Trying to kill DCQ18 and Ali: Australia is still not shocked by the torture of innocents on Nauru

Wednesday, June 20, was World Refugee Day. Some 65 million people are refugees, out of a global population of  7.6 billion. Congratulations, world. While eyes rightly and firmly fixed on the horror show that is the United States reception of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, with an occasional glance at the horror show that is the Italian reception of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, it would be understandable if you missed this week’s horror show that is Australia’s ongoing torture of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. This week, the week of World Refugee Day, Australia allowed a dying man to leave Nauru for palliative care in Australia. This week, Australia was forced to allow a Somali refugee permission to go to Australia for necessary and lifesaving medical attention. There are 65 million refugees. These are two.

Ali is a 63-year-old Hazara refugee father of six who has spent five years on Nauru. He is in the last stages of advanced lung cancer. He has pleaded for months to be allowed to go to Australia where he might get decent care. The Australian government refused. Thousands of Australian doctors pleaded to have Ali transferred to Australia. No dice. Faith groups, activist groups, women’s groups, sports groups, and individuals mobilized. The Australian government refused. Finally, today, Ali was moved to Australia. Ali is a formally recognized refugee. Nevertheless, he only gains passage when he’s about to move onto the next realm. What is asylum in that world, in our world?

A 30-year-old pregnant Somali woman, known as DCQ18, has also been on Nauru for five years. She too is a formally recognized refugee. She is twelve weeks pregnant. She is a survivor of infibulation, also known as female genital mutilation. She has tried to commit suicide. She is persuaded that pregnancy and childbirth would be fatal. Doctors agree. She wants to terminate the pregnancy. Doctors agree that that would be a good thing for her, in the circumstances. Abortion is illegal on Nauru. Australia has offered Taiwan as a solution. Doctors agree that Taiwanese doctors, though first caliber, have no experience in treating women who have undergone infibulation. The court agreed, and DCQ18 will be transferred to Australia for medical care. Australia formally recognized DCQ18 as a refugee in November 2014, and since then she’s been dying on Nauru.

This week, Iranian refugee and prisoner on Manus Island for the past four years, Behrouz Boochani, wrote, “The one thing that remains consistent over all this time is the unrelenting affliction. We are forgotten people discarded on forgotten islands. The question remains: “Who will be the next to be sacrificed? Whose death will enable our innocent voices to be heard in the media again? Whose death will function as another message to the world that we are locked up in these island prisons?”

Looking over the detritus of Holocaust death camps, philosopher Giorgio Agamben saw the work of homo sacer: “he who is exiled from political belonging, exposed to persistent structural violence and the risk of a meaningless death.” This year, Australian feminist historians Catherine Kevin and Karen Agutter looked at the mess of Australian immigration policy and saw the work of femina sacer: “subject to extreme reproductive coercion, bereft of political belonging and politically meaningful only insofar as they convey a warning to those who would travel to Australia by boat to seek asylum.”

Australia casts a shadow on the U.S. – Mexico border as that border casts a shadow on the Mediterranean as the Mediterranean casts its shadow on the waters around Australia. At the center of that shadow is a darkness and a silence, an insistence that the violence committed against some particular people means less than nothing, that their deaths mean less than so much dust and ash to be swept off and forgotten. The work of asylum seekers once had something to do with life-to-come. Now, they are forced into the administration of their own endless, agonizing dying. That must end … now. Shut down the detention centers today.

 

(Photo credit: The Guardian)

Where are the girl refugees, asylum seekers, children?

The United States government launched a new, and to many eyes and ears, fascist program for asylum seekers and people crossing into the United States. Touting questionable lines from the Bible and making false claims about the law, Trump and Sessions have proudly announced a zero-tolerance program, ignoring the catastrophic history of such programs in the past, in which everyone is charged with a criminal offense and sent to Federal prison. If they are with children, the children are taken from the parents, often by force, and sent off, with the excuse that “the law” says that children can’t go with their parents to prison. There is no such law, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is `deterrence.’ What matters is the imposition of force and violence on the most vulnerable.

Stores have been turned into giant child detention centers, and military bases are being turned into child prison camps. One former store in Brownsville, Texas, is currently holding 1500 boys… or it was a week ago. Today, probably more. According to Rochelle Garza, an immigration attorney based in Texas, “What’s happening is atrocious. It’s really unbelievable to separate a child from their parents, children as young as five. The parents don’t know where their child ends up. They’re being pushed through the criminal system and immigration system without any knowledge of where their children are and their children don’t know where their parents are. That’s against the whole point of unaccompanied minor reunification process. The whole thing is garbage right now. The kids are not being sent to any parent. It doesn’t make any sense.” Meanwhile, prison staffs and administrators are complaining that they’re not ready to “handle” the influx of children. Children.

Where are the girl refugees, asylum seekers, children in this unholy mess? We see pictures, such as the one above, of girl infants, toddlers, children weeping, crying, screaming, trembling, and then … they’re gone. Into the night and fog. Where are the girls? Is anyone paying any attention to the specific needs and identities of girl children? Yesterday, the Office of Refugee Resettlement updated its “Fact Sheet”. Here’s the one sentence that in any way alludes to gender: “In FY 2017, approximately half of all children referred were over 14 years of age, and over two-thirds were boys.” That is the full extent of the Office’s concern for girls. Nothing. Less than nothing.

Children and parents are entering the United States together. The children are not “unaccompanied minors” until they are ripped from their parents’ arms, arms which lovingly protected them on the long and arduous journey to the north. Now those children are being shipped like so much freight, sent hither and yon across the country with less than no regard for the children or for their parents or grandparents. In response, the State quotes the Bible. Where are the girl refugees, asylum seekers, children in this unholy mess? A specter haunts the United States, and it is that of the disappeared.

 

(Photo Credit: Slate / John Moore / Getty)

#NiUnaMenos: In Argentina women made history by insisting women’s autonomy must matter


In Argentina today, the lower legislative house, la Cámara de los Diputados, after long and intensive debate, voted to decriminalize abortion. The vote was 129 in favor, 125 opposed. The bill now goes on to the Senate, which is not expected to pass, but these days … who knows? Across Latin America and the Caribbean, where 97 percent of women live in countries with restrictive abortion laws, today’s legislative step by the Argentine lower house is viewed as a clear breakthrough, a historicmoment. Around the world, women and their supporters are watching and hailing the event as historic as well. Today’s vote is historic because of what it portends for women’s access to real reproductive health services, rights and power. Today’s vote is equally historic because it indicates that women are making historic, step by step, year by year. Today’s Argentine vote occurred at all because of the work of Ni Una Menos and their supporters, who began breaking rules and making history when they refused to accept femicide and other forms of violence against women as an “unfortunate but inevitable” aspect of Argentina machismo. They said, No more! They yelled, Ni una menos! And they have caused the ground to tremble and the walls to shake. Ni una menos! #NiUnaMenos!

Two years ago, in October, under the banner of Ni Una Menos, women declared a general strike against all violence against women. Women had already been organizing against violence against women for two years. Argentine women had been organizing as well for thirty years, in various encuentros and other structures. They decided, Enough is enough! They organized the first national women’s strike in Argentine history, and they shut the nation down. At the time Ni Una Menos argued, “Behind the rise and viciousness of the femicidal violence lies an economic plot. The lack of women’s autonomy leaves us more unprotected when we say no and so leaves us as easy targets for trafficking networks or as `cheap’ bodies for both the drug and the retail markets … While the average unemployment in Argentina is 9.3 percent, for women it is 10.5.” At the center of the web of intersections lay women’s autonomy.

Two years later, Ni Una Menos women, and their supporters, brought that argument to halls of Argentina’s congress. They filled the streets. They told story after story after story of those who had had to endure the pain and danger of illegal abortions. Studentsled, occupying schools, filling the streets. Workers joined in. From the mass demonstrations two years to today’s vote, the women of Argentina, as an organized self-identified autonomous political movement, have mobilized in every way, day by day by day. They have taken the stories and turned them into educative moments. They have taken the educative moments and turned them into votes. They have taken the swords and plowshares and turned them into women’s power. At the center of all this is the simple and complex understanding that women’s autonomy lies at the center of everything … or there is nothing.

When today’s vote was announced, the shouting inside and outside the legislature was described as “louder than when Lionel Messi scores a goal.” Today’s vote was historicand, for some, revolutionary. In Argentina today, women made revolutionary history possible, once again, by insisting and forcing the State to take on that women’s autonomy must matter. Ni Una menos! #NiUnaMenos

 

(Photo Credit: Pagina12 / Bernardino Avila) (Image Credit: Le Monde)

Claudia Patricia Gómez González, Razan al-Najjar: Two facing mirrors in the labyrinth we are

Claudia Patricia Gómez González

“Let us enter into the nightmare, into nightmares …. It only takes two facing mirrors to construct a labyrinth” Jorge Luis Borges

Razan al-Najjar was buried on Saturday, June 2, in Gaza. On the same day, June 2, Claudia Patricia Gómez González was buried in Guatemala. According to some reports, both Razan al-Najjar and Claudia Patricia Gómez González were 20 years old. Israeli soldiers shot Razan al-Najjar in the chest and killed her. A US Customs and Border Patrol shot Claudia Patricia Gómez González in the head and killed her. From militarized border to militarized border, slaughter of the innocents is the order of the day. The torture and murder of young unarmed women trying to make the world a better place is our contemporary fearful symmetry.

Claudia Patricia Gómez González was Mayan Mam, enjoyed life, studied hard. She grew up in San Juan Ostuncalco, a largely poor indigenous community outside Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, where she was raised mostly by women relatives. By all accounts, Claudia Patricia Gómez González was both happy and ambitious. She studied accounting, obtaining a certificate in 2016. She couldn’t get a job. She applied to Guatemala’s only public university and was rejected. Her only local option, educationally, was to attend a private university, which was beyond her family’s financial means. And so Claudia Patricia Gómez González headed north, crossed the Mexico – US border, and then was shot and killed. The US Customs and Border Patrol first tried to lie, claiming that Claudia Patricia Gómez González was armed, that she assaulted an officer. Fortunately, a nearby resident caught much of the events on her cellphone, and so, without explanation, the agency changed its story. Now it claims it will investigate. Claudia Patricia Gómez González’s family know better. Her aunt, Dominga Vicente, explained, “This is not the first person dying in the United States. There are many people that have been treated like animals and that isn’t what we should do as people. Don’t treat us like animals.” Another aunt, who wants to remain anonymous, added, “She wanted to live her dreams, make something of her life. I was waiting for her to call, but the call I got was to tell me she was dead. This is a nightmare. I am so sad.” Claudia Patricia Gómez González’s mother, Lidia González, wonders, “Claudia was a good girl and a good student. My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, it’s not fair that immigration killed her – why did they do that?” Why did they do that?

Razan al-Najjar was locally well known when she was killed. Razan al-Najjar worked as a volunteer emergency medical worker at the border separating Gaza and Israel. She always wore a white paramedic’s uniform when she served as a medical worker. She was well known at the demonstrations, rushing in to help anyone injured. She did this to help people, to make the world a better place, and to promote the advancement of women, everywhere but in particular in Gaza. Razan al-Najjar said, “Being a medic is not only a job for a man. It’s for women, too.” According to one eyewitness, Razan al-Najjar rushed to help an elderly man who had been hit in the head by a tear-gas canister. According to others, Razan al-Najjar and other paramedics were walking, arms raised, towards the fence in order to evacuate injured protesters. In either case, Razan al-Najjar was shot in the chest by an Israeli soldier … indisputably. A month before she was murdered, Razan al-Najjar explained, “We have one goal, to save lives and evacuate people. And to send a message to the world: Without weapons, we can do anything.” Razan al-Najjar’s mother, Sabreen al-Majjar, mourns: “I want the world to hear my voice … what’s my daughter’s fault? She will leave a large emptiness at home.”

There is a large emptiness left in so many homes today, around the world.

Some think that when two mirrors are placed opposite each other, they create infinity, a reflection that passes back and forth endlessly. The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges knew better. He knew that two mirrors create a labyrinth, and that that labyrinth is not only the stuff of nightmares, it is nightmare itself, at the center of which is a monster, part human part beast. In the depths of Argentina’s dirty wars, Borges understood that the cruelty and violence at the heart of the labyrinth was not necessarily that of the human nor that of the beast. We are the nightmare, we are the monster at the heart of the labyrinth, we are the labyrinth itself, and Claudia Patricia Gómez González and Razan al-Najjar are the reflecting mirrors that did not create the labyrinth but were instead shattered by it. Rest in peace Claudia Patricia Gómez González. Rest in peace Razan al-Najjar. There is a large emptiness left today; why did we do that?

Razan al-Najjar

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian) (Photo Credit 2: 972 Magazine)

Why does the United States hate Roxana Hernández?

Roxana Hernández

Roxana Hernández died, or was murdered, last Friday. Roxana Hernández was a 33 year-old transgender woman from Honduras. Roxana Hernández was one of about 60 transgender women who participated in the migrant caravan that brought together asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The vast majority were from Honduras, because Honduras is the epicenter of violence in Central America, and in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and all gender nonconforming people. Some call it the Refugee Caravan, and others call it the Stations of the Cross Caravan. Having traveled over 2000 miles – on foot, by train, by bus – Roxana Hernández arrived at the United States border where she presented herself, applied for asylum, was detained and thrown into the infamous icebox for five days, transported to a detention center, transported to a hospital, transported to death. Roxana Hernández did not die of pneumonia nor did she die of HIV-related causes. She was murdered, by the United States. The Stations of the Cross begin with betrayal. We betrayed Roxana Hernández and condemned her to a slow, agonizing, torturous death.

Roxana Hernández fled the general violence of Honduras and, especially, the violence against transgender women. Hers is the story of hope. She made it to the United States. On May 9th, she presented herself as an applicant for asylum. She was held for five days in the freezing cells, known as the icebox. Three years ago, the American Immigration Council reported on the deplorable, abusive, inhumane conditions in the cells known as the icebox. At that time, three years ago, the Council noted that the conditions of the icebox had been decried in 2013, and then again before that. Last year, Amnesty issued a report describing Honduras as one of the most dangerous places on earth for transgender women. In their report, Amnesty noted that the violence against Honduras was [a] not new and [b] had been fully documented for years. None of this is new, and none of it is surprising. Roxana Hernández should have been an easy and welcome candidate for asylum. Instead, she was dumped into a freezer.

After five days, Roxana Hernández was transferred. She had physically, emotionally and spiritually deteriorated terribly in the short span of five days. On May 17, Roxana Hernández was transported to the hospital. On May 25, Roxana Hernández was dead. In their report, ICE agents identify Roxana Hernández as Jeffry Hernández. Even in death, Roxana Hernández was not allowed even a scintilla of dignity … and that is precisely the point. Her name was and is Roxana Hernández, and her friends called her Roxy.

According to Pueblo Sin Fronteras, Al Otro Lado and Diversidad Sin Fronteras, who together organized the Caravan, “Roxy died due to medical negligence by US immigration authorities. In other words, she was murdered, much like Claudia Gómez González was murdered by a Border Patrol agent’s bullet less than a week ago. Roxy died in the country she had sought to start a new life in, she died for being a transgender woman, a migrant who was treated neither with respect nor with dignity.”

This is the land of #JusticiaPara and #JusticeFor. #JusticiaParaRoxana. #JusticiaParaClaudia. #JusticeForRoxana. #JusticeForClaudia. A land without mercy, redemption, love or humanity. A land where we greet the vulnerable, the stranger, with death by freezer or death by bullet. And all the people shall say, Amen.

 

(Photo Credit: Guardian / Transgender Law Center)

Across the United States, children living with disabilities face the torture of school seclusion

In Loudon County, Virginia, 13-year-old Gigi Daniel-Zagorites lives with Phelan-McDermid syndrome, “a disorder that hampers her ability to speak.” In her middle school, one day in September, a fellow classmate took a picture of Gigi being “secluded”. Someone, teachers presumably, took a bookcase and a cabinet and built an enclosure in the corner of the classroom. Gigi was dumped in there, and two adults stood, or sat, guard. In the picture, Gigi is trying to get out or at least see over the barricades. Months later, her mother, Alexa Zagorites, is still asking questions and still getting no answers. Gigi Daniel-Zagorites and her mother are objects of the national pogrom against children living with disabilities. Like so many others, both Gigi and her mother refuse to be or become the victims that national policy intends for them.

Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Disability Rights Center released a report concerning the abusive seclusion and restraint of a 14-year-old child, called Zach, at the Sununu Youth Services Center. First, Zach was dumped into seclusion which led to two staff members throwing Zach to the ground and “restraining” him face down there. The staff fractured the child’s shoulder blade. Despite New Hampshire law, the restraint and, even more, the injury was not reported for two months. Months later, the Sununu Center continues to withhold information. New Hampshire has “restraint and seclusion” laws, but they all rely on the staff to self-report. The levels of violence form a network of threads of immediate, intimate violence and those of structural violence, all held together by the violence and suffering of family, friends, and community.

Similar stories have been recently reported in IndianaIowa, Florida, and Arizona, to name a few from only the last month or so. Across the country, children in school learn that living with a disability is a crime. It must be a crime, otherwise why would the adult staff members be punishing them so?

Last month, U.S. Department of Education released a report on school climate and safety for 2015 – 2016. It found that Iowa rates had just about doubled. For example, in 2013, 23 school districts in eastern Iowa had 2514 reported instances of seclusion or restraint. In 2015, that number rose to 4,904. A recent Iowa State report describes Davenport as in “systemic non-compliance” of Federal laws concerning the education of students living with disabilities. According to the report, the situation for students of color in Davenport is particularly dire, systemically so. Both of Iowa’s U.S. Senators are calling for a Federal investigation into the use of seclusion rooms. Davenport’s U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack has called for a ban on seclusion rooms.

The report on school climate and safety merely confirmed what we already know. In a nutshell, students living with disabilities constituted 12% of all students enrolled. 12 percent. That very small sector of students living with disabilities constituted 71% of all students restrained and 66% of all students “secluded.”

What crime have these children committed? What is their terrible sin? Why do we continue to send these children into solitary confinement? Why do we continue to torture those who are most vulnerable? When will we stop this practice? What do you think we’re teaching children, all the children in all the schools, when we torture their classmates and then call it “seclusion” and “restraint”?

 

(Infographic Credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Australia, England, the United States build a global place of torture for migrant children: Tear it down!

Recently the war on children intensified to formally include torture. Australia kidnapped a 17-year-old boy clearly at risk of suicide and dumped him and his mother in Nauru. England faces a law suit for its “catastrophic failure” when it dumped a 16-year-old Vietnamese survivor of labor trafficking into immigration detention, Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre, where he was sexually assaulted. There was no catastrophic failure. There was hostile environment hatred and torture. This week, the United States announced that it would separate immigrant asylum seeking parents and children at the border. According to reports today, the government plans on sending the children to military bases, mostly in Texas. As two psychologists noted today, “The practice of separating families at the border is morally reprehensible and — based on the science — goes against international and U.S. law, because the suffering it inflicts constitutes torture of children.” One shouldn’t need a psychologist to know that the detention of children is bad for them. One shouldn’t need a psychologist or a pediatrician. One need only be human.

Fatemah and her 17-year-old son, Hamid, have been on Nauru for more than five years. Fatemah needs critical heart surgery. She has been waiting 18 months for the surgery. She refused to leave her son behind. Finally, two months ago, both were transferred to Taiwan. While in Taiwan, Hamid was examined. He suffers severe mental illness “caused and exacerbated by his detention.” Against all doctors’ advice, on Tuesday, before sunrise, Fatemah and Hamid were returned to Nauru.

Fatemah described the situation: “I’m a single mother of a 17 year old son. For 17 years I have been both mother and father to him. I fled from violations and insecurity caused by the Iranian government, but I never imagined that me and my son’s spirt would be wounded so deeply at a place of torture made by the Australian government … Look at what the Australian government has done to us! My son says to me, `Let’s attempt suicide together’ … He believes the only way to freedom is in death. I have sympathy for all the mothers and their children who live in Nauru. We are preyed on and our lives are subjected to cruelty … I don’t know what to say about the way the Australian government has treated us. I have been officially accepted as a refugee but still live in a tent. If I was imprisoned as a criminal in a third world country, that government would provide me with basic facilities … I only have these questions for you. Are you treating Australian murderers, rapists and smugglers the way you treat us? Have you kept them in 50 degree heat in a tent where water is dripping from the roof? … How many more people will be sacrificed before the Australian government realises the way it treats us is a crime?”

In England, in 2017, 44 children were detained. Of the 44, 20 were 11 or younger. Of the 44 children, 11 were deported: “The other 33 were put through the ordeal of imprisonment without any `departure’ at the end of it.” That’s the current overall situation. Last week, the story of H, a Vietnamese youth, emerged. At the age of 16, H was trafficked to work on a cannabis farm, in England. He was abused, violated, deeply hurt. Finally he was arrested, charged, convicted, sent to a young offenders’ institution and then on to Morton Hall, where, in 2016, he was sexually assaulted by his cell mate. The staff at Morton Hall did nothing to assist or support H, nor did they investigate. Only when attorneys began calling, recently, did Morton Hall begin to begin an internal inquiry.

H explains his situation: “My time in immigration detention was awful. After this incident, I was really paranoid that other detainees would hurt me all of the time. I felt scared all the time and I found it very difficult to sleep or eat. Morton Hall staff do not protect the detainees. Although terrible things have happened to me in the past, the effect of immigration detention made this even worse.”

This week, the United States announced it would intensify and increase the separation of immigrant children and parents. The government claims that, since October 1,  700 or so children were separated from their parents. Recently, the numbers have risen, and the State promises a steep increase. Mirian, 29 years old, and her 18-month-old child fled violence in Honduras. She reached the border, hoping for asylum, and her 18-month-old baby was taken away: “I had no idea that I would be separated from my child for seeking help. I am so anxious to be reunited with him.”

This is our world: a place of torture where nation-States take children from their parents and dump both in separate hell holes, all in the name of national integrity. The policies are cruel and criminal. When will we stop the torture of the innocents? Who will pay for the damage done to their psyches and souls? How many more will be sacrificed?

 

(Photo Credit: New York Times / Hope Hall / ACLU)

Why does the English government hate Yvonne Williams and Yvonne Smith?

Hostile environment

Why does the English government hate Yvonne Williams and Yvonne Smith? Yvonne Williamsis 59 years old, Black, a grandmother, a Jamaican-born immigrant with no family left in Jamaica. Yvonne Williamshas been in England since 2002. She has been the primary carer for her grandchildren. She has also tended to her 82-year-old mother, who arrived in England in 1962. Yvonne Smith is 64 years old, Black, a grandmother, a Jamaican-born immigrant with no family left in Jamaica. Yvonne Smith has been in England for twenty years. She has been the primary carer for her 92-year-old father, who arrived in England in 1957. Both Yvonne Williams and Yvonne Smith spent the last nine months in Yarl’s Wood, and both were informed last week that they were to be deported any day now. In the past four days, both Yvonne Williams and Yvonne Smith were released from Yarl’s Wood, but the cloud of deportation, intimidation and abuse still hangs over them. What horrible crime have these two blameless Black grandmothers committed? Migrating while Black; living while Black.

The English government has hated so very many women of color, women whom they’ve dumped into Yarl’s Wood, terrorized, and then either `released’ or deported. In the past year, that list includes Kelechi Chioba,  Erioth MwesigwaShiromini SatkunarajahIrene ClennellChennan Fei, Patricia Simeon, Opelo Kgari, Florence Kgari, and Paulette Wilson. Paulette Wilson is 61 years old, Black, a grandmother, a Jamaican-born immigrant who arrived in England at the age of 10, in 1968.

After World War II, England needed labor and so `encouraged’ migration from the Empire and the Commonwealth nations. It passed the British Nationality Act of 1948 which gave citizenship to anyone living in the United Kingdom and its colonies and offered the right of entry and settlement. In June 1948 the HMT Empire Windrush brought 492 people from Jamaica to England. The generation of Afro-Caribbean women, men, children who went to England, to rebuild the country, is known as the Windrush Generation. Paulette Wilson, Yvonne Williams and Yvonne Smith are members of the Windrush Generation.

In 2012, then Home Secretary Theresa May revealed her “hostile environment” plan: “The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration.” In 2014, that plan became law. The problem is that the Windrush generation, including their children, are legal. Being legal doesn’t mean one can’t be, or become, criminalized, especially if one is Black. Recently, the Home Department revealed that it kept “`ambitious but deliverable’ removal targets.” With that revelation, and the flood of stories of Windrush individuals and families, the so-called Windrush Scandal erupted. Now the State has apologized … sort of. Now the State claims that citizenship will endow to members of the Windrush generation, all members of Commonwealth nations who came during the same period, and children of the Windrush Generation. Meanwhile, Yvonne Smith is still being told she might be deported.

The ”hostile environment” is a hateful environment. Its use of health service data to restrict immigration is “a very bad idea”, and intentionally so. The “hostile environment” has spread to other countries in the European Union and to the criminalization of migrants, immigrants, and those who support them: “The hostile environment permeates deeper and it’s very easy once a destabilising environment has been established for it to permeate through the layers to a very low level indeed.” Abusive and violent menare using the “hostile environment” to threaten, control and hurt their partners. None of this is surprising. The “hostile environment” is designed as a reign of terror, which targets women particularly.

It permeates through the layers to a very low level indeed. Hostility identifies its “target” as an enemy. Not an outsider nor a stranger, but an enemy. A “hostile environment” is a declaration of war, and this particular war is being waged on the bodies of elder Black women. Ending the “hostile environment” policy is a small, and necessary, step. The larger step would be to recognize that the “hostile environment” is a “hateful environment”, and then, having named the violence as hatred, address the hatred. Why does the English government hate blameless Black elder women  Paulette Wilson, Yvonne Williams and Yvonne Smith? The hostile environment. It’s not hostility; it’s hatred.

Yvette Williams visits her mother

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Home Office) (Photo Credit 2: Independent)

The specter of forced sterilization haunts California, Peru and beyond

This week, two events returned to center stage the forced sterilization of largely poor women of disenfranchised ethnic minorities. In Peru, former President Alberto Fujimori and three of his Ministers of Health – Marino Costa Bauer, Eduardo Yong, and Alejandro Aguinaga – were told they are being investigated and will face charges for the forced sterilization of five women during his time in office. Also this week, in California, state legislators are debating a bill that would establish a “eugenics sterilization compensation program.” From Lima to Sacramento and beyond, once more, the monster women refuse to stay silently buried underground.

Alberto Fujimori was President of Peru from 1990 to 2000. In 1996 Fujimori modified the so-called General Population Law, incorporating “voluntary” sterilization an acceptable contraceptive method. In 1996, the Reproductive Health and Family Planning Programme was launched. From 1996 to 2000, over 300,000 women were sterilized. The overwhelming majority were poor and indigenous. The overwhelming majority never consented to the procedure. Many didn’t even know it was occurring. Over 2000 cases have been lodged against the sterilizations. As many as 18 women died because of the sterilization procedures. In 2014, Fujimori was cleared of any wrongdoing concerning forced sterilizations. In 2009, Fujimori was convicted to 25 years in prison for human rights abuses. Late last year, at the age of 79, Fujimori was released from prison, because of ill health. This week, he was informed that he would be facing charges concerning forced sterilization.

For fifteen years, Peruvian women have struggled and pushed for this moment. For example, year in and year out, the women’s rights organization DEMUS, Estudio para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer, has documented cases of forced sterilization and called on the government to act. In response to the announcement of forthcoming charges, DEMUS issued a statement, calling the decision “a milestone in the struggle against impunity, one that highlights the national policy of forced sterilization against thousands of Quechua-speaking, peasant, indigenous and native women living in extreme poverty, which perpetrated grave violations of human rights. With their courage and persistence, the 2166 women who, 15 years ago, filed a complaint, today, with this case going into judicial investigation, finally take a step forward towards their right to justice.”

In California, the state legislature is considering a step forward as well. In 1909 California passed laws allowing for forced sterilization. California was one of 32 states that gave allowed for coerced sterilization of those `unfit’ to reproduce. In 1979, California officially banned forced sterilization, but in its prisons, forced sterilization, especially of women, continued until 2010. From 2006 to 2010, 144 women prisoners were sterilized “without proper authorization”. In 2014, California formally banned forced and coerced sterilization of women prisoners … again. By 1979, California forcibly sterilized over 20,000 people.  The Latinx population was targeted. Prior to 1926, Latinos were targeted. From 1926 to 1979, Latinas bore the brunt of the eugenics sterilization program. Latina women and girls were at a 59% greater risk of sterilization than non-Latina women and girls. Needless and necessary to say, the Latina woman and girls were also overwhelmingly poor.

In early April, California State Senator Nancy Skinner introduced SB-1190 Eugenics Sterilization Compensation Program, which would offer compensation to living survivors of California’s sterilization decades. It is estimated that the Compensation Program would involve around 800 survivors, many of whom to this day do not know that they were sterilized. In establishing a compensation program, California would join Virginia and North Carolina.

Finally, “the bill would require the State Department of State Hospitals and the State Department of Developmental Services, in consultation with stakeholders, to establish markers or plaques at designated sites that acknowledge the compulsory sterilization of thousands of people. The bill would also require the board, in consultation with stakeholders, to develop a traveling historical exhibit and other educational opportunities about eugenics laws that existed in the State of California between 1909 and 1979 and the far-reaching impact they had on California residents.”

In both Peru and California, reports of judicial investigation in one and legislative action in the other are woven through mountains of haunting, heartrending accounts of survivors, family members, friends. For decades, these stories have been shrouded and buried in layers of State and public silence. Thanks to women who refused to be stopped, who struggled with courage and persistence, the days of enforced silence about forced sterilization are nearing an end. The time for acknowledgement, reparations, and education is now.

 

(Photo Credit: El Pais / Reuters) (Image Credit: Journalists Resource / Rachael Romero)

What happened to Teresa Gratton? Just another woman lost in Canada’s immigrant detention

 

On October 23, 50-year-old Teresa Michelle Gratton wrote a letter to her husband Herb Gratton, her partner of 32 years, “PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HERE I DON’T BELONG HERE!! HELP ME! HELP ME! PLEASE!!!!!! … I don’t see how they can continue to keep me locked up like a criminal. I have no charges. I had already paid my time for my crime. I’ll leave Canada if that’s what it comes to, but let me out until that’s what’s desided (sic) if it comes to that.” A week later, on October 30, Teresa Gratton – beloved mother, grandmother, wife, life partner, permanent resident of Canada – was “found in medical distress”. Herb Gratton received a phone call, “Your wife died.” That was all that was said. To this day, the family does not know, and demands to know, what happened to their loved one. What happened to Teresa Gratton? The State murdered her. Canada murdered her. The global system of `immigrant detention’ her. To the extent that the system of immigrant detention continues, we all had a hand in murdering Teresa Gratton.

Everything about Teresa Gratton’s story is familiar, the entire spectacular of State indignity, brutality, and silence, with the family’s anguish as backdrop and soundtrack.

Herb Gratton, 58 years old, was born in Canada. When he was 13, he and his mother moved to Nashville, Tennessee. In 1985, he met Teresa. He says for him it was love at first sight. They dated, the moved in together, they started a family. They have three sons, Matthew, now 30 years old; Stan, 27; and Jacob, 24. Matthew and Stan are married with children. After 18 years together, Herb and Teresa were formally married, in 2003. Not long after, they moved to Canada. Herb, Matthew, Stan, Jacob, and all their children, are Canadian citizens. Teresa Gratton had been a legal permanent resident in Canada since 2011.

In 2004, Herb Gratton suffered a back injury. The couple’s financial situation deteriorated. Teresa Gratton worked off and on as a house cleaner. Teresa Gratton lived with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, which resulted in chronic pain, and anxiety and depression. She relied on hydromorphone, an opioid, which she obtained legally.

Teresa Gratton had a series of minor run ins with the criminal justice system. At the advice of her attorney, she pled out. That resulted in Teresa Gratton suddenly ending up in the immigrant detention system. Despite all evidence to the contrary, she was deemed a flight risk, and so was moved from was transferred from the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in London, where her family lives, to the maximum security wing of Vanier Centre for Women, nearly 100 miles away. Herb Gratton doesn’t have a car. No one informed Herbert Gratton of the move. He had no idea where his wife was until she called him from Vanier.

Teresa Gratton was transferred on October 1 or 2. On October 30, she was dead. In the interim, she wrote daily letters to her husband, describing the torturous conditions in maximum security. A former resident recalls Vanier: “You go in wanting to kill yourself and the conditions just make you want to kill yourself more.” A former immigrant detainee of Vanier describes it as “terrible. There is nothing there…. Prisoners can only go outside twice a week for fresh air, for like 5 minutes… that’s it. We didn’t see sun, we didn’t see sky.”

Why was Teresa Gratton sent to Vanier Centre for Women? To die. Since 2000, at least 17 people have died in Canada’s immigrant detention system. In 2013, Lucia Vega Jimenez was found hanging from a shower stall in the `immigration holding center’ at the Vancouver airport. Reporters, friends, advocates asked many questions. Silence. Lucia Vega Jimenez’ case was a cause celebre, and yet here we are, four years later, and Teresa Gratton is dead, and her family, to this day, awaits information, something more than, “Your wife is dead.” Something more than silence. Something to answer their loved one, Teresa Gratton, crying, screaming in agony, “PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HERE I DON’T BELONG HERE!! HELP ME! HELP ME! PLEASE!!!!!!” PLEASE!!!!!!

 

(Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Jackson / Toronto Star) (Video Credit: YouTube / Toronto Star)