Monday, March 26, 2012

3 Rights Groups will blast Border Patrol, Testify tomorrow before Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Several important human rights groups have been granted a hearing by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) about human rights violations against migrants detained and repatriated at the U.S.-Mexico border. Three of these groups will present testimony tomorrow before the IACHR. Established by the United States and all countries in the Western hemisphere in 1959, the IACHR is authorized to examine allegations of human rights violations by any member country. The hearing will take place at 9:00 a.m. in the offices of the IACHR at 1889 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C. on Tuesday March 27th. The U.S. government will send representatives to respond to the allegations.

The rights groups involved in the denunciation are:  No More Deaths, the ACLU of New Mexico - Regional Center for Border Rights, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, the Women’s Refugee Commission, Rights Working Group and the National Immigration Forum.

Cover image from report detaining U.S. Border  Patrol abuse 
A live webcast of the session is expected to be available at this site.

The hearing follows six years of interviews and documentation work by No More Deaths, a humanitarian and advocacy organization based on the Arizona-Mexico border. This work has included nearly 15,000 interviews with recent deportees who had experienced abusive conditions while in custody. No More Deaths’ most recent report, A Culture of Cruelty: Abuse and Impunity in Short-Term U.S. Border Patrol Custody, published in September 2011, included the following findings, consistent with those of other civil society organizations working in the region:
• 11,384 reports of inadequate access to food;
• Children were more likely to be denied water than adults;
• 374 cases of individuals being repatriated without needed emergency medical care or
• Coercion into signing legal documents;
• Practices that put vulnerable migrants in harm’s way: dividing families and repatriating vulnerable populations, including children or pregnant women, in the middle of the night;
• Unsanitary and inhumane processing center conditions;
• Reports of verbal, physical and psychological abuse.
In addition to these cases of abuse and mistreatment, the report documents serious structural shortcomings in U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) internal oversight mechanisms, resulting in a widespread culture of impunity in which abusive behavior goes unpunished and uncorrected. Petitioners have identified violations of repatriation agreements between the U.S. and Mexico that put vulnerable migrants at risk.

“Not only is the U.S. government failing to adequately screen for asylum seekers and trafficked children, it is failing to meaningfully engage with civil society to work on addressing these violations of U.S. and international law,” said Jennifer Podkul, program officer, Women’s Refugee Commission.

The U.S. Border Patrol has refused to release complete versions of existing detention policies or to allow civil society organizations access to the facilities to monitor conditions. Efforts to use existing oversight mechanisms have been similarly unproductive, in part due to the fact that all are internal to DHS.

“Current complaint processes are difficult to navigate and lack transparency, providing little to no information regarding allegations of abuse,” said Danielle Alvarado of No More Deaths and co-author of A Culture of Cruelty. “This reflects DHS’ limited ability to meaningfully address systemic, abusive Border Patrol practices.”

Some of the dangerous and abusive U.S. Border Patrol practices documented by these groups violate existing repatriation agreements between the governments of the United States and Mexico; other practices fail to comply with asylum and trafficking screening requirements set forth in domestic and international law, including the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization of 2008, the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

Stated Alvarado, “The Border Patrol blatantly disregards its own policies regarding the treatment of those in their custody, and existing oversight mechanisms have proven unable to prevent abuse. It is clear that the Department of Homeland Security cannot be trusted to police itself. We need independent oversight with the participation of civil society human rights observers if we want to actually stop, and not just cover up, the truly outrageous violations we hear about on a daily basis from people who have been deported to Mexico."

Source: Press release, 3/26/2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sending jobs and labor rights abroad: Apple, Michael Daisey and Juarez, Mexico

In the context of "This American Life"'s abject retraction last week of their confidence of the validity of the facts underpinning their Michael Daisey show, I review the subject of outsourcing jobs.

Apple's carelessness regarding Apple Foxconn in China is the topic of Michael Daisey's show. Does this relate to the U.S.-Mexico border? Certainly. Juarez, Mexico's running murder total of 10,000+ victims is not unrelated to the fact that the U.S. outsourced jobs here heavily, particularly with the onset of NAFTA. Maquiladora (international) plant positions drew thousands of the newly unemployed farmers that NAFTA conveniently created.

As author Charles Bowden termed it, Juarez, Mexico became a "laboratory of our future." When China could do the jobs cheaper, Juarez bid "adios" to positions that flew across the Pacific from Mexico to Asia.

When we export jobs, we need to export corresponding labor rights to support those jobs.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Librotraficante Caravan received rousing welcome in El Paso, Texas

As the Librotraficante Caravan passed through El Paso, TX en route to Tucson, AZ last week, they were met by hundreds of enthusiastic supporters at a March 14 evening event.  A Book Bash welcomed the caravan and celebrated Latino voices, the event sponsored by BorderSenses, a literary nonprofit organization, in collaboration with Cinco Puntos Press, Mercado Mayapán, and local writers and activists.

The event featured writers and activists from the Caravan who came from various parts of the country, as well as several prominent local artists. These notable locals included Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Minerva Laveaga, Donna Snyder, Richard Yañez, Carolina Monsivais & Jeannette Monsivais , Selfa Chew, Roberto Santos, María Maloney and Griselda Muñoz.

The Librotraficante Caravan is a movement that started in Houston, TX and that is responding to the book ban in Tucson United School District after the disintegration of the Mexican American ethnic studies program. The objective of the caravan will be to take books that are currently prohibited from being taught in Tucson schools into Tucson. Caravanistas hope to bring awareness to Arizona's unconstitutional law that prohibits Mexican American ethnic studies in schools. Headed by Tony Diaz, the caravan is set to pass through San Antonio, El Paso, TX, Mesilla, Albuquerque, NM,  finally ending in Tucson, AZ.

Diaz and fellow caravanistas salute performing artists.
“The caravan is intended to raise awareness of the prohibition of the Mexican American Studies Program and the removal of books from classrooms, to promote banned authors and their contributions to American Literature and celebrate diversity. Children of the American Dream must unite to preserve the civil rights of all Americans and create a network of resources for art, literature and activism.”
- Tony Diaz (founder of Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers having their say)
Danza Azteca lead event's opening ritual.
Danza Azteca opened the evening with indigenous dance ritual. Local representatives and officials addressed the assembly, including El Paso City Council member Suzie Byrd and Texas state representative Marisa Marquez.

Themes of self-pride, border issues, freedom of expression, ethnic pride and ethnic oppression cycled throughout the evening. The excitement of the crowd was palpable; an undercurrent of conversation persisted throughout the evening as activists connected in an electric atmosphere.

The event showcased local artists--with many presenting original works--as well as voices from around the nation. Caravan participant and former El Pasoan Zelene Pineda read a poem she penned while living in Sunset Heights, her response to the Juarez drug war violence she witnessed. Pineda now works for the New York Immigrant Coalition.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

How St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso, TX received its name

From my first week in El Paso, something about the name of its Catholic Cathedral--St. Patrick--seemed awry to me. In the land of "San Elizario" and "San Lorenzo" and the many Catholic names coming to us from the Spanish roots, it felt odd to me that our Cathedral was named for the Irish.

After some time here, I learned about the St. Patrick's Battalion, a tremendous story that was in no history book I saw in any school I attended. No one tells the story better than David Rovics in his song:

Perhaps, I speculated, St. Patrick's was named for this brave band of immigrants who lived by their consciences and not by peer pressure. But the real answer is, actually, a bit less inspiring, at least at first glance.

St. Patrick Cathedral and Sunset Heights at dusk
The diocese of El Paso, created in 1914 by Pope (and now saint) Pius X, utilized the ingenious fundraising concept of a "naming opportunity" to generate start-up funding. According to the diocesan website:

" raising funds for the cathedral's construction, the diocese offered to allow the first group to raise $10,000 for the project to name the new cathedral.
A group of Irish Catholic women, according to the story, met the challenge and chose the name of St. Patrick. El Paso at the time was a major center of the mining industry in the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico, and, it is said, many of the miners were Irish." [my emphasis]
Now we know that typically miners are the poorest of the poor. Thus, it's not inappropriate to consider our Cathedral St. Patrick here in El Paso as honoring with its name our United States immigrants. They are the people who do the most distasteful work--as did the Irish miners. They are the ones who carry with them into this nation the values we so desperately need--as did the San Patricios, the members of Saint Patrick's Battalion.

So, the cathedral's name, after all, befits El Paso, even though it is a city in which descendants of Northern Europeans comprise less than 15% of the citizens [Wikipedia]. It befits El Paso because this is a city that, by and large, welcomes immigrants. Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

David Rovics provides free downloads of all his music, including "The Saint Patricks Battalion" at his site on Soundclick. Lyrics are there, too. Give yourself this song for St. Patrick's Day (you might leave David a tip, too).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Awakening the Dreamer: Vision of sustainability in El Paso, TX on March 18

[El Paso, TX] A program to explore a new global vision, based on sustainability, spiritual fulfillment and social justice, entitled “Awakening the Dreamer” will take place March 18, from 2:30 P.M to 5:00 P.M. at All Saints Catholic Church Parish Hall, 1415 N. Dakota. Sister Kathleen Erickson, RSM will facilitate the session. There is no fee. The public is invited to attend this program which is sponsored locally by Border Women.
Each of us wants to live a fulfilling life and to have a positive impact on our families and communities. Since 2005, the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium has helped tens of thousands of people do just that.
Thought-provoking, challenging, and deeply moving, the symposium is a dynamic multimedia presentation from some of the most respected social and scientific experts or our time, interwoven with wisdom and inspiration from our indigenous partners. 
With informative videos and guided personal reflection exercises, the symposium experience reaches deeply into both the heart and mind.~text from Awakening the Dreamer website

An environmentally sustainable, just world is achievable. View the trailer. Join the movement.

Friday, March 9, 2012

International observers threatened with arrest & death by Israeli Army's Golani Brigade in Hebron

Photo taken from CPT video footage (bottom of post).
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) claimed in a press release yesterday that it has been threatened with arrest and death by the Israeli armies Golani Brigade since publication of their report, Under Attack: Golani Brigade's war on the Palestinian population of Al-Khalil (Hebron). The report documents the recent escalation of human rights abuse in Al Khalil. These threats are an attempt to prevent CPT and other international organizations from continuing to document ongoing human rights abuses, including violence and harassment, committed by soldiers against the civilian population of Al Khalil.

Christian Peacemaker Teams sent delegations to the U.S.-Mexico border in past years. Some delegation members have remained as ongoing activists involved in a variety of border issues and challenges.

According to International law and Israeli law, international observers have the right to document the actions of soldiers unless their presence interferes directly with the military. Members of CPT say they have made it clear that they are present in Al Khalil merely to document, but have been told by soldiers that they are subject to arrest whenever they attempt to follow military patrols through residential areas, film, or remain present during searches or interrogations of civilians. Yet twice in recent weeks, they say, soldiers threatened to shoot or kill a CPT member. In multiple instances soldiers used the threat of arrest to prevent CPT from observing and documenting incidents which included the detention or intimidation of children.

Summary of Incidences follows verbatim, as provided by CPT

1) Incidences when CPT was threaten with arrest while attempting to observe the Israeli Armys Golani brigade:
  • On February 14,at around 4:00 PM two people from CPT encountered a patrol of eight Golani soldiers in the Old City. The soldiers told them that if they attempted to follow the patrol they would be arrested. The soldiers body searched two men against a wall in Bab al Baladiya, and then stopped a 12 year old boy, who was headed for the Ibrahimi mosque and was carrying a large plastic bag of folded tissues. After being ordered by the Soldiers, the boy opened the top of the bag. The soldiers then ripped the bag open and then took him by the coat and lead him out of sight of CPT. The soldiers told CPT members that if they attempted to follow they would be arrested. The boy was held for about 15 minutes out of the sight of internationals and was then released.
  • On February 18 around 4:00 PM, Golani soldiers in Bab al Baladiya detained 4 youths, age 12-17, and began to take them through the Old City. The soldiers wanted to know were the boys lived. Two people from CPT were present and followed the soldiers, along with the mother of one of the boys. The soldiers used their rifles to shove the mother and CPT back, and repeatedly told CPT and the mother that if they continued to walk with them they would be arrested. The soldiers took the boys into a nearby settlement and then to the Kyriat Arba police station. They were later released.
  • On February 20th at around 8:30 AM, CPT encountered a group of four Golani soldiers who were stopping people and checking IDs in the shopping area of the Old City. After checking IDs for about 45 minutes, the soldiers were joined by four more soldiers and the patrol moved up into the nearby residential streets. When members of CPT attempted to follow 20 meters behind the patrol, the soldiers threatened them with arrest. CPT explained that they were not intending to interfere with the soldiers and the soldiers told them, "We are the law and we say you cannot follow us."
  • On February 20th at around 6pm, soldiers detained a Palestinian photographer and an international observer at checkpoint 56 for 1 hour for taking pictures. The soldiers told CPT that if they took photos of the detention they would be detained and arrested.
  • On February 26th at around 4 PM a patrol of six Golani soldiers stopped four young boys above Baba al Baladiya and took them up into the residential area above the bus station. They told a member of CPT that he could not follow and would be arrested if he continued. The soldiers were showing the boys photos on a camera and asking who was in the photos and where the people lived. Another member of CPT approached from another direction and met the soldiers and the boys near the Spanish academy. The soldiers again told that member of CPT that she would be arrested if she approached them.The children were then released.
  • On March 3rd two people from CPT attempted to follow a patrol of 12 Golani soldiers in the old city in the late afternoon but were told if they continued they would be arrested.
  • On March 6th at around 3PM, A Golani patrol took 2 young boys (about 10 years of age) up to the rooftop of a Palestinian home in the old city to interrogate them. Two CPT members followed them to the roof to observe the incident. The CPT members were told to go down or they would be arrested. The boys were released after a few minutes and told CPT the soldiers wanted to know who was throwing stones at the soldiers and who was breaking windows at the settlement

2) Incidences when Israeli Armys Golani Brigade threatened to shoot and/or kill CPT:
  • On February 25th at around 3:30 PM during the weekly tour of Israeli settlers through the Old City, Golani soldiers told CPT and other international observers that they had to be back 15 meters from the soldiers. CPT moved back and continued to observe, whereupon a soldier ran forward towards CPT and International observers, aimed his rifle at them, and said, I want to shoot you through the head with a bullet.
  • On February 5th, around 7:30 AM, a member of CPT stopped to observe a Golani soldier yelling at two Palestinians from the roof top. When the CPTer remained to watch, the soldier told CPT to leave. CPT responded by saying "No." The soldier then pulled out his gun, looked through the scope, and pointed it at the CPT member and told him to leave again and motioned with his gun. The CPT member left the sight of the solider and returned with a camera. The soldier then stopped pointing his gun at the CPT and left the viewing area of the CPT member.
Source: Christian Peacemaker Teams

YouTube video entitled "Israeli Soldiers Threaten Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron" posted October 2011 on The History and Facts channel purports to show CPT video of Israeli soldiers threatening arrest of observers.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

1000 Marchers reenact Selma-to-Montgomery march today, Protest AL anti-immigrant law

Participants marching for civil rights 
from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965
Source: Wikimedia Commons
A contingent of 1,000 marchers today called on lawmakers to repeal Alabama’s vehemently anti-immigrant law during the reenactment of the Selma-to-Montgomery march.

Latinos, Blacks, civil rights, labor and immigrant rights groups all came together in a show of solidarity that racially discriminatory laws will not be tolerated in Alabama or any other state.

Among the marchers were 400 members of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) and 200 members of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ).

 Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, a member of FIRM protested the law's damaging effects: “This law has given police carte blanche to racially profile people. It has kept children from school and, forced hardworking families to leave Alabama costing the state $10.8 billion annually.”

Bhargava noted one positive effect of the law: " has brought together black, brown and white people, labor, clergy, civil rights, immigrant rights and human rights groups,” he said. “We will hold the state Legislature accountable for dragging Alabama back into its darkest days of discrimination. We will hold businesses accountable if they don’t speak up against this law. We will take this fight to other states thinking about enacting similar laws.”

The other FIRM members participating are: Alliance for a Just Society; Alliance for Immigrant Rights (Michigan); CASA of Maryland; Change Nation North Carolina; Churches United to Save and Heal (New York); Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (California); Colorado Progressive Coalition; Florida Immigrant Coalition; Gamaliel Foundation; Idaho Community Action Network; Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Make the Road New York; Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition; National Korean American Service and Education Consortium; Nebraska Appleseed; New York Immigrant Coalition; One America (Washington); Pineros y Campesinos Unidos de Noroeste (Oregon); Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada; Sunflower Action (Kansas); Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, and; Washington Community Action Network.

SourceThe Center for Community Change 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Finding Fernanda: A response from the U.S.-Mexico border to a book by Erin Siegal

Finding Fernanda, a book by Erin Siegal, carefully recounts the triumph of two “ordinary” women who, without even knowing one another, managed to overturn the work of an international child trafficking syndicate and restore stolen children to one birth mother. This “David vs. Goliath”-style tale evokes the drama of high-suspense fiction. But, unfortunately, it is all-too-true: a real-life story that journalist Siegal relentlessly researched and meticulously documents.

The book’s value is innate. Through the lens of one ruptured family, whose story has an against-all-odds fortunate outcome, Finding Fernanda considers the social and political issues surrounding international adoption from Guatemala. Replete with detail to arrest and engage the reader, it’s a tale well-told. The subject should interest not only anyone considering or involved in this type of adoption but also practitioners of international relations and promoters of human rights. And, I would suggest: the latter category might rightly include us all.

The book by extension also has specific applications to us on the U.S.-Mexico border. As a member of the border community, I recurrently noticed parallels between the Guatemalan context that facilitated child trafficking to the contemporary Mexican social and political climate that perpetuates drug war violence. The “blind eye” U.S. officials turn toward filed complaints and grievances plays a substantial role in perpetuating impunity in Mexico, as happened in Guatemala.

The horror of child trafficking in Mexico
Indeed, this week a post by Siegel for InSight Crime reports that Mexican police uncovered a child trafficking ring in mid-January in Guadalajara. This ring has operated in the state of Jalisco since the 1980's, providing hundreds of children to adoptive families in other countries. The line between adoption and the purchase or trafficking of children is indeed thin and extends far beyond Guatemala.

Poverty, psychological manipulation, illiteracy, systemic abuse and untreated trauma—all factors at play in Guatemala, as illustrated in Finding Fernanda, afflict the Mexican political and social climate as well. Siegel is to be congratulated for staying with the story of child exploitation and for expanding her focus to include a country neighboring the United States. 

Personal emotional movement
A sensitive person is hurt by false accusation. On a personal level, Finding Fernanda healed one such hurt. In 1997 when I decided to learn Spanish, I chose to begin my studies in remote northern Guatemala. One day, on a break from classes, I began interacting with street kids in the city plaza. Eager for adult attention, the children were patient with my complete inability to say anything. But, abruptly I both felt and saw from the edge of the plaza, to my dismay and confusion, two Guatemalan women glaring intensely at me with vigilant anger.

Later, upon reading a guidebook, I realized that their body language was communicating their suspicion that I may kidnap and export the children. Shocked, the memory of their unspoken accusation stung a bit whenever I recalled it. But my own anger at the ruthless conversion of children into commodities, as systemically documented in Finding Fernanda, led me to cross the plaza and stand (figuratively at least) with those who were assuming a protective stance toward those most vulnerable children.

Hope in the face of evil
Life in El Paso--for several years now-- provides a front-row seat to a horror show: the drug war reality in Juarez. Viewing a human rights disaster daily is daunting, discouraging, disempowering. Finding Fernanda illustrates that “ordinary” people (like me?) can effect change, can make a difference, can resist and reverse evil. The power of love moved two mothers—who lacked the right “resumes” or “skill sets” for the task-- never to give up, even in the face of insurmountable odds. It is a lesson that inspires, even as we are privy to the multiple risks and sacrifices that love required of them.

On one level, Finding Fernanda recounts enormous greed and evil: the selling of children as commodities. This is a reality from which we tend to shrink; it’s easier to ignore what we fear and hate. But, the power of love [I’m not talking about sugar-coated, storybook feelings here but rather self-giving action] is not limited to heroes of history or Nobel Prize winners. It is ours to claim and use for good.

Statistics and facts arouse our minds. But relationships move us to change more effectively than do statistics. Finding Fernanda, by introducing us to the people directly impacted in trafficking black market, captures our hearts. Siegel’s determination to investigate, document and communicate an ugly reality in this book, ultimately contributes to a better world.
Disclosure: I received a copy of Finding Fernanda from the publisher for potential review.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Arizona Rights Group Calls for a complete block of SB 1070

Arizona human rights groups applaud U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton's ruling Wednesday that blocked the day labor sections of Arizona's anti-immigrant law known as Senate Bill (SB) 1070.  One affected section criminalized anyone who climbed into a car to be transported to work if that vehicle had stopped in traffic in order to pick up him/her. Another criminalized drivers for picking up day laborers. Both sections have been enforced since July 2010, effectively criminalizing economic survival in the state for many.

Many of the most extreme and controversial parts of SB 1070 were blocked two years ago, including provisions that would have required police officers to check immigration status on the basis of a nebulous "reasonable suspicion." However, Judge Bolton rejected the federal government's argument to issue a preliminary injunction against the entire statute. Tucson's Coalición de Derechos Humanos reaffirms their call to the Supreme Court to rule SB 1070 unconstitutional.

Since its enactment in 2010, some sections of the law as well as the "spirit" of SB 1070 have been in full effect in Arizona. The law solidified the collaboration between the police and immigration enforcement. It has perpetuated a xenophobic political climate facilitating the introduction of other anti-immigrant bills into the state legislature, such as former State Senator Russell Pearce's SB 1611. And it has had nationwide implications: copycat laws have been considered in other states and implemented in Alabama, Utah, South Carolina, Indiana and Georgia.

The racist precedent SB 1070 established in Arizona has affected the nation in a manner incompatible with human dignity. Coalición de Derechos Humanos not only calls for the entire law be declared unconstitutional but also anticipates that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon take that action. 

SourceCoalición de Derechos Humanos