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Thousands of immigrants suffer in solitary confinement in U.S. detention centers

Hannah Rappleye, Andrew W. Lehren, Spencer Woodman, Vanessa Swales, Maryam Saleh, Gabe Gutierrez, Emily R. Siegel, Didi Martinez

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Hannah Rappleye, Andrew W. Lehren, Spencer Woodman and Vanessa Swales

Dulce Rivera lived for the one hour a day she was allowed to walk outside on a patch of concrete surrounded by metal fencing.

The 36-year-old transgender woman from Central America was locked in solitary confinement at a New Mexico detention center that housed immigrants in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. For 23 hours a day, she remained alone in a cell, with no one to talk to and nothing to distract from her increasingly dark thoughts.

“You never know what day it is, what time it is,” said Rivera, who has struggled with mental illness. “Sometimes you never see the sun.”

Rivera was placed in isolation because of allegations, later determined to be unfounded, that she had kissed and touched other detainees, records show.

Nearly four weeks into her stint in solitary, she lost her will to live. She fashioned a noose from a torn blanket and hanged herself from the cell’s ceiling vent — only to be saved by a passing guard.

Rivera was rushed to a hospital. Upon her return to the detention center, she was labeled a suicide threat and placed back in solitary, under even more restrictions.

Dulce Rivera, a 36-year-old transgender woman from Central America, was released from immigration detention in April 2019. She spent about eleven months in segregation, also known as solitary confinement. “You have no hope,” she said.Hannah Rappleye / NBC News

For more on this story, tune in to NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt tonight at 6:30pm ET/5:30pm CT or check your local listings.

Rivera’s case is not unique.

Thousands of others were outlined in a trove of government documents that shed new light on the widespread use of solitary confinement for immigrant detainees in ICE custody under both the Obama and Trump administrations.

The newly obtained documents paint a disturbing portrait of a system where detainees are sometimes forced into extended periods of isolation for reasons that have nothing to do with violating any rules.

Disabled immigrants in need of a wheelchair or cane. Those who identify as gay. Those who report abuse from guards or other detainees.

Only half of the cases involved punishment for rule violations. The other half were unrelated to disciplinary concerns — they involve the mentally ill, the disabled or others who were sent to solitary largely for what ICE described as safety reasons.

A Guatemalan man spent two months in solitary confinement at a county jail in Maryland. The reason: he had a prosthetic leg.

A mentally ill Ukrainian man was put in isolation for 15 days at a detention facility in Arizona. His offense: putting half a green pepper in one of his socks.

In nearly a third of the cases, segregated detainees were determined by ICE to have a mental illness, a population especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of isolation.

“We have created and continue to support a system that involves widespread abuse of human beings,” said Ellen Gallagher, a policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Gallagher, who is speaking publicly for the first time, has spent the past five years trying to sound the alarm within the federal government about the rampant use of solitary confinement on vulnerable people in ICE custody.

“People were being brutalized,” she said

The data, along with a review of thousands of pages of documents, including detention records and court filings, and interviews with dozens of current and former detainees from across the globe — India to Egypt to Nicaragua — offers an expansive look at how the practice of solitary confinement has been used in the nation’s civil immigration detention system.

The bulk of the records, which document solitary cases between March 2012 and March 2017, were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and shared through a partnership with NBC News and five other news organizations.

A guard escorts an immigrant detainee from his segregation cell back to general population at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California in 2013.John Moore / Getty Images file

ICE’s own directives say that placing detainees in solitary — or “segregated housing,” as the agency calls it — is “a serious step that requires careful consideration of alternatives.” Vulnerable detainees, such as the mentally ill, should only be placed in segregation as a last resort, according to ICE policy.

But the documents raise questions about whether ICE is following its own guidelines. Gallagher, for her part, is convinced that it is not.

“Solitary confinement was being used as the first resort, not the last resort,” she said.

The data documents 8,488 cases of immigrant detainees placed in isolation over the five-year period. But those figures represent only a portion of all the instances of solitary confinement in ICE’s vast network of detention centers.

According to ICE, the agency tracks cases only when detainees have a “special vulnerability,” such as the mentally ill, or were put in solitary for more than 14 days.

One out of every 200 detainees spend time in isolation for at least two weeks, according to ICE data. In a statement to NBC News, an agency spokesperson defended its use of the practice.

ICE “is firmly committed to the safety and welfare of all those in its custody,” the spokesperson said. “The use of restrictive housing in ICE detention facilities is exceedingly rare, but at times necessary, to ensure the safety of staff and individuals in a facility. ICE’s policy governing the use of special management units protects detainees, staff, contractors, and volunteers from harm by segregating certain detainees from the general population for both administrative and disciplinary reasons.”

The spokesperson added that ICE uses such practices to ensure that detainees “reside in safe, secure and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement.”

“Can you please help me?”

As the name suggests, solitary confinement separates individuals from the general population, housing them alone in a cell where their movements and privileges are highly restricted.

In isolation, they are typically locked down for at least 22 hours a day, with limited access to recreation or contact with other human beings. Depending on the restrictions, individuals in solitary can be limited or outright denied access to phone calls, visitation, books, or personal items, such as photographs of loved ones.

The experience, according to those who have lived it, can be harrowing. Some current and former detainees told NBC News that their time in isolation drove them to attempt suicide or commit other acts of self-harm. The detainees described a wide array of suffering, including night terrors, flashbacks, anxiety, depression, insomnia — psychological trauma that lasted long after their release from custody.

“After that first or second week, I lost my mind,” Ayo Oyakhire, a 52-year-old Nigerian, said of his nearly seven weeks in isolation at the ICE unit in Atlanta’s jail. “Sometimes I feel like someone is choking me. I have flashbacks, like I’m still confined in that little room.”

“I am not normal,” said Karandeep Singh, a 29-year-old Sikh from northern India who was moved to solitary confinement in the El Paso Processing Center in Texas, after he refused meals to protest his impending deportation.

Singh said that after more than two weeks in isolation, he bashed his head into his cell wall in an attempt to kill himself. “It was mental torture,” Singh said.

Several states have enacted restrictions on the practice, or banned it outright for certain populations, including juveniles and the mentally ill. Texas recently banned “punitive” solitary as punishment for breaking the rules. In Colorado, state inmates cannot be held in solitary confinement for longer than 15 days. President Barack Obama banned the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons.

Experts say even short stays in isolation can cause severe, and long-lasting, psychological and physical damage. The United Nations special rapporteur on torture has said that solitary confinement can amount to “torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” and that isolation for more than 15 days should be banned, except in exceptional circumstances.

The number of immigrants in custody has reached historic levels, with a daily average of 50,000 immigrants in more than 200 detention centers across the country, including county jails and facilities operated by private prison providers. Those in ICE custody are not facing criminal charges, and their detention is not intended to be punitive. They are in custody for civil immigration violations such as overstaying their visas or being in the country illegally. Some are awaiting deportation or court dates. Some are asylum seekers.

Similar to a criminal setting, officers in ICE facilities must sometimes manage detainees who are dangerous, or who fight or otherwise misbehave, or who are at risk of harm to themselves or others if left in general population or not kept under close observation. Some detainees, such as the elderly or disabled, may require special medical care that facilities, such as county jails, are not equipped to handle.

But NBC News found that immigrant detainees are also put in solitary for minor offenses, such as consensual kissing, or for offenses that stem from mental illness, such as acts of self-harm.

Joselin Mendez, a transgender woman from Nicaragua, was twice sent to solitary for minor disciplinary infractions, including an instance when she argued with an officer. Mendez said he refused to speak Spanish to her, and she cannot speak English.

“I felt afraid and anxious, and I would tremble and sweat and I would ask, ‘Why is this happening?'” Mendez said of her time in solitary.

Joselin Mendez, who received asylum in 2018, was put into solitary confinement twice for minor disciplinary infractions while detained in ICE custody. “I felt afraid and anxious,” she said. “I would tremble and sweat and I would ask, ‘Why? What is happening?'”Hannah Rappleye / NBC News

Hunger strikers, LGBT detainees, and people with disabilities have been put in isolation — referred to as “protective custody” in these cases — sometimes because they requested it, but sometimes not.

Kelly, a 22-year-old transgender woman from Central America whose last name NBC News is withholding at her request, spent four months in protective custody at the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in northern Louisiana, beginning in late 2017.

“The only thing told me was that it was because of the way I looked,” she said in a phone interview from the privately-run Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico. “They claimed it was for security reasons….I told them from day one that I didn’t want to be locked up almost 24 hours a day, alone in a cell, without medical attention.”

“Every time I closed my eyes, when I was trying to sleep, I began to have nightmares, horrible memories, things that I didn’t want to remember,” added Kelly. “It’s still happening to me.”

The Cibola Detention Center in Milan, New Mexico.Hannah Rappleye / NBC News

Detainees with mental illness put in isolation include more than 50 instances of self-harm. In at least 373 instances, those in solitary were on suicide watch, a highly-restrictive form of solitary.

A suicidal Iraqi man was placed in solitary at a Michigan detention center after he cut himself with a razor. He was ordered to spend 30 days in isolation – not for his own safety – but as punishment for a “weapons offense and self mutilation.”

More than 60 disabled detainees were placed in isolation solely because they required a wheelchair or some other aid.

A Pakistani man who needed a hard cast to heal his injured hand was put in isolation for eight days. His jailers said the cast posed a “security risk.”

ICE took alternating views of that risk when justifying the decision to put him in solitary. At one point, it noted that the cast “poses potential danger” and “has potential to be used as a blunt object during altercation.” But it also noted that his damaged hand and sling “could also hinder his ability to defend himself in general population.”

Ilyas Muradi, a 30-year-old longtime U.S. resident from Afghanistan, has spent most of the last four months in solitary at ICE’s South Texas Detention Complex. He said he was accused of entering a shower without authorization, and threatening a guard.

Muradi denied that he threatened a guard, but acknowledged having gotten into multiple fights with other detainees last year. He said he believes guards are now punishing him simply because they don’t like him — and is frustrated because he doesn’t know what he can do to be released from solitary. His attorney in early May sent a letter to ICE pleading for his client’s release from isolation.

In one way, Muradi is among the lucky ones.

Detainees had lawyers in only 11 percent of the solitary reports. Even for those, in more than 270 instances, ICE did not notify the attorneys that their clients were placed in solitary. This includes six times when detainees were in isolation for more than half a year.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” an anguished Muradi told reporters in a phone call from the detention facility.

At the end of another call, he broke into sobs, asking “Can you please help me?”

‘People were being brutalized’

In February 2014, Gallagher, the DHS employee, came across ICE logs detailing the placement of detainees in solitary confinement. She said she couldn’t believe her eyes at first: the agency was using the punishing conditions of isolation on civil detainees routinely, and often with little apparent justification.

Her alarm grew as she reviewed cases of the mentally-ill placed in isolation for reasons that included attempting suicide, being the victim of a physical attack or exhibiting behavior related to their mental illness.

“I came to believe that many of the fact patterns featured in the segregation reports and in the other documents that I reviewed fell within the description of what had been deemed torture,” said Gallagher, who was at the time a policy adviser for DHS’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties office.

In one of the cases, a detainee jumped from the top of his bunk bed onto a cement floor in an attempt to harm himself. He then attempted to strangle himself with a towel. He was sentenced to 15 days in solitary. In another, a detainee was sentenced to 45 days in solitary after officials discovered one anti-anxiety pill hidden in a book he was reading.

One of the most troubling cases was that of a man who had so deteriorated during a year in and out of solitary, that he had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Once he returned to the detention center, she said, he threw his own feces at a guard and was subsequently sentenced to more than 13 months in isolation.

Men sit in the sun at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego in 2010. Gregory Bull / AP file

Over several months, Gallagher tracked individual cases and gathered reams of documentation. She began to lose sleep, plagued by a series of questions: “How can this be happening? What can I do to bring this to someone’s attention?”

Now convinced that ICE was violating its own rules and endangering the lives of detainees, she embarked on a years-long effort to reform the agency’s practices.

In a succession of memos first circulated internally at DHS and then sent to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel — an independent agency where federal employees can file complaints of wrongdoing they think have been ignored — Gallagher alleged that abuses of solitary confinement at ICE had become “urgent and at times life-threatening.”

In one memo, Gallagher describes seeing records of ICE detainees moving “chronically back and forth from the general population to administrative or disciplinary segregation, with periodic, crisis-oriented admissions to psychiatric hospitals punctuating their return to the same disturbing cycle.”

ICE’s internal guidelines explicitly require detention officials to document what alternatives to isolation were considered in certain cases. Gallagher often found no evidence that ICE had done so.

In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said that its Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties had examined ICE’s use of isolation through complaint investigations, working groups and other advice and feedback. The office has worked with ICE “to improve policy and reduce unnecessary use of segregated housing for ICE detainees,” the spokesperson said. The office said that, in 2016, it collaborated with ICE to implement Obama-era recommendations issued by the Justice Department on improving solitary confinement.

DHS’s inspector general in recent audits has raised concerns about “improper and overly restrictive” isolation, “multiple violations” of ICE policy leading to needless solitary confinements, and record keeping so sloppy that mentally ill detainees may be subjected to extended stays in isolation that would pose a threat to their health.

Gallagher’s memos prompted two top lawmakers from different sides of the aisle — Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and then-Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. — to write a previously-unreported letter in 2015 outlining concerns over ICE’s use of solitary confinement.

“Recent information obtained by the (Senate Judiciary Committee) suggests that ICE continues to place many detainees with mental health concerns in administrative or disciplinary segregation — also known as solitary confinement — contrary to agency directives that limit the use of segregation for the mentally ill,” read the letter to Jeh Johnson, who was President Obama’s homeland security secretary.

Ellen Gallagher, a former policy advisor at the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security, said that records she reviewed indicated that ICE was using solitary confinement “as the first resort, not the last resort.”Hannah Rappleye / NBC News

Believing she has exhausted her options for sounding the alarm within the government, Gallagher agreed to share her story with NBC News. Without public action, “this same set of circumstances will not stop,” Gallagher said. “And I think it will actually get worse.”

“I tend to think that staying silent does not honor the pain of the people who have been treated in this inhumane way,” she added. “If I were to stay silent given what I know, that I would in effect be giving up on the people that are stuck in those cells.”

‘He wanted to die’

At least 13 detainees who later died in ICE detention have spent time in solitary, according to records dating back to 2011.

An NBC News analysis of ICE death reports shows that the agency acknowledged missteps for at least eight of them. Seven of those detainees died in their isolation cells, including six who committed suicide. The seventh wasn’t given his anti-seizure medication.

Clemente Ntangola Mponda, a 27-year-old man from Mozambique, was put in solitary at the Houston Contract Detention Facility in Texas for more than half of 2012. “Mponda told mental health staff he was tired of being in segregation and that he wanted to die,” according to an ICE detainee death report.

Mponda continued to be held in isolation, though the justification would remain murky, ICE later determined. For three months, prison officials violated rules by not providing justifications or details for why he continued to be held in solitary. In August 2013, he was back in isolation for more than two weeks because of a fight. Prison staff didn’t notice he grabbed extra medication pills. Although he had previously talked about killing himself, officials did not check on him. With no one watching, Mponda killed himself by swallowing the pills.

Moises Tino‐Lopez, 23, from Guatemala, died in 2016 in an isolation cell in the Hall County Department of Corrections, in central Nebraska. ICE would later determine that “no justification was documented for charging Tino with disciplinary violations and placing him in” solitary. Once in isolation, the facility did not ensure he got needed anti-seizure medication. He then died from a seizure.

‘A long time behind those walls’

Even before she landed in solitary at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico last June, Dulce Rivera’s life was marked by tumult.

She said her mother abandoned her when she was 10 years old, leaving her homeless. Rivera spent her early teens on the streets of violence-ravaged cities in Honduras and elsewhere, battling drug addiction and mental illness. She arrived in the U.S. at age 16 and was granted permanent residency in 2000.

The transgender woman was placed in ICE custody in 2017 after a criminal conviction in California for second-degree robbery violated her residency in the U.S.

Her suicide bid came in June. After she was transported back from the hospital, Rivera was outfitted with a heavy green smock that couldn’t be fashioned into a noose. She was still locked alone for nearly all day in conditions that further ate away at her fragile mental state. “They take off all your clothes, and they put you in a cell that is more terrible,” Rivera said.

CoreCivic, which runs the Cibola facility, said that it is contractually required to follow ICE’s detention standards. “We’re committed, as we have been for three decades, to creating a safe environment for the individuals ICE entrusts to our care,” CoreCivic spokesperson Amanda Gilchrist said, “and to following all federal guidelines on the appropriate accommodation of transgender detainees.”

Rivera was abruptly released from ICE custody last April after her lawyer filed a legal action challenging her detention. No country would accept Rivera, who had no birth certificate or identifying information from any nation, and ICE couldn’t hold her indefinitely.

By then, Rivera had been moved to the El Paso Processing Center in Texas. In all, she spent roughly 11 months in solitary confinement at the two facilities, records show.

“They just tell me, ‘Miss Rivera, we gotta let you go,'” she said of that day of her release. “And I just start crying. It has been such a long time behind those walls.”

Rivera is now living at her sponsor’s home, a modest one-story house a few minutes drive from New Mexico’s Organ Mountains. Her bedroom is a far cry from the isolation cells she lived in for nearly a year. The desert sunlight filters through her window and spills over the soft comforter on her bed.

Most of the time, Rivera can barely contain her sunny, upbeat personality. As she settles into her new life, she’s been spending time with a network of supporters, including a close circle of transgender friends.

But a small part of her, she said, remains broken. Nightmares still plague her.

In one, she sees an officer looming over her in the dark.

“You think you’re still living there,” Rivera said.

This story was produced by NBC News as part of a collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a nonprofit organization based in Washington. The partnership includes five other news organizations: Univision and The Intercept in the United States; Grupo SIN of Dominican Republic, Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción in Mexico and Plaza Publica in Guatemala.

Image: Hannah Rappleye Byline PhotoHannah Rappleye

Rappleye is a reporter with the Investigative Unit at NBC News, covering immigration, criminal justice and human rights issues.

Andrew W. Lehren

Andrew W. Lehren is a senior editor with the NBC News Investigative Unit.

Spencer Woodman

Spencer Woodman is a reporter with The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists 

Vanessa Swales

Vanessa Swales is an intern with the NBC News Investigative Unit.

Maryam Saleh, Gabe Gutierrez, Emily R. Siegel and Didi Martinez

contributed.

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Iran refuses Trump’s offer of talks unless US shows ‘respect’

Exclusive by Frederik Pleitgen and Sheena McKenzie, CNN
Tehran, Iran (CNN)Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has said his country won’t negotiate with President Donald Trump unless the US shows Tehran “respect” by honoring its commitments under the disputed nuclear deal.
In an exclusive interview with…
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Napolitano: Don McGahn in ‘awkward position’ after White House directed him to defy Democrats’ subpoena

Former White House Counsel Don McGahn is caught in an “awkward position” after the White House directed him not to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano said Tuesday.
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Blazers start hot, again. Warriors come back, again, win in OT to eliminate Portland

Kurt Helin

Monday night saw the third installment in the Portland/Golden State movie franchise. We had seen this same plot in the last two films/games— Portland races out to an early lead thanks to unexpected hero, Golden State comes back and executes better down the stretch, then Golden State finds a way to win.

Monday night was just more dramatic.

It was almost the Meyers Leonard game — he had a career-best 25 points before the half and finished with 30 points on 12-of-16 shooting.

Adding to the drama, the Warriors delayed their comeback to the fourth quarter, but comeback they did.

Stephen Curry — who had a triple-double on the night and had 37 points to lead all scorers — sparked the comeback but was almost remembered for traveling with an exaggerated Harden step back rather than taking a potential game-winning two (and his brother Seth Curry was all over the travel call).

In the end, none of that mattered.

It was Draymond Green — who also had a triple-double with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists — that hit a dagger three in OT off a Curry assist, and that proved to be too much for the Trail Blazers to overcome.

Golden State won 119-117 in a game of little defense, and with that takes the series in a 4-0 sweep.

The Warriors will now have nine days off to get Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins healthy — all three sat out this game — before taking on either the Bucks or Toronto in the Finals (which will start in the East city).

Portland is done for the season, but they should look back with pride on the growth this team has shown. They found a third star in Jusuf Nurkic, and then without him still made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. This season was a step forward for Portland, something to build on.

Portland just did not have the matchups or answers for Golden State.

Steve Kerr, without three guys who started Game 1 of the playoffs against the Clippers, threw out the kind of rotations usually seen on the second night of a back-to-back in January, but the Warriors depth came through. Kevon Looney had a strong game with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Shaun Livingston had eight points, Jordan Bell started and had 7.

More than depth, what separated the teams in this series was Golden State could crank up the defense when it needed it. The Warriors played with more defensive intensity in the fourth, holding the Trail Blazers to 6-of-23 shooting. In overtime, Portland shot 3-of-10.

The Warriors shot just 3-of-12 in overtime, but had five offensive rebounds and Green’s dagger three, and that was enough. They won a tough game without their stars. It’s the kind of win you expect from champions.

It’s a movie we have seen before.

Presenting the Western Conference-championship trophy in 2015, former Warriors coach Al Attles worried about dropping it. He told Stephen Curry to pick it up directly, avoiding a potentially troublesome lift and handoff. Curry raised the trophy to a jubilant Oakland crowd.

Golden State hasn’t lost control of the trophy since.

The Warriors won their fifth straight conference title – the longest streak of all-time – with a 119-117 Game 4 win over the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals Monday. Only the Boston Celtics, who won 10 straight division titles 1957-1966 before the NBA adopted conference in 1971, have gone to so many consecutive NBA Finals.

Here are the longest streaks of NBA Finals appearances:

image

Stephen Curry had an I-don’t-want-to-play-Game-5 kind of first half for Golden State, scoring 25 points and hitting 5-of-7 from three.

However, he was the second best player on the court because Meyers Leonard held that crown.

Yes, Meyers Leonard.

He had 25 points of his own on 10-of-12 shooting.

Fans broke out a “Mey-ers Leon-ard” chant.

All that had Portland up 69-65 at the half in a defense-optional Game 4 where it is win-or-go-home for the Trail Blazers.

When the Knicks acquired Emmanuel Mudiay last season — a player Denver just released outright — Mudiay instantly jumped past Frank Ntilikina on the point guard depth chart. Then, when the Knicks traded for Dennis Smith Jr. at the deadline (part of the Kristaps Porzingis deal), the future of Ntilikina in New York was thrown into uncertainty.

Ntilikina sees that, wants out, and is getting a new agent as well, reports Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina dropped CAA as his agency last season and planned to sign with French agent Bouna Ndiaye, the Daily News has learned.

Ntilikina, who was drafted eighth overall by Knicks in 2017, is on the trading block and desires a relocation, a source told the News. The Knicks declined offers to move Ntilikina at the trade deadline in February, acquired another point guard in Dennis Smith Jr., and Ntilikina quickly decided to change agents.

Ndiaye represents several French players in the NBA, including Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier.

The Knicks are expected to try to trade Ntilikina, either at the draft or next summer. Mostly other teams will view him as a way to save money — if teams do not pick up his 2020-21 option by Oct. 31 he comes off the books after this next season — but also Ntilikina played good defense and other teams may try to take a flier on him.

Andre Iguodala was limited in Game 3 in Portland, playing just 18 minutes Saturday night, none after he was taken out with 7:49 left in the third quarter. An MRI on his left calf Sunday came back clean, but he was questionable with leg tightness, officially. Call it a sore calf if you prefer.

Up 3-0 in the series, there was no reason to risk something worse in Game 4, so Iguodala is out, coach Steve Kerr announced pregame.

Update: Warriors G/F Andre Iguodala (L leg tightness) was listed as questionable and has been declared out.

— Monte Poole (@MontePooleNBCS) May 20, 2019

Alfonzo McKinnie will start in place of Iguodala.

Iguodala joins Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins on the Warriors bench for Game 4.

If there is a Game 5, it will be Wednesday night in the Bay Area.

With the NBA Finals not starting until May 30 — a week from this Thursday — the Warriors have plenty of time to rest and get their starters healed before taking on a serious challenger from the East (whether that is Milwaukee or Toronto). The Warriors have used their depth against Portland to help keep minutes down for their starters and Kerr will lean on that bench to close out the series in the next couple of games.

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DHS backup border funding plan would take millions from TSA, other agencies

Julia Ainsley

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WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security is requesting $232 million from the Transportation Security Administration to fund border operations in the event that Congress does not agree to fund $1.1 billion of its funding request, according to documents of a contingency plan obtained by NBC News.

Other components of DHS, which includes the Federal Emergency Management Administration, have also been asked to provide a portion of their overall budget to contribute to the $1.1 billion goal, according to the documents.

Internal emails and a PowerPoint presentation at the Transportation Security Administration last week outlined a plan on how the agency would fund a “tax” its parent agency may levy upon it. TSA programs identified as funding sources include $50 million set aside to buy advanced airport screening equipment and $64 million from a worker’s compensation fund set aside for injured TSA employees in 2010. The funding also includes $3 million collected from lose change left in trays at airports.

Funding for Transportation Security Officers, who run security screening lines in airports, are also “in play,” the email said. Cutting funding for those officers could have a significant impact on wait times for travelers as the summer season begins.

A spokesman for DHS said the Department in “considering all options” to address the influx of migrants on the Southwest border.

“We will continue to work with our workforce to find dynamic solutions and funding to address this very serious problem. As part of this effort, it is our responsibility to explore fiscal mechanisms that will ensure the safety and welfare of both our workforce and the migrant population, which is also reflected in the supplemental request submitted to Congress,” said DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton.

President Donald Trump asked for $4.5 billion from Congress on May 1 to address an influx in undocumented immigrants crossing the southwest border, $1.1 billion of which was specifically set aside for “border operations.”

Those operations include “personnel expenses, additional detention beds, and operations combating human smuggling and trafficking,” according to the White House.

TSA was due to submit its list of potential programs to be cut last Friday, according to the documents. It is not known what whether DHS has approved the plan or whether it will have to be used.

A slide in the internal Power Point presentation, said it was up to DHS to internally fund the $1.1 billion request if Congress does not act to fully fund it.

“Sources may come from any appropriation that is legally available to transfer funds in FY2019…” the slide said.

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Trump’s Iran threats part of a troubling — and ineffective — foreign policy pattern

Frida Ghitis

President Donald Trump is a busy man, but he found time on Sunday to threaten Iran, tweeting, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” It was an aggressive if somewhat baffling missive from the president, who appears at times disturbingly unconcerned by the prospect of another very complicated, very expensive and very bloody conflict overseas, only to turn around and claim he does not want a war.

If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 19, 2019

In recent weeks, Trump has escalated tensions between the United States and its adversaries on a number of fronts, from Venezuela to Iran to China. Regardless of which one of Trump’s advisers gets the credit or the blame, the president is the one responsible for America’s relationships with both its allies and its adversaries.

While Trump’s recent actions are concerning, they also are part of a distinct foreign policy pattern that has emerged over the past two years: tough talk with no plan if and when the rhetoric fails.

To be sure, the conflicts Trump’s White House are facing are not imaginary. China does cheat on trade; Venezuela has suffered under an abhorrent regime; Iran’s regime is murderous and destabilizing; North Korea’s nuclear program is a menace. Trump is right in trying to address all of these problems. And Americans — and indeed, the world — should hope he can find a peaceful path to solving them. But what we’ve seen so far is not encouraging.

Time and again the adversary has failed to capitulate, a scenario Trump has no response for. The U.S. is left looking inept.

Time and again, Trump has made tough demands that electrify his supporters, then dramatic moves that raise expectations (or fears) regarding what could come next. Time and again, however, the adversary has failed to capitulate, a scenario Trump has no response for. The U.S. is left looking inept, while experts wonder why he would needlessly raise the global temperature. The mixed messages also make U.S. objectives appear muddled, a golden opportunity for enemies or political operators with clear goals willing to exploit or manipulate the diplomatic confusion.

In each case, Trump’s gut and confidence in his ability to intimidate seem to be the primary driver of his decisions, not the team of diplomats and experienced analysts at his disposal. And so, more than two years in, Trump has whipped up a lot of activity but scored no significant wins on foreign policy.

And his one major accomplishment — dislodging ISIS from Syria— was a continuation of the previous administration’s plan.

It didn’t used to be this way. Early on in his presidency, the world trembled at Trump’s words. When Trump thundered against North Korea, warning Pyongyang that its threats would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” people believed him. But it was all an act. Before long, the explosive rhetoric dissolved into rosy platitudes as the president gushed about Kim Jung Un, the North Korean dictator, claiming the two had fallen in love.

It would all count as brilliant statesmanship if Trump could point to some progress in achieving America’s goals. But achievements are elusive. North Korea has not only failed to dismantle any of its nuclear program it is currently making advances in nuclear and missile technology. Indeed, after North Korea carried out several test-firings of a new missile earlier in May, Trump dismissed the tests as “very standard stuff,” an assessment not shared by national security experts. Trump has become an apologist for Kim.

Recent escalation in the conflict with Iran follows a similar pattern. Trump has been raging against the nuclear deal negotiated with Iran by the Obama administration since before he was elected president. Once in office, he promptly pulled the U.S. out of the six-country agreement. In the past few weeks, however, the U.S. ratcheted up sanctions and has even gone so far as to deploy Navy forces to the region when intelligence reports suggested Iran was preparing to attack U.S. interests or U.S. allies.

No one, including Iran, appears quite clear of what Washington’s objective is. Is it regime change, a renegotiated deal, a taming of Iran’s destabilizing behavior?

No one, including Iran, appears quite clear of what Washington’s objective is. Is it regime change, a renegotiated deal, a taming of Iran’s destabilizing behavior?

Such confusion makes the situation more dangerous. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a moment of Trumpian-style bluster, warned that if any of Iran’s proxy militias carried out an attack, “We will hold the Iranian leadership direct accountable.” But then, when the attacks did allegedly happen, against oil tankers in the Gulf and apparently against oil installations in Saudi Arabia, Trump retreated. He let it be known that he’s not happy with the hawkishness he hears from national security adviser John Bolton, and that he told Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan he does not want to go to war.

The Trump administration drew a red line and backed away when Iran crossed it.

Not wanting war is not a bad thing, but when you show all your cards too early deterrence becomes less effective, while the risk of an unwanted escalation or an accidental misreading of cues makes possible the outbreak of war.

Venezuela and China further illustrate failures on foreign policy. In Venezuela, Trump — partly for domestic political reasons — has rightly sided with the opposition in Venezuela in wanting the disastrous Maduro regime to restore democracy. A U.S. military intervention would be a massive mistake, and few people expect it to happen. But the mere threat gave Russia an excuse to bolster its military presence in support of Maduro.

Trump’s tough talk, the threats and hints of military intervention, achieved little. More significant progress in Venezuela came after the U.S defied its own pattern and helped build international support for the opposition, a move that gave more legitimacy and moral power to the pro-democracy opposition.

China is an even tougher problem. Trump’s verbal bravado and dramatic imposition of trade sanctions has so far failed to crack Beijing’s resolve. Does Trump have a next move? Unlike economic sanctions against North Korea, Venezuela and Iran, the trade war with China also takes a toll on Americans, making the waiting game a costly one.

Again, we hope the U.S. will succeed in peacefully eliminating the threat posed by Iran and North Korea, making China a fair competitor, and helping Venezuela return to democracy. But so far, Trump’s prized deal-making skills have raised risks, but garnered few results.

Frida Ghitis

Frida Ghitis writes about world affairs. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she has worked in more than 60 countries. She is a weekly columnist for World Politics Review, a contributing columnist for the Washington Post, a regular contributor to CNN and frequent contributor and on-air commentator for major news organizations around the world.

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Alabama Public Television refuses to air ‘Arthur’ episode with gay wedding

Janelle Griffith

 / Updated 

Alabama Public Television chose not to air PBS’ recent “Arthur” episode that featured a same-sex marriage.

During the animated series’ 22nd season premiere, titled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone,” Arthur’s third-grade teacher, Mr. Ratburn, marries Patrick, a chocolatier, at a wedding attended by his students, Arthur, Francine, Buster and Muffy. It aired May 13.

Mike McKenzie, director of programming at APT, told NBC News on Monday that PBS sent a message to stations in mid-April alerting them “to possible viewer concerns about the content of the program.” After he and others at APT viewed the episode, they decided not to broadcast it and showed a re-run instead.

McKenzie said the network has no plans to air it.

“Parents have trusted Alabama Public Television for more than 50 years to provide children’s programs that entertain, educate and inspire,” McKenzie said in a statement. “More importantly — although we strongly encourage parents to watch television with their children and talk about what they have learned afterwards — parents trust that their children can watch APT without their supervision. We also know that children who are younger than the ‘target’ audience for ‘Arthur’ also watch the program.”

McKenzie also said if they aired it, APT would take away the choice of parents who felt it was inappropriate for their children.

“The vast majority of parents will not have heard about the content, whether they agree with it or not,” he said. “Because of this, we felt it would be a violation of trust to broadcast the episode.”

“Arthur” debuted in 1996 and follows the adventures of its title character, his friends and family.

In 2005, APT pulled an episode of “Arthur” in which the character Buster visited a girl who had two mothers, according to AL.com.

“’Our feeling is that we basically have a trust with parents about our programming,” then-executive director Allan Pizzato said at the time. “This program doesn’t fit into that.”

Janelle Griffith

Janelle Griffith is a breaking news reporter for NBC News. 

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Russian documents reveal desire to sow racial discord — and violence — in the U.S.

Richard Engel, Kate Benyon-Tinker, Kennett Werner

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Richard Engel, Kate Benyon-Tinker and Kennett Werner

LONDON — Russians who were linked to interference in the 2016 U.S. election discussed ambitious plans to stoke unrest and even violence inside the U.S. as recently as 2018, according to documents reviewed by NBC News.

The documents — communications between associates of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-linked oligarch indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for previous influence operations against the U.S. — laid out a new plot to manipulate and radicalize African-Americans. The plans show that Prigozhin’s circle has sought to exploit racial tensions well beyond Russia’s social media and misinformation efforts tied to the 2016 election.

The documents were obtained through the Dossier Center, a London-based investigative project funded by Russian opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky. NBC News has not independently verified the materials, but forensic analysis by the Dossier Center appeared to substantiate the communications.

One document said that President Donald Trump’s election had “deepened conflicts in American society” and suggested that, if successful, the influence project would “undermine the country’s territorial integrity and military and economic potential.”

The revelations come as U.S. intelligence agencies have warned of probable Russian meddling in the 2020 election.

The documents contained proposals for several ways to further exacerbate racial discord in the future, including a suggestion to recruit African-Americans and transport them to camps in Africa “for combat prep and training in sabotage.” Those recruits would then be sent back to America to foment violence and work to establish a pan-African state in the Southern U.S., including South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

There is no indication that the plan — which is light on details — was ever put into action, but it offers a fresh example of the mindset around Russian efforts to sow discord in the U.S.

The blueprint, entitled “Development Strategy of a Pan-African State on U.S. Territory,” floated the idea of enlisting poor, formerly incarcerated African-Americans “who have experience in organized crime groups” as well as members of “radical black movements for participation in civil disobedience actions.”

The goal was to “destabilize the internal situation in the U.S.”

Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director of counterintelligence at the FBI and an NBC News contributor, who reviewed the documents, said that they offer a warning to the U.S.

“Regardless of whether or not these plans are an amateurish thought experiment, the fact that these people are talking about doing this should disturb Americans of all stripes,” Figliuzzi said.

“The unfortunate reality is that we’re seeing an adversary that will consider virtually anything to get what it wants, and if it means violence or splitting America along racial lines or eroding our trust in institutions, they’ll do it.”

Some of the documents appear to have been sent by Dzheykhun “Jay” Aslanov, an employee of the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg-based troll farm that played a key role in the 2016 Russian meddling campaign. Aslanov was one of 13 Russians indicted by Mueller in February 2018 for his role with the IRA.

The plan was shared with Mikhail Potepkin, a Russian businessman, who then circulated it more widely, according to communications reviewed by NBC News.

Both Aslanov and Potepkin have been linked to Prigozhin, a Russian catering magnate often described as “Putin’s chef.” Prigozhin was also indicted by Mueller for funding the IRA. Widely perceived as a Kremlin operative, he has been connected to a shadowy mercenary outfit known as the Wagner Group, whose guns-for-hire are reported to have been involved in Russian military operations in Syria and Eastern Ukraine, according to U.S. military officials.

The Mueller report exposed how Russian trolls, employed by associates of Prigozhin, deliberately inflamed racial tensions by spreading false and incendiary stories to African-Americans via social media. Among the objectives was to suppress black turnout in the 2016 U.S. election.

Another of the newly obtained documents is a map of the U.S. overlaid with information about African-American population size in seven southern states. Also included are the number of subscribers to websites and social media accounts that were set up by Russian trolls at the IRA to spread race-baiting rhetoric, the latter of which were later removed by the social media companies.

A map of the U.S. overlaid with information about African-American population size in seven southern states that was part of a cache of documents found in communications from Russians linked to U.S. election interference.The Dossier Center

Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., who was briefed on the documents, said they highlight how ongoing racial issues in the U.S. can be used in misinformation efforts.

“Russia understands how critical the African American vote is to determining the outcome of elections,” said Demings, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. “And because we have not effectively dealt with racism as a country ourselves, I believe we’ve made ourselves vulnerable to foreign powers like Russia to continue to try to undermine.”

The documents also discuss how to expand Russia’s clout on the African continent and win business there, from arms sales to mining contracts. They outline propaganda efforts to target Africans and stir up negative opinions about Europe and the U.S.

Cooking up elaborate interference schemes is standard practice within Prigozhin’s circle, according to Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russian intelligence and author of “The Red Web,” a book on Russian information warfare.

“This is typical of the way Prigozhin and his team operate,” Soldatov said. “They come up with pitches, some of them very ambitious. They discuss many possible ideas and then send the pitches to the Kremlin to be authorized or rejected. It’s their modus operandi.”

The idea of African-American statehood has an intellectual precedent in Russia. During the early 20th century, communists in America proposed forming a “black-belt nation” in the South. Some party members traveled to the Soviet Union for training.

“Even though these kinds of initiatives from the Russians aren’t new to us, what is new is the rapidity with which they can get this message out on social media and saturate the American consumer with these kinds of thoughts,” said Figliuzzi, the former FBI official. “That puts the Russian initiative on steroids and should scare all of us.”

Image: Richard  EngelRichard Engel

Richard Engel has been NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent since 2008. 

Kate Benyon-Tinker

Kate Benyon-Tinker is a senior producer for NBC News, based in London.

Kennett Werner

Kennett Werner is a reporter for NBC News.

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‘Game of Thrones’ is gone, and so are some HBO subscribers

Daniel Arkin

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For years, Sarah Robinson was a faithful “Game of Thrones” viewer. Her loyalty to HBO, however, didn’t run as deep.

Robinson, who works for a retail company in Houston, canceled her $15-a-month HBO Now subscription right before the last installment aired. The finale clocked a series high of 19.3 million viewers, according to HBO.

“It’s literally what I’ve done at the end of every season,” Robinson, 31, said.

It doesn’t take much digging through social media to realize that she’s not alone. “Game of Thrones” viewers around the country pledged — or threatened — to do the same, departing the cable channel roughly around the same time as its most popular series.

The potential wave of HBO cancellations puts the spotlight on what’s known in the industry as “churn,” in which users bail on a service — whether because of price hikes or the end of a global smash hit like the eight-season epic “Thrones.”

In an era of no-contract streaming packages and limitless content choices, television consumers are freer to roam than ever, soaking up shows on one service before jumping ship. The top entertainment companies, meanwhile, compete in an escalating battle for eyeballs and buzz.

“I think churn is a big challenge for an industry that was essentially designed to allow it, where viewers can switch easily between services and there’s very little barriers to entry,” said Brett Sappington, senior research director at the Dallas-based market research firm Parks Associates.

“What we’re seeing is that these companies are experiencing the other side of the sword,” Sappington added. “You’ve acquired all these users, but how do you retain them?”

The average subscription among leading streaming players lasts 31 months, according to new data shared exclusively with NBC News by Parks Associates.

That average length has increased over the last two years, the firm said — but it pales in comparison to the relatively longer and more consistent time periods that American consumers spend wrapped up in traditional cable bundles.

Netflix leads the pack when it comes to subscription retention, holding on to users for an average of 51 months, according to the data. HBO Now, the cable company’s direct-to-consumer streaming service, keeps users for less than half that — 18 months on average.

The market research group Mintel arrived at similar conclusions. The firm found that HBO Now users were twice as likely as those from any other top-tier streaming service to nix their subscription when a certain series — “Thrones” or otherwise — exits stage left.

Mintel’s data represents “potentially good news for Netflix,” Buddy Lo, a senior analyst at the firm, told Forbes. “Its presence as the leading [internet-based] streaming service is less sensitive to content-based cancellations than some may have thought.”

HBO, for its part, seems to be aware of the hazards. The pay-cable company has flooded its airwaves with clips and trailers for upcoming series, including big-budget adaptations of the seminal graphic novel “Watchmen” and the fantasy book series “His Dark Materials.”

The perennially Emmy-winning company also plans to roll out a slate of shows that might entice viewers outside the “Thrones” demographic, including the second season of the acclaimed ensemble drama “Big Little Lies” and the Spanish-language horror comedy “Los Espookys.”

My favourite part of tonight’s #GameOfThrones episode was HBO’s “look at all the other shows we have, please don’t cancel your sub” commercial that aired just before it.

— Justin Fisher (@thejustinfisher) May 20, 2019

“I do like to remind people in this moment when we’re so focused on ‘Game of Thrones’ just to remember that we do have a track record outside” the culture-conquering hit, HBO programming chief Casey Bloys told NBC News’ Dylan Byers last week.

“Thrones” might nonetheless be key to retaining subscribers down the road.

HBO in June will start shooting an untitled prequel series co-starring Naomi Watts, Bloys said — part of the AT&T-owned brand’s wider push to ramp up its original programming by 50 percent this year.

But the home of “Thrones” will face stiff competition from other premium channels working furiously to seize global attention with a fantasy show of similarly outsized scope and scale. Amazon, for example, plans to venture into Middle Earth with a television adaptation of the “Lord of the Rings” saga.

HBO has stood at a comparable fork in the road before. The era-defining mob drama “The Sopranos” wrapped up in 2007 — a virtual eon ago for an industry since reshaped by internet-based disruption — and left a hole in the channel’s Sunday evening lineup.

But news articles from the time don’t suggest the channel reported a drop-off in subscribers.

Robinson, the Houston resident who canceled her HBO Now account ahead of the “Thrones” finale, said she plans to take a hiatus from the cable channel for the next several months. She expects to re-up when the fourth season of the Issa Rae comedy “Insecure” debuts sometime next year.

“I’ll probably be back,” Robinson said.

Daniel Arkin

Daniel Arkin is a reporter for NBC News.

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