Category Archives: Immigration and Refugees

The Mennonite Pharisee and the Polish Samaritan

 

Refugee crises are invariably wicked problems. Every country wants to control its own borders. No country just wants to open the gates completely wide. After all, what good would it do to let countries be completely swamped?  No one benefits when anarchy is spread everywhere.

On the other hand, most countries want to help, particularly their neighbours. But that is not always easy to do.

What we need is calm and compassionate consideration and temperate with rationality. That is not an easy task.

Turning our backs on the refugees is not the answer for most of us. Most of us don’t want to be Pharisees. We don’t want to turn our back on the poor soul mired in the mud or lying on the ground. But how can we help? Destroying our lives and those of our loved ones is also not the answer. What is the answer? The first thing that is sure, is the answer is not simple. Miriam Toews was right. Kindness is complicated.   As a result we will make mistakes.

 

Melissa Martin in her Winnipeg Free Press  article said she did not believe that the  way we deal with difficult refugee problems is inevitable. we must make choices. Yet Poland has shown to us what is possible if we work together. Big problems can be solved. Only with teamwork would it be possible for a small country to do what Poland has done in accepting 2.5 million refugees.

People on all sides tend to oversimplify problems and their solutions. As she said,

 

“News, often, has an unfortunate way of flattening places and events into a narrow focus without nuance, without texture. In one such narrative, Poland becomes all good; in another, its treatment of largely Muslim asylum-seekers caught on the border, it’s all bad.

 

The reality is, of course, is that it’s neither. Yes, it’s in Poland where a border dispute has forced people to suffer in limbo, but it’s also in Poland where activists and aid groups risk everything to get food and warm clothes to the people huddled at the Belarusian border. Some have been caught by police and taken before a judge; still, their brave and ferociously loving work continues.”

 

Poland has shown us clouds from both sides. They have shown us the best of people, but have also shown a dark side. I remember when my own Member of Parliament—presumably a good Mennonite—showed us what the Pharisees were like. When people from Central and South America were trying to enter Canada because they feared what Trump and his cronies would do to them, and fled here across a frozen Red River, he told us to fear these refugees and complained that our Prime Minister was opening the borders wide.  That was very different from the Poles that Martin described in her article. People living near the border sneaked into the woods to hang bundles of aid in the trees even though they were threatened by the police.  One of them told the New York Times, “no one will die in my forest.” There was the Good Samaritan—the good neighbour. My pious member of Parliament looked down on the hapless people freezing in the cold, and urged us to do the same.  on the other hand, Martin described how volunteers in Emerson in the winter of 2017 when there was an unprecedented wave of people walking across the border north into Canada from the US  tried to make sure no one froze to death. More good neighbours.

 

As Melissa Martin said,

“The bad in the world, and in people, speaks in cruelty and destruction. But if you want to see the good in people, you will find it in the same place, and from there you can see the foundations of bridges that are waiting to be built. The lesson of Poland’s refugee crisis — not two, but one — is that the good is ever-present, waiting for an invitation to happen.”

Each of us can choose to be a Pharisee or a Samaritan.  And we may have the chance to make that choice more than once. One time we can be a Samaritan and the next a Pharisee. It’s  all up to us.

 

The “Other” Refugee Crisis in Poland

 

The people of Poland have allowed 2,500,000 people from Ukraine to claim asylum or refugee status in the last couple of months. That is an astonishing moral achievement. But Poles are not perfect. Who among us is perfect?

We all know that in recent years waves of refugees have been crossing European borders from troubled lands. Poles were not always so generous with these refugee claimants. With them they were not so generous. Why was that?

First, the pressure is always greatest on the nearby countries.  For example, for Syrian refugees the greatest numbers have fled not to Germany, which  rightly who got a lot of credit for their heroic efforts. Lebanon and Turkey accepted the most refugees because they were close. This was not just out of humanitarian spirit, but that was not absent. The same goes for Poland. neighbours often have little choice. If they don’t help the neighbouring country, they will have a humanitarian crisis on its hands.

As Melissa Martin acknowledged in her insightful article for the Winnipeg Free Press:

“Still, there’s no question Ukrainian refugees have received a markedly warmer and less fraught embrace in Europe and North America than refugees from, for instance, Syria. Countries, including Canada, rushed to simplify entry requirements and open their doors to Ukrainians in ways many were reluctant, if not outright hostile, to do for others seeking safety.”

 

The refugee crisis from predominantly Muslim countries like Syria was treated very differently. The Muslims, unlike the Ukrainians were treated with suspicion. In fact, even worse, they were treated as “ammunition in political wars” as Martin called it. Starting in 2021 when Muslim refugees started surging across European borders to seek asylum in Europe, including from Belarus to Poland, Belarus used the people as hostages in their dispute with Europe.  As Martin reported:

“In May 2021, in response to proposed European Union sanctions on the country, Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko warned the EU that his nation would cease stopping “drugs and migrants” and allow the EU to “eat them and catch them yourselves.” Within months, Belarus state tourism had begun advertising in countries including Iraq.

People came, and they headed to the border. But once there, the asylum-seekers and migrants found themselves caught in a nightmare. Poland pushed them back, but Belarus wouldn’t let them stay, either. Humanitarian aid was denied, and asylum-seekers reported being beaten by Belarusian police. Poland and other countries accused Belarus of “hybrid warfare.”

Whatever the truth of this, Poland’s government was quick to go along with treating people like weapons, and then hid them from view. It enforced a three-kilometre exclusion zone against the border, into which journalists, doctors and humanitarian aid workers were forbidden to enter. It’s now building a border wall with Belarus, as is Lithuania.”

 

Some of the refugees found themselves living in the forest of Poland or Belarus in winter. That is about as much fun as spending the winter in Manitoba, living outdoors.

Even Melissa Martin, that bleeding heart liberal, admitted that the different response to Ukrainian refugees compared to Muslim refugees had at least a partly darker basis, namely, racism. As she said,

“There is no way to look at the responses and ignore the Islamophobia and racism that has animated the difference; we must name that to have any meaningful discussion about these issues.”

 

Hatred, just like kindness, is complicated. No, the Poles were not unmixed saints. No one is.

Some commentators have referred to this as Poland’s “other” refugee crisis. Martin preferred to say it is was all part of the same crisis and that is a world crisis. Both have their dark sides too. As she said,

“Refugees from Ukraine flee a war launched by Russia, an unprovoked invasion that has caused unimaginable destruction. At the border with Belarus, people come from Iraq, which was destabilized by the unprovoked 2003 American invasion and the ensuing civil war; and from Afghanistan, brutalized and toyed with for decades by more powerful nations.

They come from Yemen, where Canadian weapons sold to Saudi Arabia are among those wielded in a war that has killed more than 200,000 civilians and triggered mass starvation. And they come from Syria, where… well, we don’t have space to untangle all the forces that have combined to prosecute the sheer human trauma inflicted in that conflict.

In all of these events, the story in the broadest strokes is fundamentally the same: powerful forces unleash hell on a civilian population to shore up their own geopolitical aims. In all of these events, the wealthy stand to gain, and they convince their people to either support it or, at the very least, ignore their complicity in it. Those who suffer most have no say.

This is why the wildly divergent experiences of refugees in Poland must be seen together, and one shouldn’t be told without the other, because they form a coherent story about how human beings must exist in a world battered by the use and misuse of power, and also offer a crystal-clear contrast study in how such crises of humanity can be handled.”

 

Russia is to blame, but so is the United States, Canada, UK, Turkey and pretty near every powerful country in the world. I don’t have enough time in my life to search for the innocent country. We must all take a share of the responsibility to solve this crisis.

Everyone knows it will be difficult for the refugees in Poland. It is always difficult for refugees wherever they go. The refugees have a rough road ahead of them, yet most of them are very grateful for what they have received from countries like Poland and to a lesser, but significant extent, Canada.

Most of the refugees are women with children or old people. Refugees are invariably the most vulnerable people and often people try to take advantage of them. Refugees invariably want to go home as soon as possible, but some have to admit that is not likely to happen soon or at all, so they permanent asylum somewhere.

Notwithstanding that, Martin described what happened this way:

“But for now, at least, the breadth and depth and spirit of the Polish response will stand as one of the most remarkable our generation has witnessed. It was at times chaotic, sprouting in countless small efforts that grew into a messy sort of safety net; but it worked, and it saved lives, and it’s one of the most immediately beautiful things I have ever witnessed.”

It’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard of. Humans at their best. But not simple. It’s a complicated kindness.

 

Poles help with their Whole Hearts

 

As I mentioned yesterday , remarkable things are happening in Poland and Ukraine besides the devastation of war and few people seem to realize it. Ukrainians have been fleeing across the border to Poland who has been opening up their homes and hearts to their stricken brothers.

Frankly, it is one of the most incredible things ever! 2.5 million refugees have been allowed into the country.

 

This is how Winnipeg Free Press columnist, Melissa Martin, described what was happening in Poland as Polish refugees streamed across the border as if it did not exist:

 

“In Poland, Ukrainians have found an unparalleled welcome, one that sprung from the grassroots of the country with far less government intervention than one would expect. Every Ukrainian we meet speaks about this; each one tells a story about a Pole they met who offered them a place to stay, or bought their meal or, at least in one case, even paid for their contact lenses.”

 

 

Ukrainians have been showing the world what it means to be a Good Samaritan when it might be much easier and much safer to be a Pharisee. As Martin said, “Hostels, hotels, shopping malls, new apartments, old apartments, even ordinary citizens’ spare bedrooms became homes for Ukrainians to stay.”

 

One of the Ukrainian immigrants who was one his way to Pinawa Manitoba, of all places, told Martin this: “Polish people “help with their whole heart.”

 

Martin said she interviewed someone and asked if all this help had been managed or engineered by the Polish government. This is what she found:

 I wondered if any of this was self-conscious. Was there a sense that, with the war, Poland’s response was in the spotlight?

“I don’t think anyone thought about the world watching,” he said. “In a way, Poles were feeling proud of themselves, and proud of their country. It wasn’t a political issue. It didn’t matter who you supported. Everyone just understood ‘now we help.’ “In a weird way, there was almost a unification: ‘We agree on something. We help now.’ 

 

My favourite expression for that is fellow feeling. Or empathy.

Yet everyone must admit there is another refugee crisis that is far from over.  It involved different people and a different reaction, by other Europeans and by Poles as well. We must get the whole story. The rest of the story is not as attractive.  That is not to be expected, people are rarely saints. I will fill out the picture in my next post. Nobody is perfect; not even Poles.

We can choose to be Pharisees or Samaritans

 

I have just learned about a remarkable thing that has been happening in Poland. It is one of the most incredible stories I have ever of and it is happening at what I would have thought was a very unlikely place—Poland. After all, Poland is the place that recently did not earn must credit for its seesaw battle over getting rid of migrants in its fight with Belarus.  It has proven the truth of what Charles Dickens said  more than 200 years ago in the opening sentence of his marvelous book A Tale of Two Cities:

 

“It was the best of time, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

 

In other words, as Dickens and Miriam Toews both understood so well, kindness is complicated.

 

I have been obsessing about Putin and Ukraine. I admit it. I think it is one of the most important things that have happened in the 20th and 21st centuries.  I really believe we need to pay attention. One of the reasons is the rise of authoritarianism and fascism. In the last couple of years some criticized me because I obsessed about Trump.   The reason I focused so much attention on Trump and then Putin is because I believe the same contaminated sea has thrown up those two monsters.  We must pay attention or we may pay an awful price.

Yet, something remarkable has happened in Ukraine that few people are paying attention to and it is something wonderful.  That is not just the incredible courage of the Ukrainian people and their inspiring comedian of a leader. That other thing has happened in Poland.

Poland frankly has been flooded with Ukrainians. And I mean a deluge of Ukrainians.  More than a week ago Melissa Martin wrote an amazing article after the Winnipeg Free Press sent her to Ukraine and Poland.  This is what she wrote:

“Poland’s incredible embrace of its Ukrainian neighbours has shown the world a beautiful, generous heart; the mostly hidden, inhumane treatment of refugees at the border with Belarus reveals something very different.”

 

When she arrived in Poland, she intended to photograph everything she could see that reflected Poland’s solidarity with their Ukrainian neighbours.  She soon gave up. There was too much to photograph!

When Martin arrived she saw blue and white everywhere together with the following statement: jestesmy z wami” — we are with you.

And Poland really means it. Canada talks a lot and we do some good things.  We would do more if more politicians were like the Good Samaritan and less were like our own Ted Falk. Ted Falk, when he sees Canada is asked to help, quickly points to the dangers that he sees. I remember how he spread fear about those dangerous illegal immigrants on our southern border, some of whom froze trying to get  here.  Many of those dangers are absurd, but that is what Pharisees do. They look for reasons to do nothing to help and such reasons are always at hand.

Martin also described how on a road near Warsaw she saw a giant billboard that read in censored Ukrainian: “Putin, Go F—k Yourself.” That was what the brave Ukrainians on that little island said to the Russian Warship that demanded they surrender. These aren’t official efforts; some motivated citizen spent the money to erect them. The signs in Poland to that effect are unofficial. Not paid by any government. People just did it. That’s what Poles do—they just to it.

But all of this is a brief introduction to what Poles are just doing. Here is how Martin described it:

“So this is the visual backdrop to what is, on the ground, a staggering achievement in humanitarian assistance. By early April, more than four million Ukrainians had fled; most of them came through Poland, and 2.5 million stayed. In one of his speeches, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it was as if there was no border between them.”

 

I am not a complete Pollyanna here. I know that is a lot of people for one country especially a country that is not among Europe’s richest. There will be problems with that many refugees. We know that. But imagine how Poland just did it. When Germany courageously under the leadership of Angela Merkel said Germany would take in 1,000,000 people many people rose up in fury. They were like the Pharisee not the Samaritan.  It is much easier to be a Pharisee than a Samaritan.

 But no matter how you look at it 2.5 million refugees is a lot of people. Poland is magnificent. Poland is a neighbour.

The Ungrateful Refugee

 

 

 

I listened to an interesting interview with Dina Nayeri the author of the book The Ungrateful Refugee. I have not read her book.  I hope to. She is a refugee from Iran who came to the United States at the age of 10 with her mother and a sister. Her father stayed behind and her mother supported the two girls on her own as  he rarely sent money to help.

She asked an important question: Just because she is a refugee who became a naturalized American citizen does that mean she has to give up the right to criticize her country? Other Americans are allowed to do that? Why not her?

Recently Donald Trump criticized 4 American Congress women of colour all of whom are  American citizens. In fact 3 of them were born in the US.  After he made comments suggesting that they go back to where they came from, he said what he really meant was that if they did not like it here they should go back. “If you re not happy here you can leave,” he said.  I suspect that many people agree with that. But are they right?

As Nayeri said, by such actions, Trump, and those who agree with him, are trying to separate immigrants from US born citizens. Lets call them native citizens. He is really saying these citizens who criticize their adopted country are second-class citizens. No one denies that native citizens have the right to criticize their country. Free speech is fundamental to being an American (or Canadian) citizen. Why not citizens who were born elsewhere?

We have to remember as well that the old refrain, “Go back to where you came,” is a common racist trope used since time immemorial as a way to tamp  down the immigrants, or refugees, or anyone who is “other,” or anyone who is unlike us. Particularly this has been used against people of a different color. It is a racist trope. Do we really want to endorse such?

When Nayeri escaped Iran with her mother and sister they fled first of all to Dubai, then to Italy, from where they became asylum seekers in the United States. Eventually they were allowed to get asylum in the United States and in time became American citizens. She was grateful for the help she got.

However, Nayeri was signaled as a very young child that she was different. She was an outsider. She did not belong there. Other kids called her mean names.

She reacted by trying to be the perfect immigrant. She had to be “the best refugee possible.”  She felt she had to over achieve in order to belong. As Nayeri said in an article in the Guardian, “We were never comfortable. We kept squirming inside our own skin, trying to find a way to be ourselves while satisfying all the people who wanted us to transform instantly into them.”

She responded to these pressures  by getting tough. She became a “kick ass” martial arts athlete.  It was hard. She had to put up with a lot. As she said, “I loved winning at a male sport. I was still angry about so many things – hijab, the Islamic Republic, the fat old church men who made high-school football players feel like gods while they shamed women who dared to want too much. I survived on egg whites and water-packed tuna doused in vinegar and mustard, salted baked potatoes and watery fruit.” In time she got straight A’s in school and became a national Tae Kwon Do competitor all in an effort to get accepted into Harvard University. She did not quite make it. But she got into another Ivy League school—Princeton. Not a bad second choice.

In my opinion any citizen should be free to criticize her country. After all that is the only way countries get better. They are never perfect. Even if we love them and love the way things are now, we should be able to criticize them and hope to improve them. No country is perfect. Every country should welcome criticism. Every country should welcome refugees and that means giving them the right to speak up.

Not an Immigration Crisis

 

Because it is well known that border stations are so filthy and unsanitary, children are not supposed to stay in them for more than 72 hours.  That is official American government policy. Yet, despite that, many children are staying there for a month or more.

Many of those crossing the border without permission do so with accompanying relatives  and then report to the border officials. They are then turned over to family detention centres. After that they are often separate from their kin, merely to put pressure on them to leave.  Many of these facilities are now run by private companies who do so, of course, to make a profit. Many of them are making huge profits. In some cases even non-profits companies are making huge profits. That is what happens wherever privatization happens.

It must also be remembered that 86% of these family claimants seeking asylum have families in the US that could take care of them. Yet many young children are nonetheless detained in these detention centres that some lawyers have called “worse than prisons.”        Many of the families cross the border with relatives and then promptly report to border officials as they are supposed to do.  Many of those border officials respond by separating the children from their relatives. Then they are effectively abandoned in border facilities that are not designed for children in the first place. Border patrol people know they are not set up to take these children.

All of this is the direct result of Trump administration policies designed to separate children from their families in order to put pressure on them to go back “home.’–a home that is often overrun by dangerous gangs encouraged by American policies of the past and present.

Customs and Border Patrol (‘CBP’) recently made a statement: “We completely agree with some of the reporting that has gone out in that unaccompanied young children should not be held in our custody. Our facilities are not designed for that.”

Things are so bad that local people have become embarrassed. Some of the locals have dropped off diapers, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, toys, and other things to help out the asylum seekers and restore a little of the reputation of America. These people are acting in the best spirit of America. They are the generous Americans that Marilynne Robinson believed were out there. Sadly, that generous spirit is not displayed by the President. For some reason some of the local people who wanted to help were turned away by CBP.

All of this is really mad. Many of the children of asylum seekers have homes to go to, but CBP does not let them go there. Instead they are poorly housed at the expense of American taxpayers many of whom seem to think this makes sense because they mistakenly believe they are keeping out illegal immigrants. People are wrongly conflating children in care with immigration. These people are seeking refuge/asylum. Many want to go home when it is safe to do so. Many will never seek to immigrate. They are not eligible to immigrate when they come. One would have thought Democrats and Republicans would get over the bickering and just help these desperate people out. These children should not be the responsibility of the government and the American taxpayers at all! Warren Binford an American civil rights lawyer and Professor of Law put it succinctly: “All we need to do is for the people to stop politicizing the children.” This is a child welfare issue and should not be part of the immigration debate at all. This is folly on steroids.

Really it is worse than that.  I think this points to the moral bankruptcy of the United States and the sterile polarization of American politics. And I don’t just mean the President. Everyone knows he is morally empty. But what about the American people? Millions of people continue to support him. Often these policies are fuelled by unacknowledged  racism.

Most of the very young children in family detention centres were with child mothers. Such mothers need support to care for their children. They don’t need harassment.  Yet sometimes those child mothers get sick and were quarantined and then given to other children as young as 7 or 8 years old. The BCP is unable to take care of all the infants in their custody so they asked 7 and 8 year old children to do it! Of course very few 7 or 8 year old children know much about taking care of infants. These children should be with their parents, not arbitrarily and irrationally separated from them in order to pressure their parents.

People around the world are seeing that moral emptiness in American and they are amazed and disgusted. This is not the America they admired.

Here are some comments from journalists who have been held as political prisoners around the world:

David Rhode of the New York Timeswho was held prisoner by the Taliban: “The Taliban gave me toothpaste and soap!”

James Regalan “I was given toothpaste and allowed to shower every couple of days.”

On the Christian Amanpour show,  Warren Binford reminded that “currently 1,000 children are in the these facilities in the US” This is a crisis she said and “its not an immigration crisis!”

Is America a generous Country?

Is the US as generous as it thinks it is?

 

By now it is an old saw, but a country must be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable people, not by how it treats its real estate tycoons. The powerful always do just fine looking out for themselves.

Marilynne Robinson one of America’s best and most thoughtful novelists one said she always thought America was generous country. Is it? Now she has her doubts. So do I.

Recently there have been deeply disquieting reports of the treatment of young children in American detention facilities at the US border. Few people are more vulnerable than they are. These were asylum seekers, not immigrants. That is an important distinction that many people fail to make.

The reports are about mistreatment of these young children arising out of reports of deficient clothing and hygiene, and inadequate food for them while their parents make claims for refugee status.

One child claimed she had not been able to shower for 3 weeks. Another had no toothpaste or tooth brush. Are these trivial?

American and international law requires that asylum seekers be housed in “safe and sanitary conditions.” That seems fairly simple and fair.

A recent videotape of a judicial proceeding in the US 9th District Court in which the Judge was asking a very uncomfortable government lawyer,” If you don’t have a tooth brush, if you don’t have soap, if you don’t have a blanket, its not safe or sanitary. Wouldn’t every one agree with that?” The government lawyer could only stammer futilely in reply. She looked completely bamboozled. After that video went viral, the US Detention Commissioner resigned in embarrassment.

Christiane Amanpour interviewed Warren Binford a private lawyer and a Professor of Law at Willamette University in the US,  on the issue. Binford had recently visited the facility where this occurred in Clint Texas near El Paso where we were driving a few months ago. Officials had removed 250 children from the facility because of the bad publicity. Later they moved most of them back.

To put the issue in perspective for us, Professor Binford pointed out “most of these children have family in the US. 86% of the children in such facilities in the US had parents or other family members or sponsors in the US. These children don’t even need to be in government care. For those 14% of children we need to have standards set for what “safe and sanitary” means. For the other 86% they need to be returned to their families, so that their families can care for them and make sure that they are fed, clean, and treated with the appropriate level of loving kindness that all children deserve.” Echoing the judge, wouldn’t we all agree with that?

Surely this is clearly true for detained children in the richest country in the world. Countries like Uganda and Turkey that have far more refugees than the US does can do it and they are much poorer countries. Why can’t the US do it? Or is it not as generous as it thinks it is?

Lawyers like Binford were given access to such facilities as a result of an earlier lawsuit brought in the 1980s. For the last 20 years teams of experts have been visiting such facilities and reporting back to the court about what they saw. They have also been directly from the children as well. The team went public (whistle blowers again) after visiting a facility only intended for 104 adults in facilities that, according to Professor Binford, are “notoriously squalid and inappropriate for children at all and they handed us a roster of children who were on site that day and there were over 350 children in this border control station. We were horrified!  We immediately scanned the list and learned that over 100 of these children were young children, infants,, toddlers, preschoolers, and school age children.”

InWillamette Weekshe was quoted as saying “They are worse than actual prison conditions…It is inhumane. It’s nothing that I ever imagined seeing in the United States of America.” According to the Willamette Week, “They found a 10-year-old tasked by guards with taking care of a 2-year-old, children sleeping on cold concrete floors with inadequate bedding, inadequately treated flu and lice outbreaks, and children who hadn’t bathed in weeks, despite the fact the government had been warned weeks before of a scheduled visit.”

Binford also reported that they saw children “begging for food” because they were hungry. Her group identified a “child mother” who was there with her infant children. Many of the children were dirty and had matted hair and were crying. “They had not been given any fruit, or vegetables, or milk for the entire time they had been there. They were given instant soup, instant oatmeal, frozen burritos, and it was the same food every day, day after day. They described sleeping on cold floors, which was why they said they were so tired. They were sleeping on cement blocks. Some were sleeping on mats provided but the mats were too few so they were describing 6 children sleeping on a mat in order to protect as many children in the cells as possible from the cold floor.”

Even though Officials refused to give the team of inspectors a tour of the facility,  later they found out children were being kept in a warehouse without windows. There  they discovered 15 children quarantined for an influenza outbreak, but no one was actually caring for them. They also found children subject to a lice outbreak who were given 2 combs to share among them, something that should never be done. When one of those combs disappeared, the children were punished by officials taking away their bedding! One entire cell of children was forced to sleep without bedding as punishment.

According to Professor Binford, “There were just horrific circumstances everywhere we looked.” Things like that make conditions in Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist look good in comparison.

I ask: is America a generous country? I know large numbers of refugee claimants have been showing up at the American border and they are having a difficult time. Why then don’t they allow the children to stay with their families and sponsors? Why pay significant sums to keep them in clearly inadequate government facilities? It makes no sense at all, unless there is something much deeper and sicker at stake here—like racism!

 

Concentration Camps for Kids

 

Recently the US Inspector General issued a report on the crisis on the border.  That report found “dilapidated, dirty and unsafe conditions” in some American family detention centres where asylum claimants are being housed. There have been 6 recent deaths of children at these facilities in less than a year. Now it is a fact that children die. It is also a difficult task to house the children and keep them safe. But this shouldn’t happen.

Taking care of migrating children is now a billion dollar industry in the United States. Interestingly, it is dominated by 1 Non-governmental Organization that conducts the Southwest Key program.

The US government holds tens of thousands of immigrants in detention under the control of Customs and Border Protection (‘CBP’) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (‘ICE’).

According to Nicholas Kulish, an investigative journalist with the New York Times“This Non-profit” is actually a money making machine.”  He reported that their CEO was paid a salary of $1.5 million per year while their CFO earned $1million per year.

Unfortunately, at the same time as these executives were earning handsome sums, children at the border in detention centres served by Southwest Key Programs were getting sub-par food, clothing and shelter. The L.A. Times called these facilities “concentration camps.” That is rather inflammatory language.

Dr. Scott Allan of the Department of Homeland Security in the United States was more measured in his language, but his words were still chilling. He became a whistle blower. It was his job to inspect family residential centres run by the Department of Homeland Security. Many of these are operated by private contractors. Typically in those facilities minors were not alone but were accompanied by an adult, often a parent or sometimes 2 parents.  The facilities he inspected were different from centres without parental accompaniment.

According to Dr. Allan, in an interview with Christiane Amanpour on PBS, “The medical community is united in opposition to housing minor children this way. Decades of research have shown that such detention is harmful to both their mental and physical health.”

Nicholas Kulish also interviewed by Amanpour,  added that the Trump administration, led by Sessions, was a government running from crisis to crisis without a comprehensive plan. The Trump administration was quick to back off when the public cried out.

Dr. Allan and his fellow inspectors of these detention centers were concerned since the first of such facilities was established by President Obama. Not Trump!

According to Dr. Allan, “We noticed systemic problems meeting their complex needs.” He noted that they had problems in getting adequate health care professionals, and problems interpreting the languages of the indigenous detainees. Not all of them spoke Spanish. This helped to make their medical problems “fraught and risky,” he said. “The facilities were not well planned to keep children safe,” he said. For example, his team found a lack of pediatricians.  The team of inspectors found that the facilities did not meet their own guidelines. As a result of their first report, President Obama shut down the facility that his team complained about.

Things got worse again under the Trump administration particularly as a result of their policy of child separation. It is well recognized that this policy was devised by Trump’s man—Attorney General Jeff Sessions—in order to put pressure on unwelcome asylum seekers. That basically meant all asylum seekers.

When the consequences of that policy became well known, the public revolted. After that  Dr. Scott Allan and his team inspected an increasing number of family detention centers. That policy, Dr. Allan pointed out, “would knowingly put children at risk of significant mental and physical harm and as physicians we had an obligation to raise the alarm We initially did so internally as we normally do, but when there was no timely response we were ultimately obliged to notify Congress with the whistle blower protection laws in the U.S.” They became whistle blowers against their own bosses! That takes a lot of courage.

This got for profit companies involved. They saw an opportunity for vast profits. As Nicholas Kulish said, “We’ve gone from non-profits that make profit to actual for-profit money making businesses.” Now “profit” is not a four-letter word. But sometimes it can lead to the gulag. 6 children have died this year in family detention centers in the richest country in the world.

Dr. Allan and his inspector team noticed that some young children were being give anti-depressants without medical assessments. They noticed children trying to commit suicide. Amidst all of this they noticed poor record keeping and poor attention to allergies of children. The health care was sub-par.  Dr. Allan summed up the problems this way,

“The central mistake we have made is to prioritize confinement over what we would have traditionally done at any time in our history, which was to prioritize care, health, and safety of children. We should be mounting a massive relief operation and a humanitarian operation which prioritizes early triage, assessment by qualified health professionals, and placement of children in community settings which has been done safely historically and that would result in safe conditions for the children. None of that would preclude an orderly process of adjudicating asylum claims, but we have made a critically careless mistake not consistent with our history in prioritizing confinement over care.”

Dr. Scott Allan and his colleague Dr. Panela McPherson reported to Congress as follows (in bare scientific language):

“The expansion of detention has resulted in increased reports of harm to children…The practice of detaining children and families is no longer an issue of policy dispute. It is willful policy that knowingly inflicted serious harm to children, including risk of death.”

We must also remember that Trump and Sessions would have made things even worseif they had their way and the public had not resisted. They wanted to detain children aloneto maximize pressure on the parents of the children to leave and abandon their asylum claims! This is what both of them wantedto do before the public outcry.

Dr. Scott has worked in immigration detention settings for nearly 40 years, but he was shocked when looked into the eyes of vulnerable children and women often vulnerable from a medical health perspective, and “it stuns me to have to report these findings,” he said.

The damning report by Dr. Allan’s team was produced internally for the government in 2018 and notwithstanding that report, in 2019 the program expanded. As Kulish said, “Not only is it continuing it actually is getting worse.” ]More and more people are crossing the southern border with Mexico, and though most of the asylum seekers are not Mexican, they are now crossing in remote pars of the country like Arizona where conditions are most dangerous. When they arrive to get care with Border Patrol the asylum seekers often are already de-hydrated and suffering from before they come to increasingly inadequate US facilities in the richest country in the world.

Even Border Patrol acknowledges that it is not equipped to handle these claimants, particularly the young women with infants. As Kulish said, “Many of the people in Border Patrol are not trained or equipped to deal with people in this sort of peril.” The big problem, according to Kulish, is that Border Patrol, and the entire Trump administration, is treating the problem as a law enforcement issue, rather than care needed by desperate people.

Comparing the America family detention centers along the southern border “concentration camps” is not actually helpful. What counts is that they are shameful and show a startling lack of empathy for desperate people. To treat the most vulnerable people the way Border Patrol has done is disgraceful.

Trump keeps saying things like they won’t fund soccer balls, or education, or legal representation for children and is convinced that his base will approve.  Millions of Americans approve of what he is doing. There is of course a huge divide in the United States today. Trump’s base loves what he is doing. Progressives are appalled. The issue is not Trump. He is hopeless. I really don’t care what all of this says about Donald Trump. Trump is not important. I do care about what all of this says about Americans. Many of them are my friends. Not all Americans support Trump, but millions do. What kind of a country is that now?

Things Get Crazier on the Southern US/Mexican  Border

 

I don’t want to criticize Donald Trump, but when I feel my American friends and neighbours are misguided I believe I have to speak up. The fact is that Trump’s immigration policies are supported by millions of Americans. In fact it now appears likely that Trump will want to make immigration a hot issue in the next Presidential election just as he did in 2016. Will American support his policies?

In May 2019 more than 130,000 people were caught crossing the America border without permission. That number included 11,000 minors as more and more of the asylum seekers are families. These are levels that have not been seen in more than 10 years. And these are not just young men seeking greater economic opportunity as was the case a decade or two ago. More and more families are fleeing 3 countries from Central America known as the Northern Triangle. These include El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

It is important to realize this is not an immigration crisis. These are not people trying to immigrate to the United States. They are fleeing serious dangers in their home country in order to claim asylum. They are refugees not immigrants. In accordance with international law and American law they are entitled to claim asylum and the US has to allow them into the country to make their claims and have them adjudicate.

American has always considered itself a generous country. I have always considered them a generous country. But—are they?

Secondly, it is important to remember that to a significant extent American policies since at least the time of Ronald Reagan have contributed in a major way to social and political deterioration in these countries. The US is not entirely an innocent bystander here.

Gang warfare and systemic violence in those countries have made life there so unbearable for many people that they feel they have no choice to flee even though they know things are very difficult in the United States and that they will not be welcomed by many Americans and they realize the American President is throwing massive barriers in their way. Yet they come.

In recent years there have been dramatic increases in the countries of the Northern Triangle. They have become some of the most dangerous places on earth. Many of them have been hounded by vicious gangs in their countries and along the way to America.

According to the USA for UN Refugee Agency,

“Current homicide rates are among the highest ever recorded in Central America. Several cities, including San Salvador, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, are among the 10 most dangerous in the world. The most visible evidence of violence is the high rate of brutal homicides, but other human rights abuses are on the rise, including the recruitment of children into gangs, extortion and sexual violence.”

Between 2011 and 2017, asylum applications from the Northern Triangle have increased 991 percentWomen, children and unaccompanied minor now make a large portion of those seeking asylum in the United States from the Northern Triangle. Currently 1.5  million children are out of school in Guatemala. It is an uncomfortable fact that school desertion often leads to confinement at home, child labour, forced or coerced recruitment into criminal gangs, and displacement from homes inside the country or into other countries. The consequences are often dire.

Thousands of Latin American parents have fled with their families. Often young children have made this perilous journey alone. Many of them are among the most vulnerable refugees in the world according to the UN Refugee Agency. Many have experienced horrific violence and extreme risks.

I find myself asking what would I do if a woman and her child knocked on my door seeking asylum.  What would I do? I don’t know. I hope I would not shut the door and hide away from the problem in the darkness of my home. Is this what the United States is doing?

Understandably, the US has had difficulties coping with the huge numbers at their door. What are they doing? What can they do? What should they do?

I want to look at this issue.

Should immigrants become like us?

 

 

A good friend of mine posted this with a number of Canadian flags attached:

“You came here from there because you didn’t like there, and now you want to change here to be like there. We are not racist, or phobic, or anti-whatever-you-are, we simply like here the way it is and most of us came here because it is not like there, wherever there was. You are welcome here, but please stop trying to make here like there. If you want here to be like there you should not have left there to come here, and you are invited to leave here and go back there at your earliest convenience. ”

To this I asked my good friend some questions and made some respectful suggestions: What about your ancestors (like mine) who came to Canada from a foreign country? No one said they had to convert to the dominant religions. Did that mean they wanted this to be like there? Mennonites in fact were allowed to come and did not have to serve in the armed forces. They were allowed to keep their faith, beliefs and practices. Does that mean they did not love Canada too? I really don’t want to insist that all immigrants are just like me. I much prefer people to come as they are with all of their differences. Maybe we can even learn something from them? Wouldn’t that be amazing?  Maybe we can even get along even though we are different from each other.

I think Bob Dylan got it right:

 

“I don’t want to fake you out

Take or shake or forsake you out

I ain’t lookin’ for you to feel like me

See like me, or be like me

All I really want to do

Is, baby, be friends with you.”