In Canada two Mexican women workers win a victory for women workers everywhere!

Since 1973, Canada has run the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, or TFWP. Initially designed to bring in `high-skilled’ and specialized workers, in 2002 it was revised in order to bring in “low-skilled” workers who now make up the overwhelming majority of TFWP workers. Eight years ago, two Mexican sisters took on the injustice of the TFWP and, last week, won a landmark victory for women workers everywhere.

In August 2007, two sisters, now known as O.P.T. and M.P.T., left Mexico to work in Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. They were employed by Presteve Foods Ltd, in Ontario, owned at the time by Jose Pratás. At the time Pratás was 74. O.P.T. is now 36 years old, and her sister is 30.

According to both sisters, Pratás immediately started making explicit sexual advances towards O.P.T. and then demanded sex. Whenever O.P.T offered resistance, Pratás would threaten to send her back to Mexico. This was no idle threat. Under the TFWP, “temporary workers” are attached to their employers. In the Spring of 2008, O.P.T. fled Presteve, moved to Windsor for a bit, and then returned to Mexico.

In the Spring of 2009, the CAW-Canada union, now called Unifor, filed a brief with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, on behalf of 39 Thai and Mexican women workers employed at Presteve. Then things moved both quickly and slowly. Pratás was charged with 23 criminal charges of sexual assault and five counts of common assault, all involving women “temporary foreign workers”. In March 2010, Pratás pleaded guilty to one count of assault, and received a conditional sentence and some probation.

Ultimately, of the original 39 claimants, only O.P.T. and M.P.T. were left to challenge the power of Presteve Foods, Jose Pratás and the entire Temporary Food Works Program.

Last Wednesday, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario handed down its decision and awarded O.P.T. a record $165,000 as compensation for “injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect”. The Tribunal also awarded M.P.T. $55,000. Pratás and Presteve Foods, now owned by Pratás’s son, must pay the two sisters $220,000 for having created a “sexually poisoned work environment”.

After the hearing, O.P.T. said, “I want to tell all women that are in a similar situation, that they should not be silent and that there is justice and they should not just accept mistreatment or humiliation. We must not stay silent. [As a migrant] one feels that she or he has to stay there [in the workplace] and there is nowhere to go or no one to talk to. Under the temporary foreign worker program, the boss has all the power – over your money, house, status, everything. They have you tied to their will. It has been 8 years to obtain justice but 8 years and justice is finally here today.

If we don’t do what they say, they have the power to deport. We are obligated to work. Not as people, but as slaves. We endure wage theft, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and our bodies are injured because of the stress of the work. They push and push us. How can you say that we are free when in practice we have no right to leave?

“But how can we leave, if we cannot work for another employer. They harm us, and then they send us home. There is racism underlying their treatment of us. How is this allowed in Canada? That happened to me eight years ago, and the system is still the same. Treat us with dignity. Not as animals. But as human beings who merit respect.

Even when we have been humiliated and mistreated, we have to hang on to our dignity. That is all we have.”

Canada created a system in which workers were tied, handcuffed, to their employers, in which workers were forced into almost complete dependence on employers. Employers then sought women workers, whom, by law, they are allowed to pay less for the same work as male workers in the program. Women in the caregivers’ program suffer the same violence.

O.P.T’s and M.P.T.’s victory is a victory for women workers across Canada and around the world, as they struggle with the violence of `national economic growth.’ We have to hang on to our dignity. That is all we have.

 

(Photo Credit: thestar.com)

End State terrorism: Free Nestora Salgado now!

 


Women are organizing a revolution in the highlands of Guerrero, in southwestern Mexico. They are mobilizing and militating in self-defense. They are organizing to protect and extend women’s rights and power at home, in the streets, in the State. They are saying, “¡Ya basta!” Enough is way too much. They are calling women from across Mexico to join with them. These are the rank and file and the comandantes of the Community Police Forces. Nestora Salgado is one of the many women in this growing revolution.

At the age of 20, Nestora Salgado left her home town of Olinalá, Guerrero, and moved to the United States. She left for a better life for herself and her three daughters, and she left to escape a physically abusive husband. Ending up in Renton, Washington, Salgado worked as a domestic worker, at first; sent her daughters to school; divorced her husband; obtained U.S. citizenship; remarried.

At a certain point, Salgado started returning, twice a year, to Olinalá. Initially, she returned to maintain family ties, and to bring material goods to the family, and then to the community. In Olinalá, Nestora Salgado witnessed the ravages of the so-called War on Drugs, which had translated much of the narco-violence to the countryside. She saw the government collude with drug cartels. She saw her community crushed by a political economy of violence, consisting of murder, rape, kidnappings, and wall-to-wall terror and intimidation. She saw violence intensifying, poverty deepening and expanding, and a pervasive sense of abandonment.

Nestora Salgado declared, “¡Ya basta!” She joined a local indigenous community police force. While many in the international press refer to such forces as “vigilante”, in fact their existence is codified in the Mexican Constitution and Guerrero legislation. Initially, Salgado’s security force received major funding from the State of Guerrero. Salgado was elected regional comandante.

Within the first ten months of her tenure, the community police broke the hold of the ruling local gang. Homicide, and most crimes of violence, dropped drastically. Kidnapping practically vanished. And women joined the struggle and moved up through the ranks. Women changed both the war zone of the everyday and the social relations of their own communities.

Then Salgado began investigating and arresting local officials, for their criminal involvement with the cartels. Suddenly, Nestora Salgado went from hero to `terrorist.’ On August 21, 2013, she was arrested and charged with kidnapping. She was carted off to the federal maximum-security prison in Tepic, Nayarit, hundreds of miles away. Despite having been acquitted of those charges, she has been held in Tepic, often in solitary, for almost two years. She has had no trial. She has been denied access to medical treatment.

On May 5, Salgado began a hunger strike. After much dithering and handwringing, and no acknowledgment of the previous two years’ ordeal, the National Commission on Human Rights weighed in, and the so-called Human Rights division of the Ministry of the Interior announced, yesterday, that Salgado would be moved out of Tepic and to a prison closer to her lawyers, family, and comrades.

Nestora Salgado is one of many. Every day, Olinalá and the mass grave of Ayotzinapa grow closer. The number of political prisoners rises as violence against journalists intensifies.

As the violence intensifies, so do the demands for freedom and justice. Nestora Salgado has put it succinctly, “They will not break me and I will not ask forgiveness of anyone.” Indigenous women are organizing and militating. #NestoraLibre appears everywhere. Freedom for Nestora Salgado! Freedom and justice for all indigenous women!

I’m not afraid of the hired guns or of organized crime. I’m afraid of the State, for the State will disappear me. It’s the State that attacks us.” Nestora Salgado understands that when “organized crime” attacks Olinalá, it’s the State attacking. And when the State attacks … it’s time to fight back. The women of Olinalá demand freedom for Nestora Salgado and for all who stand with her: Release from prison, freedom from State terror and violence … now!

 

(Photo Credit: La Jornada / Sanjuana Martinez)

In the land of secrets, the butcher is king

California sterilized women prisoners without consent; Tennessee criminalizes pregnant women who take drugs. These policies go beyond cruelty; they institutionalize and normalize the dehumanization process in a large scale. Here are three recent examples from inside the border, at the border, and outside the borders of the United States.

In Oklahoma on Tuesday, a death row inmate was scheduled to die.

Since 2005, the European Commission has imposed restrictions on the export of anesthetics that may be used “for capital punishment, torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” But in the United States, executions must proceed. So, States came up with a secret new deadly cocktail of drugs to kill. The recipe is secret, but not the process of keeping it secret, especially since the two Oklahoma inmates sentenced to die challenged the secrecy weeks earlier.

After Tuesday’s execution, reporters and commentators made it clear, the man tortured to death, tased earlier in the day, had committed a heinous crime. And so butchering him was justified. The business of justifying the cruelty came with the help of numbers and statistics. On the PBS News Hour, Roy Engert recommended we put the issue in perspective, since only 3% of executions encountered problems. Engert’s unchallenged remark validates torture cases as just so many numbers in a deficit account.

On the US – Mexico border, US border patrols are under investigation for having recently killed more people than ever before. An independent review, leaked to the Los Angeles Times, considered 67 shootings by US Border patrols at the Mexican border between January 2010 and October 2012. These resulted in 19 civilian deaths.

The report was going to remain secret, as well as the policies and practices that allowed US patrol to shoot at Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a 16 year-old boy who was on his way home. He was on the other side of the fence, in Mexico. The officers on the US side shot him 10 times. He was killed with two bullets in his head and then butchered with eight more bullets in his back. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in the past three years, they have shot across the border and killed six people inside Mexico.

U.S Customs and Border Protection explained they opened fire because people in Mexico were throwing rocks and one hit their patrol dog. That explanation exposes the level of dehumanization that has normalized the use of lethal weapons against people who have been made ever more vulnerable, thanks to border fortification, intensified immiseration, and expanded displacement, all in the service of NAFTA and neoliberal development.

Outside the borders, drone strikes, to kill human targets, are carried out by the US Air Force for the CIA with the help of the NSA. As one US Air Force personnel declared, “I cannot tell you what I am doing, but I can tell you that’s super-secret.” The operations are super-secret, but the fact of the secrets is quite public.

What is secret is the name and location of the future victims. The entire process reflects US drone program whose impunity has been intensified and broadened in recent years. In the United States, every week, Tuesday is “Terror Tuesday,” the day when it is decided who will die in Yemen or Pakistan. US agents establish a list of potential victims determined through their “pattern of life,” a series of behaviors identified as potential signs of militant activities.

These various secretive methods are as dubious as the lethal drug cocktail in Oklahoma. Many stories have related how civilians in a wedding, or in a field, women and children, have been butchered by a robotic drone attack.

All these stories are linked by what Denis Salas has called the three characteristics of moral indifference: unlimited authorized use of violence, normalization of acts of violence, and dehumanization of targets. These stories reveal the power of secrecy to serve a neoliberal global disorder. Beyond cruelty, the scale of dehumanization is both intimate and global.

 

(Photo Credit: Paul Ingram / Tucson Sentinel)

#YakiriLibre: Tod@s somos Yaki, tod@s merecemos justicia

The case of Yakiri Rubio is a celebrated case in Mexico, which has received practically no attention in the United States or in the Anglophone press worldwide. That’s a shame, because Yakiri’s case articulates with cases in the United State, and with the more general situation of women’s safety and wellbeing.

In December, 20-year-old Yakiri was seized by two men, brothers, and taken to a hotel, where she was raped. Yakiri picked up a knife and struggled with her attackers. She struck one of the attackers in the neck, and he subsequently died of his injury. Clothes ripped, bleeding and bruised, Yakiri fled the hotel, found a police officer, and described what happened. She was taken to the police station. No one believed her. That night in the police station, she received no gynecological examination or any medical attention. No medication, no treatment, no nothing. Then Yakiri was booked for first-degree homicide. The only eyewitness to testify against her is the other brother, also involved in the rape.

Yakiri has been in one prison after another for three months. Her family organized a major campaign. Women’s groups, civil and human rights organizations, and others have mobilized their forces. Yesterday, finally, a judge reviewed the case and decided to downgrade the charge from first-degree murder to self-defense with excessive force. While this downgrade did not absolve Yakiri, it did make her release on bail possible. She was supposed to be released yesterday but, thanks to bureaucratic foot dragging, as of noon today, people were still awaiting her release. Her lawyer, Ana Katiria Suárez, felt pretty confident that Yakiri Rubí Rubio would walk out of prison today, not a free woman, not an exonerated woman, but at least no longer behind bars and caged.

On line and on lampposts and walls, Free Yakiri posters have proclaimed: “#YakiriLibre: La violencia machista es un crimen, que te encarcelen por defenderse tambien”: “#FreeYakiri: Male violence against women is a crime, and they put in jail for defending yourself against it.” In Mexico, women and men understand that Yakiri defended herself against both an immediate physical assault and ongoing structural, cultural, political, economic and societal violence against her as a woman and against all women.

Yesterday, the State announced it will review the cases of women currently behind bars, in the light of Yakiri’s case. There will be others like Yakiri.

This is a Mexican case that speaks to cases worldwide. In Florida, Marissa Alexander shoots a warning shot to stop a murderously abusive partner, and is not only charged but also persecuted by the State. In California, Patricia Norma Esparza was 20 years old when she was raped and then struggled with and killed her rapist. In a preliminary hearing last week, the police argued that Esparza “consented to” being raped, and so it’s all on her.

In each case, the woman was offered a deal, and in each case, the woman turned it down and demanded either a trial or to be let free. From the formal rule of law – the police, the Courts, the prison – to the informal everywhere else, women reject the compromised position and status that is offered to them as a `gift.’ They know: When it comes to ending sexual violence, when it comes to establishing a material world of peace and safety for all, there are no deals. As one demonstrator’s sign read, “#YakiriLibre: Tod@s somos Yaki, tod@s merecemos justicia”. We are all Yaki, we all deserve justice.

 

(Image Credit: https://mediosindependientes.wordpress.com)

Who tied the knot that killed Lucia Vega Jimenez?

42-year-old Mexican immigrant Lucia Vega Jimenez died on December 28, 2013. On December 20, she was found hanging from a shower stall in the `immigration holding center’ at the Vancouver airport. Apparently, she had been hanging, without oxygen, for at least 40 minutes, before she was cut down and sent to hospital. Who tied the knot? Canada. The global system of `immigrant detention’. Everyone.

Everything about Lucia Vega Jimenez’s story is familiar. And it doesn’t end with her death.

In 2010, Jimenez had applied for asylum in Canada, was rejected and deported. She returned to Canada in the Spring of 2013, got a job, off the books, as a hotel cleaner, kept her head down and her nose to the grindstone. Described by a friend as a `ghost’ in Vancouver, Jimenez worked and saved money to send home to her ailing mother, sister and her sister’s three children. In late December, she was picked up for not paying bus fare, and then was flipped over to `the authorities.’ They shuttled her off to jail, and then to the holding cell, a private facility in the basement of the airport, and there she ended her life. While in detention, the money she’d saved `disappeared.’

The CBSA did not release any information for almost a month, and the `information’ has been obstructionist and opaque. So, the world asks questions.

A reporter asked: “How often were detainees checked? Were those checks visual inspections? Were there cameras monitoring the cells? Does the CBSA put out press releases at the death of a detainee (which has happened several times in the past), and is there legislation that bounds the agency to announce the death of a detainee? What is the CBSA policy regarding visitors to the YVR [Vancouver International Airport] holding center? Are lawyers, family, friends, John Howard Society, religious counsel, etc. allowed in?”

No answer was forthcoming.

Friends and advocates want to know what happened. Why did no one see Lucia Vega Jimenez for at least 40 some minutes? The Mexican government wants to know what happens to its citizens in `holding centers’. The Mexican Consul-General, Claudia Franco Hijuelos, has a particular interest: “She was fearful of going back to Mexico – not to the country, but specifically to some domestic situation that she might face. That is why we provided some options for her of transition houses where she might be housed. She considered the options and she chose one of those options. Everything was set for her to fly directly to that city in Mexico where the transition house would receive her.” According to the Consul-General, Vega “seemed to be accepting the situation.”

What happened? The questions of time – how long it took to find Vega, how long it took to `report’ her death – are part and parcel of the structure of gendered indignity for immigrant women. Four years ago, a study on health, access to services and working conditions for undocumented migrants in Canada noted: “The effects of being non-status are invariably gendered. Non-status women have been noted to be extremely vulnerable to poverty, unemployment, poor and unstable living conditions, danger, exploitation, abuse, and high risk or complications during pregnancy. Lack of status limits women’s ability to access information, seek social assistance, counseling or health care, which contributes to their reliance on unsafe and underground employment or informal networks to obtain housing … Generally, non-status women have also been noted to experience more language barriers, social isolation, and fear, in addition to lack of control over partner abuse and the effects of this on their children. In relation to policies, regularization programs and other immigration policies have been noted to reinforce dominant power relations that consequently subjugate women as dependents of their opposite sex partners.”

Lucia Vega Jimenez lived, and died, the life of the undocumented women immigrant. Precarious doesn’t begin to cover it. But she persevered. And the State? The State chose to “reinforce dominant power … that subjugates women.”

 

(Image Credit: http://sanctuaryhealth.blogspot.com)

Laura S. didn’t have to die

 

This is the story of Laura S.

Laura was born in Mexico in 1986. She became involved with a boy, Sergio. Early on Sergio became violent. And Laura stayed with him. At the age of fourteen Laura S. gave birth to their first son, in 2001. She became a resident of Hidalgo County, Texas. She gave birth to two other sons by Sergio, in 2007 and 2005, respectively.

Sergio became increasingly violent and abusive. In March 2003, Laura obtained protection from the local police and courts. Sergio kept harassing Laura. In 2008, she obtained an order of emergency protection. Furious, Sergio returned to Mexico.

On June 8, 2009, Laura S. went out with a cousin and two friends. They were stopped near Pharr, Texas, by a local police officer for a minor alleged driving infraction. The officer then demanded their immigration papers. Only the cousin could produce papers.

“Laura S. began to weep, begging the officer to let her go.”

She explained about Sergio, about the threat to her life. She explained about the protective orders. She explained that her life would be finished, and violently so, if she were returned to Mexico. She talked about her three small children, one of whom was about to have surgery.

The police officer turned the three over to ICE. ICE took the three to Harlingen U.S processing center.

“On the way to Harlingen, Laura S. continued to weep and beg to be released.” More agents came in. Laura explained everything, again, to the federal agents. Laura wept and explained, explained and wept, begged and explained, explained and begged. No one listened.

Laura wept and trembled as she spoke with the agents. No one asked her any questions. No one tried to verify or evaluate her risk of harm. No one explained any of her legal rights to her. If Laura had had a hearing, even in Texas, there’s a good chance she would have been able to stay in the country.

Given the dangers Laura faced in Mexico, a hearing should have been “mandatory and non-discretionary”. Laura never saw Judge or lawyer. Instead, the federal agents decided on their own to ship Laura S to Mexico.

Although the agents intimidated and coerced Laura, she never agreed to go. She continued to beg and explain, to explain and weep, all the way to the Hidalgo/Reynosa international bridge. In the early morning hours of June 9, 2009, a mere few hours after having been stopped, Laura S. was forced to cross the bridge into Mexico.

Within a few days, Sergio found Laura, and slowly tortured and then brutally killed her. On June 14, less than a week after the traffic stop, Laura’s body was found in a burning car. Her mother went to Mexico and testified against Sergio, who was imprisoned. He later escaped.

Now Laura’s mother and her three young children are suing ICE and the Border Police.

Laura S. was forced to cross the bridge into Mexico. What authorizes that force? What is the the force that `gives’ a woman protection only to steal it at the moment its needed? What is the force that refuses to listen to or hear a woman begging for life? What is the force that refuses to recognize its own “mandatory and non-discretionary” rules?

That force is the regime of brothers, the fratriarchy, which underwrites national democratic sovereignty. One law protected Laura, but those federal agents understood that there is a more powerful law. There is the law of force that makes brothers of police agents on one side of a border and a torturer on the other. And the shuttle that binds them is always a woman.

And so Laura S, weeping and begging and explaining and trembling, was forced to cross the bridge. Her mother’s lawyer says, “Laura didn’t have to die.” Tell that to the State.

 

(Photo Credit: Proceso)

Domestics: I am myself and my circumstances

I am a member of a women’s group called Woman, Action and Change. We are part of Tenants and Workers United of Northern Virginia. We are predominantly Latina immigrant and migrant women from all parts of Latin America. Our members include Mexicans, Dominicanas, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Chileans, Argentines, many women from many countries. I am from Nicaragua. I have been living continuously in the United States for only 16 months.

When the group selected me to talk about domestic work, I was worried about how to approach a subject of which I am not an expert and then I remembered an expression of José Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish philosopher, who said: “I am myself and my circumstances” so I decided to approach it from my own experience.

I’m from Nicaragua. My mother came from a poor farming family. As a single mother she raised 5 children alone. My mother was an entrepreneur. She had a store and all of us had to work ever since we could remember. I grew up with the image of a strong, working woman, and in an environment where domestic work was part of an effort to sustain the family. I grew up working and studying, got married and, as my mother did, I took care of my home and my children as part of my duties to support and protect my family.

Antecedents

As we all know, in developing countries, domestic work has been used as a mechanism to preserve machismo. In most of these countries, girls are educated to manage the home and boys are educated to have jobs and participate in the greater world.

Under these conditions, domestic work is a form of subjugation of women because their principle duty is to look after the home. Often, women are exploited and in the case of working women, they work the equivalent of triple shifts in order to manage a career and take care of the home. This represents an obstacle to professional development because many women drop out of school to find jobs to solve the needs of their family. For Latin American women like me, completing household chores in addition to our career responsibilities is a source of identity and pride.

There are countries that have incorporated legislation for domestic workers and social security. In some cases this is an appeal by the ruling parties to provide a progressive image and appear concerned about this part of the electorate marginalized by all public health policies.

This is a way to hide the inability to create better jobs. However, the inclusion of the domestic worker in the social security system provides them with medical care benefits and pension rights.

Domestic work in the USA

In this country domestic work has become a job for immigrant women to allow them to survive and meet the needs of their family. Except for in the movies, where we see an elegant butler, well trained and educated for these tasks, this “profession” seems to be exclusively for poor immigrant women.

A little while ago, the National Domestic Workers Alliance convened in Washington, D.C. This organization deals with the work of humanizing domestic work. It has brought to the table an interesting proposal to give more substance to this career.

Estimates are that the Baby Boomer generation reached 13 million in 2000 and in 2050 will be 27 million. This will require over 3 million healthcare workers to take care of them as they gradually age, making geriatric care a moral imperative for this country. Thousands of people, who have built the economic success of this country, will enter old age alone and without help as a result of globalization and the global economic crisis.

We have heard a lot about the budget cuts to social services in the media and the only proposals for jobs seem to focus on technology. In my opinion, there is no effort being made to support real people living in this country today. This is very irresponsible. Domestic workers can help resolve major societal issues through the care of the elderly, disabled and young members of our community. In the long run, this is much more important for building our quality of life because each of us will eventually be old and need help, too.

Today anti-immigrants accuse immigrants of taking jobs from Americans. I don’t think anyone is taking anything from anybody. The jobs filled by immigrant women, in particular, are low-wage domestic workers. These women work in horrid conditions for the chance to feed their families.

It is important that we discuss the legislative opportunities available to improve working conditions and educational opportunities for domestic workers. Improvements in those areas are connected to the outcomes and improvements in the care and wellbeing of our health, for the elderly, disabled and children. By supporting the development of women we will make our society stronger.

 

(Photo Credit: D.C. Intersections / Kate Musselwhite)

Nobel Women’s Initiative: Statement to condemn the assassination of a women’s human rights defender in Ciudad Juarez

As women Nobel Peace Laureates, we are gravely concerned about the murder of human rights defender Marisela Escobedo Ortiz last 16 December 2010, while she protested the continued impunity in the homicide of her daughter Rubi Marisol Frayre Escobedo.

Rubi’s boyfriend murdered the 16-year-old in August 2008. As demonstrated by numerous national and international reports, the authorities acted in the same manner as they have acted in the last 17 years in reaction to the murder of women: they did not investigate nor punish the assassin, even though her mother provided all proof and even presented the confessed assassin.

We are particularly concerned that Marisela Ortiz Escobedo’s murder took place as we reach the one-year anniversary of the Inter-American Human Rights Court’s judgment against the Mexican State for not preventing and duly investigating the violence against women in Ciudad Juarez – the disappearances, sexual violence, and murders of women as well as the aggression against family members and defenders who demand justice for these cases.

As the Inter-American Court points out in its sentence, Mexico has maintained its discriminatory culture and policies against women, which are the primary cause of femicide and subsequent impunity. Between 1993 and 2001, the years analyzed in the Campo Algodonero judgment, there were 214 registered cases of women murdered in Ciudad Juarez. The journalistic register from 1 January to 15 December 2010 shows 297 women murdered in that same city—an alarming increase. Almost all of the cases go unresolved. Mexican authorities have not initiated the effective implementation of the provisions in the Inter-American Court’s judgment, as evidenced by these unfortunate events.

We know that this is not an isolated case, and that the violence against the human rights defenders who bravely fight against femicide in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua is a constant issue in Mexico.We are alarmed that the demands for justice and the denouncing of gender discrimination threaten the integrity and life of the victims’ families and human rights defenders in Mexico. We know that Marisela Ortiz Escobedo’s family continues to live in imminent danger.

We call on the government of Mexico to take action, without delay, to ensure justice, effectively comply with the Campo Algodonero judgment, and prevent any attacks on the families of the victims and human rights defenders.

Betty Williams, Ireland (1976)

Mairead Maguire, Ireland (1976)

Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Guatemala (1992)

Jody Williams, USA (1997)

Shirin Ebadi, Iran (2003)

Wangari Maathai, Kenya (2004)

For more information, please contact: Rachel Vincent, Nobel Women’s Initiative 613-569-8400, ext. 113 or 613-276-9030

 

Thanks to Just Associates and the Nobel Women’s Initiative for sharing this, and for their work and labor. This first appeared here: http://www.nobelwomensinitiative.org/images/stories/Mexico/STatement_Jan_17_2011.pdf

Children are disappearing, into the night, into the fog

Children are disappearing. Sometimes spectacularly. Sometimes silently. Sometimes `without notice’. That children are disappearing is not new. Children asylum seekers and children of asylum seekers have been disappearing into detention centers in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Greece, and elsewhere. In Australia, imprisoned children of asylum seekers are disappearing into the tortured self mutilation that must serve as a kind of escape from their current everyday circumstances.  Children of incarcerated mothers are disappearing in South Africa, Scotland, the United States and elsewhere. Children in schools are disappearing into seclusion rooms, aka solitary confinement.  In the United States, children of undocumented residents are disappearing, shipped like so much baggage, back to Mexico and parts unknown, often on their own.  In Jamaica, girl prisoners disappear into prison fires that were altogether predictable and preventable.  None of this is new. We have discussed this and more before. The events are not new nor is the failure to take responsibility.

Children are disappearing. Sometimes spectacularly, sometimes silently, other times `without notice’.

In England, an inquest opens today. It’s the second time around for this inquest. It concerns the death in custody, in August 2004, of Adam Rickwood. Adam was 14 when he was found hanging in his cell at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, a private prison run by Serco, the same people who run Yarl’s Wood in the UK and all the immigrant detention centers in Australia, most notoriously Villawood.

When Adam Rickwood, who had never been in custody before, refused to go to his cell, he was `forcibly restrained’ with `a nose distraction’, a violent and invasive chop to the nose. Hours later, he was found dead, hanging, in his cell. At the first inquest, in 2007, the coroner refused to let the jury decide if the restraint constituted an assault.  It took thirteen years of struggle on the part of Adam’s mother, Carol Pounder, before the first hearing took place. Dissatisfied with the complete opacity of the system, she continued to push, and finally, finally a second inquest has been ordered. That starts today. Adam Rickwood would be thirty years old now.

Meanwhile, across England, there are 6000 children whose mothers are incarcerated, and, basically, no one officially knows their whereabouts. According to the Prison Advice and Care Trust, or PACT, they are “the forgotten children.”  According to PACT, the mothers of 17,000 children are in prison, and of those, 6000 are not in care nor are they staying with their fathers. They are `forgotten.’ Children are disappearing, some into the night, others into the fog.

At the same time, in Ireland, eleven unaccompanied children asylum seekers went missing last year.  Six have yet to be found.  Between 2000 and 2010, 512 unaccompanied children seeking asylum were `forgotten’. Of those, only 72 were ever found by the State. Forgetting children is not an exception, it’s the rule, when the children are children of color, children of asylum seekers, children of the poor, children in prison.  Children of strangers, children of neighbors are disappearing, into the night, into the fog.

In the United States, Phylicia Simone Barnes is a 16 year old honor student from Monroe, North Carolina. In December, she was visiting Baltimore, thinking of attending Towson University, a local university. Phylicia went missing on December 28. There has been little, very little, media attention, despite the efforts of family, the Baltimore Police Department, and the FBI to draw attention to this case.  Why? Baltimore Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi thinks he knows the reason: “”I can’t see how this case is any different from Natalee Holloway. Is it because she’s African-American? Why?” When teenager Natalee Holloway disappeared, on holiday in Aruba, there was a `media frenzy.’ For Phylicia Simone Barnes, who is Black, there is fog. She is a forgotten child.

Christina Green was born on September 11, 2001, to Roxanna and John Green, in West Grove, Pennsylvania. She was one of the 50 Faces of Hope, faces of children born on that fateful day.  Like Phylicia Simone Barnes, Christina was a star student, an engaging child, bright, mature, `amazing’. She was killed on Saturday, in a volley of gunfire apparently directed primarily against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

What becomes of hope when a Face of Hope is lost? Children are disappearing, sometimes spectacularly, amidst blazing gunfire, sometimes through a policy of practiced omission and amnesia.  In the moment, the route of spectacle or silent lack of notice seems to matter. But in the end, they are all forgotten children, and they haunt the days and ways of our world.

 

(Photo Credit: BBC.co.uk)

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)