On Tuesday, July 14, German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared on a television program called “Good Life in Germany” in which she spoke to local teenagers. Among the audience was 13-year old Reem, a Palestinian refugee who fled their camp in Lebanon four years ago.
In a shaky voice of fluent German, young Reem said, “I have goals like everyone else…I want to go to university.” But, she explained, she and her family are facing deportation. “It’s very unpleasant to see how others can enjoy life, and I can’t myself,” she said, “I want to study like them.”
Chancellor Merkel responded with the standard western fear of immigrants. She said if Germany allows her to stay, there would be thousands of Palestinian refugees, then thousands from “Africa” [that singular large country] who will flood into Germany. “We can’t cope with that,” she said. Young Reem crumbled into sobs and the footage of her interaction with Chancellor Merkel went viral.
Headlines and political analyses across Europe and the US spoke of Merkel’s dry response to a brave young girl, desperate for an education, for a stable life, for something other than lingering fear and uncertainty to frame her life. I read at least 15 opinion pieces on the subject and most of them couched this incident in the much discussed “immigration crisis” across Western Europe. Leftist pundits decried the chancellor as heartless, insisting on Europe’s humanitarian responsibility toward the wretched of the earth. Right leaning pundits reflected Merkel’s sentiments that Europe has enough to worry about and should not be expected to shoulder the world’s problems. Others were simply pragmatic, echoing the words of Eva Lohse, president of the German association of Cities, who cautioned, “we’re reaching the limits of our capacity.”
All these analyses missed the most important point.
Not one of them touched on the fact that Reem is a refugee directly and indirectly because of German actions. Reem, and “thousands upon thousands of Palestinian refugees,” as Merkel put it, are stateless precisely because Germany, along with other western nations, continue to support zionist colonialism that expelled, and continues to expel, native Palestinians from their ancestral homeland.
Reem would not need German “charity” were Germany to insist that the massive military and financial aid it gives to Israel were contingent upon Israel’s adherence to basic tenets of morality and international law that explicitly provide for Reem’s right to live in her native homeland. Reem might not be lost in the world were Germany to make the many lucrative European economic and trade incentives with Israel subject to the dismantling of zionist Apartheid that deems Reem a lesser human, unworthy of her own heritage, home and history.
More than the enormous material support is the favor that Germany provides for Israel to continue its entrenchment of the structural and institutional racism that offers state privilege and entitlement to citizens in accordance with their religion. It because of the political cover that Germany offers Israel to destroy Palestinian life, society and culture with impunity that Reem remains a refugee. Last summer, for example, after Israel slaughtered Palestinians in Gaza from land, air, and sea, the UN Human Rights Council urged the UN to “urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations [of international law] in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014.” Despite the horrors that Palestinians endured in the course of 51 days, Germany could not muster the most minimal affirmation of Palestinian humanity to vote in favor of such an inquiry.
Watching the footage, those of us with a sense of history seethe at such a spectacle of western paternalism. Merkel’s response to Reem was a perfect display of the breathtaking willful denial of western governments, which are, indeed, creators of refugees. The truth is that our part of the world lay in ruin, fear, and devastation largely because of imperialist western “operations” in pursuit of a hegemony that holds our lives in contempt, utter disregard and disrespect. From Iraq to Palestine to Libya, Germany has played a terrible and pivotal role in the evisceration of us. Together with her western allies, they have made beggars of our mothers, doctors and teachers, and produced generations of traumatized, illiterates into what were once high functioning populations. They destroyed our societies down to their foundations, vanquishing the social mechanisms that marginalize extreme elements, such that into the chaos and gaping misery of our lives now runs amuck a powerful organization of ghoulish fanatics.
So, to the leftist, the right wing, and the pragmatic pundits, I say spare us, please, the self-serving blather about whether you should or should not “help” others. It would be enough to cease the harm caused and perpetuated by the west. At a minimum, try to inject a kernel of honest self-reproach into your discourse on immigration. Examine your role in creating the crises around the world that bring desperate human beings to your shores. Ask why is Reem a refugee, perhaps third or fourth generation, and what is Germany’s role in the boundless tragedy that continues to befall Palestine.
Susan Abulhawa is a bestselling novelist and essayist. Her new novel, The Blue Between Sky and Water, was released this year and simultaneously published in multiple languages, including German.
Roger’s note: our heartless greed-oriented and violent capitalist world the oppression of women and children is an everyday occurrence. I takes many forms, mostly related to poverty one way or another. Here we see mindless and shameless government bureaucracy at work to directly harm women and children who are already victims or corporate inspired government policies with respect to Central America.
‘We want freedom for our children. It’s not right to continue to detain us.’
Protesters demand closure of the Karnes, Texas immigrant detention center in January 2015. (Photo: WeAreUltraViolet/flickr/cc)
About 40 women being held at the privately-run Karnes Family Detention Center in southern Texas launched a hunger strike this week to demand their release and the release of their families, vowing on Tuesday not to eat, work, or use the services at the facility until they are freed.
Nearly 80 women being held at the center, many of whom are said to be asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, signed a letter stating that they have all been refused bond despite having established a credible fear of violence if they are sent back to Central America—a key factor in the U.S. government’s process for screening detained immigrants to allow them amnesty.
“We deserve to be treated with some dignity and that our rights, to the immigration process, are respected,” the letter reads. “You should know that this is just the beginning and we will not stop [the hunger strike] until we achieve our goals. This strike will continue until each of us is freed.”
The letter also states that many of the children held in the camp are losing weight and that their “health is deteriorating.” Many of the families have been detained for as long as 10 months.
One woman, 26-year old Honduran mother Kenia Galeano, decried the center’s treatment of the families in a phone interview with McClatchy on Tuesday. “We’re many mothers, not just me,” she said. “We want freedom for our children. It’s not right to continue to detain us.”
Galeano, who shares a room with three other mothers and their children, also said that her two-year-old son has become depressed and lost weight due to the culturally inappropriate food.
According to the letter, some of the mothers were also left behind in the detention center, while their children were granted bond. “We have come to this country, with our children, seeking refugee status and we are being treated like delinquents,” the letter reads. “We are not delinquents nor do we pose any threat to this country.”
“This strike will continue until each of us is freed.”
Karnes, which is run by the private corrections company GEO Group, has come under fire in the past for its treatment of the children who are detained there, with reports of weight loss and forced separation from their mothers, but the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department has denied those allegations.
ICE also claimed it was unaware of any residents actually participating in the strike, saying in a statement on Wednesday that the agency “fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference, and all detainees, including those in family residential facilities such as Karnes, are permitted to do so.”
It also said it was investigating claims that members of a nonprofit advocacy group encouraged the women to take part in the hunger strike—a charge which activists deny.
Cristina Parker, immigration programs director at the Texas-based immigrant rights group Grassroots Leadership, told the Guardian on Tuesday, “This is something that has been rippling through the centre almost since it opened. I don’t believe at all that they were coached into doing this.”
According to Parker, the center is now blocking access to internet and telephone facilities for all of its detainees, regardless of whether they are participating in the hunger strike.
At least two women who signed the letter were also placed into isolation with their children in Karnes’s clinic, leading about half of those who initially pledged to take part in the hunger strike to drop out, according to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.
Johana De Leon, a legal assistant with the nonprofit, told McClatchy that other mothers were warned they could lose custody of their children if they participated.
In addition to its mistreatment of children, Karnes has also been accused of sexual misconduct by guards and denial of critical medical care for detainees, among other charges. The Department of Homeland Security inspector general reported in February that there was no evidence to support the allegations.
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Roger’s note: this article ran, in a sense (at least to my mind), side by side with this article (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/sunday-review/surviving-the-nazis-only-to-be-jailed-by-america.html?_r=0) in the same online edition of the New York Times the other day. An uncanny juxtaposition. The heartless racism — buttressed by capitalism’s inherent inequality — that infects America, which has its roots in the First Nations genocide and the African slave trade, is not a matter of the past, as we see here. You can talk about practical politics all you want, but sending children back “home” to be violated and tortured constitutes a moral and ethical crime of the highest nature. President Obama and his heartless Homeland Security (sic) bureaucrats have deported more refugee claimants than his immediate predecessors.
The back story to all this, of course, is that the corruption and violence in the Mexican and Central American nations from which masses are trying to escape to the United States is a direct result of the US government’s policies.
Christina Brown pulled into the refugee camp after an eight-hour drive across the desert. It was late July of last year, and Brown was a 30-year-old immigration lawyer. She had spent a few years after college working on political campaigns, but her law degree was barely a year old, and she had only two clients in her private practice in Denver. When other lawyers told her that the federal government was opening a massive detention center for immigrants in southeastern New Mexico, where hundreds of women and children would be housed in metal trailers surrounded by barbed wire, Brown decided to volunteer legal services to the detainees. She wasn’t sure exactly what rights they might have, but she wanted to make sure they got them. She packed enough clothes to last a week, stopped by Target to pick up coloring books and toys and started driving south.
As she pulled into the dusty town of Artesia, she realized that she still had no idea what to expect. The new detention center was just north of town, behind a guard station in a sprawling complex with restricted access. Two other volunteers had been in town for about a week and had permission from federal officials to access the compound the following day.Brown spent the night at a motel, then drove to the detention camp in the morning. She stood in the wind-swept parking lot with the other lawyers, overlooking the barren plains of the eastern plateau. After a few minutes, a transport van emerged from the facility to pick them up. It swung to a stop in the parking lot, and the attorneys filed on. They sat on the cold metal benches and stared through the caged windows as the bus rolled back into the compound and across the bleak brown landscape. It came to a stop by a small trailer, and the lawyers shuffled out.
As they opened the door to the trailer, Brown felt a blast of cold air. The front room was empty except for two small desks arranged near the center. A door in the back opened to reveal dozens of young women and children huddled together. Many were gaunt and malnourished, with dark circles under their eyes. “The kids were really sick,” Brown told me later. “A lot of the moms were holding them in their arms, even the older kids — holding them like babies, and they’re screaming and crying, and some of them are lying there listlessly.”
Brown took a seat at a desk, and a guard brought a woman to meet her. Brown asked the woman in Spanish how she ended up in detention. The woman explained that she had to escape from her home in El Salvador when gangs targeted her family. “Her husband had just been murdered, and she and her kids found his body,” Brown recalls. “After he was murdered, the gang started coming after her and threatening to kill her.” Brown agreed to help the woman apply for political asylum in the United States, explaining that it might be possible to pay a small bond and then live with friends or relatives while she waited for an asylum hearing. When the woman returned to the back room, Brown met with another, who was fleeing gangs in Guatemala. Then she met another young woman, who fled violence in Honduras. “They were all just breaking down,” Brown said. “They were telling us that they were afraid to go home. They were crying, saying they were scared for themselves and their children. It was a constant refrain: ‘I’ll die if I go back.’ ”
As Brown emerged from the trailer that evening, she already knew it would be difficult to leave at the end of the week. The women she met were just a fraction of those inside the camp, and the government was making plans to open a second facility of nearly the same size in Karnes County, Tex., near San Antonio. “I remember thinking to myself that this was an impossible situation,” she said. “I was overwhelmed and sad and angry. I think the anger is what kept me going.”
Over the past six years, President Obama has tried to make children the centerpiece of his efforts to put a gentler face on U.S. immigration policy. Even as his administration has deported a record number of unauthorized immigrants, surpassing two million deportations last year, it has pushed for greater leniency toward undocumented children. After trying and failing to pass the Dream Act legislation, which would offer a path to permanent residency for immigrants who arrived before the age of 16, the president announced an executive action in 2012 to block their deportation. Last November, Obama added an executive order to extend those protections to their parents. “We’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security,” he said in a speech on Nov. 20. “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.” But the president’s new policies apply only to immigrants who have been in the United States for more than five years; they do nothing to address the emerging crisis on the border today.
Since the economic collapse of 2008, the number of undocumented immigrants coming from Mexico has plunged, while a surge of violence in Central America has brought a wave of migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. According to recent statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, the number of refugees fleeing Central America has doubled in the past year alone — with more than 61,000 “family units” crossing the U.S. border, as well as 51,000 unaccompanied children. For the first time, more people are coming to the United States from those countries than from Mexico, and they are coming not just for opportunity but for survival.
The explosion of violence in Central America is often described in the language of war, cartels, extortion and gangs, but none of these capture the chaos overwhelming the region. Four of the five highest murder rates in the world are in Central American nations. The collapse of these countries is among the greatest humanitarian disasters of our time. While criminal organizations like the 18th Street Gang and Mara Salvatrucha exist as street gangs in the United States, in large parts of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador they are so powerful and pervasive that they have supplanted the government altogether. People who run afoul of these gangs — which routinely demand money on threat of death and sometimes kidnap young boys to serve as soldiers and young girls as sexual slaves — may have no recourse to the law and no better option than to flee.
The American immigration system defines a special pathway for refugees. To qualify, most applicants must present themselves to federal authorities, pass a “credible fear interview” to demonstrate a possible basis for asylum and proceed through a “merits hearing” before an immigration judge. Traditionally, those who have completed the first two stages are permitted to live with family and friends in the United States while they await their final hearing, which can be months or years later. If authorities believe an applicant may not appear for that court date, they can require a bond payment as guarantee or place the refugee in a monitoring system that may include a tracking bracelet. In the most extreme cases, a judge may deny bond and keep the refugee in a detention facility until the merits hearing.
The rules are somewhat different when children are involved. Under the terms of a 1997 settlement in the case of Flores v. Meese, children who enter the country without their parents must be granted a “general policy favoring release” to the custody of relatives or a foster program. When there is cause to detain a child, he or she must be housed in the least restrictive environment possible, kept away from unrelated adults and provided access to medical care, exercise and adequate education. Whether these protections apply to children traveling with their parents has been a matter of dispute. The Flores settlement refers to “all minors who are detained” by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and its “agents, employees, contractors and/or successors in office.” When the I.N.S. dissolved into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, its detention program shifted to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Federal judges have ruled that ICE is required to honor the Flores protections to all children in its custody.
Even so, in 2005, the administration of George W. Bush decided to deny the Flores protections to refugee children traveling with their parents. Instead of a “general policy favoring release,” the administration began to incarcerate hundreds of those families for months at a time. To house them, officials opened the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center near Austin, Tex. Within a year, the administration faced a lawsuit over the facility’s conditions. Legal filings describe young children forced to wear prison jumpsuits, to live in dormitory housing, to use toilets exposed to public view and to sleep with the lights on, even while being denied access to appropriate schooling. In a pretrial hearing, a federal judge in Texas blasted the administration for denying these children the protections of the Flores settlement. “The court finds it inexplicable that defendants have spent untold amounts of time, effort and taxpayer dollars to establish the Hutto family-detention program, knowing all the while that Flores is still in effect,” the judge wrote. The Bush administration settled the suit with a promise to improve the conditions at Hutto but continued to deny that children in the family detention were entitled to the Flores protections.
In 2009, the Obama administration reversed course, abolishing family detention at Hutto and leaving only a small facility in Pennsylvania to house refugee families in exceptional circumstances. For all other refugee families, the administration returned to a policy of release to await trial. Studies have shown that nearly all detainees who are released from custody with some form of monitoring will appear for their court date. But when the number of refugees from Central America spiked last summer, the administration abruptly announced plans to resume family detention.
From the beginning, officials were clear that the purpose of the new facility in Artesia was not so much to review asylum petitions as to process deportation orders. “We have already added resources to expedite the removal, without a hearing before an immigration judge, of adults who come from these three countries without children,” the secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, told a Senate committee in July. “Then there are adults who brought their children with them. Again, our message to this group is simple: We will send you back.” Elected officials in Artesia say that Johnson made a similar pledge during a visit to the detention camp in July. “He said, ‘As soon as we get them, we’ll ship them back,’ ” a city councilor from Artesia named Jose Luis Aguilar recalled. The mayor of the city, Phillip Burch, added, “His comment to us was that this would be a ‘rapid deportation process.’ Those were his exact words.”
During the first five weeks that the Artesia facility was open, officials deported more than 200 refugees to Central America. But as word of the detention camp began to spread, volunteers like Christina Brown trickled into town. Their goal was to stop the deportations, schedule asylum hearings for the detainees and, whenever possible, release the women and children on bond. Many of the lawyers who came to Artesia were young mothers, and they saw in the detained children a resemblance to their own. By last fall, roughly 200 volunteers were rotating through town in shifts: renting rooms in local motels, working 12-hour days to interview detainees and file asylum paperwork, then staying awake into the night to consult one another. Some volunteers returned to Artesia multiple times. A few spent more than a month there. Brown never moved back to Denver. She moved into a little yellow house by the detention facility, took up office space in a local church and, with help from a nonprofit group called the American Immigration Lawyers Association, or AILA, she began to organize the volunteers pouring in.
As Brown got to know detainees in Artesia, grim patterns emerged from their stories. One was the constant threat of gangs in their lives; another was the prevalence of sexual violence. A detainee in Artesia named Sofia explained that a gang murdered her brother, shot her husband and then kidnapped and raped her 14-year-old stepdaughter. A Guatemalan woman named Kira said that she fled when a gang targeted her family over their involvement in a nonviolence movement at church; when Kira’s husband went into hiding, the gang subjected her to repeated sexual assaults and threatened to cut her unborn baby from her womb. An inmate named Marisol said she crossed the U.S. border in June after a gang in Honduras murdered the father of her 3-year-old twins, then turned its attention to her.
Less than a week after her arrival in Artesia, Brown represented the young Salvadoran mother she met on her first day. It was a preliminary hearing to see whether the woman met the basic preconditions for asylum. A frequent consideration in the refugee process is whether an applicant is being targeted as a member of a “particular social group.” Judges have interpreted the phrase to include a refugee’s victimhood on the basis of sex or sexual orientation. At the hearing, Brown planned to invoke the pervasiveness of gang violence and sexual assault, but she says the immigration judge refused to let her speak.
“I wasn’t allowed to play any role,” Brown said. Speaking to the judge, her client described her husband’s murder and the threats she faced from gangs. “She testified very well,” Brown said. But when the judge asked whether she felt targeted as a member of a “social group,” the woman said no. “Because that is a legal term of art,” Brown said. “She had no idea what the heck it means.” Brown tried to interject, but the judge wouldn’t allow it. He denied the woman’s request for an asylum hearing and slated her for deportation. Afterward, Brown said, “I went behind one of the cubicles, and I started sobbing uncontrollably.”
Detainees who passed their initial hearings often found themselves stranded in Artesia without bond. Lawyers for Homeland Security have adopted a policy they call “no bond or high bond” for the women and children in detention. In court filings, they insist that prolonged detention is necessary to “further screen the detainees and have a better chance of identifying any that present threats to our public safety and national security.” Allowing these young mothers and children to be free on bond, they claim, “would have indirect yet significant adverse national-security consequences.”
As the months ticked by in Artesia, many detainees began to wonder if they would ever be free again. “I arrived on July 5 and turned myself in at 2 a.m.,” a 28-year-old mother of two named Ana recalled. In Honduras, Ana ran a small business selling trinkets and served on the P.T.A. of her daughter’s school. “I lived well,” she said — until the gangs began to pound on her door, demanding extortion payments. Within days, they had escalated their threats, approaching Ana brazenly on the street. “One day, coming home from my daughter’s school, they walked up to me and put a gun to my head,” she said. “They told me that if I didn’t give them the money in less than 24 hours, they would kill me.” Ana had already seen friends raped and murdered by the gang, so she packed her belongings that night and began the 1,800-mile journey to the U.S. border with her 7-year-old daughter. Four weeks later, in McAllen, Tex., they surrendered as refugees.
Ana and her daughter entered Artesia in mid-July. In October they were still there. Ana’s daughter was sick and losing weight rapidly under the strain of incarceration. Their lawyer, a leader in Chicago’s Mormon Church named Rebecca van Uitert, said that Ana’s daughter became so weak and emaciated that doctors threatened drastic measures. “They were like, ‘You’ve got to force her to eat, and if you don’t, we’re going to put a PICC line in her and force-feed her,’ ” van Uitert said. Ana said that when her daughter heard the doctor say this, “She started to cry and cry.”
In October, as van Uitert presented Ana’s case to an immigration judge, the lawyer broke down in the courtroom. “I’m starting to make these arguments before the judge, and I just couldn’t,” she said. “I sounded like a barking seal, just sucking and gasping, and because I was crying, a lot of people started crying. The attorney next to me was crying, Ana was crying, her little girl started crying. I looked over at the bailiff, who actually ended up being my friend when I went back another time. He had tears in his eyes.” The judge granted Ana’s release on bond; she is currently waiting for an asylum hearing in North Carolina.
Many of the volunteers in Artesia tell similar stories about the misery of life in the facility. “I thought I was pretty tough,” said Allegra Love, who spent the previous summer working on the border between Mexico and Guatemala. “I mean, I had seen kids in all manner of suffering, but this was a really different thing. It’s a jail, and the women and children are being led around by guards. There’s this look that the kids have in their eyes. This lackadaisical look. They’re just sitting there, staring off, and they’re wasting away. That was what shocked me most.”
The detainees reported sleeping eight to a room, in violation of the Flores settlement, with little exercise or stimulation for the children. Many were under the age of 6 and had been raised on a diet of tortillas, rice and chicken bits. In Artesia, the institutional cafeteria foods were as unfamiliar as the penal atmosphere, and to their parents’ horror, many of the children refused to eat. “Gaunt kids, moms crying, they’re losing hair, up all night,” an attorney named Maria Andrade recalled. Another, Lisa Johnson-Firth, said: “I saw children who were malnourished and were not adapting. One 7-year-old just lay in his mother’s arms while she bottle-fed him.” Mary O’Leary, who made three trips to Artesia last fall, said: “I was trying to talk to one client about her case, and just a few feet away at another table there was this lady with a toddler between 2 and 4 years old, just lying limp. This was a sick kid, and just with this horrible racking cough.”
In early August, a paralegal from Oregon named Vanessa Sischo arrived at the camp. Raised in a small town near Mount Hood, Sischo did not realize until high school that her parents brought her into the United States from Mexico as an infant without documentation. She gained protection from deportation under the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012. When Sischo learned that children arriving from Central America were being incarcerated in Artesia, she volunteered immediately. She arrived a week after Christina Brown, and like Brown, she stayed. After about a month, AILA and another nonprofit, the American Immigration Council, hired Brown as the pro bono project’s lead attorney. Brown recommended Sischo for the job of project coordinator. The two women began rooming together in the small yellow house near Main Street.
Brown and Sischo make an unlikely pair. Brown, who has a sturdy build and dark brown hair, has an inborn skepticism and a piercing wit. Sischo is six years younger and preternaturally easygoing. Until she discovered her own immigration background, she had little interest in political affairs and spent much of her time in Oregon as a competitive snowboarder. For both, Artesia was a jarring shift from life at home. As they sat together one evening in December, they described a typical week. “The new volunteers come in on Sunday, go through orientation, and by Wednesday night, everyone is crying,” Brown said. “A lot of the attorneys come in and say: ‘I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’ve seen all of this before. I’ll be fine.’ ”
“I remember the first time I went in,” Sischo said. “I just stopped, and all I could hear was a symphony of coughing and sneezing and crying and wailing.”
“Kids vomiting all over the place,” Brown said.
“There was a big outbreak of fevers,” Sischo said. “It sent an infant into convulsions.”
“Pneumonia, scabies, lice,” Brown said.
Officials for ICE say these accounts are exaggerated. But they declined multiple requests to visit the Artesia facility and took weeks to answer questions about its facilities. Brown, who oversaw more than 500 detainee cases as lead attorney, was also unable to gain access to the camp’s housing, dining, medical and educational facilities. “I requested three times to be taken on a tour,” she said. “I sent it through the appropriate channels. No one ever responded, to date, to my request.”
Visitors who did gain access to the facility have raised troubling questions about the ethics — and legality — of how it handled children. The Flores settlement requires the government to provide regular schooling for juveniles in detention, but the mayor of Artesia, Phillip Burch, said that on several visits to the compound, the classrooms were always empty. “I was told that children were attending classes,” he recalled. “Did I personally witness it? No. And none of the tours that I made did I see the children actually in class.” Members of the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice, who toured the facility in October, say that officials also showed them the empty school. When one member asked why the building was empty, an ICE official replied that school was temporarily closed. Detainees have consistently told their lawyers that the school was never reliably open. They recall a few weeks in October when classes were in session for an hour or two per day, then several weeks of closure through November, followed by another brief period of classes in December.
In response to questions about the school, ICE officials would say only that “regular school instruction began Oct. 13, 2014, and ended Dec. 17.” Asked whether the school was open consistently, and for how many hours, ICE officials declined to respond. The deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, Esther Olavarria, who has purview over ICE, said that she was aware “there were challenges” at the Artesia school, but couldn’t say exactly when it was open or for how long. Olavarria has a distinguished record as advocate for refugees and previously served as a top immigration adviser for Senator Edward M. Kennedy. She said that she was under the impression that attorneys in Artesia were granted access to the facility, and she could not explain why Brown was not. She also believed that the meal service in Artesia was adapted to reflect the dietary norms of Central America and that medical care was adequate and available. After hearing what detainees, attorneys, faith advocates and elected officials described in Artesia, Olavarria promised to look into these issues and provide further documentation. Despite several attempts to elicit that documentation, she provided none. In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said: “The regular school instruction began Oct. 13, 2014, but was suspended shortly thereafter in order to ensure appropriate vetting of all teachers.” Officials say that school resumed on Oct. 24 and continued through Dec. 17.
Attorneys for the Obama administration have argued in court, like the Bush administration previously, that the protections guaranteed by the Flores settlement do not apply to children in family detention. “The Flores settlement comes into play with unaccompanied minors,” a lawyer for the Department of Homeland Security named Karen Donoso Stevens insisted to a judge on Aug. 4. “That argument is moot here, because the juvenile is detained — is accompanied and detained — with his mother.”
Federal judges have consistently rejected this position. Just as the judge reviewing family detention in 2007 called the denial of Flores protections “inexplicable,” the judge presiding over the Aug. 4 hearing issued a ruling in September that Homeland Security officials in Artesia must honor the Flores Settlement Agreement. “The language of the F.S.A. is unambiguous,” Judge Roxanne Hladylowycz wrote. “The F.S.A. was designed to create a nationwide policy for the detention of all minors, not only those who are unaccompanied.” Olavarria said she was not aware of that ruling and would not comment on whether the Department of Homeland Security believes that the Flores ruling applies to children in family detention today.
As the pro bono project in Artesia continued into fall, its attorneys continued to win in court. By mid-November, more than 400 of the detained women and children were free on bond. Then on Nov. 20, the administration suddenly announced plans to transfer the Artesia detainees to the ICE detention camp in Karnes, Tex., where they would fall under a new immigration court district with a new slate of judges.
That announcement came at the very moment the president was delivering a live address on the new protections available to established immigrant families. In an email to notify Artesia volunteers about the transfer, an organizer for AILA named Stephen Manning wrote, “The disconnect from the compassionate-ish words of the president and his crushing policies toward these refugees is shocking.” Brown was listening to the speech in her car, while driving to Denver for a rare weekend at home, when her cellphone buzzed with the news that 20 of her clients would be transferred to Texas the next morning. Many of them were close to a bond release; in San Antonio, they might be detained for weeks or months longer. Brown pulled her car to the side of the highway and spent three hours arguing to delay the transfer. Over the next two weeks, officials moved forward with the plan.
By mid-December, most of the Artesia detainees were in Karnes, and Brown and Sischo were scrambling to pack the contents of their home and office. On the afternoon of Dec. 16, they threw their final bags into a U-Haul, its cargo area crammed with laundry baskets, suitcases, file boxes and hiking backpacks, all wedged precariously in place, then set out for the eight-hour drive across the desert to central Texas.
The next morning, a law professor named Barbara Hines was also speeding into San Antonio. Hines is a wiry woman in her 60s with a burst of black curls and an aspect of bristling intensity. In the battle over refugee detention, she is something of a seminal figure for advocates like Brown and Sischo. As co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Texas, Hines helped lead the 2007 lawsuit against the Hutto facility, which brought about its closure in 2009 and the abolition of widespread family detention until last summer. When the Obama administration announced plans to resume the practice in Artesia, Hines was outraged; when officials opened the second facility in Karnes, just two hours from her home in Austin, Hines began to organize a pro bono project of her own. Although she’d never met Brown or Sischo, she had been running a parallel operation for months. Now that they were in Texas, Hines was eager to meet them.
But first, she had a client to represent. Hines pulled into a parking lot behind the immigration court in downtown San Antonio and rushed inside, up a clattering elevator to the third floor and down a long hallway to a cramped courtroom. At the front, behind a vast wooden desk, sat Judge Glenn McPhaul, a tidy man with slicked hair and a pencil mustache. He presided from an elevated platform, with a clerk to his right, an interpreter to his left, and a large television monitor in the corner. On screen was the pale and grainy image of a dozen exhausted Central American women.
These were just a few of the Karnes detainees, linked by video feed to the courtroom. Another 500 women and children were in the compound with them. There was no legal distinction between their cases and those of the women in Artesia; they had simply been sent to a different facility, weeks or months earlier. Each of them, like the women in Artesia, had already been through the early stages of the asylum process — presenting herself to immigration authorities, asking for refugee status and passing the “credible-fear interview” to confirm a basis for her claim. But the odds of release in Karnes were worse. One of McPhaul’s colleagues, Judge Gary Burkholder, was averaging a 91.6 percent denial rate for the asylum claims. Some Karnes detainees had been in the facility for nearly six months and could remain there another six.
The sitting area of the courtroom was nearly empty, save for half a dozen attorneys. Many of the volunteers at Karnes are friends and former students of Hines, who has been drafting every licensed lawyer she can find. As she slid down the long bench to a seat, she nodded to some of the attorneys in the room and stopped to whisper with another. Then she spent a few minutes fidgeting with her phone until the clerk called her client’s name, and Hines sprang forward, slipping past the bar rail to a table facing the judge. On the television screen, her client, Juana, was stepping toward the camera at Karnes. She was a young woman with a narrow face and deep eyes. Her hair was pulled back to reveal high cheekbones and a somber expression.
McPhaul asked the stenographer to begin transcription, then he commenced with the ritualized exchange of detention proceedings, recording the names of the attorneys, the detainee and everyone on the bench. He noted the introduction of a series of legal documents and confirmed that Juana was still happy to be represented by Hines. There was a stream of legal jargon and a few perfunctory remarks about the status of the case, all of it in clipped judicial vernacular and a flat, indifferent tone. Then McPhaul set a date for the next hearing, at which Hines could begin to present an argument for Juana’s release on bond.
For now, Juana’s turn was over; the whole affair took less than 10 minutes, without any meaningful discussion of her case or its merits. As Hines stepped out of the courtroom, Juana was turning away from the camera to return to her children in Karnes. It was impossible to say how much of the hearing she understood, since none of the proceedings were translated into Spanish. The courtroom interpreter was there only to translate the judge’s questions and the detainees’ responses; everything else was said exclusively in English, including the outcome. For all that Juana knew, she might have been granted reprieve or confined for another six months.
Over the next two hours, the scene would repeat a dozen times. Each time McPhaul called a name, a new lawyer would step forward, taking a seat before the bench and proceeding through the verbal Kabuki. In a few cases, McPhaul offered the detainee the opportunity to post bond — usually around $3,000. But the courtroom interpreter was not allowed to convey this news to the detainee, either. If the pro bono attorney spoke Spanish fluently, there might be a few minutes at the end of the session to explain what happened. If not, the detainee would return to custody and might not discover that she had been granted bond until, or unless, someone paid it.
These, of course, were the lucky women with an attorney to represent them at all. Although the families in Artesia and Karnes have been detained in an environment that closely resembles incarceration, there is no requirement in American law to provide them with the sort of legal representation afforded to other defendants. Unlike the Artesia project, where the involvement of AILA brought in hundreds of volunteers from across the country, Hines could scrape together only so many friends and compatriots to lend their time. She formed a partnership with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or Raices, in San Antonio, and the law firm Akin Gump assigned a young lawyer named Lauren Connell to help organize the Karnes project. But there still weren’t enough lawyers to represent the detainees, and Hines and Connell were forced to evaluate which cases were most likely to win. The remaining refugees would proceed to court alone. They would understand little of what happened, and most would be deported.
It was difficult for Hines to think about what might happen to those women next. The refugees who are returned to Central America can be subject to even greater harassment by gangs for having fled. Hector Hernandez, a morgue operator in Honduras, has said that children who come back from U.S. detention “return just to die.” Jose Luis Aguilar, the city councilor for Artesia, recalled a group deportation on the day in July when Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the facility. “He came in the morning, and that same night, they took 79 people and shipped them to El Salvador on the ICE plane,” Aguilar said. “We got reports later that 10 kids had been killed. The church group confirmed that with four of the mortuaries where they went.”
Hines was hoping the attorneys from Artesia would help represent the women in Karnes, but she had no idea whether they would be willing to do so. This was her agenda for the first meeting with Christina Brown, which took place that afternoon in a sunlit conference room in the downtown offices of Akin Gump. Hines sat at the head of a long table, with Lauren Connell to her left and an attorney from Raices named Steven Walden to her right. After a few minutes, Brown appeared in the doorway. She was wearing the same green T-shirt and black leggings she had been wearing the day before in Artesia, and she smiled sheepishly, offering a handshake to Hines.
“I’m really sorry,” Brown said with a small laugh. “I want to let you know that I believe very strongly in first impressions — but I am living out of a U-Haul right now.”
Hines smiled sympathetically as they sat down. “So,” she said. “What are you all going to do here?”
Brown paused. “Well, we know we’re going to be continuing our cases,” she said.
“Mmm-hmm,” Hines said.
“And I’m working on cleaning up our spreadsheet and figuring out who’s here,” Brown said. “Many of our clients who were transferred here had already been granted bond.”
“Wait,” Connell said. “They transferred them here to have them bond out?”
Brown sighed. “Yes,” she said.
“That’s ridiculous,” Connell said.
“We’ve had numerous fights on this issue,” Brown said. “We’ve had family members go to pay, and they can’t because the client is already in transit to Karnes.”
Hines shook her head in disbelief.
“It’s been kind of a nightmare,” Brown said.
“Do you have people who have been detained more than 90 days?” Hines asked.
“Every one we’re going forward with on merits has been detained more than 90 days,” Brown said. “So I want to see how you all are moving forward, so I can see what resources are here for Artesia clients.”
Hines laughed. “We can barely staff our cases,” she said. “My hope was that people who were at Artesia, after they’re finished your cases, are going to help with ours.”
“If she says that enough, maybe it will come true,” Connell said.
Brown shook her head. “At the moment, I can commit to nothing,” she said. “Right now, I’m the only attorney, and there’s no guarantee that other volunteers are coming.”
Hines and Connell exchanged a look. Even if the Artesia lawyers could double or triple their workload, the number of detainees was about to overwhelm them regardless. The day before, officials in Karnes had approved a plan to expand the detention facility from about 500 beds to roughly 1,100. At the same time, two hours west of Karnes, in the little town of Dilley, the Department of Homeland Security was about to open another refugee camp for women and children. It would be the largest detention facility in the country, with up to 2,400 beds. If Hines and Brown had trouble finding lawyers to represent a few hundred women and children, there was little chance of generating support for more than 3,000.
After the meeting, Brown returned to her motel and spent the afternoon searching for an apartment, but the options were limited, and by late afternoon, she and Sischo still had nowhere to live. They decided to spend their first evening in Texas at a vegetarian restaurant downtown. As they settled into a booth at the back of the cafe, they talked about the situation they’d left behind in Artesia, where much of the town opposed the detention facility and the lawyers with equal measure. Town-hall meetings in Artesia became so heated that city officials asked the police to stand guard.
“For people there, it’s a resource issue,” Brown said. “They blame the immigrant community for coming in and being jailed, and for us having to educate their children, when they would like more resources put into their own schools.”
Sischo nodded. “That’s what a guy at the electronics store said: ‘Oh, you’re helping the illegals?’ That’s how they view it. I remember a sign that a protester was holding that was like, ‘What about our children?’ ”
“It’s a legitimate question,” Brown said. “They don’t have a lot of resources in that town, and they should have more.”
“I agree,” Sischo said. “We should not be spending resources on detaining these families. They should be released. But people don’t understand the law. They think they should be deported because they’re ‘illegals.’ So they’re missing a very big part of the story, which is that they aren’t breaking the law. They’re trying to go through the process that’s laid out in our laws.”
For Sischo, seeing the families struggle — families much like her own — was almost more than she could stand. On visits to her parents in Oregon, she struggled to maintain composure. “Every time I’ve gone home, I’ve just cried pretty much nonstop,” she said. “It’s grief and anger and hopelessness and confusion as to how this could happen and whether we’re making a difference.”
For Brown, by contrast, the same experiences seemed to have amplified her energy and commitment. “I haven’t had time to go home and cry yet,” she said. “Maybe I’ll get a job at Dilley, because then I won’t have to process anything!” Brown laughed, but she acknowledged that some part of her was ready to commit to the nomadic life of a legal activist, parachuting into crises for a few months at a time. “That appeals to me,” she said. “It’s nice to be where people need you.”
As dinner came to an end, Brown and Sischo stepped outside into the night. They had parked the U-Haul in a nearby lot, and it had just been towed.
Over the next year, most of the families who are currently in detention will wend their way through the refugee system. Some will be released on bond to await their asylum hearing; others will remain in custody until their hearings are complete. Those without an attorney will most likely fail to articulate a reason for their claim in the appropriate jargon of the immigration courts and will be deported to face whatever horror they hoped to flee. Of the 15 families who have been shepherded through the process by the volunteer lawyers so far, 14 have received asylum — “Which should be all you need to know about the validity of their claims,” Brown said.
By late spring, the construction of the new facility at Dilley should be complete. It already represents a drastic departure from the refugee camp in Artesia. Managed by the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the country, the South Texas Family Residential Center has its own promotional website with promissory images of the spacious classrooms, libraries, play areas and lounges that will eventually be available to refugees in long-term detention. Architectural drawings for the site show eight distinct neighborhoods on the campus, with dormitory housing, outdoor pavilions, a chapel and several playgrounds. How much of this will ultimately materialize remains to be seen. Last week, C.C.A. listed job openings for child care workers, library aides and mailroom clerks at the site.
Esther Olavarria, the senior counselor for immigration issues at the Department of Homeland Security, acknowledged that there had been shortcomings in Artesia but described the Dilley facility as a correction. “We stood up Artesia very, very quickly and did the best that we could under the circumstances,” Olavarria said. “As concerns were brought to our attention by advocates, we worked with them to try to address the concerns as quickly as possible.”
Many advocates have expressed concerns about the Dilley facility as well. Its management company, C.C.A., is the same firm that ran the Hutto detention center, and it has been at the center of other significant controversies in recent years. In 2006, federal investigators reported that conditions at a C.C.A. immigration jail in Eloy, Ariz., were so lacking that “detainee welfare is in jeopardy.” Last March, the F.B.I. started an investigation of C.C.A. over a facility the company ran in Idaho, known by inmates as the “Gladiator School” because of unchecked fighting; in 2010, a video surfaced of guards watching one inmate beat another into a coma. Two years ago, C.C.A. executives admitted to fraud in their government contracts at the prison, including 4,800 hours of falsified business records. The state has now taken control of the facility.
The management contract at Dilley was also created with unusual terms. In their hurry to open the new facility, officials for the Obama administration bypassed normal bidding procedures and established Dilley under an existing contract for the troubled C.C.A. jail in Eloy. Although the Dilley camp is nearly 1,000 miles away from Eloy, all federal funding for the new camp in Texas will flow through the small town in Arizona, which will keep $438,000 of the annual operating budget as compensation. Eloy city officials say they do not expect to monitor, or even visit, the Dilley facility.
Any new refugees who surrender this spring may spend more than a year in Dilley before their asylum hearings can be scheduled. Olavarria said that officials hope the process will move more quickly, but it will depend on the immigration courts in San Antonio, which fall under the Department of Justice. “From what I’ve heard from the Justice Department, generally it’s not taking 18 months,” Olavarria said. “We’re hearing that cases are being completed in a shorter time. But it’s a case-by-case situation that depends on the complexity, it depends on continuances that are provided to seek counsel, to prepare for cases, all those kinds of things.” The cost to house each detainee at Dilley is about $108,000 per year. A study funded by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, of more than 500 detainees between 1997 and 2000, found that 93 percent will appear in court when placed in a monitoring program. The savings of such a program for the 2,400 detainees at Dilley would be about $250 million per year.
Officials from the Department of Homeland Security say the facilities in Karnes and Dilley are still insufficient to house the detainees they expect to process in the coming year. “Last year, we saw 60,000 families come in,” Olavarria said. “We’re hoping we don’t see those kinds of numbers this year, but even if we see half, those two facilities would hold a fraction of those numbers.” Olavarria said the department was not yet considering additional facilities. “We are in the middle of a battle with the Congress on our funding, so there’s very little discussion about long-term planning,” she said.
For now, the Artesia facility is closed, its bunk beds and hallways empty. Brown and Sischo remain in Texas; they rescued their U-Haul from an impound lot and found an apartment soon thereafter. That same week, an email from the mayor of Artesia, Phillip Burch, was circulating among city residents. “The pro bono attorneys have left our community,” he wrote. “Hopefully not to return.”
Palestinian children break world record for Kite Flying. (United Nations / Under Creative Commons)
A week ago was when I first saw the picture that appeared in the The Telegraph of children in the Gaza Strip trying to break the Guinness world record for kite-flying. The kites floating mid-air off the Mediterranean shore were a sight to behold. I was taken with the photo and the happiness of the Gazan children on the beach, considering that all the news had been about the sustained Israeli bombardment of that besieged Palestinian territory. At first glance, it seemed like a triumph of the human spirit, or at least of the joy of childhood in the face of war. But then I realized that the picture had been taken at a previous time.
Again, I looked at the photo of all the children grouped on the beach, with the breaking, blue waves in the distance. Flying kites was still quite a feat with an unseen Israeli naval blockade six miles out to sea. However, with the sustained attack on the Gaza Strip, which has been going on since July 7, I realized that it was possible—if not probable—that some of these children were dead.
This U.S.-funded Israeli attack (on a 72-hour ceasefire since Tuesday, August 5) was a rallying point for several Los Angeles-based organizations to organize a march on July 25to protest the visit of President Barack Obama, who was on a trip to raise money for the Democratic Party and its upcoming election campaigns. But there was another reason for the protest. As that march moved forward down the L.A. streets in the mid-day heat, it was visually dominated by people holding flowing flags from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. The defense of Palestinian and immigrant children converged, as a response to the similar strategies of dehumanization used to justify violence against them.
The focus of the march was children: Not only the close to 400 Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of July, but also the 60,000 unaccompanied kids who have arrived at the U.S. southern border from Central American countries, often fleeing desperate circumstances, since October 1. And in doing so, these Latin American youngsters have entered into the jaws of the largest border, detention, and deportation regime that we have ever experienced in the United States. This summer official disdain and violence against children—or certain “types” of children—has been on pure, raw display across the globe.
As people marched, these two apparently separate issues joined together in a chant “Emigrantes, Palestinos, Estamos Unidos.” (“Migrants, Palestinians, We Are United”—it rhymes better in Spanish). The demands were not only that the United States stop its $3 billion annual military aid to Israel, but also that it put to a halt its deportation machine, especially with calls to expel many of these Central American children back to situations of certain violence.
Of course, there are huge differences between what is happening in Israel-Palestine and the exodus of children from Central America.
On that same Gazan beach where the children so ecstatically flew their kites, for example, on July 16 an Israeli missile killed four Palestinian children, between the ages of seven and 11, who had been playing on the shore. On July 28, another Israeli rocket obliterated a playground near a hospital in a Gaza refugee camp, killing eight children. “The children were playing and were happy, enjoying Eid, and they got hit. Some lost their heads, others their legs and hands,” an eyewitness toldRussia Today. Israel’s military offensive has taken more than 1,900 Palestinian lives. In the last month, 419 Palestinian children have been killed in missile strikes hitting schools, mosques, and hospitals. 64 Israeli soldiers have been killed, mainly in gun battles in Gaza. No Israeli children have been reported dead thus far, though three of its citizens have perished.
For the children of Gaza, there is no place to run to when the Israeli Defense Forces bombs them. “The offensive has had a catastrophic and tragic impact on children,” said Pernille Ironside, head of the UNICEF field office in Gaza, who also mentioned that 2,502 youngsters have also been wounded.
In contrast many of the children from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are able to run from their own war: A vast, complicated situation that, like in Israel-Palestine, is impacted and fomented by U.S. political, economic, and military policies in the region, both in a historical and contemporary sense.
U.S. media outlets have regularly described the Central American children as a “flood,” “tsunami” or “tidal wave” as if they were some sort of natural disaster. Others use the term “surge” as if the young ones were an advancing military “invasion,” one worthy of deploying the military to protect the “homeland.” This sort of language set the stage for the likes of Fox News host Sean Hannity to sit with Texas Governor Rick Perry, with a camera-friendly machine gun placed between them, as if the kids really did represent the “asymmetric warfare” against the United States as claimed by the ex-Border Patrol agent Zack Taylor.
“If asymmetrical warfare is going to be successful, the first thing that has to be done is to compromise America’s defenses against invasion,” said Taylor.
Taylor’s idea that Border Patrol “babysitting” has taken “the resources that are protecting America at the border, off of the border,” has been repeated across the media landscape and throughout officialdom ad nauseum. Along with this comes the incessant mantra of a “porous” border that, as Taylor describes, gives people “that are trying to get their infrastructure, their personnel, their drugs, their dirty bombs, their biological weapons, their chemical weapons into the United States without being noticed” a free pass. That is why civilian militia groups are roaming the borderlands again. This is one of the main reasons that Perry sent 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the international divide. Current media and official framing of the border crisis may also explain why the Obama administration (and U.S. Congress) will likely ramp up the border enforcement apparatus even more, and expel the children at a rapid rate from the country.
In other words both the Central American and Palestinian children have been transformed rhetorically into a full-fledged national security threat. This sort of wholesale dehumanization can be found again when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Hamas wants topile up “telegenically dead Palestinians” for their cause.
Predating the Israeli attack on Gaza Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked stated on her Facebook page that “Palestinian people have declared war on us, and we must respond with war.” In her vividly written post she suggested that the destruction should include “[Palestine’s] elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.” And at the end she said that women whose families play any part in Palestinian resistance give birth to “little snakes.” It is no wonder Israeli soldiers have no problem posing for photosas they hold a detained Palestinian boy in a chokehold.
Similar were anti-immigrant protestors in Murrieta, California who called the Central American children “wet dogs.” Like in Israel-Palestine, there is example after example of how such words can go from a xenophobic sign in a protest, to the very way agents of the U.S. Border Patrol treat the Central American children in short-term detention. An ACLU report compiled the testimonies of many children, almost all whom complained of freezing conditions in the cells.
B.O., a 14-year-old boy, said he was never able to sleep because Homeland Security agents didn’t turn out the glaring lights. G.G. complained of agents feeding her moldy bread. When her stomach became upset and she asked for medicine Border Patrol told her “it’s not a hospital.” When she vomited, the Homeland Security agents accused her of being pregnant, and called her a “dirty liar.”
K.M. was a 15-year-old girl who said that agents woke her every 30 minutes in the “hielera” (the Spanish word for ice box), the freezing cell where she tried to sleep. She claimed that officials regularly called her and other children “sluts,” “parasites,” and “dogs.”
R.D., a 17-year-old girl, slashed her hand while climbing the fence to get into the United States. She said that in Border Patrol custody an agent squeezed her wound with immense pressure causing her great pain.“It’s good that you are hurt,” the agent told her, “you deserve to be hurt for coming to the US illegally.”
The protestors in Los Angeles were putting this world in dispute, at least in part created by billions of dollars that U.S. taxpayers were giving to Israel and the U.S. border/immigration enforcement apparatus, that dehumanizes children with the same cold efficiency that it deports, or even kills them. Obama, representing the U.S. administration “has the opportunity to help and he’s decided to expedite policies that basically send children to certain deaths,” said Kelly Flores, a teacher at the demonstration. “These are children. It’s our duty to oppose inhumane policies.”
And the Gaza kids did indeed shatter the Guinness world record with their kite-flying in 2011. There, on that joyful day on the beach, indeed was a much better example of what it means to be a child.
Todd Miller has researched and written about U.S.-Mexican border issues for more than 10 years. He has worked on both sides of the border for BorderLinks in Tucson, Arizona, and Witness for Peace in Oaxaca, Mexico. He now writes on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog “Border Wars,” among other places. He is at work on his first book, Border Patrol Nation, for the Open Media Series of City Lights Books.
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.
Reuters | By Gabriel Stargardter
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.
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)
The Globe and Mail Friday, Jun. 15 2012, 2:00 AM EDT
As Canadian Jews, we grew up hearing stories about how our families came to this country as refugees. We also heard about the relatives who never arrived because of the Canadian government’s closed-door policy for Jews. Historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper’s book None is Too Many told of this sad and ultimately deadly policy.
In the early 1900s, Jews fled persecution in European countries where anti-Semitism was rampant. They were not alone; the Roma and Sinti people were caught in the same web of hate.
When Hitler’s forces overran Europe, it was the Jewish and Roma communities that were singled out for annihilation. And with the rest of the world engaged in either compliance or apathy, the Nazi plan almost succeeded.
Bearing the scars of the Holocaust, most Jews fled Europe to countries like Canada, which finally opened its doors with a new immigration policy.
However, the Roma mostly stayed behind, and there has been an enormous escalation of discrimination and bigotry against them, especially in Hungary. And with resurgence of neo-Nazism in parts of Hungary and elsewhere in Europe, Roma face violent attacks. Many have tried to flee to Canada, where doors have once again become hard to pry open.
Most recently, with the passage of refugee and immigration Bill C-31, alongside suggested cuts to refugees’ health care, the federal government is creating what it calls “designated countries,” or DCOs, that it considers “safe.”
Refugees from DCOs will now have only a short time to prepare for their hearings, and will effectively lose their right of appeal. Additionally, refugees will have no access to primary or emergency health care, even in the case of pregnancy or heart attack.
While refugee claimants from DCOs are singled out for particularly alarming treatment under the new federal rules, the changes will harm all those claiming refugee status. Claimants will lose access to life-saving drugs, such as insulin, and to preventive care. Physicians across the country warn that these changes will result in severe illness and death.
While DCOs have yet to be named, Hungary will assuredly be on the list. If these policy changes come into effect, Roma refugee claimants will lose access to health care on June 30. We are also likely to see many more deportations of Roma back to Hungary.
Judaism teaches the concept of “ tikkun olam,” an exhortation to repair the world. If passed, Bill C-31 would be antithetical to these values. It is our hope that as Canadians hear more about the dangers of this legislation, they too will not stand by as refugees lose basic health care and persecuted groups or individuals are sent back to face violence in their home countries.
Today, we go on record as Jews and descendants of immigrants to say that we oppose cuts to refugee health care and the designation of so-called “safe” countries. Denying other human beings health care and a haven based on their country of origin is simply wrong. As Jews and human rights activists, we know well that countries deemed safe for the majority can be deadly for some minorities.
Pressure must continue. It’s never too late to ask for changes or amendments to the regulations. Ironically, we also understand that, were our families to arrive today under the federal government’s new rules, they would be denied health care, and, ultimately, citizenship. Returning to the retrograde policies that inspired “None is Too Many” must be rejected.
America’s wars are forcing Afghans and Iraqis to flee their homes in greater numbers. According to a recent U.N. High Commission for Refugees study, nearly one half of the world’s refugees are from Afghanistan and Iraq, 3.05 million and 1.68 million, respectively. But neither the United States nor much of the developed world bears the burden of the 10.55 million refugees under the UNHCR’s purview globally. Instead, Pakistan, Iran, and Syria serve as the top host countries. The Economist has charted the numbers:
Up to 500,000 terrified residents of Pakistan’s Swat valley have fled or else are desperately trying to leave as the military steps up an operation using fighter jets and helicopter gunships to “eliminate” Taliban fighters.
As the military intensified what may be its most determined operation to date against militant extremists, the UN said 200,000 people had already arrived in safe areas in the past few days while another 300,000 were on the move or were poised to leave.
The escalation of the operation came after Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousaf Gilani, made a public appeal for unity. In a televised address on Thursday evening, Mr Gilani said: “I appeal to the people of Pakistan to support the government and army at this crucial time. We pledge to eliminate the elements who have destroyed the peace and calm of the nation and wanted to take Pakistan hostage at gunpoint.”
The struggle to drive the Taliban from Swat comes amid intense pressure from the US and deepening anxiety in Pakistan about the spread of the militants to areas no more than 60 miles from Islamabad. The government had initially hoped to bring an end to two years of violence in the former tourist haven by signing a controversial peace deal which saw it agree to the establishment of sharia law in the valley and in neighbouring areas. However,the ceasefire appeared to encourage Taliban militias and their fighters slipped into the adjacent area of Buner.
Last night a military spokesman, Major-General Athar Abbas, told a Pakistani television channel: “To a rough estimate there are between 4,000 to 5,000 militants present in Swat. We are looking forward to the return of the writ of the state.”
Yet the operation – which the military says had already killed scores of militants – could yet present Pakistan with one of its greatest humanitarian challenges. In Geneva, Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said there was now a “massive displacement in north-west Pakistan”.
He added: “The provincial government estimates between 150,000 to 200,000 people have already arrived in safer areas of North West Frontier Province [NWFP] over the last few days, with another 300,000 already on the move or about to move. Those fleeing the latest escalation of hostilities … join another 555,000 previously displaced Pakistanis who had fled their homes in the tribal areas and NWFP since August 2008. The new arrivals are going to place huge additional pressure on resources.”
What also remains unclear is exactly what the military will have to do to clear and secure the Swat valley and how long that might take. While the Taliban may be outnumbered, the offensive is far from one-sided. “They are putting up very stiff resistance, there is no doubt. I don’t think this is going to go away very quickly. It will be weeks, if not months,” said General Talat Masood, a former military officer turned analyst. “But it’s not just about pushing them back. The military then have to hold the territory and then set in place the administrative structure that will give people confidence to return.”
The military operations are taking place in three districts over some 400 square miles. Much of the fighting has been in the city of Mingora, home to 360,000 people before the insurgency. Among those who remain, some have said they had been prevented from leaving by the Taliban who may to use them as human shields.
Dear Prime Minister, Minister, and Members of the Government Caucus:
“…immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada.”
That motion further recommended that the government should:
“…immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.”
Since then, on July 15, you allowed Robin Long, a United States soldier who had fled to Canada after refusing to take part in the Iraq War, to be deported.
Upon his return to the U.S., Robin was punished for acting on his objections to this unsanctioned war by refusing to fight and for speaking out while he was in Canada.
He is now serving a 15-month jail sentence as a prisoner of conscience and was given a felony conviction that will cause him hardship for the rest of his life—including preventing him from visiting his Canadian son in Ontario—because you did not stop him from being deported.
Canada has a well-founded tradition of welcoming war resisters such as Robin and the estimated 200 other U.S. soldiers who have sought refuge here since the Iraq War began.
Now more than ever, it is obvious that Canada made the right decision not to take part in this unnecessary conflict and even you, Mr. Prime Minister, have agreed that the Iraq War is
“absolutely an error”
Amnesty International wrote to you, Minister Kenney, earlier this month to communicate its condemnation of the,
“…forced removal from Canada of individuals who conscientiously express their opposition to serving with U.S. forces in Iraq” because it “does not generally believe that there are reasonable options open to individuals who conscientiously object to military service with U.S. forces in Iraq.”
As a country, Canadians continue to face a major economic crisis that demands the utmost attention. Members of Parliament need not be distracted from the task at hand by matters that should have been solved previously, nor should time be wasted re-taking decisions that have already been taken by our democratically elected representatives and are supported by the majority of Canadians.
With five Iraq War resisters—Chris Teske, Cliff Cornell, Kimberly Rivera, Patrick Hart and Dean Walcott, most of them combat veterans—facing deportation before the end of this month, we write to respectfully urge you to take action on behalf of the 64 per cent majority of Canadians who agree to give these U.S. soldiers, their immediate families and all Iraq War resisters who are here, the opportunity to remain in Canada as permanent residents.
Please implement the June 3, 2008 motion in support of war resisters today.
Ursula M. Franklin, CC, FRSC
University Professor Emerita, Senior Fellow Massey College
Anton Kuerti, OC, PhD
Michele Landsberg, OC
Writer, social activist and feminist
Mary Jo Leddy, CM, PhD
Writer, theologian and social activist
Executive Director, Polaris Institute
Michael C. Klein, MD
Emeritus Professor of Family Practice and Pediatrics, University of British Columbia
Elizabeth E. May, OC
Leader, Green Party of Canada
CAW Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy, Ryerson University
John Hagan, PhD, FRSC
Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto
The Right Reverend David Giuliano
Moderator, United Church of Canada
National Chairperson, Council of Canadians
Jane Orion Smith
General Secretary, Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)
Very Rev. Bill Phipps
Former Moderator, United Church of Canada
Columnist, Toronto Star
Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Western Ontario
Contoller, City of London, Ontario
Award-winning documentary film-maker
M. Jane Pritchard, MD, CCFP, FCFP
Réjean Robidoux, PhD, FRSC
Professor Emeritus, University of Ottawa
Novelist, playwright and actor
Shirley Douglas, OC
Ken Georgetti, CM, OBC
President, Canadian Labour Congress
National President, Canadian Auto Workers
National Director for Canada, United Steelworkers
National President, Canadian Union of Public Employees
President, National Union of Public and General Employees
President, Ontario Federation of Labour
Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law, University of British Columbia
Film-maker and journalist
Wayson Choy, CM
R H Thomson
Actor and director
National Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students
Cathy Crowe, RN
Author and street nurse
Paula Fletcher,Joe Mihevc
, Gord Perks, Adam Vaughan
Councillors, City of Toronto, Ontario
Member of Christian Peacemaker Teams held hostage in Iraq
Gordon Cressy & Joanne Campbell
Angus McLaren, PhD, FRSC
Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Victoria
and many other prominent Canadians
For more information about, to help with or donate to the campaign to let U.S. Iraq War resisters stay in Canada, visit
To U.S. President Barack Obama, the invasion of Iraq was “a dumb war” and “a rash war.” Despite George Bush’s claim, Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. And now that he is president, Obama plans to get most American troops out, as fast as he can.
This recalibration of U.S. policy offers Prime Minister Stephen Harper a chance to adopt a more humane approach to the 200 or so American war resisters who have sought refuge in Canada. Now they face deportation and prison.
One resister, Robin Long, already has been deported, and got a 15-month jail term. The U.S. military regards resisters as deserters because they voluntarily signed up to serve but then fled. A handful more have been ordered out of Canada, including Chris Teske, who planned to leave Friday, Cliff Cornell and Kimberly Rivera, a mother of three.
Others still have their cases pending before the immigration and refugee board. But Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has seriously prejudiced those hearings by calling the resisters “bogus” refugees. “The position of the government is that they don’t face genuine persecution,” says a spokesperson for Kenney. Apparently 15 months in jail don’t count.
In light of the shift in Washington, Ottawa’s inflexible stance is hard to justify. The House of Commons in 2008 passed a resolution calling on Harper to stop deporting resisters. And an Angus Reid survey last year found that 64 per cent of Canadians feel the resisters should be allowed to take up permanent residence here.
Canada took in 50,000 American draft dodgers and deserters during the Vietnam War, another dubious conflict tainted by war crimes. We should be able to find room today for 200 more people who share their new president’s view that targeting Iraq was a huge mistake.