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What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: ICE Air, a little-known division of ICE, deports people in shackles and funnels tax dollars to Republican-friendly businesses

  • ‘I gotta be strong for my babies.’

  • Senate passes First Step Act, a significant change to federal approach to criminal justice

  • Republican-sponsored amendment requiring data collection on police shootings didn’t make the cut

  • Mississippi newspaper will forego revenue by cutting down on sensationalist crime coverage

  • Read carefully: A Louisiana law could restore voting rights to 16 times as many people as initially expected

In the Spotlight

ICE Air, a little-known division of ICE, deports people in shackles and funnels tax dollars to Republican-friendly businesses

As many of us pack our bags for holiday travel, there are those for whom the skies are decidedly less friendly. “Shackled at their ankles and wrists and their shoelaces removed, a long line of men and women waited on the tarmac as a team of officers patted them down and checked inside their mouths for anything hidden,” write Nomaan Merchant and Angeliki Kastanis for the Associated Press. “This was a deportation flight run by ICE Air. The chains would be removed and the shoelaces returned when the plane landed in El Salvador.” This obscure part of ICE is nevertheless core to its mission: It transports detainees from one city in the U.S. to another, and out of the country for “final removal.” About 100,000 people are deported on these flights every year. The federal government has spent approximately $1 billion on these flights in the last decade, and the Trump administration wants to raise ICE’s budget for charter flights by 30 percent. Those deported to Mexico are usually flown to southern U.S. cities and driven to the border, but because immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have overtaken Mexican immigrants in numbers, more international flights are needed when it comes to deportation. [Nomaan Merchant and Angeliki Kastanis / Associated Press]

The flight that the AP saw boarding in Houston carried 50 people, nearly half of whom have had no contact with the criminal justice system at all. “We try and be as humane as we can with everything that we do,” said Pat Contreras, director of enforcement and removal for ICE’s Houston field office. “We try to make them safe,” although it is unclear whose safety is really on his mind: “We want to make sure that not one individual does anything wrong.” [Nomaan Merchant and Angeliki Kastanis / Associated Press] Luis Alberto Castro is a 53-year-old from Guatemala who overstayed his student visa 35 years ago, started a remodeling business in Salt Lake City, raised a family, and then got pulled over for a traffic violation and deported. He was interviewed by NPR right after he landed in Guatemala City after an ICE Air flight, carrying a plastic bag full of his belongings. ICE Air treated everyone on board like a felon, he said: “We were handcuffed the whole time. They shouldn’t be treating us like total criminals.” [John Burnett / NPR] See also Our 4/30/18 edition covers the harrowing and profitable industry of prisoner transport inside the U.S.

A decade ago, ICE began chartering private planes. ICE says this move saves about $25 million a year and allows for more flexibility. This strategy also avoids “putting large numbers of deported immigrants on commercial planes, which requires buying tickets for deportation officers accompanying them, or holding them in the U.S. for longer than necessary and tying up space in detention centers.” Contreras claimed that this stems from sensitivity to immigrants’ well-being: “I don’t want to elongate anybody’s detention with us,” he said. “If a judge says you need to be removed, we should be expeditiously working to execute that order so that person does not spend any longer in detention than necessary.” But advocacy groups say ICE Air is an example of how private companies benefit from immigration enforcement. “The way you would save money on ICE Air is by deporting fewer people, not by privatizing the industry,” said Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership. “ICE is a largely privatized agency,” Libal said. “In many ways, it’s been captured by the industries that profit from deportation and detention.” [Nomaan Merchant and Angeliki Kastanis / Associated Press]

“There’s a lot of money to be made there,” Ben Davis, a criminal justice researcher for the anti-privatization non-profit In the Public Interest, told Aviva Shen, for ThinkProgress. Shen, now an editor at The Appeal, wrote that a report released by the Office of the Inspector General in April 2015 found that ICE pays an average of $8,419 per flight hour for charter flights, regardless of how many people are on each plane. “The report also found that the agency had done little to ensure these flights were efficient or necessary, wasting as much as $41.1 million in taxpayer dollars during the 3.5 year study period.” Ominously named CSI Aviation is the main provider of these deportation flights; from 2013 to 2016 alone, CSI received more than $300 million in Department of Homeland Security contracts. The company’s CEO, Allen Weh, is a major Trump supporter: He was a Republican delegate, helped lead Trump campaign rallies, and donated the maximum amounts allowed. [Aviva Shen / ThinkProgress] Interviewed on NPR, Weh took a fatalistic stance: “We move people out of the country, and often we will move people in the country, and, frequently, they will be in handcuffs.” [John Burnett / NPR]

Chartering planes not only allows Trump to reward his loyal supporters, it also makes sure that the administration is only working with friendly partners, avoiding embarrassing spectacles like when, over the summer, various commercial carriers refused to transport children separated from their parents at the border. Corporations, for many, are taking on moral responsibility as the government seems to dispense with it. Over the summer, Frontier Airlines stated that it would “not knowingly allow our flights to be used to transport migrant children away from their families.” United Airlines, Southwest, and American Airlines made similar announcements. Many flight attendants had posted testimony on social media channels describing groups of Latinx children they had seen on domestic flights, accompanied not by parents but by federal agents. They have been trained to recognize and report possible cases of child trafficking, and found it hard to square their role as protector with that of collaborator. Soon after these statements, President Trump signed an executive order to end the family separation policy. [Richard Fausset / New York Times]

Stories From The Appeal


Illustration by Michelle Mildenberg

‘I Gotta Be Strong for My Babies.’ An Oklahoma woman is serving 18 months in prison after being accused of failing to protect her daughter from the girl’s dad. [Roxanna Asgarian]

Stories From Around the Country

Senate passes First Step Act, a significant change to federal approach to criminal justice: The First Step Act would create new programs to help prepare certain “low-risk” prisoners for re-entry; if they participate, they would be able to earn reduced sentences or enter “prerelease custody,” such as home confinement. The legislation, which the House is expected to pass this week, would also prohibit shackling pregnant prisoners and almost completely eliminate solitary confinement for young people. Prisoners would be held in facilities close to their homes, if possible. Mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses would be shorter, and the “three strikes” penalty would go from life to 25 years. Judges would have more liberty to get around mandatory minimums in some cases. It would also address the so-called stacking mechanism that can add decades to prison terms when a firearm is involved, limiting it to cases where the person has previously been convicted. Crucially, the bill would give people who were sentenced under the massive crack-cocaine disparity a chance to have their cases re-evaluated. [Nicholas Fandos / New York Times]

Progressives gave up on making most of the sentencing reforms retroactive. See also Our 11/15/18 edition explains how the bill would do a lot more good if that effort had succeeded.

Republican-sponsored amendment requiring data collection on police shootings didn’t make the cut: Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican in the Senate, failed to get his amendment in the final version of the First Step Act. The Walter Scott Notification Act, named for the man shot and killed by a North Charleston police officer while fleeing a traffic stop, would have “stipulated that any state receiving federal law-enforcement funding must collect and preserve key data tied to such incidents, including name, race, description of the event and overall circumstances that led to the weapon being discharged,” according to the Post and Courier. “States that do not comply would have been subject to a 10 percent reduction in federal grant funds.” Scott, who isn’t related to Walter Scott, touted his proposal, saying, “By giving us a deeper understanding of situations that lead to officer-related shootings, I believe the Walter Scott Notification Act can keep both our law enforcement officers and our communities safer.” [Michael Majchrowicz / Post and Courier]

Mississippi newspaper will forego revenue by cutting down on sensationalist crime coverage: The editor of the Mississippi Sun Herald, Blake Kaplan, wrote directly to readers this week explaining why the publication will now cover crime differently. Although crime stories are among its most popular, giving them “more clicks,” “more advertising revenue,” and “more exposure,” Kaplan writes, “what is good for us may not be what is good for South Mississippi.” Daily crime reporting “creates a false impression” of high levels of violent crime, so “I’ve directed our reporters to ask themselves a few questions before they report a crime story” including “is there an imminent public-safety concern? Is the crime so serious the community needs to know about it? Is the crime part of a trend that warrants frequent updates?” The paper has also discontinued the “mugshot” gallery, because those photos “stayed a part of people’s lives forever, whether they were convicted or not” and “did not really meet our core mission of our news organization, to inform and serve the people of South Mississippi with news that affects their lives.” [Blake Kaplan / Sun Herald]

Read carefully: A Louisiana law could restore voting rights to 16 times as many people as initially expected: Louisiana’s legislature approved a law last spring restoring voting rights to those with criminal convictions who were still under supervision, as long as they were in good standing with parole five years after release from prison. At the time, lawmakers expected it to give around 2,200 people the right to vote. Now, advocates and elected officials say the law as drafted should apply more broadly, bringing the number as high as 36,000. The law states: “a person who is under an order of imprisonment for conviction of a felony and who has not been incarcerated pursuant to that order within the last five years shall not be ineligible to register or vote.” Advocates argue that it should apply to those on probation, who never went to prison, even if they haven’t been on probation for five years. This issue was raised during the first hearing on the legislation, but subsequent discussions focused only on parolees, leading many to vote for it assuming it would not jeopardize their own political interests: Senator Dan Claitor, a Republican from Baton Rouge, urged colleagues to vote for the legislation, saying, “It’s not like it is going to be a sea of folks that are going to sway elections all over that state.” [Julia O’Donoghue / Times-Picayune]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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