When Deportation Is A Death Sentence

Dara Lind parses a new report from Human Rights Watch on the plight of Hondurans who came to the US illegally to escape gang violence, got deported, and are now in grave danger back in their home country:

The Hondurans interviewed in the report fled Honduras because their lives had explicitly been threatened — mostly by gangs. One man had been shot in the back repeatedly by a gang initiate, and had to spend two months in the hospital and relearn how to walk. Even though he’d initially been targeted at random — the initiate was told to kill the next person he saw — he found out after he recovered that the initiate was now obligated to track him down and finish the job. Another man had sent his wife and son to the US after gang members tried to kidnap his son, then left on his own once he heard they were safe. And at least two of the 25 deportees had fled the country after they watched their mothers killed by gang members — knowing that witnesses of gang murders aren’t allowed to live.

Now that they’ve been returned to Honduras, their only priority is to make sure the gang members looking for them don’t know they’re back in the country. And because gangs are so powerful, and the government provides no protection, that means making sure no one knows they’re back in the country. Deported Hondurans hiding from gang violence can’t work, stay in their homes, or even see their children.

Caitlin Dickson focuses on what the report has to say about our asylum process – none of it good:

The report explains that there are two stages asylum-seekers must go through when apprehended at the border. First, a CBP agent must flag them for a “reasonable fear” assessment. In the second stage, an asylum officer from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will meet with them to determine whether they have a credible fear of returning home and whether they have a good chance of being granted asylum in immigration court. According to 2011 and 2012 CBP deportation data obtained by HRW, at least 80 percent of Hondurans detained at the border are placed in expedited removal proceedings while only 1.9 percent are flagged for credible fear assessments.

Comparatively, during those same years CBP flagged 21 percent of migrants from other countries for credible fear interviews. These statistics, plus the anecdotal evidence collected through more recent interviews, lead HRW to argue that “the U.S. is violating its international human rights obligations to examine asylum claims before returning [asylum seekers] to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened.”

Asylum Roulette

To qualify for asylum in the US, immigrants have to prove not only that they have a credible fear of persecution in their home countries but also that they belong to a particular social group and are being persecuted because they belong to that group. Not all victims of violence qualify. That burden of proof, as Emily Bazelon points out, leaves many asylum seekers in the lurch, including victims of domestic abuse and gang violence:

In 1996, the Board of Immigration Appeals, which functions as the country’s central immigration court (with review by the federal appeals courts) “broke new ground” on gender-related claims by “granting asylum to a Togolese woman who fled her country to escape female genital cutting,” as Blaine Bookey, a staff attorney for the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, explains in this 2012 article. The idea was that the risk of cutting both depended on gender and was widespread in some African countries.

Domestic violence, however, didn’t easily get the same kind of recognition as a basis for persecution worthy of asylum. In 1999, the Board of Immigration Appeals rejected the asylum claim of Rody Alvarado Peña, a Guatemalan woman whose husband, she testified, treated her “as something that belonged to him and he could do anything he wanted.” Alvarado said she spent 10 years suffering frequent abuse, including the dislocation of her jawbone and a kick in the spine when she was pregnant. She was dragged by the hair, pistol-whipped, and raped. When she tried to run away, the Guatemalan police and the courts did not protect her. The BIA accepted that Alvarado had been abused but ruled that she was not part of a recognized social group—“Guatemalan women subjugated by their husbands” didn’t make the list—and that she had not shown she was abused because she was a Guatemalan woman living under male domination.

Is The Border Crisis Over?

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The influx of migrant children into the US has plunged in the past two months, “from more than 10,600 apprehended in June to just over 3,000 in August”:

One major culprit is the hot summer weather, which could discourage migrants from making the journey from Central America to the United States. But at the same time, the Obama administration has engaged in an aggressive public-relations offensive in Latin America to warn parents against sending their children here. And immigration courts nationwide have expedited processing cases of the migrants recently caught at the border, putting those hearings ahead of others in line. “The system is, by and large, working,” said Kevin Appleby, the director of migration policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “If anything, they need to ensure that the children are receiving the appropriate due process and we’re not violating our own law or international law.”

But Danny Vinik isn’t celebrating:

The ultimate answer is that we just don’t know why so many unaccompanied minors came across the border this year or why it is falling now. One reason may be that the administration ran multiple ad campaigns to deter parents from sending their kids north, explaining that the journey is dangerous and the kids wouldn’t be allowed to stay. The Mexican government also stepped up enforcement on its side of the border. And the weather may be having an effect as well. It’s still tough to tell the exact reasons. Given that, it would be foolish to make sweeping policy changes, like House Republicans voted to do before the August recess.

That’s not to say this situation does not require action. The thousands of kids who came across the border still need housing and food. The immigration courts are still backlogged. This crisis isn’t over. But it’s a different one than policymakers originally imagined. It’s not about border security or stopping the flow of unaccompanied minors. It’s about fairly handling the ones who are already here. That’s a very different problem.

(Chart via Vinik)

Are We Abetting Central American Gangs? Ctd

Tomasky thinks we need to take a hard look at our own role in Central America’s descent into violence:

So in the three crisis countries, or at least in two of them (Guatemala and El Salvador), there’s a pattern. U.S.-sponsored civil wars tore the country apart in the 1980s. What happened next? As Ryan Grim and Roque Planas put it in a terrific Huffington Post piece tracing this history in greater depth, “With wars come refugees.” Terrified citizens of these nations started running to the United States by the tens of thousands.

When they got here, there was nothing for them. Depending on how old they were, they or their kids formed gangs in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the 1990s. We responded to that by “getting tough” on crime, throwing thousands of them in jail. Then when they got out of jail, we deported them back. We escalated the drug war—we had some success in Colombia, which merely pushed much of the cocaine trade into Central America. The ex-gang members we deported created extremely violent societies, societies where 10-year-old kids are recruited into new gangs and threatened with death if they don’t join, and it’s from those societies that today’s children are fleeing.

But Robert Brenneman stresses that the situation there is not as hopeless in as the prevailing narrative would have you believe:

While it is true that many of the children who reach the US border have grown up in difficult and even dangerous situations and ought to be granted a hearing to determine whether or not they should be granted asylum, I have Central American friends (including some from Honduras) who might bristle at the suggestion that every child migrating northward is escaping life in hell itself. The idea that all Central American minors ought to be pronounced refugees upon arrival at the border rests on the mistaken assumption that these nations are hopelessly mired in violence and chaos, and it encourages the US government to throw in the towel with regard to advocating for economic and political improvements in the region.

True, a great deal of violence and hopelessness persists in the marginal urban neighborhoods of San Salvador and Tegucigalpa, but these communities did not evolve by accident. They are the result of years of under-investment in social priorities such as public education and public security compounded by the entrance in the late 1990s of a furious scramble among the cartels to establish and maintain drug movement and distribution networks across the isthmus in order to meet unflagging US demand. At the same time as we work to ensure that all migrant minors are treated humanely and with due process, we ought to use this moment to take a hard look at US foreign policy both past and present in order to build a robust aid package aimed at strengthening institutions and promoting more progressive tax policy so that these nations can promote human development, not just economic growth. It is time we take the long view with regard to our neighbors to the south.

Previous Dish on our role in the Central American crisis here and here.

Boehner’s Border Bill, Now With Cruz Control

Late Friday night, just before heading home for their August recess, House Republicans passed a bill to address the child migrant crisis. To do so they threw an abattoir of red meat to the right flank – pledging less than a fifth of the resources that Obama says he needs and simultaneously reinforcing deportation for the half a million DREAM Act kids. It won’t pass the Senate, of course, but it gives House Republicans a Potemkin vote they can cite when they face their Hannityed constituents this month. It’s hard to beat Weigel’s wit:

Just one year ago, Republicans were talking about passing their own version of the DREAM Act. Tonight, they put the party on record for the total cessation of Barack Obama’s quasi-DREAM Act. The arc of history is long, but it bends toward Steve King.

And a certain congresswoman from Minnesota, as Chait notes:

A party that began the Congressional term hoping to move left from Mitt Romney’s immigration stance has instead moved toward Michele Bachmann’s. (Bachmann — who, along with Steve King, helped draft the House bill — pronounces herself thrilled.) The party’s new dogma will potentially entangle its next nominee in an even less humane debate than the one that ensnared Romney. At the very least, it has put 216 House Republicans, many of whom will one day seek higher office, on record for a policy most Latino voters consider disqualifying. The aye votes include potential 2016 presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who is not likely to be greeted by friendly mariachi bands any time soon.

It is understandable that the party’s Congressional wing, based mostly in safe, deep-red districts, has failed to craft a national strategy for its 2016 candidate. But the House’s course of action has fallen well below “unhelpful” and instead verges on outright sabotage. How do they think this is going to work out for them?

Why the change of heart? A political system so gerrymandered and a country so demographically sorted no Republican need persuade a single Latino this fall in order to get re-elected. Nate Cohn elaborates:

Hispanic voters are all but absent from this year’s most competitive Senate battlegrounds. … Hispanic voters will have even less influence over the composition of the House, which is all but assured to remain in Republican hands. The clearest illustration of the extent to which the House G.O.P. is insulated from Hispanic voters is this: The party easily held the House in 2012, even though Republicans won only 30 percent of the Hispanic vote for Congress, and even though Hispanic turnout in that presidential year was higher than in a midterm election.

The reason is simple. In districts held by House Republicans, Hispanics represent only 6.7 percent of eligible voters. The Hispanic share of eligible voters is nearly as low in the House battlegrounds, 7.4 percent. Most of those Hispanic voters are only in a few districts; the G.O.P. could afford to lose them given their healthy edge in the House.

But Cillizza argues that their PR problem is bigger than that:

This is the latest in a string of incidents in which Republicans have been their own worst enemy — often because they simply can’t get out of their own way. Given their dismal approval ratings, the best way for Republicans to handle almost every issue — including this one — is to make as few waves as possible. Stay out of the news. Let President Obama do the heavy lifting on what the funding level ends up as. This issue is a no-win politically — people don’t like the idea of kids being shipped back to dangerous places but also don’t love people coming here illegally or spending billions of dollars that may or may not solve the problem.

And yet, Republicans found a way to make the story all about them in the dying days of this session of Congress. It’s remarkable — and not in a good way.

Cruz Missile Shoots Down Border Bill

The House’s modest emergency spending bill to address the child migrant crisis was scuttled yesterday after the GOP leadership failed to convince the Tea Party caucus to vote for it. I harrumphed about it last night. Cillizza breaks down how it happened, for anyone who can’t already guess:

The failure of the GOP leadership’s immigration solution fits a now-familiar pattern for congressional Republicans. Led by Boehner, the party’s top brass fight with President Obama on the parameters of a legislative solution to a problem in the country.  In hopes of answering the “do nothing” charges leveled at them by Democrats, those same GOP leaders put a proposal on the table that offers a handful of concessions but nowhere near the number the White House is demanding. The tea party faction in the House — led by Sen. Ted Cruz (yes, you read that right) — balks, demanding that the GOP make no concessions of any sort to the president. The party leaders whip support for the bill but, ultimately, find that 20 (or so) of their conference will not be for it under any circumstances. That means Boehner either has to a) pass legislation with Democratic votes or b) pull proposals off the House floor to avoid embarrassing losses.

The issues change — tax increases, immigration, the farm bill and so on and so forth — but the underlying reality remains the same: House Republicans simply cannot be led.

Chait, too, has seen this show before:

The House is a highly autocratic chamber that traditionally passes basically anything the leadership of its majority party wants to pass. The Tea Party has changed all that, by bringing to Washington a large enough bloc of Republicans who don’t want to vote for anything that they can bring down even bills that are far too conservative to be passed into law. That’s why House Republicans have had to pull bills to lift the debt ceilingextend tax cutsextend farm subsidies, and reopen the government. In Boehner’s House, failure is always an option.

This particular bill pitted the GOP’s desire to actually stop waves of illegal immigration children from streaming across the border — theoretically a point of bipartisan agreement — against their distrust of Obama in particular and legislation in general. Republicans dealt with the problem, as they often do, by crafting the most conservative possible bill — thus losing all Democratic support — yet still not often to win support from enough Republicans.

Vinik looks at the role Cruz played:

Since his election in 2012, Cruz has angered a number of his Senate colleagues. He was the architect of the “defund Obamacare” movement last year that ended in a politically toxic government shutdown and eventual Republican capitulation. In February, Cruz forced some of his Republican colleagues to take a politically-damaging vote to raise the debt ceiling. In all of these situations, Cruz has been focused on his own political future, staking out a position as far to the right as he can. He didn’t care that his antics damaged the party. They were good for Ted Cruzand that’s what mattered.

That’s what happened again on Thursday with the House GOP’s bill to address the border crisis. And it’s going to continue happening in the future, particularly on immigration-related issues where Cruz has always taken a hard line position.

Ben Jacobs remarks on what a blow this is to the party leadership:

The failure of the vote, which comes just before Congress’s August recess, means it is unlikely that any additional funds will be allocated to deal with the border crisis until September at the earliest—and also signals the official death of the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill. It also marks yet another political defeat for Boehner and House leadership in what was the first test of new Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who recently took over the position when former Whip Kevin McCarthy ascended to Majority Leader. McCarthy replaced Eric Cantor, who stepped down after losing his primary last month to anti-immigration candidate Dave Brat.

Scalise, as whip, is responsible for party discipline and making sure that Boehner has an accurate sense of how many votes he has within the GOP caucus on a particular bill. This was the first controversial vote that the Louisiana conservative had to organize Republicans for in his new position, and it’s clear that he wasn’t able to rally as much support among GOP backbenchers as he initially thought.

After the bill failed, Boehner and his deputies suggested that the president take executive action on the crisis instead, which was pure political gold for Democrats, and pretty rich at that:

Democrats got plenty of yuks out of the House GOP’s response to the failure. In a joint statement, the party’s four House leaders attempts to move blame and the buck back over to Barack Obama. “There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action,” they wrote, “to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries.” Faiz Shakir, an adviser for Harry Reid, immediately tweeted the punchline: “The same people who are suing the president for taking exec action are calling on him to take exec action.” A little cute, maybe, but for the umpteenth time—the first day of a new leadership team!—the House GOP leadership has stepped on a rake.

Noah Rothman is disappointed for reasons of politics, not policy:

Lacking the authority to resolve the border crisis on their own, the House GOP sought an advantageous position for the summer in order to put the onus back on the president. That effort failed and, unless the House Republicans’ emergency scramble to craft and pass some border measure is fruitful, GOP members will spend the summer explaining to the press why they did nothing on a “crisis” but were perfectly united when it came to suing the president. And the average Democratic base voter will be that much more energized for it. …

This was an unforced error. One which serves to elevate the careers of a few while diminishing the party’s overall chances for success in November. The House Republicans may yet correct this mistake, and the damage might be mitigated if they do. But if they do not, this is going to be one long August recess.

But the Bloomberg View editors refocus on the fact that the child migrant crisis is, y’know, a crisis:

The protection of refugees — legitimate and otherwise — is both a moral crisis and a policy challenge. These children are a genuine strain on the immigration system, and adjudicating their cases will cost money. At the same time, many have fled violence and deserve a chance to make their case for asylum. Meanwhile, House leaders have delayed a planned recess, in the apparent hope that they can still achieve the goal of appearing to do something. When members return, Election Day will be that much closer. It’s not easy to imagine that this Congress could reach new lows. But it may.

The Best Of The Dish Today

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The articles Lisa Goldman refers to above are as follows: “Beautiful Dream of Israel Has Become A Nightmare” by Gabor Mate; Liberal Zionism After Gaza, and The Liberal Zionists, by Jonathan Freedland; and Zionism And Its Discontents, by Roger Cohen. Here’s another decent human being and a friend, the legendary newsman, Jon Snow:

We can all heave a sigh of relief that a humanitarian cease-fire appears to be imminent.

On another matter related to the welfare of stranded children, I’m trying to get something straight. For the last couple of months, the right-wing noise machine has described the surge of refugee children at the border as a crisis of Biblical proportions. They have also excoriated all of president Obama’s executive actions on immigration. So now, after dismissing Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to deal with the refugee children, they cannot pass a bill to authorize even $659 million to take care of the crisis. And what do they urge president Obama to do instead? To take executive action to handle it! I swear I am not making this up. In Boehner’s words:

There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries.

So, yes, the president is once again damned if he does use his executive powers and damned if he doesn’t. And the Republican Congress has shown that it can pass nothing – even in the midst of what it has described as an epic crisis – because it is so divided within itself. The idea that these shambolic excuses for legislators should actually be rewarded with more seats this fall tells you something is deeply awry with the political system. This is a party fit for cable news and not for government.

Today, I engaged my friend Sam Harris on Israel, Hamas and Jihadism; noted new shifts in the Israel debate – not in Israel’s favor; had a frank and frisky conversation with Rich Juzwiak about sex, gay men and the Truvada future; and marveled once again at the seriously unsafe sex life of the octopus.

The most popular post of the day was Why Sam Harris Won’t Criticize Israel; followed by Deep Dish’s Andrew Asks Anything: Rich Juzwiak.

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See you in the morning.