family detention

February 29, 2008

I hope everyone will take a little time and read Lost Children by Margaret Talbot, the New Yorker’s A Reporter at Large feature for March 3. I started reading this yesterday afternoon and continued to sit here with my mouth wide open for a good hour.

Imagine: Iranian man faces persecution for photo-copying a few pages of an apparently banned book for a friend in his small print shop. The man flees Iran and ends up seeking asylum in Canada; later his wife joins him. Years later their asylum is denied, after they have their first child, a Canadian citizen. The entire family is deported back to Iran, where they are jailed, the husband tortured for months. When they are released — desperate — they pay big money to arrange for fake papers to return to Canada. Bad luck strikes when a passenger on their flight has a heart attack and dies on the plane. The plane make an emergency landing in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, where the couple’s documents are reviewed and deemed to be fake. They end up in the T. Don Hutto Family Residence Facility in Taylor, Texas, in limbo, for six weeks.

Their story is used as an introduction to an in-depth feature on the the detention of non-criminal immigrants and asylum seekers, particularly the detention of children, who compose half the population of the Hutto facility, which is housed in a converted prison. The idea behind the detention center was apparently to keep families together, but as it is run by a private company, whose practices are very secretive, there was little knowledge and/or public accountability.

“Detainees said that when parents or children broke rules guards threatened them with separation from their children. Kevin Yourdkhani, [the 10-year-old Canadian-born son of the Iranian couple] at the prompting of one of Hines’s law students, wrote a brief description of one such occasion. ‘I was in my bed and my dad came to fix my bed,’ he wrote. ‘When the police came and saw my dad in the room, he said, ‘If He comes and see my dad again in my room His going to put my mom in a siprate jail and my dad in a sipate jail and me a foster kid.’ I cried and cried so much that I lost my energy. I went to sleep. I felt If I will be siprated I can never see my parents again, and I will get stepparents and they will hurt me or maybe they will kill me.'”

Among other shocking policies, children were required to stay with their parents at all times, including during discussions with attorneys about abuse, rapes and killings they experienced or witnessed in their home countries. The article discusses an A.C.L.U. lawsuit which resulted in the change of many of the most draconian policies as well as the practice of using privately run prison-like facilities for non-criminals.

The article also suggests that if the government’s goal was simply to avoid having these in limbo immigrants disappearing into the U.S., they could be allowed into society and tracked with wristbands.

“Why did the government turn to a former prison in the first place? It wasn’t the most cost effective option. C.C.A. (Corrections Corporation of America) charges the government nearly thirty-four million dollars a year to run the facility. And whereas close supervision of a released immigrant costs only about twelve dollars a day, incarcerating one costs about sixty-one, according to a 2000 study by the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit organization based in New York.”

Today as I was composing this post I was reading a message board and randomly came across a blogger whose site is dedicated to advocating the closing of the Hutto facility. Small world.


“conventional wisdom” v. facts

February 29, 2008

Daily reading of the articles in Bender’s Immigration Bulletin is admittedly too depressing of an endeavor for me. I have an emotional and mental limit for reading what I consider ever-more-depressing news about the actions our nation is taking against immigrants. I don’t need to be reminded every day that deportations are tearing families apart, that we are building a great wall — which I am confident will become a great embarrassment before the end of my life — on our southern border, or that nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment is becoming mainstream as it does every few decades.

This week the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California released a study titled “Crime, Corrections and California: What does immigration have to do with it?” And guess what? Not a whole lot. Among other surprising (to some people) findings, people born outside of the United States (legal or undocumented immigrants included) make up a whopping 35 percent of California’s total population but just 17 percent of its prison population. Non-citizens men ages 18-40 born in Mexico, who are very likely to be undocumented according to the study, are more than 8 times less likely to be in a correctional setting than native-born U.S. citizen men of the same age group. The report also found lower rates of crime in California cities with higher number of recent immigrants. Overall the report shows that immigrants are far less likely to commit serious crimes in California and goes against all conventional wisdom that more immigrants mean more crime.

Despite the non-partisan nature and high ethical standards of the research, news articles covering the report’s findings, such as this one in the San Jose Mercury News, inspired dozens of nasty, bigoted comments such as this anonymous gem:

“Predictable left-wing lies. All one needs do is look at the list of prisoners’ names to see the South-of-the-Border heritage of incarcerated men in California. Further destroying the credibility of this report is the fact that so many illegals who commit additional crimes return to Mexico to hide out from authorities, and the left-wing idealogues that compiled this list of lies don’t refer to the skyrocketing number of Mexican rapists and murderers that Mexico declines to extradite.”

Oh.my.god. I love when people argue against facts with myths, racist sentiment and political opinions. It’s awesome!

This is why I can’t stomach reading so many articles. On many newspapers’ websites, there are comments, and you can’t just ignore the comments, but when you read them, you are always sickened and sorry to have read them. Where do these people come from? I’ve been trying though, to read more again and write my own comments back. But it’s hard to argue with people who disregard intellect in favor of hatred and prejudice.


un poco mas de Mexico

February 26, 2008

In the last week I’ve gotten accustomed to the 6-foot snow mound outside my window at work, dodged deeply dangerous potholes and lost my once-wonderful tan to peeling and fading. I’ve also gotten eight rolls of film developed and uploaded all my digital shots to my flickr page. I’m planning to trade photos with my travel buddy Britta, but she’s been sick so we haven’t been able to do that yet.

In the meantime, a few notes about our trip and an invitation to check out any of the photo sets you might be interested in…

We spent the first three days of our trip in Fermin’s hometown, Libres, Puebla. I’ve been there several times before and while it’s not the most exciting place in the world, it does have a nice small-town atmosphere and it’s always wonderful to reconnect with my mother-in-law and Fermin’s youngest siblings.

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(making tortillas with my mother-in-law Edith and Britta)

On Sunday afternoon after we got in we walked to the tianguis (big, weekly, usually regional market) in Libres to reacquaint our winter selves to fresh produce, meat, clothes, spices, teas and pottery. Lots of beautiful pottery. Britta and I became acquainted with the wonder-fruit Mamey that day:

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(Mamey looks a little like a cantaloupe outside. The inside fruit has the consistency of an avocado, and the pit is also reminiscent of the large avocado seeds. The taste of the fruit, however, is a lot like sweet potato! Yum…)

On Wednesday morning we trekked back to Puebla to catch the bus to Oaxaca city, the capital of the southern state of Oaxaca. Oaxaca is legendary in Mexico for food, tourism, and occasional political turmoil. We encountered a calm, pleasantly busy Oaxaca and delighted in the amazing food, colonial architecture, and stunning ruins. I also felt my first earthquake.

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(Outside and inside the gorgeous Santo Domingo Church)

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One of my favorite things about cities like Oaxaca and Puebla is that very few modern buildings litter the city centers. Virtually all the historic buildings have been restored and adapted to whatever modern business they now house.

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This is not pizza. It is a sort of fusion Tlayuda from the wonderful chefs of La Olla. Large crispy tortilla – usually covered with mashed black beans – this one had red mole, Oaxacan string cheese, tomato and avocado. Deliciously simple. For more food photos check out the set of cooking class photos from our Casa Crespo Cooking Class.

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We spent one day at a small town a few miles outside Oaxaca called Zaachila, where we enjoyed their huge weekly market, checked out their church and some small ruins. There are a few more Zaachila photos here.

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Monte Alban, America’s first metropolis. See the whole set of Monte Alban shots here.

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Fermin and I in front of one of Oaxaca’s wonderful churches. I am already sporting stage two of my sunburn at this point. It was Fermin’s first time in Oaxaca, and while he was only with us for a few days (before he returned to the states and Britta and I stayed another week) he enjoyed the city. I think I have finally given him my travel bug. Where once his idea trip to Mexico included 5-7 days in Libres, he now thinks every trip we should spend a couple days in his town and then a couple exploring other Mexican places neither of us has been.

For the final few days of the trip Britta and I took a sickening (literally) van ride through the Oaxacan sierra to the gorgeous, isolated coastal towns between the Huatulco resorts and the surf capital of Puerto Escondido. We spent most of our time in Zipolite.

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Quiet, undeveloped Playa Aragon between Zipolite and Mazunte at sunset.

Shouldn’t all vacations end with a little of this?

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thoughts on water

February 25, 2008

Water is on the mind of many Mexicans. I experienced this first-hand on my two-week trip to the country’s parched central states. The first time was day three, when I wanted to wash a few items of clothing – Fermin made a comment about doing it in the morning, and being careful about the water. “There is never enough water.”

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(overlooking the dry valley where Libres, Puebla sits from the little hill behind the Fernandez home)

Virtually everywhere I have been in Mexico there are large, black, cylindrical tanks atop homes. These tanks draw water during the hours that the municipality opens the taps and distributes it to the household throughout the day. My understanding is that the wealth and resources of the town determines how long the water runs each day. The times I have been at the Fernandez household there has not been a shortage of water, but it’s a constant concern. My sister-in-law once shared with me that when she lived with her husband in another town in the same state, there would be days (DAYS!) without the water turning on. She said sometimes they had to go wash clothes in irrigation ditches or tiny streams.

In Oaxaca city, after checking into a small in-home B&B, Britta and I made went straight into the room to wash our smelly work-out attire. While we hand-washed in the sink Fermin went to ask the owner if we could hang our things in the courtyard to dry. He came back and said the woman had been irritated. We had missed the rules posted next to the door of the room. “Water is short in all the city. You may not wash clothes by hand. There is a laundromat two blocks away. Take short showers and do what you can to conserve water.” Oops. We honestly felt bad that we had violated the rules. Our American-ness simply never imagined such a rule.

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On Playa Zipolite, steps from the ocean, one cabana bathroom we looked at just had a barrel of water and a bowl to use for a shower. The place we ended up staying had a shower with a pull-chain. Pull for water, let go for and the water stops. It’s hard to shower with one hand, so the pull-chain forces you to conserve water. You pull to get wet, you let go to lather, you pull again to rinse. Efficient, but not conducive to a 15-minute stream of running water as many Americans are accustomed.

Returning to the U.S., land of anything and everything at your disposal, my first shower seemed strange. I wanted to turn the water off and on. But unlike Zipolite, where the air temperature was around 80 degrees, the air temperature in my bathroom is quite a bit cooler. I felt bad, but then went back to my old ways.

This weekend I was catching up with Milwaukee Magazine and read this feature on various facets of the Wisconsin water battle: the one between the city of Milwaukee (who has access to Lake Michigan) and the cities of Waukesha and New Berlin (who have sprawled themselves out of water and now want access to Lake Michigan), the discussion between southwest states desiring Great Lakes water, and the fears of some scientists that unchecked growth, development and overconsumption will send the Great Lakes the way of the Aral Sea – in other words – toward drying up.

I enjoyed the Milwaukee Magazine article very much, but having the Mexican perspective floating around in my mind made it hard not to ponder the audaciousness of American views on water – that it is a never-ending, limitless commodity. Nations across the world conserve water in one way or another, and we simply act as though it has no end. Kids are not taught to conserve water – we water our lawns, run in sprinklers on hot days, take long showers and wash dishes with the tap running the entire time. And it’s not just the practices – it is the attitude behind them as well. We look down on people who let their lawns go brown, we think of people who don’t shower every day as dirty, it simply does not cross many of our minds that we should be careful with water.


Longing for spring

February 20, 2008

I picked up nine rolls of film this morning, seven from my recent trip to Mexico and two that contained random photos from the last nine months. Of the random ones, this was by far my favorite:

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I mean how much do we need to be reminded of spring right now? I know I need it. I know, I know, I’ve been in warm, sunny weather for two weeks, but there is still a week and a half of February and then the pleasant-sounding but in reality just as wintry weeks of March ahead. I can’t wait to start my garden.


I’m in!

February 19, 2008

We got home in the early hours of Monday morning so I didn’t even look at my huge pile of mail until yesterday evening when I got home from work. I happened to be catching up via cell phone with my dear friend Sara when I saw two small envelopes and one big one from Marquette in the mix. I interrupted our conversation while I opened the big one to find this inside:

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I also received an acceptance letter from the Law School and a note from the Assistant Dean of Admissions commenting on my writing skills/experience.

I’m not exactly surprised but frankly I hadn’t thought much about law school in the past month, between planning and then being on vacation. Besides that I had no idea when I would hear from Marquette, whose deadline for part-time students isn’t until June.

Needless to say I am relieved and happy, and newly motivated to complete my FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid – that’s such a blast from the past!) after I pick up my tax return tonight. But first I have to go vote in the exciting (for once) Wisconsin primary!

More on Mexico later!


back in the land of huge potholes

February 19, 2008

Seriously, I have never seen potholes like this in my life! It snows, then it melts, then it snows a lot, then it drops well below zero, then it warms up, then it snows. Well, I actually missed most of that because I was in Mexico for two weeks. But the roads can’t take it anymore.

My husband and brother-in-law were joking on our ride home from O’Hare airport in Chicago the other night that it was like Tlacuela, referring to the VERY rural, hillside town where Fermin was born. They barely have electricity there, chickens and geese run free and people get milk from the family cow. It’s beautiful countryside, but modern in very few senses. And their roads look like ours right now. Ironic.

Well, I have so much to say about so many things right now that my posting will hopefully be quite regular over the next few days, weeks. Vacation does that. My inner writer is re-energized. Also I have news, but I will save it for a little later.