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Why It’s Immigrants Who Pack Your Meat

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Eric Schlosser writes in the Atlantic:

The immigration raid last week at seven poultry plants in rural Mississippi was a perfect symbol of the Trump administration’s racism, lies, hypocrisy, and contempt for the poor. It was also a case study in how an industry with a long history of defying the law has managed to shift the blame and punishment onto workers.

Planned for more than a year, the raid involved at least 600 agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, helicopters, and a staging area at a local National Guard base. The agents carried handguns, wore black body armor, and led 680 immigrant workers—almost all Latino, many of them women—to waiting buses with their hands zip-tied behind their backs. One worker, an American citizen, was shot with a Taser for resisting arrest. Children gathered outside the poultry plants crying as their parents were taken away and sent to private prisons; other kids sat in classrooms and at day-care centers, unaware that their families were being torn apart. It was the first week of school.

“The timing was unfortunate,” Kevin McAleenan, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, later acknowledged. Twenty-two people had been killed a few days earlier in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman had targeted Mexican customers at a Walmart out of a desire to halt “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” President Donald Trump expressed no regret and applauded the Mississippi raid, arguing that it would deter undocumented immigrants from taking American jobs. “I just hope to keep it up,” he said.

Despite the fact that the poultry workers were merely arrested, not yet found guilty, Mike Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, dismissed concerns about an 11-year-old girl photographed sobbing outside one of the plants. “I understand the girl’s upset, and I get that, but her father committed a crime,” Morgan told CNN. He also denied that “raids” had occurred, calling them “targeted law-enforcement operations.” His comments reinforced the big lie at the heart of Trump’s presidency: that undocumented immigrants are threatening and scary parasites who can be kept away with a wall. “The Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States,” Trump said while running for office. “They are in many cases criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”

As The Washington Post and others have noted, immigrants to the United States are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. Far from being a drain on the American economy, immigrants have become an essential component of it. According to a recent study by the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University, “The industrial produce and animal production and processing systems in the U.S. would collapse without the immigrant and migratory workforce.” The handful of multinational companies that dominate our food system are hardly being forced to employ immigrant workers. These firms have for many years embraced the opportunity to exploit them for profit.

More than a century ago, when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, the workers in American meatpacking plants were recent immigrants, largely from eastern Europe. Sinclair eloquently depicted the routine mistreatment of these poor workers. They were employed for long hours at low wages, exposed to dangerous working conditions, sexually abused, injured on the job, and fired after getting hurt. In the novel, the slaughterhouses of Chicago serve as a metaphor for the ruthless greed of America in the age of the robber barons, of a society ruled by the law of the jungle. During the following decades, the lives of meatpacking workers greatly improved, thanks to the growing strength of labor unions. And by the early 1970s, a job at a meatpacking plant offered stable employment, high wages, good benefits, and the promise of a middle-class life.

When I visited meatpacking communities in Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, and Washington State almost 20 years ago, those gains had been lost. As I described in my book Fast Food Nation, published in 2001, the largest companies in the beef industry had recruited immigrants in Mexico, brought them to the meatpacking communities of the American West and Midwest, and used them during the Ronald Reagan era to break unions. Wages were soon cut by as much as 50 percent. Line speeds were increased, government oversight was reduced, and injured workers were once again forced to remain on the job or get fired. In The Chain, published in 2014, Ted Genoways wrote about similar changes in the pork industry. And in 2016’s Scratching Out a Living, Angela Stuesse wrote about the transformation of the poultry industry in the rural South, with a prescient focus on the abuse of Latino workers in Mississippi.

All three books reached the same conclusion: What Trump has described as an immigrant “invasion” was actually a corporate recruitment drive for poor, vulnerable, undocumented, often desperate workers.

One of the poultry plants that Stuesse explored, in the small town of Morton, Mississippi, was raided last week. B. C. Rogers, the company that owned the plant in 1994, launched a hiring drive that year called “The Hispanic Project.” Its goal was to replace African American workers, who were seeking a union, with immigrant workers who’d be more pliant. It placed ads in Miami newspapers, arranged transportation for immigrants, and charged them for housing in dilapidated trailers. Within four years, it had brought roughly 5,000 mainly Latino workers to Morton and another meatpacking town in Mississippi, enlarging their population by more than 50 percent. The poultry industry expanded throughout the rural South during the 1990s, drawn by the warm climate and the absence of labor unions. Tens of thousands of immigrant workers soon arrived to cut meat. Charlotte S. Alexander, an associate professor at the Georgia State College of Law put it succinctly: “In the poultry industry, location is a labor practice.”

The immigrant workers arrested in Mississippi the other day were earning about $12.50 an hour. Adjusted for inflation, during the late 1970s, the wages of meatpacking workers in Iowa and Colorado were about $50 an hour.

If you believe the numbers compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the injury rate among meatpacking workers has greatly declined in recent years. I don’t believe them. During the George W. Bush administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) decided that cumulative trauma injuries no longer had to be recorded separately by meatpacking firms. As a result, from 2001 to 2003, the total number of injuries miraculously dropped by one-third. A few years ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office admitted that meat and poultry workers “may underreport injuries and illnesses because they fear losing their jobs, and employers may underreport because of concerns about potential costs.” One study suggested that two-thirds of the injuries in American meatpacking plants are never officially recorded.

Even if you accept the accuracy of the official statistics, meatpacking remains an unusually dangerous and unpleasant occupation, with an injury rate much higher than that of other manufacturing jobs. Poultry workers stand close to one another with sharp knives, repeating the same motion again and again more than 15,000 times in a single shift, slicing birds as they pass on conveyor belts every two seconds. A 2013 investigation by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that 42 percent of the workers at a poultry plant in South Carolina were suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. The work is bloody, difficult, and full of potential harms. Lacerations are commonplace, and the high prevalence of fecal bacteria in poultry plants increases the risk that wounds will become infected. A study of poultry workers in Maryland and Virginia found that they were 32 times more likely than other residents of the area to be carriers of antibiotic-resistant E. coli. Poultry workers suffer from respiratory ailments, chemical burns, fractures, concussions, eye damage, sprains, strains, concussions, and exposure to toxic fumes. Reporting on the industry for The New Yorker, Michael Grabell counted more than 750 amputations from 2010 to 2017.

Last year, two employees of Peco Foods, which operates one of the plants raided in Mississippi, survived amputations during separate accidents at the same facility in Arkansas—and yet OSHA never visited the plant to look for safety problems after the accidents. Deborah Berkowitz, a former OSHA official who now handles worker-safety issues for the National Employment Law Project, told me that the Trump administration’s close ties to the meatpacking industry are making the work even more dangerous. OSHA’s enforcement activity has declined since Trump took office, and the agency now has the fewest inspectors since it was created in 1971.

The emotional toll of working in a poultry plant can be worse than some of the physical ailments. Koch Foods, the current owner of the plant in Morton, settled a case in 2018 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Although the company admitted neither guilt nor wrongdoing, it paid $3.75 million to workers at the Morton plant who claimed to have been sexually harassed and punished for refusing to comply. The case brings to mind passages from The Jungle, with female employees allegedly grabbed and groped by supervisors, offered money for sex, promised better jobs in return for bribes, and demoted to humiliating jobs as retribution. Owned by Joseph Grendys, a Chicago multibillionaire, Koch Foods was also cited by the Department of Agriculture for . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2019 at 4:56 pm

A Kremlin-Linked Firm Invested Millions in Kentucky. Were They After More Than Money?

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Simon Shuster and Vera Bergengruen report in TIME:

Last summer, it looked like things were finally about to change for Ashland, Ky. For two decades, the jobs that once supported this Appalachian outpost of 20,000 people on a bend in the Ohio River have been disappearing: 100 laid off from the freight-rail maintenance shop; dozens pink-slipped at the oil refinery; 1,100 axed at the steel mill that looms over the landscape. Then, on June 1, 2018, standing on a stage flanked by the state’s governor and business leaders, Craig Bouchard, the CEO of Braidy Industries, pointed across a vast green field and described a vision as though he could already see it.

In the little-used park just off I-64, Braidy would build the largest aluminum mill constructed in the U.S. in nearly four decades. The $1.7 billion plant would take aluminum slab and roll it into the material used in everything from cars and planes to soda cans. It would employ 600 full-time workers earning twice the average salary in the region, Bouchard said, and create 18,000 other jobs across the state. Gesturing at the empty space around him, the CEO described an employee health center, a technical lab, a day care and hundreds of employees walking around “carrying iPads.” More than just making aluminum, the plant would help “rebuild northeast Kentucky, and in fact all of Appalachia,” Bouchard told the crowd.

There was just one problem: Bouchard still needed a major investor to make the vision a reality. After months of searching, the only option was problematic. Rusal, the Russian aluminum giant, was tailor-made to join forces on the project. But it was under sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department. Its billionaire owner, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s, was being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller for his potential involvement in the effort to swing the 2016 presidential election. The Treasury sanctions—punishment for the Kremlin’s “malign activities” around the world, including “attempting to subvert Western democracies”—made it illegal for Americans to do business with Rusal or its boss.

So Bouchard faced a dilemma. Keeping his promise to bring good new jobs—a project that had already been touted by the White House—would mean partnering with a firm that had deep ties to the Kremlin. Which mattered more, the economic needs of a depressed region, or the national-security concerns raised by the Mueller investigation? Hundreds of miles from the congressional hearings and think-tank debates over Russian influence in Washington, Braidy Industries and the surrounding community had to weigh whether Russia’s 2016 plot had caused enough damage to American security, or American pride, to spurn a chance at an economic miracle.

Bouchard concluded they had no choice. He knew it could be controversial, if not outright illegal, to work on a deal with Rusal while it was still fighting to free itself from U.S. sanctions, he told TIME in an interview. But after a long talk with his lawyers about the risks of even discussing such a partnership, he traveled to Zurich in January 2019 for what he calls a “meet and greet” with a Rusal sales executive. Over dinner at La Rôtisserie, a restaurant with a view of the city’s 12th century cathedral, the executive told Bouchard that the company was ready to do business. “They said, ‘If we get the sanctions off, let’s meet again,’” he recalls. “And I said, ‘Wow, that’s interesting.’”

By mid-April, an exuberant Bouchard was standing at the New York Stock Exchange, announcing that the Russian company had purchased a 40% stake in the Ashland plant for $200 million. Back in Kentucky, the news was met with celebration and relief. “People who were skeptical are seeing that it’s big time,” says Chris Jackson, a 42-year-old former steel-mill worker. When he enrolled in a training program for the Braidy plant, Jackson recalls, many in the community doubted the jobs would ever materialize. “The Rusal agreement just showed everybody this is legit.”

But to some observers, the story of how a Kremlin-linked aluminum giant offered an economic lifeline to Appalachia is an object lesson of the exact opposite. Critics of the deal, both Democrat and Republican, say it gives Moscow political influence that could undermine national security. Pointing to Moscow’s use of economic leverage to sway European politics, they warn the deal is a stalking horse for a new kind of Russian meddling in America, one that exploits the U.S. free-market system instead of its elections. “That’s just what the Russians do,” says veteran diplomat Daniel Fried, who shaped U.S. policy on Eastern Europe at the State Department from the late 1980s until 2017. “They insert themselves into a foreign economy and then start to influence its politics from the inside.”

What worries national-security experts is not that Rusal, Braidy or Deripaska broke any laws in the deal. It’s that they didn’t. A TIME investigation found that Rusal used a broad array of political and economic tools to fight the sanctions, establishing a foothold in U.S. politics in the process. “You cannot go against them in a policy decision, even though it’s in our national interest, when they have infiltrated you economically,” says Heather Conley, who served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. “They use our laws, our rules, our banks, our lawyers, our lobbyists—it’s a strategy from within.”

To free itself from sanctions, Rusal fielded a team of high-paid lobbyists for an intense, months-long effort in Washington. One of the targets was Kentucky’s own Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, who helped thwart a bipartisan push to keep the sanctions in place. Since May, two of McConnell’s former staffers have lobbied Congress on behalf of Braidy, according to filings. Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, one of Rusal’s longtime major shareholders, Len Blavatnik, contributed more than $1 million through his companies to a GOP campaign fund tied to McConnell. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2019 at 4:50 pm

Even with Trump in Office, the Climate Denial Movement Is Quietly Falling Apart

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Geoff Dembicki reports in Vice:

It might seem like the climate denial movement is getting everything it wants.

The loose network of far-right think tanks and the reclusive billionaires who fund them helped convince Donald Trump to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate treaty. The administration is passing a wish list of policies boosting the fossil fuel industry and escalating its rollback of climate research. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency this June killed one of America’s most far-reaching and effective climate laws, the Clean Power Plan, and replaced it with something much weaker.

But those who track and investigate climate deniers told VICE the movement itself appears to be in flux. Veteran deniers are being pushed out, fossil fuel funding is harder to come by and longtime policy goals are for now out of reach. They’re suing each other for hundreds of thousands of dollars and attacking companies like Exxon as “alarmist” sell-outs.

Is the movement that for over two decades spread doubt and uncertainty about climate science finally receding? Or is it merely updating its approach and tactics for an era when public concern about the climate emergency is rising? Either way, experts argued, deniers are not projecting confidence or cohesion.

“They’re not in great shape right now. They’re cranky, they feel like they’re being ignored and overlooked—they are—and they’re as discredited as they’ve ever been,” said Connor Gibson, a researcher for Greenpeace’s investigation team. “The only thing is, we’re currently living in the upside down… They’ve never had a more receptive president.”

Trump earlier this year tweeted a quote from a Fox & Friends guest claiming that “the whole climate crisis is not only Fake News, it’s Fake Science.” The president also said in June that “climate change goes both ways.” However, even with a vocal climate change denier in the White House, the movement is in the midst of fundamental changes.

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank co-founded by fossil fuel billionaire Charles Koch, this May shut down a science program that for years has questioned the consensus that humans are responsible for warming the Earth’s atmosphere.

“They informed me that they didn’t think their vision of a think tank was in the science business, and so I said, ‘OK, bye,'” Pat Michaels, the climate skeptic and frequent Fox News guest who oversaw the program, told E&E News. Other well-known figures in the movement, including Richard Lindzen and Ryan Maue, have also departed the Cato Institute.

People who track the denial movement were caught off guard by the departures. “It was a bit of a shock to a lot of us,” said Kert Davies, director of the Climate Investigations Center. “When that came through, we were like, ‘Woah, that’s different, that’s new.'”

Still, he cautions against reading too much into it. He and other denier trackers don’t know if the Kochs cut off funding to the program, or whether it was merely a clash of personalities. Scientists like Michaels may simply resume their work at another organization. “We’re still trying to suss it out,” he said.

This isn’t a one-off setback for the movement, though. In July, the White House said it would shelve plans for an “adversarial” review of climate science. That frustrated Myron Ebell, a prominent denier who had led Trump’s EPA transition team. He complained to E&E news that the long-held goal of forcing mainstream scientists to publicly defend their basic findings against a government-sponsored team of deniers has “been totally stymied by the forces of darkness within the administration, but also by the looming election campaign.”

Penn State atmospheric scientist Michael Mann speculated the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel companies have little interest in the blowback that could come from a “full-frontal attack on the science” hosted by the White House. “I think their decision is they don’t need to do that, they’re getting everything they want, why stir up a hornet’s nest,” said Mann, who has been a frequent target of deniers and recently won a lawsuit against a Canadian group that had accused him of fraud.

A high-profile forum on whether climate change is real could rally the hardcore denier base—which represents about 9 percent of the U.S. population—but would unlikely be well-received by the growing numbers of Americans worrying about climate change. Polling from Yale suggests that  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2019 at 12:28 pm

The Case That Made an Ex-ICE Attorney Realize the Government Was Relying on False “Evidence” Against Migrants

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Melissa del Bosque reports in ProPublica:

Laura Peña could see that her 36-year-old client was wasting away. Gaunt and haggard after nearly two months in jail, he ran his fingers through his hair and opened his hands to show her the clumps that were falling out. He was so distraught that his two young children had been taken from him at the border, he could barely speak without weeping.

After Carlos requested political asylum, border and immigration agents had accused him of being a member of the notorious MS-13 gang in El Salvador — a criminal not fit to enter the United States. But as Peña looked at him, she saw none of the typical hallmarks of gang membership: the garish MS-13 tattoos or a criminal record back home. He was the sole caregiver for his 7-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. He’d even brought an official letter from El Salvador’s Justice Ministry certifying that he’d never been in jail. Something else about his case bothered her, too: She’d been peppering the government’s lawyers with phone calls and emails for weeks and they’d yet to reveal any evidence to back up their accusation.

Unlike most attorneys working pro bono to reunite families, Peña was familiar with MS-13, because she’d pursued the deportation of gang members as a trial attorney for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She understood how the system worked, because she’d been a part of it. Her long tumble of curly hair, which makes her look younger than her 37 years, is paired with a forthright-bordering-on-blunt manner of speaking forged from her years as a prosecutor on the front line of the immigration debate. She was empathetic toward the plight of clients like Carlos, whose last name is not being used for his protection. But she was also unwilling to give any of them false hope. If Carlos was a gang member, his chance for asylum was zero.

“There has to be a mistake,” Carlos insisted that December day from behind the scratched plexiglass wall in the visitor’s room at the jail. “Please help me.” Looking at him, Peña wanted to help. But the system she’d once known, as flawed as it was, had turned into a black box she no longer understood, with an ever-shifting array of rules and policies that granted untold discretion to the government. She couldn’t even get ICE attorneys to comply with a fundamental tenet of a fair system: providing proof of their case, evidence they could fight against.

To Peña and her colleagues, cases like Carlos’ signaled a troubling new era. Years of legal precedent had been swept away by Trump administration efforts to push through evermore harsh immigration policies like family separation. Then, when the courts pushed back and the policies were publicly rescinded, the administration discovered new ways to quietly continue them. She and her colleagues were counting hundreds of new cases of family separation along the border that occurred after the “zero tolerance” policy supposedly ended in June 2018. But no one could track what the government was doing with every case.

Now here was Carlos, who simply looked like a grief-stricken dad. Peña had been skeptical of him at first. When they’d met in November 2018, all she knew was that he was considered such a threat that ICE and Customs and Border Protection had put him in the wing of the Laredo, Texas, jail designated for violent offenders. She’d used her ICE training to poke at his story, searching for inconsistencies, signs he was lying. “Trust but verify” was her guiding principle. She’d gone over his background with him multiple times, his story about why he’d fled El Salvador and his former life as a warehouse manager for an architectural design company. She’d made him retrace his story over and over until she was satisfied.

As a pro bono attorney working for the nonprofit legal group Texas Civil Rights Project, Peña had a growing stack of cases on her desk. She’d spent the last six months monitoring “zero tolerance” prosecutions at the courthouse, searching for unlawful separations. Her mandate was simply to reunify Carlos with his children. He was luckier than most; he had her asking questions on his behalf. The majority of migrants who are arrested at the border never see a lawyer, let alone understand how to fight the allegations against them. Carlos was one drop in a river of cases.

But something about his case made her want to dig deeper. What wasn’t the government telling them?

Raised in Harlingen, Texas, just a short drive from Mexico, Peña went to school with friends who were undocumented and friends whose parents worked for the Border Patrol and Immigration and Naturalization Services. She grew up steeped in the culture from both sides of the border. As soon as she graduated from high school, she left the border, earning a place at the prestigious Wellesley College and then landing a job in the State Department, where she focused on security and human rights in Central America.

But Peña longed to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a lawyer, so she took night classes at Georgetown Law. After graduating, desperate for courtroom experience, she learned that ICE was looking for trial attorneys. Peña wasn’t sure she was up to the task of deporting people. Most of her family and the few friends she told were appalled at the notion. And she kept her plans secret from friends in the immigrant advocacy world, fearing they would never speak to her again. But her father, who had also been a struggling new attorney once, understood her dilemma better than most. “Do what you need to do,” he counseled her. “Don’t worry about what others think.” A mentor, who was also an immigration attorney, encouraged her to take the job and try to make ICE a more humane agency from within. “We need people of your mindset working on the government’s side,” she told Peña.

Peña was hired in 2014 and moved to Los Angeles. It was the start of President Barack Obama’s mandate that ICE attorneys exercise their prosecutorial discretion in the courtroom. This meant that Peña could look at each case on its own merit and focus on deporting criminals while giving families who qualified for asylum or legal residency an option to stay. She says she tried to wield the incredible power she’d been granted with fairness and careful consideration, which made her proud. But her idealism was short-lived. Case by case, she said, she gradually lost her sense that she could be a positive force in an immigration system already in free fall. One day in court, she was asked to handle the case of a 6-month-old baby who was scheduled for deportation. Somewhere in the overwhelmed system, the baby’s case had been separated from that of his mother’s, who sat in the courtroom weeping. Furious, the judge said such a slip up could result in a 6-month-old being deported without his mother. Peña was horrified and embarrassed. She tied the two case folders together with a rubber band and wrote “family unit” at the top in red pen — it wasn’t the first time that ICE’s computer system had failed her — and assured the judge they wouldn’t be separated again.

Then there was one particularly devastating court hearing, at which she found herself arguing that an African woman who had been brutally raped and attacked by a militia in her home country should not be granted asylum because she had a fraudulent identification paper. As the judge ordered her deportation, the woman had a full-blown panic attack, falling to the ground, beating her chest and wailing, “No! No!” Peña knew she would never forget how the woman had looked up at her with pleading eyes and begged, “Please help me.”

There were other cases, too, each taking a toll, until it just got to be too much. On her worst days, she said, she felt that nothing she’d done, or could do, made a difference. Everything was stacked against the immigrants. Most couldn’t afford to hire an attorney. Few would ever win their cases. She was participating in a system that refused to provide due process. Sometimes she wondered if she’d helped send the African woman to her death. The guilt lingered in the back of her mind.

So she quit. She took a well-paying corporate job in California as a business immigration lawyer, helping companies hire foreign workers. But when family separations made headlines in the summer of 2018, she felt the pull to dive back in, to try and level the odds. She left her lucrative corporate job and, at age 35, moved back in with her parents in South Texas. She took a job as a modestly paid visiting attorney for TCRP, which had an office near the federal courthouse in McAllen, Texas.

She’d been away from the border for nearly 20 years. What she found on her return was chaos: overwhelmed federal public defenders anxiously searching for the children of their clients, who were being prosecuted in criminal court under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. Peña and her colleagues at the nonprofit got to work interviewing parents and trying to track down their children who’d been shipped off without paperwork connecting them to their families. She remembered the 6-month-old she’d represented in removal proceedings. Back then, family separations were relatively rare. Now it was official policy with no plan in place to reunify the families.


It had taken her more than a week to locate Carlos’ children. She found them in a government shelter outside Corpus Christi, Texas, a two-hour drive from Laredo. She spent an additional two weeks negotiating with officials from ICE and the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the children’s shelters, to allow a phone call between Carlos and his kids. The phone call had alleviated some of his anxiety, but it had also been agonizing. His 11-year-old daughter had cried throughout and begged him to come and get them. His estranged wife, who is also undocumented and lives in Washington state, had applied for custody. But ICE needed to conduct a background check and take her fingerprints before the children could be released.

Carlos’ wife had emailed Peña a photo of Carlos with his two children, all sporting big grins. They looked so happy together. Maybe it was the photograph, or the rapport she’d developed with him, or the gang accusation based on some mysterious (and she believed false) evidence, but Peña believed he deserved another chance.

Without the accusation, Carlos and his children would likely have been processed like other asylum-seekers and released with a court date before a judge or would have been detained together at a family shelter. Now ICE could quickly deport him.

She would have to take on his asylum case herself, but she couldn’t do it alone. She’d need to persuade other attorneys — from firms with deep pockets — to volunteer to join the case. It also meant putting her reputation at risk if she was wrong about Carlos. Luckily, a number of such firms had stepped forward that summer to offer assistance to the small nonprofits on the front lines fighting family separation.

Christmas was drawing near by the time of her visit with Carlos when he, emaciated in his red prison jumpsuit, showed her the clumps of hair that were falling out. The four-hour drive from her parents’ home in Brownsville to the Laredo jail was starting to become routine. Every time her mother’s old Nissan pickup truck, which had already surpassed 150,000 miles, sputtered and rattled on the highway, she’d turn up Spanish pop music to drown out the noise.

That day Carlos was a bundle of fears: of never seeing his children again, of the wrath of the gang members back in El Salvador who’d threatened to kill his family when he couldn’t meet their extortion demands. In their eyes, he told her, he had disobeyed their authority by fleeing the country, which was punishable by death.

“We only came to this country because we had no other choice,” she said Carlos told her, shouting to be heard through the plexiglass barrier because the jail phones were out of order again. “They threatened to kill my kids.”

“I believe you,” Peña told him, pressing her hand firmly against the plexiglass. “What’s been done to you is a grave injustice. And I’m here, and I’m going to help you.”

Her colleagues at TCRP quickly agreed that Carlos’ case was egregious enough to warrant their limited time and resources if she could persuade a larger firm to help. They’d heard of other families separated at the border because of vague gang allegations and wanted answers just as badly as she did. That night, she sent out an SOS to a handful of firms more accustomed to representing Fortune 500 companies and politicians than penniless fathers in immigration detention. Attached to her email was the photo of Carlos with his kids. Peña was direct in her plea for help. “Let’s reunify this family before Christmas,” she wrote. “Who’s going to join me?”


Christmas passed, then New Year’s. During the day, Peña strategized on Carlos’ case and others at TCRP. At night, she worked in her father’s home office on a report documenting the hundreds of family separations she and her colleagues had uncovered. Many of the separations were, like Carlos’, based on vague allegations of gang membership or an alleged criminal past. A rambunctious blue heeler, which she’d adopted and named Dulce after the dog showed up on her parents’ doorstep, was her only distraction. She missed baby showers and birthdays and ducked out of dinner invitations from a friend who complained that she might as well have stayed in California.

Peña was growing increasingly outraged that Carlos was still in jail, without evidence. To make matters worse, a government shutdown loomed, which meant the attorneys in charge of Carlos’ case were no longer getting back to her. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2019 at 1:13 pm

Families Affected By Mississippi ICE Raids Scramble To Find Support

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What the Trump administration is doing to families, and the traumas it is causing in children, is terrible, and yet it seems that little is being done to stop it. The US has turned a very bad corner. Debbie Elliott reports for NPR:

The Mississippi ICE raids swept up nearly 700 undocumented workers from several food processing plants last week. Among those stripped away from their jobs and arrested was Angel Lopez’s father.

“These past few days have just been hard because I’ve had to stay strong for my family,” Angel Lopez says.

The 15-year-old and his two younger brothers were all born in the U.S. Their parents entered the country illegally from Guatemala 18 years ago and settled in Mississippi.

Since their father’s arrest, the Lopez family has not been able to get in contact with him. The only information received are vague whereabouts, such as he’s in Louisiana.

“I’ve just been mad about the whole thing really,” Lopez says. “Cause the El Paso shooting had just happened a week ago and then why would you give an order like that for the raids that just happened like that? When people are still grieving?”

Federal authorities say these arrests shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Department of Homeland Security says the operation had been anticipated for months; the timing is just unfortunate.

Mike Hurst, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi., says the raids are meant to enforce law and order.

“While we do welcome folks from other countries, they have to follow our laws,” he says. “They have to abide by our rules. They have to come here legally or they shouldn’t come here at all.”

He warns that employers who “use illegal aliens for a competitive advantage or to make a quick buck — if we find that you have violated federal criminal law, we are coming after you.”

In light of the number of families affected by the raids, St. Anne Catholic Church in Carthage has opened its doors to people in need of legal advice, hot meals or counseling led by a social worker or child psychologist. Lopez’s family, fearing their father’s deportation, has looked to the church for guidance and support.

“My mom doesn’t know what to do at this point because my dad was the one bringing in everything for us,” Lopez says. “And seeing the way things are now, she’s confused of what to do. Because she has to take care of her autistic son. And she has to provide for me and my brother.”

Inside, the church is noticeably emptier than usual.

The Rev. Odel Medina estimates that at least 100 families from the 800-person parish are being affected. Some members are back after being released; others, however, still have not been heard from. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2019 at 10:32 am

Trump gives a thumbs-up for infant orphaned by El Paso white supremacist

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Trump lacks all human feeling. And I imagine he’s talking about crowd size, which to him seems to be the most important thing.

Rhonda Garelick writes in New York’s The Cut:

Imagine this: A shooter has entered a public place, where you are walking with your family. You have but a minute to realize you can save your 2-month-old by using your own body to shield him from the bullets raining down around you. Mere days later, your baby, the youngest survivor of the El Paso massacre, will appear on television with the very man who inspired the terrorist who killed both you and your husband. A photograph is taken, for posterity.

In the photo, your baby wears a bowtie and tiny jacket; someone has dressed him up for this occasion. He gazes off to the side (toward his aunt, who stands beside First Lady Melania Trump), his body stiff, his face solemn. He is not at ease in this strange lady’s arms. How could he be? Your child has just gotten out of the hospital, where he was treated for broken bones incurred when you desperately threw yourself over his little body and took the bullets that seconds later orphaned him and his two siblings.

Neither the president nor Melania so much as glances at Baby Paul. Oblivious (as ever) to the solemnity of their occasion, they smile broadly, matching veneers on full beam. Your husband came from a family of Trump supporters. Perhaps, in a different world, you might even have wanted to meet Donald Trump, or take a photo with him as he gave one of his signature thumbs-up gestures — everything is A-OK here.

Imagine this, then look at this photo again.

Babies make excellent political props — so useful for a quick kiss and cuddle during campaign stops, instant humanizers of even the stiffest politicians. But the Trumps are different. We rarely see them with babies. They are the least “familial” First Family in our lifetimes, despite (or perhaps because of) having created the most family-centered, nepotistic, mob-dynasty-style administration in history. We detect no family warmth from this president (save his unsettling attachment to Ivanka). No spousal affection. But also so little acknowledgment of any of his other children, of the fact of being a father (and grandfather) at all. Where is Barron, for example? We never see him or receive even the most anodyne updates about him — his progress in school, his favorite sports team. Where are the grandkids? Nothing. And certainly, Melania is the least publicly maternal First Lady we’ve ever had. She doesn’t even pretend to care.

No, in Trumpville, the emotional texture and familial feeling usually modeled by a First Family has been replaced with the enthusiasm of anonymous crowds, with the mass hysteria whipped up at Nuremberg-style rallies led by the President, where people seek the thrill of connection conjured by ritualistic chants of racism and misogyny (“Lock her up!” “Build that wall!” “Send them back!”). Donald Trump seems to experience love only in such soulless settings, with their underlying threat of violence — and he encourages his followers to do the same.

Those fascistic ceremonies lie at the root of the El Paso massacre, and that’s what makes this photo especially galling. Motherless Baby Paul is the latest victim of the hatred those rallies gin up. For Trump then to create uncharacteristically this faux portrait of familial love, to play-act a kind of happy Daddy, Mommy, and Baby — by borrowing THIS baby — is an abomination. In this simulacrum of a family portrait, the centerpiece is a direct evocation of the massacre that rendered him available for “adoption” in this photo in the first place. And since the picture blithely replaces the baby’s slaughtered parents — murdered for the family’s Latinx ethnicity — with two unconcerned, smiling white people, it performs a kind of symbolic kidnapping, cruelly appropriating someone else’s child for personal gain. (Note also the marginalized positions of the two Anchondo relatives.)

The abuse and kidnapping of children of color are recurrent themes in this administration. Consider the children of the 680 Mississippi food workers cruelly arrested this week, who returned from their first day at school to find their parents vanished. They are the victims of child abuse, if not outright psychological torture. Ditto for the many children who lost parents and other relatives in three, largely racially inflected gun massacres in the past two weeks. Not to mention the children who were themselves killed in those shootings (including a 6-year-old Latino boy in Gilroy, CA). As for the thousands of migrant children ripped from their parents’ arms and held in subhuman, lethal conditions (with no plans in place for family reunification) they are unmistakably the victims of ongoing mass-scale, state-sponsored de facto kidnapping.

There is, furthermore, strong evidence that some of those migrant children have now been forcibly adopted out to white American families via “Bethany Christian Services,” an anti-choice adoption agency known for its coercive practices and run by Brian DeVos, a cousin-by-marriage of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. This amounts to kidnapping on top of kidnapping — and probably represents the end of any hope that these children might ever reunite with their own families.

All of these ghastly truths make themselves felt in this single photo of the vacuous and smug Trumps masquerading as kindly hospital visitors, seeking to comfort the El Paso survivors. Posing for this photograph, the Trumps remove any last doubt about their dead-eyed cruelty and transactional view of life. Smiling emptily above this wounded little boy, whose life was shattered before he could take his first step, the president and his wife call to mind those famous safari photos taken by Trump’s sons, Eric and Don Jr. — in which they, like their father, smile brightly over the victims of their own heedless cruelty and violence. To Donald Trump, this baby is little more than a hunting trophy in his own brutal race war (which explains his triumphant thumbs up).

Injured, confused, squirming away from Melania’s brittle embrace, and straining toward what’s left of his family, Baby Paul now stands in for all the children — indeed, all human beings — who, like him, have been harmed and are being held against their will by a white supremacist president.

Of course, Trump would have liked to include many more of the survivors in his photo op, but he met with none of the others. Of eight survivors in the hospital, five outright refused to meet with the president. As speaking, sentient adults, they were able to withhold their consent. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2019 at 5:08 pm

The Shame and Disgrace Will Linger

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David Frum, a Republican and former speechwriter for George W. Bush, has a good column in the Atlantic. From the article:

. . . Reactions to actions by Trump are always filtered through the prism of the ever more widely accepted view—within his administration, within Congress, within the United States, and around the world—that the 45th president is a reckless buffoon; a conspiratorial, racist moron, whose weird comments should be disregarded by sensible people.

By now, Trump’s party in Congress, the members of his Cabinet, and even his White House entourage all tacitly agree that Trump’s occupancy of the office held by Washington, Lincoln, FDR, and Eisenhower must be a bizarre cosmic joke, not to be taken seriously. CNN’s Jake Tapper on August 2 quoted a “senior national security official” as saying: “Everyone at this point ignores what the president says and just does their job. The American people should take some measure of confidence in that.”

Everybody at this point ignores what the president says.

So even though Trump just retweeted the comedian Terrence K. Williams accusing the Clinton family of murder, the people who work for Trump may ignore that, too. They know that the president punching the retweet button like an addled retiree playing the slots through a fog of painkillers means nothing. The days of “taking Trump seriously, not literally” have long since passed. By this point, Trump is taken neither seriously nor literally. His words are as worthless as Trump Organization IOUs.

But cosmic joke or no cosmic joke, Donald Trump is the president of the United States. You may not like it. I don’t like it. Mike Pompeo doesn’t like it. Mitch McConnell doesn’t like it. Kevin McCarthy doesn’t like it. But it’s still a fact, and each succeeding outrage makes it no less a fact. Grinning and flashing a thumbs-up over an orphaned baby? Yes, still president. Tweeting that a third-tier dictator has threatened him with more missile tests unless he halts military exercises with a U.S. ally——and that he has surrendered to that blackmail? Shamefully, still president. Accusing a former U.S. president of murder? It’s incredible, it’s appalling, it’s humiliating … but, yes, he is the president all the same.

Trump’s circle probably expects the world to sputter for a while and then be distracted by some new despicable statement or act. That is how it has gone for nearly three years, and that is how it is likely still to go. Trump is steering the U.S. and the world into a trade war, and perhaps a financial crisis and recession along with it. He is wrecking the structure of U.S. alliances in Asia, and his rhetoric is inciting shooting rampages against minorities. Compared with that, mere slurs and insults perhaps weigh lighter in the crushing Dumpster-load of Trump’s output of unfitness for the office he holds.

But it shouldn’t be forgotten, either, in the onrush of events. The certainty that Trump will descend ever deeper into subbasements of “new lows” after this new low should not numb us to its newness and lowness. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2019 at 11:07 am

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