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Tennessee execution: Billy Ray Irick tortured to death, expert says in new filing

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Editor's note: Reporter Dave Boucher was one of seven state-required media witnesses at Irick's execution. 
Billy Ray Irick felt searing pain akin to torture before he died in a Tennessee prison in August, but steps taken in carrying out his execution blocked signs of suffering, according to a doctor who reviewed information about the lethal injection.
In new court filings entered late Thursday amidst an ongoing legal challenge of Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol, Dr. David Lubarsky said statements from people who witnessed the execution indicated the controversial drug midazolam failed to ensure Irick could not feel pain during his death.
As a result, the death row inmate “experienced the feeling of choking, drowning in his own fluids, suffocating, being buried alive, and the burning sensation caused by the injection of the potassium chloride,” Lubarsky wrote in the filing.
The document also says the state did not follow its own lethal injection protocol, raising questio…

U.S.: The Government Has No Plan for Reuniting the Immigrant Families It Is Tearing Apart

Child, border of Mexico
A few days ago, Emily Kephart, a program coördinator at an immigrant-rights group called Kids in Need of Defense, set out to try to find a six-year-old Guatemalan girl who had been separated from her father after arriving in the United States, in May. The pair had been split up as a consequence of the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy at the border, which calls for the criminal prosecution of all migrants, including asylum seekers, who cross the border without turning themselves in to officials at so-called ports of entry. Now the father was in an immigration-detention facility in Arizona, awaiting deportation. He had no idea where his child was. Kephart was put on the case after the father called his family, back in a small town outside of Huehuetenango City, in Guatemala’s western highlands, and his family, in turn, contacted a local nonprofit that works with Kids in Need of Defense.

Every undocumented immigrant who enters government custody is assigned what’s called an alien number. But the girl’s family didn’t know hers. Armed with only the girl’s name and birth date, Kephart dialed a 1-800 hotline set up by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (O.R.R.), the federal body in charge of handling unaccompanied immigrant children. This hotline, Kephart told me, is difficult to access for parents who are in a detention facility (hold times can last half an hour; it’s impossible to leave a call-back number) or who have been deported (international calls are expensive, and 1-800 numbers don’t often work from abroad).

“We hit a dead end,” Kephart said. “The person I spoke with just made a note in the file of the girl they thought it might be. But we didn’t get confirmation that we were talking about the same child. They were looking at the record of someone whose first name was spelled differently, and whose date of birth was a month off.”

In the past two months, the government has taken some two thousand immigrant children away from their parents. Under the zero-tolerance policy, border crossers are arrested and charged with a crime before being placed in immigration detention. If they came with their children, the children are turned over to O.R.R. and treated as though they travelled to the U.S. alone. No protocols have been put in place for keeping track of parents and children concurrently, for keeping parents and children in contact with each other while they are separated, or for eventually reuniting them. Immigration lawyers, public defenders, and advocates along the border have been trying to fill the void.

The Trump administration said on Friday that it had separated 1,995 children from parents facing criminal prosecution for unlawfully crossing the border over a six-week period that ended last month.

Kephart had one other lead. The family in Guatemala had the phone number of a children’s shelter run by O.R.R. where they thought that the girl might be. The number had come from a neighbor who had also been separated from a child in the U.S. When Kephart called that shelter, she was told that the girl wasn’t there but that someone with a similar name and date of birth might be at a facility nearby. Eventually, Kephart tracked down a case manager at the second facility. “I told her, ‘Look, I have this situation. I think you have a girl there,’ ” Kephart told me. “The case manager said, ‘Oh, my God, yes!’ The case manager had a kid whose parents she couldn’t find. She was trying to help, but she’d had nothing to go on.”

Although the zero-tolerance policy was officially announced last month, it has been in effect, in more limited form, since at least last summer. Several months ago, as cases of family separation started surfacing across the country, immigrant-rights groups began calling for the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.), which is in charge of immigration enforcement and border security, to create procedures for tracking families after they are split up. At the time, D.H.S. said that it would address the problem, but there is no evidence that it actually did so. Erik Hanshew, a federal public defender in El Paso, told me that the problems begin at the moment of arrest. “Our client gets arrested with his or her child out in the field. Sometimes they go together at the initial processing, sometimes they get separated right then and there for separate processing,” he said. “When we ask the Border Patrol agents at detention hearings a few days after physical arrest about the information they’ve obtained in their investigation, they tell us that the only thing they know is that the person arrested was with a kid. They don’t seem to know gender, age, or name.”

Jennifer Podkul, who is the policy director of Kids in Need of Defense, told me that advocates are trying to piece together information about the whereabouts of children based on the federal charging documents used in the parent’s immigration case. “You can try to figure out where and when the child was apprehended based on that,” she said. “But where the child is being held often has nothing to do with where she and her parent were arrested. The kids get moved around to different facilities.”

The federal departments involved in dealing with separated families have institutional agendas that diverge. Immigration and Customs Enforcement—the agency at the D.H.S. that handles immigrant parents—is designed to deport people as rapidly as it can, while O.R.R.—the office within the Department of Health and Human Services (H.H.S.) that assumes custody of the kids—is designed to release children to sponsor or foster families in the U.S. Lately, O.R.R. has been moving more slowly than usual, which has resulted in parents getting deported before their children’s cases are resolved. There’s next to no coördination between D.H.S. and H.H.S. “ice detainees are not allowed to receive calls, so any calls need to be individually arranged,” Michelle Brané, of the Women’s Refugee Commission, told me. “A phone call is not a fix for separation. It is a call, often with a very young child. A call is a Band-Aid.” A number of lawyers that I’ve spoken with described personally pressuring individual deportation officers to delay a parent’s deportation until she can be reunified with her child or, failing that, until children and parents can be deported at roughly the same time.

Late last week, Kephart heard that the Guatemalan family had at last learned where the young girl was. A month after they’d been separated, though, it still wasn’t clear that the father had been informed in detention of his daughter’s location. “I hope that she’s spoken to her father,” Kephart told me. “But I haven’t gotten confirmation yet.” Even if father and daughter have spoken, getting reunited is far from assured. There is no formal process in place to insure that a family that’s been separated at the border gets deported back to their home country together. For now, just knowing the whereabouts of a child is a start. “I have a master’s degree, and I’m fluent in English,” Kephart said. “And it takes me days to figure one of these cases out.”

Source: The New Yorker, Jonathan Blitzer, June 18, 2018


Trump and the Baby Snatchers


This was the lead paragraph of a New York Times report last week:

“The Trump administration said on Friday that it had separated 1,995 children from parents facing criminal prosecution for unlawfully crossing the border over a six-week period that ended last month, as President Trump sought to shift blame for the widely criticized practice that has become the signature policy of his aggressive immigration agenda.”

This may well be one of the most callous policies the Trump administration has instituted in its zeal to crack down on illegal immigration.

These are children!

On June 9, The Washington Post reported that “a Honduran father separated from his wife and child suffered a breakdown at a Texas jail and killed himself in a padded cell last month.”

According to The Post, when the man, 39-year-old Marco Antonio Muñoz, was told he would be separated from his wife and 3-year-old son, he “ ‘lost it,’ according to one agent.”

“ ‘The guy lost his s—-,’ the agent said. ‘They had to use physical force to take the child out of his hands.’ ”

The Post continued: “Muñoz was placed in a chain-link detention cell, but he began punching the metal and shaking it violently, agents said.”

At another point in the account, The Post reported:

“ ‘He yelled and kicked at the windows on the ride to the jail,’ an agent said. Shackled and handcuffed, Muñoz attempted to escape again upon arrival and once more had to be restrained. According to the sheriff’s department report, Muñoz was booked into the jail at 9:40 p.m. He remained combative and was placed in a padded isolation cell, it says.”

Muñoz would take his own life. A guard saw “ ‘a piece of clothing twisted around his neck which was tied to the drainage location in the center of the cell,’ according to the incident report filed by the sheriff’s department that morning.”

Illegal alien in detention
I can’t begin to imagine the incredible pain and anxiety parents like Muñoz and their children must feel. I can’t imagine being forcibly separated from my children for any reason.

And yet, this has become Trump’s policy of persecution. Attorney General Jeff Sessions even had the gall to invoke one of the same Bible verses used to justify slavery to justify the current policy.

Trump keeps lying about it, trying to distort reality and claim that the separations are a result of a “law” made by the Democrats.

As The Times reported on Saturday: “Mr. Trump has steadfastly tried to deflect blame for the separation of children from their parents, consistently dissembling about why it is occurring. His comments are the latest example of his asking the public to discount what it sees with its own eyes and instead believe his own self-serving version of reality. They also reflect how politically poisonous the issue has become, as photographs and news articles circulate about the effects of the practice.”

As The Times explained: “In fact, there is no law that requires families to be separated at the border. There is a law against ‘improper entry’ at the border, as well as a consent decree known as the Flores settlement that limits to 20 days the amount of time that migrant children may be held in immigration detention, which a federal judge ruled in 2016 also applies to families. A 2008 antitrafficking statute — signed into law by a Republican president, George W. Bush — also requires that certain unaccompanied alien minors be transferred out of immigration detention in 72 hours. None of those laws or precedents mean that children must be taken away from their parents.

“It is the Trump administration’s decision this year to prosecute all unlawful immigrants as criminals that has forced the breakup of families; the children are removed when the parents are taken into federal custody. While previous administrations have made exceptions to such prosecutions for adults traveling with their minor children, the Trump administration has said it will not do so.”

Trump is lying, as he often does. This barbaric policy is an outgrowth of his own personal cruelty. It’s absolutely reprehensible and an absolute reflection of him.

And, as the American Psychological Association put it:

“The administration’s policy of separating children from their families as they attempt to cross into the United States without documentation is not only needless and cruel, it threatens the mental and physical health of both the children and their caregivers. Psychological research shows that immigrants experience unique stressors related to the conditions that led them to flee their home countries in the first place. The longer that children and parents are separated, the greater the reported symptoms of anxiety and depression for the children. Negative outcomes for children include psychological distress, academic difficulties and disruptions in their development.”

I don’t have a long treatise to issue here, no meandering argument. I am simply outraged beyond my ability to articulate it.

This practice of family separation must end, and Trump and every other politician who was silent about it or worse, endorsed it, must be held to account at the ballot box.

Source: The New York Times, Opinion, Charles M. Blow, June 17, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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