Absent States, Stolen Lives: Forced Migration in the Americas

Sonja Wolf is a researcher at the Mexico City-based Institute for Security and Democracy (Insyde).  Visit her website and follow her @scwolf5

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Absent States, Stolen Lives: Forced Migration in the Americas

The Spanish Cultural Center in Mexico City is currently hosting an exhibition titled “Childhood” and put together by UNICEF in collaboration with the renowned Spanish photographer Isabel Muñoz. The display, organized on occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, comprises 20 photos of children from five continents. The simple yet beautiful images are meant to convey situations of abuse that youth around the world continue to endure, including violence, malnutrition, sexual exploitation, and slave labor.

The children are portrayed with their most cherished belongings; sometimes these are a collection of stuffed animals, at other times music instruments. Featuring in the show is Belize, a country on the northeastern coast of Central America with a 340,000-strong population that boasts lush scenery, yet has dramatic human development needs and is wrecked by drug and gang violence. One of the photos shows Tyrel Arzu, a 13-year-old Garifuna who stands barefoot on a pier, dressed in knee-long denim shorts, a pair of sandals in his left hand, and a white tank top lying to his right on the ground. With a serious look on his face, the youth had stated for the record that he dreams of one day going to the place “called California.”

The recently publicized exodus of undocumented migrant children from Central America –mostly the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras– to the U.S.-Mexico border, has triggered all kinds of reactions. Expressions of solidarity aside, their arrival prompted a deplorable outburst of hate messages, the launch of futile government campaigns warning of the dangers of undocumented migration, and renewed calls within the United States for greater border security. Sorely missing, however, are signs of rational policy debates about the factors for the current migration dynamics and how to tackle them.

One of the factors that have for years been driving people out of their communities of origin is that of poverty and social exclusion, affecting both rural and urban residents. In Honduras, for example, where the 2009 coup that unseated President Manuel Zelaya ushered in a steady decline of the social and human rights situation, UNDP data indicate that 66.5 percent of the population lives in poverty. Unemployment, affecting –along with underemployment– particularly younger sectors of society, stands at whopping 54.1 percent. Experts often counsel those who stay behind to create micro-enterprises for a living. Pervasive extortion, however, stifles most business activity and requires those unable to meet the demands to run for their life.

Generalized violence, another driver of irregular migration, has been raging especially in the countries of the Northern Triangle. In 2013, the per capita murder rate reached 34/100,000 in Guatemala, 43/100,000 in El Salvador and a staggering 79/100,000 in Honduras. Much of the social and criminal violence is perpetrated by members of Barrio Dieciocho and Mara Salvatrucha. These Los Angeles-born street gangs were formed by Latino youth, including many civil war refugees who banded together in the face of discrimination and exclusion in their new homeland. Mass deportations imported both groups into Central America where repressive gang policies helped make them increasingly sophisticated and brutal. Today, they are associated chiefly with homicides, extortion and drug sales. Youth who prefer to stay out of gangs often have no choice but to flee abroad in order to escape forced recruitment or rape. A similar fate has befallen entire families who, intimidated by gangs, had to abandon their homes. More recently, members of the LGBTI community have been forced to escape threats to their life because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

People are at the mercy of violent non-state actors, because those who are meant to protect them fail to do so or prey on the vulnerable. After years of U.S.-sponsored civil wars and repression in the region, police and justice reforms stalled as stronger institutions were not in the interest of the governing elites. Today, these institutions remain weakened by corruption, politicized, and infiltrated by organized crime and street gangs. U.S. security assistance has responded to that situation, but has done so mostly by stepping up law enforcement cooperation in the hope of preventing perceived security threats from reaching the United States. Largely absent are efforts to root out sleaze, address the structural factors of crime and violence or improve prison management and offender rehabilitation.

In the “Childhood” exhibition, 17-year-old Marie Claire from Rwanda pleads: “You, as members of mankind, why have you allowed this to happen?” Her remarks, recalling the atrocities that her country experienced 20 years ago, are apt also in the context of the contemporary exodus from Central America. Calls encouraging people to refrain from making a perilous journey will fall on deaf ears, because “home” offers neither security nor opportunities for a bright and rewarding future. It is time for governments in the region to muster the political will and pool resources in order to genuinely address a shared problem, instead of continuing to shun their responsibility. Too many lives are at stake.

 

 

 

Churches Join Together For Refugee Families…Presbyterian Church-USA

At the links are two articles on the efforts of different churches in El Paso joining their efforts to help the refugee families from Central America… Now most of these people–mostly women with young children–are being held in detention centers set up at the Border Patrol Training facility in Artesia, NM and at several military bases in Texas, Arizona and California…  By imprisoning these people, they will have practically NO access to attorneys who can advise them of their rights to apply for asylum or other relief from quick deportation…

Grace For Refugees From Central America

Refugees From Central America Provide ‘Gifts’ Of Grace

The Artesia Experience | Noble Law Firm

Thanks to Jose Luis Benavides for passing on this update from inside the Artesia detention center. It reminds me of the OAKDALE, Louisiana detention center set up in the pine woods of central Louisiana in the 1980s.  Central American detainees were flown and then bused to Oakdale from Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC and other areas where they had family and community. Oakdale was a 4-hour drive from the nearest metro area (New Orleans) and there was not a single immigration attorney in the state who spoke Spanish or knew anything about the wars, violence and human rights abuses in Central America at the time. For a great book about this earlier immigration crisis, see:

Other People’s Blood: U.S. Immigration Prisons In The Reagan Decade, by Robert S. Kahn**(see below for more)

The Artesia Experience (Noble & Vrapi)

Border Reflection & Debunking Myths

Listera Kathy Nicodemus sent this reflection (posted with permission) on the current border situation and below is an excellent article by David Bacon published in IN THESE TIMES with details on how US economic and security policies have exacerbated the situation that forces people to flee their homes in Central America. -molly

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Border Reflection – Support Non-violent solutions in Central American Countries. My thoughts on the Central American immigrant-refugee situation at the moment.

We need to deal with the immediate need, however, if we don’t deal with the systemic issues, the situation will only continue. First we need to stop contributing our (US) part- Corporations that use the land, cheap labor (including Maquilas), our cheap products sold to these countries (taking away their ability to make a living). Need to stop-Selling weapons, supporting bad leaders, US need for drugs. I know there are many other issues. What might be of help–The US supporting these countries to be self-sustaining economically and non-violent.

Debunking 8 Myths About Why Central American Children Are Migrating (In These Times)

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.

 

 

Saving Marta by Morgan Smith

Morgan Smith lives in Santa Fe and travels to the border every month to photograph, write about and assist humanitarian programs like Vision in Action, Pastor Galván’s asylum.  Vision in Action is a private mental hospital that was founded by Jose Antonio Galvan about 18 years ago. He is a former addict who was deported from the US and then lived on the streets of Juarez until he became clean and decided to dedicate himself to helping the mentally ill. Almost all of his funds come from donations.  Smith can be reached at  Morgan-smith@comcast.net.

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Saving Marta

 

L-R: Elia, Marta and Leticia. Photo by Morgan Smith

L-R: Elia, Marta and Leticia. Photo by Morgan Smith

 

It’s a blazing hot July Sunday – 103 degrees – and I’m standing in the desert outside of Pastor José Antonio Galván’s mental asylum west of Juárez. Eight municipal police officers have arrived, most of them carrying automatic weapons. Now two of them pull a woman out of one of their cars. She is wearing only filthy underwear. Her hair is matted. This is Marta.

Earlier the police had called Pastor Galván to say that they were going to place this woman with him. She had been living on the streets of Juárez and no other facility would take her.

Fortunately, Sunday is when Dr. Vicente Pantoja, Galván’s consulting psychiatrist visits so he is able to assist. Nonetheless, when the police tell you to take someone, you do it. There’s no negotiation. As for Pantoja, he is one of only eleven psychiatrists in Juárez, a city of about 1.5 million.

Earlier, Pantoja talked about the differences between our mental health system with its rigid rules about things like the interchange between staff and patients and the Mexican system with its heavy reliance on simple human contact. I see this when Pantoja arrives and the patients rush over to hug him just as they do with Pastor Galván. I see this when they comfort each other. “Es como una familia aqui,” Pantoja says.

Several patients take Marta into the facility and soon a new Marta appears. She has been bathed by several of the women patients, wears a clean blue smock with little fish on it and her filthy, matted hair has been shaved. A male patient named Benito is gently trimming her long, cracked, dangerous looking fingernails. When he points to her broken, torn toenails, however, she shrieks and runs across the courtyard to a cement bench in the shade.

“Let her calm down.” Galván says. With her shaved head, wide shoulders and thick tattooed arms, she looks like a wild animal.

Finally a tiny patient named Elia approaches, sits next to her and puts her hand on her shoulder. Elia has a speech defect; the only word I can understand is “foto” because she likes to be photographed. Nonetheless, she has a sense of when other patients need consoling. Her older sister, Leticia – smaller and even more incoherent – joins her.

They lean towards Marta who has covered her face with her hand. We can see how well trimmed her fingernails are now but we can’t see her expression. We watch in silence as the minutes tick by. Is she about to explode? She is big enough to hurt both Elia and Leticia.

Finally her hand comes down and we can see her face. She is smiling. Maybe now she’s part of the family. This is what Pantoja was talking about. This is the environment that Galván has created, one of caring and affection, an environment of dignity.

 

About 6 weeks later, a patient named Blanca kisses Marta whose hair has partially grown out.  Photo by Morgan Smith

About 6 weeks later, a patient named Blanca kisses Marta whose hair has partially grown out. Photo by Morgan Smith

 

 

 

Mexico’s Congress Approves Revision of Military Code Of Justice…LA Times

Note the low-ball numbers of dead and disappeared in the LATimes story: “Since then, more than 70,000 people have been killed and more than 20,000 have gone missing, some of whom were last seen in custody of the military.”

Another compilation of info below from Panamerican Post.

Mexico’s Congress Approves Revision of Military Code Of Justice (LA Times)

Mexico Lawmakers Vote for Military Justice Reform (Panamerican Post)

Ciudad Juárez’s Perverse Development: Knowledge City By Sandra Rodríguez Nieto

Ciudad Juárez is not all about the drug war. The city is a complex place: 1.3 million people live here. It’s not the Wild West, as some writers seem to make out. And the city is woefully served by its leaders, political, educational, or otherwise. This October 2011 article by Sandra Rodríguez Nieto lays bare the human costs to students in higher education of these problems.

The article commemorates the two year anniversary of the murder of journalist Regina Martínez a fearless documenter of public corruption in Mexico.

Ciudad Juárez’s Perverse Development: Knowledge City — Between Scholarly Pursuits and Private Interests


By Sandra Rodríguez Nieto (EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

Even though his classes begin at 0800, David Valles, 19, and a resident of Colonia Monumental, has to get up before 0600 so that he can take the Indiobús at 0640 from the Zona Centro. From there it takes him more than an hour to arrive at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez’s (UACJ) new southeast campus, 16kms from the southern limits of the border city.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

 

A Decade Without A Single Public Official Guilty Of The Crime Of Torture (Animal Politico)

Thanks to Patrick for this translation of an Animal Político story about torture in Mexico. Not a single English-speaking journalist has covered the visit to Mexico of the Special Rapporteur on Torture. The article points out Mexico’s failure to investigate, prosecute, and punish serious human rights violations.

This article was published on 24 April 2014 in AnimalPolítico. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Human Rights Abuse in Mexico: A Decade Without a Single Public Official Guilty of the Crime of Torture

By Tania L. Montalvo (ANIMALPOLÍTCO)

- Investigations Exist but no Punishment for Public Officials in either Military or Civilian Jurisdictions

Over the past decade — and in response to public information requests — figures provided by the Federal Attorney General (PGR) and the Ministry of Defense (SEDENA) show that not a single official has been published for the crime of torture, neither in civil nor military jurisdictions.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

A Voice From The Grave: Juárez, The Border’s Second Murder City (Armando Rodríguez, El Diario…)

A Voice From The Grave: Juárez, The Border’s Second Murder City

This article was first published in El Diario de Juárez on 14 February 2005. It has been translated without permission by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). There is no web-accessible version of the Spanish-language original.

This translation is dedicated to the work of journalist Sandra Rodríguez Nieto.

Translator’s Note: Armando Rodríguez Carreón, “El Choco,” was a veteran crime reporter for El Diario de Juárez until his violent murder in November 2008. You can read a portrait of El Choco by his colleague Martín Orquiz for Nuestra Aparente Rendición, here (unofficially translated into English for the MxJTP).

Rodríguez’s murder continues in impunity, with multiple failures in the investigation. El Choco’s unsolved case is one that marks Mexico as infamous for its inability, or unwillingness, to get to the bottom of journalist’s murders, meaning that it ranks number 7 on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Index for 2014. In the Inter-American System of Human Rights, and pursuant to Mexico’s 1998 ratification of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), the state has the international responsibility to investigate, prosecute, and punish human rights abuses: among other human rights violations, Armando Rodríguez and his family have been denied access to justice for his murder, implying the state’s violation of a human rights treaty, the ACHR, it has ratified.

Click here to read the rest of the article.