Children are being abused in immigration facilities where there is neither justice nor accountability

In July, ProPublica’s investigation of the conditions of immigrant youth shelters found a disturbing number of incidences of sexual abuse in multiple shelters around the United States. Within the past five years, police have responded to 125 calls reporting sex offences at shelters that solely serve immigrant children. Those numbers don’t include the additional 200 calls from more than a dozen shelters that care for at-risk youth. For children who are already facing obstacles, taking the dangerous trek crossing the border with or without their parents, the incidences of being abused by other residents and staff members is continuous traumatization. These children’s centers have received nearly $4.5 billion for housing and other services since the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America in 2014. The high-profile incidents, where staff and residents have acted as predators, have led to arrests. One of the more heinous reports include a youth case worker who was convicted of molesting seven boys over nearly a year at an Arizona, having worked for months without a full background check. 

Substantial changes to protect children or investigate incidences at the shelters have been slow to address the issues in the shelters, to the point of gross negligence.

Late last month, investigators warned that the Trump administration had waived FBI fingerprint background checks of staffers and had allowed dangerously few mental health counselors at a tent camp housing 2800 migrant children in Tornillo, Texas. More recent reports suggest that investigations into reports by migrant children are opened and closed, within alarming speeds. Often within days, or even worse, hours. 

In one incident, a 13-year old named Alex was housed in Boystown, outside Miami. Alex was assaulted by other residents of the facility. After a few days of harassment by the perpetrators, Alex reported the assault to his counselor: “The counselor told him that a surveillance tape had captured the teenagers dragging him by his hands and feet into a room, and that there might have been a witness. But Alex’s report did not trigger a child sexual assault investigation, including a specialized interview designed to help children talk about what happened, as child abuse experts recommend. Instead, the shelter waited nearly a month to call the police. When it finally did, a police report shows, the shelter’s lead mental health counselor told the officers ‘the incident was settled, and no sexual crime occurred between the boys like first was thought among the staff.’ And instead of investigating the incident themselves, officers with the Miami-Dade Police Department took the counselor’s word for it and quickly closed the case, never interviewing Alex.” 

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami reported that it had handled the boy’s case correctly and blamed Alex for the delays. The Archdiocese has received $6 million in Miami just last year to care for 80 children at Boystown. 

Many obstacles are put into place to stop children like Alex from speaking about their assaults. Children are intimidated by their attackers from coming forward, especially if that attacker is a staff member. Staffers at immigrant shelters report or conduct investigations, if at all, at a snail’s pace. Finally, many youth and their families fear reporting to the police, for fear of arrest and deportation. 

Alex’s mother, Yojana, enraged that it had taken nearly three weeks to hear of the incident from staff, immediately wanted to go to the police and demand accountability from the shelter and the attackers, but her status as undocumented made her fearful of retaliation and arrest from ICE. As ICE agents have been arresting parents and family members, or members of their household when they come forward to claim their children — 170 sponsors or people connected to them have been arrested and 109 of those people had no prior criminal record — Yojana and her husband Jairo’s fear of being detained was legitimate. Alex feared his report would delay his release from the center. 

Youth immigrant shelters have received large sums of money from the federal government to take care of children separated from their parents or detained because they came into the country as unaccompanied minors. When those children are hurt or abused while in those shelters, it is this country’s fault, the fault of the citizens who ignore and vilify those same children and their families. It is the non-profit’s fault for taking their money and not investing it in the care of children who are housed and waiting to go to their parents or guardians. The fault lies in the current administration and previous administration who caused the crises in Central America and now refuse to come to terms with the consequences of their actions in creating large populations of asylum seekers.

(Image Credit: ProPublica / Hokyoung Kim)

France’s protest over a gas tax takes on new meaning

Europe has been thrown into disarray for the past several weeks. In France, the Yellow Vests Protests, at first protesting their objection to Macron’s gas tax– a step in the right direction to combat climate change – have now risen to address the needs of poor working-class families, including calls for higher wages, lower taxes, better pensions and easier university entry requirements. While the protests may be co-opted by far-right leaders, especially at the behest of climate-change deniers in large corporations that are to blame for CO2 emissions, Macron’s austerity measures laid the foundation for the Yellow Vests. The gas tax was that straw that broke the camel’s back.

President Macron, a centrist millionaire who has no understanding of the struggles of the working class in France, came into power — thankfully ousting far-right candidate Marie La Pen —  “vowing to face down protestors and drive through long-postponed economic reforms.” His policy reforms were the austerity measures that are sweeping across the globe as capitalist elites consolidate power and wealth and working-class families pay the price. 

In his 18 months in office, Macron has reduced the power of the unions in workplace relations, ending the special benefits enjoyed by railway workers, and made it easier for companies to hire and fire staff. He ended the wealth tax on all assets from property — a whopping 70% cut in the tax for France’s millionaires: “It was meant to boost investment in the economy, but it was seen by many poorer voters as further proof that this former banker-turned-president was still primarily a friend of business, not of the squeezed working and middle class.” The biggest winners of the tax cut has been the richest 1% in France. 

The protests have largely moved hard-left, as demonstrators demand more funding for social programs. It remains to be seen whether far-right leaders will capitalize on the protests for their own gain. Given how close La Pen was to winning in the previous election, it remains to be seen if the shift of economic blame would push on La Pen’s anti-migrant and racist undertones. For now, however, it seems that the anger is at the political elite, who have largely ignored the sufferings of the working-class.

What does this mean for climate change? Attempting to lower CO2 emissions is essential in combating the damaging effects of the planet’s rising temperatures. At the same time, it is necessary that we understand the ways in which capitalism is the driving force of the rise of carbon emissions. The report issued by the United Nations scientific panel on climate change points to the rectification that “requires transforming the world economy within just a few years … Capitalism’s legacy is climate change. It’s logically impossible to claim that capitalism is a sustainable economic system and that climate change is real. Asserting both is the definition of trying to have your cake and eat it too. There is no debate as to who is to blame for climate change. Our economic masters have chosen to accumulate as much money as possibly while spending a sizable chunk on propaganda telling you that the certainty scientists have on this topic is actually just some big liberal hoax perpetrated by Al Gore.” 

The fight for the working-class and for the environment are inherently linked — alongside women’s demand for equality, because women will be damaged the worst by the climate change. The struggles for working class power, women’s power and the environment together require a struggle to end the economic system of capitalism before it consumes all the world’s resources and destroys the earth that we need to survive. Macron’s gas tax will not effectively change the problem. The forces of corporations that destroy the environment are the true culprit of climate change. We must demand and force their end, because if the world is irreparably damaged, if we are all on this sinking ship together, then the capitalists had best worry, not about their bottom line but rather the cliff the global proletariat will through them off of. A specter haunts the environment … 

The impact of Macron’s proposed budget on working people

(Image Credit: Femmes en Lutte 93) (Infographic Credit: BBC)

New Jersey ended its contract with ICE: A week later the retaliation began

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announces new directive concerning collaboration with ICE

On Thursday, November 29, NJ State Attorney General Gurbir Grewalannounced the implementation of new guidelines in New Jersey’s cooperation with ICE. His new directives curtailed local police’s ability to inquire about someone’s immigration status and turn undocumented immigrants over to immigration officials for deportation. The AG said the policy shift is to ameliorate relations between police officials and the immigrant communities where they serve: “No law-abiding resident of this great state should live in fear that a routine traffic stop by local police will result in his or her deportation from this country.”

Yes, it is that easy for states and local municipalities and cities to end their cooperation with ICE. 

Under the new rules, New Jersey police cannot stop or detain anyone based on their immigration status, nor can they ask the immigration status of anyone unless it is part of an ongoing investigation into a serious criminal offense. Further, police cannot participate in ICE raids, and ICE cannot utilize state or local resources. 

The new policy has been the keystone of the Murphy administration, which has been working on revamping police guidelines regarding undocumented immigrants since shortly after he was elected, and said he would make New Jersey a “sanctuary state” during his campaign.

True to its authoritarian nature, a week later, in response to the new directives, ICE conducted “at-large” arrests. In one of the largest raids in the history of New Jersey, officials on Friday announced the arrest of 105 peopleover a five-day period. They began literally right after the Attorney General released the new directive.  

Led by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, the operationresulted in arrests across the state, including 24 in Hudson County, 10 in Middlesex County, 14 in Monmouth County, four in Bergen County, 11 in Passaic County and 6 in Essex County. Those arrested last week were citizens of Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Korea, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Taiwan, Trinidad and Venezuela. 

According to Carlos Rojas Rodriguez, a community organizer for Movimiento Cosecha, which lobbies for expanded rights for undocumented immigrants in the state, including access to driver’s licenses, the new arrests had to be connected to the directive, and called ICE a rogue agency: “It is a shame that while the new AG is trying to create trust between the immigrant community and law enforcement, the ICE director John Tsoukaris is trying to destroy that trust and criminalize immigrants across the state.”

Those arrested were people and citizens of the state of New Jersey, a state that, like New York, has a history of being a melting pot of immigrants, migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees fleeing economic depression, state-sanctioned violence, hoping for a better life for themselves and their children. Almost every resident shares their immigrant story of “Coming to America” with pride and reverence for their family members who made the journey. Those undocumented in the state are no exceptions.  

As a community, now, we must decide whether or not we are going to honor the memories of those who are coming as the descendants of immigrants ourselves, or as prejudiced individuals who have forgotten our collective history of migration. We must also  come to terms with the hypocrisy of the Trump administrationand ICE deportation machine, who would arrest undocumented immigrants in this state but leave those who benefit the Trump business alone to have their labor exploited. 

(Photo Credit: NorthJersey.com) (Video Credit: YouTube)

If men get to run without a shirt on, women should be able to too

In warm weather, running can be hard with extra layers on. As a runner, I know. From May to September, when the weather hits 60-90 degrees every day, I’m not running with a sports bra, shirts and shorts on; I’m removing as many layers as I can so I don’t overheat and harm myself. That means I’m running with just a sports bra and shorts on. My comfort and my health override any preconceived ideas of what women should be wearing while they workout. The same can be said of all women when they’re exercising.

For this reason, Rowan University is wrong to police women track athletes who were exercising while the football team was in practice, and were called out for removing their shirts after a particularly difficult practice. After an afternoon workout of mile repeats in 60-degree weather, the athletes finished their workout in their sports bras, while some male runners ran without shirts on. Can you guess who was told they were distracting the football players? The women.

“I was holding a 5:45 or 5:50 during mile repeats. We were dead and sweaty,” teammate and senior Hannah Vendetta says. Team members recalled that one of the football coaches approached the women’s cross-country coach and told them that the runners were distracting the football players. A few days later, the team learned during an athletics department meeting that “they all had to wear shirts during practice. Also, the cross-country teams were no longer allowed to use the track while the football team practiced. Instead, if they wanted to run in the afternoon, they would need to make do with the Glassboro High School track across the street. Or they could change their practice time.”

The University administration has claimed that there has always been a policy wherein only one sports team at a time has use of the facilities, but students and alumni have disputed the claim that the policy has ever been enforced. In a response to the administration’s explanations, alumna Grace Kaler tweeted, “From the Year 2010-2014, this policy was never enforced. We had always shared the facility. As a former captain, and student-athlete, I am so disappointed to see the sports bra rule still in play, but now to cover it up with this, is extremely disheartening.”

Rowan student Gina Capone heard of the incident from her former teammates and, enraged, posted an article on Odyssey. Her piece took the Athletics Department to task, citing unfair treatment of the cross-country team, policing women’s bodies, and perpetuating a “boys will be boys” culture on campus. The next morning, the post had gone viral, throwing Rowan into the spotlight on the eve of hosting the NCAA Division III regional cross-country championships. The university can profit off of women athletes, while also policing their bodies and what they get to wear when it gets too hot to train?

There is a verbal policy in place – the “shirts required rule” – that supposedly applies to male and female across all sports. According to VP of University Relations Joe Cardona, “The verbal policy was adopted to create standards for all student athletes. We want to keep standards above a normal rec or intramural team. You’re playing a NCAA sport.” But only the women were policed by the “verbal policy”; the men without their shirts on were completely disregarded in the call out.

Thanks to the outrage from Capone’s article, the university has created a new written policy, reversing its stance. “There will be no restriction of sports bras without shirts as practice apparel. By clarifying our support for women’s athletics and its student-athletes, Rowan strongly affirms its commitment to ensuring that women are able to train and perform at the highest levels,” says University President Ali A. Houshmand.

But the underlying issue of policing of women’s bodies remains. A runner is not running without a shirt to attract men nor to distract football players. They are running because it is hot outside, and unnecessary clothing is going to be discarded to maintain an athlete’s comfort level. If you’re so worried about the football players or men getting distracted, set punitive measures for those players. I’m willing to bet grueling wind sprints or any other exercise will teach a player not to ogle another athlete.

Stop policing women’s bodies. They aren’t there for your entertainment. Learn to do better.

 

(Photo Credit: Outside)

In New Jersey, the Monroe School District is Putting Children in Solitary Confinement

Whitehall Elemenary School seclusion room

In New Jersey, Monroe Townships School Districts are using solitary confinement, hidden as “timeout rooms” or “calm-down spaces” to punish children in their school districts. A child who has ADHD and is on the autism spectrum came home from Whitehall Elementary School, recounted to his mother and father that he had, “been put in a room for time out.” When asked to describe the room, he called it a little room, almost like a jail. The truth of it was even worse. When parents visited the school, they were given firsthand views of the time out room, and the description of a jail was generous. “This is solitary confinement,” the father, Scott Reiss said of the padded room. “This is unacceptable.”

The seclusion room is a space sectioned off in a corner of a special needs classroom, with padded walls and floors that are usually found in a gym. The room, as explained by Superintendent Richard Perry, “is utilized in conjunction with special education related services and interventions, involving behavioral disabilities in which students may become violent toward other students and staff and/or causing harm to themselves. Also, other students, who are classified, utilize this space as a means of safety when they feel emotionally overwhelmed.”

But the seclusion room looks more like solitary confinement than a room where disabled students can “calm down.” It doesn’t seem like any student can potentially calm themselves after outbursts in such a small, confined space. Instead, it pushes disabled children in a space where they can neither be seen nor heard. While the superintendent claimed that every parent is informed of the room and a report is filed when a child is put in the room, after Reiss went public with the photos, other parents voiced their concerns because they also didn’t know the room existed.

Instead of padded walls, an inviting space could be infinitely more successful in calming a student. Stephanie Reiss, the child’s mother suggested an area with partial walls, beanbag chairs and child-friendly accommodations: “All I want is a better, acceptable space for the kids to calm down. That’s all I want.”

The use of physical restraint and seclusion techniques on students with disabilities is permitted by a state law enacted by Christie in January before he left office. The measure does not specify what a seclusion space should look like. However, it does require prior written consent of the student’s primary care physician, unless the space is needed in an emergency to keep the student or others physically safe. The state law does not apply to the use of “timeout” which it describes as “the monitored separation of a student in a non-locked setting and is implemented for the purpose of calming.”

Though the bill had wide bipartisan support, it raises questions. Lacking specific guidelines on seclusion or time-out rooms, instances like the padded solitary room in Whitehall can be considered an acceptable form of removing an unruly student.

Even though Superintendent Perry has stated that the room is not used as a punishment, the padded walls and mats look far more punitive than relocating a student to have them calm down. If grown adults are affected negatively from such solitary confinement, why do we subject young children to the same? “This is unacceptable.”

Inside the seclusion room

New Jersey: End your contracts with ICE now!

New Jersey’s counties are making money with their contracts with ICE. That needs to end. Immigration detainees are held at county jails in Essex, Bergen and Hudson Counties. A private detention facility in Elizabeth also holds immigration detainees. In Hudson County, the two decades old contract for housing immigration detainees at the Hudson County jail in Kearny has a potential 2020 end date.

More than 90 percent of the Hudson detainees used to live in New York, and are being housed in the Kearney while their cases are being argued. Hudson County freeholders (a board of elected representatives for the counties in the state of New Jersey, which is unique to the state) voted 6-3 to put a 2020 end date on the contract, requiring freeholder approval if the county wants to extend it further.

Some have argued that the end of the contract would force the relocation of the undocumented to other facilities, at ICE’s discretion. For the 650 immigrant detainees at the jail, that would mean losing access to immigration advocates. According to Jersey City’s immigrant attorney Eugene Squeo, “If I had no contact with any of the detainees, my position would be clear: Close the facility down. The problem is I’ve come to realize these immigrants have legal services provided by New York, and those attorneys have a success ratio of about 50 percent. For detainees who do not have representation, that drops to about 5 percent.”

Other advocacy groups, including the American Friends Service Committee and the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, have long favored ending the contract to house detainees in Hudson County. The criticism that has been heaped upon those who are hesitant to end such contracts has been – surpise — money.

Freeholder Bill O’Dea, who voted against the resolution because he wanted more changes than the potential end date, noted, “Whatever anyone says about not closing the facility, their first motivation is the money. I’m not opposed to keeping this facility open until 2020, but you have to take the profit out. You’ve got to reprogram those dollars to pay for better benefits for the detainees.”

Exactly how much money do these counties make by housing detainees? On July 11th, Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholder voted 5 to 2 to approve a new 10-year contract giving ICE the authority to continue detaining 800 immigrants in Kearny, New Jersey. The new contract would raise the rate that ICE pays the county from $77 inmate per day to $120 per day. If all 800 beds are kept full, the county stands to make $35 million per year.

The County Freeholders are well aware of the abysmal conditions inside Hudson County Correctional Facility where ICE pays for the space. In the past year alone, four people detained their committed suicide. Numerous reports document the inhumane conditions, including food with maggots, dirty drinking water and insufficient medical care.

Neighboring Bergen and Essex Counties also take in millions of dollars each year from housing immigrant detainees. Between 2015 and 2018, the three counties raked in over $150 million. Since Trump took office, the annual take has increased by 46%. New Jersey, end your contracts with ICE NOW!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Socialist Worker) (Photo Credit 2: Monsy Alvarado / NorthJersey.com)

Southern New Jersey races: Don’t co-opt white supremacist and sexist slogans for your campaign this election cycle

Andy Kim, one of us

New Jersey was one of several key races in the election this year. As a South Jersey native who lives in districts that tout all spectrums of Republicans – from Trumpsters who worship the ground he walks to moderates who don’t “always” agree with his positions, I had some advice:  Stop co-opting his white supremacist slogans and jargon.

In the 4thDistrict, Representative Tom MacArthur was in a hotly contested election battle with Democratic candidate Andy Kim; Kim, the son of South Korean immigrants and a former national security aide to President Barack Obama, had to actively prove he is part of the South Jersey club, in the face of not so covert racism that hint that he isn’t “part of the club” from the New Jersey Republican Party who described him as “Real Fishy’ – the text printed in a typeface called Chop Suey-next to a photo of dead fish on ice.” While MacArthur dismissed the ads as race-baiting, Republican super pac ads warned voters that Kim is “not one of us.”

From a state that boasts immigrant cultures, promotes Liberty State Park and Ellis Island as proudly located in New Jersey (yes, it is), Kim is as much “us” as Hoboken native, Frank Sinatra.

In NJ’s 11thdistrict, Republican Candidate Jay Webber fell behind his opponent, Navy Veteran and Federal prosecutor Mikie Sherrill who hoped to win Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s seat after his retirement this year. In desperate form, Webber attacked Sherrill as “the dark, fire-breathing radical in this race.” Webber conveniently neglected his own open support for Trump and his legislation, even as the president’s tax bill is set to actively harm New Jersey residents because it curtailed their ability to deduct state and local taxes. Meanwhile, Rep. Leonard Lance fiercely defended his seat in the 11thdistrict, against Democratic candidateTom Malinowski, who raised Lance’s—and really, most NJ Republicans can be applied to this—relationship with the Very Unpopular President.

A commonality to the Southern New Jersey races that many Republican candidates need to be wary of is the massive unpopularity of the president to New Jersey voters. Co-opting Trump’s sexist, homophobic, and overtly racist dogma isn’t going to be your ticket to winning this year.

Here’s an example. As I was determined to vote early in my district — New Jersey’s 4thDistrict, where Republican incumbent Chris Smith defended his seat against Democratic Candidate Josh Welles — I had the misfortune of reading my unopposed Mayoral candidate Kenneth Palmer, and two city councilman’s, campaign slogan: Manchester First.

The campaign slogan harkens back to the “America First” political slogan, used by isolationists in pushing anti-Semitic programs in the 20thcentury, with Trump himself adopting the phrase. Aviator Charles Lindbergh most famously promoted “America First” policy, and David Duke, former Klan Leader, happily endorsed Trump’s use of the phrase.

I hope that the mayoral candidate did not take the meaning of his campaign slogan from the Trump administration; given the politics of the small township I wouldn’t be surprised. I have had to cross many a stop sign with Info Wars and Hillary for Prison 2016 bumper stickers forManchester First to be a coincidence. Given that New Jersey ranks third for most anti-Semitic incidents, a slogan promoting just the kind of anti-Semitism that has taken hold of the state would be exactly what a largely Trumptown mayor meant to convey.

Mr. Mayor, being unopposed does not give you the right to pander to the hate growing in the South Jersey region, even if it was not what you meant to convey. You may have won now, but the anti-Trump sentiment is growing, even in comfortably red districts of the Garden State, and you shouldn’t stay comfortable when in four years that campaign tag comes back to haunt you.

Meanwhile, as of Sunday, November 11, 2018, New Jerseyans elected Democratic candidates Andy Kim; Mikie Sherrill; and Tom Malinowski to the United States House of Representatives. Feeling blue? Oh yeah.

Manchester, New Jersey, sample ballot

 

(Photo Credit 1: Huffington Post / AP) (Photo Credit 2: Author’s photo)

 

 

A proper response to those calling the Women’s March a mob


I’m proud of the number of women that showed up in defense of Dr. Ford. I’m proud to have had some part of their protest on the steps of the Supreme Court. I’m proud that the Women’s March is still fighting for survivors. However, I would like to offer my opinion on what they should have responded when Trump called them “the mob.”

I understand the attempt to tamper the speeches of men who would vilify them for committing acts of disobedience, for risking arrest and putting their bodies on the line. But, to the eyes of the oppositional parties and hard-right/alt-rights that have pushed their contempt of these women as mobs, as violent and dangerous, there is no way of appealing to their common sense.

There is no point in responding in long soliloquys about the beauty of the movement or the struggles that each woman faces because of the dangers of the Trump administration. The email sent to me ends touchingly, “This is who we are, who you are, Nichole: Moms, grandmothers, aunts, daughters, sisters. We’re regular women, survivors and allies from cities and suburbs, and rural areas—who believe in our country, and are determined to make it better”. It’s supposed to better ground the public’s understanding about who these angry women are and what they’re trying to accomplish. They’re simply trying to protect themselves and empower the women around them. That won’t work.

Here’s my proper response to the Trump administration and all the Republicans who shake their heads and declaim that the Women’s March is violent, unruly, that women are hysterical, and that we should continue towards civility when protesting the dismantlement of our rights: f*ck you.

Let me say that once again, clearly. F*ck you.

We don’t have to respond to an egotistical Twitter happy rapist and rape apologist. We don’t have to respond to the smiling Southern gentlemen shtick while he demands cuts to entitlements that we’ve paid into for years. We shouldn’t respond to the calls about our violent tactics while children have been separated from their parents, put into cages, abused and forcibly injected with psychotropic drugs. We should not and cannot legitimize administrations that consider erasing the transgender community while dismissing domestic violence as a legitimate reason for seeking asylum in the United States, and the list goes on and on. The damage heaped upon women, minorities, youth, the LGTBQ communities every group population in this country that isn’t white men and privileged white women, is violence.

Where’s your explanation for the violent and dangerous mobs of men in government destroying the lives of so many?

Civility and the call for civility is dead. Don’t legitimize men who have only treated us with violence and death. Rage, be angry, and continue the fight. Don’t waste energy with emailing a response to your supporters, and certainly not your opponents, explaining who you really are. Your supporters already know, they already applaud you. Your opponents couldn’t care less.

 

(Photo Credit: ABC News)

People are fleeing their homes and seeking asylum in the US: Now is the time to open the borders!


A migrant caravan heading to the United States of people seeking asylum was halted at the border between Guatemala and Mexico on Friday. Fleeing violence and economic insecurity, and seeking the possibility of returning to the United States to reunite with loved ones, the numbers swelled to over 5,000 people as they marched towards the Mexican town of Tapachula. Despite efforts to stop them at the Mexican border, asylum seekers marched to the bridge crossing the Suchiate River, then moving through a park in the border city of Ciudad Hildago to bypass the slow process of entering Mexico legally. Some crossed the river on rafts, by swimming/wading through the river in full view of Mexican police blockading the bridge; others paid locals to ferry them across the river. They did not face detention upon reaching the Mexican bank.

Though they faced threats from the United States, their final intended destination, locals in Guatemala and Mexico encouraged those traveling with applause, cheers, and donations of food and clothing. A resident of the neighborhood of Lorenzo, Maria Teresa Orellana, handed out free sandals to migrants as they passed. “It’s solidarity. They’re our brothers,” she said.

Mexican workers handed food and bottled waters to migrants on the bridge, while a doctor gave medical attention to a woman who was fearful that her son was running a fever. Guatemalan locals also donated food and water to travelers as well. Crowds on the Mexican side of the river cheered the caravan, shouting, “Venganse!”-Come on in! 

7,233 immigrants had registered over the past three days at a shelter at Ciudad Hidalgo. Gerardo Hernandez, head of the local government’s emergency services, has said that his agency has been asked to help provide the immigrants with food and shelter. Sunday night, one of the group’s organizer, Rodrigo Aveja, reported that the caravan included at least 5,600 people.

On October 13, an estimated 3,000 migrants marched out of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Their goal was to walk through Guatemala and Mexico to the United States. Though their numbers have ebbed and flowed, on Sunday the caravan was at its largest, with migrants determined to cross the US-Mexico border. “We are going to get to the border of the U.S. I am not going to stop. I don’t care if I die,” said Luis Puerto, 39, of Colon, Honduras.

Several key facts about life in Central American have compelled many of the migrants to risk everything to cross the border into the United States:

  1. High Crime and Homicide Rates

Fear drives many migrants to leave their home, many coming from El Salvador and Honduras. With 60 murders per 100,000 in 2017, El Salvador was considered the deadliest place in the world of countries not at war. Last year, almost 4,000 people were killed in El Salvador. Honduras’s 2017 murder rate was 42.8 murders per 100,000 people, making it one of the world’s most dangerous places to live.

  1. Sexual and Domestic Abuse

On June 11, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asserted that women escaping domestic abuse were not eligible for asylum, upending decades of legal precedent and potentially violating international law. International refugee law requires signatory countries to offer protection to people who demonstrate a well-founded fear of certain kinds of severe harm in their home countries. Women who experience severe sexual or physical violence at home in countries that cannot or will not protect may qualify as members of a “particular social group” that warrants protection and previously would be eligible for asylum within the United States.

  1. Gang Violence

Central Americans are also fleeing home because of gang violence. Many are caught in the crosshairs between violent gangs and violent police.

  1. Previously Deported

Many migrants in the caravan had previously lived in the United States; many joined the migration to reunite with children or resume jobs. Some of them had returned to their home countries voluntarily, but eventually determined that there was nothing left there for them. The deportees and returnees were clear that their intentions were to cross the border against the wishes of the current administration, risking detention and deportation to be back with their loved ones again. Some were hoping to slip past border patrol officers, with no intention of applying for asylum.

While the caravan continues its way North, the Trump administration will continue to threaten military violence against women, children, and men. The military is not the answer. It is up to us civilians to answer the Caravan’s call and abolish the borders that would keep these people fleeing for their lives from entering the United States, some looking for a better life, some wanting to return to their children and their families. Now is the time to open the borders!

 

(Photo Credit 1: New York Times / Brett Grundlock) (Photo Credit 2: Washington Post / Oliver De Ros / AP)

Global attack on the Free Press: Two women who tried to weed out corruption

Viktoria Marinova

The attack on free press and journalists is not just relegated to the American Far Right. It is not just Trump screaming Fake News and denouncing any negative or scandalous headline or book that comes into the public’s purview. It is not only in the United States that mass shootings are now directed at major newspapers. Around the world, people are being emboldened to take their grudges out on journalists who are only interested in exposing the truth.

From the United States and beyond, cases of journalists under assault are a part of a larger attack on the Free Press that accompanies the rise of far right and authoritarian governments. From the United States, to the EU, to the Middle East and beyond, governments have attempted to crackdown on those writing about corruption and dictatorial politics with threats and violence. For example, US resident and columnist for the Washington Post, Jamal Kashoggi, a Saudi dissident, disappeared and is thought to have been assassinated in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul from orders of the highest levels of the Saudi royal family. Kashoggi’s high-profile death has created an international crisis, with Britain, France and Germany demanding a credible investigation into Kashoggi’s disappearance. Trump has only warned of “severe punishment” if the allegations are true, though that doesn’t seem to be stopping the large arm sales to the country from the United States, worth $110 billion.

In Europe, the rape and murder of Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova, alarmed many as it had been the third death of a journalist in the EU in the past year. Marinova was a broadcaster on TVN, where she was a presenter on a talk program called Detector. The last episode of her show covered alleged corruption and fraud involving EU funds and prominent businessmen and politicians. The two journalists invited on the program to speak, Attila Biro and Dimitar Stoyanov, had been arrested in September investigating corruption. The attack was downplayed as just a spontaneous sexual assault, but many are suspicious that the attack was politically motivated because of Marinova’s work as a journalist in a country that is extremely hostile to free press. Bulgaria is currently ranked 111 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index.

Viktoria Marinova’s death follows two other high-profile journalists murdered within the past year. Malta journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia died in an explosion after she left her home in Bidnija. Galizia was a harsh critic of the Malta government, effectively triggering an early election by publishing allegations linking the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to the Panama Papers scandal, in particular funneling money into offshore bank accounts to hide payments from Azerbaijan’s ruling family. In her blog. Galizia also targeted opposition politicians.

In Slovakia, journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Matina Kusnirova were found shot dead in their home. Kuciak was in the middle of investigating links between the Italian mafia and figures close to Slovakia’s Prime Minister, Robert Fico. Kuciak had alleged that Italian businessmen with ties to the Calabrian organized crime syndicate the ‘Ndrangheta had settled in eastern Slovakia, spending years embezzling EU funds for the region on the border with Ukraine. These men cultivated business links with senior officials, including people close to the prime minister, such as former glamour model Maria Troskova, the minister’s “chief state adviser”, and Viliam Jasan, secretary of Slovakia’s national security council. Police have stated that the attacks bear all the hallmarks of a contract killing.

In the past year, four journalists attempted to uncover corruption and greed to better their respective countries by exposing injustice. Two were men, two were women. The viciousness with which they were attacked speaks to the fear that those in power, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, have when their corruption is brought to light. Their deaths also speak to the larger movement of anti-free press sentiment and the rise of authoritarian governments across the United States and around the world.

Daphne Caruana Galizia

 

(Photo Credit 1: Guardian / Filip Dvorski / AP) (Photo Credit 2: Guardian / Darrin Zammit Lupi / Reuters)