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The Shame of America’s Family Detention Camps February 21, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Children, Immigration, Latin America, Race, Racism.
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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.

 From left, Vanessa Sischo, Christina Brown and Barbara Hines in Karnes, Tex., where they have been advocating on behalf of detained immigrants. Credit Dan Winters for The New York Times

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.

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 L., an asylum seeker in her early 30s, fled Honduras with her young son. After surrendering to U.S. officials at the border, they were detained at the federal facility in Artesia, N.M., for three months. They were made to sleep four families to a room; during their stay, the boy became ill first with chickenpox, then tonsillitis and was eventually hospitalized with a high fever. L. and her son are currently out on bond and awaiting an asylum hearing. Credit Dan Winters for The New York Times

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.”

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 M., a 21-year-old asylum seeker who fled El Salvador because of threats from local gangs. She was held, with her infant son, for nearly five months in a federal detention facility in Artesia, N.M. Credit Dan Winters for The New York Times

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.

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 The shadows of the Salvadoran asylum seeker M. and her son, who is now 1. They have been released on bond from a federal detention facility pending an asylum hearing. Credit Dan Winters for The New York Times

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.

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 Children entering a dormitory at the Artesia Family Residential Center in New Mexico last September, before its residents were moved to Texas. Credit Juan Carlos Llorca/Associated Press

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.”

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 An unidentified Guatemalan woman inside the spartan facility. Credit Juan Carlos Llorca/Associated Press

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?’ ”

Photo

 Credit Dan Winters for The New York Times

“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.”

Divide and Conquer December 28, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Economic Crisis, Humor, Immigration, Racism.
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Roger’s note: Divide and Conquer is the world’s oldest political strategy.  Get the people that you are screwing to take their mind off you and instead fight amongst themselves while you laugh all the way (often literally) to the bank.  The technique most used is that of pandering to fears, selfishness and, especially, prejudice.  I remember once in a picket line supporting supermarket strikers in California, talking with a woman who was crossing the picket line to shop.  “Why should they have health benefits that I don’t have?” she asked.  Wrong question.  What she she should have asked is, “Why don’t we all have decent health benefits?”  Racism, sexism, homophobia: it all serves the ruling classes, who never hesitate to play the hate card when they need to.  That Latino standing in front of Home Depot, desperate for a day’s work in order to feed his family, is not your enemy.  Take a careful look instead at the bankers (banksters), the war profiteers, the corporate CEOs, the corporate media, the insurance industry, big pharma,  etc. and their lackeys in the Democratic and Republican parties, if you want to know who your enemies are.  This is so basic that it is mind-boggling that so many allow themselves to be pandered to.  It speaks to Chomsky’s concept of manufactured consent.

 

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Still the Deporter-in-Chief Obama’s Fake Immigration Reform November 30, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Immigration, Labor, Racism.
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Roger’s note: when it comes to deceit and hypocrisy, Barack Obama continues to fail to disappoint.  The corporate media and much of the progressive blogosphere usually goes along with the chicanery.  Until reading this article, I sort of accepted as fact that the president indeed had taken a step, if a small one, towards humane treatment of undocumented immigrants.  Silly me.

 

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WEEKEND EDITION NOVEMBER 28-30, 2014, http://www.counterpoint.org

by JOHN ORLAND
The Great Deporter’s new executive order for a “sweeping overhaul of the immigration system” deserves no praise. If there is anything “sweeping” about President Obama’s immigration policy, it is his six years of deporting 2.4 million immigrants, his repeated lies regarding his so-called legal incapacity to issue presidential executive orders to mitigate the horrors that immigrant communities have been subjected to, and his total failure to pursue anything resembling “comprehensive immigration reform.”

What Obama did do, as with his all-pervasive surveillance system, was to order the implementation of a vicious program to criminalize immigrants in order to jail or deport them at will and to spend countless additional billions to militarize the border to keep them out.

Obama made clear that his executive order was “no different than all previous Democrat and Republican Party presidents over the past half century.” This statement alone immediately conjures up the heinous “bracero programs” of decades past, when strictly controlled cheap or near slave-wage labor was systematically imported from Latin America to serve the needs of the nation’s major agricultural titans and their associated industries.

The price to be extracted by Obama’s “promise” to refrain for three years from deporting undocumented immigrant parents of children born in the U.S. is a requirement that all such immigrants officially register their names, addresses, employment records, wages, salaries, and other data with the government, thus subjecting them to immediate persecution or deportation if they don’t pass Obama’s muster. Those with previous felony convictions or perhaps lesser “infractions” of America’s racist system of “law and order” remain subject to immediate deportation.

Obama’s decree, purportedly affecting four to five million undocumented immigrants, was described by administration officials as prioritizing the deportation of “felons, not families,” as if the remaining seven to eight million immigrants not covered by his plan were little less than dangerous criminals. Indeed, immigration officials will be instructed to prioritize the hunting down and deportation of so-called “gang members, felons, and suspected terrorists.”

“Today our immigration system is broken and everybody knows it,” Obama said. But Obama’s “fix” to date has been to deport more immigrants than any and all previous U.S. presidents combined!

Obama’s order supposedly offers those who qualify the chance to remain in the U.S. temporarily for three years, as long as they pass background checks and pay back taxes—to be determined, no doubt, by tax collectors who will have the final word. Not a single immigrant will be offered a “path to citizenship” nor will any be eligible for federal benefits or mandated health-care coverage.

Obama failed to mention that these same immigrants have often had state and federal taxes deducted from their salaries or wages by merciless employers while simultaneously being denied benefits supposedly mandated to all taxpayers! Obama’s order will demand the extortion of back taxes but there will be no retroactive back payment to immigrants for their exclusion from the benefits of paying these taxes. Obama’s program is worse; it will now demand that back taxes be deducted from those who register to comply, while all benefits will still be denied.

To demonstrate his fidelity to his Republican “critics,” who will undoubtedly appreciate Obama’s supplying corporate America with a steady supply of cheap, no-benefit labor who will be required to pay enormous sums in “back taxes” for future corporate plunder, the president issued his decree in condescending and threatening language: “If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.”

But Republican “critics” were nevertheless more than willing to partake in the great American charade that passes for real politics. “Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he’s acting on his own,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner said in a YouTube video released before the president’s speech. “The president has said before, that he’s not king and he’s not an emperor. But he’s sure acting like one.”

In truth, what Obama “unilaterally” proclaimed was likely what the twin parties of capital had previously agreed to during their multi-year “debate” on immigration legislation. All sections of the ruling class understand well that cheap labor with zero benefits is a prized commodity. Obama’s supposed three-year reprieve from government deportation is little more than existing policy, in which immigration officials, in collusion with corporate America, selectively determine who will be deported and who are still urgently required to service corporate interests.

This unofficial selective persecution and deportation policy serves capitalism well. Lower wages, if wages are paid at all via employer pre-planned deportations arranged before pay day, to immigrants always exercise a downward pressure on the wages of all U.S. workers, including and especially union members. The wage differential also serves capitalism’s need to divide workers by race and legal status, with the ruling class ever placing the blame for unemployment not on its failing system but rather on immigrants who “illegally” take the jobs of “Americans.”

Government-promoted reactionary patriotism is routinely employed to scapegoat the most oppressed and exploited. Obama’s spokespersons took great care to stress that the new plan was both temporary and subject to cancellation at any time by any president.

“Deferred action [that is, postponing deportation punishment] is not a pathway to citizenship. It is not legal status. It simply says that for three years, you are not a law enforcement priority, and [we] are not going to go after you,” said one senior official. “It is temporary and it is revocable.”

Working people have nothing to gain by faint praise or other attributions of support to Obama’s racist and anti-immigrant policies—in this case, a policy likely announced with great fanfare to crudely manufacture Obama’s future “legacy” as a humanistic president concerned with the plight of the poor and oppressed.

All “reforms” extracted from corporate America are derived from the independent self-organization and fightback of working people. To date, the growing immigrant rights movement has increasingly demanded an immediate end to all deportations, immediate amnesty and legalization, full benefits to all undocumented workers, and an immediate end to the militarization of the borders. The unity of the broad working class in defense of full rights for immigrants is a prerequisite to winning real victories for all the oppressed and indeed, for all workers.

Subordination of this critical struggle to support for “The Great Deporter,” or any other posturing politician, only furthers illusions in the credibility of the racist capitalist system.

The massive mobilizations in virtually every U.S. city, in which people expressed their rage against the racist grand-jury decision in the case of the police murder of the unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., was an important step toward awakening the American people to the real source of oppression in the United States.

Similarly, the five million immigrants who struck nationwide in 2006 against the racist immigration bill proposed by Republican Congressmen James Sensenbrenner and Peter King entitled, “Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act” offered a living example of the power of mass opposition and protest that raised the level of political consciousness of all. It is no coincidence that Obama’s executive order employs Sensenbrenner-type language—“terrorism, border protection, and immigration control.”

Obama’s fake decree was nothing less than a ruling-class effort to set the stage for the next round of electoral debate, in which the “lesser evil” will be once again counterposed to the so-called greater evil. But the massive 2014 election abstention rate of Latino workers—and indeed, the vast majority of all the oppressed and youth—was a stinging rebuke to Obama’s across-the-board policies of austerity, racism, environmental destruction, endless war, and atrocities against immigrants.

There are no capitalist “saviors.” The gap is narrowing between the growing hatred of capitalism’s brutality and the still modest number of acts of resistance. The prospect of explosive events that can bring millions into the streets and into the political arena—making use of a new fighting labor movement, mass organizations of struggle, and independent working-class political parties was significantly advanced when tens of thousands took to the streets nationwide to express their solidarity with Ferguson’s Black community and to condemn the inherent racism of corporate America and its militarized police-state-like criminal “justice” system.

John Orland is an immigration rights activist and staff writer for Socialist Action. He can be reached at: SocialistAction@lmi.net

Food For Thought September 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Immigration.
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THANKS TO LIZ CANFIELD FOR PASSING THIS ALONG:

 

 

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How We Scapegoat Children From Gaza to the US-Mexico Borderlands August 9, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Children, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: “Suffer little children …”  Matthew 19:14 KJV

 

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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 told Russia 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.

Then and Now: US Policy Towards Central American Fuels Child Refugee Crisis August 6, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Guatemala, Immigration, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: This article speaks of the US support for Guatemalan genocide.  We should not forget that the US government in Central America trained death squads in El Salvador (in support of a repressive ultra right government) and Nicaragua (in support of the fascist Contras) and enabled the 2009 coup in Honduras that replaced a democratically elected mildly progressive government with one that has turned the country into one of the most violent and corrupt nations on the face of the earth.  Your American tax dollar at work.

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 border

Decades of failed US policies in Central America have a direct link to the dire conditions that cause young children to abandon their homes and flee north. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

For once the Republicans got it right. But not in the way they think. Indeed, President Obama carries the representative blame for the debacle (including reports of sadistic abuseby U.S. Border Patrol) of largely Central American migrant children long overwhelming shelters at the border. But the guilt is much broader, ranging from successive administrations all the way down to us, as American taxpayers.

Decades of U.S. policy in Guatemala alone have turned the country into a land of wreck and ruin. This is the ultimate reason migrants have been crossing into the United States in increasing numbers in recent months. Harsh immigration enforcement policies, such as the ones the Obama administration has been championing, add insult to injury as the U.S. punishes migrants when they arrive when it should be paying people like those of Guatemala massive reparations.

“They owe it to us.”

It is indisputable that the U.S. shares significant responsibility for the genocide of tens of thousands of Guatemalans—mainly indigenous Mayans who comprised a majority of the (at least) 150,000 killed in the 1980s alone. A 1999 UN Truth Commission blamed Guatemalan state forces for 93 percent of the atrocities. That same year, former President Bill Clinton admitted the wrongness of U.S. support support for Guatemalan state violence.

U.S. culpability for Guatemala’s plight endures to this day. The problem is—then and now—the United States is in denial as a nation over what to do about its complicity.

Just ask Clinton. The day of his apology in Guatemala City, he looked genocide survivors in the face, voiced regret for the U.S. enabling their suffering, and then rejected their impassioned pleas for U.S. immigration reform because, he said, “we must enforce our laws.” Today, many continue to call on the U.S. for reform measures like temporary protected status. And still, U.S. officials meet them with silence or dismissal.

Some Guatemalans, particularly the young generation living unauthorized in the U.S., know who’s responsible for the origins of their current troubles and aren’t confused by what to do about it. Erika Perez, an indigenous Mayan student in New England, told me: “My role in the U.S. is to tell [fellow Guatemalans], ‘Take advantage of all the opportunities around us.'” After all, “They owe it to us.”

Perez says the Guatemalan economy for most of the population hasn’t recovered from the genocidal wreckage of the 1980s and continues to be subjugated by U.S.-led neoliberal economic reforms like NAFTA and CAFTA. The desperate situation keeps sending Guatemalans like her migrating as a necessary means of decent survival.

Erika crossed the Arizona/Mexico desert, the deadliest area for migrants along the border, when she was eighteen in 2002. An indigenous Mayan who then spoke Spanish but no English, she faced sexual violence and dehydration along the way—but survived. So many other Guatemalans, a majority of them from the Mayan highland areas hit hardest by the genocide, remain missing while trying to cross the same part of border, according to data acquired from the Pima County medical examiner’s Missing Migrants Project (now theColibrí Center for Human Rights).

Escaping a “Silent Holocaust”

“Opportunity,” the young Antonio Albizures-Lopez recalls, was the purpose of his family’s unauthorized migration to the United States, as well as “to escape the violence that was influenced directly by U.S. intervention”—including the murders of four of Antonio’s aunts. Albizures-Lopez grew up in Providence, RI since he was 1 year old in 1992, shortly after his mother crossed the Rio Grande River with Antonio strapped to her back.

International legal experts describe the social climate in the U.S. at the time of the genocide as a “Silent Holocaust”. In Antonio’s case, the term couldn’t be more appropriate. He was born in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, where one of the military bases set up with U.S. support “maintained its own crematorium and ‘processed’ abductees by chopping off limbs, singeing flesh and administering electric shocks,” according to veteran journalist Allan Nairn who interviewed a former agent of the G-2 secret intelligence service—the notorious Guatemalan agency long on the payroll of the U.S. State Department.

Meaningful forms of justice and accountability would have a long reach. They would provide restitution following the stories of Guatemalan youth like Antonio and Erika, two of many who are carrying the burden of genocide from their parents’ generation. True accountability would also address, among other cases, the 16,472 DREAM-ers who have listed Guatemala as their country of origin when they registered for President Obama’s 2012 deferred action program (DACA). Justice and accountability would lead to fundamental changes in U.S. policies toward the Guatemalan state.

Instead, Washington offers programs such as the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), a $496 million endeavor since 2008 to train and assist local security forces to counter, among other perceived threats, “border security deficiencies.” Along with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the US Southern and Northern Commands, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Bureau for Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have all expanded activities in the regionunder the auspices of the war on drugs, gangs, and other criminal activity.

The U.S. formally cut off military aid to Guatemala in 1977, though U.S. funding flowed atnormal levels through the early 1980s and Guatemala enjoyed enormous military support, by proxy, through U.S. client states such as Israel, Taiwan, and South Africa.

All in all, U.S. militarization in Guatemala has altered only in wording, shifting predominantly from anti-communist to currently anti-drug and counter-terror rhetoric. The policy trend continues through the present day, spanning across the Guatemalan boundary with Mexico as the “new southern border” of the United States, in the words of Chief Diplomatic Officer for DHS Alan Bersin.

The official U.S. position on supporting Guatemalan military activities is that it “was wrong” in the past, and is no longer permissible to support Guatemalan militarization except in relation to “homeland security.” In other words, Washington exercises the “doublethink” practice of “holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them,” to quote George Orwell.

Some Guatemalans won’t wait for U.S. immigration reform

Meanwhile, as we’ve seen here lately in Arizona, Guatemalans are still fleeing a constant renewal of U.S.-caused duress. Reviewing the most visible case, the plight of migrant children at the border has relentlessly gripped the nation. “Many of the parents of these children are in the United States,” explained Guatemalan ambassador to the U.S., Julio Ligorria, “and the children go to find them.” The children also are reportedly suffering the same sorts of Border Patrol abuses long familiar to their parents’ generation, whose mistreatment often goes unnoticed.

So what next? Recognizing guilt is a crucial first step. Even more important is what comes after that recognition. Relevant here, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the function of a “guilt complex” in the American conscience regarding past and ongoing abuses. In a 1957 interview with NBC, King remarked: “Psychologists would say that a guilt complex can lead to two reactions. One is acceptance and the desire to change. The other reaction is to indulge in more of the very thing that you have the sense of guilt about.”

Recognition of U.S. guilt over the Guatemalan genocide should translate into concrete forms of remedial action which, to the degree possible, corresponds with the scope of the crime.

But Guatemalans like Erika aren’t waiting. She’s teaching Guatemalans in her community crucial skills like English, advocating to cancel deportation orders against fellow migrants, putting herself through college. She says her philosophy of “empowering people in my community is: ‘Don’t be afraid anymore.'”

 

U.S. Deports Honduran Children In First Flight Since Obama’s Pledge July 15, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Human Rights, Immigration, Latin America, Racism.
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Roger’s note: what the mainstream media in its news and analyses universally fail to note is that the root cause of the migration from Central America lies in the actions and policies of the U.S. government over the years that have supported repressive business oriented governments controlled by oligarchic elites.  In particular the Obama/Hillary Clinton policies in support of the military coup in Honduras have resulted in Honduras being perhaps the most violent country on the face of the globe.  The lucrative drug trade and the attendant violence is a symptom of US directed imperial military supported corporatism,  and not the fundamental cause of the massive migration.  As for the costs of implementing a humanitarian policy of dealing with children refugees, a fraction of the dollars spent on the illegal wars in the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan would be sufficient.  That the U.S. government at the direction of a president who is both heartless and gutless, is sending Honduran mothers and their children back to the most violent city in the world, that while in custody these mothers and children are treated like animals,  is beyond disgusting.  That the commonly held perceived solution is increased border security and  deportation is not only an example of tunnel vision, but a head in the sand approach to a problem that the US government has created, and along with corporate media and both political parties, refuses to acknowledge.  Imperialism and xenophobia go hand in hand.

Immigration Overload Hot Spot

Posted: 07/14/2014 9:09 pm EDT 

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras, July 14 (Reuters) – The United States deported a group of Honduran children as young as 1-1/2 years old on Monday in the first flight since President Barack Obama pledged to speed up the process of sending back undocumented immigrant minors from Central America.

Fleeing violence and poverty, record numbers of children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have crossed into the United States over the past year, testing U.S. border facilities and sparking intense debate about how to solve the problem.

Monday’s charter flight from New Mexico to San Pedro Sula, the city with the highest murder rate in the world, returned 17 Honduran women, as well as 12 girls and nine boys, aged between 18 months and 15 years, the Honduran government said.

Looking happy, the deported children exited the airport on an overcast and sweltering afternoon. One by one, they filed into a bus, playing with balloons they had been given.

Nubia, a 6-year-old girl among the deportees, said she left Honduras a month ago for a journey that ended when she and her mother were caught on the Mexico-Texas border two weeks later.

“Horrible, cold and tiring,” was how Nubia remembered the trip that was meant to unite the pair with her three uncles already living in the United States.

Instead, her mother Dalia paid $7,000 in vain to a coyote, or guide, to smuggle them both across the border.

Once caught, U.S. officials treated them like “animals”, holding them in rooms with as many as 50 people, where some mothers had to sleep standing up holding children, Dalia said.

During the eight months ended June 15, some 52,000 children were detained at the U.S. border with Mexico, most of them from Central America. That was double the previous year’s tally and tens of thousands more are believed to have slipped through.

So chaotic are the circumstances of the exodus that some of the children are not even correctly reunited with their parents, said Valdette Willeman, director of the Center for Attention for Returned Migrants in Honduras.

“Many of the mothers are sometimes not even the real mothers of the children,” she said.

DRUG DEBATE

Monday’s flight departed as Obama faces increasing pressure to address the surge of unaccompanied minors.

Immigrant advocates urge him to address the humanitarian needs of the migrants. At the same time, Republicans in Congress have blamed the crisis on Obama’s immigration policies and have called on him to secure the border.

Obama’s administration has stressed that Central American children who cross the border illegally will be sent home, and last week said it would speed up the deportation process.

Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have suffered from gang violence and incursions from Mexican drug cartels using the region as a staging post for their trafficking operations.

Honduran President Juan Hernandez, in an interview published on Monday, blamed U.S. drug policy for sparking violence and ramping up migration to the United States. His wife urged the United States to do more to help.

“The countries consuming drugs need to support (us) and take joint responsibility because if there wasn’t demand, there wouldn’t be production and we wouldn’t be living like we are,” Ana Garcia de Hernandez said as she awaited the children.

Obama’s administration has projected that without government action, more than 150,000 unaccompanied children under the age of 18 could flee the three Central American nations next year.

The proposed actions will test Obama’s ability to negotiate effectively with Republican lawmakers who have blocked much of his agenda ahead of a November election when they hope to capture the U.S. Senate from his Democratic Party. (Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in San Pedro Sula and Julia Edwards in Washington; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Dan Grebler and Lisa Shumaker)

ASUC Senate bill expresses no confidence in Napolitano September 6, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Education.
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Roger’s note: I am proud of my alma mater’s students (ASUC = Associated Students, University of California), who, in a time honored Berkeley tradition, have challenged a stupid and unethical establishment decision.

Napolitano1.Berkeley2011.Joh_

 

The ASUC Senate wasted no time at the beginning of the academic year, gearing up in its first meeting to debate a bill expressing that the senate has “no confidence” in Janet Napolitano as the incoming UC president.

Napolitano’s appointment raised concerns due to the policies she implemented in her previous position as Secretary of Homeland Security. In response, the ASUC Senate will debate SB 2, titled Bill in Support of Undocumented Students and Immigrant Communities, on Monday.

“The ‘no confidence’ comes from a lot of history — she has deported over 2 million undocumented immigrants,” said ASUC Senator Sean Tan, who authored the bill. “There’s a lot of fear in terms of what is her main priority as UC president, because she comes from a background of surveillance and apprehension and security.”

As Homeland Security Secretary, Napolitano played a role in enacting immigration policies such as Secure Communities, a program that allows local governments to report undocumented immigrants to federal officials.

Under her leadership, the Homeland Security Department deported a record number of undocumented immigrants, according to a report by UAW Local 2865, a UC student workers’ union.

“We call for a president devoted to rebuilding our capacity for teaching, research, and learning — not a specialist in cyber surveillance, law enforcement, and border security,” the union’s release states. “We demand that the UC Regents retract Napolitano’s nomination for appointment and reopen the process for selecting the UC president.”

If the bill is passed, ASUC External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai will present a list of priorities detailed in the bill to the UC Student Association. These priorities include holding mandatory annual trainings for the rights of undocumented citizens, holding town halls for the UC campuses in both Northern and Southern California regions and ensuring that Secure Communities will not be implemented on UC campuses.

“A vote of no confidence is more effective when someone has already been in office,” Mecklai said. “For me personally, it’s more impactful to list eight demands with a timeline of when she needs to follow through with them.”

But some UC officials feel it is too soon to judge how Napolitano will perform as UC president. UC spokesperson Steve Montiel believes students will see that she is a person of “great integrity” as they learn more about her.

“She’s coming to lead the University of California, not coming to lead an immigration enforcement program,” Montiel said. “It’s a whole different world.”

The bill also calls for ASUC President DeeJay Pepito to propose a review of the UC president’s selection process to the UCSA Council of Presidents because some students felt that they were unfairly represented in her appointment.

“We as a senate could look at possible policy changes on how the UC president is selected, because we had a real problem with how student voices weren’t heard,” Mecklai said. “My fear is that we’ll only attack Napolitano and not the process, and in 10 years, this will happen again.”

Student Regent Cinthia Flores said the bill provides a proper avenue for students to voice their positions about Napolitano’s appointment.

 

Jane Nho covers student government. Contact her at jnho@dailycal.org.

Toronto declared ‘sanctuary city’ to non-status migrants February 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Immigration, Toronto.
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Toronto has become the first Canadian city with a formal policy allowing undocumented migrants to access services regardless of immigration status.
rl_non_status_12jpg.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox

Supporters of a motion to turn Toronto into a sanctuary city for non-status migrants raise their arms in victory as the vote is announced. The so-called ‘Solidarity City’ motion was passed by city council by a vote of 37-3.

RICHARD LAUTENS / TORONTO STAR
Published on Thu Feb 21 2013

Nicholas Keung Immigration Reporter

Toronto has made history by affirming itself as a “sanctuary city,” the first Canadian city with a formal policy allowing undocumented migrants to access services regardless of immigration status.

On Thursday, City Council passed the motion by a vote of 37 to 3 that also requires training all city staff and managers to ensure Toronto’s estimated 200,000 non-status residents can access its services without fear of being turned over to border enforcement officers for detention and deportation.

The vote puts Toronto in the same league with 36 American cities, including Chicago, New York City and San Francisco that already have such policies. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and David Shiner are the only council members who voted against the motion.

“It is an enormous step for the city in the right direction. We are all contributing to the city, the well-being of Toronto. It’s important that we are not making a distinction between those who don’t have rights or access to services and those who do,” said Harald Bauder, associate professor of Ryerson University’s graduate program in immigration and settlement studies.

“Distinctions are divisive. They establish second-class citizens. That leads to all kinds of other problems, not just a rift in the community, but other issues of exploitation.”

Council’s vote was significant at a time when the undocumented population is expected to surge in 2015, when many legal but temporary foreign workers will see their four-year work permits expire under a new federal law and potentially move “underground.”

Proponents of the policy argued that the city must embrace and monitor the changing reality rather than just bury its head in the sand.

Although undocumented migrants — often visitors overstaying their visas or failed refugee claimants dodging deportation — have been able to use city services such as library and public transit without hassles, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has not been consistent in other areas.

“This is a historic moment because we are saying we are a sanctuary city and that anyone who is in the City of Toronto will be able to access all the services the city offers, be it in the areas of health, in the area of parks, in the area of library, in the area of health and safety,” said councilor Joe Mihevc.

“That is the kind of city we want. We want to open our arms to anyone who comes here while they are here.”

However, Mihevc pointed out the new city policy will not address barriers faced by non-status residents for services under the provincial or federal jurisdictions such as housing, income security, welfare and labour protection.

“With the police, their policy is, ‘don’t ask.’ But if they find that someone tells them, they actually have a legal obligation to report it to Immigration Canada. That’s the nuance with respect to the police. This doesn’t change that,” Mihevc explained.

Thursday’s motion was a second attempt by migrant advocacy groups to formalize the city’s sanctuary policy; the previous administration under mayor David Miller did not commit to affirming the policy but opted to simply put a poster online to promote it.

“This is a great show of what community organizations can do. But this is only a policy . . . The only way we’re going to get changes in our community is if our community is organized and standing strong, and we keep councillors to what they said today,” said Tzazna Miranda Leal of the Solidarity City Network, a community umbrella group behind the campaign.

However, councillor Minnan-Wong, a vocal critic of the motion, said undocumented people are illegal in Canada and do not deserve government services.

“We shouldn’t encourage them. We shouldn’t help them. We should not facilitate them. They are an insult to every immigrant who plays by the rule to get into the country. They are an insult to every immigrant who is waiting to enter this country legally,” said Minnan-Wong.

“It sends a message to the world that it is okay to break the law to come to Canada and it says that the City of Toronto is an accomplice to this lawbreaking.”

Council also voted to ask Ottawa to establish an amnesty program for undocumented migrants and the province to review its policies to ensure their access to health care, emergency services and community housing.

Sanctuary cities in U.S.

 

So far, 36 American cities and three states have declared themselves sanctuaries for non-status migrants.

Anchorage, AK

Chandler, AZ

Mesa, AZ

Tucson, AZ

Davis, CA

Downey, CA

Los Angeles, CA

Oakland, CA

San Bernardino, CA

San Jose, CA

Watsonville, CA

New Haven, CN

Denver, CO

New York City, NY

Fort Collins, CO

Deleon Springs, FL

Miami, FL

Chicago, IL

Cambridge, MA

Baltimore, MD

Detroit, MI

St. Paul, MN

Newark, NJ

Bridgeton, NJ

Tulsa, OK

Albuquerque, NM

Farmingville, NY

Durham, NC

Portland, OR

Philadelphia, PA

Brownsville, TX

Salt Lake City, UT

Fairfax County, VA

Seattle, WA

Madison, WI

Jackson Hole, WY

State of Oregon

State of Maine

State of Vermont

Profiting From Human Misery February 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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Posted on Feb 17, 2013, http://www.truthdig.com
AP/Mel Evans
A row of beds inside the Elizabeth Detention Center.

 

By Chris Hedges

 

Marela, an undocumented immigrant in her 40s, stood outside the Elizabeth Detention Center in Elizabeth, N.J., on a chilly afternoon last week. She was there with a group of protesters who appear at the facility’s gates every year on Ash Wednesday to decry the nation’s immigration policy and conditions inside the center. She was there, she said, because of her friend Evelyn Obey.

Obey, 40, a Guatemalan and the single mother of a 12-year-old and a 6-year-old, was picked up in an immigration raid as she and nine other undocumented workers walked out of an office building they cleaned in Newark, N.J. Her two children instantly lost their only parent. She languished in detention. Another family took in the children, who never saw their mother again. Obey died in jail in 2010 from, according to the sign Villar had hung on her neck, “pulmonary thromboembolism, chronic bronchiolitis and emphysema and remote cardiac Ischemic Damage.’ ”

“She called me two days after she was seized,” Marela told me in Spanish. “She was hysterical. She was crying. She was worried about her children. We could not visit her because we do not have legal documents. We helped her get a lawyer. Then we heard she was sick. Then we heard she died. She was buried in an unmarked grave. We did not go to her burial. We were too scared of being seized and detained.”

The rally—about four dozen people, most from immigrant rights groups and local churches—was a flicker of consciousness in a nation that has yet to fully confront the totalitarian corporate forces arrayed against it. Several protesters in orange jumpsuits like those worn by inmates held signs reading: “I Want My Family Together,” “No Human Being is Illegal,” and “Education not Deportation.”

“The people who run that prison make money off of human misery,” said Diana Mejia, 47, an immigrant from Colombia who now has legal status, gesturing toward the old warehouse that now serves as the detention facility. As she spoke, a Catholic Worker band called the Filthy Rotten System belted out a protest song. A low-flying passenger jet, its red, green and white underbelly lights blinking in the night sky, rumbled overhead. Clergy walking amid the crowd marked the foreheads of participants with ashes to commemorate Ash Wednesday.

“Repentance is more than merely being sorry,” the Rev. Joyce Antila Phipps, the executive director of Casa de Esperanza, a community organization working with immigrants, told the gathering. “It is an act of turning around and then moving forward to make change.”

The majority of those we incarcerate in this country—and we incarcerate a quarter of the world’s prison population—have never committed a violent crime. Eleven million undocumented immigrants face the possibility of imprisonment and deportation. President Barack Obama, outpacing George W. Bush, has deported more than 400,000 people since he took office. Families, once someone is seized, detained and deported, are thrown into crisis. Children come home from school and find they have lost their mothers or fathers. The small incomes that once sustained them are snuffed out. Those who remain behind often become destitute.

But human beings matter little in the corporate state. We myopically serve the rapacious appetites of those dedicated to exploitation and maximizing profit. And our corporate masters view prisons—as they do education, health care and war—as a business. The 320-bed Elizabeth Detention Center, which houses only men, is run by one of the largest operators and owners of for-profit prisons in the country, Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, has annual revenues in excess of $1.7 billion. An average of 81,384 inmates are in its facilities on any one day. This is a greater number, the American Civil Liberties Union points out in a 2011 report, “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” than that held by the states of New York and New Jersey combined.

The for-profit prisons and their lobbyists in Washington and state capitals have successfully blocked immigration reform, have prevented a challenge to our draconian drug laws and are pushing through tougher detention policies. Locking up more and more human beings is the bedrock of the industry’s profits. These corporations are the engines behind the explosion of our prison system. They are the reason we have spent $300 billion on new prisons since 1980. They are also the reason serious reform is impossible.

The United States, from 1970 to 2005, increased its prison population by about 700 percent, according to statistics gathered by the ACLU. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the ACLU report notes, says that for-profit companies presently control about 18 percent of federal prisoners and 6.7 percent of all state prisoners. Private prisons account for nearly all of the new prisons built between 2000 and 2005. And nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government are shipped to for-profit prisons, according to Detention Watch Network.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which imprisons about 400,000 undocumented people a year, has an annual budget of more than $5 billion. ICE is planning to expand its operations by establishing several mega-detention centers, most run by private corporations, in states such as New Jersey, Texas, Florida, California and Illinois. Many of these private contractors are, not surprisingly, large campaign donors to “law and order” politicians including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

In CCA’s annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission for 2011, cited by the ACLU, the prison company bluntly states its opposition to prison reform. “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws,” it declares. CCA goes on to warn that “any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration” could “potentially [reduce] demand for correctional facilities,” as would “mak[ing] more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior,” the adoption of “sentencing alternatives [that] … could put some offenders on probation” and “reductions in crime rates.”

CCA in 2011 gave $710,300 in political contributions to candidates for federal or state office, political parties and 527 groups (PACs and super PACs), the ACLU reported. The corporation also spent $1.07 million lobbying federal officials along with undisclosed funds to lobby state officials, according to the ACLU. CCA, through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), lobbies legislators to impose harsher detention laws at the state and federal levels. The ALEC helped draft Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law SB 1070.

A March 2012 CCA investor presentation prospectus, quoted by the ACLU, tells potential investors that incarceration “creates predictable revenue streams.” The document cites demographic trends that the company says will continue to expand profits. These positive investment trends include, the prospectus reads, “high recidivism”—“about 45 percent of individuals released from prison in 1999 and more than 43 percent released from prison in 2004 were returned to prison within three years.” The prospectus invites investments by noting that one in every 100 U.S. adults is currently in prison or jail. And because the U.S. population is projected to grow by approximately 18.6 million from 2012 to 2017, “prison populations would grow by about 80,400 between 2012 and 2017, or by more than 13,000 additional per year, on average,” the CCA document says.

The two largest private prison companies in 2010 received nearly $3 billion in revenue. The senior executives, according to the ACLU report, each received annual compensation packages worth well over $3 million. The for-profit prisons can charge the government up to $200 a day to house an inmate; they pay detention officers as little as $10 an hour.

“Within 30 miles of this place, there are at least four other facilities where immigrants are detained: Essex, Monmouth, Delaney Hall and Hudson, which has the distinction of being named one of the 10 worst detention facilities in the country,” Phipps, who is an immigration attorney as well as a minister, told the gathering in front of the Elizabeth Detention Center. “The terrible secret is that immigration detention has become a very profitable business for companies and county governments.”

“More than two-thirds of immigrants are detained in so-called contract facilities owned by private companies, such as this one and Delaney Hall,” she went on. “The rise of the prison industrial complex has gone hand in hand with the aggrandizing forces of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, which, by the way, has filed suit against the very government it is supposed to be working for because they were told to exercise prosecutorial discretion in their detention practices.” [Click here to see more about the lawsuit, in which 10 ICE agents attack the administration’s easing of government policy on those who illegally entered the United States as children.]

There is an immigration court inside the Elizabeth facility, although the roar of the planes lifting off from the nearby Newark Airport forces those in the court to remain silent every three or four minutes until the sound subsides. Most of those brought before the court have no legal representation and are railroaded through the system and deported. Detainees, although most have no criminal record beyond illegal entry into the United States, wear orange jumpsuits and frequently are handcuffed. They do not have adequate health care. There are now some 5,000 children in foster care because their parents have been detained or deported, according to the Applied Research Center’s report “Shattered Families.” The report estimates that this number will rise to 15,000 within five years.

“I am in family court once every six to eight weeks representing some mother who is surrendering custody of her child to somebody else because she does not want to take that child back to the poverty of Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador,” Phipps said when we spoke after the rally. “She has no option. She does not want her child to live in the same poverty she grew up in. It is heartbreaking.”

We have abandoned the common good. We have been stripped of our rights and voice. Corporations write our laws and determine how we structure our society. We have all become victims. There are no politicians or institutions, no political parties or courts, that are independent enough or strong enough to resist the corporate onslaught. Greater and greater numbers of human beings will be consumed. The poor, the vulnerable, the undocumented, the weak, the elderly, the sick, the children will go first. And those of us watching helplessly outside the gates will go next.

 

Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

Hedges was part of the team of reporters at The New York Times awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. He also received the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism in 2002. The Los Angeles Press Club honored Hedges’ original columns in Truthdig by naming the author the Online Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011. The LAPC also granted him the Best Online Column award in 2010 for his Truthdig essay “One Day We’ll All Be Terrorists.”

Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City and has taught at Columbia University, New York University and Princeton University. He currently teaches inmates at a correctional facility in New Jersey.

Hedges began his career reporting the war in El Salvador. Following six years in Latin America, he took time off to study Arabic and then went to Jerusalem and later Cairo. He spent seven years in the Middle East, most of them as the bureau chief there for The New York Times. He left the Middle East in 1995 for Sarajevo to cover the war in Bosnia and later reported the war in Kosovo. Afterward, he joined the Times’ investigative team and was based in Paris to cover al-Qaida. He left the Times after being issued a formal reprimand for denouncing the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.

He has written twelve books, including “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” (2012),  “Death of the Liberal Class” (2010), “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009), “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008) and the best-selling “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2008). His book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. In 2011, Nation Books published a collection of Hedges’ Truthdig columns called “The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.”

Hedges holds a B.A. in English literature from Colgate University and a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard University. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif. Hedges speaks Arabic, French and Spanish and knows ancient Greek and Latin. In addition to writing a weekly original column for Truthdig, he has written for Harper’s Magazine, The New Statesman, The New York Review of Books, Adbusters, Granta, Foreign Affairs and other publications.

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