Roger’s note: President Obama, to his shame, has deported more refugees from Mexico and Central America that his Republican predecessors. This began under Janet Napolitano, now President of the University of California, my alma mater; and it has continued under her successor at Homeland (in)Security, Jeh Johnson. The bitter irony of this, apart from the de facto inhumane treatment and deportation of refugees, is that those we are expelling are for the most part escapees from Mexico and Central American nations (especially Honduras and El Salvador) where our stringent economic policies and support for murderous and corrupt dictatorial regimes, especially that in Honduras, have created the violent conditions that make life unbearable and provoke emigration.
After January’s raids that tore teens from their families and plucked them off buses on their way to school, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is about to embark on a renewed quest to arrest and deport Central Americans who applied for refugee status in the United States in the summer of 2014. According to sources reported by Reuters on 12 May 2016 and confirmed by DHS a day later, the agency is sending Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents out on a second wave of raids against immigrants, this time with the specific aim of apprehending and imprisoning Central American women and their children, or “family units”, and unaccompanied minors.
An article by Julia Edwards published by Reuters on Thursday referred to internal papers that were revealed to the news agency concerning the upcoming operation.
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has now told field offices nationwide to launch a 30-day ‘surge’ of arrests focused on mothers and children who have already been told to leave the United States, the document seen by Reuters said. The operation would also cover minors who have entered the country without a guardian and since turned 18 years of age, the document said. Two sources confirmed the details of the plan.”
Despite assurances by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson that “we will offer vulnerable populations in Central America an alternate and legal path to safety in the United States,” the impending actions seem to be anything but.
“These military-style raids against mothers and children fleeing violence are reprehensible…. The federal government’s failure to address the violent conditions that are causing women and children to flee in the first place mean that these raids are a complete and utter policy failure.”
While January’s arrests were carried out in only three states (Georgia, North Carolina and Texas), the new raids will take place throughout the country. Though DHS avows it is only targeting dangerous individuals who have already been deemed deportable by a court of law, byzantine courts, nebulous immigration laws, lack of access to counsel, and pressure from bed quotas and private prison corporations such as GEO and CCA are placing mostly innocent and deserving people, including children, in ICE’s crosshairs.
According to the government’s own findings, as reported by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the agency determined that in 2015, the vast majority of asylum petitions, 88%, were found to be based on credible and reasonable fear, even including statistical juggling such as giving equal weight to a single closed case from Ethiopia. The percentage reached 100% for most countries in the second quarter of the year.
[caption: 88% of 2015 2nd quarter claimants have credible cases, 97% if you don’t count one closed case from
“While Johnson insisted that his department is focusing both detention and deportation resources on high-risk immigrants with criminal backgrounds, the evidence suggests otherwise. A National Immigration Council report found that, ‘between 2009 and 2011, over half of all immigrant detainees had no criminal records. Of those with any criminal history, nearly 20 percent were merely for traffic offenses.’
“An Immigration Policy Council report out this week found that ICE mostly deported immigrants who posed ‘a threat to no one.’ In fact, only one in five deportees qualified for a ‘Level 1’ priority, a category that once encompassed crimes like murder and federal drug trafficking, but now has broadened out to include ‘theft, filing a false tax return, and failing to appear in court.’ Other immigrants were deported for much less.”
#LetThemGraduate, Source: AltertaMigratoria NC
Community activists AlertaMigratoriaNC (NC Migrant Alert) have been working hard to spread the word about six teens who were arrested in January raids in North Carolina. Of the #NC6, three have already been deported, while Yefri, Pedro and Wildin languish in detention. In an unprecedented move, AlertaMigratoriaNC has published a flyer in response to the announcement about the new raids, delineating what to do if you are in a targeted group. Their message: MOVE!
“If you have a deportation order and live at the same address as when you arrived and your application began, you must move immediately as immigration will go to the address that was provided.”
Even though he was in the company of his father who has immigration status, Pedro Salmerón was picked up by ICE on January 26 as the two were on their way to the father’s job site. Pedro was a 10th grader but since he had already turned 18, his family thought it best to avoid school after learning about the raids. Speaking to reporters for The Charlotte Observer, family members recounted how a cousin had been castrated and decapitated in El Salvador, prompting Pedro’s departure to join his mother and father in the U.S. El Salvador has the world’s highest homicide rate, and the Peace Corps cited this fact when it decided to pull out from the country this year. Its violence is gang-related and young boys and girls like Pedro are its most likely victims.
But none of that swayed ICE. “My son was taken away with his hands and feet tied. We are not criminals,” Pedro’s mother says. “This has broken my heart to see him like this.”
Women and small children without deportation orders are also being treated like criminals and arrested in aggressive and inhumane fashion. A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights centers on women and children in the Atlanta area who had not been determined to be deportable, who were in fact being processed by the courts, who had followed all the steps and attended all the appointments and were known to DHS to the extent that they were all wearing ankle monitors.
Yet they were rounded up by ICE agents, often in the early hours of the morning, without regard for their dignity or their basic human rights. Account after account in the report describes instances where women and small children were dragged out of bed, refused access to counsel or allowed to contact friends or family members. Children were not permitted to take any belongings or even change out of their pajamas. Inexplicably, in case after case, ICE agents used a photo of an African American man to somehow menace the women and children. From the report:
“ ‘We were treated like criminals. I don’t understand why. I had gone to my ICE supervision appointments, and even had an appointment scheduled in a few days,’ said Ana Lizeth, who is still detained.
Roger’s note: Do we really need scientific studies to tell us that poverty is danger to the health of children? I post this article not to belabor the obvious, but rather to show how otherwise intelligent and accomplished academics and scientists will posit clearly inadequate solutions to enormous problems, while at the same time failing to understand (or wanting to understand?) to root cause of the problem and the solution implied by such. To address the deleterious effects of poverty on children’s brains, Dr. Luby suggests “early childhood interventions to support a nurturing environment for these children,” and “teaching nurturing skills to parents.” These are solutions that, while of some benefit IF implemented, would not begin to make a dent in the problem. I guess that Dr. Luby believes she has done enough and does not feel responsible for addressing the structural problem of poverty. Fair enough. But if science is to ultimately benefit human society, then as long as it ignores the elephant in the living room (capitalism), its service to human kind is severely truncated. Bottom line: poverty kills, unless we understand and work to eliminate the root cause of poverty, efforts at amelioration have little meaning in the long run.
Low-income children have irregular brain development and lower standardized test scores, with as much as an estimated 20 percent gap in achievement explained by developmental lags in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.
An alarming 22 percent of U.S. children live in poverty, which can have long-lasting negative consequences on brain development, emotional health and academic achievement. A new study, published July 20 in JAMA Pediatrics, provides even more compelling evidence that growing up in poverty has detrimental effects on the brain.
In an accompanying editorial, child psychiatrist Joan L. Luby, MD, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, writes that “early childhood interventions to support a nurturing environment for these children must now become our top public health priority for the good of all.”
In her own research in young children living in poverty, Luby and her colleagues have identified changes in the brain’s architecture that can lead to lifelong problems with depression, learning difficulties and limitations in the ability to cope with stress.
However, her work also shows that parents who are nurturing can offset some of the negative effects on brain anatomy seen in poor children. The findings suggest that teaching nurturing skills to parents — particularly those who live below the poverty line — may provide a lifetime of benefit for children.
“Our research has shown that the effects of poverty on the developing brain, particularly in the hippocampus, are strongly influenced by parenting and life stresses experienced by the children,” said Luby, the Samuel and Mae S. Ludwig Professor of Child Psychiatry and director of Washington University’s Early Emotional Development Program.
The study in JAMA Pediatrics, by a team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that low-income children had irregular brain development and lower standardized test scores, with as much as an estimated 20 percent gap in achievement explained by developmental lags in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.
“In developmental science and medicine, it is not often that the cause and solution of a public health problem become so clearly elucidated,” Luby wrote in the editorial. “It is even less common that feasible and cost-effective solutions to such problems are discovered and within reach.”
Based on this new research and what already is known about the damaging effects of poverty on brain development in children, as well as the benefits of nurturing during early childhood, “we have a rare roadmap to preserving and supporting our society’s most important legacy, the developing brain,” Luby writes. “This unassailable body of evidence taken as a whole is now actionable for public policy.”
Edited U.S. Air Force image of two F-15E fighters after conducting airstrikes in Syria on Sept. 23, 2014. U.S. Central Command directed the operations. (Photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch/USAF via Stuart Rankin/cc/flickr)
A U.S. military strike on Friday targeting fighters with the Islamic State has killed 52 civilians, including 7 children and 9 women, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Saturday.
According to the human rights watchdog group, an additional 13 Syrian civilians are missing following the attack on a village in the northern province of Aleppo. The deaths mark the highest civilian loss from a single attack since the U.S.-led coalition began its war against the Islamic State, or ISIS, in September 2014.
“[We] condemn in the strongest terms this massacre committed by the U.S led coalition under the pretext of targeting the IS in the village, and we call the coalition countries to refer who committed this massacre to the courts, as we renew our calls to neutralize all civilians areas from military operations by all parties,” the group said in a statement.
Coalition airstrikes have killed an estimated 118 civilians. However, Reutersnotes, the U.S.-led attack has “had little impact on the hardline Islamic State group, slowing its advances but failing to weaken it in areas it controls.”
“Washington and its allies say their aim is to support what they call moderate rebels fighting against both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Isis,” Reuters continues. “But four years into Syria’s civil war, no side is close to victory. A third of the population has been made homeless and more than 220,000 people have been killed.”
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Roger’s note: our heartless greed-oriented and violent capitalist world the oppression of women and children is an everyday occurrence. I takes many forms, mostly related to poverty one way or another. Here we see mindless and shameless government bureaucracy at work to directly harm women and children who are already victims or corporate inspired government policies with respect to Central America.
‘We want freedom for our children. It’s not right to continue to detain us.’
Protesters demand closure of the Karnes, Texas immigrant detention center in January 2015. (Photo: WeAreUltraViolet/flickr/cc)
About 40 women being held at the privately-run Karnes Family Detention Center in southern Texas launched a hunger strike this week to demand their release and the release of their families, vowing on Tuesday not to eat, work, or use the services at the facility until they are freed.
Nearly 80 women being held at the center, many of whom are said to be asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, signed a letter stating that they have all been refused bond despite having established a credible fear of violence if they are sent back to Central America—a key factor in the U.S. government’s process for screening detained immigrants to allow them amnesty.
“We deserve to be treated with some dignity and that our rights, to the immigration process, are respected,” the letter reads. “You should know that this is just the beginning and we will not stop [the hunger strike] until we achieve our goals. This strike will continue until each of us is freed.”
The letter also states that many of the children held in the camp are losing weight and that their “health is deteriorating.” Many of the families have been detained for as long as 10 months.
One woman, 26-year old Honduran mother Kenia Galeano, decried the center’s treatment of the families in a phone interview with McClatchy on Tuesday. “We’re many mothers, not just me,” she said. “We want freedom for our children. It’s not right to continue to detain us.”
Galeano, who shares a room with three other mothers and their children, also said that her two-year-old son has become depressed and lost weight due to the culturally inappropriate food.
According to the letter, some of the mothers were also left behind in the detention center, while their children were granted bond. “We have come to this country, with our children, seeking refugee status and we are being treated like delinquents,” the letter reads. “We are not delinquents nor do we pose any threat to this country.”
“This strike will continue until each of us is freed.”
Karnes, which is run by the private corrections company GEO Group, has come under fire in the past for its treatment of the children who are detained there, with reports of weight loss and forced separation from their mothers, but the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department has denied those allegations.
ICE also claimed it was unaware of any residents actually participating in the strike, saying in a statement on Wednesday that the agency “fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference, and all detainees, including those in family residential facilities such as Karnes, are permitted to do so.”
It also said it was investigating claims that members of a nonprofit advocacy group encouraged the women to take part in the hunger strike—a charge which activists deny.
Cristina Parker, immigration programs director at the Texas-based immigrant rights group Grassroots Leadership, told the Guardian on Tuesday, “This is something that has been rippling through the centre almost since it opened. I don’t believe at all that they were coached into doing this.”
According to Parker, the center is now blocking access to internet and telephone facilities for all of its detainees, regardless of whether they are participating in the hunger strike.
At least two women who signed the letter were also placed into isolation with their children in Karnes’s clinic, leading about half of those who initially pledged to take part in the hunger strike to drop out, according to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.
Johana De Leon, a legal assistant with the nonprofit, told McClatchy that other mothers were warned they could lose custody of their children if they participated.
In addition to its mistreatment of children, Karnes has also been accused of sexual misconduct by guards and denial of critical medical care for detainees, among other charges. The Department of Homeland Security inspector general reported in February that there was no evidence to support the allegations.
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Roger’s note: this article ran, in a sense (at least to my mind), side by side with this article (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/sunday-review/surviving-the-nazis-only-to-be-jailed-by-america.html?_r=0) in the same online edition of the New York Times the other day. An uncanny juxtaposition. The heartless racism — buttressed by capitalism’s inherent inequality — that infects America, which has its roots in the First Nations genocide and the African slave trade, is not a matter of the past, as we see here. You can talk about practical politics all you want, but sending children back “home” to be violated and tortured constitutes a moral and ethical crime of the highest nature. President Obama and his heartless Homeland Security (sic) bureaucrats have deported more refugee claimants than his immediate predecessors.
The back story to all this, of course, is that the corruption and violence in the Mexican and Central American nations from which masses are trying to escape to the United States is a direct result of the US government’s policies.
Christina Brown pulled into the refugee camp after an eight-hour drive across the desert. It was late July of last year, and Brown was a 30-year-old immigration lawyer. She had spent a few years after college working on political campaigns, but her law degree was barely a year old, and she had only two clients in her private practice in Denver. When other lawyers told her that the federal government was opening a massive detention center for immigrants in southeastern New Mexico, where hundreds of women and children would be housed in metal trailers surrounded by barbed wire, Brown decided to volunteer legal services to the detainees. She wasn’t sure exactly what rights they might have, but she wanted to make sure they got them. She packed enough clothes to last a week, stopped by Target to pick up coloring books and toys and started driving south.
As she pulled into the dusty town of Artesia, she realized that she still had no idea what to expect. The new detention center was just north of town, behind a guard station in a sprawling complex with restricted access. Two other volunteers had been in town for about a week and had permission from federal officials to access the compound the following day.Brown spent the night at a motel, then drove to the detention camp in the morning. She stood in the wind-swept parking lot with the other lawyers, overlooking the barren plains of the eastern plateau. After a few minutes, a transport van emerged from the facility to pick them up. It swung to a stop in the parking lot, and the attorneys filed on. They sat on the cold metal benches and stared through the caged windows as the bus rolled back into the compound and across the bleak brown landscape. It came to a stop by a small trailer, and the lawyers shuffled out.
As they opened the door to the trailer, Brown felt a blast of cold air. The front room was empty except for two small desks arranged near the center. A door in the back opened to reveal dozens of young women and children huddled together. Many were gaunt and malnourished, with dark circles under their eyes. “The kids were really sick,” Brown told me later. “A lot of the moms were holding them in their arms, even the older kids — holding them like babies, and they’re screaming and crying, and some of them are lying there listlessly.”
Brown took a seat at a desk, and a guard brought a woman to meet her. Brown asked the woman in Spanish how she ended up in detention. The woman explained that she had to escape from her home in El Salvador when gangs targeted her family. “Her husband had just been murdered, and she and her kids found his body,” Brown recalls. “After he was murdered, the gang started coming after her and threatening to kill her.” Brown agreed to help the woman apply for political asylum in the United States, explaining that it might be possible to pay a small bond and then live with friends or relatives while she waited for an asylum hearing. When the woman returned to the back room, Brown met with another, who was fleeing gangs in Guatemala. Then she met another young woman, who fled violence in Honduras. “They were all just breaking down,” Brown said. “They were telling us that they were afraid to go home. They were crying, saying they were scared for themselves and their children. It was a constant refrain: ‘I’ll die if I go back.’ ”
As Brown emerged from the trailer that evening, she already knew it would be difficult to leave at the end of the week. The women she met were just a fraction of those inside the camp, and the government was making plans to open a second facility of nearly the same size in Karnes County, Tex., near San Antonio. “I remember thinking to myself that this was an impossible situation,” she said. “I was overwhelmed and sad and angry. I think the anger is what kept me going.”
Over the past six years, President Obama has tried to make children the centerpiece of his efforts to put a gentler face on U.S. immigration policy. Even as his administration has deported a record number of unauthorized immigrants, surpassing two million deportations last year, it has pushed for greater leniency toward undocumented children. After trying and failing to pass the Dream Act legislation, which would offer a path to permanent residency for immigrants who arrived before the age of 16, the president announced an executive action in 2012 to block their deportation. Last November, Obama added an executive order to extend those protections to their parents. “We’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security,” he said in a speech on Nov. 20. “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.” But the president’s new policies apply only to immigrants who have been in the United States for more than five years; they do nothing to address the emerging crisis on the border today.
Since the economic collapse of 2008, the number of undocumented immigrants coming from Mexico has plunged, while a surge of violence in Central America has brought a wave of migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. According to recent statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, the number of refugees fleeing Central America has doubled in the past year alone — with more than 61,000 “family units” crossing the U.S. border, as well as 51,000 unaccompanied children. For the first time, more people are coming to the United States from those countries than from Mexico, and they are coming not just for opportunity but for survival.
The explosion of violence in Central America is often described in the language of war, cartels, extortion and gangs, but none of these capture the chaos overwhelming the region. Four of the five highest murder rates in the world are in Central American nations. The collapse of these countries is among the greatest humanitarian disasters of our time. While criminal organizations like the 18th Street Gang and Mara Salvatrucha exist as street gangs in the United States, in large parts of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador they are so powerful and pervasive that they have supplanted the government altogether. People who run afoul of these gangs — which routinely demand money on threat of death and sometimes kidnap young boys to serve as soldiers and young girls as sexual slaves — may have no recourse to the law and no better option than to flee.
The American immigration system defines a special pathway for refugees. To qualify, most applicants must present themselves to federal authorities, pass a “credible fear interview” to demonstrate a possible basis for asylum and proceed through a “merits hearing” before an immigration judge. Traditionally, those who have completed the first two stages are permitted to live with family and friends in the United States while they await their final hearing, which can be months or years later. If authorities believe an applicant may not appear for that court date, they can require a bond payment as guarantee or place the refugee in a monitoring system that may include a tracking bracelet. In the most extreme cases, a judge may deny bond and keep the refugee in a detention facility until the merits hearing.
The rules are somewhat different when children are involved. Under the terms of a 1997 settlement in the case of Flores v. Meese, children who enter the country without their parents must be granted a “general policy favoring release” to the custody of relatives or a foster program. When there is cause to detain a child, he or she must be housed in the least restrictive environment possible, kept away from unrelated adults and provided access to medical care, exercise and adequate education. Whether these protections apply to children traveling with their parents has been a matter of dispute. The Flores settlement refers to “all minors who are detained” by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and its “agents, employees, contractors and/or successors in office.” When the I.N.S. dissolved into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, its detention program shifted to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Federal judges have ruled that ICE is required to honor the Flores protections to all children in its custody.
Even so, in 2005, the administration of George W. Bush decided to deny the Flores protections to refugee children traveling with their parents. Instead of a “general policy favoring release,” the administration began to incarcerate hundreds of those families for months at a time. To house them, officials opened the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center near Austin, Tex. Within a year, the administration faced a lawsuit over the facility’s conditions. Legal filings describe young children forced to wear prison jumpsuits, to live in dormitory housing, to use toilets exposed to public view and to sleep with the lights on, even while being denied access to appropriate schooling. In a pretrial hearing, a federal judge in Texas blasted the administration for denying these children the protections of the Flores settlement. “The court finds it inexplicable that defendants have spent untold amounts of time, effort and taxpayer dollars to establish the Hutto family-detention program, knowing all the while that Flores is still in effect,” the judge wrote. The Bush administration settled the suit with a promise to improve the conditions at Hutto but continued to deny that children in the family detention were entitled to the Flores protections.
In 2009, the Obama administration reversed course, abolishing family detention at Hutto and leaving only a small facility in Pennsylvania to house refugee families in exceptional circumstances. For all other refugee families, the administration returned to a policy of release to await trial. Studies have shown that nearly all detainees who are released from custody with some form of monitoring will appear for their court date. But when the number of refugees from Central America spiked last summer, the administration abruptly announced plans to resume family detention.
From the beginning, officials were clear that the purpose of the new facility in Artesia was not so much to review asylum petitions as to process deportation orders. “We have already added resources to expedite the removal, without a hearing before an immigration judge, of adults who come from these three countries without children,” the secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, told a Senate committee in July. “Then there are adults who brought their children with them. Again, our message to this group is simple: We will send you back.” Elected officials in Artesia say that Johnson made a similar pledge during a visit to the detention camp in July. “He said, ‘As soon as we get them, we’ll ship them back,’ ” a city councilor from Artesia named Jose Luis Aguilar recalled. The mayor of the city, Phillip Burch, added, “His comment to us was that this would be a ‘rapid deportation process.’ Those were his exact words.”
During the first five weeks that the Artesia facility was open, officials deported more than 200 refugees to Central America. But as word of the detention camp began to spread, volunteers like Christina Brown trickled into town. Their goal was to stop the deportations, schedule asylum hearings for the detainees and, whenever possible, release the women and children on bond. Many of the lawyers who came to Artesia were young mothers, and they saw in the detained children a resemblance to their own. By last fall, roughly 200 volunteers were rotating through town in shifts: renting rooms in local motels, working 12-hour days to interview detainees and file asylum paperwork, then staying awake into the night to consult one another. Some volunteers returned to Artesia multiple times. A few spent more than a month there. Brown never moved back to Denver. She moved into a little yellow house by the detention facility, took up office space in a local church and, with help from a nonprofit group called the American Immigration Lawyers Association, or AILA, she began to organize the volunteers pouring in.
As Brown got to know detainees in Artesia, grim patterns emerged from their stories. One was the constant threat of gangs in their lives; another was the prevalence of sexual violence. A detainee in Artesia named Sofia explained that a gang murdered her brother, shot her husband and then kidnapped and raped her 14-year-old stepdaughter. A Guatemalan woman named Kira said that she fled when a gang targeted her family over their involvement in a nonviolence movement at church; when Kira’s husband went into hiding, the gang subjected her to repeated sexual assaults and threatened to cut her unborn baby from her womb. An inmate named Marisol said she crossed the U.S. border in June after a gang in Honduras murdered the father of her 3-year-old twins, then turned its attention to her.
Less than a week after her arrival in Artesia, Brown represented the young Salvadoran mother she met on her first day. It was a preliminary hearing to see whether the woman met the basic preconditions for asylum. A frequent consideration in the refugee process is whether an applicant is being targeted as a member of a “particular social group.” Judges have interpreted the phrase to include a refugee’s victimhood on the basis of sex or sexual orientation. At the hearing, Brown planned to invoke the pervasiveness of gang violence and sexual assault, but she says the immigration judge refused to let her speak.
“I wasn’t allowed to play any role,” Brown said. Speaking to the judge, her client described her husband’s murder and the threats she faced from gangs. “She testified very well,” Brown said. But when the judge asked whether she felt targeted as a member of a “social group,” the woman said no. “Because that is a legal term of art,” Brown said. “She had no idea what the heck it means.” Brown tried to interject, but the judge wouldn’t allow it. He denied the woman’s request for an asylum hearing and slated her for deportation. Afterward, Brown said, “I went behind one of the cubicles, and I started sobbing uncontrollably.”
Detainees who passed their initial hearings often found themselves stranded in Artesia without bond. Lawyers for Homeland Security have adopted a policy they call “no bond or high bond” for the women and children in detention. In court filings, they insist that prolonged detention is necessary to “further screen the detainees and have a better chance of identifying any that present threats to our public safety and national security.” Allowing these young mothers and children to be free on bond, they claim, “would have indirect yet significant adverse national-security consequences.”
As the months ticked by in Artesia, many detainees began to wonder if they would ever be free again. “I arrived on July 5 and turned myself in at 2 a.m.,” a 28-year-old mother of two named Ana recalled. In Honduras, Ana ran a small business selling trinkets and served on the P.T.A. of her daughter’s school. “I lived well,” she said — until the gangs began to pound on her door, demanding extortion payments. Within days, they had escalated their threats, approaching Ana brazenly on the street. “One day, coming home from my daughter’s school, they walked up to me and put a gun to my head,” she said. “They told me that if I didn’t give them the money in less than 24 hours, they would kill me.” Ana had already seen friends raped and murdered by the gang, so she packed her belongings that night and began the 1,800-mile journey to the U.S. border with her 7-year-old daughter. Four weeks later, in McAllen, Tex., they surrendered as refugees.
Ana and her daughter entered Artesia in mid-July. In October they were still there. Ana’s daughter was sick and losing weight rapidly under the strain of incarceration. Their lawyer, a leader in Chicago’s Mormon Church named Rebecca van Uitert, said that Ana’s daughter became so weak and emaciated that doctors threatened drastic measures. “They were like, ‘You’ve got to force her to eat, and if you don’t, we’re going to put a PICC line in her and force-feed her,’ ” van Uitert said. Ana said that when her daughter heard the doctor say this, “She started to cry and cry.”
In October, as van Uitert presented Ana’s case to an immigration judge, the lawyer broke down in the courtroom. “I’m starting to make these arguments before the judge, and I just couldn’t,” she said. “I sounded like a barking seal, just sucking and gasping, and because I was crying, a lot of people started crying. The attorney next to me was crying, Ana was crying, her little girl started crying. I looked over at the bailiff, who actually ended up being my friend when I went back another time. He had tears in his eyes.” The judge granted Ana’s release on bond; she is currently waiting for an asylum hearing in North Carolina.
Many of the volunteers in Artesia tell similar stories about the misery of life in the facility. “I thought I was pretty tough,” said Allegra Love, who spent the previous summer working on the border between Mexico and Guatemala. “I mean, I had seen kids in all manner of suffering, but this was a really different thing. It’s a jail, and the women and children are being led around by guards. There’s this look that the kids have in their eyes. This lackadaisical look. They’re just sitting there, staring off, and they’re wasting away. That was what shocked me most.”
The detainees reported sleeping eight to a room, in violation of the Flores settlement, with little exercise or stimulation for the children. Many were under the age of 6 and had been raised on a diet of tortillas, rice and chicken bits. In Artesia, the institutional cafeteria foods were as unfamiliar as the penal atmosphere, and to their parents’ horror, many of the children refused to eat. “Gaunt kids, moms crying, they’re losing hair, up all night,” an attorney named Maria Andrade recalled. Another, Lisa Johnson-Firth, said: “I saw children who were malnourished and were not adapting. One 7-year-old just lay in his mother’s arms while she bottle-fed him.” Mary O’Leary, who made three trips to Artesia last fall, said: “I was trying to talk to one client about her case, and just a few feet away at another table there was this lady with a toddler between 2 and 4 years old, just lying limp. This was a sick kid, and just with this horrible racking cough.”
In early August, a paralegal from Oregon named Vanessa Sischo arrived at the camp. Raised in a small town near Mount Hood, Sischo did not realize until high school that her parents brought her into the United States from Mexico as an infant without documentation. She gained protection from deportation under the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012. When Sischo learned that children arriving from Central America were being incarcerated in Artesia, she volunteered immediately. She arrived a week after Christina Brown, and like Brown, she stayed. After about a month, AILA and another nonprofit, the American Immigration Council, hired Brown as the pro bono project’s lead attorney. Brown recommended Sischo for the job of project coordinator. The two women began rooming together in the small yellow house near Main Street.
Brown and Sischo make an unlikely pair. Brown, who has a sturdy build and dark brown hair, has an inborn skepticism and a piercing wit. Sischo is six years younger and preternaturally easygoing. Until she discovered her own immigration background, she had little interest in political affairs and spent much of her time in Oregon as a competitive snowboarder. For both, Artesia was a jarring shift from life at home. As they sat together one evening in December, they described a typical week. “The new volunteers come in on Sunday, go through orientation, and by Wednesday night, everyone is crying,” Brown said. “A lot of the attorneys come in and say: ‘I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’ve seen all of this before. I’ll be fine.’ ”
“I remember the first time I went in,” Sischo said. “I just stopped, and all I could hear was a symphony of coughing and sneezing and crying and wailing.”
“Kids vomiting all over the place,” Brown said.
“There was a big outbreak of fevers,” Sischo said. “It sent an infant into convulsions.”
“Pneumonia, scabies, lice,” Brown said.
Officials for ICE say these accounts are exaggerated. But they declined multiple requests to visit the Artesia facility and took weeks to answer questions about its facilities. Brown, who oversaw more than 500 detainee cases as lead attorney, was also unable to gain access to the camp’s housing, dining, medical and educational facilities. “I requested three times to be taken on a tour,” she said. “I sent it through the appropriate channels. No one ever responded, to date, to my request.”
Visitors who did gain access to the facility have raised troubling questions about the ethics — and legality — of how it handled children. The Flores settlement requires the government to provide regular schooling for juveniles in detention, but the mayor of Artesia, Phillip Burch, said that on several visits to the compound, the classrooms were always empty. “I was told that children were attending classes,” he recalled. “Did I personally witness it? No. And none of the tours that I made did I see the children actually in class.” Members of the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice, who toured the facility in October, say that officials also showed them the empty school. When one member asked why the building was empty, an ICE official replied that school was temporarily closed. Detainees have consistently told their lawyers that the school was never reliably open. They recall a few weeks in October when classes were in session for an hour or two per day, then several weeks of closure through November, followed by another brief period of classes in December.
In response to questions about the school, ICE officials would say only that “regular school instruction began Oct. 13, 2014, and ended Dec. 17.” Asked whether the school was open consistently, and for how many hours, ICE officials declined to respond. The deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, Esther Olavarria, who has purview over ICE, said that she was aware “there were challenges” at the Artesia school, but couldn’t say exactly when it was open or for how long. Olavarria has a distinguished record as advocate for refugees and previously served as a top immigration adviser for Senator Edward M. Kennedy. She said that she was under the impression that attorneys in Artesia were granted access to the facility, and she could not explain why Brown was not. She also believed that the meal service in Artesia was adapted to reflect the dietary norms of Central America and that medical care was adequate and available. After hearing what detainees, attorneys, faith advocates and elected officials described in Artesia, Olavarria promised to look into these issues and provide further documentation. Despite several attempts to elicit that documentation, she provided none. In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said: “The regular school instruction began Oct. 13, 2014, but was suspended shortly thereafter in order to ensure appropriate vetting of all teachers.” Officials say that school resumed on Oct. 24 and continued through Dec. 17.
Attorneys for the Obama administration have argued in court, like the Bush administration previously, that the protections guaranteed by the Flores settlement do not apply to children in family detention. “The Flores settlement comes into play with unaccompanied minors,” a lawyer for the Department of Homeland Security named Karen Donoso Stevens insisted to a judge on Aug. 4. “That argument is moot here, because the juvenile is detained — is accompanied and detained — with his mother.”
Federal judges have consistently rejected this position. Just as the judge reviewing family detention in 2007 called the denial of Flores protections “inexplicable,” the judge presiding over the Aug. 4 hearing issued a ruling in September that Homeland Security officials in Artesia must honor the Flores Settlement Agreement. “The language of the F.S.A. is unambiguous,” Judge Roxanne Hladylowycz wrote. “The F.S.A. was designed to create a nationwide policy for the detention of all minors, not only those who are unaccompanied.” Olavarria said she was not aware of that ruling and would not comment on whether the Department of Homeland Security believes that the Flores ruling applies to children in family detention today.
As the pro bono project in Artesia continued into fall, its attorneys continued to win in court. By mid-November, more than 400 of the detained women and children were free on bond. Then on Nov. 20, the administration suddenly announced plans to transfer the Artesia detainees to the ICE detention camp in Karnes, Tex., where they would fall under a new immigration court district with a new slate of judges.
That announcement came at the very moment the president was delivering a live address on the new protections available to established immigrant families. In an email to notify Artesia volunteers about the transfer, an organizer for AILA named Stephen Manning wrote, “The disconnect from the compassionate-ish words of the president and his crushing policies toward these refugees is shocking.” Brown was listening to the speech in her car, while driving to Denver for a rare weekend at home, when her cellphone buzzed with the news that 20 of her clients would be transferred to Texas the next morning. Many of them were close to a bond release; in San Antonio, they might be detained for weeks or months longer. Brown pulled her car to the side of the highway and spent three hours arguing to delay the transfer. Over the next two weeks, officials moved forward with the plan.
By mid-December, most of the Artesia detainees were in Karnes, and Brown and Sischo were scrambling to pack the contents of their home and office. On the afternoon of Dec. 16, they threw their final bags into a U-Haul, its cargo area crammed with laundry baskets, suitcases, file boxes and hiking backpacks, all wedged precariously in place, then set out for the eight-hour drive across the desert to central Texas.
The next morning, a law professor named Barbara Hines was also speeding into San Antonio. Hines is a wiry woman in her 60s with a burst of black curls and an aspect of bristling intensity. In the battle over refugee detention, she is something of a seminal figure for advocates like Brown and Sischo. As co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Texas, Hines helped lead the 2007 lawsuit against the Hutto facility, which brought about its closure in 2009 and the abolition of widespread family detention until last summer. When the Obama administration announced plans to resume the practice in Artesia, Hines was outraged; when officials opened the second facility in Karnes, just two hours from her home in Austin, Hines began to organize a pro bono project of her own. Although she’d never met Brown or Sischo, she had been running a parallel operation for months. Now that they were in Texas, Hines was eager to meet them.
But first, she had a client to represent. Hines pulled into a parking lot behind the immigration court in downtown San Antonio and rushed inside, up a clattering elevator to the third floor and down a long hallway to a cramped courtroom. At the front, behind a vast wooden desk, sat Judge Glenn McPhaul, a tidy man with slicked hair and a pencil mustache. He presided from an elevated platform, with a clerk to his right, an interpreter to his left, and a large television monitor in the corner. On screen was the pale and grainy image of a dozen exhausted Central American women.
These were just a few of the Karnes detainees, linked by video feed to the courtroom. Another 500 women and children were in the compound with them. There was no legal distinction between their cases and those of the women in Artesia; they had simply been sent to a different facility, weeks or months earlier. Each of them, like the women in Artesia, had already been through the early stages of the asylum process — presenting herself to immigration authorities, asking for refugee status and passing the “credible-fear interview” to confirm a basis for her claim. But the odds of release in Karnes were worse. One of McPhaul’s colleagues, Judge Gary Burkholder, was averaging a 91.6 percent denial rate for the asylum claims. Some Karnes detainees had been in the facility for nearly six months and could remain there another six.
The sitting area of the courtroom was nearly empty, save for half a dozen attorneys. Many of the volunteers at Karnes are friends and former students of Hines, who has been drafting every licensed lawyer she can find. As she slid down the long bench to a seat, she nodded to some of the attorneys in the room and stopped to whisper with another. Then she spent a few minutes fidgeting with her phone until the clerk called her client’s name, and Hines sprang forward, slipping past the bar rail to a table facing the judge. On the television screen, her client, Juana, was stepping toward the camera at Karnes. She was a young woman with a narrow face and deep eyes. Her hair was pulled back to reveal high cheekbones and a somber expression.
McPhaul asked the stenographer to begin transcription, then he commenced with the ritualized exchange of detention proceedings, recording the names of the attorneys, the detainee and everyone on the bench. He noted the introduction of a series of legal documents and confirmed that Juana was still happy to be represented by Hines. There was a stream of legal jargon and a few perfunctory remarks about the status of the case, all of it in clipped judicial vernacular and a flat, indifferent tone. Then McPhaul set a date for the next hearing, at which Hines could begin to present an argument for Juana’s release on bond.
For now, Juana’s turn was over; the whole affair took less than 10 minutes, without any meaningful discussion of her case or its merits. As Hines stepped out of the courtroom, Juana was turning away from the camera to return to her children in Karnes. It was impossible to say how much of the hearing she understood, since none of the proceedings were translated into Spanish. The courtroom interpreter was there only to translate the judge’s questions and the detainees’ responses; everything else was said exclusively in English, including the outcome. For all that Juana knew, she might have been granted reprieve or confined for another six months.
Over the next two hours, the scene would repeat a dozen times. Each time McPhaul called a name, a new lawyer would step forward, taking a seat before the bench and proceeding through the verbal Kabuki. In a few cases, McPhaul offered the detainee the opportunity to post bond — usually around $3,000. But the courtroom interpreter was not allowed to convey this news to the detainee, either. If the pro bono attorney spoke Spanish fluently, there might be a few minutes at the end of the session to explain what happened. If not, the detainee would return to custody and might not discover that she had been granted bond until, or unless, someone paid it.
These, of course, were the lucky women with an attorney to represent them at all. Although the families in Artesia and Karnes have been detained in an environment that closely resembles incarceration, there is no requirement in American law to provide them with the sort of legal representation afforded to other defendants. Unlike the Artesia project, where the involvement of AILA brought in hundreds of volunteers from across the country, Hines could scrape together only so many friends and compatriots to lend their time. She formed a partnership with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or Raices, in San Antonio, and the law firm Akin Gump assigned a young lawyer named Lauren Connell to help organize the Karnes project. But there still weren’t enough lawyers to represent the detainees, and Hines and Connell were forced to evaluate which cases were most likely to win. The remaining refugees would proceed to court alone. They would understand little of what happened, and most would be deported.
It was difficult for Hines to think about what might happen to those women next. The refugees who are returned to Central America can be subject to even greater harassment by gangs for having fled. Hector Hernandez, a morgue operator in Honduras, has said that children who come back from U.S. detention “return just to die.” Jose Luis Aguilar, the city councilor for Artesia, recalled a group deportation on the day in July when Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the facility. “He came in the morning, and that same night, they took 79 people and shipped them to El Salvador on the ICE plane,” Aguilar said. “We got reports later that 10 kids had been killed. The church group confirmed that with four of the mortuaries where they went.”
Hines was hoping the attorneys from Artesia would help represent the women in Karnes, but she had no idea whether they would be willing to do so. This was her agenda for the first meeting with Christina Brown, which took place that afternoon in a sunlit conference room in the downtown offices of Akin Gump. Hines sat at the head of a long table, with Lauren Connell to her left and an attorney from Raices named Steven Walden to her right. After a few minutes, Brown appeared in the doorway. She was wearing the same green T-shirt and black leggings she had been wearing the day before in Artesia, and she smiled sheepishly, offering a handshake to Hines.
“I’m really sorry,” Brown said with a small laugh. “I want to let you know that I believe very strongly in first impressions — but I am living out of a U-Haul right now.”
Hines smiled sympathetically as they sat down. “So,” she said. “What are you all going to do here?”
Brown paused. “Well, we know we’re going to be continuing our cases,” she said.
“Mmm-hmm,” Hines said.
“And I’m working on cleaning up our spreadsheet and figuring out who’s here,” Brown said. “Many of our clients who were transferred here had already been granted bond.”
“Wait,” Connell said. “They transferred them here to have them bond out?”
Brown sighed. “Yes,” she said.
“That’s ridiculous,” Connell said.
“We’ve had numerous fights on this issue,” Brown said. “We’ve had family members go to pay, and they can’t because the client is already in transit to Karnes.”
Hines shook her head in disbelief.
“It’s been kind of a nightmare,” Brown said.
“Do you have people who have been detained more than 90 days?” Hines asked.
“Every one we’re going forward with on merits has been detained more than 90 days,” Brown said. “So I want to see how you all are moving forward, so I can see what resources are here for Artesia clients.”
Hines laughed. “We can barely staff our cases,” she said. “My hope was that people who were at Artesia, after they’re finished your cases, are going to help with ours.”
“If she says that enough, maybe it will come true,” Connell said.
Brown shook her head. “At the moment, I can commit to nothing,” she said. “Right now, I’m the only attorney, and there’s no guarantee that other volunteers are coming.”
Hines and Connell exchanged a look. Even if the Artesia lawyers could double or triple their workload, the number of detainees was about to overwhelm them regardless. The day before, officials in Karnes had approved a plan to expand the detention facility from about 500 beds to roughly 1,100. At the same time, two hours west of Karnes, in the little town of Dilley, the Department of Homeland Security was about to open another refugee camp for women and children. It would be the largest detention facility in the country, with up to 2,400 beds. If Hines and Brown had trouble finding lawyers to represent a few hundred women and children, there was little chance of generating support for more than 3,000.
After the meeting, Brown returned to her motel and spent the afternoon searching for an apartment, but the options were limited, and by late afternoon, she and Sischo still had nowhere to live. They decided to spend their first evening in Texas at a vegetarian restaurant downtown. As they settled into a booth at the back of the cafe, they talked about the situation they’d left behind in Artesia, where much of the town opposed the detention facility and the lawyers with equal measure. Town-hall meetings in Artesia became so heated that city officials asked the police to stand guard.
“For people there, it’s a resource issue,” Brown said. “They blame the immigrant community for coming in and being jailed, and for us having to educate their children, when they would like more resources put into their own schools.”
Sischo nodded. “That’s what a guy at the electronics store said: ‘Oh, you’re helping the illegals?’ That’s how they view it. I remember a sign that a protester was holding that was like, ‘What about our children?’ ”
“It’s a legitimate question,” Brown said. “They don’t have a lot of resources in that town, and they should have more.”
“I agree,” Sischo said. “We should not be spending resources on detaining these families. They should be released. But people don’t understand the law. They think they should be deported because they’re ‘illegals.’ So they’re missing a very big part of the story, which is that they aren’t breaking the law. They’re trying to go through the process that’s laid out in our laws.”
For Sischo, seeing the families struggle — families much like her own — was almost more than she could stand. On visits to her parents in Oregon, she struggled to maintain composure. “Every time I’ve gone home, I’ve just cried pretty much nonstop,” she said. “It’s grief and anger and hopelessness and confusion as to how this could happen and whether we’re making a difference.”
For Brown, by contrast, the same experiences seemed to have amplified her energy and commitment. “I haven’t had time to go home and cry yet,” she said. “Maybe I’ll get a job at Dilley, because then I won’t have to process anything!” Brown laughed, but she acknowledged that some part of her was ready to commit to the nomadic life of a legal activist, parachuting into crises for a few months at a time. “That appeals to me,” she said. “It’s nice to be where people need you.”
As dinner came to an end, Brown and Sischo stepped outside into the night. They had parked the U-Haul in a nearby lot, and it had just been towed.
Over the next year, most of the families who are currently in detention will wend their way through the refugee system. Some will be released on bond to await their asylum hearing; others will remain in custody until their hearings are complete. Those without an attorney will most likely fail to articulate a reason for their claim in the appropriate jargon of the immigration courts and will be deported to face whatever horror they hoped to flee. Of the 15 families who have been shepherded through the process by the volunteer lawyers so far, 14 have received asylum — “Which should be all you need to know about the validity of their claims,” Brown said.
By late spring, the construction of the new facility at Dilley should be complete. It already represents a drastic departure from the refugee camp in Artesia. Managed by the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the country, the South Texas Family Residential Center has its own promotional website with promissory images of the spacious classrooms, libraries, play areas and lounges that will eventually be available to refugees in long-term detention. Architectural drawings for the site show eight distinct neighborhoods on the campus, with dormitory housing, outdoor pavilions, a chapel and several playgrounds. How much of this will ultimately materialize remains to be seen. Last week, C.C.A. listed job openings for child care workers, library aides and mailroom clerks at the site.
Esther Olavarria, the senior counselor for immigration issues at the Department of Homeland Security, acknowledged that there had been shortcomings in Artesia but described the Dilley facility as a correction. “We stood up Artesia very, very quickly and did the best that we could under the circumstances,” Olavarria said. “As concerns were brought to our attention by advocates, we worked with them to try to address the concerns as quickly as possible.”
Many advocates have expressed concerns about the Dilley facility as well. Its management company, C.C.A., is the same firm that ran the Hutto detention center, and it has been at the center of other significant controversies in recent years. In 2006, federal investigators reported that conditions at a C.C.A. immigration jail in Eloy, Ariz., were so lacking that “detainee welfare is in jeopardy.” Last March, the F.B.I. started an investigation of C.C.A. over a facility the company ran in Idaho, known by inmates as the “Gladiator School” because of unchecked fighting; in 2010, a video surfaced of guards watching one inmate beat another into a coma. Two years ago, C.C.A. executives admitted to fraud in their government contracts at the prison, including 4,800 hours of falsified business records. The state has now taken control of the facility.
The management contract at Dilley was also created with unusual terms. In their hurry to open the new facility, officials for the Obama administration bypassed normal bidding procedures and established Dilley under an existing contract for the troubled C.C.A. jail in Eloy. Although the Dilley camp is nearly 1,000 miles away from Eloy, all federal funding for the new camp in Texas will flow through the small town in Arizona, which will keep $438,000 of the annual operating budget as compensation. Eloy city officials say they do not expect to monitor, or even visit, the Dilley facility.
Any new refugees who surrender this spring may spend more than a year in Dilley before their asylum hearings can be scheduled. Olavarria said that officials hope the process will move more quickly, but it will depend on the immigration courts in San Antonio, which fall under the Department of Justice. “From what I’ve heard from the Justice Department, generally it’s not taking 18 months,” Olavarria said. “We’re hearing that cases are being completed in a shorter time. But it’s a case-by-case situation that depends on the complexity, it depends on continuances that are provided to seek counsel, to prepare for cases, all those kinds of things.” The cost to house each detainee at Dilley is about $108,000 per year. A study funded by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, of more than 500 detainees between 1997 and 2000, found that 93 percent will appear in court when placed in a monitoring program. The savings of such a program for the 2,400 detainees at Dilley would be about $250 million per year.
Officials from the Department of Homeland Security say the facilities in Karnes and Dilley are still insufficient to house the detainees they expect to process in the coming year. “Last year, we saw 60,000 families come in,” Olavarria said. “We’re hoping we don’t see those kinds of numbers this year, but even if we see half, those two facilities would hold a fraction of those numbers.” Olavarria said the department was not yet considering additional facilities. “We are in the middle of a battle with the Congress on our funding, so there’s very little discussion about long-term planning,” she said.
For now, the Artesia facility is closed, its bunk beds and hallways empty. Brown and Sischo remain in Texas; they rescued their U-Haul from an impound lot and found an apartment soon thereafter. That same week, an email from the mayor of Artesia, Phillip Burch, was circulating among city residents. “The pro bono attorneys have left our community,” he wrote. “Hopefully not to return.”
Roger’s note: Last week a nine year old girl from New Jersey was on vacation with her family in Arizona where she was taken to a gun range (the Last Stop shooting range) by her parents where she was given a Uzi sub-machine gun to fire at a target. Something went wrong, probably with the weapon’s recoil, and she occidentally shot and killed the instructor at her side. Unlike the article below, I am not making this up.
AUGUST 28, 2014
BY ANDY BOROWITZ
CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY SVEN NACKSTRAND/AFP/GETTY
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Across the United States on Wednesday, a heated national debate began on the extremely complex issue of children firing military weapons.
“Every now and then, the nation debates an issue that is so complicated and tricky it defies easy answers,” says pollster Davis Logsdon. “Letting small children fire automatic weapons is such an issue.”
Logsdon says that the thorny controversy is reminiscent of another ongoing national debate, about whether it is a good idea to load a car with dynamite and drive it into a tree.
“Many Americans think it’s a terrible idea, but others believe that with the correct supervision, it’s perfectly fine,” he says. “Who’s to say who’s right?”
Similar, he says, is the national debate about using a flamethrower indoors. “There has been a long and contentious national conversation about this,” he says. “It’s another tough one.”
Much like the long-running national debates about jumping off a roof, licking electrical sockets, and gargling with thumbtacks, the vexing question of whether children should fire military weapons does not appear headed for a swift resolution.
“Like the issue of whether you should sneak up behind a bear and jab it with a hot poker, this won’t be settled any time soon,” he says.
Palestinian children break world record for Kite Flying. (United Nations / Under Creative Commons)
A week ago was when I first saw the picture that appeared in the The Telegraph of children in the Gaza Strip trying to break the Guinness world record for kite-flying. The kites floating mid-air off the Mediterranean shore were a sight to behold. I was taken with the photo and the happiness of the Gazan children on the beach, considering that all the news had been about the sustained Israeli bombardment of that besieged Palestinian territory. At first glance, it seemed like a triumph of the human spirit, or at least of the joy of childhood in the face of war. But then I realized that the picture had been taken at a previous time.
Again, I looked at the photo of all the children grouped on the beach, with the breaking, blue waves in the distance. Flying kites was still quite a feat with an unseen Israeli naval blockade six miles out to sea. However, with the sustained attack on the Gaza Strip, which has been going on since July 7, I realized that it was possible—if not probable—that some of these children were dead.
This U.S.-funded Israeli attack (on a 72-hour ceasefire since Tuesday, August 5) was a rallying point for several Los Angeles-based organizations to organize a march on July 25to protest the visit of President Barack Obama, who was on a trip to raise money for the Democratic Party and its upcoming election campaigns. But there was another reason for the protest. As that march moved forward down the L.A. streets in the mid-day heat, it was visually dominated by people holding flowing flags from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. The defense of Palestinian and immigrant children converged, as a response to the similar strategies of dehumanization used to justify violence against them.
The focus of the march was children: Not only the close to 400 Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of July, but also the 60,000 unaccompanied kids who have arrived at the U.S. southern border from Central American countries, often fleeing desperate circumstances, since October 1. And in doing so, these Latin American youngsters have entered into the jaws of the largest border, detention, and deportation regime that we have ever experienced in the United States. This summer official disdain and violence against children—or certain “types” of children—has been on pure, raw display across the globe.
As people marched, these two apparently separate issues joined together in a chant “Emigrantes, Palestinos, Estamos Unidos.” (“Migrants, Palestinians, We Are United”—it rhymes better in Spanish). The demands were not only that the United States stop its $3 billion annual military aid to Israel, but also that it put to a halt its deportation machine, especially with calls to expel many of these Central American children back to situations of certain violence.
Of course, there are huge differences between what is happening in Israel-Palestine and the exodus of children from Central America.
On that same Gazan beach where the children so ecstatically flew their kites, for example, on July 16 an Israeli missile killed four Palestinian children, between the ages of seven and 11, who had been playing on the shore. On July 28, another Israeli rocket obliterated a playground near a hospital in a Gaza refugee camp, killing eight children. “The children were playing and were happy, enjoying Eid, and they got hit. Some lost their heads, others their legs and hands,” an eyewitness toldRussia Today. Israel’s military offensive has taken more than 1,900 Palestinian lives. In the last month, 419 Palestinian children have been killed in missile strikes hitting schools, mosques, and hospitals. 64 Israeli soldiers have been killed, mainly in gun battles in Gaza. No Israeli children have been reported dead thus far, though three of its citizens have perished.
For the children of Gaza, there is no place to run to when the Israeli Defense Forces bombs them. “The offensive has had a catastrophic and tragic impact on children,” said Pernille Ironside, head of the UNICEF field office in Gaza, who also mentioned that 2,502 youngsters have also been wounded.
In contrast many of the children from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are able to run from their own war: A vast, complicated situation that, like in Israel-Palestine, is impacted and fomented by U.S. political, economic, and military policies in the region, both in a historical and contemporary sense.
U.S. media outlets have regularly described the Central American children as a “flood,” “tsunami” or “tidal wave” as if they were some sort of natural disaster. Others use the term “surge” as if the young ones were an advancing military “invasion,” one worthy of deploying the military to protect the “homeland.” This sort of language set the stage for the likes of Fox News host Sean Hannity to sit with Texas Governor Rick Perry, with a camera-friendly machine gun placed between them, as if the kids really did represent the “asymmetric warfare” against the United States as claimed by the ex-Border Patrol agent Zack Taylor.
“If asymmetrical warfare is going to be successful, the first thing that has to be done is to compromise America’s defenses against invasion,” said Taylor.
Taylor’s idea that Border Patrol “babysitting” has taken “the resources that are protecting America at the border, off of the border,” has been repeated across the media landscape and throughout officialdom ad nauseum. Along with this comes the incessant mantra of a “porous” border that, as Taylor describes, gives people “that are trying to get their infrastructure, their personnel, their drugs, their dirty bombs, their biological weapons, their chemical weapons into the United States without being noticed” a free pass. That is why civilian militia groups are roaming the borderlands again. This is one of the main reasons that Perry sent 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the international divide. Current media and official framing of the border crisis may also explain why the Obama administration (and U.S. Congress) will likely ramp up the border enforcement apparatus even more, and expel the children at a rapid rate from the country.
In other words both the Central American and Palestinian children have been transformed rhetorically into a full-fledged national security threat. This sort of wholesale dehumanization can be found again when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Hamas wants topile up “telegenically dead Palestinians” for their cause.
Predating the Israeli attack on Gaza Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked stated on her Facebook page that “Palestinian people have declared war on us, and we must respond with war.” In her vividly written post she suggested that the destruction should include “[Palestine’s] elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.” And at the end she said that women whose families play any part in Palestinian resistance give birth to “little snakes.” It is no wonder Israeli soldiers have no problem posing for photosas they hold a detained Palestinian boy in a chokehold.
Similar were anti-immigrant protestors in Murrieta, California who called the Central American children “wet dogs.” Like in Israel-Palestine, there is example after example of how such words can go from a xenophobic sign in a protest, to the very way agents of the U.S. Border Patrol treat the Central American children in short-term detention. An ACLU report compiled the testimonies of many children, almost all whom complained of freezing conditions in the cells.
B.O., a 14-year-old boy, said he was never able to sleep because Homeland Security agents didn’t turn out the glaring lights. G.G. complained of agents feeding her moldy bread. When her stomach became upset and she asked for medicine Border Patrol told her “it’s not a hospital.” When she vomited, the Homeland Security agents accused her of being pregnant, and called her a “dirty liar.”
K.M. was a 15-year-old girl who said that agents woke her every 30 minutes in the “hielera” (the Spanish word for ice box), the freezing cell where she tried to sleep. She claimed that officials regularly called her and other children “sluts,” “parasites,” and “dogs.”
R.D., a 17-year-old girl, slashed her hand while climbing the fence to get into the United States. She said that in Border Patrol custody an agent squeezed her wound with immense pressure causing her great pain.“It’s good that you are hurt,” the agent told her, “you deserve to be hurt for coming to the US illegally.”
The protestors in Los Angeles were putting this world in dispute, at least in part created by billions of dollars that U.S. taxpayers were giving to Israel and the U.S. border/immigration enforcement apparatus, that dehumanizes children with the same cold efficiency that it deports, or even kills them. Obama, representing the U.S. administration “has the opportunity to help and he’s decided to expedite policies that basically send children to certain deaths,” said Kelly Flores, a teacher at the demonstration. “These are children. It’s our duty to oppose inhumane policies.”
And the Gaza kids did indeed shatter the Guinness world record with their kite-flying in 2011. There, on that joyful day on the beach, indeed was a much better example of what it means to be a child.
Todd Miller has researched and written about U.S.-Mexican border issues for more than 10 years. He has worked on both sides of the border for BorderLinks in Tucson, Arizona, and Witness for Peace in Oaxaca, Mexico. He now writes on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog “Border Wars,” among other places. He is at work on his first book, Border Patrol Nation, for the Open Media Series of City Lights Books.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha
They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think “Do I know any Davids in Gaza?”
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.
Roger’s note: I recall the ubiquitous chant from the days of Vietnam anti-war protests: “Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” Viet Nam still hasn’t recovered from Agent Orange and other toxins, but at least they didn’t have to face plutonium bullets, and they will recover much sooner than America’s more recent victims in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere. The killing of children goes on, in the name of democracy and financed with U.S. citizens’ tax dollars.
Afghan children and poorest citizens most vulnerable to unexploded bombs and toxic materials of thirteen-year war
– Jon Queally, staff writer
A concrete wall marks the beginning of the Bagram air base firing range. Some of the firing ranges left behind by U.S. forces will be transferred to the Afghan army. About 40 ranges belonged to nations in the international coalition, and they will have to determine whether to clear them. (Photo: Lorenzo Tugnoli/For The Washington Post)
As in the abandoned battle fields and scarred countrysides of southeast Asia a generation ago, the U.S. military’s footprint in Afghanistan is leaving a deadly legacy of unexploded ordinances and toxic materials that will continue to kill and permanently harm the nation’s children and others for years to come.
As the U.S. military withdraws from Afghanistan, it is leaving behind a deadly legacy: about 800 square miles of land littered with undetonated grenades, rockets and mortar shells.
The military has vacated scores of firing ranges pocked with the explosives. Dozens of children have been killed or wounded as they have stumbled upon the ordnance at the sites, which are often poorly marked. Casualties are likely to increase sharply; the U.S. military has removed the munitions from only 3 percent of the territory covered by its sprawling ranges, officials said.
Clearing the rest of the contaminated land — which in total is twice as big as New York City — could take two to five years. U.S. military officials say they intend to clean up the ranges. But because of a lack of planning, officials say, funding has not yet been approved for the monumental effort, which is expected to cost $250 million.
“If the Americans believe in human rights, how can they let this happen?” asked Sayed Sadeq, whose teenage son and his friend were both killed when one of them stepped on an unexploded grenade near a U.S. firing range in Ghazni province.
Spokespeople for the U.S. military confess that cleaning up the garbage of the U.S. military occupation has not been a priority.
“Unfortunately, the thinking was: ‘We’re at war and we don’t have time for this,’” Maj. Michael Fuller, the head of the U.S. Army’s Mine Action Center at Bagram Airfield, told the Post.
According to the UN, too little has been done to address the problem even as the statistics soar.
The Post reporting continues:
Even before the U.S. military arrived in 2001, Afghanistan was the most heavily mined country in the world. When the Soviets withdrew in 1989 after a 10-year occupation, they left about 20 million pieces of unexploded ordnance scattered nationwide. The munitions have killed and wounded thousands of children. The U.S. government has helped fund efforts to clear those devices, a massive project expected to be completed in 2023.
The firing ranges aren’t the only places where U.S. military explosives may be lying undetonated. There are 331 known sites of battles against the Taliban where some American ordnance probably remains, especially from airstrikes. U.S. officials say they will not attempt to clear those sites.
“We’re probably never going to be able to find those [munitions], because who knows where they landed,” said another U.S. official who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The United Nations says a more robust effort to clear those sites is necessary.
“The battles happened in areas where people live, work and attempt to earn their livelihoods. The contamination needs to be addressed,” said [one UN official].
In response to reports of civilian casualties, the U.S. military has posted additional barricades around some firing ranges. But American officials have refused to construct fencing, which they said would be prohibitively expensive and probably ineffective.
Roger’s note: This paragraph knocked me off my seat:
“Written answers from the Vatican emphasized the distinction between the Holy See and the Catholic Church and said that although it encouraged adherence to the principles of the convention globally, it was responsible only for implementing the convention in the territory of the Vatican City State.”
The Vatican, whose long vindictive arm reaches to the farthest corner of the glove to punish a priest or theologian who dares to advocate, for example, the ordination of women priests, this poor powerless Vatican, perhaps the most centralized authoritarian institution on the face of earth, this poor impotent Vatican finds that its hands are tied when it comes to enforcing the law that protects children from its abusive priests. Five stars for chutzpah and hypocrisy. But kudos to the Pope and his Cardinals for “encouraging” their priests to keep their hands (or worse) off children. Not to mention protecting all those children running around the halls of the Vatican.
NICK CUMMING-BRUCEJAN. 16, 2014, New York Times
GENEVA — In an unusual appearance before a United Nations committee, Vatican officials faced questions on Thursday about the Holy See’s handling of sexual abuse of children by the clergy.
The officials, including Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, who served as the Vatican’s chief sex crimes prosecutor for a decade up to 2012, are appearing before the Committee on the Rights of the Child to show how the Vatican is implementing a legally binding convention promoting child rights, which it signed in 1990.
Human rights organizations and groups representing victims of clerical abuse welcomed the hearing as the first occasion the Vatican has had to publicly defend its record.
“It’s a moment that has given hope and encouragement to victims across the globe,” Barbara Blaine, president of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in Geneva ahead of the hearing.
Amid the shake-up launched by Pope Francis in the 10 months since he took office, rights groups also saw Thursday’s hearing as an occasion that could shed light on the pontiff’s approach to dealing with the clerical abuse scandal.
Pope Francis announced last month the creation of a new committee to tackle clerical abuse but has so far said little on the scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church around the world.
In questions posed by the U.N. committee before the hearing, the Vatican was asked to provide details of cases of sexual abuse committed by clergy that were brought to its attention, to detail measures for ensuring clergy accused of sexual abuse did not remain in contact with children, and to explain what explicit instructions it had given to ensure compulsory reporting of sexual abuse to the competent national authorities together with the cases where instructions had been given not to report abuse.
Written answers from the Vatican emphasized the distinction between the Holy See and the Catholic Church and said that although it encouraged adherence to the principles of the convention globally, it was responsible only for implementing the convention in the territory of the Vatican City State.
“It was quite shocking. It was a pretty direct, pretty blunt effort to sidestep the questions,” Pam Spees, an attorney with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which is seeking to hold Vatican officials responsible for sexual abuse crimes, said in an interview.