Author Archives: Alice Speri

At Largest ICE Detention Center in the Country, Guards Called Attempted Suicides “Failures”

When Carlos Hidalgo was detained at the ICE processing center, in Adelanto, California, guards would mock the detainees lined up to get their meals by imitating the call of cows. “Moo! Here are the cows, walking through!”

Toiletries and clean clothes were in constant shortage and sick detainees were sometimes left in their soiled clothes, he told The Intercept. Detainees worked in the center’s kitchens for as little as $1 a day — or took cleaning shifts for no money but an extra ration of food. The food itself was so bad that it was sometimes infested with maggots, yet there was always too little of it — so that detainees would be forced to buy more at the center’s commissary. “It’s all about money,” said Hidalgo, who is now free on bond.

Staff at Adelanto ignored all but the most serious medical emergencies. After Hidalgo witnessed a detainee suffer seizures and staff do nothing to help him, he started organizing a detainee-run response team to help those suffering medical and mental health crises, which were frequent. When he asked the center’s staff for help, those working with the GEO Group, the private detention company that runs the center, would refer him to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “If I asked ICE, they’d say, it’s GEO’s house, so ask them and go through them,” Hidalgo said. “Back and forth, so you end up getting nothing.”

In two stints at Adelanto — for nine months in 2014 and three in 2016 — Hidalgo learned to navigate the system and became a bit of an organizer among the detainees. He arranged for transgender detainees to stay together for protection and helped fellow detainees file formal grievances — earning himself reprimands and once a month in disciplinary segregation.

A guard once told him, “They don’t pay me enough to give a shit about you.” During his time there, two detainees tried to hang themselves with their bedsheets. “They just don’t give a damn,” said Hidalgo. “You’re just another number, you’re just another detainee.”

This May 1, 2018 photo from the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) shows a noose fashioned from bedsheets in a cell at the Adelanto Detention Center in Adelanto, Calif., a desert community 70 miles (113 kilometers) northeast of Los Angeles. Federal inspectors found nooses made from bedsheets hanging in more than a dozen cells during an inspection in May, 2018, The OIG issued a scathing report after visiting the privately-run detention facility run by the GEO Group. There were at least seven suicide attempts at the facility between December 2016 and October 2017, and a 32-year-old man killed himself by hanging in March 2017, according to the report. (OIG via AP)

A noose made from bedsheets in a cell at the Adelanto Detention Center in Adelanto, Calif., on May 1, 2018.

Photo: Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General via AP

“Suicide Failures”

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, which is tasked with independently monitoring the department’s agencies, published a scathing report confirming some of the problems Adelanto detainees like Hidalgo have long denounced, including widespread indifference to attempted suicide. In one particularly disturbing detail, investigators mentioned finding several nooses, made of bedsheets, hanging in detainees’ cells.

The report was the result of a surprise audit at the facility last May, and it offers an indictment of the Adelanto facility in unusually blunt language for an official document. “These violations pose a significant threat to maintaining detainee rights and ensuring their mental and physical well-being,” the report states. “Although this form of civil custody should be non-punitive, some of the center conditions and detainee treatment we identified during our visit and outlined in this management alert are similar to those one may see in criminal custody.”

But the findings hardly surprised Hidalgo. “There are other things that are worse that have been committed there,” he said. “That’s not the worst.”

For years, detainees and their advocates have denounced inhumane conditions at the center, which can house up to 1,940 detainees, making it, along with the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, the largest privately run immigration detention facility in the country. The documented abuses include medical neglect, poor hygiene and nutrition, and violations of religious liberties, as well as suicides, deaths in custody, and sexual abuse at the hands of ICE staff and contractors.

According to the OIG report, inspectors visiting Adelanto found braided bedsheets hanging as “nooses” in 15 of the 20 cells they visited — a violation of ICE standards that prohibit detainees from hanging or draping objects from furniture or fixtures. In March 2017, a 32-year-old Adelanto detainee died after being found hanging from his bedsheets in a cell there. There were seven other documented suicide attempts at Adelanto between December 2016 and October 2017, at least two of them by detainees who tried to hang themselves using their bedsheets.

“I’ve seen a few attempted suicides using the braided sheets by the vents and then the guards laugh at them and call them ‘suicide failures’ once they’re back from medical,” one detainee told inspectors. The report says that a senior ICE official told inspectors that “ICE management at Adelanto does not believe it is necessary or a priority to address the braided sheets issue.”

The report also criticizes excessive segregation and severely inadequate medical care. Inspectors found that 14 detainees were held in disciplinary segregation — i.e., solitary confinement — at the time of their visit, before an administrative process found them guilty of infractions and without a written order of segregation. “GEO Group staff indicated it is the center’s practice to place all detainees directly in disciplinary segregation after an alleged incident,” the report notes, a clear violation of ICE standards, as well as detainees’ rights to due process.

The report also found that detainees held in segregation were further penalized by losing contact visits with family or access to the commissary, even when those penalties were not sanctioned by the center’s rules. And inspectors observed staff moving six detainees in handcuffs and shackles, and were told by guards that they place all detainees in disciplinary segregation in restraints when outside their cells — yet another violation of ICE standards, which “gives the appearance of criminal, rather than civil, custody.”

Inspectors also found that a disabled detainee was improperly held in disciplinary segregation for nine days, until they raised the issue with the center’s administration. According to the report, in those nine days, the detainee never left his wheelchair to sleep on a bed or brush his teeth. A bag of beddings and toiletries remained untouched in the detainee’s cell.

Inspectors observed nurses, doctors, and mental health providers conducting “cursory walk-throughs” and stamping their names on detainees’ records hanging outside their cells without entering or speaking to them. Inspectors only observed medical staff talk to four of the 14 detainees they “visited” — and even in those cases, staff merely asked, in English, if the detainee was “OK.” “We confirmed with guards that these four detainees were non-English speakers, and the doctor left without any acknowledgement or response from the detainee,” the report notes.

Between November 2017 and April 2018, detainees at Adelanto filed 80 medical grievances saying that they were denied urgent care, medication, and medical visits for persistent health problems. In 2017 alone, between 60 and 80 clinical appointments were canceled because no guards were available to escort detainees to their visits — despite a long history of medical neglect allegations at the center, including three deaths since 2015 of detainees who had denounced lack of care.

The inspectors also found that detainees are placed on waitlists for months and sometimes years to receive basic dental care, despite the fact that ICE is required to provide dental care to those it holds for longer than six months. Detainees described to inspectors having multiple teeth fall out as they waited more than two years for cavities to be filled, having to wait more than eight months for an extraction, and having the wrong tooth pulled. Interviewed by inspectors, a dentist at the center told them that he “does not have time” for cleanings or fillings, adding that detainees would be fine if they committed to brushing and flossing. When reminded that floss is only available to detainees with a commissary account, the dentist replied that they “could use string from their socks to floss if they were dedicated to dental hygiene.”

Both ICE and the GEO Group said the report lacked appropriate “context,” but pledged to review the center’s practices and address issues. A spokesperson for ICE said in a statement in response to the report that “the safety, rights and health of detainees in ICE’s care are of paramount concern and Adelanto, like all ICE detention facilities, is subject to stringent, regular inspections.”

The spokesperson added that “ICE takes seriously the OIG’s findings and has agreed to conduct a full and immediate review of the center to ensure compliance with detention standards and expedite necessary corrective actions.”

A spokesperson for the GEO Group, which runs Adelanto, as well as dozens of detention centers across the country, said in a statement, “Our commitment is always, first and foremost, to high-quality care. For over thirty years, our employees have taken pride in our ability to provide quality services in safe, secure and humane environments for those entrusted to our care, and these findings of inadequacies are not consistent with our core values.”

Zero Accountability

“Adelanto is one of the worst immigrant prisons in the country,” said Liz Martinez, director of advocacy at Freedom for Immigrants, a southern California-based immigrant rights group that has coordinated volunteer visits to Adelanto since 2012 and runs a national hotline for detainees. “The OIG report confirms what we documented and exposed all along: that ICE and the GEO Group are systematically subjecting immigrants to intolerable conditions.”

“What’s more revealing, I think, is how the report details the unvarnished cruelty with which the staff and guards treat immigrants,” Martinez said. “The way they laugh after suicide attempts, the way they suggested using sock strings as floss. … They take pleasure in subjecting people to further misery.”

Just recently, a detainee at Adelanto told Freedom for Immigrants that in his cell block, guards removed all restroom curtains — the only privacy afforded to detainees. And two detainees told a volunteer that one night in late August the food was so bad that many detainees refused to eat — to which guards responded by pepper spraying them. “We hear stories all the time,” Martinez added. “The problem is when detained individuals report these kinds of incidents, no one believes them. And often they are retaliated against.”

The ICE spokesperson listed a number of measures in place at the agency to monitor facilities, including reviews by a third-party contractor. Facilities receiving a less than acceptable rating must be scheduled for a follow-up inspection within six months, the spokesperson said, and if a facility receives two consecutive final ratings of less than acceptable, ICE must discontinue use of the facility. In 2009, ICE also created the Office of Detention Oversight, a unit tasked with conducting independent reviews of detention conditions. The DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties also conducts reviews whose findings are not publicly shared.

But as The Intercept has reported, while detention facilities are periodically inspected for compliance with ICE standards, the agency regularly gives its centers passing marks despite evidence of abuse and neglect. Last spring, the American Civil Liberties Union and nine other organizations wrote a letter to DHS denouncing ICE’s failure to comply with the detention standards set by Congress, criticizing the agency’s “unregulated self-assessment” and adding that “a close look at the inspections themselves reveals alarming evidence that they are sham assessments.”

Last June, a different OIG report concluded that ICE’s monitoring system is simply not working. “The inspections do not fully examine actual conditions or identify all deficiencies,” the OIG noted then. “ICE does not adequately follow up on identified deficiencies or consistently hold facilities accountable for correcting them, which further diminishes the usefulness of inspections.” ICE said in response to that report that the agency would “continue to ensure its detention facilities comply with relevant policies and standards through an aggressive inspections program,” and indicated that it would re-evaluate its inspection scope and conduct follow-up inspections.

“Adelanto has gotten passing inspections every year, even when people have died there in ways that were due to medical neglect,” said Grace Meng, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch focused on the U.S. immigration system. “The inspection system is practically worthless. … Everyone gets a passing grade.”

The OIG began conducting unannounced inspections in March 2016. But while immigrant advocates welcomed the latest report on Adelanto as confirmation of the abuse and neglect they have long documented, they were skeptical that the report would bring any changes. “This isn’t new, it’s just been swept under the rug by ICE and the GEO Group for as long as they could and for as long as they were allowed to,” said Martinez, of Freedom for Immigrants. “There is zero accountability, which leads to a culture of impunity. … Adelanto is basically a microcosm of the horror that is the U.S. immigration detention system.”


A sign marking the edge of Adelanto on July 6, 2016 in Adelanto, Calif.

Photo: Alice Speri/The Intercept

Unlimited Possibilities

If the Adelanto detention center is a microcosm of the larger immigration detention system, the city itself is a cautionary tale about the country’s binge on mass incarceration and the privatization of detention.

A dusty, rural settlement in the Mojave desert two hours east of Los Angeles, Adelanto in 2015 had a population of 32,000 people, in addition to the 10,000 incarcerated people distributed between the immigration detention center, a county jail, a state prison, and a nearby federal prison.

Facing bankruptcy, Adelanto, which bills itself “the city with unlimited possibilities,” struck a series of deals with the GEO Group and the state prison. But while the contracts and subsequent expansions brought thousands of detainees to the city and millions in federal dollars to the GEO Group, the deals only briefly plugged the city’s deficit. As documented in a 2015 report by Freedom for Immigrants, then known as CIVIC, the center’s sale brought just a few low-paying jobs to local residents — while more than 100 residents who were already working at the facility lost their jobs — and Adelanto remained on the brink of bankruptcy, with serious unemployment and a dearth of schools and basic services. Meanwhile, the city was contractually obligated to guarantee the GEO Group a minimum of 975 occupants — which at a rate of $111 per day meant the company was guaranteed an annual income of $40 million. While the city would also get a cut, that totaled no more than $100,487.50 annually.

After the deal, the GEO Group nearly tripled the capacity of its facilities in Adelanto — doubling the detention center’s capacity the year after signing its first contract and adding 640 beds for female detainees in 2015. But even before the deal with the GEO Group, Adelanto had a history of poor contracting — including a highly controversial and costly deal to host a minor league baseball team that cost the city $6.5 million in municipal bonds. The team paid a meager rent of $1 a day. According to the CIVIC report, Adelanto’s first high school was prevented from opening for two years because it was over budget by $3 million, while renovations at the local San Bernardino County Jail were completed on time despite being $25 million over budget.

“There’s always just been nothing here except for prisons,” said Mario Novoa, a local resident and activist cited in the report. “And as far as I can tell they haven’t done much to help the city develop anything other than more prisons.”

Adelanto city officials did not respond to The Intercept’s requests for comment.

Last year, California enacted two laws, including the “Dignity Not Detention Act,” that effectively froze the growth of private prisons in the state by putting a moratorium on municipalities entering into new contracts with private prison companies or modifying existing contracts for the purposes of expanding detention. That law also gave the California attorney general the power to investigate and monitor private detention facilities, and the office is currently undertaking its first-ever review of federal immigration detention centers in the state, whose findings are due next March. Currently, nearly 4,000 immigrants are detained in California on any given day — with 70 percent of them held in private, for-profit facilities.

The new legislation also provided for private detention contractors to be subject to local public records laws from which they had previously been exempt. But advocates say that so far, the private companies have refused to comply with that provision of the new law. “That’s been in place since January, and we have tried to obtain information from these private facilities,” said Martinez. “But they keep saying that they’re not subject to the law.” The GEO Group spokesperson told The Intercept that the group takes no position on immigration enforcement policies and added, “We are provider [sic] of services to ICE and under our contracts, all requests for data and records must be made directly to ICE.” ICE declined to comment.

“Like Captain America to Me”

Hidalgo, who is 51, arrived to the United States from El Salvador in 1981, carrying his 3-year-old sister in his arms. At the border, he was detained and filed for asylum. He remembers the officer who detained him spoke to him in Spanish with an American accent, encouraging him and patting his shoulder. “That was like Captain America to me,” said Hidalgo. “We were processed through humane methods that they had, dignified, not jails.”

His next encounter with the U.S. immigration detention system, after a conviction for petty theft in 2014, was another story.

“It’s as if immigrants have no right to dream and have a better life,” he told The Intercept. “I’ve seen guys come in with high spirits, wanting to fight, and months later, they’re defecating on their hands, banging their heads against the wall, talking about suicide.”

“In there, it’s all about breaking you down,” he added. “The process they have is to demoralize you, break you down, and ship you out.”

Top photo: Imprisoned immigrants are seen at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, Calif., on Sept. 6, 2016.

The post At Largest ICE Detention Center in the Country, Guards Called Attempted Suicides “Failures” appeared first on The Intercept.

ICE Defied a Court Order in Vendetta Against Deportee

Danny Michel’s daughter and attorneys kept refreshing a map tracking his flight as they walked into federal court in Manhattan on a sweltering Monday evening last month. On their phones, they watched his JetBlue flight from Port-au-Prince land at JFK airport as they waited for the after-hours judge on duty to see them. Timing was key: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had warned that they would detain Michel as soon as he stepped on U.S. soil. They needed the judge to stop ICE before it got to him.

Michel’s attorneys succeeded, but for the next several hours, they found themselves fighting with the government to have their client released while ICE held him in violation of the judge’s order. By the time he finally walked free the next day, Michel had been in ICE custody — illegally — since landing in the U.S. nearly 10 hours earlier.

“This is classic ICE intimidation tactics; this is what they do,” Gregory Copeland, a supervising attorney with Legal Aid’s immigration law unit, and one of Michel’s attorneys, told The Intercept. “They’re sore losers. When they lose, and somebody gets released, they still try to be heavy-handed and throw around their authority or whatever it is. That’s typical ICE behavior.”

It had taken more than two years to get Michel home. A 54-year-old with a youthful smile, he had lived in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident since 1970. Born in Haiti, Michel was raised in Brooklyn and was living on Long Island when two drug convictions triggered deportation proceedings against him in 1999. Michel spent the next six years, until 2005, in an immigration detention center in upstate New York, then 10 more years under a deportation order but free on bond, meaning that he had to check in regularly with immigration officials — which he did religiously.

Then in June 2016, without notice, Michel was detained at his regular check-in, sent to ICE facilities in Alabama and Florida, and deported in July. Before his deportation, Legal Aid filed a motion with the Board of Immigration Appeals challenging a years-old deportation order against him, on the grounds that he had become eligible for citizenship decades earlier, and that the charges filed against him were no longer considered removable offenses. They also asked the board to stop his deportation while the motion was pending, which the board refused to do because it found the motion to reopen the case unlikely to succeed. When the motion did succeed, only weeks later, Michel was already in Haiti, a country he had last seen when he was a toddler.

Deportation is often the last chapter in legal battles and human dramas that unfold over years, but Michel managed to navigate Kafkaesque bureaucracies in both the U.S. and Haiti to return, fight his case, and win a rare victory: Shortly after his return, an immigration judge terminated his deportation proceedings, and while ICE has asked the judge to reconsider that decision, Michel is, for now, a free man.

But while his two-decade struggle with U.S. immigration enforcement points to a system that has long been mired in intransigence veering on the absurd, his first night back after deportation, and ICE’s insistence on detaining him even after a judge had ruled that they couldn’t do so, speaks of an agency that is growing increasingly rogue — emboldened by the political moment to exert authority even where it has none, and to defy the rule of law even when it claims to be enforcing it. ICE did not respond to requests for comment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, which represented ICE in court, declined to comment.


A view of 26 Federal Plaza in New York, at left, down Duane Street.

Photo: Ariel Zambelich/The Intercept

First Night Back

Michel’s flight landed around 9 p.m. By 9:15 p.m., Judge Margo Brodie had issued a restraining order prohibiting ICE from detaining him without showing the court “clear and convincing evidence” that he was a flight risk or a danger to the community. ICE was notified of the decision by 9:18 p.m., according to court documents filed in the following hours.

Michel’s 30-year-old daughter Britney, who had tried to decipher what the judge would decide from the tone of her questions and by looking for signs of confidence in the attorneys’ answers, allowed herself to be hopeful at last. As the group walked out the chambers, a janitor saw the smiles on their faces and gave them a thumbs-up.

While Britney and the attorneys were still waiting in court, on the plane to New York, Michel ate snacks and watched The Avengers while he tried to calm his nerves. He couldn’t believe that he was really going home. He had felt a similar sense of incredulity on his last flight two years earlier: He had been in shackles then and headed to a country he couldn’t remember. “When we landed and the doors opened, I felt the heat just come in,” he told me during a recent interview, recalling his first moments in Haiti. When he walked out of the Port-au-Prince airport and into the city’s streets, buzzing with cars, vendors, chickens, and pigs, he had found himself in a world he had only seen on National Geographic.

Now making the opposite journey, Michel had just one worry: “At the back of my head I’m like, are they going to lock me up?” he said. “But you know what, my daughter said, ‘Daddy, be strong and think positive’ so I started thinking like that.”

For someone who has endured the ordeal he has, Michel comes off as an impossibly positive guy, who jokes about his exchanges with unsympathetic officials and appears to draw from a bottomless well of cheerfulness. But when his plane landed in New York, his optimism was tested. The pilot warned there were “mechanical issues” with the gangway. “I’m like, OK, maybe they’re waiting for me,” he recalled thinking. Moments later, the pilot asked, “Is there a Danny Michel on the plane?”

With everyone’s eyes on him, Michel made his way down the plane. A short man flanked by two uniformed officers curtly asked if he had his paperwork — Michel took a breath and replied, “Hi, how are you? Yes, I got some paperwork.” The officers ordered him to follow them and handcuffed him in front of everyone, before leading him to a freezing room, then a different terminal, and finally a van. They asked him questions but gave few answers. “You are going to our office,” they told him after he insisted to know where they were taking him. “And then you are going to be transferred to another place.”

“They’re Not Releasing Me”

After they left court, Britney and one of Michel’s attorneys, Sarah Gillman, took a taxi to the airport to pick him up, but Michel was nowhere to be found.


Sarah Gillman, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society.

Photo: Ariel Zambelich/The Intercept

Gillman contacted the government’s attorneys, who told her that ICE officers would get in touch. When they finally did, at 11:41 p.m., they told her that they had taken Michel to 26 Federal Plaza, an immigration court building in downtown Manhattan. Gillman called Copeland, who had gone home and could get back to Manhattan faster. Finally, at around 1 a.m., Michel called too: “They’re telling me that they’re not releasing me.”

As she watched Gillman frantically call and email, Britney’s excitement crumbled. “I was so excited, just eager to see him,” she told me. “And then we got to the terminal and we waited, and waited, and waited, and so that excitement slowly drowned.”

Britney and Gillman rushed back to Manhattan and met Copeland outside the court. For the next several hours, they stood on an eerily deserted Duane Street, just outside the court entrance, emailing the government’s attorneys and demanding that ICE release their client.

“You continue to detain Mr. Michel for immigration purposes in violation of the Judge’s order,” Copeland emailed the government’s attorneys at 1 a.m. “A Deportation Officer is now telling Mr. Michel that he is not being released tonight, saying they do not have the authority. This is outrageous.” “Mr. Michel has still not been released,” Gillman emailed at 2:05 a.m. — and then again at 2:30, 2:58, 3:57, and 6:29 a.m.

At some point, Britney fell asleep sitting on the sidewalk. Around 4 a.m., Copeland left to file a new motion asking the court to compel ICE to release Michel. Britney left a little later — she was exhausted from the night’s emotions, and she had to be at work in a few hours. Gillman remained alone outside the court, emailing and texting the government for news of her client. The court’s security asked her, “You’re still here?” — she later told me — “Yes, I’m still here because my client’s still inside,” she replied.

Then at 6:35 a.m., after Copeland filed a motion to hold ICE in contempt of court, the government’s attorneys emailed to let Gillman know that Michel would be released “within the next few minutes.” An ICE officer then called her and told her to go meet Michel on the street.

“Excuse me?” she said she replied. She had told ICE all along where she was standing – right at the court’s entrance. The officer replied, “Your client’s on Broadway. Just go and meet him.” Incensed, Gillman asked for the officer’s name. He replied, “Don’t worry about it, hon.”


Danny Michel, right, helps his father, Paul Salim Michel, take a seat in the living room of Michel’s parents’ home on Long Island.

Photo: Ariel Zambelich/The Intercept

A Long Journey Home

I met Michel and his family a week after he returned home, at his elderly parents’ home on a tidy street in Elmont, New York. Michel seemed as excited and incredulous as if he had just arrived. His family is tight-knit, and he had clearly been missed.

Michel’s parents sat and listened as he recalled his ordeal over tea. His father has been sick for decades, and moves and speaks with difficulty. Michel was always the one to take care of him before he was deported; the two years without Michel were tough on the family. For as long as Michel could remember, his mother had been the family’s pillar — working two or three jobs while he and his siblings were growing up in Flatbush, and finally saving up enough to move the family to a pretty house on Long Island. When Michel was released after nearly six years in immigration detention, on a $25,000 bond, his mother had to guarantee the bond against the house.

“There were many times that I felt I wasn’t going to see my family again,” Michel told me, speaking in his parents’ living room, which was covered wall-to-wall with family photos. “My mom, my daughter, and goddaughter, they were really the backbone of the family. Without them I wouldn’t be standing right here.”

Britney’s life had been marked by her father’s two-decade ordeal with immigration. He had spent most of her teenage years in immigration detention. “I didn’t see my dad for years,” she said. “He was my letter buddy, because he wrote me letters all the time.”

“Although he wasn’t there physically, he was still there on the phone, constantly helping me out with school stuff on the phone,” she added. “I would lash out with my mom and he was the mediator between us, even though he wasn’t physically there, he was there, regardless.”

When Michel was released on bond, they grew even closer. He would go over to her apartment in Brooklyn and fix things for her, or help her paint the walls. There were family barbecues, and for the first time, Britney thought he might be there on the day she got married.

“Then when he was detained, that reality that I once had of him, of not knowing when he would come home, suddenly resurfaced,” she said. “I am just exhausted with having to deal with him being here for a little, short period of time, and then him being gone. And for what?”

When Michel was in Haiti, they’d talk on WhatsApp — but poor phone and internet service and constant electricity cuts made keeping in touch a constant source of frustration. They also made getting Michel home a lot harder, as his lawyers struggled to communicate with him.

In Haiti, Michel had no money or support system. A distant relative picked him up at the airport when he was deported, and from New York his parents helped him find a place to stay in the south of the island and sent him some money every month so he could eat. But Michel didn’t speak Creole well, couldn’t get a job, and was embarrassed to have gone back to Haiti a deportee.


Danny Michel as a young boy, before immigrating from Haiti to the U.S.

Photo: Courtesy of the Michel family

“I never really thought of myself as Haitian growing up,” Michel said. “I’ve been here since I was 5, so all I’ve known was really America, and growing up in America.”

“It’s very difficult to walk down the street without people looking at you, because you look different, you walk different, you don’t speak,” he added of his time in Haiti. “Every day I was just dealing with the shadow of myself, do you know what I mean? I wasn’t there. I was somebody else, in a strange place.”

Michel spent most of his time in Haiti going to church and trying to get the paperwork he needed to come back to the U.S. That wasn’t easy. He had no understanding of Haiti’s bureaucracy, and no connections to help him through a system that largely moved through personal favors. “It was really challenging for him,” Gillman recalled. “I remember him saying to me, I don’t know how many times, ‘Sarah, I think I almost got the passport,’ but then he didn’t get the passport. ‘Sarah, I think I almost got the passport,’ but he didn’t get the passport. ‘Sarah, I went to the office, and they were supposed to have the passport ready, and they’re not.’”

“Something was always missing,” Michel said. “Anytime something was spelled wrong, it had to go back to Port-au-Prince. … The date is incorrect, it has to go back to Port-au-Prince.”

“Let me tell you, they say the squeaky wheel gets the oil, so I just started bothering people all the time,” he added. “I was like, I need it, I need it. It’s for my ID. I need it.”

When Michel finally got his passport, Britney bought him a ticket home, as his lawyers prepared to prevent ICE from detaining him again. But Michel’s hopes were dashed at the check-in desk: The government had failed to tell his attorneys that he needed additional documentation from the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. “I was distraught,” he said. “Because I was ready to go. I finally put my mindset on going.”

It was a Friday. Michel went straight from the airport to the embassy, where he was told the documents he needed would only be valid if issued on the day he traveled. Michel’s family and attorneys tried to book him on a flight two days later — but that was a Sunday, and the government’s attorneys demanded that he fly during a business day. “Not a hint of feeling bad about forcing this guy to go back and forth to the airport,” Copeland told me. “Not a hint that they’re causing extra work for us. They just absolutely could not care.”

At last, on Monday, August 27, Michel got the documents he needed, made it through security, got on a plane, and finally, after hours held by agents with no authority to do so, home.

“It’s a competition to them. The sense of justice and fairness is almost lost. It’s approaching law enforcement like a no-holds-barred game,” said Copeland. “Like, ‘We’re going to flex our muscle and do what we can do just because we can do it.’”

“Even when what they are doing is patently lawless.”

Top photo: Danny Michel, photographed at his parents’ home on Long Island, New York, on Sept. 5, 2018.

The post ICE Defied a Court Order in Vendetta Against Deportee appeared first on The Intercept.

How the Oslo Accords Betrayed the Palestinian Women Behind the First Intifada

Twenty-five years ago, after months of secret negotiations, the Norwegian government announced that a historic agreement had been reached between the Israeli government and the exiled Palestine Liberation Organization. The Oslo Accords, sealed by an iconic handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat on September 13, 1993, in Washington, D.C., were celebrated as a victory for diplomacy and a monumental turning point in one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

But the agreement came as a surprise to many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including a delegation of Palestinian representatives from the occupied territories who had also been engaged in peace talks with the Israelis, starting with the 1991 Madrid Conference. They, like everyone else, learned about Oslo — which would prove to be a colossal failure — from the news.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel Shimon Peres puts his signature on the agreement during the signing ceremony of the Oslo 1 Accord, on the South Lawn of the White House on Sept. 13, 1993 in Washington, D.C.

Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres puts his signature on the agreement during the signing ceremony of the Oslo 1 Accord at the White House on Sept. 13, 1993, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Arnie Sachs/AP

The blow was especially hard for the women who had been at the negotiating table in Madrid and those who rallied behind them at home. The Madrid Conference, and ultimately Oslo itself, were precipitated by the events of the First Intifada, the nonviolent, grassroots uprising that shook the region in the late 1980s. A rapidly organized insurrection that saw thousands of Palestinians take to the streets to protest the Israeli occupation, the intifada was led largely by women, who launched strikes and a boycott of Israeli goods that for the first time put real economic and international pressure on Israel to negotiate.

But there were no women at the talks in Oslo — a betrayal of those who had led the intifada as much as the terms of the accords were a betrayal of Palestinians’ aspirations to self-determination. The story of the First Intifada, its popular roots, and the way in which the movement’s hopes were crushed in Oslo is the subject of a recent film, “Naila and the Uprising,” told through the eyes of a woman, Naila Ayesh, whose life was marked by a chapter of Palestinian history that is often forgotten.

“Oslo was created as a way of empowering, again, the male Palestinian leadership that had been in exile,” Julia Bacha, the film’s director, told The Intercept. “The intifada had come from the grassroots and from local leaders who had been living in the West Bank and in Gaza and had created a model for resistance that was very appealing to the international community, because it was based on popular resistance. They had created the political circumstances at the time for a lot of pressure to be put on Israel.”

“American efforts to hold an international conference for peace between Palestinians and Israelis was a result,” Zahira Kamal, a leader of the First Intifada and one of two women representing Palestinians at the Madrid talks, says in the film. “If there had been no intifada, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Civilians flee gunfire from armed soldiers after violence broke out after rebel Israeli and Palestinian fighters protested during the First Intifada on Feb. 2, 1988 in Gaza, Palestine.

Civilians flee gunfire from armed soldiers during the First Intifada on Feb. 2, 1988, in Gaza, Palestine.

Photo: Patrick Robert/Sygma/AP

A Two-Track Insurgency

The First Intifada is seldom invoked in discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, often eclipsed by the Second Intifada of the early 2000s, which was much more violent. With striking parallels to recent uprisings in the region, the First Intifada erupted in Gaza in 1987, an outburst against the occupation with no immediate leadership. The PLO was initially taken by surprise — much of the leadership, including Arafat, had been in Tunisia for years and wouldn’t return to Palestine until after the Oslo Accords — and for the first time, Palestinians in the territories made decisions without waiting for guidance from their exiled leaders.

“It was purely a populist uprising,” Ayesh says in the film, describing the intifada’s early days. “It was spontaneous and quick.”

But the fact that it was spontaneous didn’t mean it wasn’t organized. Palestinian civil society quickly sprang into action, led by women’s collectives that multiplied across the occupied territories: The Women’s Action Committees, the Working Women’s Committees, the Union of Women’s Committees, and the Women’s Committee for Social Work were connected to Palestinian political parties that were crystallizing at the time — but their goals and methods were a radical departure from politics up to that point.

For Palestinian women, the intifada became a two-track insurgency: They stood up against the Israeli occupation while also seeking to liberate women from the barriers imposed by their own society.

“Women have been involved in the struggle for national liberation for a long time. But her presence was still limited,” Kamal says. “In Palestinian society, authority lies in the hands of men and elders. In villages, women didn’t participate because of the separation between genders.”

An Israeli soldier takes aim as a Palestinian woman hurls a rock at him during a demonstration in which one Palestinian youth was shot dead several months after the outbreak of the intifada on Feb. 29, 1988 in Gaza, Palestine.

An Israeli soldier takes aim as a Palestinian woman hurls a rock at him during a demonstration on Feb. 29, 1988, in Gaza, Palestine.

Photo: Jim Hollander/Reuters

“Our motto was that there was only one door to freedom,” Sama Aweidah, an activist during the intifada, says in the film. “We can’t be free as women unless we’re in a free country. And even if we’re free of the occupation, we can’t know freedom as long as we’re subjugated in our own society.”

Under the guise of social work, women took their organizing efforts into villages and refugee camps. They called for a boycott of Israeli products and worked with farmers to reduce reliance on them, concurrently helping women to set up businesses and become financially independent of the men in their families. When the Israelis closed Palestinian schools, women set up clandestine classrooms under the trees. When the Israelis banned gatherings, women knocked on doors to distribute food and hid political bulletins in bags of bread.

“Publicly, the women’s committees were known for their social work. But in reality, and covertly, it was all political organizing,” activist Naima Al-Sheikh Ali says in the film. “Nurseries, sewing workshops, teaching women how to knit, cook, etc. That was all window dressing.”

“Every problem that came up at the governmental level, we’d set up local committees to address them,” Azza Qassem, another activist, says. “The women’s organizations and unions worked in lieu of a full government that organized people’s lives.”

As the intifada intensified despite Israel’s efforts to crush it, it was mostly women who raised the then-outlawed Palestinian flag and faced off with soldiers at the mass rallies that became the trademark of the uprising. And as men were killed, imprisoned, and exiled, it was increasingly women who organized the movement. 

“Women were always the majority at these gatherings,” says Ayesh. “There were fewer men than women because some of them were in prison or had been martyred. Women became part of almost every political activity.”

“People would come to me from all over saying they needed this or that and asking for advice. We’d say to them, ‘Give us a couple of hours while we ask the brothers in the organization,’” says Rabeha Diab, who led Fatah, one of the largest Palestinian political parties, during a period of the intifada. “But there were no brothers.”


Activist and organizer Naila Ayesh demonstrates during the First Intifada in Gaza, Palestine.

Photo: Luisa Morgantini/Courtesy of Just Vision

Sacrifice and Disappointment

In the film, Ayesh’s story unfolds alongside that of the intifada — a reminder of the personal sacrifice that was at stake as the political movement rose. At the time, any political organizing was punished, and merely being a member of a student union was considered a crime. Ayesh was interrogated by Israel’s secret service for two weeks, tied to a chair with a bag over her head. She was left out in the cold all night and dragged across the floor when her feet were too frozen to move. In prison, she miscarried her first child. “I had already told them that I was newly pregnant,” she says in the film. “They told me it didn’t make a difference.”

After she was released, Ayesh got pregnant again and continued her political work — once, she says, she accidentally handed out a sonogram along with political fliers. Her husband, also an activist, was arrested four days before she went into labor, and then deported. With her husband exiled in Egypt, Ayesh carried her newborn son around Gaza in a baby sling as she visited women in refugee camps. She was arrested again in the middle of the night when her son was 6 months old and was forced to leave him behind alone.

When relatives were allowed to visit her in prison, “of course I asked to hold my baby,” she says. “The guard refused and said the law doesn’t allow it.” Ayesh’s family eventually succeeded in convincing the Israelis to reunite mother and son — but in prison. Baby Majd learned to walk behind bars, surrounded by female prisoners who saw in him the children they too had been forced to leave behind.

Today, Ayesh insists that there was nothing unique about her struggle: It was the story of countless Palestinian families. In 1991, she tearfully left Gaza for Egypt — resigned to a two-year exile so her husband could finally meet Majd, who had only ever seen his father in a video of his parents’ wedding. A foreign documentary crew had followed them for months as they lived apart and then reunited — the footage from that time adds a layer of home-movie intimacy to a film that powerfully stitches together archival news reels, illustrations, and interviews with the women who led the intifada.


Naila Ayesh with her son, Majd.

Photo: Naila Ayesh/Courtesy of Just Vision

Three decades later, the story they tell is one of disappointment.

Forced into peace talks as a result of the First Intifada’s appeal to the international community, the Israelis initially refused to negotiate directly with the PLO, which they considered a terrorist organization. The Palestinian delegation ended up being “a people’s delegation,” as spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi called it. At first, there were no women on the Israeli delegation to Madrid, but when they realized that the Palestinian delegation had two women, the Israelis also sent one. “We were proud that our delegation included women,” says Kamal, who was a representative along with Ashrawi, one of Palestine’s best-known female politicians. “This made us stand out.”

When the PLO leadership abroad started direct talks with the Israelis in Oslo, they did so without informing the Palestinians who had been at the forefront of the uprising and were now engaged in peace talks in Madrid.

“How could the PLO think it could set up negotiating teams without us present?” Al-Sheikh Ali asks. “Women were left out of all preparations for the formation of the Palestinian Authority. We represent 50 percent of society, sometimes more. If 50 percent of the population isn’t participating in decisions, that means society is half-paralyzed.”

“When you compare what we proposed to what came out of Oslo, you get truly sad. Because Oslo brought a lot less than what was on the negotiating table,” says Kamal. “The Palestinian leadership returned to the country and began to form the Palestinian Authority. People around the world assumed that negotiations would bring a solution. But the occupation was still in effect.”

“By the time the men returned, women had achieved a lot in their position, but the expectation was that men would slot straight back into their position,” she adds. “And women would have to step aside.”

As the Palestinian Authority took over, women were horrified to learn that they would now need a male guardian to get a passport. Some took to the streets again, this time against their own leadership — but their protest fell on deaf ears.

“They said: Your role is done,” says Qassem.

The Steep Price of Failed Peace

“What Oslo did was it replaced a truly representative diplomatic process with a very top-down and, I would argue, much more security negotiation, rather than peace negotiation,” Bacha, the film’s director, told The Intercept. “Oslo really became about Israel wanting to guarantee that the Palestinian Authority would serve their needs, in terms of preventing another uprising from taking place, completely ending the First Intifada, and then never allowing again for Palestinian civil society to rise as effectively as they had done.”

“And Arafat agreed to those terms.”

For years after Oslo, with some notable exceptions, Palestinian women who had been integral to the intifada were excluded from the Palestinian Authority and further attempts at peace. At a recent screening of “Naila and the Uprising,” a former Palestinian negotiator recalled participating in an all-male delegation to South Africa. The South Africans agreed to meet with the Palestinians out of solidarity for their cause, he said, but they stressed that they were making an exception to their rule not to receive delegations that were not truly representative of their societies.

Ayesh and her husband returned to Palestine after the Oslo Accords. She became the director of the Women’s Affairs Center, an NGO that advocated for gender equality in Palestine and encouraged women to participate in political life.

But she sometimes wondered how things might have turned out differently had women been at the table in Oslo. “Men were not as aware of the details on the ground,” she told The Intercept this summer, noting that women were often the ones who bore the brunt of water shortages after Israel annexed the West Bank’s aquifers, or kept up relations between towns and villages that were cut off from one another.

It is still women who pay the steeper price of failed peace in their everyday lives, she added. In Gaza, where the Israeli blockade means constant electricity cuts, “it is women who wake up in the middle of the night to wash things when the electricity comes back.”

Ahed Tamimi arrives for a press conference, with her mother after her release from an Israeli prison on July 29, 2018 in Nabi Saleh, Palestine.

Ahed Tamimi arrives for a press conference with her mother after her release from an Israeli prison on July 29, 2018, in Nabi Saleh, Palestine.

Photo: Ilia Yefimovich/AP

I met Ayesh in Nabi Saleh, a Palestinian village in the West Bank, at the house of another activist, Manal Tamimi, on the day that her niece Ahed Tamimi was released from an Israeli military prison after slapping a soldier last year. It is on the image of a young Ahed Tamimi, surrounded by other girls shouting at soldiers, that “Naila and the Uprising” ends — a deliberate effort to let hope speak louder than disillusion, or at least, to give it the last word.

To young Palestinians — the overwhelming majority in the West Bank and Gaza — the system set up by Oslo is the only reality they have ever known. Illegal Israeli settlements have increased by 140 percent since Oslo; the occupation continues. But many young people have little faith in their political leadership and are increasingly protesting the Palestinian Authority as they continue to resist, like earlier generations, the Israeli occupation.

“There is a new generation, a younger generation, that actually doesn’t identify with this political system at all,” said Bacha. “That’s where I see women’s leadership flourishing again.”

“I believe it will happen,” she added. “But it does require a reckoning with history, and a reckoning with the outcomes of Oslo.”

Top photo: A group of Palestinian women protest during the First Intifada in Gaza, Palestine.

The post How the Oslo Accords Betrayed the Palestinian Women Behind the First Intifada appeared first on The Intercept.