This Low-Grade, Constant, Background-Noise Torture by Karie Luidens

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Wikipedia CC.jpg

I so appreciate the frankness and candor with which some of our newest elected representatives describe the issues facing our country today. They don’t soften their descriptions of reality in an attempt to make their positions more palatable. They continue to speak truth to power, even as they now themselves have some measure of power to effect change.  

Specifically, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has garnered national attention over the last few weeks for being the first in Congress to publicly use the term “concentration camp” to describe our immigration detention facilities. She elaborated on her thinking in a recent interview; here’s an excerpt. The whole interview is worth reading if you’re so inclined.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the 2020 Presidential Race and Trump’s Crisis at the Border

By The New Yorker
July 10, 2019
https://www.newyorker.com/news/the-new-yorker-interview/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-on-the-2020-presidential-race-and-trumps-crisis-at-the-border

[David Remnick:] You used the phrase “concentration camp” to describe these facilities along the border, and I’m sure you didn’t do it mindlessly. You have a sense of history, certainly, where the Second World War is concerned, and Auschwitz, and all the rest. Why use that phrase knowing that it would be incendiary, even to people who might be inclined to agree with you?

[Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:] I think one of the reasons why I found it important to use this term is because this whole crisis, and the treatment of migrants at the border, has been this low-grade, static, background-noise torture that has been happening in our country, and has been getting worse and worse and worse. Then more accounts started coming out recently. Court documents. Very disturbing accounts from lawyers, from interviews, and then academics started to say, “These are concentration camps.” There was an academic consensus on this.


Meanwhile, the man in the Oval Office deliberately obfuscates and misleads at every turn, often in the direction of cruelty. I’m loathe to quote his latest offensive tweet—offensive both for its inaccuracy and for its implication that several women of color in Congress are less American than their white counterparts. But here it is.

Trump Tells Freshman Congresswomen to ‘Go Back’ to the Countries They Came From

By Katie Rogers and Nicholas Fandos
July 14, 2019
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/14/us/politics/trump-twitter-squad-congress.html

WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Sunday that a group of four minority congresswomen feuding with Speaker Nancy Pelosi should “go back” to the countries they came from rather than “loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States” how to run the government.

Wrapped inside that insult, which was widely established as a racist trope, was a factually inaccurate claim: Only one of the lawmakers was born outside the country.

Even though Mr. Trump has repeatedly refused to back down from stoking racial divisions, his willingness to deploy a lowest-rung slur — one commonly and crudely used to single out the perceived foreignness of nonwhite, non-Christian people — was largely regarded as beyond the pale.

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, “now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.”

Mr. Trump added: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.”

Delivered on the day he had promised widespread immigration raids, Mr. Trump’s comments signaled a new low in how far he will go to affect public discourse surrounding the issue.

He doesn’t even acknowledge that these legislators in a coequal branch of government are from the same country as he is, and that discussing “how our government is to be run” is precisely the job they were elected to do. Instead he fixates on their race as an automatic indicator of foreignness and inferiority, and uses that to mock and dismiss them.

This is the man responsible for directing the agencies that handle immigration enforcement. Is it any wonder they’re treating people as if they’re less than human?

There Should Be Artwork by Karie Luidens

Mural Eric Ward Unsplash.jpg

Today I heard something I really needed to hear right now.

I’m accustomed to the idea that creative types like me—writers, artists, filmmakers, designers—have a certain ability to influence society… but it only goes so far. We tell stories. We raise consciousness. We foster conversations. Cumulatively, over time, we can shift how people view the world and the language they use to describe it. And eventually these shifts can add up to meaningful action, that is, the sort of action that goes beyond abstract words and images and actually changes people’s lives.

Ultimately, though, power is wielded by those in specific positions of authority: elected officials, judges, law enforcement agents. Right? Why else would millions of average Americans feel so desperately frustrated these days as they read about human rights abuses within our country? We feel powerless. We’re at a loss as to how we can intervene.

It’s enough to drive you to despair.

But that doesn’t mean you should stop what you’re doing.

Keep writing. Keep expressing. Keep telling stories and sparking discussions, loud and clear, day by day. The keywords to describe the effect of this work may be “cumulatively, over time,” but in the grand moral arc of the universe, what change is more real than that?

This burst of grim optimism, coming on the heels of a few weeks of personal despair and paralysis, is brought to you by Warren Binford, the same lawyer who made headlines last month when she and her colleagues blew the whistle on how the U.S. is “warehousing” children in concentration camp conditions. She hasn’t stopped blowing her whistle: she’s continuing to give interviews far and wide as time goes by, refusing to allow the issue to lose media attention and drop from the national conversation.

I heard her speak again this morning while I was doing chores around the house, listening to a podcast. Here’s one of the thoughts she leaves us with toward the end of her interview on Pod Save America’s episode this past Monday, July 8 (1:18:54):

I think that every person in this country should be trying to amplify these children’s voices. We have dozens of declarations from these kids publicly available that people can quote from. There should be artwork, people should be renting billboards and putting these children’s quotes about being hit by guards, being grabbed by guards, having, you know, they had to put a diaper on a six-year-old, an older brother had to put a diaper on his six-year-old brother because they won’t let the children go to the bathroom at night.

I think that people should be looking at the declarations and creating plays about them, you know, theatrical performances, that celebrities should be reading from these declarations and going on social media reading what these kids describe as the way that they’re being treated. They’re not being fed adequately, they’re being sleep-deprived, they’re being made to sleep on concrete floors, cement blocks, they’re sometimes sleeping six kids to a mat. I mean, it’s just absolutely insane, the Lord of the Flies scenario that’s being created. So I think that the, I think the public needs to organize, they need to speak out, I think they need to put a lot of pressure on both Congress and the White House to end these practices.

How unusual, in my experience: instead of creative types calling on lawyers to take action, a lawyer is calling on creative types to take action.

What an excellent reminder that we each have different roles to play in shaping society and supporting each other and fighting abusive systems. It’s all hands on deck, from lawyers and lawmakers pursuing legal solutions to playwrights and painters garnering passionate support for those solutions.

The fight before us is going to be long and hard. Whatever it is you do to contribute, let’s keep on keeping on, everyone.

What Do We Do? by Karie Luidens

Keenan Constance Unsplash.jpg

It’s been a while since I’ve added to this notebook.

I confess it’s because I’ve felt paralyzed. Concentration camps. So we’re finally at that point—the point in the national conversation where whistle-blowing lawyers and indignant lawmakers and an outraged public are rallying against the human rights atrocities our government is committing against people seeking asylum at our southern border.

Now what?

What do we do?

Once the whistles are blown, the detention facilities’ conditions are exposed, and the protests are held?

I wish I knew.

Six months ago, when I first started taking notes on this subject… did I hope to accomplish something tangible for the people caught in the border’s growing humanitarian crisis, or just to learn about and shine a light on what was happening out here in the Southwest? Did I really believe that sending letters to the editor and attending legislative sessions and hauling water out onto migrant trails would “make a difference” in some way? Maybe; maybe not. These activities at least felt like a way for one individual to do her part.

But what if every individual does her part and it still only amounts to a lot of words and empty gestures? Clamoring at the gates of power but never breaking in, or breaking prisoners out?

What do we do?

Six months. I’ve gone from “What Do You Have to Say?” to “What Do We Do?”

Meanwhile, in those six months thousands more people have fled their homes and arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, desperate for refuge. Thousands have passed through the horrors of our detention systems, some separated from their family members, some held for weeks on end in filthy clothes, crowded on cold floors. Some contracting diseases from the exhaustion and malnutrition and tight quarters and toilet water. Some getting lice or scabies. Some getting violently ill. Some dying in U.S. custody.

What do we do?

And, sitting here paralyzed and hurting to the point of numbness, I interrogate myself: how much grief am I allowed as a safe white witness once removed, someone who reads firsthand descriptions and hears firsthand accounts from workers and fellow volunteers, but has never experienced all this suffering myself and likely never will? How traumatized, or paralyzed, can I permit myself to feel?

This sentiment rang true in a tragically beautiful essay I read this morning: “Holding the Pain” by Amye Archer on Longreads.

I’m two, three times removed. This is something I still wrestle with. Something that has taken up countless billable hours at my therapist’s office. How much pain am I allowed? Who decides? I didn’t know these children, didn’t experience this tragedy, but I ache for them. How sad am I allowed to feel?

Maybe that’s why my words went dry here. In the absence of meaningful action this whole notebook began to feel like an endless litany of complaints, cycling ever back to my own emotions rather than expanding outward into the world, reaching those who need to be reached.

I don’t know what’s next. If you have any ideas, by all means, share.

For now I guess I’ll conclude with a couple links that I hope are useful for those looking to overcome their own horrified paralysis and step up on behalf of those who need our action.


Here’s How You Can Help Fight Family Separation at the Border

Lawyers, translators, donations, protest.

By DAHLIA LITHWICK and MARGO SCHLANGER
JUNE 15, 2018
SLATE
https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/06/how-you-can-fight-family-separation-at-the-border.html


Here’s a list of organizations that are mobilizing to help the influx of immigrants crossing the Texas-Mexico border

Government agencies are grappling to respond to the number of immigrants coming into the country. Many tax-funded shelters housing immigrants are overcrowded, and there are reports some have substandard living conditions. We’ve compiled a list of organizations that are mobilizing to help.

BY ALEX SAMUELS
JUNE 18, 2018 UPDATED: JUNE 25, 2019
The Texas Tribune
https://www.texastribune.org/2018/06/18/heres-list-organizations-are-mobilizing-help-separated-immigrant-child/

Literally the United States Is Warehousing Children by Karie Luidens

Chainlink Cole Patrick Unsplash.jpg

The news from our immigration detention system keeps coming, and it just keeps getting darker. Here’s a story that the Associated Press broke a few days ago about the conditions in which Customs and Border Protection is holding children. It happened to hit the news cycle smack in the middle of the national debate about whether or not to call such detention facilities “concentration camps.”

Frankly, even if the conditions of detention were pristine—sanitary, humane, comfortable—the policies and practices overall could still meet the definition of a concentration camp system. That said, the degree of suffering, disease, and misery detailed in these reports only serves to reinforce the argument that yes, the U.S. is imprisoning people in concentration camps.


Migrant children held at border describe neglect

Lawyers who interviewed migrant children at a US Customs and Border Protection facility near El Paso, Texas say the children are dirty, don't have enough food or water, and that some were separated from parents or siblings.

Associated Press
Published on Jun 21, 2019
https://www.apnews.com/46da2dbe04f54adbb875cfbc06bbc615

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A 2-year-old boy locked in detention wants to be held all the time. A few girls, ages 10 to 15, say they’ve been doing their best to feed and soothe the clingy toddler who was handed to them by a guard days ago. Lawyers warn that kids are taking care of kids, and there’s inadequate food, water and sanitation for the 250 infants, children and teens at the Border Patrol station.

The bleak portrait emerged Thursday [6/20/19] after a legal team interviewed 60 children at the facility near El Paso that has become the latest place where attorneys say young migrants are describing neglect and mistreatment at the hands of the U.S. government.

Data obtained by The Associated Press showed that on Wednesday [6/19/19] there were three infants in the station, all with their teen mothers, along with a 1-year-old, two 2-year-olds and a 3-year-old. There are dozens more under 12. Fifteen have the flu, and 10 more are quarantined.

Here’s footage from outside the facility and audio from Warren Binford, one of the lawyers who visited last week to interview the children who are being detained there. Although her work is part of an active case, and so she would normally not speak to the press about her activities, she was so appalled by what she witnessed that she was compelled to go public.

Here’s a transcript of the lawyer’s description in the video:

We are seeing sick children, we are seeing dirty children, we are seeing hungry children, we are seeing children who have been separated from their parents and other family members, children who within the facility are being separated from their siblings which, they need to be with their siblings right now. We are seeing dirty clothes on them. Many of them have not been bathed. Many of them talk about how hungry they are. These children have been falling asleep, some of them during the interviews with us. They have also talked about how dizzy they are, the headaches that they have.

We really have a dire situation because here both because of the unsanitary conditions these children are being kept in, the unhealthy facility that’s being run there that’s not made for children, and the number of children who are being kept there.

This was not a facility that was even on our radar until last week when we found out that children recently have started to be sent there, and then we arrive and we find out that there are over 350 children there when we arrived.

Our children are telling us that there are over 300 children in a single room. If that’s true, which it appears to be, then literally the United States is warehousing children in a Lord of the Flies scenario, and we’ve got to do something about it.

Yes, the U.S. Is Imprisoning People in Concentration Camps by Karie Luidens

ICE Detention Center.png

Journalist Jonathan Katz is not alone in saying that we should call immigration detention “what they really are: concentration camps.”

Here are a few more voices in the growing chorus:


Don’t look away from concentration camps at the border

By NCR Editorial Staff
June 19, 2019
National Catholic Reporter
https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/editorial-dont-look-away-concentration-camps-border

It's time to stop looking away and to start calling these "centers" or "facilities" what they really are: concentration camps.

A concentration camp involves "mass detention of civilians without trial," says the woman who literally wrote the book on the subject, Andrea Pitzer, author of One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps. […]

To those who balk that current U.S. immigrant detention centers are not like Auschwitz, genocide historians remind that not all concentration camps are extermination camps — and even the latter didn't start that way. Without diminishing the extreme horror of Nazi death camps, more and more commentators — not just Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez —are saying the "concentration camp" term fits in this contemporary case.

"Things can be concentration camps without being Dachau or Auschwitz," Waitman Wade Beorn, a Holocaust and genocide studies historian and a lecturer at the University of Virginia, explained to Esquire. "Concentration camps in general have always been designed — at the most basic level — to separate one group of people from another group. Usually, because the majority group, or the creators of the camp, deem the people they're putting in it to be dangerous or undesirable in some way."


An Expert on Concentration Camps Says That's Exactly What the U.S. Is Running at the Border

"Things can be concentration camps without being Dachau or Auschwitz."

BY JACK HOLMES
JUN 13, 2019
Esquire Magazine
https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a27813648/concentration-camps-southern-border-migrant-detention-facilities-trump/

Not every concentration camp is a death camp—in fact, their primary purpose is rarely extermination, and never in the beginning. Often, much of the death and suffering is a result of insufficient resources, overcrowding, and deteriorating conditions. […]

The government of the United States would never call the sprawling network of facilities now in use across many states "concentration camps," of course. They’re referred to as "federal migrant shelters" or "temporary shelters for unaccompanied minors" or "detainment facilities" or the like. […] But by Pitzer's measure, the system at the southern border first set up by the Bill Clinton administrationbuilt on by Barack Obama's government, and brought into extreme and perilous new territory by Donald Trump and his allies does qualify. Two historians who specialize in the area largely agree.

Many of the people housed in these facilities are not "illegal" immigrants. If you present yourself at the border seeking asylum, you have a legal right to a hearing under domestic and international law. They are, in another formulation, refugees—civilian non-combatants who have not committed a crime, and who say they are fleeing violence and persecution. Yet these human beings […] are being detained on what increasingly seems to be an indefinite basis.


AOC was right to compare Trump's border internment camps to concentration camps

We're debating the description of forced extrajudicial detainment of a rhetorically demonized racial minority in harsh, punitive conditions.

By Andi Zeisler
June 19, 2019, 12:14 PM MDT
NBC News Opinion
https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/aoc-was-right-compare-trump-s-border-internment-camps-concentration-ncna1019381

...it’s not that surprising to see American politicians and pundits grasp at small semantic differences in terminology that describes forced extrajudicial detainment of a rhetorically demonized racial minority in harsh, punitive conditions. [...]

The national belief in exceptionalism and the corporate media’s thirst for access, scoops and clicks has given our border zone concentration camps that most American of things: A rebrand. [...] Of course we'll call child internment camps anything but concentration camps.

Five migrant children have died since December in detention facilities described by politicians, legal advocates and human rights organizations as being overcrowded and unsanitary, with meager food and extreme temperatures. Those who spend time parsing whether conditions in these places — which are, it’s worth repeating, for civil rather than criminal custody — are bad enough to qualify as concentration camps and berating anyone who dares to describe them accurately, are more concerned with sparing the feelings of those perpetuating the acts in question than they seem to be with the acts themselves.

Violating Human Rights and International Law by Karie Luidens

El Paso Detention Center.jpg

Comparing our current political climate to The Handmaid’s Tale may seem melodramatic. Our government is not totalitarian; our citizens still have rights and freedom.

But when it comes to how we treat immigrants and refugees, we’re not behaving like a liberal democracy. We’re acting like a regime that violates human rights and international law.

Here are some of our national obligations to refugees and asylum seekers, as defined and explained by UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, in their 2017 “guide to international refugee protection and building state asylum systems”:

The starting point for international protection is the admission of people fleeing persecution and violence to a territory where they can seek asylum and find safety. […]

States have non-refoulement obligations under international refugee and human rights law, whether treaty-based or as part of customary international law. Under international refugee law, the principle of non-refoulement contained in Article 33(1) of the 1951 Convention protects refugees from expulsion or return to a threat to their life or freedom on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Asylum-seekers are protected by this principle until their status has been determined.

The only permissible exceptions to the principle of non-refoulement as provided for in international refugee law are set out in Article 33(2) of the 1951 Convention. They apply in two circumstances: if there are reasonable grounds for regarding an individual refugee as “a danger to the security of the country in which he [or she] is” or if he or she, “having been convicted by a final judgement of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country”. (p 66)

In other words, every single person who crosses the border into the United States, whether at an official port of entry or elsewhere, and then promptly informs our law enforcement officers that they fear for their lives if we send them back where they came from—every single one—has the right to remain in the country.

They have the right to remain here “until their status has been determined.” As long as it takes for our judicial system to hear their case: the conditions back home that drove them to fled, the reasons why it would be dangerous to return. That right to be safe and to be heard is defined and agreed upon in international conventions.

That right cannot be violated unless the destination country proves that the individual is a threat to the country’s security—a terrorist, say, or a criminal convicted “of a particularly serious crime.” Proving that requires due process. Everyone who enters the country to claim asylum requires due process.

The guide summarizes how nations should treat people who seek asylum at their borders as follows:

the underlying principles that need to be respected throughout [include] non-refoulement, non-discrimination, respect for human rights and human dignity, non-penalization for illegal entry of asylum-seekers and refugees, and access to asylum procedures for persons fearing return to their country of origin (p 93)

The goal of these rules is to err on the side of protecting people’s rights and safety. The first, automatic response should be to welcome people seeking asylum, not prevent their entry, persecute them, prosecute them. From there—just as with the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”—they are to be treated as asylees until proven otherwise.

And yet.

And yet.

That is not what we in the United States are doing. We are failing those who are coming to our country to seek refuge, not just morally, but in terms of international law.

Because our current system absolutely penalizes “illegal entry of asylum-seekers and refugees.” What else can we call it when our law enforcement agencies apprehend and imprison them, often indefinitely? Particularly given the awful, and worsening, conditions of that imprisonment.

What else can we call it?

Here’s one journalist’s suggestion.


Call immigrant detention centers what they really are: concentration camps

By JONATHAN M. KATZ
JUN 09, 2019
Los Angeles Times
https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-katz-immigrant-concentration-camps-20190609-story.html

If you were paying close attention last week, you might have spotted a pattern in the news. Peeking out from behind the breathless coverage of the Trump family’s tuxedoed trip to London was a spate of deaths of immigrants in U.S. custody: Johana Medina Léon, a 25-year-old transgender asylum seeker; an unnamed 33-year-old Salvadoran man; and a 40-year-old woman from Honduras.

Photos from a Border Patrol processing center in El Paso showed people herded so tightly into cells that they had to stand on toilets to breathe. Memos surfaced by journalist Ken Klippenstein revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s failure to provide medical care was responsible for suicides and other deaths of detainees. These followed another report that showed that thousands of detainees are being brutally held in isolation cells just for being transgender or mentally ill.

Also last week, the Trump administration cut funding for classes, recreation and legal aid at detention centers holding minors — which were likened to “summer camps” by a senior ICE official last year. And there was the revelation that months after being torn from their parents’ arms, 37 children were locked in vans for up to 39 hours in the parking lot of a detention center outside Port Isabel, Texas. In the last year, at least seven migrant children have died in federal custody.

Preventing mass outrage at a system like this takes work. Certainly it helps that the news media covers these horrors intermittently rather than as snowballing proof of a racist, lawless administration. But most of all, authorities prevail when the places where people are being tortured and left to die stay hidden, misleadingly named and far from prying eyes.

There’s a name for that kind of system. They’re called concentration camps. 

A Utopia to the North by Karie Luidens

Handmaid's Tale Moira.png

Ten days have passed since I started watching The Handmaid’s Tale. And I’ve now watched all ten episodes of the first season.

The show opened with a woman fleeing through the woods, pursued by a group of armed men. They surrounded her and ripped her small child from her arms as she screamed and begged for them not to take her.

If you haven’t watched beyond that yourself and you don’t want plot details spoiled, now’s your chance to look away: I’m about to discuss the season’s final episode, “Night.”

Over the course of the first season we learn that our protagonist and narrator is June, a typical middle-class woman who previously worked as an assistant book editor in a charming Massachusetts college town. All was well in her life—husband, daughter, job, jogging—until, seemingly out of nowhere, a radical right-wing group overthrew the U.S. government in a carefully-planned coup d’état and installed their own theocratic dictatorship. Like many others in the bloody aftermath of the takeover, she and her family attempted to escape the new regime’s oppression by fleeing north to the safety of Canada, but they were hunted down and caught before they could cross the border.

In the show’s present-day timeline, three years have passed since June’s daughter was taken from her, and she still has no idea where she is. She doesn’t even know if she or her husband are still alive. Her new reality: living as a handmaid under the strict surveillance of a commander’s household. She has essentially been living in a state of domestic incarceration all this time, unable to communicate with the outside world or even with her fellow inmates, the other civilians forced into various forms of servitude in the powerful households along the commander’s pretty tree-lined street.

A whole season’s worth of drama unfolds, of course, and I highly recommend the show. Suffice it to say that by episode ten, June has made tentative contact with a mysterious resistance network that has managed to slip her an important package. She doesn’t yet know what it is—a peer whispered furiously that it was too dangerous to take it, since it could be a bomb or anthrax for all she knew—but at last, in this final episode, she has the opportunity to close herself into her bathroom by night and unwrap it.

The wrapping rips away. Left in her hands: a bundle of mismatched folded papers, tightly bound together with twine. She loosens the knot in nervous anticipation and her eyes rove the handwriting—the many different handwritings—scrawled across each page. We hear what she reads in voiceover:

My name is Maria Navarro. I was captured on December 2nd at a checkpoint outside of Hartford. They took my son, Spencer. He was five. He has a red birthmark on his right arm just below the elbow. I don’t know where he is. I was a handmaid in three different houses.

They’re letters written by fellow handmaids, the women she knows must be hidden in the other houses but with whom she’s not permitted to interact.

My name is Allison. I have two daughters. I don’t know where they are.

June’s hands shake and her breath constricts with weeping. All these handmaids are mothers, like her.

My eight-year-old got taken away. My son. 

As June sifts through the letters—so many of them, now coming unbundled before her—she finally, finally knows.

The wonderful truth of it: she is not alone.

The awful truth of it: she is not alone.

Her capture, the sudden brutal separation from her child—this is the regime’s standard practice. The problem is systemic. Who knows how many mothers out there are desperately worried about their stolen children?

***

Note that this episode was released on June 14, 2017. That’s almost a year before the journalists and general population of the United States learned how the Trump administration had cracked down on border crossers. Per Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ order, a new “zero tolerance” policy meant that anyone who entered the country outside an official port of entry was now not merely charged with a civil offense, but prosecuted for a crime. Per coverage at the time:

Jeff Sessions: Parents and Children Illegally Crossing the Border Will Be Separated

BY ARIC JENKINS
MAY 7, 2018
TIME Magazine
https://time.com/5268572/jeff-sessions-illegal-border-separated/

“If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said Monday [5/7/18] at a law enforcement event in Scottsdale, Ariz. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”

“If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple,” Sessions added, describing the new policy as zero tolerance. “We are dealing with a massive influx of illegal aliens across our Southwest Border. But we’re not going to stand for this.” […]

The new policy is being implemented with the goal of a 100% prosecution rate for all that enter the U.S. illegally, officials said. Charged adults will be sent directly to federal court. Children in turn will be sent to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, which works with shelters or relatives in the U.S.

This is the policy that led to those shocking images of children in cages, and that horrifying audio of children crying for their parents. This is what led to thousands of children not only ripped from parents’ arms but unable to be reunited: the government agencies that separated families didn’t keep any records of the process, or at least not clear, consistent records. Helping parents find their children proved to be incredibly difficult if not impossible in hundreds, even thousands of cases.

Had I already watched The Handmaid’s Tale when these stories broke in May 2018, June 2018, through to January and February of this year, I wonder if June’s voiceover would have echoed in my mind:

They took my son, Spencer. He was five. He has a red birthmark on his right arm just below the elbow. I don’t know where he is.

I have two daughters. I don’t know where they are.

***

The scene changes abruptly. We go from June’s weeping over the bundle of letters to… where are we? It’s disorienting at first, but fortunately there’s a kind man whose job it is to welcome us and explain what’s happening. He sits across the table from us—we watch over the shoulder of Moira, an old friend of June who was originally held captive as a handmaid as well but, last episode, managed a daring dark-of-night escape. Last we saw her she was speeding north in a stolen vehicle, racing against time and law enforcement toward the border. Has she made it?

“Sorry for the delay,” the man says. He’s dressed in business casual and shuffles some papers on the table. “You got coffee, great. You get something to eat?”

Moira hesitates. “Yes, thank you.”

“You’re very welcome. You came on mac and cheese night. Lucky.”

The camera slowly turns around the room now, and we see that the walls are lined with folding tables, one bearing industrial-sized coffeemakers and mugs, others set up like a potluck buffet with plates, utensils, and a series of chafing dishes.

“Welcome to Ontario,” he continues, his tone soft and sympathetic. “I wish it was under different circumstances, but we’re happy to have you here.”

Moira looks dazed. It’s clear from her face that she’s barely able to process the kindness with which this stranger is treating her. She looks his way, but with her gaze downcast, too traumatized to make eye contact.

“There’s a lot to go over,” he says, “but I will walk you through it! Come follow me.” They stand and he leads her from the makeshift cafeteria room through an office area, handing her materials as they go. “Here is your refugee ID card. I am your temp, you will be assigned a permanent caseworker in the next couple of days. At some point you may be moved to another refugee program elsewhere in Canada or even another country. Cell phone: all paid up for the next twelve months, and you have two hundred dollars for cabs on there just to get you started. Four hundred and seventy dollars in cash. Medical insurance card. Prescription drug card. Okay? Here: some clothes.”

By now Moira’s arms are filled with envelopes and bags.

He pauses to think. “What’s next? Do you want more to eat?”

“I’m okay, I think.”

“Okay, then, shower? Or do you want to just grab a book and find somewhere quiet? Whatever you want, it’s completely up to you.”

The shot slowly creeps toward Moira’s face, focusing our attention on her expression. Her eyes are wide and brows are furrowed in a mixture of shock and grief. What is that numbness we see? Disbelief, perhaps.

Disbelief that after all her years of suffering the violence of a totalitarian regime, the world still has a country, a government, a population, that care for humanity. Canada hasn’t closed its borders to migrants. Its government doesn’t prosecute people who cross outside ports of entry. The people there have chosen to create a system where their collective resources are dedicated to providing refugees with a humane greeting, basic assistance, and comfort as they transition to a new life. In other words, refuge.

Disbelief that refuge is possible.

***

Just to reiterate, this episode aired a year before our national conversation shifted to the growing humanitarian crisis on our southern border. It was written and produced even earlier: filming for season one began in September 2016, back when most pundits had already called the election for Hillary Clinton, and wrapped in February 2017, just a few weeks into Trump’s presidency and more than a year before Sessions announced his zero tolerance policy at the border.

In other words, the show’s writers weren’t offering commentary on practices that were already in place or common knowledge at the U.S.-Mexico border. They were envisioning what a totalitarian state would do versus what a democratic republic would do when it comes to law enforcement at international borders, and spinning out stories from their imagination.

It just so happens that in their dystopian vision, they predicted elements of the Trump administration’s approach to refugees and asylum seekers: arrest, family separation, incarceration.

So here we are. In both dystopian fiction and our dystopian present, the United States, this supposed Land of the Free is not the utopia to the north, the land of refuge. It’s the precise opposite: the government that persecutes and prosecutes those in desperate need of refuge.

But the writers of The Handmaid’s Tale don’t just show us how horribly a nation can abuse people. It also shows us how it could coordinate systems of compassion. Systems that respect human dignity. Systems in which caring for individuals’ needs adds up to a healthier society for all.

Take that scene in Ontario—the official greeting Canada extends to Moira when she arrives. The automatic reassurances that she is safe and welcome here. The resources they offer her to help her transition smoothly into their society without any time locked in detention or risk of homelessness and destitution on their city streets.

Don’t you think the U.S. has the resources and willpower to set up such a system at the Mexican border, if only our leadership would allow it?

I’d like to schedule a viewing of this episode for all our lawmakers to kick off a legislation-writing session in which we set up a refugee program as beautifully humane as the one imagined in, of all things, a dystopian TV drama.

Recent Reports From the Border by Karie Luidens

Neal Rosendorf Texas Monthly.jpg

New Mexico sues feds over migrant policy

BY DAN BOYD AND ANGELA KOCHERGA / JOURNAL STAFF WRITERS
Published: Monday, June 10th, 2019 at 7:11pm
Albuquerque Journal
https://www.abqjournal.com/1326673/nm-files-lawsuit-against-feds-over-migrant-policy.html

A record number of asylum seekers are crossing the border into the United States, and the U.S. Border Patrol does not have enough holding cell space for families. More than 104,000 migrant parents with children seeking asylum have crossed the border since October in the El Paso sector, which includes all of New Mexico.

This year, federal immigration officials have released roughly 9,000 migrants in Las Cruces and an additional 4,700 migrants in Deming, according to the lawsuit, with hundreds also being bused weekly to Albuquerque.

“The Trump administration has consistently and flagrantly failed in its response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis at our southern border as well as in addressing legitimate security concerns,” [NM Gov. Michelle] Lujan Grisham said. “The president has shown time and again he is interested only in demonizing the vulnerable people who arrive at our border … while taking no action to substantively and proactively protect immigrants and our southern border communities from human and drug trafficking.”


Border Patrol is confiscating migrant kids' medicine, U.S. doctors say

Caitlin Dickson
June 4, 2019
Yahoo News
https://news.yahoo.com/border-patrol-is-confiscating-migrant-kids-medicine-us-doctors-say-225354608.html

Yahoo News spoke to five doctors, including Russell and Griffin, who volunteer at shelters and clinics on the border and each confirmed that they regularly see migrants with chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, seizures and high blood pressure, for which they claim to have had medication that was confiscated while they were in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and neither returned nor replaced. It happens more frequently to adults, who are more likely to be on such medications in the first place, but doctors said they’ve been hearing similar reports from increasing numbers of children or their parents.


In El Paso, Border Patrol Is Detaining Migrants in ‘a Human Dog Pound’

Immigration officials have resumed the much-criticized practice of keeping people outdoors for weeks to relieve dangerous overcrowding.

BY ROBERT MOORE
JUN 11, 2019
Texas Monthly
https://www.texasmonthly.com/news/border-patrol-outdoor-detention-migrants-el-paso/

Rosendorf described it as “a human dog pound”—one hundred to 150 men behind a chain-link fence, huddled beneath makeshift shelters made from mylar blankets and whatever other scraps they could find to shield themselves from the heat of the sun. “I was able to speak with detainees and take photos of them with their permission,” Rosendorf said in an email. “They told me they’ve been incarcerated outside for a month, that they haven’t washed or been able to change the clothes they were detained in the entire time, and that they’re being poorly fed and treated in general.”


The Trump Administration Has Let 24 People Die in ICE Custody

By Gaby del Valle
Jun 10, 2019
VICE News
https://news.vice.com/en_us/article/3k3jd3/the-trump-administration-has-let-24-people-die-in-ice-custody

Two dozen immigrants have died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, according to a new NBC News analysis of federal data.

That figure doesn’t include the deaths of at least four immigrants who died shortly after being released from ICE custody. It also doesn’t include the deaths of immigrants held by other federal agencies, including at least five migrant children who have died while in the custody of Customs and Border Protection or the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services charged with caring for unaccompanied migrant children who enter the U.S.

Advocacy groups that work with migrants attribute the death toll to substandard conditions in more than 200 detention centers across the country. “What we're seeing is a reckless and unprecedented expansion of a system that is punitive, harmful and costly,” Katharina Obser, a senior policy adviser at the Women’s Refugee Commission, told NBC. “The U.S. government is not even doing the bare minimum to ensure [immigrants] are getting the medical care and the mental health care they need.”

Our Dystopian Present by Karie Luidens

Handmaid's Tale.jpg

According to the trailers that keep popping up across social media, season 3 launches today! That’s season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale, a Hulu original show based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel.

I haven’t been watching—not a Hulu subscriber myself. But all the recent ads finally piqued my interest enough to check out the library’s DVD sets for seasons 1 and 2. While others are tuning in for the debut of season 3, this week I settled in to watch from the beginning.

Oof.

That first episode hit me right in the breastbone.

I knew what to expect. Or I thought I did, since I’ve read the book. But the book is a first-person diary of domestic moments, a slow burn of internal tension. TV is different.

***

Police sirens blare. From the first shot on the screen, we’re in a high-speed chase. The car swerves along icy roads through the woods—we learn, soon enough, the woods of New England. A man drives; in the back, a woman holds a small child tight to her side.

The wheels spin out. The car crashes into the trees.

“You gotta take her, okay? Go. It’s about two miles north,” the man says.

The woman protests, but he insists: “Run, run, run!”

And they do. He falls behind while the woman and child take off. The music crescendos eerily as we follow their feet through the dry leaves of winter, then suddenly goes silent—gunshots in the distance. The woman and child pause. Then they press on. She scoops up the little one and sprints ahead at the sound of men’s voices shouting to one another through the trees. They’re getting closer.

We don’t yet know who these men are. But now we can see through naked branches that they’re wearing combat boots and carrying rifles. They’re hunting in the woods—hunting humans.

Three minutes into this heart-pounding drama: “We got her!”

The men surround her, pounce on her. The first thing they do? Pry the child from her arms while she screams.

“No, please, please, don’t take her! Please don’t take her! No! No!”

“Mommy!”

It’s too late. They’re stronger than she is.

“No! Wait! No!”

The last we see of the child, she’s being bundled away by a faceless man. Then the struggling, screaming mother is knocked unconscious.

***

This is supposed to be a dystopian near-future fantasy. But it feels like the present.

I expected The Handmaid’s Tale to terrify the hell out of me with its depictions of state-enforced misogyny. And, yeah, that too. But this opening scene sent my thoughts straight to our southern border.

Our protagonists are fleeing lives of persecution and oppression in what Hulu’s tagline for the show terms “a terrifying, totalitarian society.”

They’re on the last desperate leg of a journey north to the border. If they can just make it across that border, they’ll have the opportunity to start fresh in the safety of a more stable country.

But they can’t. They’re stopped by American militias—are they independent vigilantes, or the official law enforcement arm of the D.C. government? It’s hard to say. Does it matter? Either way, they’re enforcing the D.C. government’s goal: to prevent border crossings at all costs, including pursuit and violence. To punish those who attempt an illegal crossing by arresting them and separating them from their children.

Just replace the U.S.-Canada border with the U.S.-Mexico border. The gray woods of Maine with the ocotillo forests of Arizona. A white Anglo woman with a mother from Guatemala or Honduras.

Strange—one thing doesn’t require replacement in our imagination. In both the fantasy and reality, it’s gun-toting Americans who chase down desperate people, rip their children from their arms, and take them into custody for the crime of seeking a better life across the border.

Desert Dream, Legal Nightmare by Karie Luidens

Saguaro Andrew Seaman Unsplash.jpg

Last night I dreamt I was back in southern Arizona, hiking the chaparral trails just north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Others were with me, backs heavy with gallon jugs of water that we were packing up into the hills past saguaro. For some reason—dream logic—an old boss of mine was leading and my younger brother followed behind me.

We turned a curve and came upon a vigilante group in desert camo with semi-automatic rifles. They had their backs to us, but turned to glare as we hiked closer. One started yelling to us about—again, dream logic?—guarding the border against an invading army.

No, that’s not dream logic. That’s the actual logic of the vigilante militias who are out there in southern New Mexico and Arizona, camping, watching, waiting.

My brother started to argue with them, but I turned and shushed him. “Don’t engage.” That’s the instruction we were given in our No More Deaths volunteer training back in March, after all. If you cross paths with militias, don’t engage. Just keep walking.

We kept walking up a half-dry stream bed, higher and higher into a gorge, whispering back and forth with one another as the self-made soldiers disappeared from view.

Then what?

Then what happened?

The dream faded, I think. Or took a turn into another surreal scene. Dream logic. There was no end or resolution. Eventually I awoke, safe in my own bed but with a lingering sense of unease, listening to the birds of Albuquerque call to each other in the old tree outside my window.

I lay there for a while, watching the first sun-slants of morning glow through the blinds.

How will it end for Scott Warren? Like me, he’s a volunteer with No More Deaths. Unlike me, he didn’t complete a single week of water drops and then head home. He’s dedicated himself to living and working out there among the saguaro for years. I spent a few days stashing beans and blankets along migrant trails in the hopes that anyone fainting toward death could be saved by finding them. He’s devoted his life to providing not just emergency rations but extended care for those in need.

Now, thanks to the actions of a handful of government agents and the full-throated prosecution of the U.S. Department of Justice, he’s a potential felon.


Geographer. Humanitarian. Felon?

Scott Daniel Warren is about to go on trial in Arizona on charges of harboring undocumented migrants.

By Jonathan Krohn
HuffPost
05/30/2019 05:45 am ET
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/scott-warren-arizona-undocumented-migrants_n_5ceee754e4b00cfa19658ebd

Warren, a 37-year-old academic geographer and former professor at Arizona State University, is a leading figure in the activist group No Más Muertes, or No More Deaths. Over the past six years, he has regularly driven into the desert to leave water, food and supplies for the hundreds of migrants who walk the Growler Mountain trail each year.

For this alleged crime, authorities charged Warren with trespassing and littering, both misdemeanors, in the summer of 2017. The following January, he was arrested and charged again ― this time for “harboring” two migrants, a felony.

With arguments for the harboring charges set to begin on Thursday [5/30/19], Warren has become a symbol of the Trump administration’s assault on migrants and the people who help them.

Then what?

Then what happened?

Warren’s trial is expected to continue throughout this coming week. If convicted of the felony charge, he faces up to twenty years in federal prison. Twenty years, for (in the words of the charge filed in court) giving people “food, water, beds, and clean clothes.”

Dream logic. Dream logic, nightmare logic, even as we’re very much awake.

Take Responsibility for Actively Resisting by Karie Luidens

Good Nathan Lemon Unsplash.jpg

“…take responsibility for actively resisting them.”

The last words of my last post.

It is facile and meaningless to express shock—shock!—when faced with news that the president has barred immigrants from certain regions and condoned inhumane enforcement practices at the border. It is factually incorrect and self-deluding to bemoan that this isn’t the America we know and love. We can’t just pin the latest atrocities on the politicians who are currently in power. We need to be honest about our nation’s long history of xenophobia, racism, and state-sponsored violence, baked into all our systems from the start.

Only then can we recognize our roles in those systems, and take responsibility for actively resisting them.

Okay. So what does that mean?

I don’t really know, and it’s giving me a headache this morning. Time to spitball…

Educating yourself on the history of the place where you live and its political systems.

Following current events, including what your political leaders and law enforcement agencies are up to day by day.

Articulating your values to yourself so you know where you stand on the activities of those in power.

Expressing your values to others so they know where you stand on the activities of those in power.

Discussing history, current events, and values with those in your life, respectfully and constructively, so that you can educate each other and keep each other in check.

Listening to others’ voices. Making time and space to hear those who may otherwise be drowned out or excluded from conversations. Helping them reach more ears by sharing their messages with others.

Pointing out falsehoods, oversimplifications, and dehumanizing attitudes whenever and wherever you encounter them. Inviting those who propagate them to reconsider and do better.

Writing letters to the editor and otherwise publishing your analyses so a wider audience can discuss them.

Contacting your local, state, and national representatives to let them know what you care about and what you expect of them as they legislate. It’s their job to represent you. Let them know how you want to be represented, issue by issue, on a regular basis.

Volunteering, as you’re able, with organizations whose missions align with your values.

Donating, as you’re able, to nonprofits and political campaigns.

Protesting politicians and policies that go against your values. Marching, rallying, carrying signs, raising your voice.

Taking care of yourself, too—your bodily health, your mental health. Resting.

Writing lists to reassure yourself that you’re not as powerless as you feel some days.

Take an Ibuprofen for that headache and drink a glass of water.

A Throughline of White Nationalism by Karie Luidens

America Victor Lozano Unsplash.jpg

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a common refrain from the last few years, often uttered in response to the latest headline on immigration policy: “This isn’t America.” “This isn’t what our nation is about.” “This isn’t who we are.”

Liberal-minded people said it in the first week of Trump’s presidency when he signed the “Muslim ban” executive order.

They said it the following year when news broke that ICE was not only separating children from their parents but holding them in cage-like facilities.

They continue to say it in response to news about law enforcement officers and agencies cracking down when people protest or provide humanitarian aid.

The thing is—sadly—they’re wrong. This absolutely is America, and is what our nation is about.

I agree whole-heartedly that this isn’t who we are as individual citizens: the majority of Americans today are rightly horrified when they learn about these sorts of xenophobic, cruel, and undemocratic practices.

Horrifying, yes. But why would we find any of this news “shocking” or “mind boggling”? To say that Trump is sullying or fouling or infecting the soul of the nation implies that the nation’s soul was previously clean and healthy. This is not the case. If we individual citizens are surprised at our governments’ practices, and exclaim that Trump has conjured all this in the last few years, I have to wonder whether we know our own history.

It would be nice to believe the myths that most of us were taught in school: that America is a fundamentally liberal, progressive democracy with enlightened attitudes about race and equality and a system that has enshrined liberty and justice for all.

It would be convenient to believe that these current xenophobic, cruel, and undemocratic practices are an aberration, because then we could deal with that aberration superficially and return to being a just society.

The fact is, though: America is a nation established on land stolen incrementally over the centuries in a long, strategic campaign of violence. That campaign was motivated by racist disdain for the people who lived here and a belief in the inherent superiority and entitlement of people from northern Europe.

America is a nation founded on the principle that people from other regions of the world were subhuman and destined to labor in service of the superior race. Their subhuman status is enshrined in our constitution and has since been enshrined in countless discriminatory laws across the states.

America is a nation that has actively restricted immigration from specific regions of the world decade by decade depending on the latest patterns of migration and sentiments of disgust: against the Irish, against the Italians, against people from eastern Europe, against Jews, against people from China and Mexico and, now, Muslims and Central Americans.

America is a nation that incarcerates its own citizens based on their race, from people of Japanese descent in internment camps during World War II to people of African or Latino descent in today’s prison industrial complex.

This is America.

This is what America has been about for as long as it’s existed. There has never been an era of true racial equality, true welcome for immigrants or refugees, true liberty and justice for all.

To be sure, Trump and his administration are encouraging, condoning, and pardoning the very worst practices with regards to immigration. I am absolutely, unequivocally opposed to their racist rhetoric and cruel policies. I’m devastated that, where past movements and leaders have inched America toward more humane systems, those in power now have so utterly reversed that progress.

Still… Trump and his administration are a symptom, not a cause, of America’s fundamental white nationalism. We have always had, and continue to have, white supremacists in Congress. Law enforcement agencies in particular have a long history of violence toward non-whites; Border Patrol and ICE agents abused their powers long before this presidency. Xenophobic bans? Cages? Mass arrests? I’m past the point of finding anything our government does shocking or discordant with our national history.

It is facile and meaningless to express shock—shock!—when faced with news that the president has barred immigrants from certain regions and condoned inhumane enforcement practices at the border. It is factually incorrect and self-deluding to bemoan that this isn’t the America we know and love. We can’t just pin the latest atrocities on the politicians who are currently in power. We need to be honest about our nation’s long history of xenophobia, racism, and state-sponsored violence, baked into all our systems from the start.

Only then can we recognize our roles in those systems, and take responsibility for actively resisting them.


PS. Not convinced? Here’s a brief primer on America’s history of white nationalism.

White Nationalism

THROUGHLINE
May 9, 201912:01 AM ET
https://www.npr.org/2019/05/07/721165704/white-nationalism

A Few of the Acts the State Has Criminalized by Karie Luidens

Arrest Wikipedia.jpg

As we go about our daily lives, let’s never forget what sort of government we live under.

Border Patrol agents accept assistance from vigilante militias who take it upon themselves to detain unarmed people at gunpoint.

ICE rounds up ordinary people in their homes and workplaces to be imprisoned for punitive lengths of time and eventually deported. The Trump administration even hopes to do so as dramatically as possible with a “blitz” of mass arrests explicitly designed to stoke fear among immigrants and deter others from coming to our country.

Meanwhile, here are a few of the acts the state has criminalized—commit them and you can expect the authorities to arrest you and press criminal charges against you in court:

Oh, and here’s another example from the last few days:

She Stopped to Help Migrants on a Texas Highway. Moments Later, She Was Arrested.

By Manny Fernandez
May 10, 2019
New York Times
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/10/us/texas-border-good-samaritan.html

MCALLEN, Tex. — Teresa L. Todd pulled over one recent night on a dark West Texas highway to help three young Central American migrants who had flagged her down. Ms. Todd — an elected official, government lawyer and single mother in a desert border region near Big Bend National Park — said she went into “total mom mode” when she saw the three siblings, one of whom appeared to be very ill.

Struggling to communicate using her broken Spanish, Ms. Todd told the three young people to get out of the cold and into her car. She was phoning and texting friends for help when a sheriff’s deputy drove up, followed soon by the Border Patrol. “They asked me to step behind my car, and the supervisor came and started Mirandizing me,” said Ms. Todd, referring to being read her Miranda rights. “And then he says that I could be found guilty of transporting illegal aliens, and I’m, like, ‘What are you talking about?”

Ms. Todd spent 45 minutes in a holding cell that night. Federal agents obtained a search warrant to examine her phone, and she became the focus of an investigation that could lead to federal criminal charges.

As the Trump administration moves on multiple fronts to shut down illegal border crossings, it has also stepped up punitive measures targeting private citizens who provide compassionate help to migrants — “good Samaritan” aid that is often intended to save lives along a border that runs through hundreds of miles of remote terrain that can be brutally unforgiving.

A Secret White House Plan to Arrest Thousands of Parents and Children by Karie Luidens

ICE raid.jpg

Before Trump’s purge at DHS, top officials challenged plan for mass family arrests

By Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey 
May 13, 2019 at 8:11 PM EDT
Washington Post
https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/before-trumps-purge-at-dhs-top-officials-challenged-plan-for-mass-family-arrests/2019/05/13/d7cb91ce-75af-11e9-bd25-c989555e7766_story.html

In the weeks before they were ousted last month, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and top immigration enforcement official Ronald Vitiello challenged a secret White House plan to arrest thousands of parents and children in a blitz operation against migrants in 10 major U.S. cities.

According to seven current and former Department of Homeland Security officials, the administration wanted to target the crush of families that had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border after the president’s failed “zero tolerance” prosecution push in early 2018. The ultimate purpose, the officials said, was a show of force to send the message that the United States was going to get tough by swiftly moving to detain and deport recent immigrants — including families with children. […]

Senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller and ICE Deputy Director Matthew Albence were especially supportive of the plan, officials said, eager to execute dramatic, highly visible mass arrests that they argued would help deter the soaring influx of families. […]

ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations branch had an initial target list of 2,500 adults and children, but the plan, which remains under consideration, was viewed as a first step toward arresting as many as 10,000 migrants. The vast majority of families who have crossed the border in the past 18 months seeking asylum remain in the country, awaiting a court date or in defiance of deportation orders.

DHS officials said the objections Vitiello and Nielsen raised regarding the targeted “at large” arrests were mostly operational and logistical and not as a result of ethical concerns about arresting families an immigration judge had ordered to be deported. […]

[A]dministration officials who described the plan said Vitiello and Nielsen’s pushback was a factor in President Trump’s decision to oust both officials — particularly Vitiello.

The president has been livid about the number of unauthorized border-crossers being released into the U.S. interior, and he has repeatedly urged his aides to take the “toughest” approach possible. […]

Though Albence, a Miller ally who replaced Vitiello as acting director at ICE, was eager to execute the plan, current and former officials said, Vitiello urged caution and insisted that Nielsen should be consulted first. Her staff had concerns about how agents would handle families with children who are U.S. citizens and a lack of bed space to keep the families in detention, among other things.

Vitiello urged ICE agents to conduct more surveillance work, in particular to ensure that children would not be separated from their families in the blitz — such as in instances when a child might be at school or at a friend’s house when their parents were taken away.

Their objections reflected a deeper concern that the White House was pushing a shock-and-awe operation designed for show, but lacking in deliberative planning and research.

A Pattern of Criminalizing Humanitarian Aid and Those Who Decry State Sanctioned Violence by Karie Luidens

Lady Justice.png

Let’s pause and reflect on the significance of what we read yesterday.

I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

450 miles west in Tucson, Arizona, No More Deaths volunteer Scott Walker is on trial:


No More Deaths volunteer testifies leaving water for migrants is a 'sacred act'

Paul Ingram
Posted May 7, 2019, 2:45 am
Tucson Sentinel
http://www.tucsonsentinel.com/local/report/050719_warren_trial/no-more-deaths-volunteer-testifes-leaving-water-migrants-sacred-act/

The barren desert land where migrants have suffered and died, often alone under “excruciating” circumstances is “sacred” and leaving water there is an act of faith, a volunteer for No More Deaths testified as his trial began Monday 5/6/19].

Scott Daniel Warren, 36, is the last of nine volunteers with the Tucson-based humanitarian aid organization facing misdemeanor charges for leaving water, food, clothing, and medicine in the desert in the 860,000-acre Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, near Ajo, a small Arizona town west of Tucson.

Warren faces two misdemeanor charges stemming from an incident in June 2017, when he and a dozen other people entered the refuge to leave humanitarian supplies. Warren was charged with operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area because he drove a white Dodge Ram pickup along an administrative road closed to the public, and for abandonment of property because he and the other members of his group left one-gallon plastic water bottles, cans of beans, blankets, and other supplies near Charlie Bell Well, a remote water station established by ranchers that is now resupplied periodically for animals.

Warren also faces felony charges for harboring after he was arrested on Jan. 17, 2018, at the "Barn," a privately owned building in Ajo, regularly used as a staging point for volunteers. […]

On Monday, Warren testified that his actions that day were part of a sincerely-held religious belief that all life is sacred, and that he was “compelled” to provide aid to migrants, as well as search for their remains, as a volunteer with several aid organizations, including No More Deaths, which operates as a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson.


Meanwhile, 250 miles south in El Paso, Texas, activists with Tornillo: The Occupation have now been arrested:


Tornillo: The Occupation

Monday, May 13, 2019 at 10 AM
Facebook post
https://www.facebook.com/creativebrownresistance/posts/2659981200739663

UPDATE: the four activists have been taken into custody inside the El Paso County Jail. […]

The sixteen activists facing criminal charges are part of Tornillo The Occupation, a coalition of various individuals and organizations from El Paso and across the nation that travelled to the borderland to bring attention to the inhumane detention of children at the now-infamous Tornillo detention facility.

The 15 minute action highlighted the stories of Jakelin Caal Maquin, Felipe Gomez Alonzo, and Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez, three migrant youth who have died in Border Patrol custody in recent months.

The coalition maintains the allegations made against its members are grossly exaggerated and especially egregious in light of the human rights violations that activists are speaking out against. […]

The coalition believes the charges are part of a deeply troubling pattern of criminalizing both humanitarian aid and those who decry state sanctioned violence. Days before the #Borderland16 warrants were issued in El Paso, students at the University of Arizona were issued criminal charges following a protest against Border Patrol representatives during a presentation on campus. As a result of people pressure, those charges were dropped. In January of 2018, eight members of No More Deaths, a humanitarian aid organization, were arrested for leaving water along known migrant paths in the Arizona desert following their release of a report that exposed a practice of Border Patrol agents destroying life-saving humanitarian aid.

Urging the State to Drop the Charges Against the Tornillo Activists by Karie Luidens

2019-05-13 - Tornillo.png

Monday morning—two hours later. (The week is off to quite a start.)

After checking my email I clicked over to Facebook and found this post at the top of my newsfeed.


Tornillo: The Occupation

Monday, May 13, 2019 at 8:45 AM
Facebook video and press release
https://www.facebook.com/creativebrownresistance/videos/1166745143504873/

BREAKING: The sixteen activists from seven different states including California, New York, Missouri and Texas have been charged in connection with a Feb. 16 protest at the Border Patrol Museum in El Paso, Tx. Three individuals were charged with misdemeanor trespassing and thirteen were charged with felony criminal mischief. 

El Paso Police Department announced warrants have been issued during an April 4 press conference. Today at 8:30 a.m. four of the activists Amanda Tello, Nicolas Cruz, Monica Chan, and Skylar Ruch, are preparing to self-surrendered following a march from Aztec Calendar Park to El Paso County Jail. The activists read personal testimonies about what calls them to this work and are joined by supporters who carry signs urging the state to drop the charges. 


About seven minutes into the video, activist Monica Chan reads this statement:

Our young people who are fleeing from the south are devastatingly criminalized as they live in detention. They are incarcerated by design of our settler colonial society. The world has witnessed the spirit-crushing conditions of pop-up detention centers that separate families and ignore the dignity of people with darker skin. […]

There are many innocent people in prison. It weighs heavy on me that black women are imprisoned at twice the rate as white women. It weighs on me that U.S. policies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement devastated the livelihoods of Mexican farmers and forced many to flee their homelands in the first place and come to the U.S. out of survival. They’re only to be met here by hieleras and paramilitary white supremacists with guns. […]

In the revolutionary and loving words of Assata Shakur, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Demand They Drop All Charges Against Dr. Scott Warren by Karie Luidens

Humanitarian Aid Is Never a Crime.png

Monday morning—a new week. Things kicked off with a new email from No More Deaths in my inbox:


Pressure the USAO to drop all charges!

Mon, May 13, 2019 at 7:19 AM

From: No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes <dropthecharges@nomoredeaths.org>
To: kluidens@gmail.com

Today in Tucson Federal Court, Dr. Scott Warren's lawyers will argue in a pre-trial hearing that all charges stemming from his January 2017 arrest should be immediately dropped due to the selective nature of Border Patrol’s enforcement activities and that the arrest was a targeted act of political retaliation resulting from No More Deaths’ open criticism of Border Patrol’s human rights abuses.  Read more here.

In response to the growing evidence that we have clearly been targeted by the US Border Patrol, we are asking supporters to call the U.S. Attorney’s Office and demand they drop all charges against Dr. Warren.

CALL TODAY

And then call every day for the next two weeks!  Follow us on social media for updates about the trial and our efforts to get the charges thrown out.


Follow the email’s links and you’ll land on this page, which contains the text below:


From May 13th to May 24th, No More Deaths is asking all supporters to call newly appointed US Attorney Michael Bailey and demand that he drop all charges against Dr. Scott Warren

520.620.7300

Use the sample script below or create your own.  After you calllet us know and sign our petition.

I am calling to demand USDOJ drop all charges against Scott Warren. This is in reference to case 4:18-cr-00223-RCC-BPV.Given the crisis of death and disappearance of undocumented people on the border, humanitarian aid workers must be allowed to perform their life-saving work without government harassment and prosecution. I oppose the intimidation of aid workers.  Humanitarian aid is never a crime!

The Unbearable Weight/Lightness of the Desert by Karie Luidens

2019-05-12 - Foothills.jpeg

This morning I headed out, backpack stocked with sunscreen and a full water bottle. I stopped at Coda Bakery for the number seven—banh mi with tofu—then drove the length of Menaul east to the Sandia Mountain foothills and their many trailheads.

I needed a day outdoors to clear my head.

This wasn’t going to be a hike so much as a light walk. I didn’t even wear my boots; cheap sneakers were enough to grip the gravelly dirt of well-trod paths. I passed guys on mountain bikes, a slow-moving elderly couple with walking sticks, eventually a dozen or more joggers out with their dogs.

What a lovely Sunday, right?

This is the desert, out here on the edges of Albuquerque. But it’s not, you know, the Desert. You can see the city right there in the valley, green with riverside cottonwoods and landscaped parks, glittering under the mild spring sun. The trails aren’t meant to cut the shortest route to a destination: they meander among cholla and flowering prickly pears. The better to let you spot tiny yellow butterflies dancing around your ankles. To stop and press a fingertip into the rubbery new growths cacti put out after the rain like leaf buds on a deciduous tree. To admire the texture of the foothills’ granite boulders and scan the horizon’s haze for other mountain ranges to the west, to the south.

The trails are professionally maintained and labeled with small posts at each fork. One sign pointed to sheltered picnic tables, and that’s where I walked. I settled in with my barely-sipped water bottle and unwrapped my sandwich. Each time a hiker or bicyclist passed, I waved.

What a lovely Sunday.

It is so easy for me to feel safe in my life. My home is secure, my neighbors are friendly, my water is clean, my future looks bright here.

Thus I have the luxury of forgetting day by day that this city, Albuquerque, is an oasis of infrastructure in the desert. In the Desert—the one that stretches endlessly, beyond that hazy horizon, all the way west into Arizona and south into Mexico.

The paths I walked here this morning were blazed for pleasure. There, hidden from view, migrant trails cut carefully through thorns and brush and mountains out of desperate necessity.

I remember hiking out there, however brief the experience was. I remember how my back ached and sweat with the weight of five gallons of water as I struggled on those unseen trails back in March. I found it so hard, even thought I wasn’t in danger—I was just trying to help for a few days.

Now I’m free to forget that weight and stroll with just one small bottle of water for myself.

It’s lighter, easier, leisurely. Lovely. It’s lovely to spend a Sunday thinking only of oneself.

But I won’t forget. Especially now that the Desert is among my memories I won’t forget those who are out there each day, weighted down by supplies and fear, trying to make good time as they work toward their paths’ destinations.

The Bodies in the Brush by Karie Luidens

Heart Leonardo da Vinci.jpg

The bodies in the brush

By Manny Fernandez in Falfurrias, Tex.
April 18, 2019
The New York Times
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/18/us/mexico-border-deaths.html

Last week, President Trump told reporters during his visit to San Antonio that he was shocked to learn that migrants were dying in the South Texas brush after crossing the border illegally.

“I had no idea,” Mr. Trump said. “Nobody has any idea how bad this is.” He added, “Many, many are dying. That was what surprised me.”

The president spoke at a private club last Wednesday at 12:56 p.m. At that very moment, 186 miles to the south, Deputy Bianca Mora with the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office was driving a patrol truck on a caliche road. She was responding to a report of a migrant body on a ranch. It was her second body of the day.

“I don’t know how to explain it but you get used to it,” said Deputy Mora, 25. “I went to one last year and I didn’t have enough body bags. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of bodies that we found. I went initially for one. We picked up three.”


Six weeks ago, when I was working with a group of No More Deaths volunteers out in the desert of southern Arizona, bushwhacking in search of bones, the sight of white teeth in the dirt made my heart explode.

Yesterday, when I was reading the news and saw a headline about No More Deaths volunteers finding more bodies near the U.S.-Mexico border, my heart sank.

In the weeks between the two, there was another article that ruined me. The one quoted above. “The bodies in the brush.”

I didn’t write about this article when I first read it, because… well, because it ruined me. Because after I returned from Arizona I wasn’t just scratched up by catclaw, I was rubbed raw. I hovered in a state of tears or near-tears for days. Anything that’s already happened and is done happening is now just a memory, isn’t it? No, not in those first few weeks back home. My time working to try to prevent deaths in the desert wasn’t yet memory. It was still very much continuing to happen in my body. A faint sunburn glowed warm in my flesh; Sonoran dirt stubbornly lined my fingernails; the dark pricks of blood pulled from me by thorns were dry but not yet healed or peeling. I went about my chores and tried to ignore the desert-death-heat that still encrusted me until, time after time, someone’s careless question or the scent of cooking beans unleashed sudden weeping.

In those weeks it wasn’t a question of remembering or forgetting the desert and its pall of death. I was still wrapped in its dusty shroud. How could I remember or forget an experience that was ongoing in my body and mind?

But time passed. I washed myself each day. My mind and body cooled and healed and softened again. My mind slowly relaxed and slid back into different daydreams.

Here we are, mid-May: my time with No More Deaths at last feels like memories.

Back on April 18, when I read this in-between news story: No More Deaths deaths deaths was still alive in my skin, bones, brain.

And heart. The heart. That old cliché, the heart, the heart of a person, the heart of an issue, the broken hearts of those who grieve, the bleeding hearts of liberals who care about them, the hot wet fist of muscle that squeezes in every chest every second of every human life.

Six weeks ago my heart exploded. Yesterday my heart sank. What did my heart do on April 18 when I read this other news story?

It exploded and smoldered, sank and throbbed, burned and squeezed.

It took over the rest of me. I couldn’t catch my breath—my lungs went dry and tight. My hands shook. I keened so frightfully that my dog came clattering over with his velvety ears folded back to search my face and lick my tears. I said fuck with the intensity of a scream but in a low, soft voice. A hiss. Fuck you, I hissed. Fuck you, Trump, fuck you, fuck you, fuck, fuck, fuck, no more, no more deaths, deaths, death, fuck.

That’s what my heart did.

I didn’t know how to write about it then, so I didn’t.

I’m still not sure if I know how to write about it now, but there you go—I tried.

Multiple Remains Recovered This Week by Karie Luidens

Saguaro Dulcey Lima Unsplash.jpg

My heart sank when I saw this headline.

It sank right down through my chest into the deep well of sorrow that bottoms out in my belly.

It continued to beat down there, but it felt fainter. It felt less like it was pumping life through my now-cold fingers and more like it was weeping in soft throbs.

A different sensation—a very different sensation—from when I was hiking in that Arizona desert six weeks ago, volunteering with No More Deaths, combing thorny hillsides in search of human bones. In the heat and dust and sweat of that day I was all nerves. My tense limbs were like bundled kindling; when I saw the glint of white teeth in the dirt my body was was primed to explode.

A heart exploding is the opposite of a heart sinking.

Both times, though, whether I saw the bones myself or simply read about them, the sudden presence of death hit me hard in the heart.


Multiple remains recovered this week

MAY 8, 2019
No More Deaths release
http://forms.nomoredeaths.org/multiple-remains-recovered-this-week/

TUCSON, AZ:  On Sunday, May 5th, No More Deaths launched a search and rescue mission in the West Desert outside of Ajo, AZ, resulting in the ultimate recovery of four sets of human remains.  The remains were encountered in the Growler Valley, the same valley in which Dr. Scott Warren was issued as citation for leaving water in summer 2017. Dr. Warren has been on trial the past two days and continuing into today for charges related to that incident

The search and rescue was launched in response to a call that came through the No More Deaths Missing Migrant Hotline after family members calling the hotline asked for support in urging Border Patrol’s Search and Rescue arm to initiate a rescue operation and CBP refused to mobilize resources.  The first day of the search resulted in the team encountering a set of skeletal human remains that had been found and reported to the Pima County Sheriff in December 2017 by the Armadillos del Desierto, a San Diego based search and rescue organization. The Sheriff never recovered the body. The second day of the search, volunteers found three more sets of remains within a few miles of a newly installed rescue beacon.