Q & A with Erin Siegal McIntyre

Erin Siegal McIntyre is a photographer who also writes narrative nonfiction, produces for TV and web, and reports for radio. Her work has appeared in the various publications including New Yorker, the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and O Magazine. She’s a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, and was a 2012-2013 Soros Media Justice Fellow. Her award-winning book Finding Fernanda was the basis for an hour-long CBS special investigation. She lives in Tijuana.

For more info, visit her website

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Interview by Virginia Isaad

1. Having extensively covered the border, what has been one of the most difficult stories to cover and why?

Difficult can mean various things: a story can be hard technically, hard because of related security concerns, or simply because it’s not sexy enough to place with a media organization. But those kinds of obstacles are regular.

When I think about my three years on the border, covering the narcofosas related to El Pozolero was emotionally challenging. It was a combination of the graphic nature of the discoveries—seeing the actual pipes through which liquefied bodies were pumped, the makeshift holding tanks, the custom spigots, and the various site locations around eastern Tijuana: totally run-of-the-mill, dime-a-dozen poor neighborhoods— and then the immensity of strength and grace shown by the families in continual searches for kidnapped and disappeared loved ones. That awed me. I’ve been to a number of excavation sites, and came to understand the joy of finding a human bone fragment or tooth—a beacon of hope in the dark, a possible lead that could bring closure or answers.

I’m very protective over my own perception, and I intentionally avoid covering regular nota roja or crime in Mexico. I pay attention, but I don’t actively cover it. Quite simply, I want my instincts to remain as intact as possible; I don’t want to be one of those journalists who becomes deadened or desensitized. You can’t feel, perceive, write, and relay information strongly if you’re operating from a void of detachment.

There is something so intense and profound about the power of hope, civility, and basic human kindness in the face of such an unimaginable, ongoing hunt. I took this photograph of Fernando Ocegueda as he showed me around one excavation site before Mexican investigators arrived. He still hasn’t found his son, or his son’s body. It’s been six years.

fernando

 2. A lot is being reported on immigrant children crossing the border. What do you have to say about this issue?

You can read my latest here.

I also wrote a quick piece this week for TakePart, about abuse allegations related to child detainees under Customs and Border Patrol custody.

I’ve been working in Miami for the last month, and have felt really far from my beats—the border, and child welfare. It’s been frustrating being so far from home!

3. For our Q & A with Todd Miller, he mentioned Border Patrol youth programs and you recently did a story on teenage drug mules. Would you say that as the drug war progresses, youths are more susceptible to the violence than before? Why or Why not?

I’ve done a few stories on teenage drug mules, most recently for NPR’s Latino USA and for Al Jazeera America. I’m not sure you could make the argument that teens are any more susceptible to bad decision-making than ever before. But you might actually be able to make the case that heightened border enforcement leads to a heightened apprehension rate for teens working as mules.

There’s also something to be said related to the normalization of drug use in American society. (Medicinal) marijuana is legal in California, so taping a few pounds of it to your belly and walking across the border in exchange for a hundred bucks or a new cell phone might not seem like such a big deal if you’re a teenager clueless about the criminal consequences.

My AJAM story about Cruz Marcelino Velázquez Acevedo touches on that ignorance; Velázquez was a teen who died in Border Patrol custody after drinking from a bottle of liquid meth while being questioned. He took a gulp to prove to the agents that it was apple juice. He probably didn’t think it would kill him, but it was a painful, agitated death by overdose. He was writhing and crying for his family.

4. During your fellowship with the Open Society you focused on U.S. deportation policy, what did you learn during your time on this project?

This project was an experiment of sorts; I was awarded a Media Justice fellowship to execute a group project along with two other teammates, both of whom had no previous journalism experience. One of my partners was a law professor specializing in juvenile incarceration and immigration detention, and my other partner was a former gang member and deportee who’d served 14 years in American prison, from age 16 to 28.

Our focus was on “bad” immigrants, criminal deportees, and the gray area between. We worked around issues related to people who were deported after serving time for aggravated felony convictions. The definition of “aggravated felony” includes some misdemeanors under current immigration law, so it’s pretty broad. There’s a lot to unpack, and we had a busy year reporting for different platforms, from comic book graphic journalism to traditional TV pieces.

We aimed to tell stories that humanized deportees, specifically those considered “bad” or undesirable, with criminal records. Many people don’t understand that there’s no double jeopardy for non-citizens, green card holders (legal residents) and undocumented immigrants alike. That means after they’ve served time, and if their offense is considered an aggravated felony under U.S immigration law, then they’re automatically deported. There’s no guarantee to counsel, or appeal. They can’t fight it. They’re deported, and there’s no recourse for ever returning- they’re banned for life. This happens to many people who grow up in the U.S, and consider themselves American.

5. The adoption of immigrant children has been the focus of your books. In one article, you cite that around 5,100 children of undocumented immigrants were in state care, and in many instances, had been cut off completely from communicating with their families. One-fifth of foster care children are subsequently adopted. What can you tell us about the current state of foster care for immigrant children?

Finding Fernanda and the related special “Perilous Journey” focused on unraveling one Guatemalan organized crime network that was working with American companies to facilitate the international adoptions of Guatemalan children to the United States. That’s completely different than the question you raise about undocumented immigrant children, though there is some overlap.

My friend and colleague, reporter Seth Freed Wessler, is the author of the authoritative report, “Shattered Families,” which digs into the complicated intersection of child welfare and current U.S. immigration policy. His findings and statistics are based on years of research, and today in 2014, they’re actually getting old.

No one has yet to update them; this kind of endeavor takes an investment of time and money. A lot of news outlets just can’t afford to do that kind of serious investigative work.

 

6. What is an aspect of the violence in Mexico that you feel isn’t covered enough?

 I would argue that it’s not “violence in Mexico,” per se. The drug war isn’t a Mexican issue, it’s a shared responsibility. That’s nothing new.

I do think it’s always important to pay attention to discrepancies in crime reporting, especially contradictions between statistics from various government agencies and officials. There’s a lot of sugary spin (remember Mexico’s forecasted GDP growth last year?) and it’s easy for foreign reporters to devour it.

But in general, I don’t think the entire country of Mexico is covered enough! Then again, I adore mi hermosa patria adoptiva and I’m totally biased. So shoot, take my border reporting with a grain of salt, or ten. I love Mexico.

¡Y Tijuana rifa!

Immigrant Surge Sheds Light on Dangers of Broken Policy

Sylvia Longmire is a former Air Force officer and Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, where she specialized in counterintelligence, counterespionage, and force protection analysis. After being medically retired in 2005,  Longmire worked for four years as a Senior Intelligence Analyst for the California State Threat Assessment Center, providing daily situational awareness to senior state government officials on southwest border violence and Mexico’s drug war. She received her Master’s degree from the University of South Florida in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and she is an award-winning columnist for Homeland Security Today magazine and contributing editor for Breitbart Texas.  Longmire was a guest expert on The History Channel’s “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded,” and has consulted for the producers of National Geographic Channel’s Border Wars and Drugs, Inc. series.  Her first book, Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars, was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and she has written for numerous peer-reviewed journals and online publications. Her newest book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer was published in April 2014. For more, check out her website.

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On the morning of June 18, 2014, roughly two dozen reporters gathered outside a Nogales warehouse and waited to be escorted inside by Border Patrol agents. Many were anxious; it was the first time members of the media would be allowed to witness firsthand the hundreds of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) being detained by the agency after being apprehended in south Texas.

Since October 2013, Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 47,000 unaccompanied minors, ranging in age from infant to 17 years old, in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas. The vast majority of these children are from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and they are all anxious to be reunited with family members in the United States. For some of them, the journey has been incredibly difficult—paying coyotes thousands of dollars in smuggling fees, eating and sleeping little, and navigating the gang- and cartel-infested territories in eastern Mexico. For some, the goal is to cross the border undetected and reach various destinations across the country.

But others are traveling right to the border and turning themselves in to agents under the impression—fueled by rumors at home—that they will soon be released. In many cases, they’re right.

Undocumented immigrants from Central America get treated differently by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) because it’s logistically more difficult to repatriate them. Also, UACs from Central America get treated differently than adults. By law, they have to be processed and handed over to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which will try to reunite them with a family member or legal in the US as quickly as possible. Generally, the legal status of the person a UAC is released to does not impact the transfer of the child. UACs without a family member in the US get placed into the ORR’s network of shelters and group homes—essentially foster care—while they go through removal proceedings.

The reporters went into that Nogales warehouse hoping to get some answers about what President Obama and others have termed a “humanitarian crisis” on the border. For two weeks, they have been seeing photos—many of them leaked by Border Patrol agents—of the crowded conditions inside, and the experience was jarring for many. Several reporters expressed their thoughts on their Twitter feeds, describing the minors’ moods as ranging from bored to sad to outright distraught. UACs are only supposed to be detained for a maximum of 72 hours before being transferred to ORR custody, but the huge influx of minors in such a short period of time have made it logistically impossible for that to happen.

Given that this is a crisis that will not be ending or get resolved soon, two questions persist: What caused this huge influx, and how can it be controlled? Both questions are naturally fraught with political complications. Many on the right point the finger at lax enforcement of immigration policies by the Obama administration and a failure to secure the border. Many on the left fully blame the deteriorating security and economic conditions in Central America, which have led to the rise in control of many parts of those countries by gangs and drug cartels.

The truth is not always that simple, and in this case, it’s a combination of both of those factors—a sort of push-pull effect. Violence and a lack of economic and educational opportunities drive young people out of Central America by the thousands. But word has gotten around the region—in some cases, through television announcements—that many UACs, and even adults, are being released after processing and just being told to show up for their immigration hearing. Most will not. In addition, those with family members already in the US will be provided with bus fare to be reunited with them anywhere in the country. To say that word of mouth about these actions don’t have a “pull” effect is naïve and ignorant of the power rumors can have in Central America.

As far as controlling the push and pull factors, the latter is much easier than the former. Even though the US government has been providing counterdrug and economic development assistance to Central America for some time, security has not improved and economic development can be difficult to measure. One also has to add in the fact that US drug demand, which fuels the activities of cartels and the gangs they employ, is not diminishing, and corruption within governments and police forces in these countries is rampant.

The only thing left is to find a way to manage the pull factor—the controversial issue known as comprehensive immigration reform. The increase in border enforcement measures that the US government can reasonably sustain will be insufficient to stop determined migrants fleeing violence and poverty, as difficult a pill that may be for some to swallow. Changing immigration laws in a way that doesn’t grant automatic amnesty, but preserves the integrity of our justice system, is entirely possible. However, US politicians lack the political will to reach some sort of compromise that allows non-criminal “economic migrants” to contribute to the US economy and travel freely—and safely—between their home country and the US.

There is no simple answer, but there is also not one single acceptable answer. There is a halfway point between granting full amnesty to all undocumented immigrants and walling off the border while deporting every single one. A meaningful change at the legislative level and a very visible change at the border enforcement level will help spread an accurate message to desperate Central Americans—and the smugglers who exploit them—that although the US border isn’t open for business, a new way of following practical and effective rules is the best way to reach the safety of the United States.

 

 

52 Homicides In May In Juarez; 200 Victims In 2014

May was the most violent month so far in 2014, ending with 52 homicides. Seven of the victims were women. Five children were killed including 3 apparently strangled by their father who also killed their mother, and yesterday an apparent murder-suicide in which a woman killed her 5-month old baby and herself (story also posted below) Victims also included a municipal policeman, two well-known attorneys and 4 members of the gay community.

The total homicides for 2014 now stand at 200–an average of 1.3 people per day.

January 32
February 41
March 40
April 35
May 52

Murders in Ciudad Juarez 2007-May 2014

2007 316
2008 1623
2009 2754
2010 3622
2011 2086
2012 797
2013 535
2014 200 (Jan-May)

Fue Mayo El Mes Más Violento En Lo Que Va Del Año (El Diario)

Confirma Fiscalía Que Muerte De Madre Y Bebé Fue Homicidio-Suicidio (El Diario)

36 homicide victims so far in September; massacre in Baborigame, Chihuahua- 5 killed

I looked back at all of the stories I have so far in September. Though there has been only one tally posted in the newspaper (2 as of Sept 9) I also include the 4 people killed and found in the back of the tractor-trailer on the road between Juarez and Chihuahua for 28 as of Sept 9.  On September 10, a body was found inside of a motel and it was reported as a murder victim. On September 11, two decomposed bodies were found at different locations in the city; on September 12 another body was found and 2 other murders were reported; on September 13, two men were killed in a home invasion attack that also injured a 3-yr-old child. These added to the previous 28 for a total of about 36 people so far in September.

Also, yesterday a massacre was reported in Baborigame, a rural town in southern Chihuahua, that left 5 people dead. Apparently, this incident took place on Monday near midnight—two of the victims were children aged 13 and 11. Police were notified about the killings by an 8 yr old who was wounded in the head, but lived and walked to a clinic and was then taken to police. The child told police that he was with 5 other people in the vehicle when it was approached by men in a Jeep Cherokee that shot at them. He was wounded. He said that the sicarios told him to leave the scene, that they would not kill him, but that they were going to kill the others. After the child told this story to the police, they went to the scene and found the bodies of the other 5 people—three men and the two other children.  These dead should eventually be reported in the statistics for Chihuahua state, though it seems likely that some of the killings in rural areas continue to go unreported in the cumulative crime statistics. molly

6 people killed yesterday in Juarez; 4 of the victims are women

For the second day in a row, at least 6 people were victims of homicide in
Juarez. Yesterday, 4 women were killed. Two were shot in a drive by
shooting that wounded another person and then bled to death en route to the
hospital. A 17 yr old girl was shot to death while taking care of a baby.
The baby was not physically harmed in the attack. A few hours later,
another woman, possibly a relative of the girl, was shot to death just a
few blocks away in the same colonia–Campestre Virreyes. In addition, two
men were also killed in separate incidents.

child murdered in Juarez was not sexually assaulted…only one murder yesterday in the city…

The young girl stabbed to death in Juarez on Saturday was born in El Paso.
She and her brother attended elementary school in Juarez. The autopsy
showed that she had not been sexually assaulted as reported earlier.  The
investigation shows that the motive might have been some kind of revenge
against her mother.  The brother and sister were said to have had no school
records when they entered school in Juarez.
Also below, a state investigative policeman was attacked but survived. Only
one person was the victim of homicide yesterday in Juarez.

El Diario

Asesinato de niña apunta a venganza contra su madre

El Diario

Se salva ministerial de atentado; un ejecutado ayer

Followup report on child wounded in police shooting, KHOU 11 and El Diario

An article in El Diario states that Sonia Tapia and her son
have left Juarez. The boy is in a hospital in El Paso and the family
does not plan to return to Juarez, in part due to fear of reprisals.
The article says that many other victims of violence would like to
leave Mexico but are unable to. Sonia Tapia and her son are US
citizens.

Juarez police officers investigated after shooting at American motherand child

 

Boy shot by police Monday in serious condition

The child shot and seriously injured by municipal police on Monday in
Juarez is a US citizen as is his mother, Sonia Tapia Cisneros. The
police say they attempted to stop Tapia’s vehicle, she says that she
kept driving because she feared she was being carjacked. After the
child was shot and wounded, the police detained Tapia, but apparently
drove around for 4 hours before formally charging her with a crime.
According to the article she is still in custody and charged with
attempted murder. She has not been allowed to see her son who has had
multiple surgeries on his arms, abdomen and hip. He will probably be
disabled for life. Sonia Tapia is a school teacher and is the
director of the private Issac Newton school in Juarez. According to
the article, the US Consulate has been called in to help the mother
and son leave the country.

The two police officers involved in the shooting of the child and the
arrest of Ms. Tapia are also under investigation.

So, far, I have not seen anything in the El Paso press about this
case. Molly

Policías balean a su hijo …y todavía la acusan

Balean policías a maestra y a su hijo en Juárez; ambos son ciudadanos de EU