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Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free

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What is life like inside the immigrant detention centers the U.S. has set up to house the thousands of migrants fleeing Central American gang and drug violence?

I went down to Artesia, New Mexico last week to see for myself what has become of these vulnerable families. What I found brought me to tears. Mothers and their children are being hidden away, held in inappropriate detention facilities without access to adequate services, medical care, or legal counsel. And they are being deported in the middle of the night without warning and without the opportunity to a fair hearing.

I was able to speak first-hand with several of the moms, all who shared their feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. I could see the fear and desperation in their eyes. Many of the moms are young and some have been recently widowed, with painful stories of domestic abuse and wide-spread violence driven by drug cartels and gangs. Their stories reflect what the research has consistently documented: increasing rates of gender-based violence in Central America, where rape is now a common fate for women and girls as young as 8-years-old. In fact, in Honduras, gender-based violence is now the second highest cause of death for women of reproductive age. And yes, while these mothers themselves were targets of violence in their home communities, what ultimately drove these mothers to flee was not their own safety. They were fleeing for the sake of their children, many of whom were just too little to make the journey on their own.

One mother, Carla, told me her story while weeping, her two-year old daughter wiping her mother’s tears with visible concern on her round face. Carla fled Guatemala City after her husband was murdered. Once apprehended by Border Patrol, she and her daughter were held in a freezing, crowded cell and she was denied a blanket for her daughter. Carla had to remove her own t-shirt just to try to keep her daughter warm. She suffered the same conditions when she was transferred to Arizona, where officers laughed and insulted both her and her daughter, calling them “poor” and other names. When we met, Carla told me that her daughter had been suffering from severe diarrhea for more than five days, and that the doctor insisted she just keep giving her more water. In fact, all of the mothers I spoke to informed me that their children were suffering from some sort of dietary issue, whether it was diarrhea, not eating, or losing weight. I was told over and over again, “there is no medicine here, just water.” Carla said she had to beg for more than 24 hours just to get a diaper for her daughter.

These are basically inhuman conditions and are the official American response to a refugee crisis. If we aren’t going to allow people into our nation escaping horrifying violence, then what do our values mean? And then even if we aren’t sure we are going to allow them into our nation, is it that hard for a nation this wealthy to provide humane conditions while we figure out what to do? The answer to that question of course is no, it is not that hard. We could obviously provide diapers for babies. And we don’t.

….On how U.S. policies have made the Central American crisis much worse.

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  • pseudalicious

    Horrifying.

  • Whiskers

    Why are eight year old girls being raped? The drug trade? What does that have to do with the drug trade? I watched every episode of the Wire at least twice and while children were conscripted into the drug trade, the game never required the rape of children. Is it to terrorize? Beheading adult males with knives isn’t terrifying enough? I don’t get it.

    • pseudalicious

      Rape is used as a weapon against women, children and men all over the world.

      • DrDick

        It was rampant during the Bosnian conflict (including the rape of children) and is widespread in conflict zones in Africa. For that matter, it was very common among US soldiers in the 19th century Indian Wars and in Vietnam. Anybody who thinks this is somehow exceptional is deluding themselves.

        • Ahuitzotl

          it was very common among US soldiers in the 19th century Indian Wars and in Vietnam and Iraq (I havent heard anything in detail about Afghanistan)

          • Lee Rudolph

            I’m friends (though now out of touch) with a Bosniak who wrote her dissertation on rape as a tactic of war during the Bosnian conflict. An important distinction between how it went there and how it went during the Indian Wars, Vietnam, and probably Iraq is that in Bosnia the Serbian rapists and their Bosnian victims were (almost exclusively, I believe) ethnically indistinguishable in phenotypic terms. Consequently (as she documented, and told us about in seminars) the children of such rapes often could spend their first, say, 10 years of life thinking—indeed, being told—that their absent fathers had been Bosniak war heroes. The psychological toll of eventual revelations on both mother and child was often horrible. (I don’t know, and personally don’t think it would be decent or humane to try to find out in any “quantitative” manner, whether their horrors were “worse” or “better” than the horrors visited on visible “half-breed” children of other kinds of war-time rapes.)

          • DrDick

            I was not aware of this, but it does not surprise me at all. Haven’t spent as much time talking with Iraq War vets as I have with Vietnam vets.

    • tsam

      Pure cruelty and terrorism.

      You know The Wire is a make believe TV show, right?

    • I’m not sure watching The Wire means you know something about crime.

      • Whiskers

        Probably not, but do you have any insight into why an epidemic of child rape has apparently broken out in Honduras?

        • The U.S. destabilized the nation in the mid-20th century, creating an atmosphere of political violence that turned into gang violence after the 1980s. The lack of jobs combine with the lucrative drug trade to transform the nation, creating the impetus and incentive for horrifying crime. It’s the same in Guatemala and El Salvador and to some extent Mexico as well.

          • Whiskers

            Horrifying indeed. I struggle to understand how it gets quite this horrifying. Let’s say you’re a gang member/soldier in a drug gang. El Jefe orders you to go to a neighboring village and show them who’s boss and remind them who controls what territory. What’s the thought process whereby you go from shooting your enemy, to cutting off his head, to raping his eight year old daughter. I thought sufficient numbers of us had a mechanism where we might stop short of that and even frown upon it when done by others. Surely, there are at least some impoverished places where this is not the norm.

            • Malaclypse

              What’s the thought process whereby you go from shooting your enemy, to cutting off his head, to raping his eight year old daughter.

              Rape and atrocity always happen when there is a war. Always.

            • “I thought sufficient numbers of us had a mechanism where we might stop short of that and even frown upon it when done by others.”

              Stop. Have you seen what the police do? Or soldiers? What about Abu Ghraib? Or My Lai?

              On Central America, you need to read the novels of Manlio Argueta, who gets right at this issue, especially One Day of Life.

            • DrDick

              What’s the thought process whereby you go from shooting your enemy, to cutting off his head, to raping his eight year old daughter.

              The same as thought processes of Likud.

              • Whiskers

                Not even Hamas claims that.

                • Malaclypse

                  Read a fucking history book before you embarrass yourself further.

                  If you don’t think the IDF ground forces are committing atrocities, you really have not paid attention to what war is.

                • Whiskers

                  I am asking specifically about child rape. Not “atrocity” general.

                  Moreover, the report that you linked to was commissioned by the Israeli gov’t, to investigate atrocities committed by its own gang. I don’t know that the Sinaloa cartel is carrying out a similar investigation into why there’s so much child rape done on its behalf. But it should.

                • DrDick

                  Yes, slaughtering their children indiscriminately is so much more humane than raping them.

            • pseudalicious

              What’s the thought process of a rich suburban step-dad raping his eight year old daughter? Sociopaths gonna sociopath. Rapists rape. Milgram & Stanford experiments, etc. Testosterone-fueled environments breed sexual violence as a way to demonstrate power and show off to your bros. I’m glad that, what with your previous trolling, you’re horrified. I have these moments, too — “What the fuck is WRONG with people?” and I get all wide-eyed as if this is new to me. But human beings have been doing this for a really long time. We’re gross.

              • Whiskers

                Yes, humans have been doing this for a really long time, but usually with enough disapproval from everyone else to keep it somewhat in check to the point where you don’t think, you know, I’m going to send my child on an extremely risky trek across neighboring countries, at extreme risk of being abused and sold into sex trafficking, because that is the better alternative.

                • tsam

                  In lawless, martial situations, that behavior isn’t disapproved by others. In fact it’s quite the opposite.

                  Try to think of a relatively normal German joining the military. He starts out thinking he’s protecting his home land. He then believes he’s protecting his home by helping to solve the “Jewish Problem”. Eventually he finds himself cramming Jews into gas chambers and ovens by the hundreds.

                  Human behavior has been proven repeatedly that you can take a person not prone to violence, and make a monster of him through incremental steps. One crime slightly nastier than the last. Humans are exceptionally good at rationalizing that stuff and making their victims the “others” who don’t deserve any humanity at all.

                • grouchomarxist

                  If you pay attention to history, I think you’ll find that for most people the disapproval which keeps random violence in check stops at the tribal boundary. The traitors who believe humanity is our only tribe — and are foolish enough to say or even worse, try to do something about it — generally come to a bad end: assassinated, nailed to a cross, etc.

                • Gregor Sansa

                  I lived in Guatemala for 8 years, the majority of that in Guatemala City. That doesn’t make me an expert, but I think at least I have some insight.

                  Step one is, as others have said, that there is a class of people about 35 and older, mostly around 45, who were literally trained in genocidal, dehumanizing violence by US dollars. Many of these people work as private security guards; relatively few of them are drug kingpins. But it doesn’t take a whole lot.

                  Step two is that the justice system is just not working. Police, DAs, judges, and prison guards are all underpaid, undertrained, and under-equipped; while the drug cartels have literally more cash than they know what to do with. That is a recipe for corruption. There are surely hundreds of people in Guatemala who have violently murdered dozens of people yet still walk free. And the jails are training and recruiting grounds for the gangs.

                  This is not the same as saying total social breakdown. Guatemala is still a hell of a lot richer than Haiti or most of Africa, and it shows. There are plenty of moms who raise their children right, plenty of people with decent steady jobs, and while we’re on the subject, plenty of over-privileged rich brats. (Not that the latter are any help when it comes to crime — the near-coup when the last president was accused of murder fizzled when it turned out that the dead rich guy had called in a hit on himself by shopping around the various assassins that his many cousins had on payroll — but the rich kids are not really any more likely to personally commit murder than a rich kid from anywhere else). Pretty much everyone is religious, with catholics making up something under half and various evangelicals most of the rest; and while as an atheist with ears I can criticize the churches for their idiotic theology and crappy out-of-tune over-amplified casio-based “music”, the fact is that 95% of churches are preaching against violence and have real social power to make their teachings stick.

                  But there are enough kids from poor and downwardly-mobile neighborhoods who live a life without authentic hope, on a street steeped in cheap drugs (beginning with glue-sniffing and drinking rubbing alcohol), to provide a fertile recruiting ground for gangs. And the majority of gangs are not in any meaningful sense part of international drug cartels; they’re just local extortion rackets. And major politicians (including, in my considered belief, the current president, at least before he was elected) work on a get-tough-on-crime platform, which means many are actually willing to fund and encourage random violence whenever they’re not in office. (You can also make an open-and-shut case against the current president for direct involvement in war crimes based on YouTube, if you want to watch a direct subordinate with his boot on a corpse talking about how the Major saw that the interrogation wasn’t working.)

                  Obviously, once you have the local extortion gangs, which often have senseless murder as an initiation rite, and you also have the international drug cartels around, there’s always going to be some people crossing over from one side to the other. But really the international drug cartels are the smaller half of that problem.

                  So yeah. I could tell at least a half dozen stories about violence in my neighborhood. And they wouldn’t add up to “total social breakdown”. It’s more like there’s a group of young men who really have nothing to lose; and a group of older men who have found that turning some of those young men into monsters can be profitable; and a society which, though not entirely dysfunctional in many ways, simply has not been able to get it together to stop that process.

                  Where does gender fit into this? Well, when you’ve got a breeding ground for murderous psychopaths, in a society that’s got problems with misogyny (though just on the misogyny and racism end of things, Guatemala is not exceptional; I think there’s plenty of places in the US that are worse), some of them are going to commit monstrous rapes. If you’re a mother in that environment, and you decide to flee, that’s part of what you’re fleeing; and if you’re reporting on the issue, it’s certainly easy to focus on that part; but in the end, it goes hand-in-hand with the random killings.

                  Note that northern Mexico is probably just as bad as Central America in terms of lawlessness. But in the north, it really is a battle for territory between drug gangs, and the killings, though brutal and pervasive, are probably a touch less senseless. Even the famous Juarez femicides probably have more to do with money — suppressing the voice of labor — than the corresponding killings in Central America, where it really is just drug-addled young psychopaths-in-training angling for status in senseless local crime gangs.

            • Hogan

              The gangs on The Wire were embedded in a larger community with its own norms and structures (and memories of even stronger ones), and a city with an at least minimally functioning government. The situation in Central America sounds more like what’s been happening in central Africa–the outlaw bands are the only functioning social structure left, so they get to do whatever they feel like, and some of them feel like doing some deeply creepy shit.

            • joe from Lowell

              I struggle to understand how it gets quite this horrifying.

              There are psychos out there who want to commit atrocities.

              The breakdown of law and order and the prosecution of gang wars has given them the opportunity to be their true selves.

              In the Godfather novel, Luca Brasi had the baby thrown into the furnace before Vito ever met him. He was a psycho; that’s why Vito recruited him.

      • Loud Liberal

        You know, under the circumstances – these children’s parents aren’t firing rockets in to civilian American neighborhoods with the intent to murder American civilians, from among their own civilian population who they use as human shields, or digging underground tunnels for the purpose of conducting terrorist raids against American civilians, and haven’t even avowed the extermination of all Americans and the annihilation of America – you would think America could be a little more sympathetic and accommodating.

        • runsinbackground

          A analogy so labored I can’t even decide whether to attack its applicability to the topic at hand or pick apart its despicable underlying assumptions. Bravo! At least we know where you stand on the arguments put forth by Mr. Rosenbaum: shoulder to shoulder!

        • tsam

          You guys always have to pick good guys and bad guys in every conflict, don’t you? Do you really think that any of the policy makers or triggermen on either side of that conflict are good guys?

    • Malaclypse

      I watched every episode of the Wire at least twice

      Can this make it into the rotating banner?

      • witlesschum

        It really needs to.

      • wjts

        If it’s the standard of expertise we’re using from here on out, I can’t wait to throw my several hours of playing Zaxxon right in Major Kong’s face the next time he claims to know something about airplanes.

        • Malaclypse
          • Hogan

            Mr. Simpson, don’t you worry. I saw an episode of Matlock in a bar last night. The sound was down, but I think I got the gist of it.

            • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

              There’s never a wrong time for Lionel Hutz quotes.

          • njorl

            I’ve always wanted to see a TV commercial with Matt LeBlanc saying, “I’m not an actor, but I played one on TV.”

            • Bitter Scribe

              Then the sudden self-awareness makes his head explode.

        • I watched every episode of ST:TOS at least thirty times between the ages of 8 and 12. I’m an expert on space travel and sexing up alien babes.

          • also running back and forth across the room as someone tilts the camera.

            • grouchomarxist

              Don’t forget the velour! Ahhh, velour ….

        • Katya

          To be fair, The Wire might actually teach you something about the drug trade in Baltimore (since it was created by people who knew quite a bit about the drug trade in Baltimore), but it’s not going to have a lot of applicability to the drug cartels of Central America. For that, you must watch Traffic.

      • TribalistMeathead

        It’s like it’s our own “I work for the U.S. Mint. So I’m really getting a kick out of most of these replies.”

      • pseudalicious

        Seconded.

    • runsinbackground

      For fuck’s sake, man. If you’re going to throw bombs, at least make them good ones.

      • Whiskers

        I asked a serious question with a bit of weirdness stuck in the middle. If you’re so smart, why don’t you take a stab at offering your insight. Or are you just hear for the circle jerk?

        • runsinbackground

          Alright, I’ll clarify my position (I know it’s a pain, but this is how responsible adults conduct arguments): “Why are eight year old girls being raped?” is a stupid question. It’s answered in the first part of the relevant sentence in the article: “increasing rates of gender-based violence in Central America”. Nobody said anything about an “epidemic of child rape”, it’s an epidemic of sexual violence that’s occurring as a part of a larger atmosphere of social disruption and the absence of the rule of law. I’d say “if you’d thought about it for ten seconds you could have answered your own question”, but throwing in that “bit of weirdness” says to me that you were not taking your own question seriously, so it’s entirely possible that you knew it was stupid and posted anyway in hopes of provoking a response. So fine, mission accomplished, but when you were talking shit yesterday about where exactly to mark the beginning of the Israeli colonial period you were at least pretending to be raising a substantive issue. Don’t expect any more attention from me until you can say the same for this thread.

          • Whiskers

            I don’t think that “increasing rates of gender-based violence in Central America” is a sufficient answer to why there is an apparent increase in the frequency of the rape of young girls. You might as well just say eight year old girls are being raped more often because more frequently, they are being raped. Of course, if you approach life from the perspective of having all the answers, you won’t recognize that that’s a bad answer.

            • Vance Maverick

              On another blog, I remember the topic came up of parents leaving their children to die in closed cars, strapped into their safety seats on hot days. It’s so awful that one commenter simply couldn’t accept that a parent could do that by accident. Round and round we went, and still he was saying that a decent parent would be 100% certain never to do that — that the chain of errors, routine habit patterns, and bad luck simply couldn’t link up the way it obviously did.

              On one level, I respect this as an expression of horror. On another, it’s so arbitrary as to be silly — you can bring yourself to mistrust human nature, but only up to a certain point?

    • TribalistMeathead

      Why are eight year old girls being raped?

      Because they look like they used to do amateur porn, natch.

      • ChrisS

        There is absolutely zero chance of me clicking on that link.

        • Malaclypse

          It goes to Whiskers spectacular meltdown here.

          • Whiskers

            It does, but its kind of weird for Tribalist Meathead to bring up a crack about amateur porn, made about a grown woman, in a discussion about the horror of child rape. I suppose there’s no accounting for taste.

            • TribalistMeathead

              There’s never a bad time to remind everyone that you’re an incredibly silly person.

            • DrDick

              Our your sense of values.

    • Loud Liberal

      Actually, it’s the private prison industry. But for the continued prohibition against marijuana and cocaine, bought and paid for by CCA et al., none of this would be happening.

  • witlesschum

    Sickening and embarrassing.

    Left out is that this violence isn’t falling from the sky, it’s a long-known and direct consequence of our drug policy and our appetite for cocaine. The United States bares a share of responsibility for what these people are fleeing and we can’t even treat them decently when show up here. Shame.

    • pseudalicious

      +1000.

    • tsam

      True, though I’d differ with you on the appetite for cocaine, in that the efforts to stop it from coming in drive the violence.

      • runsinbackground

        Is this something that we can lay entirely at the feet of the Drug War? Not that I think it’s wrong to say that it didn’t play a part in the current situation, but I bet there’s other aspects of American foreign policy in Latin America in play as well.

        • tsam

          Oh yeah, definitely. In fact the role of Central American policy (School of the Americas, the coups, meddling in elections, assassinations) plays the biggest role of all the circumstances by far.

          I’m just nitpicking at blame on our appetite for cocaine and weed here. I think that has less to do with the violence than our crummy means of combating the import.

        • United Fruit Company

          US foreign policy has been completely hands off towards Latin America.

          • Hogan

            US foreign policy has been completely everyone else’s hands off towards Latin America, including Latin Americans’.

            FTFY. YW. HAND.

      • witlesschum

        People still use it despite knowing where it comes from and what that entails. Maybe not as responsible as government policy and the rest of us who don’t vote in people who don’t act better, but nobody’s hands are clean on this issue.

        • tsam

          Totally agree.

        • runsinbackground

          Are you advocating for some kind of “ethically sourced cocaine” movement? Because I’d buy t-shirts for that, if nothing else.

          • DrS

            A reusable tote bag, at the very least.

            Edit: Yeah, I’d absoultely buy a tote bag supporting ethically sourced cocaine.

            • PhoenixRising

              People for Ethically Sourced Cocaine is my dream, folks. Will you help me make it come true?

              (Seriously, I have a relative who’s doing 18 to life because he was too stupid to recognize that ‘you just hold this’ was not a blameless role in a coke deal. There is no ethically sourced illegal drug, period, which is one great reason to legalize and tax the fucking hell out of all of them).

    • edie212

      It’s our immigration policy too–our past deportation policies coming back to haunt us. There’s some decent evidence linking the growth of the most violent and well organized gangs in Central America to the deportation of people who fled the violence in Central America in the 80s, got involved with LA gangs, and then deported back to Central America, with the knowledge and experience learned from LA and US prison-based gangs. Some interesting stuff comparing Nicaragua and Honduras for instance–most refugees from Nicaragua ended up in Florida and the East Coast, where they didn’t interact with the types of highly structured hyper-violent gangs then present on the West Coast, which is hypothesized to partially explain why Nicaragua doesn’t have the magnitude of gang problems faced by other countries in the region.

    • runsinbackground

      this violence isn’t falling from the sky, it’s a long-known and direct consequence of our…appetite for cocaine.

      That’s such an 80s attitude to take toward cocaine consumption; it’s motivated by outdated notions of the class breakdown of cocaine users. The vast majority of the coke in America doesn’t go up Michael Alig’s nose anymore, it gets reprocessed into crack, which by and large is not sold to people with the kind of resources required to make ethical choices about substance abuse. Blaming crackheads for Honduran gang violence makes about as much sense as blaming your friendly neighborhood homeless junkie for the Taliban.

    • DrDick

      The responsibility is much larger than that. Most of the gangs involved in this are American exports, most notably MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang. Another unsavory consequence of our “get tough on undocumented immigrants” policies.

  • Hogan

    Even the batshit crazy George Will has been forced to make a certain amount of sense.

    • I think we can now pinpoint the day he was taken over by a pod.

    • tsam

      HA! Wallace trying to feed him the talking points like a kid who forgot his lines in high school drama class is fucking precious.

      I approve this video.

  • Warren Terra

    How will we ever establish that these are genuine victims of abuse and persecution deserving of asylum if we don’t abuse them and persecute them?

  • DrDick

    This is the sad and inevitable consequence of 30 years of the demonization of the other by the rightwing in this country. It is everywhere around us.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      I mean, the default GOP position is “send em right back!” To that!

      • DrDick

        Actually, I think their default is “shoot the bastards on sight,” but even they are smart enough to know they might have problems selling that one.

        • Hasn’t stopped the militiatard ammosexuals from showing up to point guns at the kids.

          • tsam

            Or screaming at a busload of American kids heading off to summer camp!

            Fucking right wingers. Not single brain among the lot of them.

    • grouchomarxist

      That, yes, but I don’t think the demonization would have been nearly so effective, if it hadn’t been accompanied by decades of increasing economic harshness and inequality.

  • Bitter Scribe

    Hey, you gotta draw the line somewhere. You start handing out diapers and next thing you know, the little moochers will start demanding formula and maybe even binkies.

  • Having read this and the execution posts back to back, I have an unpleasant suspicion of how the 27% would solve the problem.

  • ChrisS

    One of the (supposed) witty and mean remarks I hear a lot from right leaning tough guys is, paraphrased: “if living in a country sucks, why don’t they just move? Why do we have to send money/food/aid workers?”

    They don’t ever connect their own xenophobia to those in other border countries.

    I’m rushing through this comment, but I hope it’s not too confusing.

    • tsam

      FUCK I hate that argument. Why don’tcha just get another job if your employer is harassing you or not paying enough? Why don’t you move if your home town is run by criminal gang?

      It’s a shitty rhetorical device they use to dodge answering the actual question.

    • DrS

      Comes out clear to me. Amazing how they have no sympathy to either choice. Makes it clear it’s pure bigotry, however.

    • tsam

      Forgot to add:

      If you right wing bastards hate us socialist liberals so fucking much, why don’t YOU move? Fucking pricks.

      Fuck–that shit gets me all cranked up.

      • grouchomarxist

        And why should they move? It’s THEIR country, after all. As they’re happy to remind us at every opportunity.

        You and I just live in it.

        • tsam

          It’s mine, it’s mine it’s all mine, ya hear me? MINE!

          /Daffy Duck.

    • ChrisTS

      I would think the answer is, “They are moving. Here.”

      • tsam

        OH I HATE THEM SO MUCH.

    • Whiskers

      The biggest proponent I know of why don’t they move, or the vote with your feet proposition, is Ilya Somin who blogs at the Volokh Conspiracy. To his credit, he’s for open borders.

  • grouchomarxist
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