Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Do You Care About the Rule of Law? Then Act Like It, by Sonia Nazario, NYTimes July 11, 2018

This New York Times story by Pultizer prize-winning journalist and author of Enrique's Journey, Sonia Nazario, about our current border crisis, including the Adelanto Detention facility located n the Victor Valley area of the Mojave Desert in California.  After reading this excellent argument that the solutions aren't here on the border and that we should ourselves care about and implement the "Rule of Law" without with we are no different from brutal dictatorships, consider reading another NYTimes piece that came out a couple of weeks ago that explores alternatives to detention titled, "There’s a Better, Cheaper Way to Handle Immigration.  It spells out the regular, normalized abuse that families are experiencing in detention centers.  
This has been happening, my friends, for a long time.  Obama detained children with their parents, too!  However, the family case management program that Nazario mentions is an excellent, cost-effective alternative.  She also mentions two other ICE programs that actually work.
"ICE has two programs that use electronic ankle monitors, biometric voice-recognition software, unannounced home visits, telephone reporting and global positioning technologies to track people who have been released from detention while their cases are being heard, at a cost of 30 cents to $8.04 per person per day. In 2013, 96 percent of those enrolled appeared for their final court hearings, and 80 percent of those who did not qualify for asylum complied with their removal orders."
Unlike many in this debate, she has a deep understanding of the problem as her book Enrique's Journey that is a first-hand account of the treacherous journey from Central American to our borders indicates.  
To her excellent recommendations, I would only add that we need a Marshall Plan to re-build violence-ridden, economically-challenged Central American countries.  
This would be akin to what our country did for Europe in the wake of unprecedented devastation at the end of World War II.  It buoyed the emergence of the middle class in our own country as we were the only major power left standing.
I know that there are discussions, as well, like regional economic integration of those countries, but I'm not hearing any of this in the news right now, much less the advantages or disadvantages associated with the remedies that Nazario recommends.  Read on.
-Angela Valenzuela

Do You Care About the Rule of Law? Then Act Like It

By Sonia Nazario
Ms. Nazario writes about immigration and asylum.

ADELANTO, Calif. — Moisés Valentín, a pastor at the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and I drove two hours outside of Los Angeles, to the middle of nowhere, high in the Mojave Desert. There, surrounded by sage scrub brush and crowned in concertina wire, was the Adelanto Detention Facility, the nation’s largest prison for adult immigrants. Many of the people detained there are seeking asylum, running less toward the American dream than away from a Central American nightmare.
Pastor Valentín wasn’t there to save their souls. He goes twice a month to try to save them from the United States government, which is treating them with unspeakable cruelty in violation of its own laws.
Opponents of immigration have long had one rallying cry: rule of law! But most of the people seeking asylum at the Adelanto Detention Facility followed the law to a T. They presented themselves at ports of entry on our southern border and asked for asylum. The Trump administration seems to be using every tactic possible to prevent them from gaining that asylum, even if they clearly qualify.
This spring Attorney General Jeff Sessions told immigration judges that they must rule on at least 700 cases a year. There’s no way they can realistically consider the evidence and still meet that quota; it’s much faster to just reject people’s claims. Then last month Mr. Sessions announced that domestic and gang violence — the most common reasons for fleeing Central America — would generally no longer qualify someone for asylum.
The Trump administration is not just changing the rules; it’s making a mockery of them.
It is illegal to bar people seeking asylum from our ports of entry, but we have effectively done just that. It is illegal to penalize asylum seekers, but we have criminally prosecuted them for “illegal” entry and violated their rights to due process by taking away their children. Last week, a federal court in Washington ruled that the Trump administration can’t indefinitely lock up asylum seekers who are awaiting a court hearing — but we are continuing to do the same thing to thousands of others.
Instead of supporting people running from harm, we have built a machine designed to psychologically break them in the hopes that they will give up and go home.
This gutting of our asylum system has been going on for some time. In the immigration courts, which decide asylum cases for people who are caught or turn themselves in at the border, 45 percent of applicants were rejected in the 2012 fiscal year. In 2017, asylum denials jumped to 62 percent.
The result? People are being sent back to danger, even to their deaths. Before we let the Trump administration tighten the screws even further, we need to ask ourselves: Do we want this done in our name? Are we willing to trash our own laws in order to try to seal the border?
At Adelanto, Pastor Valentín and I met with Mayra Lucrecia Arriola Hurtarte, a 29-year-old woman from Guatemala. She has been in detention for three and a half months, after applying for asylum as a victim of domestic violence.

“My husband tortured me,” she said simply. She said he regularly choked her until she passed out. He would cut himself and make her drink his blood. She showed me the fingers he had broken. She raised her blue uniform to reveal two letters — the first two of his name — that her husband had carved into her belly.
It got worse. She said he stuffed his hand up her vagina, saying he was trying to pull her womb out. Another time he held her down and rammed a knife up her vagina.

That’s when she left him. She moved 15 times in a year, but he always found her. She called the police on him more than a dozen times, but they said: “Those are private matters. We can do nothing.” After her husband tried to run her over with his car, the officer in charge of her case frankly advised her, “You should leave the country.”  So she did. And when she presented herself at the San Ysidro, Calif., port of entry to ask for safety, she said, the Border Patrol agent sneered. “Why are you leaving your husband? There’s no asylum for that!”We also spoke with Irma Carillo Gregorio, 25, who fled Guatemala with her husband, Antonio Ramos, and their 3-year-old daughter, Karla Sofia Ramos. Someone was calling their phone, threatening to exterminate their entire family if they didn’t pay him $400 in extortion money every month. They changed the number, but the calls continued. They grew potatoes on a small plot of land; they didn’t have the money.

The family fled through Mexico, where they were stopped by police officers and separated. Ms. Carillo made it alone to the San Ysidro port of entry on May 20 and asked officials: Can you help me find my family? She answered yes when asked if she wanted asylum.

When she arrived at Adelanto on June 1, she learned that her husband had entered at San Ysidro five days earlier, and that officers there had torn Karla Sofia away from him. She cried as she explained how it took nearly two months to learn that her daughter was in a foster home in Texas.
She just spoke to her for the first time last week, and was allowed to talk for two minutes.
“Who are you?” the little girl asked.
“I am your mother!” she said.
The girl started sobbing and couldn’t speak for the rest of the call.
These women are living in hell, but they have, at the very least, a chance to make their case for asylum. More and more migrants are being denied that. Instead, our government is chanting Melania’s motto: “I really don’t care.”
Some emboldened Border Patrol agents are turning away people outright. Sorry, they say, the United States is full, try again later. Or, we don’t give asylum any more.
For two weeks, in 105- to 107-degree heat, around 100 migrants, including children, have been waiting in Nogales, Mexico, across the Arizona border, where a measly three families are processed a day, said Joanna Williams, the director of education and advocacy for the Kino Border Initiative. The wait to cross into California is even longer — up to a month. There are encampments in Tijuana with more than 1,000 families waiting to be processed.
This is treacherous turf on which to hang out. One of the biggest revenue streams for Mexico’s cartels is kidnapping people, including thousands of Central Americans, each year. They demand ransoms, prostitute girls, enslave boys. In Reynosa, Ms. Williams said, these cartels are systematically stalking migrants who have been turned away from the border.

Her group aided one 49-year-old man who had been kidnapped, raped and tortured by the Sinaloa cartel. After his family paid $1,200 in ransom, his tormentors released him by the border with a message: If we see you again, you’re dead. But when he told Border Patrol agents, “My life is in danger,” Ms. Williams says they laughed at him, processed him for illegal re-entry and booted him back to Mexico.

It is a violation of America’s immigration laws to turn away someone who says he is in danger without providing access to a credible fear interview or a reasonable fear interview — the first step on the path to asylum or protection.
Ms. Williams also reported that a 43-year-old Mexican woman, who showed Border Patrol agents documents attesting to the fact that her brother’s kidnappers had left his body parts strewn on her patio and were now stalking her, was turned back five times without being given a credible-fear interview.
When asked to respond, a representative of the Border Patrol said, “No one is being denied the opportunity to make a claim of credible fear or seek asylum,” and that sometimes agents are forced to limit access because the port of entry is at capacity or detention space isn’t available.
Say you aren’t simply turned away; you may still be pressured not to follow through with a credible-fear interview. According to Lindsay Toczylowski, the executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, which represents migrants in Adelanto, immigration officials “are using kids as hostages to get people to give up their claims.”
They take the children, and then tell the parents that if they agree to deport on their own, “you can see your kid at the airport,” Ms. Toczylowski said. “But if you choose to seek asylum, we will hold you for months; we don’t know when you will see your child.”
Say you stick to your guns and get that credible-fear interview; you’ll still probably fail. Late last month, Kids in Need of Defense, a nonprofit on whose board I serve, rushed a team of lawyers to the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Texas, which was thought to have the largest number of women separated from their children at the border. It tracked 26 credible-fear interviews conducted there. Two-thirds failed, including that of a Honduran woman who was assaulted and threatened for being a political activist, a case that in the past would have been a slam dunk.

Five years ago, nine in 10 asylum seekers were released during their court hearings, often with an ankle monitor, but now nine in 10 are held indefinitely in horrible places. The point is to push people to the breaking point so they’ll give up their legal rights.
Adelanto is one of the deadliest immigration prisons in the United States. Three people perished there in a three-month period last year. According to Michael Kaufman, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, medical care at Adelanto suffers because the company that owns it, the GEO Group, cuts corners to save money. Women there told me there are maggots and mold in the food sometimes. The prison pays $1 for a day of work cleaning or in the kitchen.
GEO disputed what it called “baseless allegations,” and said detainees work voluntarily and are paid according to guidelines set by Congress. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that it provides timely access to medical treatment for all detainees.
Occasionally detainees crack under the strain: Last year at Adelanto, a Haitian woman tried to hang herself and a Russian woman tried to kill herself using nail cutters. Adelanto, like most immigration prisons, is so isolated that most detainees don’t have a lawyer. Nine in 10 asylum seekers with no lawyer lose; nearly half with a lawyer win.
Despite all this, what they have fled is so terrifying that many are willing to stick it out at Adelanto for months or years.

These are the people we created the asylum and refugee systems for. After World War II, Americans faced a moral reckoning. We had refused to allow a ship of 900 Jewish refugees to dock at our shores, sending it back to Europe, where more than 250 died in the Holocaust. We ignored a proposal to let 20,000 Jewish children come here. Americans swore: never again. We would not stand by as people died, when we and other countries could help them.

We spearheaded the drafting of the 1951 Refugee Convention and signed on to the 1967 Refugee Protocol. Under Article 33 of the convention, countries agreed not to turn people back to persecution if they had well-founded fears. Article 31 prohibits penalizing undocumented asylum seekers who promptly present themselves to the authorities “and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.” Both provisions are enshrined in our immigration laws.
Of course, it was easier to be righteous when we had fewer people knocking at our door. While the Trump administration informally or illegally blocks asylum seekers, it has also slashed the number of refugees it accepts.
In early July, Dara Lind of Vox reported on new draft regulations by Mr. Sessions. Anyone who spends more than two weeks traveling through Mexico would be ineligible for asylum in the United States, and would be pushed to apply in Mexico. This is a joke on multiple levels.
The average journey through Mexico takes a month, and people are being forced to wait weeks at many ports of entry, so this move would conveniently disqualify most migrants. Then there’s the idea that Mexico is a safe country capable of granting asylum, when last year was its deadliest ever, with 30,000 murders and more than 22,000 Mexicans themselves seeking asylum in the United States. The agency charged with processing asylum claims in Mexico decided only 30 percent of the claims it received in 2017.
My family spent a century fleeing persecution. My father’s family was persecuted in Syria for being Christian and left for Argentina in the 1920s. My Jewish mother fled Poland as a young girl for Argentina; her relatives who didn’t leave were murdered in Auschwitz. I was a teenager in Argentina during the “dirty war,” when the military “disappeared” up to 30,000 people. A close relative was tortured and held in jail for nearly a year. The military killed a good friend, 16 years old, broke all the bones in his face. My mother and I burned our books in the backyard; even “Alice in Wonderland” could make you a target.
I understand what can drive people to risk everything — even the separation of their families — to escape. As Ms. Williams put it: “Families tell me, ‘If we are in our hometown in Mexico, the cartel will rip our kids out of our arms. Here the U.S. government will do it.’”
Or, as Nataly Rivas Escamilla, a 20-year-old asylum seeker from El Salvador told me at Adelanto, “I prefer to be here, locked up, than dead in my country.”

Desperate people can’t be deterred.

Don’t get me wrong; I oppose open borders. What we should do is let asylum seekers cross our borders and then release them — under supervision, monitored by case workers or even ankle bracelets — while their claims are being processed. That’s what the Trump administration was forced to do Tuesday for some migrant families, when a judge orderedthe first round of reunifications of separated parents and young children. If asylum seekers’ claims are rejected, they should be deported. In other words: be openhearted on the front end, giving people a real chance at safety if they need it, and be tougher on the back end. That’s a lot more humane and effective than the current insanity we are engaged in. It also hews to the cry of “Rule of law!”

In the first nine months of this fiscal year, 68,560 families and 37,450 unaccompanied children were apprehended at our southern border. That’s not a “flood.” It’s one football stadium of people. We can afford that level of compassion in this country.

And we don’t even have to depend on compassion, because we have laws — laws that govern the seeking and granting of asylum. The Trump administration is demanding that immigrants follow the law. The least Americans can do is demand the same thing of their government.

You are either for the rule of law, or you’re against it.

Sonia Nazario, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite With His Mother,” is a board member of Kids in Need of Defense and a contributing opinion writer.

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