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Rights Groups Chide Honduras Inquiry Into Activist Murder

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Amnesty International and other non-governmental organizations on Tuesday criticized the official investigation into the murder of an environmental rights activist in Honduras, urging foreign experts to intervene.

Five days after Berta Caceres was shot and killed in her home, the police have not presented an official hypothesis and are still considering labeling the murder a common crime, to the consternation of family and friends who believe the death was tied to her fight against large-scale hydroelectric plants and mines.

“Amnesty International demands that this investigation be done with the help of independent forensic experts and with an international commission that will guarantee its impartiality,” Erika Guevara, Amnesty’s Americas director, said at a press conference with other local NGOs.

Caceres, who had received death threats, won the Goldman Environmental Prize last year for her struggle to prevent the construction of a $50 million dam that threatened to displace hundreds of indigenous people.

“We don’t have confidence in the government’s investigations and its security forces,” Olivia Zuniga, Caceres’s daughter, told Reuters. “They were the (same) officials that awarded the concession for the dam that my mother fought against.”

The police have released the only suspect arrested after the murder, Caceres’s former partner and colleague, a police source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

 

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Photo: Activists hold photos of slain environmental rights activist Berta Caceres after her body was released from the morgue in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

Cuban Migrants Get Unfair Advantage Over Other Latinos

The Cold War is over, but it still deeply distorts U.S. immigration policy.

Consider the bizarre situation at our southern border. A wave of migrants is expected to appear there, hoping for safe passage into the U.S. and an expedited path to legal status and eventually full citizenship. They will get it.

These lucky migrants won’t be Mexicans fleeing drug cartels. They won’t be Hondurans, who must endure the world’s highest murder rate. And they won’t be citizens of El Salvador, where the Peace Corps just suspended operations due to the increasing violence.

No, we deport those people.

They will be Cubans. In recent months, increasing numbers of Cubans have been leaving their island country, flying to Ecuador first and then traveling northward through Central America. They wish to migrate to the U.S., fearful that thawing diplomatic relations will end the special treatment that Cubans who leave the island have long received.

That special treatment needs to end.

The hypocrisy that is embedded in U.S. immigration law will be on full display as the Cubans begin arriving, which could happen within the next few weeks.

Since 1966, the Cuban Adjustment Act has given Cuban people an extraordinary advantage over other migrants wishing to enter the U.S. The law was originally intended as a political and humanitarian reply to communism and the oppression of Fidel Castro. No proof that a person has suffered persecution. Where he or she arrives from is enough.

When people attempt to arrive through the Florida Straits, the policy that developed was dubbed “wet foot, dry foot.” If a Cuban can get one foot on dry U.S. soil, they can stay and are offered permanent legal status in a year and many other benefits of welfare and help to restart their lives.

The benevolence of the law made sense in decades past. But a good argument can be made that many of the migrating Cubans are fleeing not persecution but economic turmoil. And in doing so, they are not any more desperate, perhaps even less so, than those fleeing the violence and poverty of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Thousands of Central Americans arrived and asked for asylum in the summer of 2014. But those people are the wrong type of Latino for our policies. Many of them are indigenous, poor and have little formal schooling. So they were held for months in detention camps at the border. Many were eventually released, free to stay the U.S. at least until their pleas for asylum status or legal residency can be assessed by an immigration judge. Raids and deportations of undocumented immigrants continue.

Meanwhile, as many as 8,000 Cubans who have been stranded in Costa Rica will soon be making their way northward through Mexico, after agreements were worked out by several Latin American governments. The Obama administration plans to open refugee screening centers in Central America, an attempt to stem the flow of non-Cuban migrants.

In this election year, especially in light of the GOP’s appeals to anti-immigrant sentiment, the migrant Cubans will present a political test.

GOP presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio, whose parents left Cuba before Castro took over, has introduced legislation to curb abuses of the American generosity toward Cubans. The Sun Sentinel of South Florida in 2015 documented cases in which Cubans claiming to be exiles were taking U.S. government benefits or committing other types of fraud, even after returning to Cuba.

How far Rubio’s legislation and the companion bill in the House will advance remains to be seen. And there is virtually no appetite in an election year to overhaul immigration for the benefit of more than just Cubans.

Amnesty is still a curse word in most GOP circles. In decades past, that didn’t matter in the case of Cubans, who could be counted on to become Republicans.

If the GOP is to have any hope of salvaging the Latino vote this presidential cycle it will have to traverse this sticky thicket, also acknowledging the needs of other Latino migrants. They have to beat back the anti-immigrant bleating of Donald Trump, as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley did in her response to the State of the Union speech.

They must vow to be just. They must promise to rewrite immigration law to weigh all humans’ needs equally and fairly, with no favor based on country of origin or likely partisan affinity. And they must not bow to nativist screeds.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at msanchez@kcstar.com.) (c) 2016, THE KANSAS CITY STAR. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC

Photo: A Cuban migrant shows a U.S. flag design on the cuffs of his pants at the Costa Rican border with Nicaragua, November 18, 2015. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

Harrowing Journey Turns Into U.S. Deportation Nightmare

New York (AFP) – Evelin’s two daughters — who just arrived in the United States illegally from Central America — are facing deportation and so the concerned mother recently trekked across New York City to seek free legal advice.

Evelin, who is 35 and undocumented herself, joined 200 others, including 100 unaccompanied minors, at an event hosted by the New York Immigration Coalition last weekend.

“I have two girls, 15 and 18, who just got here with their kids. One was sent home to me with a hearing date for August 4. But the other one is still in Texas,” said the young Honduran grandmother, declining to give her full name due to her own illegal status.

The “Immigrant Youth Fair,” which took place in Manhattan July 26 and 27, provided free legal help, as well as information about jobs, schools, health insurance and English-language classes, to children and adults of all ages.

“This is really what we need,” said Evelin, who left Central America well over a decade ago, shortly after her youngest daughter was born.

Camille Mackler, the coalition’s director of legal initiatives, noted that most of the workshops’ attendees came from Honduras.

“The majority were 13 to 18 years old, but we saw five to 10 kids who were 12 and under,” Mackler said.

Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate, with the United Nations recording more than 90 homicides per 100,000 people in 2012.

Evelin’s daughters are two of more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors — most from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — who have been detained crossing the U.S.-Mexico border since October, the majority fleeing gangs, violence and poverty.

U.S. President Barack Obama — who has called the situation a humanitarian crisis — met with his counterparts from those three Central American countries last month, warning against false hope that unaccompanied children will be allowed to stay in the United States.

But the problem remains unresolved and with political wrangling over how to handle the crisis showing little signs of abating, the focus is on what to do with the thousands of minors in the meantime.

In New York, authorities and community groups said they would work together to help welcome about 3,000 of the children to the state in the near future, and another 7,000 in the coming months.

Legal experts say that many could seek asylum or some other type of protection from the US government.

Yet others find that hard to believe, and hard to act on.

“It’s a mixture of surprise and skepticism, because people are very unsure about their position and they are all afraid that it will not work out for them,” said Samuel Palmer-Simon, staff attorney with the Immigrant Protection Unit of New York Legal Assistance Group.

His boss, Irina Matiychenko, said the group had just taken on the case of a Honduran boy who had to leave home because he witnessed his uncle being killed.

Matiychenko, herself once an asylum recipient, said Washington needed to act quickly to resolve the crisis.

“There has not been a constructive response from the federal government,” she said.

“It’s not the American way if these kids are sent back. They will be victims of violence — or killed.”

In the case of Evelin’s daughters, the reasons why they left their homeland are grim: the youngest got pregnant after being raped, and both sisters were victims of violent crime.

“So many terrible things have happened down there,” Evelin said.

“They traveled together, and that’s all I know about their trip,” she added in reference to how her girls made it into the United States.

“When they got here, they separated them. And I have not been able to talk to the one who is in Texas.”

AFP Photo/Stan Honda

Obama To Meet Central American Leaders On Child Migrants

By Ramon Sahmkow

Washington (AFP) — President Barack Obama will meet three Central American leaders Friday to discuss the surge of children crossing the southern U.S. border without parents or papers, in flight from violence and poverty.

The White House summit will mark the first time since the influx erupted into public view two months ago that Obama has met with leaders of the countries where most of the minors are from.

Presidents Otto Perez of Guatemala, Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador, and Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras are expected to come with a joint proposal on easing the crisis, officials said.

Hernandez said in a meeting with senior U.S. lawmaker Nancy Pelosi that the problem, which has escalated in recent months, is “deeply rooted” in drug trafficking and the violence it has generated in his country.

“But also it is a matter that arises, we believe, from the lack of clarity, or ambiguity, that has become the hallmark of the policies and the debates on immigration reform in the United States,” he added.

An estimated 57,000 unaccompanied minors, most from Central America, have crossed the border since October, a surge that has overwhelmed U.S. capacity to process them.

Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to mitigate the crisis by hiring more immigration judges and border agents.

– Republican resistance –

The request has encountered resistance among Republicans loath to release that much funding without offsets elsewhere.

El Salvador’s Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez said the Central Americans will make a joint commitment to toughen laws against human trafficking and wage an information campaign on the risks of illegal migration.

“We are going with a sense of optimism to this meeting, we are taking a joint position that is solid, that is a concrete Central American proposal,” he said.

Meanwhile, Obama spoke by phone Thursday with his Mexican counterpart Enrique Pena Nieto, for an exchange of views on “how we can deepen cooperation,” a White House statement said.

“The president noted that these unaccompanied children are vulnerable to crime and abuse, and welcomed Mexico’s efforts to help target the criminals that lure families to send children on the dangerous journey and to alert potential migrants to the perils of the journey and the likelihood that they will be returned to Central America,” the statement said.

Obama also during his talk with the Mexican leader reiterated his assertion that “arriving migrants will not qualify for legalization under proposed immigration reform legislation.”

State Department adviser Thomas Shannon, visiting the region to prepare for the White House meeting, said in El Salvador on Wednesday it will produce a joint plan to deal with the influx through closer cooperation.

Shannon emphasized that “the number one challenge is to convince young people not to leave their country.”

But the U.S. and Central American leaders will also pursue joint strategies to promote economic development and personal security in Central America, he said.

Gang violence and lack of economic opportunity have led parents to entrust their children, including some younger than age six, to “coyote” guides on the dangerous overland journey through Mexico to the United States.

Perez attributed the surge to smugglers telling families that children who make it to the United States will be able to stay.

Obama’s critics blame the influx on his 2012 order to halt deportations of some young undocumented immigrants, including those who arrived as children and have no criminal record.

Some lawmakers want to make changes to a 2008 human trafficking law that gives unaccompanied minors from countries that do not border the United States greater legal rights than those from Mexico and Canada.

Typically, detained unaccompanied minors are placed in shelters or with family members in the United States while courts decide their status, a process that can take months or years.

The 2008 law is at the heart of disputes between Democrats and Republicans that could prevent funding from reaching Obama’s desk before the congressional recess.

House Speaker John Boehner wrote Obama Wednesday urging his “strong public support” for changes to the 2008 law that would allow expedited deportations of Central American child migrants.

“It’s time for the White House to get their act together” and support the change, Boehner said Thursday, adding he hoped Congress could reach a deal before the recess.

Many Democrats argue the law should remain, as it provides children fleeing violence a chance to make a claim for asylum.

House Republicans unveiled their own $1.5 billion draft plan, including changing the 2008 law, while Senate Democrats introduced a counter-proposal that offers $2.7 billion in aid, but only through December 31, and would preserve the 2008 law.

AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards

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