Category Archives: Current Affairs

A Visit to the Border

I’m a long way from the Mexican border. But like many others, I can’t tear my eyes away from it, via  the media. Many journalists are doing fine work this week, bringing the rending of families there into sharp focus. Here’s a sampling; hope the images and text make some impact.

From the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, an immigration lawyer  recounted her border visit a few days ago:

Amelia McGowan, program director and immigration attorney at Migrants Support Center though Catholic Charities in Jackson:

Conversing in Spanish to many of the people seeking asylum, McGowan discovered they had heard rumors about U.S. officials separating children from their parents. And yet they stayed. At the time, the news was not widely reported.

“It seemed like this was a choice they had to make, they had no other choice — for their own survival and for their children’s survival,” McGowan said. 

Many of those seeking asylum have traveled for days, seeking legal refuge from abuse or gang violence. With the Monday announcement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the U.S. would no longer provide asylum to victims of domestic abuse or gang violence, the refuge they seek will likely not be found in the U.S. 

Many are being turned away at the border and told to come back another day. Under a new “zero tolerance” policy, the ones who cross the border without papers or authorization are immediately separated from their children, charged with a misdemeanor crime and sent to detention centers before their deportation hearing. They face up to six months in prison. 

Where are the children?

For many of the men detained, they face a mass-production form of “justice” in the nearby federal court. From the New York Times:

TUCSON, Ariz. — They filed into the room seven by seven for a dose of rapid-fire justice: In less than a minute and in quick succession, each migrant pleaded guilty to illegally entering the United States, and was sentenced.

They were overwhelmingly Central American and Mexican men, many of them still in the dusty, sweaty garb they had been wearing when they were caught by Border Patrol agents. They looked dazed, tired and resigned to their fate, many having just completed a harsh trek across the sweltering Mexican desert. Some of their heads drooped as they listened to the judge.

“Good afternoon, my name is Bernardo Velasco, the judge assigned to conduct this proceeding. You are being represented by a lawyer at no cost to you because you are charged with the criminal offense of illegal entry,” the judge told the defendants.

Then he turned to the lawyers: “Counsels, have your clients made a decision to waive their right to a trial and enter guilty pleas?” The lawyers responded in unison, “Yes, your honor.” . . .

There have been many photos of children in detention. The shell of a closed Wal-Mart is among the most notorious. A local TV station had an extensive report:

“. . . as of Wednesday, ORR [federal  Office of Refugee Resettlement] spokesman Brian Marriott said, the office was holding 11,351 children in more than 100 shelters across 17 states.

At the Casa Padre shelter, which opened last year, the surge in numbers has been palpable. In March, the nonprofit Southwest Key Programs, which also operates 26 other shelters in Texas, Arizona and California, had a capacity of 1,186, according to a licensing document posted in the shelter. More recently, as children flooded into the system, they had to get a variance from Texas regulators to boost its capacity temporarily to 1,497. The average population of the shelter has jumped by nearly 300 in less than a month, said Martin Hinojosa, director of compliance for Southwest Key Programs.

Today, the shelter is almost at capacity again. Five cot-like beds have been squeezed into bedrooms built originally for four.

Juan Sanchez, the founder and president of Southwest Key Programs, refused to discuss the “zero-tolerance” policy.

“Our goal is to reunite these children with their families as soon as we can do that,” he told reporters Wednesday. He said that more than 70% of the 5,129 children at Southwest Key Programs shelters were unaccompanied, rather than separated from their parents. However, he conceded that the number of children separated was rising.

Reporters allowed to visit the Casa Padre shelter had to agree to preconditions, including that no cameras, phones or recording devices were allowed. Officials also declined to allow interviews with children or employees of the shelter.

The massive shelter retains a warehouse vibe — noisy but highly organized, with scores of staffers leading skeins of boys to various activities. In recreation rooms, some boys watched a soccer match on TV; some took part in a tai chi class; others played pool or foosball (in one case with a cue ball). Still others sat in classrooms. Because of the crowding, the boys attend school in six-hour morning or afternoon shifts, five days a week. The bedrooms reporters were shown seemed antiseptically clean.”

MSNBC corresponding Jacob Soboroff, who visited the facility, tweeted; 

I have been inside a federal prison and county jails. This place is called a shelter but these kids are incarcerated. No cells and no cages, and they get to go to classes about American history and watch Moana, but they’re in custody.

Photo from the Houston Chronicle

However, plans have since been announced that more child detainees will be herded into tent camps — in daytime temperatures that are typically 100+ degrees.

Audio of separated children wailing for their parents, recorded clandestinely and released by ProPublica,  has been released. It’s here: 

Propublica: “The desperate sobbing of 10 Central American children, separated from their parents one day last week by immigration authorities at the border, makes for excruciating listening. Many of them sound like they’re crying so hard, they can barely breathe. They scream “Mami” and “Papá” over and over again, as if those are the only words they know.

The baritone voice of a Border Patrol agent booms above the crying. “Well, we have an orchestra here,” he jokes. “What’s missing is a conductor.”

Then a distraught but determined 6-year-old Salvadoran girl pleads repeatedly for someone to call her aunt. Just one call, she begs anyone who will listen. She says she’s memorized the phone number, and at one point, rattles it off to a consular representative. “My mommy says that I’ll go with my aunt,” she whimpers, “and that she’ll come to pick me up there as quickly as possible.”

[This] audio recording obtained by ProPublica adds real-life sounds of suffering to a contentious policy debate that has so far been short on input from those with the most at stake: immigrant children. More than 2,300 of them have been separated from their parents since April, when the Trump administration launched its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which calls for prosecuting all people who attempt to illegally enter the country and taking away the children they brought with them. More than 100 of those children are under the age of 4. The children are initially held in warehouses, tents or big box stores that have been converted into Border Patrol detention facilities. . . .”

The audio was played by a reporter during a White House press briefing, while Secretary of Homeland Security  Kirstjen Nielsen was defending the policy.  Nielsen did not respond to it.

DHS Secretary Nielsen, at left. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders at right.

Events are moving so fast that these snippets may be obsolete by now.  And there were lots more today, but this is enough for one post.

Well, maybe one more comment right be relevant:

Is 45 Making Jesus Great Again?

For a long time I’ve felt that much of the deepest internal struggles in American culture have religious roots.

Sure, there’s also politics, class, race, gender and empire involved as well. But take off your Bubble-colored glasses and look closer, and religion pops up in most of these contexts too.

Making Jesus Great again?

Further, one passage, Romans 13:1-7, has long been close to the center of these conflicts. It equates worldly rulers, and  their use of “the sword”, with God’s divine order. and has long been used to support whichever ruler a preacher most favors.

Continue reading Is 45 Making Jesus Great Again?

Using & Abusing the Bible to Defend or Challenge Abuse at the Border

I didn’t plan to do a followup to the previous post on the Bible and defending slavery.

But there’s been something tragicomic in the scramble by some reporters to get churchy rebuttals to the use, by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, echoed by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, of the Bible to defend their latest, cruelest border policy of splitting up families and penning up children. This scramble also brings up some similar issues & dilemmas.

Speaking to a law enforcement group in Indiana, Sessions turned to the Tyrant’s old standby, Romans 13. And within 24 hours, even the Friends Committee on National Legislation had a statement out condemning it:

“The Bible does not justify cruel, dangerous and inhumane border enforcement practices,” said Diane Randall, Executive Secretary for FCNL. “It teaches us to love our neighbors, not to break up families. We are critical of the use of Biblical teachings to justify an immoral political decision of this Administration.”

“Disgraceful,” indeed.

Numerous others  followed suit. Even the odious Franklin Graham called it “disgraceful” on CBN TV, though he was also very careful to blame it on politicians no longer in office.

The more liberal critics took a familiar line: Continue reading Using & Abusing the Bible to Defend or Challenge Abuse at the Border

The Talk They Did NOT Hear at Friends Central School . . .

On May 25, Sa’ed Atshan was chosen by the Swarthmore College Class of 2018 to speak at their “Last Collection,” an opening ceremony of their Commencement exercises.

Here are some excerpts from his talk. (A full length audio version, 26 minutes, is here. A transcript of the talk is here. ) I’m posting them as a sample of Atshan as a speaker, and as a man sharing his identity and evolution with younger peers. I believe much of this would have been in the talk he was planning for Friends Central last year.

But this was an experience denied to the students at Friends Central  School. To prevent him from speaking there, two teachers at Friends Central were fired, and a high administrative official left.  This shameful incident is now the subject of a federal lawsuit. (More on that lawsuit and its background here.) 

Atshan’s Swarthmore talk was intriguing to me for several reasons, but one was a question I’m still seeking the answer to: 

What is it about this talk, and about this person, that was worth destroying the jobs of three loyal faculty at Friends Central School to stop him from giving it on their campus?

Many readers will know that the Friends Central administration has refused comment on this matter.  So we’re on our own to sort it out. This talk is not a final answer; but is worth reading and pondering as the seeking continues. 

Sa’ed Atshan, Swarthmore College Peace & Conflict Studies Assistant Professor.

Continue reading The Talk They Did NOT Hear at Friends Central School . . .

“Quaker Education”: A Rare Peek Behind the Curtain

A Long Read for a Holiday Weekend

Those who are still curious about the notorious (in many Quaker circles) case of two teachers at the Friends Central School in Philadelphia (described in earlier posts here,  here,  here & here), who were fired after inviting a Palestinian scholar to speak there, now have a chance to lift the curtain (at least somewhat) on it.

Plaintiffs’ attorney, Mark Schwartz.

Although the teachers, Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa, were fired a year ago, the case popped up again in local media earlier this month after the two filed a federal lawsuit on May 7. They charged the school’s head and other authorities with six counts of discrimination, retaliation and defamation, and demanded hefty damages.

Continue reading “Quaker Education”: A Rare Peek Behind the Curtain

Varieties of Racism: the Carolina Confederate Flag Campaign

Driving up Interstate 95 on the evening of May 19, a few miles north of Fayetteville, North Carolina I spotted this billboard, which I had not seen before. It seemed worth documenting, so I made a U-turn at the next exit and was soon aiming the phone camera at it.

But before I got there I stopped a few miles farther south on 95, where the nearest example of this campaign stands.

Where  did that flag come from?

Continue reading Varieties of Racism: the Carolina Confederate Flag Campaign

The Embassy, the White House & the Bigots: Tears For Jerusalem.

Matthew 23:37

 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. . . .”

There’s lots that’s wrong about moving the U. S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, not least the trail of dead Palestinians.
 
Here I’ll focus on what might seem a sideshow, but is actually crucial to the whole project: the administration’s deadly alliance with so-called “Christian Zionists,” who were the move’s loudest promoters, and who have plenty of religious bigotry to spare.

Jeffress & friend. There’s an unconfirmed rumor that the friend was asking, “Is it okay if I say, ‘just grab ’em by the Bible?'”
Here I find myself again in unusual company, agreeing with Mitt Romney, who pointed up & condemned this:
 
NBC News: “Former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney lashed out at the decision to have a controversial evangelical leader give a blessing at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem Monday, calling him a “religious bigot.”

Continue reading The Embassy, the White House & the Bigots: Tears For Jerusalem.

After Blowing Up The Iran Deal: Anybody Feeling a Draft?

After thinking about the remodeled “backing-up-new-Iranian-sanctions-with-War” scenario, I did some searching & quickly came across several disquieting facts:

1. Iran’s population is at least twice that of Iraq;
2. it’s also more homogenous, linguistically, culturally & especially religiously (90+% Shi’a Muslim; Iraq, 60/40 Shia vs Sunni); further,
3. Iranians tend to be quite proud of their country & culture even if they despise their government;

 

Continue reading After Blowing Up The Iran Deal: Anybody Feeling a Draft?

The Spooks Vs. The Brass: Will This Duel Stop Haspel’s Rise?

As Gina Haspel prepares to face Congress and the press tomorrow in her quest to become CIA Director, there’s a duel underway in the background.

The duel is between two letters: one from a company of former spy chiefs, endorsing her nomination. The other is from a battalion of retired generals and admirals, vehemently opposing it.

Torture is the nub of the clash. Haspel ran one of the CIA’s “black sites” in which prisoners were tortured. She also helped run the whole program, and called for destruction of videotapes of torture sessions, in defiance of court orders to preserve them.

The contrast between the two letters is remarkable, and worth examining. Continue reading The Spooks Vs. The Brass: Will This Duel Stop Haspel’s Rise?

Urgent – Act to Stop Torturer Gina Haspel

Friends, there are many deeply disturbing things going on in Washington; it’s hard to keep up.

But here’s one I’m keeping up with, and I invite your attention:

The beaming face of torture: Gina Haspel, nominee to be CIA Director.

The nomination of longtime CIA officer Gina Haspel to be head of the CIA.

Her nomination should be stopped. Haspel is a torturer, with deep involvement in some of the most horrible abuses and crimes of the ‘War On Terror” era. Continue reading Urgent – Act to Stop Torturer Gina Haspel