Sunday, October 31, 2010

Con 340 muertos, rompe octubre récord violento

From: On Behalf Of molly
Sent: Sunday, October 31, 2010 8:53 AM
Subject: [frontera-list] 10 killed October 30 in Juarez, 340 breaks record for most violent month - 10.31.10

I had counted about 9 killings last night by about 8:00 pm. Diario
says that in all yesterday, there were 10. Added to my tally as of
yesterday, this would have made 328. But, this morning, Diario reports
that the actual number of dead so far in October is 340---a new
record--with one day left in the month. The previous high was 338 in
August this year. The total number of dead now this year is 2,666.
Added to the previous annual numbers as reported in El Diario
1,623 in 2008
2,754 in 2009
2,666 so far in 2010
This adds up to 7,043 people murdered in Juarez since the beginning of

These are the monthly tallies so far in 2010 from El Diario newspaper
archives, based on official reports:

227 January
163 February
240 March
203 April
262 May
313 June
291 July
338 August
289 September
340 as of October 30
--[Molly Molloy]

Al registrarse ayer 10 homicidios dolosos, octubre –aún sin concluir– se estableció ya como el mes más violento del año con 340 asesinatos; en la gran mayoría de los casos, los responsables no fueron detenidos.

Los crímenes perpetrados en lo que va del año han dejado ya a 2 mil 666 familias enlutadas, mientras que a lo largo de todo el 2009 se contabilizaron 2 mil 754 víctimas mortales.

Ayer, se cometieron otros 10 asesinatos, seis de ellos durante la tarde. El primer caso vespertino se registró aproximadamente a las 15:00 horas en el poblado de Loma Blanca, donde dos hombres fueron asesinados.

Los cadáveres de las víctimas se hallaron en un patio de una vivienda ubicada en la calle Montenegro.

De las víctimas se conoció únicamente que uno tenía entre 20 y 25 años de edad y el otro de entre 40 y 42 años.

Una hora más tarde, otro individuo fue atacado a balazos luego de ser tirado de un vehículo en movimiento, sobre la calle Justo Sierra de la colonia El Barreal. La víctima estaba esposada y vestía una playera color azul y pantalón de mezclilla.

Al filo de las 19:30 horas en la vía Montes Urales casi cruce con la Avenida Tecnológico, a unos 50 metros del puente de la Jilotepec, un joven de unos 27 años también fue asesinado.

Cerca de las 20:10 horas de ayer en Berilio y Begonias, un individuo fue ultimado junto a la banca de un parque.

Después de las 22:00 horas, ocurrió el sexto crimen de la tarde. Esto en la intersección de Valle de la Coliona y Valle del Sol, en una zona habitacional que lleva el mismo nombre.

Archivos periodísticos, con base en reportes oficiales, señala que en enero ocurrieron 227 asesinatos, 163 en febrero, 240 en marzo, 203 en abril, 262 en mayo, 313 en junio, 291 en julio, 338 en agosto, 289 en septiembre y 340 al 30 de octubre.

Por lo que a la fecha, han ocurrido 2 mil 666 homicidios.

Mientras que durante el 2009 la violencia cobró la vida de 2 mil 754 personas.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Student, 20, named Mexico police chief

A 20-YEAR-OLD female criminology student has been named police chief of a northern Mexican border town plagued by drug violence because no one else wanted the job.

Marisol Valles became director of municipal public security of Guadalupe "since she was the only person to accept the position", the mayor's office of the town of some 10,000 people near the US border told local media yesterday.

Ms Valles is studying criminology in Mexico's most violent city of Ciudad Juarez, some 60km west of Guadalupe.

Raging turf battles between rival drug gangs have left some 6500 people dead in Ciudad Juarez alone in the past three years.

Much of Chihuahua state has suffered from the spiral of drug violence, including in Guadalupe, where the mayor was murdered in June and police officers and security agents have been killed, some of them beheaded.

Last week alone there were at least eight murders in Guadalupe, in an area deemed a high-traffic transit point for illegal drugs across the border into the US state of Texas.

More than 28,000 people have died nationwide in suspected drug violence since December 2006, when the Mexican government launched an offensive against its criminal gangs with the deployment of some 50,000 troops.

The Guadalupe mayor's office has only one police patrol car and receives security assistance from the army.

Read more:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Detaining" Profits

Are private prison corporations enslaving, raping, and killing immigrant detainees while making a nice fat profit?

Seattle, WA. On August 26, 2007, a settlement agreement between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Bush Administration (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE) was recorded in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division.

The settlement agreement was largely overlooked by mainstream media but it was both historic and highly significant. The agreement pertained to the case of In re Hutto Family Detention Centers and involved allegations of systemic and pervasive violations of civil and human rights that endangered the lives of detainees. Most of these are persons that are not being detained because they are guilty of a "crime" but due to alleged infractions against the U.S. civil code governing immigration and naturalization.

The Hutto facility had witnessed a variety of criminal incidents and patterns of exploitative treatment including the sexual abuse and rape of women and children, medical neglect, forcible separation from relatives, and other travesties too numerous to list here. None of the perpetrators were ever brought to trial for their crimes, and some of the prison guards were not even terminated. Human Rights Watch issued a report on the mistreatment and abuse of women in detention centers (March 2009) to little public outcry or media focus.

I have to wonder: Where is the moral outrage and outcry in the United States that we saw over the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq?

In another related report, released this past August, Human Rights Watch provides relevant commentary and analysis of the allegations surrounding this case:

In May 2007, when Hutto still functioned as a family detention center, a young boy was sleeping in a crib inside his mother’s cell when a guard entered and had sexual contact with her. Video surveillance captured the guard, employed by private contractor Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), crawling out of the cell in the middle of the night in an apparent failed attempt to evade security cameras. CCA fired the guard, but he never faced criminal prosecution by either state or federal authorities. According to an ICE spokesperson, the police investigation concluded that the sexual contact had been consensual. In any Bureau of Prisons facility in the US, the same incident would have constituted a crime because federal law criminalizes sexual contact between guards and those in their custody. However, at the time, that particular provision of the federal criminal code applied only to facilities under the authority of the Department of Justice. Immigration facilities had been under the authority of the DOJ until 2003, but then authority passed to the newly created Department of Homeland Security. Consequently, the statutory provision did not cover sexual misconduct in ICE facilities at the time of the incident at Hutto. Later in 2007, a legislative amendment was passed to make the provision cover all federal facilities.

In other words, a bit of bureaucratic buffoonery allowed the perpetrators at Hutto to get away with their crimes due, ultimately, to jurisdictional oversights in the original statutes regulating treatment of persons in prisons versus detention centers.

The biggest travesty of all at Hutto, like numerous other privately-run, for-profit detention centers in unmarked and secretive locations across the country, is that the system of detention itself, and its dehumanizing imprisonment of entire families awaiting deportation, subjects people to a series of violent acts that threaten the health and safety of entire families and their extended kin and communities. Some of these cases involve U.S.-born citizen children in mixed status families where one or both parents are undocumented. Other relatives may be stranded by the detention of parents and other kin; this has included abandoned toddlers and teenagers who are U.S.-born citizens.

Often overlooked in such cases is that the underlying savage treatment of detainee families is routine for a for-profit industry that is supported by Wall Street power mandarins and embraced by the neoliberal minimalist state that has politicians of all stripes, including Democratic Party leadership, privatizing everything including war and the regime of discipline and punishment that has turned our detention policy into a de facto pogrom, or purge, of the "unwanted Other."

Hence, the Obama Administration's recent glowing report and celebration of the record-breaking number of apprehensions and deportations last week. One wonders if Obama's advisers think this will miraculously get them some Tea Party votes; one suspects it won't, but it will likely lead to a loss of a good portion of the Latina/o voters who will sit out the midterm elections as a result of this type of political maneuvering that cheapens the value of a life for the sake of more favorable electoral outcomes.

I have to wonder: Where is the moral outrage in the United States that we saw over the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq? This is the same horror, sans photos or videos.

Jails 'R Us: Privatizing Detention & Demonizing Mexicans

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is one of the leading corporate powers that dominates the private prison-detention center industrial complex, an unaccountable and secretive sector that exploits the lives and struggles of displaced persons who are criminalized for the convenience of the returns to shareholders and CEOs.

This is a well-connected corporation. CCA - which trades on the NYSE as "CXW" - is based in Nashville, TN and its connections to political elites in that state were most recently put on display when a former chief counsel was nearly appointed to a federal district judgeship, except for the organizing work of the incomparable Private Corrections Institute. The corporation seems immune to the budget cuts everyone else has been facing since the start of the Derivatives Depression in September 2008. CCA recently received an increase in the per Diem it receives from the State of Tennessee for each prisoner it "keeps" in its complexes.

Ironically, there is a surveillance tape that caught one of the rapist guards leaving the cell of the victim. He was fired but did not get prosecuted for the rape due to the previously mentioned jurisdictional buffoonery. Despite this domestic Abu Ghraib-like scandal, the company's stock seems impervious to the decline that most company stocks have faced since September 2008.

I tracked CXW stock and found that it has proven resilient: The stock was at 32.99 in July 2007 (its highest level through October 2010). It closed 2007 in the 30.00-32.00 range. In August 2008, before the onset of the credit market collapse, it was still trading fairly high at 28.42. However, by the end of October it was down nearly fifty percent to 17.05. CXW stock hit bottom in March 2009 when it closed as low as 9.82. However, since that trough, the ride has mainly been up: In late November 2009 it was trading at 25.81 and it held that range through the present: The stock closed today (October 11, 2010) at 25.83.

Why is a corporation that manages and runs private prisons and detention centers so profitable in a time of sustained recession, at least as measured by their earnings reports and stock price?

There is an old formula, readily familiar to most scholars in the social science immigration studies community. The formula was probably first applied by the pioneering Chicano researcher Ernesto Galarza who used it to illustrate his theory of "administered labor migration." The formula is simple and yet compelling: In times of economic growth and expansion, the U.S. opens the border to Mexican labor. In times of economic contraction and recession, the U.S. closes the border to Mexican labor. It is also not a coincidence that concern for immigration as a "social" problem increases whenever the economy goes into a depression or recession. This has always been the case and is not a recent phenomenon.

One can track the rise in the fortunes of CCA and correlate it precisely to the recession and subsequent heightened attacks on Mexican labor. Since apprehensions and deportations are at an all time high, it is reasonable to assume the government has to increase the number of beds for people held in detention centers. Herein lies the secret to the success enjoyed by CCA in the wake of the 2008 stock market collapse.

The for-profit prison and detention center industry relies on misery as its modus vivendi. It relies on the misery unleashed by unemployment and a climate of hatred fed by fear-mongering and immigrant-bashing; it thrives from the criminalization of labor; it makes its vampire living from the apprehension of people whose only "crime" is that they seek to escape the structural violence of hunger and malnutrition by entering the U.S. at great risk to themselves and their families to pursue undocumented labor in the U.S.

A democratic society should not allow prisons to become Arpaio gulags and warehouses of abuse and death, while rewarding it with unfathomable CEO bonuses and profits. This is necro-capitalism at its worst.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Under the volcano

The drugs trade has spread corruption and violence across Mexico. Can the police ever catch up with them?
Oct 14th 2010 | MONTERREY

THE drugs business, as Miguel tells it, used to offer a promising career for a young man. At 4am he would set out into the sierra of Sinaloa to pick up cannabis. Back in the city of Culiacán he would pack it for export, compressing it with a hydraulic pump, wrapping it in polythene and dunking it in wax to trick the sniffer dogs. The packets would go in trucks, cars, even on push-bikes. Once, in a friend’s Cessna, he skimmed the treetops south to Colombia, dropping packets of cocaine over the Mexican desert on the way back.

Miguel’s trafficking career ended in 1988, when he was caught. Five years in prison followed. “There was always the danger of being captured by the police or the army,” he says now. “But in Sinaloa we had no problems with the other cartels. It was easier to work with them than to kill them. Today they don’t understand that.”

Indeed they don’t. Since Felipe Calderón began his presidency in 2006 with a renewed effort against the drugs cartels, more than 28,000 people have been killed. Mr Calderón has deployed 50,000 soldiers to fight the gangsters, whose inventories now include rocket-propelled grenades, helicopters and semi-submersible vessels. Pitched battles between the army and the traffickers have caused some of these casualties; more still have been caused by fighting among Mexico’s half-dozen main trafficking organisations, engaged in a bloody struggle for the trade.

Last year Mexican officials angrily rebuffed a Pentagon study arguing that the country was in danger of becoming a failed state. That description still seems absurd in most of the country, the world’s 11th-largest by population and 14th-biggest by size of economy. Most of the violence remains confined to a handful of states, mainly close to the United States border. But since the Pentagon’s report the frequency of gang-related homicides has more than doubled. The second quarter of this year saw more than 4,000 such murders: twice as many as at the beginning of last year, and some eight times more than at the beginning of 2007 (see chart 1). The gangs’ tactics now include detonating car-bombs in public places.

The conflict has become a test of endurance for both the government and the narcos. Mr Calderón has staked his presidency on the outcome. In 2007 a third of Mexicans thought the death toll was an acceptable price to pay for beating the cartels, whereas now only a quarter do. “Unless there is a big change in the level of violence, the current strategy cannot survive more than another six months,” says Jorge Castañeda, a former foreign minister.

With a presidential election less than two years away, groups are positioning themselves to influence the next regime. The criminals are, too: heads tossed onto dance floors, corpses strung from bridges and, most recently, a victim’s face that was flayed off to be sewn onto a football, are all messages to government and citizens to back down. The law-abiding must decide whether it is better to give in, or battle on.

The official murder rate in Mexico remains lower than in much of Latin America. In 2009 it was 14 per 100,000 people, compared with 25 in Brazil and around 70 in parts of Central America. The violence is localised: 80% of the gang-related murders since 2006 have been committed in just 7% of Mexico’s towns, according to the government. A third of Mexico’s 31 states have murder rates hovering around five per 100,000, about the same as the United States. Yucatán, where tourists snorkel with whale sharks, sees fewer killings per person than Canada.

Many believe that the official statistics do not capture the whole picture. Cartels are good at public executions, but they are also skilled at hiding bodies when necessary. El pozolero (“the soup-maker”), dissolved some 300 corpses in a broth of acid before his capture last year. In June some 55 bodies were discovered in a silver mine close to Taxco, a tourist-friendly town in Guerrero. A study commissioned by FLACSO, a Latin American social-science university, estimated that, based on victimisation surveys, Mexico’s murder rate could be closer to 26 per 100,000.

What makes Mexico worrying is not just the raw numbers but the power of the cartels over society. Around five years ago Mexico’s drug-smuggling gangs overtook Colombia’s in resources and manpower, reckons Scott Stewart of Stratfor, a Texas-based security consultancy. As well as expanding down the supply chain, running distribution networks in the United States, they have moved up it, buying cocaine directly in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. They have become a bigger influence in politics at home: woe betide public figures who do not march to their tune.

In Tamaulipas, a state in the north-east bordering Texas, the candidate widely expected to be elected governor in July was murdered four days before the poll. After the discovery of 72 murdered Central and South American migrants in the same state in August, two policemen running the investigation were killed. Journalists in towns such as Reynosa, on the Texan border, have stopped reporting on the drugs wars after being intimidated. Across Mexico, at least 11 mayors have been murdered so far this year.

Violence reaches the rich

But this year has also seen a significant change. Since a bust-up between the Gulf cartel and their former allies, a group known as the Zetas—former Mexican special forces who defected to the narcos a decade ago—violence has spread to the doorsteps of some of Mexico’s richest people. Monterrey, a city of 4m in the state of Nuevo León, daytripping distance from Texas, is Mexico’s industrial powerhouse, with an average income three times the national average, thanks to factories turning out everything from fridges to fuselages for the United States. Smartly-dressed young executives devouring business manuals land at its airport on the hour, every hour.

Yet fighting between the Zetas and the Gulf has destroyed Monterrey’s reputation as a safe city. Though business has more or less held up so far, a series of drug-related spectaculars sparked an exodus of the city’s upper class this summer. In April several people were kidnapped from the Holiday Inn, in the city centre. In August a shoot-out outside the American School left two dead. Many wealthy Mexicans have moved their families to the United States or safer parts of Mexico. In the smart suburbs, Monterrey’s rich are now keeping their SUVs garaged out of sight.

The threat against Mexico’s industrial capital has raised the stakes. “Monterrey will be a decisive battle,” says Luis Rubio, head of CIDAC, a Mexico City think-tank. The country’s movers and shakers have been galvanised now. In August Lorenzo Zambrano, the chairman and CEO of Cemex, the world’s biggest building-materials supplier, which built its empire out of the limestone cliffs of Monterrey, vented his anger on Twitter. “He who leaves Monterrey is a coward,” he wrote. In the same month Monterrey business leaders took out full-page ads in the national press, criticising the government’s apparent impotence. The pressure has had some effect. Last October Nuevo León had 60 federal police officers; it now has 550. “I feel that the sense of urgency has now reached our government,” says Mr Zambrano.

The war has certainly exposed the weakness of Mexico’s criminal-justice institutions. Numbers are not the problem: with 366 officers per 100,000 people, Mexico is better supplied with police than the United States, Britain, Italy and France, among others. But it is badly organised and corrupt. Policemen earn an average of $350 a month, about the same as a builder’s labourer, meaning that wages are supplemented with bribes. Carlos Jáuregui, who was Nuevo León’s chief security official until March, reckons that more than half the officers in the state were being paid by organised crime. A policeman in Monterrey can be bought for about 5,000 pesos ($400) a fortnight, Mr Jáuregui reckons.

“Police are treated as second-class citizens,” says Ernesto López Portillo, head of Insyde, a Mexico City think-tank. They are kept that way by the constitution, which separates police officers from other public servants, meaning they do not qualify for the standard minimum wage and the 40-hour weekly work limit. Police forces are in theory overseen by internal investigation units, but their findings are secret and, in any case, Mr López Portillo estimates that fewer than 5% of forces have such a body.

The government has focused on reforming the federal police, with some success. The force has gone through a deep purge, with a tenth of its officers sacked in the first eight months of this year for corruption or incompetence. Pay has gone up, and so has recruitment. At the beginning of Mr Calderón’s term there were 6,000 officers in the federal force; now there are more than 30,000 (some seconded from the army). The government is developing an external body to review the police.

Progress has also been made on Mexico’s federal prisons, with the construction of a new academy to train prison guards. The Mérida initiative, under which the United States provides help to Mexico to combat organised crime, is being tweaked to back such reforms. Whereas in 2008 most of the budget went on hardware—both military and civilian—the priority now is stronger institutions, says an American embassy official. Change is coming to the judicial system too, after a constitutional reform in 2008 that will set up a British or American-style accusatorial, oral system in place of written investigations, which are open to abuse.

Trials and hold-ups

Yet many reforms take agonisingly long to appear. An exam introduced two years ago to weed out dim or corrupt policemen has been taken by fewer than a quarter of officers, and by fewer than a tenth of state police. Progress on judicial reform has been glacial, meeting enormous resistance. The change is supposed to be completed by 2016; Alejandro Poiré, the government’s security spokesman, says this timetable may have to be speeded up.

In many cases Mexico’s federal system of government has prevented reforms from filtering through to ground level. Mexico is a federation of 31 states and 2,456 municipalities, whose governors and mayors guard their limited powers jealously. Policing is one of them, and the quality varies wildly: there are fewer than half as many local police per head in Tamaulipas as in Tabasco. Some 400 towns have no police, and 90% of municipal forces employ fewer than 100 officers.

Some mayors are under enormous pressure from criminals to keep things that way. Municipal police “are the most vulnerable…the most subjected to intimidation and, of course, the vengeance of the criminals,” Mr Calderón said recently. They are also among the least effective: the patchwork of command muddles operations. In Monterrey the metropolitan area alone has 11 different forces, using different training, tactics and even brands of radio. “If a criminal crosses the street he has reached a safe haven,” admits one official. On October 6th Mr Calderón presented plans to unify the police in each state, bringing the municipal forces under the control of governors. The measure now has broad support in Mexico City but requires changes to the constitution, which more than half the states must approve.

It is a similar story with the prisons. The American official estimates that whereas federal prisons are about a quarter of the way towards being fit for purpose, the state prisons are only a tenth of the way there. Recent mass-jailbreaks in Tamaulipas and an extraordinary episode in Durango, in which prisoners were let out to commit contract killings using guards’ weapons, underline how far state prisons have to go.

In the case of money laundering, the federal government’s recent legislation will be stymied by the fact that property, a favourite way to hide dirty money, is registered at state level. Only the federal district of Mexico City has its own financial-investigations unit.

Yet the government’s reforms, coupled with pressure from the army, may be starting to have an effect. The most visible successes of recent months have been the capture or killing of a string of cartel leaders. Long lines of deputies wait to inherit their positions. But the arrests are a sign of improved intelligence capability in the security forces, says Mr Poiré. Between June and August the murder rate stabilised, at a rate of about 49 gang-killings a day, and it fell somewhat in September, to 36 a day (figures were available only up to September 24th). There have been false dawns before. But it may be that a combination of institutional reform and firepower is slowly beginning to weaken the cartels, or at least alter their behaviour.

In Monterrey the state government is experimenting with an ad-hoc unified force that gives municipalities the right to opt out. Officials reckon that seven of the 11 municipalities will take part. In another experiment, police are patrolling with soldiers and prosecutors to provide a mixture of firepower and basic policing know-how (such as blocking the backs of houses before going in at the front). Since August the city has seen no roadblocks set up by the gangsters, and the level of violence diminished in September. Many locals fear that the respite is temporary, but Javier Treviño, the deputy governor of Nuevo León, believes Monterrey is now over the worst.

The battlefield provides some evidence that certain cartels are being weakened. The Zetas, for instance, seem less and less professional. Some are teenagers who have little idea how to use their powerful weapons. Arrested gunmen are sometimes so drunk or stoned that they have to be left for 24 hours to sober up, one official says. The cartel appears to be relying more on part-time help: one Monterrey businessman found that his office cleaner was working nights for the mob. Many bodies go unclaimed, suggesting that footsoldiers are being recruited, or pressganged, from farther afield. The migrants murdered in Tamaulipas are believed to have been murdered after refusing to work for the narcos.

The weakening of some criminal gangs has had unforeseen consequences. Cartel recruitment has been ramped up in poor neighbourhoods such as Colonia Independencia, a hillside settlement that confronts Monterrey’s government offices from across the Santa Catarina river. Teenagers there run murderous errands for around 4,000 pesos a week, community workers say. And the loss of influence by the Zetas has led to scrappy turf wars. Over the summer Monterrey’s middle class was shocked by the apparently random kidnapping of young, affluent residents. It later emerged that the Zetas were nabbing people who looked like cocaine users to find out where they got their drugs, so that they could kill their rival dealers.

The big green hole

As pressure is put on the drugs business, the gangs are diversifying into other rackets: extortion and kidnap, particularly of migrants from Central America. Gangs increasingly aim to dominate all criminal enterprises in a given territory, rather than simply the supply of drugs, says Antonio Mazzitelli, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Mexico City. The increase in kidnapping has heightened the feeling of insecurity, even among those with protection. Diego Fernández, a former presidential candidate who remains influential within the ruling National Action Party, was kidnapped in May and is now seen only in periodic ransom demands, thinner in each photograph.

Even when the cartels are driven out of one place, they tend to pick up their operations elsewhere. Commanders in Monterrey say that their successes have exacerbated problems in the nearby states of Coahuila and Durango. Mexico’s own drugs problems took off in the 1990s, after the old cocaine-trafficking route to Florida through the Caribbean was shut down by the Americans. Now, as Mexico piles pressure on its home-grown cartels, some are moving their operations south. Already, more cocaine is seized in Central America than in Mexico (see chart 2). Some Mexican groups have set up training camps and storage facilities in the jungles of Petén, a “big green hole of nothing” in northern Guatemala, according to Mr Stewart.

The Zetas, in particular, are visible in Central America. Zeta recruitment banners have been spotted, tempting soldiers away from the army with better wages and food; the gang is believed to linked up with former Guatemalan special forces, enthusiastic abusers of human rights during the country’s civil war. In September a Guatemalan court convicted six Mexican nationals, believed to be Zetas, of the murder of 11 people in 2008. In the first six months of this year Guatemalan authorities seized cash, drugs and arms worth more than everything they had seized the previous year, according to the police.

Guatemala’s deepening nightmare could eventually mean grim relief for Mexico. So too could developments in the United States and Europe. On November 2nd California will vote on a ballot initiative to legalise the sale of cannabis which, if it became law, would remove one small line of business from Mexico’s cartels (see article). Legally or not, more cannabis is being grown north of the border anyway.

Help may also come from Europe’s cocaine market. This is now almost as valuable as that of the United States, which is shrinking, according to the UNODC. Andean cocaine bound for Europe need not go through Mexico, and the Mexican gangs are still weaker than the Colombians in Spain (partly because the Mexican diaspora does not extend much beyond the United States). Mr Mazzitelli says Mexicans are now collaborating with the Italian ’Ndrangheta mafia to explore new opportunities in Australia, where the retail price of cocaine is twice what it is in the United States.

Whether its bases are in Mexico or elsewhere, the illegal drugs business will continue to bring violence and corruption to the Americas, where it sucks in an ever greater number of young men. Miguel, the former Sinaloa trafficker, promised his family he would go clean when he got out of jail; he works as a gardener now, but the money is poor, and he would still go into the drugs business if he had his time again. Trying to stop the gangsters “is like mowing the grass,” he says. “You can cut it down. But it always grows back.”

Deportation fears erode trust

Earlier this year, I and three other immigrant students left Miami on a 1,500-mile walk to our nation’s capital. We wanted Americans to understand what life is like for the hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants like me who are unable to fully participate in American society.

I won’t forget the day that we walked through Atlanta. There was a marching band and hundreds of people waiting. The mayor sent a representative, elected officials spoke and we were pursued by news outlets.

But what I remember most was a Brazilian couple who came from Cobb County to give me Brazilian food; they had heard that I was born in Rio. I was deeply touched.

They told me about their lives in Cobb as undocumented immigrants. I was familiar with Cobb, because it’s widely known as one of the worst places for immigrants to live in Georgia

Last October, the ACLU of Georgia documented the experience of the Cobb Latino community: one of fear, isolation and racial profiling.

The Brazilian couple were expecting a baby and told me that they were afraid every time they got inside the car to go to the hospital for prenatal care. Their eyes got a little watery when they talked about the possibility of having their baby inside a detention center.

I looked at them, gave them a hug and promised that I would tell their story. The 287(g) program is separating our families and causing so much pain in our communities.

Cobb is one of the four Georgia localities that are part of 287(g), which gives authority to local law enforcement to act as immigration agents, much like Arizona’s SB 1070. The program is widely criticized by human and civil rights groups because it promotes racial profiling and erodes trust between community members and the police.

I also recall the unfortunate case of the young undocumented student, Jessica Colotl, who was detained for driving without a license. She almost got deported, even though she lived most of her life in the U.S.

I am no different from Jessica. I was born in Brazil and sent to Miami at the age of 14 to live with my relatives because my mother was ill and could no longer care for me.

When I arrived here, my family told me that in this nation, if I worked hard all of my dreams would come true.

I took their words to heart and graduated from high school with honors, only to find barriers because I could not adjust my immigration status. I could not afford the out-of-state fees for college.

But a year later, I was given a chance. Miami Dade College accepted me into their honors program. I became the student government president, helped to found a club to build schools in Uganda and became one of the best students in Florida.

In 2008, I made USA Today’s All-USA Community College Academic Team. I also contributed to my community with more than 1,000 hours of service and I made Florida proud of me.

Imagine if this opportunity was not presented to me?

I believe education is the only way out of poverty; for that reason, I am working hard to finish my bachelor’s degree and become a teacher.

I am undocumented just like Jessica and the Cobb couple who were afraid of going to the hospital. We have hopes and dreams to make our families and this country better. We cannot allow our communities to live in fear from programs that promote racial profiling.

That’s why I am back in Georgia to join forces with local and national civil and human rights advocates as well as undocumented students from Georgia demanding an end to the 287(g) program in Cobb.

Felipe Matos is an undocumented student from Trail of DREAMs and an organizer for the national campaign against 287(g).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Regents ban illegal immigrants from some Ga. colleges

The State Board of Regents voted Wednesday to ban illegal immigrants from attending Georgia's top public colleges starting next fall, but that will not be the final action on the polarizing issue.

Lawmakers plan to introduce a bill to bar these students from all public colleges -- the 35 institutions in the University System of Georgia and the 26 in the Technical College System of Georgia. Both Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates have said they support such a measure.

"The regents were heading in the right direction, but I just wish they had taken it one step further," Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, said. "A bill will be introduced this session that says no illegals in any public college. I have a hard time believing it won't pass."

The regents approved prohibiting illegal immigrants from attending any college that has rejected academically qualified applicants for the past two academic years because of space or other issues. The affected campuses are: University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Medical College of Georgia and Georgia College & State University. Officials could not say immediately how many qualified applicants had been turned away at those schools.

The ban means Georgia is following South Carolina, which prohibits illegal immigrants from all public colleges.

Debate over illegal immigration and higher education resurfaced last spring after Jessica Colotl, an illegal immigrant attending Kennesaw State University, was arrested on campus for a traffic violation. College officials disclosed they had charged her in-state tuition. State rules require illegal immigrants pay the more expensive out-of-state rates.

Charles Kuck, Colotl's immigration attorney, said his client may have brought the issue to the forefront, but she didn't cause the new rules.

"This was bound to come up again," Kuck said. "The sad thing is they don't know this won't make a difference. They're robbing children of hope and an education, that's what they did. They won't make people leave this country because it's still better for them here than it is back at home."

Regent Jim Jolly, who chaired the committee that recommended the new policies, said they are not "equipped to serve as immigration authorities" but the new rules will make sure students are classified properly for tuition purposes.

Of the 310,361 students enrolled, 501 are classified as "undocumented" and are paying out-of-state tuition, Jolly said. These students did not provide documentation to determine their tuition status. They may be in this country illegally.

"Clearly our institutions are not being inundated but undocumented students and Georgia taxpayers are not subsidizing the small number enrolled," Jolly said.

Still, he said, the ban should alleviate concerns that these students take seats away from U.S. citizens. The five campuses enroll 29 undocumented students.

Regent Richard Tucker voted against the ban and a new verification rule, saying it would burden colleges.

The new rules require campuses to verify the "lawful presence" of students seeking in-state tuition. Colleges can use several methods, such as the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement (SAVE) program, a federal database that typically charges 50 cents for each background check.

College officials said they need to figure out how to implement the new policy and make applicants aware of the changes.

"Georgia State admitted over 13,000 students this past fall, so it will be a large undertaking," said Tim Renick, the college's chief enrollment officer. "We plan to work with the other impacted universities to see if we can develop some common practices. This should help to reduce applicant confusion about the new rules."

Eric Cuevas, a recruiter at Georgia Perimeter College, said some students already are confused about which campuses they can attend and wary that completing an applications could lead to deportation.

"We're not purposely recruiting these students, it just happens," Cuevas said. "Do you know how hard it is to get a Hispanic student to even consider college? This just made it a lot harder."

Before the meeting, about 20 people protested the ban. They carried signs that read: "Education not deportation!" and "Board of Regents, do the right thing, please don’t ban me!"

"They are not taking seats away from American students," said Eva Cardenas, a sophomore at Clayton State University. "They earned their seats."

Other students said illegal immigrants are breaking the law and should not be rewarded with college.

"For every illegal person who is attending a public university, that's another U.S. citizen turned away," said David Bachman, a student at Middle Georgia College. "What is most astonishing is that our elected officials in Washington should be enforcing these laws instead of the State Board of Regents."

Regents Vice Chairman Felton Jenkins voted against the ban, saying it was against the board's mission, which is to promote education.

"I just think people who are qualified ought to get in," Jenkins said. "They worked hard and earned their spot. They could help make the state a better place."

Regents voting for the ban were: Jolly, Kenneth R. Bernard Jr., James Bishop, Frederick Cooper, C. Thomas Hopkins Jr., W. Mansfield Jennings Jr., Donald M. Leebern Jr., William "Dink" H. NeSmith Jr., Doreen Stiles Poitevint, Willis J. Potts Jr., Wanda Yancey Rodwell, Kessel Stelling Jr., Benjamin Tarbutton III and Larry Walker. Larry Ellis and Bob Hatcher were not present.

New rules

The State Board of Regents Wednesday approved four actions to help ensure that no illegal immigrants are charged taxpayer supported in-state tuition rates. The rules also seek to calm public concerns that illegal immigrants are taking seats away from U.S. citizens. Here are the rules:

- Add a section to all applications explaining the legal ramifications for knowingly providing false information.

- Require applicants to state on the applications whether they are eligible and seeking in-state tuition.

- Order all 35 campuses to verify the "lawful presence" of any admitted student seeking in-state tuition.

-Deny illegal immigrants admission to any college that has turned away academically qualified applicants because of a lack of space or other issues. Next fall this will apply to: University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Medical College of Georgia and Georgia College & State University.
Source: University System of Georgia

Saturday, October 9, 2010

How Wall Street Profits from the Criminalization of Immigrants and Lobbies for More To Be Locked Up

Two Wall Street-backed powerhouses are making fat profits off of the private immigration detention system, and they're flexing their muscles in Congress.

October 9, 2010

Over the past four years roughly a million immigrants have been incarcerated in dangerous detention facilities in our taxpayer-financed private prison system. A growing number of news reports and investigations confirm that for many of the people funneled into this system, it is a living nightmare. Children were abused, women were raped, and men died from lack of basic medical attention.

These facilities are run by two Wall Street-backed companies that actively promote the criminalization and incarceration of immigrants in the United States -the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group.

The T. Don Hutto immigrant detention facility in Taylor, Texas provides a now well-known example of the abuses that take place within private prisons for immigrants. Beginning in May 2006,the Don Hutto prison was used to house children and their parents who were on a path to deportation. Reports began to surface of widespread abusive treatment of immigrant children by staff of Corrections Corporation of America. An ACLU lawsuit filed on the basis of documented cases of abuse finally led to the closing of the Don Hutto facility for housing families in 2008. After the children were excluded, the Don Hutto only held women detainees. But the abuses continued. Evidence has surfaced that a number of women were sexually abused over the past two years in Don Hutto by CCA staff. Sexual abuse, including rape, has been documented in several detention centers.

The other large private prison corporation contracted by the federal government to run immigrant prisons is the GEO Group. The GEO detention facilities have also racked up many reports and complaints of abusive treatment of immigrant detainees and corrupt staff practices that violate the basic human rights of prisoners. Last month we spoke with the sibling of a detainee in a GEO-run facility who was denied basic medical attention for lack of funds to pay. The detainee’s family had to raise funds to get their relative medical attention in the facility from GEO. Other GEOdetainees have died from a lack of medical attention.

Another relative of a GEO detainee told us that prisoners who avoid getting on the wrong side of GEO guards could aspire, at most, to a job in the prison that pays 17 cents an hour for doing office work.

GEO recently agreed to pay restitution for its employees’ physical abuse of prisoners who were strip searched in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Texas, and New Mexico. In another case, GEO was ordered to pay $40 million in the wrongful death of a prisoner in its custody in Raymondville, Texas. GEO has also been sued by seven children who were sexually assaulted by a guard while being held in a GEO facility.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), based in Nashville, Tennessee, and the GEO Group, a global corporation based in Boca Raton, Florida are the nation’s two largest prison companies. They run highly integrated operations to design, build, finance and operate prisons. GEO rakes in $1.17 billion in annual revenue, and CCA tops that at $1.69 billion. Together these companies are principal moving forces in the behind-the-scenes organization of the current wave of anti-immigrant legislative efforts, which, if successful, would dramatically increase the number of immigrant prisoners in over 20 states.

Following the Money

GEO CEO, George Zoley, was a Bush “Pioneer” who bundled more than $100,000 in contributions for the Bush-Cheney campaigns in 2000 and 2004. In October 2003, GEO was successful in securing the contract to run the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

GEO hired the services of lobbyists who had held influential positions in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Prisons, Office of the Attorney General, and the office of then-Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell, to lobby their former employers and Congress. Throughout 2005 and leading up to the largest immigration raid in U.S. history in December 2006, GEO and CCA spent a combined total of over $6 million on lobbying efforts.

On May 1, 2006, while millions of people marched in favor of immigrant rights in 102 cities across the country, GEO and CCA were lobbying the federal government for more business. The marchers, despite their historic turnout and broad citizen base, could not block the growing wave of government support of GEO’s and CCA’s business plans.

The December 2006 raid, in which over a thousand men and women employed at Swift meat-packing plants in several states were detained, marked a change in the federal government’s enforcement of the 1995 immigration law. For the first time, many of those picked up were charged with crimes such as falsifying identity documents or identity theft that carry long prison sentences, rather than misuse of a social security number, a misdemeanor.

This single change in enforcement of existing law created a potential “market” of over 10 million new felons almost overnight, multiplying the lucrative incarceration market for the private prison industry and sending a shock wave through immigrant-related communities across the country. At the time of the Swift raid, USA Today quoted the Reverend Clarence Sandoval of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Logan, Utah, as saying, “They are taking mothers and fathers and we’re really concerned about the children. I’m getting calls from mothers saying they don’t know where their husband was taken.”

Through this change in how federal law is enforced, CCA and GEO suddenly had a huge pool of captive clients, and began to rake in millions of dollars in public funds to house, transport, feed and control immigrants.

Predictably, costs to taxpayers skyrocketed. From 2006 to the present, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) budget for the identification, custody, transportation, detention and removal of immigrants has increased 51%. The U.S. Marshall budget for the custody and transportation of immigrants over the same period has increased 15%, and the Bureau of Prisons budget for detention of immigrants over the same period has gone up 9%. The billions of dollars in increased expenditures have provided the primary source for the billions in increased revenue for CCA and GEO.

In addition, currently 625 state, county and municipality law enforcement agencies are providing identification, custody, transportation and detention of immigrants through agreements with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

According to a federal Government Accounting Office study conducted last year the cost of this program to local taxpayers is unknown because 60% of state and local governments do not keep data on their personnel, equipment, supplies and other costs related to these agreements, and therefore are not reimbursed for those costs. Whatever the exact cost, local taxpayers will feel the pinch as this program is expected to expand to all 3,100 state, county and municipal detention jurisdictions in the nation by the end of 2011. Consequently CCA and GEO can expect to increase their revenues as states and counties increasingly subcontract incarceration responsibilities to these companies.

Last year Seeking Alpha, a website of actionable stock market opinion and analysis popular on Wall Street, reported that GEO’s income from prison health care services ending in March of 2009 topped $1.0 billion, a 5.8% profit. Seeking Alpha also stated that CCA’s profit for the same period in 19 states was over $1.6 billion, with a profit margin of 9.4%. In an article entitled “Where Delinquencies Make for Good Business” the same publication noted, “Crime, unfortunately, is a growth industry and GEO Group has proven to be a successful player in the outsourcing trend for governments at many levels.” Pushing criminalization of immigrants to cast a wider net in society has been a key part of that “success.”

Soon after the Bush Administration implemented the change in law enforcement affecting immigrants, Wall Street advisors publically recommended buying stock in private prison companies like CCA and GEO. At the time, Vice President Dick Cheney was heavily invested in Vanguard, one of a handful of major shareholders in GEO.

The lobbying paid off for both companies, in huge revenue increases from government contracts to incarcerate immigrants. From 2005 through 2009, for every dollar that GEO spent lobbying the government, the company received a $662 return in taxpayer-funded contracts, for a total of $996.7 million. CCA received a $34 return in taxpayer-funded contracts for every dollar spent on lobbying the federal government, for a total of $330.4 million. In addition, both companies increased revenues over the same period from detention facility contracts with a number of states.

In 2007, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) conducted 30,407 immigration raids in workplaces, neighborhoods, and public gathering sites such as bus stops and commuter train platforms. The number of raids conducted that year was double the 2006 total. The number of immigrants placed behind bars, for what amounts to the crime of having been born in the wrong place, increased from 256,842 in 2006 to 311,169 in 2007.

As a result of fear induced by the raids and other factors, pro-immigrant May Day marches in 2007 were much smaller than those of the previous year. In mid-2007, while many activists and organizers were focused on legislative reform, public protests, eliminating the raids, and trying to help families and friends of those who had been taken away by ICE and other enforcement agencies, GEO and CCA shareholders reaped a huge profit. Both companies issued 2-for-1 stock splits that roughly doubled the value of their shareholders’ stake.

Although stockholders profited handsomely as revenues from prison contracts rose for both companies, the increase wasn’t large enough to satisfy some of their respective major shareholders. J.P. Morgan Chase, a major owner of GEO, dumped most of its stock and relinquished its leadership position in the company.

One problem for major investors seeking huge gains from the for-profit prison business was that revenue rates couldn’t keep rising because federal agencies didn’t have enough personnel to arrest and process more immigrants than the expanded number they were now handling. It became apparent that the only way to significantly raise revenue through increasing the numbers of people picked up, detained and incarcerated was to hire more law enforcement personnel.

The private prison industry now needed a new source of low-cost licensed law enforcement personnel. CCA and GEO then turned to state governments as the focus of business expansion. Both companies stepped up efforts to acquire contracts with state and local governments that were entering into lucrative agreements with the Department of Homeland Security to detain immigrants in state and local detention and correctional facilities.

The result of this shift in business focus is exemplified by CCA’s role in Arizona’s SB 1070 and both CCA’s and GEO’s roles in other legislative efforts aimed at dramatically increased numbers arrests of undocumented immigrants in over 20 states. Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer, who received substantial campaign financing from top CCA executives in Tennessee and employs two former CCA lobbyists Chuck Coughlin and Paul Sensman, as top aides, signed SB 1070 into law on April 23.

On Friday, July 30, 2010 the Republican Governors Association, which so far this year has received over $160,000 in contributions from CCA and GEO, and their respective lobbyists, sent out a nationwide solicitation written by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer requesting contributions to fund an appeal of the partial injunction issued by a judge against SB 1070.

In addition to funds raised by the partisan appeal, Brewer’s legal effort has been bolstered by supporting briefs filed with the appeals court by three states– Florida, Texas and Virginia–that have contracts with GEO or with both GEO and CCA. The two prison companies are currently ramping up their political involvement in these states and in several others that have anti-immigrant bills moving through their respective legislatures. In all, twenty states are considering SB 1070-inspired bills, which have been endorsed by their respective Republican gubernatorial candidates, financed in large part by the Republican Governor’s Association.

Last November, CCA’s top management in Tennessee contributed the largest block of out-of-state campaign contributions received by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.[1] CCA, which already has several detention facilities in Arizona and hopes of expanding its immigrant prison business in that state, is expected to gain a huge increase in revenues with the implementation of SB 1070. Currently, Latinos driving out of the city of Tucson in any direction are being stopped at checkpoints, where they are asked to show their papers.

GEO and CCA are now heavily involved in the governor and state legislative races in states where they plan to expand their respective shares of the prison and incarceration market. GEO, for example, backed first-term Republican Governor, Bob McDonnell, in Virginia last year, and has contributed heavily to the Republican Governor’s Association and to the Florida Republican Party. In addition to Jan Brewer in Arizona, CCA is contributing to the campaigns of both, Republican Meg Whitman, and Democrat Jerry Brown, for governor in California. CCA is also giving money to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, even though Jindal isn’t currently facing an election, and to the Republican Governors Association, which has contributed over $1.5 million to state races this year.[2]

Since the change of administration in Washington D.C., GEO has expanded its presence there by adding the services of lobbyists who formerly served in high positions in the Obama presidential campaign, the Clinton White House, and the Senate and House Appropriations committees. Currently, GEO retains the services of three Washington D.C. lobbyists who also work for Wells Fargo, GEO’s top shareholder. One of GEO’s Washington D.C. lobbyists, Barbara Comstock, is also a member of the Virginia state legislature. CCA relies on its officers to do its lobbying in Washington DC,[3] where some board members, such as former Arizona U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini, are well-connected.

CCA’s and GEO’s share of the taxpayer-funded immigrant incarceration business has grown substantially since 2006. Today, for example, in California, anyone picked up by ICE in Los Angeles is sent to a CCA facility in San Diego, while those picked up by ICE in Seattle or Portland, OR, are sent to a GEO facility in Tacoma, Washington, because detention facilities owned and operated by the federal government are at 137% capacity, with no room to house more prisoners.

Wall Street’s Role

CCA and GEO are owned by major Wall Street institutions, which profit from the immigrant incarceration business as major shareholders.

The most influential investor in CCA is a hedge fund, Pershing Square, which is run by Wall Street investment guru activist investor, Bill Ackman. Ackman also plays a powerful role in Target Corporation and Kraft Foods. Wells Fargo is the most powerful investor in GEO.

Other major investors with the power to influence management in one or the other of the two companies are Vanguard, Lazard, Scopia, Wellington Management, FMR (Fidelity), BlackRock and Bank of America. Each of these major owners is sensitive to public opinion in one way or another. These major investors do not need to rely on either CCA or GEO to make money, since most of their money is invested in enterprises unrelated to private prisons.

By almost any measure, the increased number of deportations of immigrants has not had the desired effects on anyone other than the private prison industry. Unemployment among native-born citizens in the U.S. has skyrocketed as the number of immigrants being deported has risen to over 400,000 a year.

The United States now has more people in prison than any other country on earth. At over 2 million, the U.S. has a half million more people behind bars than China, which has the second highest number of prisoners.

One would like to think that bringing this information to Congress’s attention would be enough to compel them to abandon policies that criminalize immigrants. However, that is not likely to happen soon.

This probable reluctance on the part of Congress to act isn’t merely because of the substantial campaign contributions that Senators and members of Congress receive from the private prison industry. Most members of Congress have personal investments in one or more of CCA’s or GEO’s major shareholders.

While it is true that many people are invested in CCA or GEO through their pensions without knowing it, reports on the personal finances of some key members of Congress suggest some of them have more than a casual interest in the fortunes of CCA or GEO.

One example of a Washington DC powerhouse with a substantial financial interest in CCA is Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi, one of a small group of investors in Pershing Square, a hedge fund that holds the most stock in CCA of any of the company’s shareholders. Senator Enzi, a senior Republican who sits on the Senate Budget Committee, was awarded a 100% approval rating by U.S. Border Control (USBC), which describes itself as “a non-profit, tax-exempt, citizen’s lobby. USBC is dedicated to ending illegal immigration by securing our nation’s borders and reforming our immigration policies.”

As Congress is currently tasked with finding ways to reduce the burgeoning deficit and alleviate the suffering caused by the economic crisis, shifting priorities from programs that benefit prison companies to much-needed programs that benefit taxpayers only makes sense. Compelling Congress to abandon immigrant criminalization policies is probably going to require, among other things, that citizens convince some combination of our pension funds, Wells Fargo, and a key hedge fund or two, to pull out of the private prison industry and to go elsewhere to make money.

We should be able accomplish this. IBM and Ford, when challenged, found themselves unable to justify their investments in apartheid in South Africa. As a result of a swelling movement of students, faith-based organizations, unions and shareholders, these companies divested in 1986, contributing to the fall of the racist apartheid system and a transition to democracy.

Similarly, Wells Fargo, Pershing Square, and other financial giants shall be hard-pressed to justify investments in the massive suffering caused by the criminalization of immigrants, as a movement comes together to expose the harm done to the public good by their current investments in the immigrant prison industry.

Who knows? Some of these financial institutions might even see the wisdom in investing in companies that produce family-wage jobs.

Peter Cervantes-Gautschi is the Director of Enlace, a Portland, OR based organization focused on strategic organizing, campaigns, and training in organizational development around workers’ struggles, and the impacts of multinational corporations in the lives of people in all sectors of society. Peter has been a labor activist since 1965, starting as a young farm worker in Southern California. He is a frequent contributor to the Americas


[1] Arizona campaign contribution reports compiled by the National Institute On Money in State Politics show that CCA’s CEO Damon Hininger, CFO Todd Mullenger, CDO Anthony Grande, and then General Counsel, Gus Puryear, contributed to Jan Brewer’s campaign.

[2] National Institute on Money in State Politics.

[3] Center for Responsive Politics, Open

Immigrants as scapegoats - a recurrent right-wing tactic

The issue of immigration was brought to the forefront recently by Arizona's discriminatory immigration law SB 1070, which would require police and other public officials to ask all or any "illegal"-looking people (i.e. Latino-looking) to show their IDs. This demonstrates an attitude oriented towards criminalizing immigrants in general and a hostile outlook towards Hispanics in particular.

The anti-immigrant attitude was also evident in Utah a few months ago when a list was published and widely distributed with the names and personal information of 1,300 supposedly undocumented immigrants concerning which some were actually born in the U.S., but happened to have Spanish names. The people that created the list signed it "anonymous", i.e. cowards.

At the same time, many on the right-wing side of American politics are targeting the 14th Amendment, which states "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction there of, are citizens of the United States and of the states where in they reside." The right-wing has dubbed babies of immigrants as "anchor babies" and, in effect, wishes to criminalize babies!

Understandably, there is a heightened climate of fear that many immigrants experience due to such extreme animosity being directed toward them.

Immigrants have been a perennial scapegoat of the right-wing. Indeed, they make easy targets as they often have little or no political clout and generally cannot fight back through legal means.

Racism, I believe, is one of the fundamental components of the hostility towards immigrants.

(As an aside, I don't really like to use the word "race" or overly emphasize "racism" as a factor, especially as I believe that "race" is a misnomer in that all of us are of the same race, the human race. I use it only because it is in the common vernacular, while often used to point out an imaginary great divide linked to ethnic variance and supposed negative traits that are assigned to people who superficially appear different.)

My interest and activism on behalf of this and similar issues began about 1980 when I lived in California. Then I was involved with the anti-interventionist movement that was against U.S. policies of backing right wing dictatorships, and training militaries and death squads from El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as throughout much of Latin America. I was also active in CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.

At the time, the group was opposed to U.S. operations that supported Salvadoran government leaders and armed forces involved in widespread imprisonment, torture and murder of innocent civilians to prop up a corrupt regime favoring U.S. business interests. Due to the resultant turmoil in their land, many Salvadorans, throughout the 80s and into the 90s, came north as refugees and were helped by the sanctuary movement that sheltered many of these undocumented people.

Movement members understood that, if the refugees were deported to El Salvador, they would likely be found and killed by the Salvadoran government/death squads whose commanders the U.S. funded and trained at the School of the Americas in Georgia. In relation, El Salvador had 75,000 killed and, concurrently, Guatemala had 200,000 civilians killed in the 80s and 90s.

All considered, many refugees, aside from those from El Salvador, came to the U.S. during that period. Yet because of our government's ratification of their nations' brutal regimes, our public officials showed indifference to their story and hostility to their needs at the time.

Later on when Newt Gingrich and the Republicans introduced their Contract with America, many of us rejected its viewpoints. We noted, amongst other unacceptable positions, its ratification of a strong anti-immigrant stance, one that instilled a great deal of anxiety among many immigrants, including my wife who is from Thailand.

Understandably, many immigrants from all parts of the world feared deportation in relation to this ugly contract. So they worked to quickly obtain U.S. nationality and, representing a fairly common mix for that era, there were about 300 new citizens comprised of approximately 70% Latin Americans, 20% Asians, and 10% Europeans and Africans during one of the many citizenship ceremonies that I remember taking place then.

Meanwhile, I, have a positive attitude about immigration and the ethnic mix of our country. I view both as a good occurrence, especially as newcomers and people with diverse cultural backgrounds bring a fresh perspective to many varied issues that concern us all. They also often provide valuable goods and services that vitalize the economy and strengthen community ties.

Brian McAfee is a freelance writer and researcher currently living in Muskegon Heights, Mich.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How Immigration Reform Got Caught in the Deportation Dragnet

Shahed Hossain Photo: Erin Hollaway

On the night that Shahed Hossain left his family’s house in a Haltom City, Texas, to drive to Laredo, his mother, Habiba Hossain, cooked dinner—chicken and rice and okra picked from the garden. She piled her son’s plate high and watched him eat. Then, she took his Bangladeshi passport from a drawer and handed it to him, leaving his green card safely stored away. The 21-year-old had a penchant for losing things and a green card is not a thing to lose. She hurried him out the door and into the white utility van in the driveway where his boss waited.

“I’ll see him in a week,” she thought. Like every other time he’d set off for work trips all over Texas, she figured, her younger son would return to that house where he grew up with his brother and his parents and the dog.

But that night was the last time Shahed Hossain’s mother would see him free in United States, the last time she’d have a chance to worry he’d lose anything. Six days later, Hossain was locked up in a privately run immigration detention center near the U.S.-Mexico border. He spent more than a year there, a period he’s tried to forget, before he was shackled, loaded onto a plane and flown to Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Hossain is Texas through and through. He walks with a swagger and speaks with a hint of drawl. He and his best friend passed middle school evenings scurrying down to the creek to catch turtles, and on high school weekends, when they weren’t working at the ice-cream drive-in, they’d escape the suburban lull to go Gar fishing on the river. He played freshmen year football and he dated a young woman named Erika Fierst, whose mother is an accountant at a major defense contractor. “Everything that I know and everything that I learned, I learned from Texas,” he says. “I love Texas.”

But Texas is far away now. Hossain finds himself living with his grandmother, passing solitary days raising carrier pigeons, growing an orchid garden and searching for work, mostly in vain. “I wanna be back home. This is my, what they say, motherland,” he says, leaning forward and laughing in a wooden chair near his small garden alcove. “Back to the motherland! But this is not my home. My home is over there. My home is in Goodnight Circle.” He looks down at his feet and pauses. “That was my street name.”

Hossain lived in the United States with his family for more than a decade, and had he carried his green card to Mexico that day, he would now be a citizen, like the rest of his family. Instead, a confused run-in with a border guard landed him with a charge that leads directly to deportation—one of a batch of laws Congress has written in recent years that have built a massive and indiscriminate deportation dragnet. Hossain was among 319,000 people deported in fiscal year 2007; last fiscal year, the Obama administration deported a record 393,000 people. The tracks are laid to expel at least that many this year.

When President Obama entered the White House, he promised to push a “comprehensive immigration reform” bill in his first year. Doing so, he apparently calculated, would require a compromise. To garner bi-partisan support for opening new paths to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., the president, congressional Democrats and key Beltway advocates came together around a troubling political strategy: They would endorse a hawkish buildup of deportation and border security in hopes of creating space for broader reforms. In a major speech on immigration this past July, the president outlined his approach, vowing to “improve our enforcement policy without having to wait for a new law.”

Almost two years into the Obama presidency, however, no bi-partisan support for a broader bill has emerged from this hawkishness—in fact, the few Republicans who once backed immigration reform have fled. Worse, the Democrats’ would-be political trading game conceals a larger, more troubling fact: Even if the strategy eventually works, the “comprehensive” schema Obama supports will undermine itself with its massive and indiscriminate deportation dragnet. This week, Sen. Robert Menendez introduced the latest version of a “comprehensive” bill. Nothing in it would have prevented Hossain, or hundreds of thousands like him, from being needlessly deported.

The enforcement programs that Obama supports purport to target immigrants convicted of serious crimes and to stop guns and drugs from crossing the border; the reality is that they are driving a system that’s come unhinged. In the three years since Hossain was expelled from Texas, a million other people were removed from the U.S. An enforcement structure that looks anything like the one both parties have built can do little better than indiscriminately deport any non-citizen caught in its expanding net, no matter their ties to the U.S. or their immigration status.

From Resident to Deportee

It was an early Saturday afternoon in October 2006 and Shahed Hossain had just finished a hard week of remodeling kitchens down in Laredo, near the border. Before heading back up north, Hossain and his boss, Pablo Orozco, and coworker, Daniel Kilos, thought they’d make a quick trip over to the other side. In his 11 years in Texas, Hossain had never been to Mexico. Plus, Orozco had a box of empty Mexican Corona bottles to exchange for a full crate. So Orozco got his beer and they drove back to the border.

At about 2:15 in the afternoon, after waiting in a short line of cars, Orozco rolled down the driver’s side window and pulled his American passport and Hossain’s Bangladeshi passport and Texas driver’s license from the glove compartment. The border guard peered into the van, first at Orozco and Kilos in the passenger seat, and then into the back seat at Hossain. He handed Orozco his passport back and Kilos, a citizen, explained that he’d left his at home in Fort Worth. Then, the officer held up the Bangladeshi passport and asked to whom it belonged. Orozco gestured over his shoulder to Hossain.

Hossain and Kilos were directed into an office next to the crossing and Orozco was told to wait in the car. Inside, the two young men were led into a small room by a border guard whose chest badge read Gambaro Valvidias. After patting them down, Officer Valvidias asked the two young men if they were citizens and they quickly responded together that they were. Valvidias asked Hossain how he’d become a citizen and, according to Valvidias’ account, Hossain said he did not know because his father had done all the paperwork. But in the process Hossain realized he’d misspoken and he corrected himself.

“No, hold up, no, I’m not a citizen, I’m a resident, sir,” Hossain remembers saying.

Hossain had lived in the country for over half his life, with his documented immigration status tied to his father, a mechanical engineer who left Bangladesh for fear of political violence and was granted political asylum in 1993. Three years later Shahed Hossain and his older brother Sheehab Hossain landed in New York City with their mother. The family settled near Fort Worth and that was that. The Hossain brothers say they never really thought about the difference between being a citizen and a resident. Sheehab, who is two years older, puts it this way: “We thought permanent resident was the same as you’re an American, except voting.”

Valvidias checked Kilos’ Social Security number through an immigration database and then the FBI’s crime database and sent him to wait in the van with Orozco. When he ran Hossain through the system it confirmed he was a lawful permanent resident. It also showed that two years earlier, before Hossain was issued a green card, he’d been convicted of a misdemeanor—caught walking out of a department store with a box cutter. He was 19 at the time and the mischief had not barred him from getting his green card. But it was stored in the FBI’s records, and it raised Valvidias’ brow.

The officer asked Hossain why he hadn’t brought his green card and Hossain explained that his parents had not given it to him. After an hour and a half of waiting in the back room, Valvidias’ shift ended and he left. When the door opened again a few minutes later a bald-headed man named Officer Garza sat down across the table.

“You know, you’re very smart,” Hossain remembers Garza saying, his voice filled with biting contempt. “You tried to say something just so you can get past the border.” Looking at Garza, Hossain repeated that he’d made a mistake when he’d said he was a citizen. But the border guard was already filling out a form. In Garza’s account, Hossain had connived to fool his way into the country.

Outside, Kilos and Orozco waited for two hours until another uniformed officer walked up to the car. “She told me that Shahed said something really bad to the United States that was a federal offense,” remembers Orozco. “She said he lied that he was USA citizen and he wasn’t. And that was it.”

Hossain was bussed six miles across the city to the Laredo Processing Center, an immigration detention facility run by the Corrections Corporation of American, the country’s largest for-profit prison company.

Political Ghosts Haunt Reform

In the Hossains’ living room on a shelf near a commemorative plate of President Obama is an unframed photograph of Shahed and his older brother standing on the deck of the Staten Island Ferry. It was taken just days after they arrived in the U.S. The boys are wrapped in winter coats and scarves. Behind them, on the horizon, is the Statue of Liberty.

For the boys’ father, Quazi Hossain, the loss of his son is an incomprehensible injustice, irreconcilable with the vision he’d had for his family when he was granted asylum. In the evenings now, when it’s quiet at Destiny gas station, where he works as an attendant seven days a week for $8 an hour, he slips into tears.

“It’s really tough to make people understand that a kid, when they grow up here—it’s really tough for him to understand what is the difference between citizen and the resident,” says Quazi, who’d been known as a stern dad. He lets out a quiet moan, his eyes turn wet and he drifts off somewhere. Fierst, whose blond curls frame her round girlish face, picks up the thought her boyfriend’s father couldn’t finish. “It didn’t matter,” she insists.

But it did matter.

A decade and a half ago, Congress created a new category of immigration violation that made it a crime for immigrants of any status to claim to be citizens. The law was intended to prevent undocumented immigrations from lying to get a job or enter the country without a visa. It wasn’t supposed to target green card holders like Hossain, but as with all of the beefed-up enforcement initiatives federal officials have launched since then, the law is a blunt tool. So Hossain was charged that day with making a false claim to U.S. citizenship. The charge triggers automatic deportation.

The false-claim provision was just one small part of a seismic shift in immigration enforcement over the past 15 years. That shift was advanced by an ascendant Republican Congress and accepted by a Clinton White House committed to political triangulation. And it generated a lasting, if troubling political consensus about immigration among D.C.’s liberal reformers.

“Republicans went for all of it. We fought back some of it, but they got their massive buildup of enforcement, evisceration of due process, cutting benefits even for legal immigrants,” recalls Frank Sharry, who has been at the center of every major immigration fight in D.C. since 1996 and now runs America’s Voice, a major player in the Beltway debate. “Our message was, ‘This is scapegoating. It’s racially motivated and you’re going too far.’ ” That message, Sharry argues, failed miserably. “We were pure, but we were irrelevant.”

So, with an ironclad immigration enforcement infrastructure in place, Sharry and other Beltway advocates embraced a different Democratic approach: Accept the draconian enforcement measures as water under the bridge, but insist they be tied to, or at least closely followed by, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Fourteen years later, no path to citizenship has emerged as deportation has continued skyrocketing. The last time undocumented immigrants were able to apply for status in large numbers was in 1986. President Obama has said he would like to change that, but he’s held steadfast to the Democrats’ compromising political strategy. And some of those who once heartily embraced that approach, including Sharry, are now saying they’ve been had—that Democrats let the enforcement thing go way too far, and then got nothing in return.

The Immigration Reform and Individual Responsibility Act, passed amid the 1996 storm, remains the main driver of an increasingly unforgiving immigration system. Perhaps most crucially for Hossain, the bill stripped immigration judges of all discretion in cases that involve a long list of violations.

“Discretion shifted from the hands of immigration judges,” says Rachel Rosenbloom, an immigration law professor at Northeastern University. “If the government wants you deported, there’s little room for relief.” Formerly, the particular circumstances of immigrants’ lives—family, property, the amount of time they’d lived in the U.S.—could have provided judges reason to cancel a deportation. No longer.

Summary Judgement

Knowing little of the rigidity of the system he’d been cast into into, Shahed Hossain’s family did not realize the gravity of his situation. The night Shahed was booked into the detention center he called his brother’s cell phone.

“When he told me I laughed,” remembers Sheehab Hossain. “You’re in jail?’ I said, ‘They think you’re illegal.’ And I then remember his voice, he said, ‘No, I’m serious, I’m going to be deported.’ ”

Since detainees are not guaranteed legal counsel—most of the 383,524 people detained last year have limited or no legal representation at all—the Hossains hired their own lawyer. To pay for the fees, they fell deeply into debt, accepting loans from friends and racking up $10,000 on credit cards.

Hossain’s defense relied on convincing the immigration judge that what had happened at the border did not amount to a false claim to U.S. citizenship; that it was a mistake he’d promptly corrected.

In early January 2007, after 3 months in detention, Hossain’s legal proceedings began. Twice the hearing was postponed; once because the Department of Homeland Security listed Hossain as a Mexican national. The agency had apparently assumed that anyone with legal problems at the southern border must be Mexican.

Six months after Hossain was thrown into a cell, he appeared in a San Antonio courtroom. The hearing began with the government’s first witness, Officer Valvidias, who explained that Hossain had called himself a U.S. citizen and then retracted the statement, consistent with Hossain’s own account.

But then Officer Garza took the stand and repeated the more ominous narrative he’d filed in his report. In this account, Hossain repeatedly claimed to be a citizen and didn’t retract the statement until officers confronted it as a lie.

Toward the end of the short hearing, Hossain took the stand. The young man, who was known as an outgoing guy, who could befriend anyone, spoke in a timid, unsteady whisper. Three times during his testimony, Hossain had to be told by the judge and the government’s lawyer to raise his voice.

When the arguments closed, the judge did not stop to deliberate, or even leave the chambers. “[H]e claimed he was a United States citizen,” the judge ruled. “I don’t think it’s a matter of he thought he was a U.S. citizen but he really wasn’t. He went to Mexico without his green card and he needed a way to get back and that was the way to get back. It doesn’t make any sense otherwise, so I’m going to have to sustain this charge.”

As the proceedings ended Hossain finally raised his voice. “May I say something?”

“What would you like to say?” the judge asked.

“Your honor, when they asked us,” his voice louder than it had been, “I was nervous.”

“They asked us, are you guys citizens,” he said, searching for the right final plea. “Both of us agreed to it together, yes.” But then, he explained, “I was saying no, I’m not. I’m a resident. I’m not a citizen, I’m a resident. Your honor…”

Without making eye contact, the judge interrupted. “I’ve heard the testimony already, made my decision.”

He ordered Hossain deported.

Obama’s Change: Bad to Worse

Immigration courts are overwhelmed to a point of exhaustion. In June there were a record 247,922 cases waiting to be adjudicated. The backlog means that the average wait for detained immigrants facing deportation is 15 months.

Without judicial discretion, already overwhelmed judges become operators of a conveyer. Once the judge was convinced that Hossain had intentionally called himself a U.S. citizen, there remained no space to consider the fact that Hossain’s whole life, all he knew and his entire future, were just a few of hours’ drive north of that courtroom.

Hossain and his family were struck by a sense of betrayal. The government of the country that had welcomed them was now tearing them apart. “I made a mistake on a word, which I corrected myself right away. I think over a year in [detention] paid for that,” says Hossain now. But in immigration proceedings, punishment is not crafted to fit the violation. Either you’re deported or not. As Sheehab Hossain put it, “There was no judgment in his decision, it was all already decided.”

Now, the Obama administration is predetermining the fate of hundreds of thousands more. In March, a leaked ICE memo confirmed that the agency had set quotas for deportation: 400,000 this year. After the leak, ICE Director John Morton denied that the quotas actually exist. Regardless, the agency is on track to meet its alleged target.

Obama’s record-setting level of deportation results from his expansion of many of George W. Bush’s most controversial enforcement policies. In 2002, then Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a memo radically shifting the balance of immigration enforcement by granting states “inherent authority” to enforce federal immigration law. Building on the new immigration laws enacted in 1996, the memo began a devolution of immigration enforcement to localities by deputizing local cops as immigration agents, through what’s called the 287g program. Suddenly a simple traffic stop could land a non-citizen in detention. In Bush’s last year in office, the total number of deportations rose to 359,000.

The Obama administration has continued driving that number upward. It expanded the 287g program to new jurisdictions and has vastly expanded a program called Secure Communities, which checks the immigration status of people booked into local jails. Earlier this year, the president announced his intention to implement Secure Communities in every jail in the country by 2013. It already operates in jurisdictions in at least 32 states. In late September, the entire state of Texas adopted the program.

ICE’s public mission statement on Secure Communities declares that the program “focuses immigration enforcement on the most dangerous criminal aliens first.” But the agency has been closed lipped about who it is really talking about when it refers to “criminal aliens.”

Data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Center for Constitutional Rights, National Day Laborers Organizing Network and the Cordozo School of Law speaks more clearly. Almost 80 percent of the people deported as a result Secure Communities have no criminal conviction at all or were booked for low-level offenses like traffic violations or petty juvenile mischief. These are ICE’s “criminal aliens.”

Secure Communities is, however, just one of a an arsenal of programs in an out-of-control system. A five-year-old border-region program called Operation Streamline is another example. As National Public Radio reported in a recent investigation, the program shuffles groups of several dozen detainees before immigration judges who issue mass criminal sentencings. There exists nothing else like it in all of the American judicial system. There are no individual hearings and no real opportunity for appeal. In unison, groups of detainees take guilty pleas and as a result are pegged with criminal records. It’s another purportedly targeted program that’s actually spraying shrapnel.

“[Democrats] proceeded on the basis that if they are tough on enforcement, they’d get immigration reform,” says Sharry. “The results are in on that strategy. They’ve ramped up enforcement beyond the shameful Bush years, and got nothing for it. … We never expected them to do this. They said they’d go after the worst of the worst.”

In 2006 and 2007, the year Hossain was deported, Sen. Ted Kennedy crafted an immigration reform bill that would have opened a pathway for many undocumented immigrants to gain lawful status. To gain support from then-moderate Republicans like Sens. John McCain and Lynsday Graham, the legalization provisions were coupled with harsh enforcement provisions, in keeping with the “comprehensive” reform framework. The bill was crafted and re-crafted, growing more and more heavy on enforcement as it moved ahead. In the end, it failed spectacularly.

“The groups in Washington were refusing to put enforcement rollback on table because they thought it would ruin the ability to get the Republicans on board,” says Catherine Tactaquin, director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “They were being very calculating politically in order to get a bi-partisan bill and in the end they shot themselves in the foot.”

Tactaquin believes that the enforcement “compromise” also helped “shift public consensus against immigration” in general—that the rhetoric was so heavily focused on enforcement that it cast immigration as a problem, rather than a constitutive element of the American identity. “Actually getting a better immigration policy is predicated on pushing back on enforcement,” she argues, “not building more.”

The Obama administration is nonetheless staying the course, refusing to take administrative action to slow deportations or to pick a fight over a broader reform bill. But with versions of Arizona’s SB 1070 spreading through state legislatures and Republicans growing ever-more reactionary about immigration, the old D.C. consensus around that approach may be finally coming apart.

“I think the criticism over the past few years is not only understandable, it is probably right,” acknowledges Sharry, referring to the flack many outside-the-Beltway immigration advocates have sent D.C.’s way. “We were so hopeful that legislation was around the corner that enforcement reform didn’t seem like a priority, and talking about it too much undercut legislative results. We have not done enough and should do more on enforcement reform.” But he insists simply opposing enforcement doesn’t work. “I’ve been arguing about this for 20 years and if I say enforcement is wrong, I lose support; 1996 is the perfect example.”

“It Was Like I Died”

Hossain was in detention for another six months before he got an appeal hearing. While he was locked up, other detainees organized a hunger strike in protest of the conditions and of abuse by guards. It was one of a handful of strikes that were spreading from detention center to detention center across the country. Hossain stopped eating for several days but mostly he waited for visits from his family. With diminishing hopes of being released, Hossain’s ability to bear his detention cell was fraying.

On Aug. 31, 2007, Hossain and his lawyer appeared before the Board of Immigration Appeals. It was a short hearing. He left the courtroom and saw his family waiting on benches. “I just looked at my dad, and he seen my face, and my girlfriend was over there and she started crying. It was like I died,” Hossain recalls.

Ten weeks later, 397 days after he was detained on the border, Hossain was pulled from his detention cell and his ankles were shackled. CCA guards led him onto a bus and he was driven nine hours to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. Twenty minutes away his family went about their day, distracted in the garden and in the kitchen.

The Hossains are still talking to lawyers to see how they might find a way for their son to return home. Feirst thinks that if they get married, he might be able to come back, and there’s some hope that he could apply for a new visa at a U.S. consulate in Bangladesh.

Northwestern’s Rosenbloom, however, says most deportees’ hopes of returning are dashed. “Once someone has been ordered removed and is outside of the country, they have a very tough set of hoops to jump through to get back. The law,” she explains, “is just not set up to let someone come back in even if the removal was based on an error of law, even if a judge has made a mistake.”

In D.C., meanwhile, some signs of the shifting strategic orientation are emerging among Democrats, too. In September, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid made a move in this direction when, under significant and mounting pressure from a coordinated and media savvy movement of students and other undocumented youth, he introduced the DREAM Act. The bill would open a path to citizenship to approximately 825,000 undocumented immigrants who graduate college or serve in the military. Other bills, including agricultural-worker legalization and one that makes it easier for immigrants to bring their families to the U.S. are being discussed as possible routes to citizenship.

Meanwhile, national and local groups across the country are increasingly focused on rolling back and reforming the abuses of the enforcement regime. “If we are going to be continuing to escalate what we call enforcement, or mass deportation,” says Michelle Fei, director of the Immigrant Defense Project in New York City, “many … who are coming forward to register or to get legalized might actually land in deportation. Enforcement will undercut the promise of reform. We don’t want a system that is rounding people up and deporting people without due process.”

Beltway groups like Sharry’s are tentatively saying they agree. “Frankly,” says Sharry, “most of America’s Voice’s work in the future may be to join with advocates to say this enforcement is wrong-headed. We may need to adjust strategy to the state and local level, with Secure Communities. We’ll see how the election plays out but we’re thinking we need to throw down on fighting Arizona copycats around the country.”

The makeup of Congress after November will significantly determine what happens next. But unless Obama uses his administrative authority to halt mass deportations, there will certainly be many more Shahed Hossains.

Quazi Hossain, hunched over in a black leather chair in his living room, remembers the last day he saw his son. “In San Antonio, in the court, that was the last time I saw him face to face. I don’t know when I can see him again, ever. If ever I can see him again.”

In Dhaka, Shahed Hossain, walks into a small room where he keeps a pigeon coup he’s developed to pass time. He pulls open the latch and the birds stream out, their wings flapping furiously. He latches the cage and steps outside, his eyes darting from bird to bird above him as if deciding which one to follow.

“They’ll be back,” he says.

Brian Palmer contributed reporting from Bangladesh, which was supported by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.