched as she was taken away to a “troubled teen” program. 

“Like countless other parents of teens, my parents had searched for solutions to my rebellious behavior,” she explained in an op-ed for The Washington Post this week. “Unfortunately, they fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry’ — therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps, juvenile justice facilities, behavior modification programs and other facilities that generate roughly $50 billion annually in part by pitching ‘tough love’ as the answer to problematic behavior.”

Hilton said she was sent to four different facilities where she was “physically and psychologically abused.” 

“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered in scratch marks and smeared in blood and so much more,” she explained during the press conference. 

“At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me, I was only number 127,” she continued. “I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges.”

Goals of the  Accountability for Congregate Care Act

Hilton claims that a lack of transparency and accountability has allowed this structure of abuse to thrive for decades. In some cases, she said it has taken children’s lives. Now, she wants Congress and President Joe Biden to act. 

“This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate care facilities is provided a safe and humane environment,” Hilton said of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.

“This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn’t afforded, like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment, and even the basic right to move and speak freely. If I had these rights and could have exercised them, I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD.” 

Foster children, children being treated for mental disorders, and other children in youth programs would be impacted by the bill.

Hilton was one of several survivors and advocates who fought for the legislation on Wednesday. Rep. Khanna thanked them for using their stories to fight for change. 

“No child should be subjected to solitary confinement, forced labor, or any form of institutional abuse,” he wrote. “Thanks to Paris Hilton, my colleagues & the survivors & advocates who joined us today to discuss how we can hold the congregate care industry accountable.”

While only Democratic legislators are currently sponsoring the bill, Hilton called for a bipartisan effort to fight for the rights of children. 

Ensuring that children are safe from institutional abuse isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hilton said. “It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (NBC News)

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