Category Archives: Immigration and Refugees

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.”

The Wall Hoax

My son Stef made a very interesting comment about immigration. He pointed out that the UK had a big illegal immigration problem, at least according to the people who voted for Brexit. They believe it is THE problem. Yet, England is an island surrounded by ocean.  No immigrants swim across those cold waters.   A moat is much more effective than a wall. How is a wall on the southern US border going to be more effective than a moat? The answer of course is it won’t. It will be ineffective. The border wall, not climate change, is an expensive hoax.

When it comes to immigrants and refugees we really can do better


I have been spending a lot of time on immigration and refugee issues. I am doing that because I believe it is one of the defining issues of our time. All over the world there seems to be a sharp turn towards anti-immigrant and anti-refugees sentiments. I wonder why that is the case. I think it might be because there is a lot of misunderstanding about the issues. As comedian Jim Jefferies keeps saying, “I think we can do better.” Maybe we have something to learn from the comics.

The American Department of Homeland Security which is responsible for border security, claims it is not turning away asylum seekers and the only purpose of the metering process it has started recently is to ensure that the ports of entry facilities are not swamped. It is also true that the Border authorities are also facing an unprecedented rise in asylum requests. The total number of credible-fear referrals for interviews — or migrants seeking asylum — skyrocketed from about 5,000 a year in fiscal year 2008 to about 97,000 in 2018. At the same time, the number of total apprehensions along the Southwest border dropped in the same period, from 705,005 in 2008 to 396,579 last fiscal year, according to Homeland Security and Border Patrol statistics.” That is a lot of people. But Americans have handled more in the past. the numbers are not unprecedented.

However Trump’s policies are making things seriously worse and dangerous for asylum claimants. As Katie Waldman a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security (‘DHS’) said, “The bottom line is that we have a deeply flawed immigration system, smugglers and traffickers know the flaws well, and they seek to exploit these vulnerabilities in the law, as well as physical vulnerabilities to enter and remain in the country illegally.”

It is interesting that DHS border officials know there is problem and they know that their own policies are making things worse. This is what DHS’s own Inspector General found,  ““while the government encouraged all asylum seekers to come to ports of entry to make their asylum claims, CBP managed the flow of people who could enter at those ports of entry through metering, which may have led to additionalillegal border crossings.”Metering was intended to slow down asylum seekers and it has had the opposite effect. The thing everyone has to remember is that asylum seekers are desperate. Many believe they have not other choice to protect their families,

I am not obsessed with Trump either. He is part of a general movement to oppose immigrants and refugees and the one we hear most about here in Canada. His policies just like policies in many other countries, are designed to slow down asylum claims. He, like so many people around the world, think “their country is full.”

Reporters Jervis and Carranza reported as follows about the border procedures:

“Investigators interviewed one woman who said she was turned away three times by a border agent before deciding to take her chances with illegal entry, according to the report. Two other migrants told them they crossed over illegally after being turned away at the bridge.

A Border Patrol supervisor told the investigation team the sector sees an increase in illegal entries when migrants are metered at ports of entry. “While the stated intentions behind metering may be reasonable, the practice may have unintended consequences,” the report said.”

          Hector Silva, the pastor who runs the shelter, near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, described the plight of asylum seekers this way,

 “Very few migrants are being allowed to cross over the nearby McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge…Those turned away from the bridge — either by border patrol agents or Mexican immigration officials — are susceptible to criminal gangs that roam the area….

The gangs have kidnapped migrants and held them for thousands of dollars in ransom, beat them up or swindled them out of money, Silva said. Instead of exposing themselves to those gangs, some migrants are looking into illegal crossings.

The entrance they had hoped for doesn’t present itself, so they risk other ways in: over the river, over mountains, with smugglers…it becomes very difficult for them. ”

Two of the asylum seekers inside the center checked their cell phones every day for news from their relatives Street gangs in their home towns made them pay a weekly “war tax” on their businesses left behind and threatened to kill family members back home if payments were not made. They left behind 2 daughters aged 9 and 17 because of the dangers of the journey. They had hoped to get them as soon as their claim for asylum was made. They had to make some very difficult decisions. What is very clear is that they have not been coming to the US just because they think it is a better place to live, as some critics have claimed. These are desperate people.

Another asylum seeker, Maria Alfaro, aged 51, from Honduras, said she was afraid to cross the international border because she had been warned about the lengthy backlog and because she did not want to be turned away and then snatched by the cartels at the border. As Jervis and Carranza reported,

“She was kidnapped in Chiapas, Mexico, during her journey to the U.S.-Mexico border last year, a harrowing ordeal she said she doesn’t want to go through again. She escaped after a shootout broke out between her captors and Mexican authorities. Afterwards, she headed toward Reynosa for U.S. protection.

“I came here to seek asylum,” Alfaro said. “But there’s no where to go.”

Migrants waiting for asylum across the U.S.-Mexican border expressed similar fears and complaints about their state of limbo. For many, waiting in line to request in asylum didn’t seem like the wisest long-term strategy. ”

As a result Trump’s policies cause the asylum seekers to cross the border without permission to avoid the predators at the border.

It is certainly true that Trump’s policies are forcing many asylum seekers to wait it out in Mexico notwithstanding the dangers. That is usually because of the cost. Smugglers can charge as much as $7,500 per person to help cross the border and many of them just can’t afford to pay. So they take their chances with the local criminal gangs instead. They are truly caught between the devil and deep blue sea.

Marlin Martinez has showed up to the camp every day for the past three weeks with her three children, ages 9 to 12, hoping to apply for asylum in the U.S. Each day, Mexican immigration officials have told her to come back the next day, she said.

Martinez, who was fleeing a violent ex-partner and street gangs in Honduras, said she will hire a smuggler to get them across, as soon as she raises enough money to pay them.

“We didn’t come here to violate any laws,” she said. “We came to seek asylum. It’s in God’s hands now.”

It is true that some claimants are paying smugglers to cross while others just can’t afford it so they stick it out in Mexico as long as they can. But the longer they wait the more dangerous it is. And we always have to remember that people fleeing a country on account of violence are lawfully allowed to enter the country and make their claims for asylum in the United States just as they are in Canada. That is not illegal. That is legally permitted.

As if all of that is not bad enough, some asylum seekers pay the money to smugglers who cheerfully take their money and then bolt without giving any help at all. The life of asylum seeker is not an easy one.

A lot of people in “host” countries like the US wonder why so many asylum seekers and immigrants come to the USA when it is obvious to them that they are just not welcome in the US.  It is not quite as clear and obvious to asylum seekers. First they are often fleeing severe violence, along the way they are constantly harassed and victimized by criminal gangs, and many people along the way give them false information. How rational would ourdecision making be under such circumstances?  As reporter Ed Lavandera said, “the people who recently arrived at the border were often directly threatened by gangs and as result believe that the onlything they can do is to drop everything and run north.” The people are desperate, not just for themselves but their families as well. Many of them are travelling with young children. Many of them have left relatives behind that might be attacked by the criminals in order to extort money from the asylum seekers.

As Lavandera reminded, “these are the people that Trump has painted as criminals, rapists, murderers, and “very bad hombres.”  Trump says that of course not because it is true. He really does not care about the truth. Trump says that to scare American voters so that they will turn to him as their savior. That is what populists and demagogues do. They try to scare people so they will turn to a strong man.  When you look at the millions of people in America who support him you have to conclude he pretty good at fear mongering.

Mary Bauer a lawyer who advocates for asylum seekers holds no punches in her criticism of the President and his followers. She has met many of them. Her organization has helped many of them. As she said,

“They are not the people that Trump describes. They are not murderers and rapists. The people we are seeing on the border are desperate people who are terrified. They want to present to the US authorities at border entry points. They would like to apply for asylum but cannot because of administration policies. The majority of undocumented people now in the US are coming through airports, people who are overstaying their Visas. All of the rhetoric from Trump about who those immigrants are and why they are coming and what they are seeking is just wrong. It’s just damned wrong! Immigrants are much less likely to commit crimes in the US”

When Donald Trump says he just wants people to come into the country legally he is not telling the truth (again). He is not allowing people to come and make asylum claims. His policies bar the way for people. He is actively trying to keep out asylum seekers. As Bauer said, “He (Trump) has tried to attack the system of legal administration at its root to make it unavailable for people to come here legally.” Added to that, when he says the country is full he is clearly saying he is opposed to all immigration.

I remember an odd argument I had with an elderly woman in the hot tub in Arizona.  I made some intemperate sarcastic remark about Trump’s proposed wall and she slid over to get right in front of me, pointed her finger up against my face, wagon it vigorously as she spoke. She said, she was not opposed to immigrants. She just did not want then to come in through the back door. She wanted them to come through the front door or not at all. That seems reasonable. At least it seems reasonable until you learn how difficult Americans have made it for people to come in through the front door. When the front door is barred, and people are desperate for survival, when wolves are circling the house keeping a close eye out for vulnerable people, and when their desperation is often partly caused by the owner of the house, it is hardly surprising that some people want to come in through the back door. Desperate circumstances create desperate people.

Christiane Amanpour recently interviewed Michael Chertoff, former US Secretary of Homeland Security. He admitted that a barrier on the southern border was of little importance. It was a part of what is needed, but only a small part. Technology is what American border authorities can use more of, not walls. As Chertoff said, “It is certainly not worth shutting down the government for.” Chertoff added that the only intelligent way to deal with this problem is to let the experts say what tis needed to boost security. Bigger and better walls, let alone beautiful walls, are not what are needed. He pointed out as so many have pointed out, that drug dealers want volume and to do that they must use the entry points and transportation systems. The rational way to deal with too many refugees is to ease the pressure on them back home. We in the west, not just Americans either, should be investing in a return to the rule of law and should be helping to create economic opportunities back in their home countries where most of them want to stay so that they won’t want to come our countries to stay.

Walls? We really can do better.

Trump’s border policies are not working well


Immigration and asylum seeking is a hot issue where we just came from, namely   Arizona, but it is a hot issue everywhere.  It seems to bring out the best and the worst in people. In Europe it helped fuel the rise of populism in England, Germany, Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, France,  Romania and many other countries. Everyone knows how flammable an issue it is in the United States. It is even volatile here in meek and mild (we thought)  Canada. Everyone has an opinion and often it is a hot one.

Ed Lavandera, a reporter with CNN, was disgusted by the family separations he saw on the southern US border. Dee Margo, the Republican Mayor of El Paso, the largest city on the border said, “This is not who we are as a nation.” Mary Bauer, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center said, “The number of family separations are much worse than we thought. 10,000 people are now detained across the U.S. as a result of deliberate U.S. policies of the Trump administration.” She called it a “deliberate and nefarious policy.” Thousands of children have been locked up in detention facilities and many of them will bear the scars of that trauma for the rest of their lives. As Bauer said, “This does not have to be. This is the result of calculated, deliberate, intentional acts to separate children from their parents and to use children essentially as bait, to lure their parents into the deportation system.” What would you do if your child was locked up somewhere and you could not visit the child and you knew the child was likely suffering trauma as a result of being locked up in a strange country without any family around to help?

We have to remember that most of these immigrant families have recently come from Central America, not Mexico at all. Many of them have made long journeys at considerable risk and expense. According to Lavandera, many of these desperate people have been exploited by smugglers who had fed them misinformation and charged them significant  sums of money for their “help.”

This confirms what Rick Jervis and Rafael Carranza reported in USA Today.They reported on an asylum seeker Lillian Menendez from Honduras. Trump Administration policies, initiated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, at the time, were to make it very difficult for asylum seekers to enter into the United States to make their claims for refugee status as they are allowed to do by international law. Jervis and Carranza reported as follows:

“Over the past year, Lilian Menendez has evaded street gangs in her native Honduras, paid $5,000 to free her kidnapped brother and made the perilous 2,000-mile journey from her home country to this border city. Now, Menendez and husband, Osman Guillen, face perhaps their most daunting task: Turning themselves in to U.S. authorities to seek asylum.

Rebuffed at the international bridge that leads to McAllen, Texas – and to U.S. sanctuary – Menendez said she was calling relatives to scrape together the $10,000 smugglers are demanding to float them across the Rio Grande, where they can turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents and begin applying for asylum. “I’m at the point of desperation,” said Menendez, who has been staying at a migrant shelter near the border since Jan. 1. “The idea was to cross the bridge and ask for asylum. But they tell us we can’t.”

Under international law, migrants have for years flocked to the U.S.-Mexico border to legally seek asylum and be allowed entry. But in recent months, Trump administration policies have slowed the flow of asylum-seekers into the U.S., leaving many migrants stranded far from home, vulnerable to violence in dangerous border cities and unable to request asylum.”

That is now the America way. Because of Trump’s policies the asylum seekers are stuck in Mexican cities near the border entry points while they wait for their chance to make their asylum claims (many of which are entirely legitimate). Unfortunately, at the those cities criminal gangs are ready to prey on them like crocodiles lying in wait for hapless wildebeest . It is a heartless policy that puts asylum seekers directly into harms way.

All of this has come about on account of the America “metering” policy whereby the American authorities will only process a low number of asylum claims each day, keeping the claimants at the mercy of criminal gangs while they wait for their case to be heard by American Immigration Courts. This procedure has resulted in lengthy backlogs of claims, and clearly the American authorities are doing this just to make it more difficult for all asylum claimants to assert their claims. As Jervis and Carranza said,

“Determined to find a way in, migrants like Menendez are increasingly turning to criminal smuggling rings to get to the U.S., where they can then request asylum and, the hope is, seek safety. The backlog in processing asylum seekers is inadvertently bolstering the illicit and dangerous trade, according to migrant advocates and experts, creating an increased demand for human smuggling and illegal border crossings at a time when President Donald Trump has threatened to close the border.

A few months ago, President Trump ordered more troops to the border to help lay down concertina wire. There were as a result  4,350 active American troops, in addition to all the regular border patrols, on the southern border.  According to migrant advocates as well as analysts this military build-up has made more asylum seekers search out “help” from illegal smugglers to guide them across the border instead of waiting any longer.

According to Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a political scientist at George Mason University in Virginia and author of Los Zetas Inc., “In the Rio Grande Valley, independent smugglers are charging exorbitant prices to sneak desperate migrants across the river and into the U.S…From Central American smugglers, to independent smugglers along the border, all the way up to the cartels: Everyone’s making money.”The clear result of Trump’s policies is that criminal Mexican gangs are making lots of money at the expense of mainly poor and helpless asylum seekers fleeing violence in their own countries. And does any of this make America safer?

As a result many smugglers are shifting these migrants to the New Mexico and Arizona borders where advocacy groups are better equipped to help the asylum seekers while they are making their lawful claims. However the terrain at the border is more hostile with large deserts, mountains, and farther away from major cities. Because of the lengthy delays at border crossings, criminal gangs are increasingly preying on waiting migrants and more asylum seekers are taking serious chances to get across the border. As Correa-Cabrera, said, ““You’re starting to see more families trying to make it through more dangerous areas”.

Is this really the American way?

The Big Beautiful Border Wall: Where facts go to die


One of my readers claimed that El Paso demonstrated that a wall was necessary on the Mexican/U.S. border. He was echoing what Donald Trump said. I think both were wrong. Trump said he wanted to build a “big beautiful wall.” It was a crucial part of Trump’s election platform in 2016, and is likely to be so again in 2020. No doubt he will claim that Democrats are weak on border security.

Trump justifies his demands because there is so much crime on the southern border, he claims.  It is an emergency he says. Is it? Lets look at some of the issues.

In his State of the Union Address, Donald Trump, playing on the fears of Americans, as he always does when he discusses immigration, said that a good example of why the wall was urgently needed was because of how well it worked in El Paso. It directly led to drastic reductions in crime, Trump claimed.  El Paso was crime infested before the wall and it turned the city around.

Beto O’Rourke the former candidate for the US Senate in Texas, and current candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination, who narrowly lost in the 2018 mid-term elections, formerly represented El Paso for 3 terms in the House of Representatives. He is a resident of El Paso. Unlike Trump, he knows El Paso.

First, O’Rourke pointed out Trump’s characterization of Mexicans as “murderers and rapists” when he launched his campaign for election of President in 2016 was completely false. As he pointed out, the crime rate of immigrants in the United States is lower than for Americans born in the country! That is a pretty powerful statistic that clearly belies Trump’s claims. This includes so-called ‘illegal’ immigrants.

Secondly, O’Rourke said, “El Paso has been the safest city in the United States not despite the fact that it a city of immigrants, but because we are a city of immigrants.”

I watched a very interesting interview on Amanpour & Company.  Christiane Amanpour interviewed the current mayor of El Paso, Dee Margo. Margo is the Republican mayor of El Paso. When he was asked to comment on Trump’s recent comments about El Paso he was clearly amused. When asked to look again at Trump’s statements on the video monitor, he smiled and said, he loved looking at Trump’s comments. He obviously had little respect for Trump’s views even though they both belong to the same party.

Margo pointed out some very interesting facts. To begin with, El Paso is the largest city on the US/Mexico border. It has 2.5 million people.  El Paso is deeply entwined with Mexico he said and has been so for 400 years.  He said he told Trump that if we wanted to understand the border and its issues he should come to El Paso. Trump declined to come to El Paso because he was too busy to learn about the border. He was there to harangue about the border and facts would have got in the way of that.

Margo is no believer in open borders. I have never encountered anyone who is. Even Democrats are not in favor of open borders despite what Republicans say. Margo said he believes physical barriers are a part of border control. They have a role to play. But the wall, Margo said, is not a big deal. Margo pointed out that there are already 78 miles of border fences in the El Paso region. He prefers the word “fence” to “wall’ as he believes it is more accurate.  Those fences are not continuous however, and never have been.

In 2008 under President George W. Bush the border fencing in the region was enhanced. They added about 10 miles of chain-link fence Margo  said. Before then the fence had many holes in it. Or as many say, it was “porous.”

McAllen Texas, and San Diego, California, and El Paso Texas, are all border cities.  All of them are safe cities, according to Amanpour. Again, Margo did not disagree. In fact they are safer than comparable cities further inland, he said. According to Mayor Margo, “El Paso is ranked as the safest city in the United States for cities with a population over 500,000 people!” It is not crime infested and never has been, before or after the enhancements to the wall in 2008.

Margo denied that the main reason it was so safe was the wall. He said it had an excellent police force that emphasized community policing that had been very effective for years.

Margo pointed out that El Paso’s crime rate was much higher in the 1990s and partly this was because the wall was porous. He said that back then Mexicans would cross the border through these big holes not for the purpose of drug trafficking or smuggling or making illegal stays, but rather criminals came in to steal cars and take them back to Mexico. They were not leaving anything in Texas–neither drugs nor people. They were taking out cars. That was one of the reasons for the wall improvements. It made Texans feel safer and did have some effect on reducing these crimes.

The crime rate in El Paso declined sharply until about 2006.  In other words, it declined before the enhancements to the fence were made in 2008! Again that was largely because of effective policing, Margo claimed. After the fence improvements were made in 2008 the crime rate did not drop. It actually went up, though only slightly. Yet the crime rate remained low and fairly consistent. There were no dramatic changes after the fence improvements were made, he said. Those improvements had a negligible effect but to the extent they had any effect crime rates went up not down.   Yet, Margo admitted, some citizens felt safer as a result of fence improvements so he did no oppose those improvements.

Margo made it clear, that contrary to statements made by President Trump, El Paso was not crime ridden before the fence improvements were made and it is not crime ridden now either. Those fence improvements have had little effect on drug trafficking and illegal border crossing. The reason for that course is that almost all illegal crossings and all crime occur at border entry points.

The border that Mayor Margo described was very different form the one Trump described. That is hardly surprising. Trump and the truth keep little company. El Paso has 6 bridges across the river to Mexico with 20,000 people crossing the border legally every day. Trade between the 2 countries has been important for centuries. He added that the people of El Paso would like to increase legal immigration from Mexico and other places. They need people because the unemployment rate is so low. They are often frustrated at how immigration policies based on fear and prejudice often interfere with this.

It is true that many people have been gathering at the border in recent months to claim asylum, but that was largely influenced by Trump’s policies. His policies have been making things worse not better. More on this later.