Thais Moreira and Yashika Bageerathi: faces of democracies’ new witch-hunt

 

From the perspective of the State, young asylum seekers and young undocumented residents are the same. They are not supposed to be `here’. They are not supposed to speak up, and certainly not for themselves. Under no circumstances are they to succeed. Unkempt citizens of the unwashed criminal classes, they are to stay in the shadows … as shadows. This week, , in France, and Yashika Bageerathi, in England, are the faces of democracies’ new witch-hunt, and they reveal that a specter haunts Europe.

Thais Moreira is a 20-year-old student who came to France, from Brazil, in June 2009. She came with her mother. Since her arrival, Moreira has been a model student, resident, everything. She has fully integrated herself into her neighborhood, school, and new country. In mid February, she went to the local police station for `regularization.’ According to French law, if one has been in the country for five years and has completed three years of schooling, one can apply for residence papers. Some bureaucrat decided that Moreira had only arrived in France in 2010. And so, on March 7, she received the dreaded OQTF, or Obligation de quitter le territoire français. The letter gave her 30 days to leave the country.

Yashika Bageerathi is 19 years old. With her mother, younger sister and brother, a 16-year-old Bageerathi arrived in England in 2012, fleeing physical violence from a family member in Mauritius. Last week, Yashika Bageerathi was informed that, since she was now of majority, her case had been separated from that of the family, and her application for asylum was denied. She was to report to Yarl’s Wood. She was sent to the airport where, apparently, British Airways refused to give her passage. This seemed like a reprieve … until the State responded to the young woman’s appeal to not be separated from her family. The Home Department’s replied, “Fine, the whole family’s denied asylum, and you’re all going back to Mauritius.” That’s where the situation sits now.

In both Thais Moreira’s and Yashika Bageerathi’s cases, students and staff mobilized and organized. They have protested, marched, organized Twitter campaigns (check out #FightforYashika), organized petitions, and more. They have raised a mighty ruckus. And they are asking questions, especially about “the yawning gap between official rhetoric against immigrants “who do not fit” and the violent reality of expulsion and deportation.”

From the Dreamers in the United States to Thais Moreira in France to Yashika Bageerathi (and before her, Lorin Sulaiman) in England, young people, students all, are protesting the witch-hunt that is immigration policy. And it’s not just those students who are asylum seekers or undocumented residents. It’s their friends as well, the students they study, play, and live with. They confront State viciousness with hope and creativity. They oppose State callousness with love. Who’s the teacher and who’s the student now? Stop the democracies’ witch-hunt. Empty the immigration prisons. Stop the deportations … now!

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.comunidadebrasileiranafranca.com)

Léonarda Dibrani: Not French enough?

Léonardi Dibrani

A couple weeks ago, Léonarda Dibrani, a fifteen-year-old girl, was with her class on a field trip. Léonarda lived with her Kosovar Roma family in eastern France, in Levier. The Dibranis had applied for asylum years earlier. In the meantime, Léonarda went to school, grew up, made friends, and integrated herself into the community. Basically, Léonarda became French.

But not French enough. While on the field trip, police stopped the school bus, asked the fifteen-year-old to get down, and then took her away. With her family, she was immediately deported to Kosovo, a place she doesn’t know, a place whose languages she doesn’t speak.

And so now, Léonarda sits in Mitrovica, in Kosovo, gives interviews and pushes to return to Levier, to France, to her school, to her friends, to her community.

Meanwhile, as the adults dither about whether Léonarda was taken `properly’, because apparently there are strict rules for State abductions of minors; about whether the Interior Minister is still `of the Left’; about whether the Left is still … the Left, the high school students have taken to the streets in protest.

Across France yesterday, thousands of high school students marched, shouted, demonstrated, closed schools and boulevards. Their message? “Documented or undocumented, they are like us. They are students!” “They” are Léonarda and Khatchik Kachatryan, a 19-year-old Paris student who, on Saturday, was deported to Armenia.

High school students said clearly, “These deportations touch people just like us.” They argued that education is a universal human right, not merely a civil right bestowed by any particular nation-State. They look at Léonarda and Khatchik and, rightly, see themselves.

The high school students of France are arguing, and demonstrating, for the sake of humanity. As the story develops, more details will emerge that will serve to complicate and obfuscate the simple truth of the students’ message: We are all humans, and no human being is illegal.

Like so many other children, Léonarda Dibrani was abducted by the State. No list of rules followed will alter that. Let’s hope the State hears and listens to its schoolchildren and returns Léonarda, Khatchik, and so many other children to France, to their homes and to their friends … now.

The blood and distress of Olayinka Ijaware and her two children

Olayinka Ijaware is a young Nigerian woman who has been living in County Waterford, in Ireland, for the last four years. She is the mother of two children, aged five and seven. Until quite recently, Ijaware was pregnant with a third child. Then she suffered a miscarriage.

Early Tuesday morning, August 16, the Gardaí, or Irish national police, showed up and `escorted’ Ms. Ijaware and her two young children to the Dublin airport, where she was `prepared for deportation.’ Olayinka Ijaware is an asylum seeker. According to the State, she is a failed asylum seeker. According to her, her attorneys, and her friends and supporters, she is in the process appealing the decision, and so is still an asylum seeker.

As she was being `prepared’, Ms. Ijaware complained of pains and bleeding, the result, she explained, of her recent miscarriage. She was taken to hospital. She was seen by doctors. The doctors said she should not fly if she was suffering vaginal bleeding. Witnesses say she was bleeding and in deep distress. The Gardaí disagree. And so, Olayinka Ijaware and her two children, two children who basically know only Ireland, were shipped back to the airport, to `prepare’ for deportation.

Magically, and without explanation, the flight was cancelled. Ijaware was told to report to the Gardaí next week, for deportation.

The date and time of Ms. Ijaware’s miscarriage is being debated. That she was bleeding at some point that night is not debated. That she and her children were taken in the very early hours of the morning, without warning, is not debated. That currently the Irish government is conducting a mass deportation of so-called asylum seekers is not debated.

The full name of Ireland’s national police force is An Garda Síochána na hÉireann. That means “Guard of the Peace of Ireland.” The Gardaí are the Guardians, and Ireland is Ireland. But what is the peace? What is the peace when women’s blood and distress count for nothing, for less than nothing if the women are Black?

What is the peace of Ireland? Ask Olayinka Ijaware. Ask the children of Olayinka Ijaware. They know.

 

(Photo Credit: http://victorikoli.blogspot.com)

But tell me, where do the children live?

Maria Olvera with Valory, one of the two grandchildren she is raising in Altadena, Calif.

Where do children live?

Some children live at home. Sometimes, the families are their own extended families. Often they are their grandparents’ homes. Sometimes the parents have been taken by illness. Other times, the market has insisted that mothers and fathers travel extraordinary distances and stay away for long periods of time. And sometimes the parents have been deported.

Other children live in family homes that are worksites and worse. These children might be domestic workers, and they live as strangers in their own domiciles.

In Burkina Faso, for example, children, especially girls, work as street vendors, or hawkers, and as domestic workers.  Legally, domestic work is considered “light work”, and so children officially can begin working in households at the age of 15. In fact, children, mostly girls, begin as young as 7. Almost half of all children in Burkina Faso work, and proportionately the girls outnumber the boys.

The local Red Cross has a child labor project that is trying to help child domestic workers. Other local NGOs also are trying to help child domestic workers. How? The NGOs are offering girls training in cleaning and housekeeping, and, occasionally, reading, writing, and sewing.  The Red Cross is sending stern, `blunt’ text messages to government officials, employers, traditional leaders, teachers, business owners and housewives.  Here’s one example: ““Employers: domestics have the same rights as your children. Stop under-paying them; stop subjecting them to mistreatment, sexual violence, and long hours”.

Who are the children? They are typically described as children “from rural areas where there are few work opportunities”, and so they are sent, or some would say trafficked, to the cities, in this case Ouagadougou or Bobo-Dioulosso. They have the same rights as your children? Hardly. `Your children’ go to school. `Your children’ inhabit days and lives that aren’t measured by wage scales and work opportunities. `Your children’ are … your children, and their opportunities are the opportunities of childhood. These children are not `your children’. If they were, their situation would not be described in terms of lack of work but rather lack of school.

But tell me, where do the children live?

In the United States, one of every ten children lives with their grandparents. Close to three million children live with a grandparent or grandparents.  Close to three million grandparents are the primary caregivers to the children living with them.  Of the three million grandparents, 62%, or a little less then two million, are women. While the primary caregiver grandparents are disproportionately African American and Latina, the numbers are increasing, rapidly, among White grandparents as well. Of the primary caregiver grandparents, 65% are either poor or near-poor.

This development is considered a social trend. For Latina grandmothers, it is often complicated by another `social trend’: deportation. For example, Maria Olvera takes care of two of her grandchildren. Their mother, Maria Reyes, was deported, returned to Mexico, where she now lives, on the border in Tijuana. Their father died in 2008. Maria Reyes has four children. The other two stay with an aunt nearby. The four siblings come together daily, to encourage a sense of family.  Meanwhile, Maria Olvera is herself undocumented. A survivor of domestic abuse, she helped authorities locate and prosecute her abuser. Now she waits to see if she can obtain a U visa. Meanwhile, she has little or no formal rights or claims to the children.

And if Maria Olvera looks around, she will already know another `social trend’ that legal scholars are just beginning to discover and document: the deportation of grandparent caregivers, and in particular of grandmothers. Parents gone, grandparents under threat, where do you think the children live? Limbo.

The illegal but common child domestic workers of Burkina Faso, the grandchildren of undocumented grandparent primary caregivers in the United States, live formally, officially … nowhere. They are shadows. As nations design and implement so-called austerity programs, the world of shadow children expands as it grows more thickly populated. In the United Kingdom, for example, it is anticipated that, as a result of so-called austerity budget cuts, 300,000 children will be shoved into poverty. Like a bird, child poverty is set to soar.

But tell me, where will the children live?

 

(Photo Credit: Sarah Reingewirtz / San Gabriel Valley News Group)

Deported children haunt the world

Emily Samantha Ruiz

A radio broadcast town meeting was held today in Fairfax, Virginia, a community renowned for its public school system, to discuss discipline in the Fairfax County schools. Near the end of the hour-long discussion, the moderator, Kojo Nnamde, presented a scenario based on a recent event, in which a six year old child was found to have brought cocaine into school and shared it with his friends. What is to be done? Should the child be expelled?

Tina Hone, Fairfax County School Board member, responded, “He’s a six-year-old. And what lesson are we teaching a six- or seven-year-old child by expelling him?… It is a six-year-old child. I am not going to label a six-year-old child for the rest of their lives as a drug dealer. I’m not going to do that… It’s a six-year-old child, for God’s sake. I think we need to think about that.”

We need to think about children, because children are being actively forgotten by the State. Children are addressed instead as surplus populations and disposable objects. Nowhere is this more evident than in the willingness of modern so-called democratic nation-States to ship off children, six years old, seven years old, four years old. The line from primary school expulsion to national deportation of very young children is a straight line, and it is the measure of our current historical moment.

Consider Emily Samantha Ruiz.

Emily Samantha Ruiz is four years old, a Long Island tot, a four-year-old little girl, a very little girl. Emily Samantha Ruiz is caught in an immigration snafu or perhaps quagmire. Emily Samantha Ruiz is currently in Guatemala, to which she was deported. Emily Samantha Ruiz is a United States citizen. Her parents are both undocumented residents.

Emily and her grandfather, who has, or had, a work visa, went to Guatemala, to visit family, to get away from the harsh winter and its impact on her asthma. On their return, as they came through Dulles Airport, in Virginia, the grandfather’s name came up at Customs and Border Protection, CBP, as having perhaps committed some immigration infraction twenty some years ago. CBP won’t reveal the exact details. The grandfather was detained. The parents were calling everywhere to find their daughter. They contacted a CPB agent, who asked if either was in the country legally. Mr. Ruiz responded they were not. The agent replied that the options were Emily could go enter the custody of the State of Virginia or return to Guatemala with her grandfather. The Ruizes were terrified that `custody’ would result in adoption. Likewise, they had reason to fear that if they showed up to pick up their daughter, her `custodians’ would arrest them. They `opted’ to have Emily return to Guatemala with her grandfather. The government says it did nothing wrong, played by the book, followed the rules.

What are the rules?

The public discussion of this event has focused, rightly, on the fact that Emily Samantha Ruiz is a U.S. citizen. Her citizenship is indeed important. So is her racial and ethnic status. So is her language.

But let’s not forget, Emily Samantha Ruiz is a four-year-old child, for God’s sake. “I think we need to think about that.” Emily is part of a global phenomenon in which nation-States – in the name of sovereignty, security, protection, even democracy – actively forget their responsibility to remember that children are children. What lesson are we teaching those children? Deported children haunt the modern world.

(Photo Credit: NY Daily News)

The United States abandons Mexican migrant children to violence and despair

Children waiting in the Desarrollo Integral de la Familia in Reynosa, Mexico

Migration analysts talk about sending and receiving nations. Sending nations are those countries that send, or `export’, its citizens to other countries. Receiving nations are those nations that receive, or `import’ or `absorb’, them. The status of some nation States has changed in the last two or three decades. For example, Italy and Greece were once considered sending nations, and today they are thought of as receiving nations.

Certain countries, such as the United States, are thought of as receiving nations. But that is only the case if the transnational and global export-import business is thought to be one of labor brokerage of national citizens. What are we to call those countries that export non-citizens, those countries that have made a business, a big business at that, of exporting asylum seekers, migrants, children?

Every year, the United States exports tens of thousands of unaccompanied migrant children to Mexico. These children are sent to centers run by Mexico’s social services agency called the Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, or DIF. In 2008, a Mexican congressional committee reported that the United States had deported 90,000 children, of whom at least 13,500 were never claimed. “Never claimed”: that means the children were never reunited with their families.

Who are these children? They are Mexican children who are heading to the north, most often to be reunited with … their families, with their mothers and fathers: “With few exceptions they’ll cross again because their parents or loved ones are en el otro lado and on the other side of the Rio Grande there is hope. Hope to study, to work, or to just hug their mothers or fathers again.”

Susana is in many ways exceptional and in other ways typical of the 90,000 children. First, she’s a girl; 80% of the children are boys. Second, as she sits in a DIF shelter in Matamoros, she says she’s ready to give up, to go home: ““I don’t want to stay here. I’m tired of fighting.” Gender and the intent to return home make her exceptional.

On the other hand, Susana has tried to enter the United States five times, and on each of the five attempts has failed. Every time, she was returned, unaccompanied, to Mexico. Every time, she turned around and tried again. Her father works in Kansas. They haven’t seen each other in five years. He works, struggles, and pays to have his daughter brought over. Each time, the journey costs $2500. Again and again, he pays, again and again she tries. Just to hug her father again. This makes her typical.

The children are sent to centers in Reynosa and Matamoros, centers of the current drug cartel and War on Drugs violence. Reynosa is reported to be one of the most dangerous places in Mexico. Often the children are released to strangers or to distant relatives. Often, some say more often than not, they are returned to the mean streets, and in particular those of Reynosa. So, they then go North because they want to, to be reunited or to study or work, or they go North because they are forced to. Some girls, some boys, may be tired of fighting, but that doesn’t mean they are safe. That doesn’t mean the fighting has tired of them.

What do you call a nation that seizes children, sends them unaccompanied into a violence torn war zone, and then washes its hands of the whole affair, and closes its eyes and ears to the fate of the children? That is neither a sending nor a receiving nation. That is a state of abandonment.

Susana wants to go home, but it’s not that simple. The center wants one of her parents to come and get her. Her father is in Kansas, her mother has to take care of her younger brothers and sisters. And so Susana waits, and like the other 90,000 Mexican children the United States has abandoned to violence and despair, haunts more than the borderlands. Susana haunts citizenship.

 

(Photo Credit: Texas Observer / Eugenio del Bosque)

 

How do you like your torture, fast or slow?

Saleyha Ahsan has been visiting Y, an Algerian who fled Algeria for the United Kingdom, seeking asylum. His story is being enacted in a video on the Guardian website. He can’t see it, because he’s “a threat to national security”, and so he can’t access a computer, much less the internet or a mobile phone. His crime? “Y was tortured in Algeria – the evidence is clear from the scars on the front and back of his head. His crime was to speak out against human rights abuses in the early 1990s. When it was clear that he had to leave he came to the UK, and with his powerful testimony he was given full rights to remain. Not a false passport or fake name in sight. Leaving saved his life. Not long after, he was issued with a death sentence in absentia in Algeria.” Wait. That can’t be right. His crime is that he `agreed’ to be tortured? Yes, that made him a threat. However one parses the niceties, Ahsan has watched “an isolated edgy young man turned old through the “slow torture” of these last eight years in the UK. Detained for a total of 57 months in prison – first for the ricin case, for which he was fully acquitted, then detained again based on…? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s called secret evidence and neither Y or his lawyers have any idea what it is.”

This practice of slow torture is particular to women and takes many forms.

In the UK, according to the most recent Prison Reform Trust Fact Files, “The number of women in prison has increased by 60% over the past decade, compared to 28% for men. On 12 June 2009 the women’s prison population stood at 4,269. In 1997 the mid-year female prison population was 2,672. In 2007, 11,847 women were received into prison.” Twelve years of step-by-step, rung-by-rung escalating incarceration of women. Twelve years of silence. Slow torture.

Nadera Shalhoub Kevorkian has been thinking and writing about the slow torture of Palestinian women. Palestinian women have been placed in a condition of betweeness: “we as women are in a state of betweeness, we are kind of border patrolling everything, we are border patrolling the border between the outside and the inside, the private and the public – our bodies, our lives, our future are all in the state of betweeness….Look at the example of the checkpoints …; I was dropping my partner off at his clinic… they stopped us and they put the men on the right side and the women on the left side, and they told the men to raise their hands and body searched them, and we were on the other side, and this kind of not knowing, this uncertainty that we were all living at that moment, this geography of fear that they created in a very small space, our space as women, all of a sudden it became militarized and they kind of stole our space from us. We became exilic in our own space and the men became dehumanized and demonized in front of our very eyes….This militarization … ends up putting us, as women, as boundary markers, so we are the punching bag for the men outside and the punching bag for the men inside, and we want to move and change the situation, but we are in a state of ‘betweeness’.” The checkpoints are the fast and the quick of torture. The slow torture is the state of exile in one’s own home. How many decades of silence before a new language and a new home are fully established?

Slow torture is a product of a particular application of the rule of law to women and men deemed to be foreigners, and so [a] menace to society and [b] meant to be grateful for whatever juridical crumbs they can get.

In California, for example, activists have targeted undocumented residents and their U.S.-born children. They want to cut off public services to undocumented residents, to challenge the citizenship of any U.S. born citizens of undocumented residents, and set harsh new standards for birth certificates. Who’s targeted here? Women. Making pregnant women worry about what will happen, to them and their children, if they go to hospital in labor is that same as shackling women prisoners while in labor and childbirth. It’s criminal, and it happens all the time. It’s slow torture.

Veronica Lopez  is from Guatemala. She lives in California. She lived with a violent and abusive partner. She reported him. He was tried and deported to Guatemala. Lopez then spent nine months in immigration detention, terrified that she would be deported back to the reach of her abusive husband. Only at the eleventh hour, and then some, did the State come through and grant her a U-Visa, which is designed precisely for women in Lopez’s situation. Others have not been so lucky, and have been deported. The state of betweeness for women stretches across the world. The practice of slow torture haunts us.

(Photo Credit: Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice)