Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa.

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.

England’s school seclusion rooms still form a landscape of atrocity and shame

A primary school seclusion room

England learned this week that, across England, schools are converting toilet stalls into “isolation booths”. Other English schools use portable isolation booths. That means a cardboard box is brought to the classroom and placed over the child. Educators like to point out that there are isolation rooms and there are confined booths, and they’re not the same. Isolation rooms are solitary confinement. Confined booths are stalls where children face the wall in perfect silence, often for hours on end, often for days and even weeks at a time. These are the distinctions that are meant to prove the humanity and educative function of time spent in school. At least your six- or eight- or ten-year-old child is not spending hours in a cardboard box. A salient problem in this narrative is that England learned this lesson last year, and the year before, and the year before thatMeanwhile, sales of isolation booths to schools are booming.  

Last week, another report alerted the nation to the widespread use of seclusion rooms. The Centre for Mental Health published Trauma, challenging behaviour and restrictive interventions in schools. Though disturbing the findings are not surprising, are in fact altogether familiar: “Exposure to trauma is relatively common among young people … Challenging behaviour and trauma are associated. Young people who show challenging behaviour are more likely than average to have been exposed to trauma … Thousands of young people are subject to some form of restrictive intervention in schools in England every year for challenging behaviour. There is reason to believe that these interventions have a negative impact on mental health, irrespective of previous trauma exposure. Young people who have experienced trauma in the past are especially at risk of experiencing psychological harm from restrictive interventions. For example, exclusion and seclusion can echo relational trauma and systemic trauma …As a result, these interventions may cause harm and potentially drive even more challenging behaviour.”

Solitary confinement harms children. Solitary confinement is infinitely and measurably worse for vulnerable children. Solitary confinement creates a cycle that begins in trauma and then cycles, repeatedly, through trauma, each time more deeply felt and each time more damaging. Isolation booth sales are booming.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, says she has heard “horror stories” of children in isolation for days, weeks, months on end. What qualifies as “challenging” behavior. One school website boasts, “Students with inappropriate hairstyles will be placed in isolation.” In another instance, a child was placed in isolation because she forgot to bring her planner. Her father was told either bring the planner or bring £5: “The school said bring in £5 for a new planner and she can come out. It’s ridiculous, having to pay a ransom to get your daughter out of ‘prison’ just because she forgot her planner for the first time ever.”

These isolation rooms and booths and boxes are not some underground, hidden, clandestine practice. They’re widespread, on websites, in official policy. They are and they have been, and they form today as they have formed a landscape of atrocity and shame. While research reports are important, the last five years of reports demonstrates that that is not enough. How many more times must we “discover” that throwing children into seclusion rooms, no matter what they’re called, is wrong? Why do we need to discuss whether the rooms “work” or are too “costly”? What about the cost to children’s lives? What about the cost, as well, to the very concept of education? What does a child learn when exclusion is called inclusion, terror is called calm, and a war on children is called education? But there is a flickering light. Later this month, advocates are holding a Lose the Booth conference. Another school is possible.

(Photo Credit: BBC) (Image Credit: Centre for Mental Health)

What happened to Veronica Nelson? Nothing. An Aboriginal woman died in custody

Veronica Nelson

On January 13, Veronica Nelson, 37-year-old Yorta Yorta woman, was buried. On New Year’s Day, Veronica Nelson was charged with shoplifting and went to court that day. Veronica Nelson represented herself in court and was denied bail. She was sent to Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, a maximum-security facility, one of two women’s prisons in Victoria, Australia. At 8 am, January 2, Veronica Nelson was found dead in her cell. Her family, heartbroken, has questions. Her friends and community, grieving, have questions. Another Aboriginal woman dies in custody. Each time an Aboriginal woman has died in custody, we have asked, “What happened to her?”:  Ms. DhuCherdeena WynneRebecca MaherJoyce ClarkeMs. MMaureen MandijarraTanya Day. Remember Tanya Day, 55-year-old Yorta Yorta woman who, in December 2017, died, or was left to die … or was killed, in police custody? Her coronial inquest was barely finished when Veronica Nelson died. “What happened to  … ?”, we asked. It was the wrong question. We should have asked, “What happened to justice?”

Australia has built a special hell for Aboriginal women. “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population, and 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous peers.” That was reported in February 2018, and it wasn’t new then. These very issues arose in major reports published in  201020112012,  2013,  2014,  20152016,  2017. It’s 2020, new year, new decade, and Veronica Nelson is dead.

Her family reports that other women prisoners at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre report that Veronica Nelson was in great pain, screaming out for help. Veronica Nelson’s sister, Belinda Atkinson, said, “She’d gone up to medical asking for help, could she get something for her drug problem. She’d gone up there and asked for help and they’ve knocked her back, and then she was sitting in the cell crying. Crying, crying, crying, because she couldn’t get no help.” 

In 2017, the Victorian Ombudsman inspected Dame Phyllis Frost Centre and gave a mixed report. At the outset, the report noted, “Overall we found positive initiatives but an ageing and crowded facility, where prisoner numbers have grown 65 per cent in the last five years and remand prisoners have more than doubled over the same period … The inspection team identified a relatively high use of force and restraint at DPFC compared with other prisons in Victoria … There is little meaningful interaction between staff and women. Several women who had been held in Swan 2 described self-harming in the unit because they felt it was the only way to get staff to engage with them.”

Antoinette Braybrook, CEO of Djirrareflected, “Once again Aboriginal women’s lives are not valued. This is a death in custody of an Aboriginal woman that happened over a week ago — why are we only hearing about it now, through the media? Where is the outrage? When will Aboriginal women’s lives matter?”

The Victorian government has also responded to the death of Veronica Nelson: “As with all deaths in custody, the Coroner will investigate and formally determine the cause of death. As the matter is the subject of an ongoing coronial investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment.” The State is not heartbroken because the State has no heart.

Veronica Nelson was never meant to survive. Veronica Nelson is the most recent name of those who were never meant to survive. The family is meant to be heartbroken, drenched in and constituted by grief, and completely uninformed. As many have noted, it took eight days for the State to inform the family of Veronica Nelson’s death. What does that “time lag” suggest? There is little meaningful interaction.

What happened to Veronica Nelson? Nothing. An Aboriginal woman died in custody. What happened to Australia? Nothing. Another Aboriginal woman died in custody. What happened to justice? A contemporary postcolonial, anti-colonial politics that begins and ends with the State murder of Aboriginal women, which runs from lack of services and assistance, from cradle to grave, to mass incarceration to dumping into the mass graves of historical amnesia. What happened to Veronica Nelson? Nothing.

(Photo Credit: The Age)

Haiti: It is ten years since the earthquake. Who cares?

On January 12, 2010, an earthquake devastated parts of Haiti. For a very short while, the world claimed to care. Now it’s ten years later. Haiti has been rocked by mass demonstrations since July 6, 2018. The government has been stopped in its tracks, as well as the economy. Where were the reports from the global media? A country on months long lockdown, and the world by and large sighs, looks the other way, and says, “Haiti. We tried. C’est la vie.” Ce n’est pas la vie, c’est la mort, and we are the merchants of death. UN peacekeepers came, “fathered” and abandoned hundreds of children, left. The rubble remains. Food insecurity deepens. The population of restaveks, of child slaves, has grown incrementally in the past ten yearsThe earthquake death toll is officially 316,000. Who counts the dead we have left in the ten years since?

In today’s The New YorkerEdwidge Danticat writes: “Sorrowful anniversaries also inevitably make us wonder what might have been. What if three hundred and sixteen thousand people—the death count, according to government estimates—had not perished? What might they have contributed to their communities, their country? What if Haiti had actually been `built back better,’ as President Bill Clinton, who served in a triple role as United Nations Special Envoy for Haiti, international co-chair of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, and one of the two Presidential faces of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, had often promised? What if the $13.5 billion in pledged and donated funds had actually been disbursed and invested in improving the lives of most Haitians, creating genuine paths for a better future? What if more seismic-resistant homes, hospitals, schools, and universities had been built, or rebuilt, to reduce future casualties? What if rural entrepreneurs, women’s organizations, and peasant farmers—who face the brunt of diminishing food production, environmental degradation, deadly hurricanes, and climate change—had been integral players in the reconstruction plans? What if. . . ?”

In today’s Le Nouvelliste, Haiti’s only newspaper, Editor in Chief Frantz Duval wrote: “January 12, 2010 not only recalls the greatest natural disaster to have ever struck Haiti, it is also the date that launched the second decade of the 21st century in our country.” Duval proceeds to characterize the decade as one of Good Samaritans, international aid institutions, and aid adventurers, largely stripping the country and nation of its resources. After describing the theft of past and present and threat to the future, both external and internal, Duval calls on Haitians to choose a future of mutual development based on dignity.

What if … ? What if … this theft is the future? Haitian-American poet Lemelle Moise asked similar questions, years ago, in her collection, Haiti Glass. Here are two poems:

mud mothers

the children of haiti
are not mythological
we are starving
or eating salty cakes
made of clay

the children of haiti
are not mythological
we are starving
or eating salty cakes
made of clay

because in 1804 we felled
our former slave captors
the graceless losers sunk
vindictive yellow
teeth into our forests

what was green is now
dust and everyone knows
trees unleash oxygen
(another humble word
for life)

they took off
with our torn branches
beheaded our future
stuck our breath up on pikes
for all the world to see

we are a living dead example
of what happens to warriors who
in lieu of fighting for white men’s countries
dare to fight
for their own lives

during carnival
we could care less
about our bloated empty bellies
where there are voices
we are dancing

where there is vodou
we are horses
where there are drums
we are possessed
with joy and stubborn jamboree

but when the makeshift
trumpet player
runs out of rhythmic breath
the only sound left is
guts grumbling

and we sigh
to remember
that food
and freedom
are not free

is haiti really free
if our babies die starving?
if we cannot write our names
read our rights keep
our leaders in their seats?

can we be free? really?
if our mothers are mud? if dead
columbus keeps cursing us
and nothing changes
when we curse back

we are a proud resilient people
though we return to dust daily
salt gray clay with hot black tears
savor snot cakes
over suicide

we are hungry
creative people
sip bits of laughter
when we are thirsty
dance despite

this asthma
called debt
congesting
legendarily liberated
lungs”

quaking conversation

i want to talk about haiti.
how the earth had to break
the island’s spine to wake
the world up to her screaming.

how this post-earthquake crisis
is not natural
or supernatural.
i want to talk about disasters.

how men make them
with embargoes, exploitation,
stigma, sabotage, scalding
debt and cold shoulders.

talk centuries
of political corruption
so commonplace
it’s lukewarm, tap.

talk january 1, 1804
and how it shed life.
talk 1937
and how it bled death.

talk 1964.  1986.  1991.  2004.  2008.
how history is the word
that makes today
uneven, possible.

talk new orleans,
palestine, sri lanka,
the bronx and other points
or connection.

talk resilience and miracles.
how haitian elders sing in time
to their grumbling bellies
and stubborn hearts.

how after weeks under the rubble,
a baby is pulled out,
awake, dehydrated, adorable, telling
stories with old-soul eyes.

how many more are still
buried, breathing, praying and waiting?
intact despite the veil of fear and dust
coating their bruised faces?

i want to talk about our irreversible dead.
the artists, the activists, the spiritual leaders,
the family members, the friends, the merchants
the outcasts, the cons.

all of them, my newest ancestors,
all of them, hovering now,
watching our collective response,
keeping score, making bets.

i want to talk about money.
how one man’s recession might be
another man’s unachievable reality.
how unfair that is.

how i see a haitian woman’s face
every time i look down at a hot meal,
slip into my bed, take a sip of water,
show mercy to a mirror.

how if my parents had made different
decisions three decades ago,
it could have been my arm
sticking out of a mass grave

i want to talk about gratitude.
i want to talk about compassion.
i want to talk about respect.
how even the desperate deserve it.

how haitians sometimes greet each other
with the two words “honor”
and “respect.”
how we all should follow suit.

try every time you hear the word “victim,”
you think “honor.”
try every time you hear the tag “john doe,”
you shout “respect!”

because my people have names.
because my people have nerve.
because my people are
your people in disguise

i want to talk about haiti.
i always talk about haiti.
my mouth quaking with her love,
complexity, honor and respect.

come sit, come stand, come
cry with me. talk.
there’s much to say.
walk. much more to do.”

I want to talk about Haiti. I want us to talk about Haiti … and not only on the anniversaries of the 2010 earthquake, but at least then. What if … ?

(Photo Credit: New Yorker / Jeanty Junior Augustin / Reuters)

In Massachusetts, au pairs win in court, expanding domestic workers’ rights everywhere!

Matahari Women Workers’ Center Au Pair Organizing Committee

In November 2019, Philadelphia enacted a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, joining one other city, Seattle, and nine states: Oregon, California, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Nevada. Massachusetts passed its Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights in 2014. In December 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Massachusetts, ruled that au pairs are covered by Massachusetts’ Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Once again, domestic workers organized, persisted, organized some more, cut through the fog and smoke of “like one of the family” and “care work is loving work and therefore not work at all”, and secured victory. While this ruling “only” applies to Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico, its implications are both national and global, and it is a major victory for women workers’ rights everywhere.

The case emerged when Culture Care Au Pair, an au pair sponsorship agency, sued Massachusetts. Culture Care claimed that au pairs were not workers but rather participants in a cultural and educational exchange program. The Matahari Women Workers’ Center, which had worked for the passage of Massachusetts’ Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, immediately spun into action, organizing domestic workers, finding lawyers, and keeping the pressure on. When the Court threw out Culture Care’s arguments, Monique Tú Nguyen, Executive Director of Matahari Women Workers’ Center, said, “This is a huge win for au pairs, who provide crucial live-in child care to families across the state. They do the critical caregiving work that makes all other work possible.”

This is a huge win for au pairs and for all workers, overwhelmingly women of color, who provide critical caregiving work.

Since the First Circuit decision, instead of trying to figure out how to comply with the new circumstances, many parents have mobilized and lobbied Massachusetts state legislators to find a way to preserve the status quo, to find a way to keep their au pairs from being formally protected as workers and from being formally and existentially recognized for the work that they do. The press has largely focused on how families and agencies have been “upended” by the court ruling and how they’re “struggling” to comply. Families are “up in arms”. Where is the coverage of the impact on au pairs? The struggle for women workers’ dignity continues.

The First Circuit decision on au pairs means that au pairs must be paid the Massachusetts minimum wage, $12.75 an hour, and that au pairs must receive meal breaks, overtime, and all other benefits covered by law. 2019 was a big year, perhaps a turning point, for au pairs across the United States. It began with a $65.5 million settlement between 100,000 former au pairs and 15 companies which sponsor au pairs. That settlement came out of a class-action lawsuit filed by ten or au pairs in a Denver federal court. Those au pairs worked with Towards Justice, a Denver-based advocacy group. When the settlement was reached, David Seligman, Executive Director of Towards Justice, said, “This settlement, the hard-fought victory of our clients who fought for years on behalf of about 100,000 fellow au pairs, will be perhaps the largest settlement ever on behalf of minimum wage workers and will finally give au pairs the opportunity to seek h.”

From Denver to Boston and beyond, justice for au pairs, domestic workers, women workers is forged by the persistence of women workers who fight for years, who were never meant to survive. Matahari Women Workers’ Center understands it’s time for those who were never meant to survive: “Matahari Women Workers’ Center (“Matahari”) is … committed to building a world without economic violence and exploitation. Our community believes in the transformative power of survivors and is committed to developing the leadership of women of color, immigrants, and low-wage workers.” From domestic worker victories and advances in South AfricaPhiladelphia, Denver, Massachusetts, 2019 was a year that saw the expansion and deepening of domestic workers’ rights, dignity and power everywhere. Spread the news! The struggle continues.

(Photo Credit: Matahari Women Workers’ Center) (Image Credit: International Domestic Workers Federation)

Who mourns Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende? Where is the global concern?

Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende

On July 4, 2019, 26-year-old Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende left her village on the island of Mindanao, in the Philippines, and headed for Kuwait, where a job as a domestic worker awaited her. Five months later, on December 28, 2019, Jeanelyn Villavende arrived, or was dumped, already dead, showing signs of having been tortured, at Sabah Hospital. Her employers are under arrest. The Philippines expresses its outrage, and, yesterday, declared a partial ban on “deployment of workers” to Kuwait. Two years ago, reflecting on Saudi Arabia’s execution of domestic worker Tuti Tursilawati, we asked, “Why does the world not care about the young women of color who travel long distance and leave families and communities behind, precisely to keep the world, our world, functioning?” The redundancy and familiarity of Jeanelyn Villavende’s story suggests that was the wrong question. This repeated narrative of migration, abuse, torture, exploitation, death, return, 15 minutes of national “outrage”, followed by return to the same, this is the quality of our concern for young women of color in the contemporary global marketplace. As an Ethiopian domestic worker in Lebanon once put it, “We are like oil to our government”. After an oil spill here and there, it’s back to business as usual.

None of this is new. If anything, it’s a cliché by now. The neoliberal global economy was built on global cities that required 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week service, and so, among other industries, the household care work sector exploded. Urban areas of certain areas demanded more and more domestic workers, and certain nation-States, the Philippines most notably, turned themselves into mega-brokerage houses for mass migrations of domestic workers … like so much oilThe sending countries lauded the women as heroes of the nation and promised to protect them. But that protection never came. If it had, not only would Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende be alive today, she would never have had to leave in the first place.

Repeatedly, we have seen migrant and transnational domestic workers organizing themselves, demanding justice, making change. Filipina domestic worker Evangeline Banao Vallejos did so in Hong Kong, as did Indonesian domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, and as are Filipino domestic workers Baby Jane Allas, Milagros Tecson Comilang, and Desiree Rante LuisAdelina Lisao is a mirror sister of Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende: 26 years old, Adelina Lisao left Indonesia to work in Malaysia, and returned home, visibly tortured, in a body bag. Why does the world not care about the young women of color who travel long distance and leave families and communities behind, precisely to keep the world, our world, functioning? We do. This is how we care. We speak of justice, for example “justice for Jeanelyn Villavende”, and then return to business as usual. No one cries forever over a little spilled oil.

In February 2018, the Philippines imposed a total deployment ban on Kuwait, which it rescinded in May 2018. In May 2019, the Philippines imposed a total deployment ban on Kuwait, which it rescinded soon after. Each one of these bans occurred in response to spectacular brutality and death visited upon Filipina domestic workers. Each time, Kuwait and the Philippines signed a new deal. Each time, women were told they were protected. This is why almost every headline involving Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende’s torture and murder says “another”: “PH condemns killing of yet another Filipina domestic worker in Kuwait”; “PH gov’t condemns death of another Filipino domestic worker in Kuwait”; “Another OFW killed in Kuwait”. Another just like the other just like the next … so many drops of oil.

Around the world, domestic workers, overwhelmingly women, are organizing. They know that neither justice nor dignity come in some afterlife. There is absolutely no point in intoning “justice for Jeanelyn Villavende” as if that would conjure her up. It’s time to remember Mother Mary Harris Jones’ exhortation to striking miners: “Your organization is not a praying institution. It’s a fighting institution. It’s an educational institution along industrial lines. Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!” 

(Photo Credit: Sun Star Manila)

Mourning all that is human, once again, drowned in the sea, once again

“one cannot speak of generations of skulls or spirits except on the condition of language – and the voice, in any case of that which marks the name or takes its place (“Hamlet: That Scull had a tongue in it, and could sing once”).
Jacques Derrida. Specters of Marx

Once again, the year ends with the surface of the Mediterranean concealing thousands of humans lost. According to the International Organization of Migration, 1246 people – women, children, men – drowned in the Mediterranean while trying flee certain death. In certain circles, this number, 1246, is being celebrated as a mark of success. The numbers of dead have declined. Fortress Europe, like Fortress Australia and Fortress USA, is working. This is the mathematics of success in our contemporary world. 2019: 1246 dead: “the fifth straight year of at least 1,000 deaths on the Mediterranean”. 2018: 2299 dead. 2017: 3139 dead. 2016: 5143 dead. 2015: 4054 dead. 2014: 3283 dead.  From 2014 to today, 19,164 souls – women, children, men – thrown into the deep waters of unmourning. No language, no marking of names, no taking of place. No singing. Only the silence of “success”.

According to UNITED, United Against Refugee Deaths, “In the period 1993-2019 more than 36,570 deaths can be put down to border militarisation, asylum laws, detention policies and deportations. Most probably thousands more are never found.” UNITED compiles a list of documented deaths of refugees. The overwhelming majority of the deceased are identified as “N.N.”, “Nomen Nescio: I don’t know the name”. This is success today. Tens of thousands dead; tens of thousands rendered nameless. Tens of thousands languishing, tortured, in confinement in north Africa, especially in Libya

In 2016, the deadliest year ever for migrants trying to reach Europe, the year’s epitaph was simple: “2016: The year the world stopped caring about refugees”. This year, the epitaph is equally simple: “2019: The year refugees were urged to return”. Refugees and asylum seekers were “urged” at the end of a gun, in the festering conditions of camps, by policies of hostility, by enforced freezing, starvation, and other forms of violence. In today’s world, these forms of violence are called urging, invitation.

We have turned the sea into a graveyard. It’s December 31, 2019, and the Person of the Decade is a woman, child, man lying on the bottom of the Mediterranean; we do not know their names, and we do not much care. If we did, they would be alive today.

To “honor” the decade, here is a poem for the refugees who lie in the cemetery that we have made of the Mediterranean and for those who continue to seek shelter, haven, community, work, humanity. See you next year.

Mourning
By Carolyn Forché 

A peacock on an olive branch looks beyond
the grove to the road, beyond the road to the sea,
blank-lit, where a sailboat anchors to a cove.
As it is morning, below deck a man is pouring water into a cup,
listening to the radio-talk of the ships: barges dead
in the calms awaiting port call, pleasure boats whose lights
hours ago went out, fishermen setting their nets for mullet,
as summer tavernas hang octopus to dry on their lines,
whisper smoke into wood ovens, sweep the terraces
clear of night, putting the music out with morning
light, and for the breath of an hour it is possible
to consider the waters of this sea wine-dark, to remember
that there was no word for blue among the ancients,
but there was the whirring sound before the oars
of the great triremes sang out of the seam of world,
through pine-sieved winds silvered by salt flats until
they were light enough to pass for breath from the heavens,
troubled enough to fell ships and darken thought — 
then as now the clouds pass, roosters sleep in their huts,
the sea flattens under glass air, but there is nothing to hold us there:
not the quiet of marble nor the luff of sail, fields of thyme,
a vineyard at harvest, and the sea filled with the bones of those
in flight from wars east and south, our wars, their remains
scavenged on the seafloor and in its caves, belongings now
a flotsam washed to the rocks. Stand here and look
into the distant haze, there where the holy mountain
with its thousand monks wraps itself in shawls of rain,
then look to the west, where the rubber boats tipped
into the tough waves. Rest your eyes there, remembering the words
of Anacreon, himself a refugee of war, who appears
in the writings of Herodotus:
I love and do not love, I am mad and I am not mad.
Like you he thought himself not better,
nor worse than anyone else.

(Photo Credit: Electronic Intifada /Oren Ziv/Active Stills)

Beyond cruelty lies immigrant detention and family separation: Maria, Flor, Eloy

Maria and Flor crossed the U.S. – Mexico border in March 2019 and applied for asylum. Technically, Maria, 23 years old, filed for asylum for herself and her six-year-old niece. Maria and Flor had travelled north from Guatemala, where Flor’s entire family was murdered when Flor was a baby. Maria was, and is, her only living relative. Maria took Flor in and has raised her as her daughter. Maria is the only mother Flor has ever known. Maria’s family was killed this year, and that precipitated the flight north. Maria brought all the formal papers she could lay her hands on. ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, rejected the papers, rejected Maria and Flor as well. Maria was dumped into Eloy Detention Center, in Arizona. Flor was taken to a shelter … in New York City, thousands of miles away. Anita, a woman living in New York, has volunteered to provide a home for Maria and Flor. Volunteers have provided assistance, clergy and faith community members have joined with activists to raise a hue and cry, attorneys both in Arizona and New York have actively represented both Maria and Flor. Despite all this support, Maria was recently again denied parole. ICE provides no reason. Deeper into the landscape of no-reason, were Maria or Maria and Flor to be deported, there are no assurances that Maria would know Flor’s whereabouts. Again, Maria is 23 years old; Flor is 6 years old. Find a six-year and just look at her, and you’ll understand what this theater of cruelty is all about. As one local reverend said, “It is beyond cruel.” What is beyond cruel? This.

Maria sits, waits, tries to organize her life and Flor’s life, in Eloy Detention, the place where Raquel Calderon de Hildago, also Guatemalan, hanged herself … or was sentenced to hang herself; Eloy, the detention center that often has had both more deaths in custody and more suicide and suicide attempts than any other detention facilityEloy, the site of repeated women’s hunger strikes. Why is Maria in Eloy, rather than `out in the world’ with her daughter-niece Flor? Why is anyone in Eloy?

Despite the State of Abandonment, Maria insists that she does not feel abandoned, because, she says, “I have the support of lots of people. I’m not alone”. Abandonment is the obverse of democracy. Maria’s understanding of community, solidarity, hope, that is what democracy looks like. 

#FamiliesBelongTogether #FreeMaria

(Image Credit: Franziska Barczyk / The Guardian)

A woman was forced to give birth alone in a cell: Diana Sanchez, Tianna Laboy, Kenzi Dunn

In one week in December, two stories of women being forced to give birth alone in prison or jail cells collided. In Connecticut, a court decided that the case of Tianna Laboy, who, while held at the York Correctional Institution, was forced to give birth to her baby in the toilet of her prison cell. That occurred February 13, 2018. In the same week the Connecticut court made the decision concerning Tianna Laboy’s case, another court, in Florida, heard the case of Kenzi Dunn, who was forced to give birth alone in a cell in the Osceola County Jail.  Tianna Laboy’s baby survived. Kenzi Dunn miscarried. This is how the year ends; this is how the decade ends. Across the United States, pregnant women in prison and jails routinely suffer programmatic neglect and abuse. Diana Sanchez was forced to give birth, alone, in the Denver County Jail, July 2018. The list goes on: Tammy Jackson, Broward County, Florida; Jessica Preston, Macomb County, Michigan. Nicole Guerrero, Wichita County, TexasAutumn Miller, Dawson State Jail, Dallas, Texas. These are only the names we know. There is no national data base concerning prison or jail births … because, really, who cares?

When Diana Sanchez was booked, she was eight months pregnant, in early stages of labor, and had a history that suggested high-risk pregnancy and a good chance of early delivery. Diana Sanchez went into hours long labor, screamed for help, and no one cameStaff stood outside her cell, nurses watched on video and refused to help. Diana Sanchez reflected, “That pain was indescribable, and what hurts me more though is the fact that nobody cared.” What hurts me more is the fact that nobody cared.

Tianna Laboy’s experience echoes that of Diana Sanchez. She informed authorities she was pregnant. Staff did nothing or less than nothing. Tianna Laboy walked the halls in pain, begged for help, cried out in pain. No one came. Sitting on a toilet in her cell, she gave birth to a child. The child hit her head on the toilet. Tianna Laboy pulled the infant out. Her cellmate told her to pat the child on the back. She did and her daughter started breathing. Other than her cellmate, Tianna Laboy received less than no care. That was last year. It’s not clear if anything has been done at the prison to correct this situation … because, really, who cares?

Kenzi Dunn’s story is basically the same. When she was booked into the Osceola County Jail in October, Kenzi Dunn discovered she was pregnant. On Wednesday, December 4, Kenzi Dunn started bleeding, asked for help, begged for help, screamed for help, and none came. Kenzi Dunn continued to bleed. She didn’t see a doctor until Friday. On Saturday, bleeding and suffering cramps, Kenzi Dunn miscarried. On Monday, she was taken to the hospital. Upon release from the hospital, Kenzi Dunn was taken back to the same cell and had a day added to her sentence, to make up for the day she spent in the hospital. The following week, Kenzi Dunn was released two weeks “early”. Kenzi Dunn summed her experiences succinctly, “It was torture”.

Across the United States, in the name of justice and security, women are being forced to give birth alone in prison and jail cells. Women are being forced to bear their children into toilets or onto floors. Women are being forced to bleed for days on end, while assistance stands inches away and refuses to budge. Nobody cares. It’s torture. 

(Infographic Credit: Prison Policy)

South Africa confirms the rights of all children to education!

It’s the end of the year and decade, and we need some good news, right? As the United States continues to throw migrant children into the abyss of immigrant detention and India throws millions under the bus of lost citizenship, last week a court in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa came through. In a case concerning the rights of 37 undocumented children to attend school, the Judge President of the Eastern Cape Selby Mbenenge, writing for the Makhanda High Court, emphatically declared that the Constitution of South Africa enshrines the right of all children to access to education. Judge Mbenenge opened his decision: “Central to this application is the right to basic education enshrined, without any qualification, in section 29 of the Constitution … Education is a mighty tool in the hands of the possessor. Its efficacy depends largely on the bulwark that surrounds it – the right to education … In our constitutional dispensation basic education is a pivot of transformation.” Children matter, democracy matters, education matters, rights matter, the Constitution matters, courts matter, judges matter, decency matters, compassion matters, transformation matters … without any qualification. Amen.

Who are the undocumented children of South Africa? According to the Department of Basic Education, of the 998,433 undocumented children currently enrolled in public schools, 880,968 are South African citizens. A little over 88% of those children are South African. Of the 37 children represented in the Eastern Cape case, 23, or a bit more than 60%, are South African citizens. South African children born at home often don’t have birth certificates. There are other barriers. Eight of the children live in a safe house for abandoned and orphaned children. Their situation didn’t matter. Without proper papers, they were expelled. Who are the undocumented children of South Africa? Poor. Black. Vulnerable. But first, they are children.

The Makhanda High Court has said that children’s situation does not matter, because they are children and thus are due an education, and that obligation is without qualification. Section 29 of the Constitution of South Africa reads:

“Section 29 Education

 (1) Everyone has the right –

(a) to a basic education, including adult basic education; and

(b) to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.

(2) Everyone has the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable. In order to ensure the effective access to, and implementation of, this right, the state must consider all reasonable educational alternatives, including single medium institutions, taking into account –

(a) equity;

(b) practicability; and

(c) the need to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices.

(3) Everyone has the right to establish and maintain, at their own expense, independent educational institutions that –

(a) do not discriminate on the basis of race;

(b) are registered with the state; and

(c) maintain standards that are not inferior to standards at comparable public educational institutions.”

Everyone means everyone. Tell that to the governments of the United States and India, and all those fortress nations in between and beyond. This is a victory for vulnerable children as it is a victory for inalienable rights without qualification. Transformation is still possible. 

(Photo credit: Daily Maverick)

#ShutDownBerks: Pennsylvania’s Auditor General calls Berks a jail and urges it be shut down

For the past six months, Pennsylvania’s Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has been conducting an audit of Berks County “Residential” Center, or BCRC, one of the three so-called family immigrant detention centers in the United States. Yesterday, he issued his report. The report ends with two recommendations, all in caps in the report: “1. IMMIGRATING FAMILIES SHOULD NOT BE HELD IN BCRC AND SHOULD INSTEAD BE RELEASED INTO COMMUNITIES WITH OVERSIGHT AND SUPPORT. 2. AS LONG AS BCRC REMAINS OPEN, THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES MUST CONTINUE TO CONDUCT MONTHLY INSPECTIONA TO OVERSEE THE TREATMENT OF THE CHILDREN BEING DETAINED THERE.” The Auditor General chose to put those two recommendations in capital letters, to make sure we see and hear the message. Shut down Berks. SHUT DOWN BERKS. #ShutDownBerks. Can you hear me now?

The report opens noting that, apart from those who are members of “an indigenous native tribe”, everyone else is “part of Pennsylvania’s immigration history”. Further, “seeking asylum is not a crime. Neither is asking the U.S. government for permission to live on its soil and become a contributing member of its society. Yet the parents and children being held at BCRC are treated like prisoners despite not being accused of any crimes.” Also, “facilities such as BCRC should not exist.” The report then launches into the details concerning Berks, details many of which we have described before: children being kept in violation of limits; mothers being abused, mothers and children suffering isolation, trauma, deprivation. Repeatedly, in the report and at the press, the Auditor General emphasized that seeking asylum is not a crime and is not part of the criminal justice process in any way whatsoever. At the press conference, DePasquale noted, “No one being held at the Berks facility is facing any criminal charges, but the center still essentially functions as a jail where adults and children, sometimes mere babies, are detained”.

The report details the experience, in October 2019, of the Connors family, an English couple with their three-month-old son who were vacationing in Canada, got lost on a back road, accidentally entered the United States, were apprehended, and shipped off to Berks. When the Connors arrived at Berks, there were five families with children under five years old. Because the Connors’ child was so young, ICE offered them a deal, family separation. Eileen Connors said she was “shocked and disgusted” by the suggestion and rejected it out of hand. Everything was dirty and broken. When their child’s clothing needed washing, there were no replacements. Eileen Connors asked, “How am I supposed to keep my baby warm in this horrible cold?” “All they tell me is to put a hat on him.” They say, “Put a hat on him.” We say, “Shut it down!”

For the last five years, repeatedly, the mothers of Berks have called for justice, beginning with shutting down Berks. Repeatedly, they have said they are not criminals, they are asylum seekers. Repeatedly they have said, no human being deserves to be abused. Repeatedly they have said, children need and deserve love, not abandonment and abuse. Repeatedly they have said, we know justicethis is injustice!

 U.S. Senators have agreedPsychologists have agreedLocal activists, human rights advocates, attorneys and just plain folk have agreed. Recently, even Berks County Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt, who previously supported Berks because of its supposed economic benefit, said “he no longer supported maintaining the detention center, citing concern that President Trump’s administration is `changing the immigration landscape in a negative way.’” Pennsylvania’s Governor wants to shut Berks down and convert it into a treatment space, a healing place. How many more reports, documents, testimonies are needed? “We are well past the time to close the Berks center.” Shut Berks down. Facilities such as Berks “should not exist.” Shut Berks down! SHUT BERKS DOWN! #ShutBerksDown!

(Image Credit: Grid Philly) (Photo Credit: Philadelphia Inquirer / Charles Fox)