I Went to Mexico to Meet Asylum-Seekers Trapped at the Border. This Is What I Saw.

The Trump Administration has been waging an all-out war on the U.S.’s asylum system, which for more than 50 years has provided shelter for people who need protection. To accomplish this reversal of tradition, they’ve put into place a series of policies that have made it nearly impossible for people to quickly and safely claim asylum at the southern border. Chief among them is the forced return to Mexico program, which has trapped tens of thousands of people in dangerous cartel-controlled cities in northern Mexico while they wait for distant court dates inside the U.S.

The circumstances these vulnerable people are facing in the meantime are dire.

…Previously, they would have been processed through the asylum system and then either detained or released inside the U.S. while their claims were evaluated by an immigration judge. But now, they’re given a sheet of paper that tells them to come back to the border months later for their first hearing. In the meantime, they’re stuck, with nowhere to go and most often nobody to help them.

…The river is rife with pollution, and people living in the camp have developed rashes and other skin problems from bathing in it. Next to a small, muddy clearing, a series of white crosses stood in remembrance of the children who’ve died by drowning in the river in recent months.

…The “Migrant Protection Protocols” were designed to make it so uncomfortable and dangerous for people who are seeking asylum that they will simply give up, exhausted and defeated, and return back to the dangerous situations they fled.

…In just a brief visit, we’d heard one detailed story of a kidnapping-for-ransom and witnessed another family living through that trauma in real time. The experience underscored the insecurity and fear that tens of thousands of asylum-seekers are being subjected to across the U.S. border right now.

Supporters of the new, punitive asylum processes say that most of the people seeking shelter at our southern border are liars who are after better work opportunities in the U.S. That simply did not gel with much of what we heard. One man said he’d been a municipal employee back home. He liked Honduras, and he hadn’t wanted to leave. But a street gang had threatened to murder him and his son if the young boy didn’t start selling drugs for them, so he felt they had no choice but to flee.

I Went to Mexico to Meet Asylum-Seekers Trapped at the Border. This Is What I Saw.


Orphan wells: Canada’s struggling oil industry leaves thousands abandoned

Greg Latimer’s ranch near Sounding Lake, Alberta, has 4,000 acres, 350 cattle — and more than a dozen idle or abandoned oil and gas wells.

Latimer, who took over the family ranch in the southeastern part of the oil-rich province in 2011, worries about leaks contaminating the groundwater and soil. He believes his cows have fallen ill after drinking from puddles near the wells. He and his partner, Marva Coltman, get headaches from the odors that some of them emit.

Neither Latimer, his father nor his grandfather were given a choice about whether to let oil and gas companies onto their property.

…“My grandfather came here in 1911 in the middle of the country to make a homestead,” Latimer said. “These guys came here and destroyed it. It isn’t fair.”

…[The] government slashed municipal property taxes on shallow gas wells last year by 35 percent. Some operators have stopped paying municipal property taxes to the tune of $129.8 million.

Under provincial law, oil and gas companies are responsible for plugging defunct wells and restoring the environment to its pre-drilling state. When the operators are bankrupt or insolvent, the wells are transferred to the industry-funded Orphan Well Association, which is tasked with decommissioning them.

As the energy sector has struggled, the association’s inventory has ballooned, from 162 wells in 2014 to 3,406 today.

…And the number could skyrocket, soon. Last year, both Trident Exploration and Houston Oil & Gas bit the dust, leaving behind a combined 6,100 wells and a $307.9 million cleanup bill. 

…As of December 2019, the energy regulator had $170.3 million to clean up potential oil and gas liabilities estimated at more than $22.5 billion, the figures show.

Orphan wells: Canada’s struggling oil industry leaves thousands abandoned – The Washington Post


Food Security and Economics in Newfoundland

Ask people about buying food in Newfoundland and Labrador, and you’ll start hearing a few consistent comments: that fresh produce can be very expensive, that storm-related shipping delays can cut off the supply of food, and that the island of Newfoundland has, at any given time, [only] three days of fresh food on the shelves.

…Food security, conceptually, isn’t limited to the idea of running out of food on the shelves. It can mean that you just can’t afford the spinach that is on the shelf, and are left to other, less nutritious options. It can also mean that there is nowhere from which to procure food, or that the shipments can’t make it. All of these conditions can apply to Newfoundland and Labrador.

And as climate change advances, such circumstances can change—and get worse.

…“There’s a high rate of unemployment, and there’s a high correlation between suicide ideation and addiction issues when there’s nothing to do during the day. There’s no job, there’s no fisheries and you’re home,” Halley says.

The garden project, which began last year with help from a grant from Eastern Health, would give Halley’s clients the chance to work the land and eat the produce they grew. Eight raised beds were installed at the cathedral.

…“The population I work with… they can go to soup kitchens, they can get some assistance from the government,” Halley says. But “the quality and the standard of food that they’re able to buy is very poor.”

The social worker says she supports people from all walks of life, including those with lucrative professions, but those who struggle economically were most interested in the garden project “because they don’t have access to the quality of food that their bodies want.” She cites the example of one person who can’t work and feels constant stress from bills. He found comfort in the garden, being able provide himself with fresh vegetables.

The garden project has also built community, Halley says.

…On the coast, iorn places like Rigolet, Brace says—an area connected to larger cities by warm-weather ferry service and fair-weather flights. She says that while there is a government subsidy for food, quality goes down as winter comes. Despite best efforts, the weather can destroy fresh, sensitive produce—even exposure between the airport and the store is problematic. “Greens won’t make it, like lettuce—it’s too far, too cold. When I go to the grocery store, even in some of the best times of the year, it’s produce that wouldn’t be left on the shelf here.”

Nevertheless, “prices go up in the winter, but they never seem to get back to the prices before the winter months. It’s just steadily climbing, and jobs are not as plentiful.”

…In communities like Hopedale and Rigolet, the high costs of shipping food have prompted people to consider alternatives old and new: keeping traditional means of hunting and gathering alive while exploring gardening and hydroponics.

…Problems with food availability in Rigolet, combined with traditional views on living off the land, have spurred this involvement. “We have one supplier, one grocery store. In this town there’s no competition,” Michelin says. “The prices are really high. Very often, too, we have low-quality foods, when it comes to produce and frozen meat.”

And with one airline serving the town, sometimes food from afar is just not available, she says. Ships come in the summer—but summer weather can be long delayed. “That hasn’t even started yet, and it’s almost July—it’s a very short shipping season,” she explains.

…The Good Food Box project was born, Brace says, as a way of addressing a quandary particular to coastal Labrador: the only people who can afford grocery store prices are also the only ones who can afford to buy their food in advance at wholesale prices, leaving others to fend for themselves. The Good Food Box project pooled money together, allowing Rigolet residents to bulk order frozen meat and share the discount.

…The economic realities in places like Rigolet help dictate their need for self-sufficiency. In a globalized world of international trade, tiny Rigolet doesn’t exactly fit into grand economic schemes. “One thing about Rigolet, unfortunately, is our lack of economic development—we have none,” Michelin says. “We’re a town that doesn’t export anything, we don’t process anything. So, it’s poor.”

Michelin, who is Inuit, says the people of Rigolet have been living off the land for many years—but increasing modernization has meant increasing prices. Seaworthy watercraft and outboard motors can cost many thousands of dollars. Guns are expensive, ammunition is expensive, snowmobiles are expensive.

…She says she would like to see a shift in political rhetoric around how to respond to food insecurity in places like Newfoundland and Labrador. After hearing a politician promise to fly food via helicopter and plane to Labrador following “storm after storm,” she wondered why politicians haven’t suggested more empowering approaches to the problem.

“I’m thinking, people in Labrador are really smart, and they’ve been hunting and fishing for years,” she says. “Why aren’t we supporting them with a hydroponic green house? We provide employment, they become self-sufficient. We’re flying in food for people when they can grow it here, and it gives them something to do.”

However, she says, approaches have to be practical. Halley cited the infamous case of Newfoundland’s ill-fated cucumber greenhouse. Advanced by former Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Brian Peckford and Philip Sprung’s Enviroponics, the Mount Pearl-based project consumed more than $13 million from taxpayers—and $22 million in total—before Enviroponics went bankrupt and the facility was sold for a dollar. The greenhouse shut down soon afterward. The story is so infamous that CBC Archives wrote about it again last year.

Halley says she remembers the project and its unearthly orange glow, visible from St. John’s at the time. The problem, she says, is that the hydroponic greenhouse wasn’t used to grow produce of local interest. Instead, Peckford proposed that Newfoundland might position itself to dominate the world cucumber market. The plan failed, and cows ate many of the 800,000 cucumbers grown—at a cost of $27.50 per cucumber to taxpayers. The problem, as the CBC reported at the time: Newfoundlanders ate, on average, half a cucumber per capita per year.

‘Nothing’s like it used to be’ – Anglican Journal


Homero Gómez: Missing Mexican butterfly activist found dead

Gómez was a tireless campaigner for the conservation of the monarch butterfly and the pine and fir forests where it hibernates. The sanctuary he managed opened in November as part of a strategy to stop illegal logging in the area, which is a key habitat for the monarch butterfly.

…Rights groups had earlier said they feared that Gómez might have been targeted because of his fight against illegal logging, one of the activities that criminal gangs in the area are involved in.

…Since 2006, 60,000 people have disappeared in Mexico, many of them believed to have fallen victim to criminal gangs who kill anyone who could interfere with their illegal activities.

Homero Gómez: Missing Mexican butterfly activist found dead – BBC News


DNA tests stand on shaky ground to define Native American identity

Walajahi explained to the crowd that DTC ancestry kits fall short on accuracy because they only offer a probability toward a certain ancestry. So, a test that claims an individual has Native American ancestry, could be wrong.

…Ancestry kits can’t determine Native American identity. Community relationships, traditions, and shared experiences are more important aspects of identity.

…“Using a genetic test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation…is inappropriate and wrong,” said Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. in a public statement. “It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens.”

Sovereign tribal nations determine their requirements for membership. A genetic ancestry test is rarely involved. A history of traditions, passing down crafts and skills, and a sense of cultural continuity set the baseline for tribal membership.

…With no regulatory body to oversee their methods, Hull hopes the companies come together to create a set of standards on their own ensuring that they use consistent language to help the public understand how to interpret genetic information. 

DNA tests stand on shaky ground to define Native American identity | NHGRI


DNA Tests Make Native Americans Strangers in Their Own Land

The DNA industry has, in fact, found a way to profit from reviving and modernizing antiquated ideas about the biological origins of race and repackaging them in a cheerful, Disneyfied wrapping …offering a 21st-century version of pseudoscience that once again reduces race to a matter of genetics and origins. 

…If Native Americans are reduced to little more than another genetic variation, there is no need for laws that acknowledge their land rights, treaty rights, and sovereignty. Nor must any thought be given to how to compensate for past harms, not to speak of the present ones that still structure their realities.

…They conflate ethnicity with geography, and geography with genetic markers.

…In this way, race and ethnicity are separated from and elevated above experience, culture, and history.

…In North America,” the company blandly explains, “Native American ancestry tends to be five or more generations back, so that little DNA evidence of this heritage remains.” In other words, 23andMe claims DNA as conclusive proof of Native American identity, then uses it to write Native North Americans off the map altogether.

…“DNA is not a liquid that can be broken down into microscopic drops.… We inherit about a quarter of our DNA from each grandparent—but only on average.… If you pick one of your ancestors from 10 generations back, the odds are around 50 percent that you carry any DNA from him or her. The odds get even worse beyond that.”

In reality, such testing does not tell us much about our ancestors. That’s partly because of the way DNA is passed down through the generations and partly because there exists no database of ancestral DNA. Instead, the companies compare your DNA to that of other contemporary humans who have paid them to take the test. Then they compare your particular variations to patterns of geographical and ethnic distribution of such variations in today’s world—and use secret algorithms to assign purportedly precise ancestral percentages to them.

…Native American nations are political and cultural entities, the products of history, not genes, and white people’s assertions about Native American ancestry and the DNA industry’s claim to be able to reveal such ancestry tend to run roughshod over this history.

…The recognition of tribal sovereignty at least acknowledges that the existence of the United States is predicated on its imposition of an unwanted, foreign political entity on Native lands. The concept of tribal sovereignty has given Native Americans a legal and collective basis for fighting for a different way of thinking about history, rights, and nationhood. Attempts to reduce Native American identity to a race that can be identified by a gene (or a genetic variation) do violence to our history and justify ongoing violations of Native rights.

DNA Tests Make Native Americans Strangers in Their Own Land | The Nation


House to investigate Trump ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy

“As we have previously written to you, MPP is inconsistent with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) statutory authority, while exposing thousands of people to threats of murder, sexual violence, and kidnapping as they are forced to wait in extremely dangerous conditions before their asylum claims may be heard,” the letter reads.

“As of today, there are 31 active travel advisories for Mexico, including 5 warnings in which the State Department explicitly advises Americans against travel. It is difficult to understand why this administration is sending children and families to areas where they will face certain harm,” the members wrote.

…”It is imperative that the United States end this reckless course of action and reaffirm its commitment to the principles of due process on which this country was founded.” 

House to investigate Trump ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy | TheHill


How this mysterious structure buried in the sand is now shedding light on Nova Scotia’s history

Campbell said initial results indicate a fishing stage or wharf, built sometime in the 17th to 18th century, suggesting either early Acadian settlers or fishers from Massachusetts.

…Digs at the site also yielded red roofing tiles, similar to those found off the Iberian Peninsula of southern Europe, as well as along the North Atlantic coast.

“That could be pointing toward an earlier occupation than the 17th century … but the cultures associated would most likely be Portuguese, Basque or Spanish.”

“To me, we’ve already changed the understanding of the area,” she said. “I walk on the Hawk now and I think, ‘Who has walked here before?

…I share this connection of this land with somebody and I’d like to know who.”

How this mysterious structure buried in the sand is now shedding light on Nova Scotia’s history | CBC News


The Invention of Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving was not a “thanksgiving,” in Pilgrim terms, but a “rejoicing.” An actual giving of thanks required fasting and quiet contemplation; a rejoicing featured feasting, drinking, militia drills, target practice, and contests of strength and speed. It was a party, not a prayer, and was full of people shooting at things. The Indians were Wampanoags, led by Ousamequin (often called Massasoit, which was a leadership title rather than a name). An experienced diplomat, he was engaged in a challenging game of regional geopolitics, of which the Pilgrims were only a part.

…Nor did the Pilgrims extend a warm invitation to their Indian neighbors. Rather, the Wampanoags showed up unbidden. And it was not simply four or five of them at the table, as we often imagine. Ousamequin, the Massasoit, arrived with perhaps ninety men—more than the entire population of Plymouth. Wampanoag tradition suggests that the group was in fact an army, honoring a mutual-defense pact negotiated the previous spring. They came not to enjoy a multicultural feast but to aid the Pilgrims: hearing repeated gunfire, they assumed that the settlers were under attack. After a long moment of suspicion (the Pilgrims misread almost everything that Indians did as potential aggression), the two peoples recognized one another, in some uneasy way, and spent the next three days together.

…Why would Ousamequin decide to welcome the newcomers and, in 1621, make a mutual-defense pact with them? During the preceding years, an epidemic had struck Massachusetts Bay Indians, killing between seventy-five and ninety per cent of the Wampanoag and the Massachusett people. A rich landscape of fields and gardens, tended hunting forests, and fishing weirs was largely emptied of people. Belief systems crashed. Even survival did not mean good health, and, with fields unplanted and animals uncaught, starvation followed closely behind. The Pilgrims’ settlement took place in a graveyard.

Wampanoag people consolidated their survivors and their lands, and reëstablished internal self-governance. But, to the west, the Narragansetts—traditional rivals largely untouched by the epidemic—now outnumbered the Wampanoags, and that led to the strengthening of Ousamequin’s alliances with the surviving Massachusett and another nearby group, the Nipmucks. As the paramount sachem, he also had to contend with challenges to his leadership from a number of other Wampanoag sachems. And so, after much debate, he decided to tolerate the rather pathetic Pilgrims—who had seen half their number die in their first winter—and establish an alliance with them. 

…Ousamequin’s sons Pumetacom—called King Philip by the English—and Wamsutta began forming a resistance, despite the poor odds. By 1670, the immigrant population had ballooned to sixty or seventy thousand in southern New England—twice the number of Native people.

…Abenaki and other allies continued the struggle for years.

…New Englanders certainly celebrated Thanksgivings—often in both fall and spring—but they were of the fasting-and-prayer variety. Notable examples took place in 1637 and 1676, following bloody victories over Native people. To mark the second occasion, the Plymouth men mounted the head of Ousamequin’s son Pumetacom above their town on a pike, where it remained for two decades, while his dismembered and unburied body decomposed. The less brutal holiday that we celebrate today [did not take] shape [until] two centuries later. …In 1841, the Reverend Alexander Young explicitly linked three things: the 1621 “rejoicing,” the tradition of autumnal harvest festivals, and the name Thanksgiving.

…A couple of decades later, Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, proposed a day of unity and remembrance to counter the trauma of the Civil War. …Only later would it consolidate its narrative around a harmonious Pilgrim-Wampanoag feast. …American mythmakers discovered that the Pilgrims, and New England as a whole, were perfectly cast as national founders: white, Protestant, democratic, and blessed with an American character centered on family, work, individualism, freedom, and faith.

…The Thanksgiving story buries the major cause of King Philip’s War—the relentless seizure of Indian land. …Like most Colonial wars, this one was a giant slave expedition, marked by the seizure and sale of Indian people. …During the next two centuries, New England Indians also suffered indentured servitude, convict labor, and debt peonage, which often resulted in the enslavement of the debtor’s children.

…With so many men dead or enslaved, Native women married men outside their group—often African-Americans—and then redefined the families of mixed marriages as matrilineal in order to preserve collective claims to land. They adopted the forms of the Christian church, to some degree, in order to gain some breathing space. 

The Invention of Thanksgiving | The New Yorker


Paper Genocide: The Erasure of Native People in Census Counts

Native people, in particular, are the most undercounted ethnic group in the census’ history. Native people were excluded from the first 70 years under the U.S. Constitution, which explicitly regarded “Indians not taxed,” or those living on reservations or unsettled territories, as not countable. In more recent years, the U.S. Census Bureau’s own data has shown significant undercounting. In the 1990 census, 12.2 percent of Native people on reservations were undercounted, according to the Census Bureau’s findings. A decade later, the census seemed to improve, with the bureau not reporting a statistically significant undercount. But then in 2010, it jumped back up to 4.9 percent.

This is particularly devastating for Indigenous people because of how census data has been used to help determine many aspects of tribal sovereignty, such as tribal recognition and enrollment.

…“American Indian and Alaska Natives” are designated by the Census Bureau as a hard-to-count population due to issues including non-traditional addresses, high rates of renters and houselessness, and difficulties accessing more rural lands.

…In theory, blood quantum measures the amount of “Indian blood” a Native person possesses, which is then captured on a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood issued by the BIA. Officials use the following federal government records to measure blood quantum: census rolls between 1885 and 1940, the 1900 special Indian census, the Dawes Rolls, Durant Rolls, and land conveyances involving Native people. During this period, sexual violence became a common form of genocide against Native people, which some elders have attributed to an effort to lower the blood quantum of future generations.

There are only three types of living beings in the United States that have to register their blood quantum with the U.S. government: dogs, horses, and Native people.

…With the passage in 1887 of the General Allotment (Dawes) Act, the United States government institutionalized the distinction between full- and mixed-blood Indians. To receive an allotment, Indians had to become enrolled members of their respective tribes. To enroll in a tribe, an individual needed to prove a certain degree (purity) of Indian blood.”

…My blood quantum is registered with the BIA as one-eighth. This has a direct impact on my ability, and that of future generations, to gain tribal citizenship and be entitled to our treaty rights.

The passage of the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924 created new issues for counting Indigenous people. As Jobe’s paper explains, “The Census Bureau was concerned that Mexican laborers might attempt to pass themselves as Indians in the states that share a border with Mexico. To get an accurate count of the Indian population, the bureau instructed enumerators to take special care to differentiate between the two groups in the states of California, Arizona, and New Mexico.” To this day, Indigenous people from what is now known as Mexico and Central and South America aren’t counted as Indigenous to those lands. They can identify on the census as American Indian or Alaskan Native, but are often counted as Hispanic or Latino.

…Under the 1902 directive, officials assigned women and children the surname of their husbands and fathers even though this was not the way many nations and clans traditionally assigned names.

…Take U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ opinion in the 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar decision holding that if tribes weren’t “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed, then they can’t hold land in trust. This affects tribes that were not federally recognized before 1934, often because the government used the existence of intermarriage and assimilation to deny their status as Indian nations. This history is now being used against them, particularly for tribes mixed with Black people.

Paper Genocide: The Erasure of Native People in Census Counts – Rewire.News


ICE, asylum under Trump: An exclusive look at US immigration detention

President George W. Bush, operating in a post-9/11 environment, expanded the number of detention centers used by ICE to more than 350 nationwide. President Barack Obama consolidated that system, cutting roughly 150 facilities while instituting reforms to improve living conditions. But the overall ICE detention population continued to grow under his watch, reaching 34,000 detainees in his last term.

…Critics say Trump’s rapid expansion has only exacerbated long-standing problems in the detention system, which is long overdue for real oversight and a massive overhaul. 

…The problems documented by ICE inspectors ranged from moldy food and filthy bathrooms to high numbers of sexual assault allegations, attempted suicides and claims of guards using force against detainees. A central theme identified by government inspectors was the failure of guards to grasp the difference between running a prison and an immigration detention center. 

…The investigation revealed more than 400 allegations of sexual assault or abuse, inadequate medical care, regular hunger strikes, frequent use of solitary confinement, more than 800 instances of physical force against detainees, nearly 20,000 grievances filed by detainees and at least 29 fatalities, including seven suicides.

…Just before one detainee died in Florida, he “vomited feces,” according to a death report written by ICE. Two others detainees died elsewhere after being taken off life support without consent from their relatives. Death reports also show detainees died of pneumonia, heart attacks and internal bleeding. In several instances, the cause of death remains “unknown.”

Detainees say they are denied toothbrushes, toilet paper and warm clothing in the winter. Some say they have been forced to drink water that reeks of chlorine.

…He recalled seeing rocks and pebbles sprinkled into the beans he was served from the cafeteria and green spots dotting the lunch meat. 

…The day after his death, 20 other detainees carried out what they say was a peaceful protest. They wrote “Justice for Roylan” on their white T-shirts, sat down in the cafeteria and refused to eat. Guards swooped in and attacked, beating one of them so severely he was taken to a hospital.

…Detainees are forced to work jobs that would otherwise be done by regularly waged employees, according to the lawsuit. Since the detainees listed in the Project South complaint are paid between $1 and $4 a day, that leads to huge savings for private prison operators at the expense of the detainees’ constitutional rights. 

…It is now a $3 billion network of 221 facilities, the largest of which are operated by private companies under government contract. Combined, those facilities detain more than 50,000 women, men and children who wait months or years for immigration court proceedings.

ICE, asylum under Trump: An exclusive look at US immigration detention


McKinsey proposed ICE cut spending on food and medical care for detained migrants to reduce costs.

McKinsey was brought into the deportation game by the Obama administration, according to the report, which used the firm to carry out an “organizational transformation” in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division grappling with processing and deporting a surge in undocumented migrants. “Organizational transformation,” in consultant speak, roughly translates as: This is too expensive; somebody’s about to get screwed. Could be the workers, and it usually is. Could be anyone. Could be migrant families. And in this case, it was.

…“They proposed cuts in spending on food for migrants, as well as on medical care and supervision of detainees.”

…After its ICE contract ran out, McKinsey slid over and is working on a $10 million gig with Customs and Border Protection that will run at least through September 2020.

McKinsey proposed ICE cut spending on food and medical care for detained migrants to reduce costs.