Why It’s a Big Deal That Four Black Candidates Won Their State Attorney General Races

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/11/2018 - 9:10am in


Justice, Politics

Democratic New York Attorney General-elect Letitia James, center, celebrates her victory during an election night party in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

Democratic New York Attorney General-elect Letitia James celebrates her victory during an election night party in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Nov. 6, 2018.

Photo: Andres Kudacki/AP

The past 48 hours have been a complete whirlwind. Not only did our nation just elect 435 members of the House of Representatives — including so many historic firsts — with Democrats seizing back a strong majority, but also dozens of important governorships and Senate seats were up for grabs from coast to coast. Those stories, rightly so, dominated the headlines. Then, on Wednesday, President Donald Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And then we had news of another horrific mass shooting, this time in Southern California.

Yet amid all these stories — and the controversies that surrounded them — many other very good stories of important election victories from Tuesday were overlooked.

It’s shocking to say this in 2018, but this is the first time most of these states have ever had an African-American man or woman serve as their state’s top law enforcement official.

Four that immediately come to mind took place in Nevada, Illinois, Minnesota, and New York, where progressive black candidates each ran for and won their races to be the attorneys general of their respective states. I dug around for hours to confirm that this had never happened before, and I don’t believe the United States has even ever had four African-Americans simultaneously serve in this position at the same time across the country. It’s shocking to say this in 2018, but this is the first time most of these states have ever had an African-American person serve as their state’s top law enforcement official.

Aaron Ford, a former high school teacher turned lawyer with a Ph.D. in education, narrowly edged out his Republican opponent in Nevada. Ford previously served as the minority leader in the Nevada state Senate and then became the majority leader after Democrats took control in 2016.

Kwame Raoul, like most Democrats running for statewide office in Illinois this year, defeated his Republican opponent by double digits. Rauol, born in the United States to Haitian immigrants, is widely known in the state for taking over the state Senate seat that was vacated by Barack Obama back in 2004, when the future president was first elected to the U.S. Senate.

Former Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., won a tough race for attorney general in Minnesota — also marking a sweep for Democrats running for statewide office there. Ellison was once considered a shoo-in for the role, but ended up being nearly overtaken by allegations of domestic violence.

Lastly, Tish James became the first black woman ever to win statewide office in New York with her blowout victory to become attorney general. Formerly serving as New York City’s public advocate, James takes on her new role after the last elected attorney general resigned in disgrace over an assault scandal.

While racial and cultural representation are absolutely important in politics, each of these newly elected leaders have also made strong pledges on criminal justice reform, protection of immigrant families, and much more. Furthermore, while each would likely deny that they are using the position as a political stepping stone to something else, such statewide offices are regularly used as a pool from which to draw candidates for higher office. In other words, these were big wins.

The post Why It’s a Big Deal That Four Black Candidates Won Their State Attorney General Races appeared first on The Intercept.

Even the FBI Thinks Police Have Links to White Supremacists — but Don’t Tell the New York Times

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 06/11/2018 - 8:40am in



 Police stand between protestors during a White Lives Matter rally on October 28, 2017 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said state and local law enforcement officials would be out "in full force" for the two white nationalist rallies. The event billed as a White Lives Matter rally is hosted by Nationalist Front, which is a coalition of several white supremacist organizations. (Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)

Police stand between protestors during a White Lives Matter rally on Oct. 28, 2017, in Shelbyville, Tenn.

Photo: Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images

Over the weekend, the New York Times Magazine published a lengthy and in-depth piece on how U.S. law enforcement has willfully ignored the threat of white supremacist extremism for decades. The author, Janet Reitman, takes an ostensibly deep dive into how law enforcement — particularly federal agencies — has neglected the growth of the violent far right, in part owing to Republican political agenda setting. For a story framed around a “blind spot,” though, the piece itself is hobbled by an egregious case of sightlessness.

The Times tells a story about law enforcement failing and struggling to deal with white supremacy. The elephant in the room, unmentioned by Reitman or any of the sources she chose to cite, is that U.S. law enforcement doesn’t do enough about violent racists because as an institution, U.S. law enforcement is violently racist and contains explicit white supremacists in its ranks.

The problem is that the framing of the New York Times Magazine piece ignores the deep and historic links between policing and racism.

It is not that the Times story doesn’t contain some bits of information that point to this obvious conclusion. Reitman goes as far as to call law enforcement’s indifference to white supremacist extremism “willful”; an entire section of the piece reports on how police regularly permit neo-Nazi violence at rallies, while instead targeting left-wing, anti-racist protesters. She notes how police have been seen posing for photos with the so-called alt-right, and briefly highlights an incident, first reported by Arun Gupta for The Intercept, in which a right-wing militia member aided officers from the Department of Homeland Security in arresting an anti-fascist protester.

Rather, the problem is that the larger framing of the piece ignores the deep and historic links between policing and racism. Throughout the Times Magazine article, a sharp line is drawn between police officers and the white supremacists they interact with — it’s a profound category mistake.

The opening paragraph of Reitman’s piece contains this anecdote about last year’s far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia: “A black man held an aerosol can, igniting the spray, and in retaliation, a white man picked up his gun, pointed it toward the black man and fired it at the ground. The Virginia state troopers, inexplicably, stood by and watched.” The main character of the piece, a Florida police officer, is then said to have “fixated on this image, wondering what kind of organizational failure had led to the debacle.” The fact that Reitman opens with a story that frames a black counterprotester as the instigator of violence is questionable enough. The broader problem with the article is that the Virginia state troopers’ inaction was far from inexplicable, and the organizational failures do not merit a sense of bewilderment.

It has been well-reported that not only is racism endemic to American police culture, but that, in the exact decades Reitman looks at, white supremacist groups infiltrated law enforcement agencies around the country. Somehow, in Reitman’s interrogation of the FBI dealing with far-right extremism, she fails to mention that the agency itself was internally investigating white supremacist infiltration in law enforcement.

“Although these right-wing extremists have posed a growing threat for years,” The Intercept’s Alice Speri reported last year, “federal investigators have been reluctant to publicly address that threat or to point out the movement’s longstanding strategy of infiltrating the law enforcement community.” Speri’s story was based, in part, on a classified FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide from 2015, which noted that “domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers.” (I reached out to Reitman to see if she was aware of The Intercept story, and if so, why she declined to include the information. This story will be updated if I hear back.)

Former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on June 29, 2010. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

Former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on June 29, 2010.

Photo: Jose M. Osorio/TNS/Chicago Tribune/Getty Images

Speri’s report cited numerous examples from the past decade of white supremacist police activity, including the case of a local sheriff’s department in Los Angeles that was found to have formed a neo-Nazi gang in 1991; a Chicago detective and rumored Ku Klux Klan member who was found to have tortured 120 black men while on duty (before eventually being fired and prosecuted); and cops in Cleveland who scrawled neo-Nazi graffiti in their locker rooms.

The Times piece has a passage on a joint 2009 assessment by DHS and the FBI, which warned of the growing white supremacist threat. The assessment caused outrage among adherents of the growing right-wing political movement known as the tea party, as well as conservatives in general; among other complaints, they took umbrage at the report’s claim that veterans were at high risk of right-wing radicalization. Then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano bowed to the pressure, disavowed the document, and apologized to veterans. But as the report’s lead researcher, Daryl Johnson, told Speri last year, “Federal law enforcement agencies in general — the FBI, the Marshals, the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] — are aware that extremists have infiltrated state and local law enforcement agencies and that there are people in law enforcement agencies that may be sympathetic to these groups.”

The least we might expect from the New York Times story would be for it to include federal agencies’ own admissions of white supremacist infiltration in policing.

The least we might expect from the Times story — which, according to the author, took over a year to report — would be for it to include federal agencies’ own admissions of white supremacist infiltration in policing. A true reckoning with law enforcement’s role in American white supremacy would address the dark and unfinished history of policing as a racist institution, from its birth in the slave patrols of the 18th century, to its historic presence in the KKK, to the innumerable instances of racism by the police and the continued threat policing poses to black life.

As if to provide an example of how to do it, the day before the Times Magazine story went live, the Washington Post published an article that detailed the systemic racism and misconduct of the police department in Little Rock, Arkansas, including the hiring of an officer who had attended a KKK meeting and went on to shoot dead a 15-year-old black child in 2012. The story of this officer, the Post’s Radley Balko wrote, “isn’t one of a rogue, aberrant cop so much as a glimpse into the police culture of Arkansas’s largest city.”

Reitman’s Times piece mentions that police have shown a tendency to target Black Lives Matter protesters above neo-Nazis, but declines to mention that Black Lives Matter — the central anti-racist movement of our time — is a movement against racist police brutality. Reitman’s piece reads as if the message of Black Lives Matter — that white supremacy undergirds U.S. policing — has fallen on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, Reitman did manage to include a comment from Nate Snyder, a counterterrorism adviser to the Obama administration, recalling local police officers asking for help fighting neo-Nazi skinheads. “They’d be like, ‘Thanks for that stuff on Al Qaeda, but what I really need to know is how to handle the Hammerskin population in my jurisdiction,’” Snyder said. This no doubt took place, but to include this information and leave out explicit police involvement with neo-Nazis and their racist fellow travelers paints a misleading picture of generally well-intentioned local cops, stymied by Washington’s priorities.

I’m not suggesting that Reitman or the editors involved with the story intended to give police or white supremacists a free pass. Compared to some of the Times’s more sympathetic coverage of Trump-emboldened white supremacists and the administration’s racism, this article made a point of stressing the contemporary threat of the far right and appeared to aim, in good faith, to point a finger at the government. But for an investigation with the alleged purpose of unveiling the “whys” of law enforcement’s treatment of white supremacy, it is more than an oversight to ignore that the call has been coming from inside the house. It is journalistic malpractice.

The post Even the FBI Thinks Police Have Links to White Supremacists — but Don’t Tell the New York Times appeared first on The Intercept.

It’s Already Hard to Vote in Georgia — and Even Harder If You Speak Only Spanish

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 05/11/2018 - 1:10am in


Justice, Politics

On October 17, the third day of early voting in Georgia, Gabriel Velazquez was waiting in line with a friend at the only poll site open in Hall County. The two were speaking Spanish, and after a bit, a man ahead of them turned around and asked for help. Salvador told Velazquez that he had just moved from California, where there was always a bilingual poll worker to assist him, but he now realized that wouldn’t be the case in Hall County. With roughly an hour left to wait, Velazquez grabbed a sample ballot and started translating. A few minutes in, a middle-aged white woman accused him of telling the man how to vote, an odd accusation because, Velazquez assumed, the woman didn’t speak Spanish.

Velazquez told her to mind her business and kept translating, but she continued to interrupt. Finally, the woman appealed to a poll worker, who called over a county marshal. It’s against the law to assist a voter outside of the booth, the officer reminded them, so Velazquez stopped translating. “I didn’t want to do anything to risk this man’s opportunity to vote,” he said. “If I kept talking, I was thinking that maybe they’ll kick us out of line.”

In the booth, Velazquez flew through the translations for individual races, like the gobernador and vicegobernador, but slowed down when he came to the referendums, like the one that asks about a new homestead exemption from ad valorem taxes. Velazquez had signed an oath forbidding him from influencing the man’s vote, so when Salvador periodically asked him for guidance, Velazquez would repeat the question, clause by clause. In total, the two spent an hour in the voting booth.

Velazquez was happy to help but frustrated that he was needed at all: “If Hall County provided Spanish-language ballots, this wouldn’t have happened.”

For the first time in Georgia’s history, there is one jurisdiction offering a bilingual ballot for the general election: Gwinnett County, roughly 30 miles south of where Velazquez was. In 1990, Gwinnett was 90 percent white, but after decades of immigration, it is now one of the most racially diverse counties in the Southeast, and by 2040, it’s projected that there will be more Hispanic residents than white. Yet, the decision to offer a Spanish-language ballot was not Gwinnett’s.

Shirley Barnard, right, a poll worker at the Gwinnett County (Ga.) Voter Registrations and Elections Office in Lawrenceville, Ga.  sits at the entrance for voters on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Photo by Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

Shirley Barnard, right, a poll worker at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections office, sits at the entrance for voters on Oct. 17, 2018.

Photo: Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

After the 2016 American Community Survey, run by the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of Hispanics reported in Gwinnett triggered Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark federal legislation passed at the height of the civil rights movement that protects against racial discrimination in voting. Section 203 ensures that citizens of substantial language minorities can access the polls in their native language, and it currently applies to 263 jurisdictions across 29 states, predominantly for Hispanics in Texas, California, and Florida, but also in places you might not expect, like the 10 counties in Mississippi that include the Choctaw Indian Reservation. In total, almost 69 million voting-age citizens, nearly a third of the national voting-age population, live in a covered jurisdiction.

As Georgia (and the rest of the nation) continues to become more diverse, Section 203 will only become more relevant — an irony considering that, at the same time, many of the other provisions of the Voting Rights Act have effectively been neutered. Since the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, jurisdictions like Georgia, which couldn’t make any changes to its election administration without clearance from the federal government, have now been able to act however they see fit.

A day after Georgia’s early voting started, I sat down with Andrea Young, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. With Georgia’s illustrious history of voter suppression, it was difficult to know where to start, especially considering the stakes of the race: If elected, Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams would become the nation’s first female African-American governor.

Already, counties, most notably Randolph, but also Albert, Morgan, and Fayette, have been closing poll sites, predominantly in minority neighborhoods. And this year, the Republican candidate for governor, Brian Kemp, is also the secretary of state, the official who oversees the state’s elections.

However, what’s getting the most publicity is Georgia’s “exact match” system, which has held up 47,000 voters’ registrations because of a discrepancy between the information they registered with and their entries in other state and federal databases. “This is a problem particularly with Hispanic-Americans because they have a different naming tradition,” said Young, “and whenever you’re dealing with two last names, the computer itself doesn’t accept them properly.”

What most media reports failed to mention about the “exact match” system is that a voter’s registration is on hold until she brings a valid form of ID to the polls and confirms her identity — a requirement that already applies to all voters under Georgia’s ID laws. However, the perception of legislation is often as important as its content. According to Sean Young, the legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, “Any laws that create voter confusion result in disenfranchisement.”

And create confusion they have. Over the course of two days, I spoke with roughly 50 voters outside of three polling sites across Gwinnett, and almost all had heard about one of the problems in Georgia generally or Gwinnett specifically. Of those, the majority mentioned the “exact match” system, but none fully understood what that meant. Some said it permanently removed the thousands of voters from the rolls. Others told me that their ballots would be invalidated.

Reasonably so, voters expect that once they’ve registered to vote, their name will appear in the poll book. When that’s not the case, those who are informed and motivated and affluent enough can usually make themselves whole again by petitioning for a provisional ballot, requesting that a supervisor intervene, or involving a lawyer. In Gwinnett’s case, however, those least equipped to bear those burdens are most likely to have to advocate for themselves. To do so, they must confront a community that is uncertain of how or whether to embrace the diversity that’s come knocking at its doors.

Lynn Ledford, director of voter registration and elections for Gwinnett County (Ga.), stands over absentee ballots that have been mailed in while talking to a reporter at the Gwinnett County Voter Registrations and Elections Office in Lawrenceville, Ga., on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Photo by Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

Lynn Ledford, the Voter Registration and Elections director, stands over absentee ballots that have been mailed to her office on Oct. 17, 2018.

Photo: Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

As the executive director and I chatted in the ACLU’s office, Sean Young knocked on her window and flashed a thumbs-up. He’d just filed a lawsuit against Gwinnett County for rejecting absentee ballots without giving voters adequate opportunity to prove their identity. Coincidentally, the county’s Board of Elections was hosting a public meeting that night, and I asked the attorney what he would ask if he were there. He thought for a moment. “I know this may seem like a small question,” he said, “but how quickly are they giving voters notice when their ballot or application has been rejected?”

Board of Elections meetings typically attract few spectators, but when the meeting adjourned in Gwinnett, sitting and standing throughout the room were three-dozen people, including representatives from the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the NAACP. In contrast, the members of the board, like every other county-level elected official in Gwinnett, are all white.

Like with “exact match,” a rejected absentee ballot isn’t inherently fatal. The status of every absentee is publicly available on the secretary of state’s website, and in theory, the county notifies affected voters, who can then re-cast their ballots or vote in person. However, the board refused to say when it would notify those affected, many of whom are elderly, disabled, or immigrants. Hispanics have been rejected at almost twice the rate of white voters; African-Americans, more than three times the rate; and Asians, nearly six. Though Gwinnett accounts for 12 percent of the state’s absentee ballots, it has been responsible for 40 percent of absentee rejections.

At the meeting’s start, the chair announced that because of the lawsuit, the board couldn’t discuss the absentee ballots, which satisfied no one. “I’m appalled at what Gwinnett County is doing,” said Penny Poole, the president of the local chapter of the NAACP. “I’m appalled that we have to be in this room. I’m appalled that you guys sit up there and smile at us like you’re our friends when you have the right, as a county, to choose how these things are handled.” When she finished, the room applauded.

“Our hands are somewhat tied by what the law says we can and cannot do,” the board chair told Poole. As he continued, Poole interrupted — “That’s not true.” Eight days later, a federal judge agreed with Poole and the ACLU and issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting officials in Georgia from rejecting absentee ballots or applications without giving voters an opportunity to contest. On Friday, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals concurred.

The day after the Board of Elections’ meeting, I got a tour of its headquarters, a repurposed Walmart that, for the first week of early voting, was the only polling site for the county’s 521,492 registered voters. I met with Lynn Ledford, the Voter Registration and Elections director, who started working at the board as a temporary employee in 1987. By 1990, there were 8,470 Hispanics total in Gwinnett. Today, there are over 40,000 registered to vote.

Ledford showed me the county’s Spanish-language material, not just the ballot and registration forms, but every external document the board produces, including a bilingual, peach-centric voting sticker. To make the transition, she said the county received no guidance on Section 203 compliance from either the state government or the Department of Justice. They also had to foot the $1 million bill themselves, though Ledford said that the Board of Commissioners essentially provided a blank check, an unusually plush situation for election administrators (by comparison, New York City’s BOE has been asking for more money for its poll workers since 2010).

However, these additional resources haven’t led to what is arguably the most important provision of Section 203 coverage: bilingual poll workers. At the BOE meeting, Ledford reported that they’d hired 60 to 90 temporary workers, well below her initial goal of 350 and a range that’s so large because many poll workers, hired as one-day temporary employees, fail to show on Election Day.

Ledford freely admits that the Spanish she knows is largely confined to counting to 10, which she learned as a kid watching “Sesame Street.” However, running elections is an exhausting, thankless task that requires a multitude of skills, and being bilingual, even in a county as diverse as Gwinnett, isn’t necessarily a requisite — as long as you can connect with the necessary communities. And in that regard, Ledford has come up short.

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of Galeo, poses for a portrait outside the organization's office in Lawrenceville, Ga., on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Galeo stands for Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.  Photo by Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, on Oct. 17, 2018.

Photo: Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

In 2015, Jerry Gonzalez, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, or GALEO, asked the board to voluntarily provide Spanish ballots and offered to help with the translations. According to Gonzalez, “They said not just no. They said, ‘Hell no, you’re going to have to force us with litigation.’” For those asking the county to proactively include Korean, most likely to be the next language covered by 203, the response has been the same: “Our take here, always, is we follow the law,” said Joe Sorenson, the communications director for Gwinnett County. “We’re not going to do something the law doesn’t require us to do.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. In 2002, Montgomery County, Maryland, fell under 203 and hired Gilberto Zelaya as its compliance officer. A fluent Spanish speaker, he didn’t just connect with the Hispanic community. He also targeted speakers of French, Chinese, Korean, and Amharic (the official language in Ethiopia) and expanded services in American Sign Language and braille. In addition, he created Future Vote, a program that recruits students from sixth to 12th grade to serve as assistant poll workers and translators, which has expanded the board’s language capacity tenfold. He told me that Ledford’s reluctance to act proactively was counterproductive: “The more you prepare for the unique culture and language needs of your electorate,” he said, “the smoother Election Day goes.”

But, Gwinnett is not Montgomery. Since 2009, the county has participated in 287(g), a federal program that deputizes local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. By 2010, more than 3,000 undocumented immigrants arrested by the county had been taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody; more than half were arrested for traffic violations or driving without a license. According to Brenda Lopez, a state representative from a district in Gwinnett, the program became a pretext for racial profiling. “I used to get plenty of clients where the only citation was driving without a driver’s license,” she said. “Well, how did the officer know you were driving without a driver’s license?”

Especially under the current administration’s immigrant policies, Lopez encourages her constituents to exercise their rights: If a stranger asks to come into your home, demand to see a warrant. However, when that person is a census taker, not an ICE officer, the strategy reaps fewer benefits. Referring to Hall County, where Gabriel Velazquez spent an hour translating the ballot, Jerry Gonzalez of GALEO said, “I think the only reason why it wasn’t designated [under Section 203] this time around was the lack of response rates.”

Voters arrive for early voting at the Gwinnett County (Ga.) Voter Registrations and Elections Office in Lawrenceville, Ga., on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Here, voters fill out paperwork prior to entering the building Photo by Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

Voters arrive for early voting at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections office on Oct. 17, 2018.

Photo: Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

When talking about suppressed votes, the easy assumption is that they’re exclusively Democrats. That’s generally the case in parts of Atlanta, but the reality in Gwinnett is more complicated. The county has a significant Cuban population, which tends to lean more conservative, and, especially on social issues, Latinx voters are not uniformly liberal. According to Mike Seigle, the chair of the Gwinnett County Republican Party, the immigrants moving into the area now tend to be more affluent than the waves before them, and Asian voters, especially older ones from Communist nations, generally vote Republican. For his part, Seigle says he’s proud of the diversity in Gwinnett and supports the Spanish-language ballot.

Likewise, it’s easy to believe that a county accused of racial profiling (and currently being sued for allegedly drawing its county-level election districts in order to dilute the influence of minority voters) is uniformly against immigrants. But, the day after Velazquez had to translate the ballot in Hall County, a middle school in Gwinnett was translating its PTA meeting from English to Spanish.

While at the middle school, which was celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, I spoke with Jon Valentine, the director of foreign languages for Gwinnett County Public Schools, the 12th-largest school district in the nation. He said that the Board of Commissioners has been nothing but enthusiastic in its support for multilingualism. Seven elementary schools have dual-language immersion programs, where students learn for half the day in Spanish and half in English, and Valentine’s goal is to make native Spanish speakers bilingual at a professional level. In addition to offering literature courses aimed at those students, he plans on adding a full Spanish-language natural science curriculum to one of the high schools. “Be a bilingual nurse in this state,” he said, “and you can write your own ticket.”

Valentine has made a compelling case for how bilingualism benefits Gwinnett’s bottom line, which is perhaps why the county has embraced Spanish in schools more so than on the ballot. For both, though, the goal is the same: to help immigrants integrate by meeting them halfway. Doing so requires time and resources, which is why the most common argument I heard against Section 203 coverage — if you’re a citizen, you should speak English — is so hard to swallow.

Downtown Norcross, Ga., on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Photo by Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

Downtown Norcross, in Gwinnett County, Ga., on Oct. 17, 2018.

Photo: Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

People don’t learn languages spontaneously, and denying them an education or a ballot in a language they understand is more likely to leave them isolated and distrustful than it is to make them Anglophones. Helen Ho, the founder of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta and a volunteer for the Abrams campaign, which is doing outreach in Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, and Vietnamese, put it best: “You don’t go to the party you aren’t invited to.”

And so far, those party invitations have not been extended freely. In DeKalb County, which borders Gwinnett to the southwest and voted for Hillary Clinton by a 63-point margin in 2016, officials admitted that 4,700 applications to vote by mail have been lost. In Louisville, southeast of Atlanta, about 40 black senior citizens were ordered off a bus that was taking them to vote early. Across the state, newly naturalized voters who provided proof of citizenship when they registered to vote were told that they would have to do so again before a deputy registrar. On Friday, a federal judge called that requirement a “severe burden” and cleared the citizens to vote without the additional verification.

Technically, these incidents didn’t disenfranchise anyone, but they do demand that citizens know their rights, assert them when necessary, and persevere until their vote is counted. However, that last point is also no guarantee. Georgia is one of five states in which every county uses electronic voting machines that leave no paper trail, and already, the state chapter of the NAACP has sued the secretary of state’s office for irregularities. Partly to ensure physical proof of their votes, many black citizens participated in a church-led vote-by-mail campaign this year, but, especially in highly segregated Atlanta, anyone who wanted to disenfranchise voters of color could do so, quite reliably, based on their ZIP codes. And, should a candidate ask for a statewide recount after November 6, that petition would fall before the secretary of state.

In Gwinnett, not everyone is thrilled with the Spanish-language ballot, which Ledford recognizes. She instituted cultural sensitivity training as part of this year’s poll worker curriculum, but it remains to be seen how much an online course can combat deeply ingrained beliefs.

Signs in both English and Spanish hang on the walls as voters participate in early voting at the Gwinnett County (Ga.) Voter Registrations and Elections Office in Lawrenceville, Ga., on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Photo by Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

Signs in both English and Spanish hang on the walls as voters participate in early voting at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections office on Oct. 17, 2018.

Photo: Kevin D. Liles for The Intercept

Around the same time that Velazquez was translating the ballot in Hall County, I was stopping an elderly couple outside of Gwinnett’s Board of Elections headquarters to ask if they had any problems voting. They said no. I asked if they’d noticed the Spanish-language ballot. “Yeah,” the wife said, as her husband shook his head. “They have to. It’s federal law.”

She clearly had more to say, so I motioned for her to continue. “If you’re a citizen of this country, you need to speak the language,” she said, pointing a finger at me. “You think if I went to their country and became a citizen, they’re gonna give me a ballot in English?” I asked if I could have her name in order to quote her, and she said she better not. After all, they both serve as Gwinnett County poll workers.

The post It’s Already Hard to Vote in Georgia — and Even Harder If You Speak Only Spanish appeared first on The Intercept.

Marie Colvin Dedicated Her Extraordinary Life to Describing “What Really Happens in Wars”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 04/11/2018 - 11:00pm in

The extraordinary life of war reporter Marie Colvin would have merited a biography even if she had survived the Syrian army’s bombardment of Homs in February 2012. Long before her fatal trip into the city’s rebel-held Baba Amr quarter, producers had proposed turning her life into an action-packed movie. It was only after her death that two films, a documentary and a drama, appeared. Now, Lindsey Hilsum has written the book “In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin,” and it is one of the best biographies I have read about any journalist. Colvin’s trajectory, personal as much as professional, was fascinating by any standard for the passion and turmoil that shadowed her from birth to untimely death. This is a great story, well told.

The controversy surrounding Colvin’s death partially overshadowed her achievements in life. Her family, friends, and Syrian opposition believe that the Syrian government assassinated her by targeting the Homs Media Center, where she and other correspondents were sending vivid reports of civilian suffering. Yet countervailing narratives persist. One is that the insurgents put journalists in harm’s way to create Western martyrs for their cause. Another is that Colvin and 28-year-old French photographer Rémi Ochlik were unlucky casualties of a military campaign that took thousands of civilian lives.

While no interpretation diminishes Colvin’s work or her bravery, Hilsum opts for the version based on testimony by an informant code-named Ulysses, apparently a Syrian security defector who sought asylum in the United States and claimed to have been present when Gen. Rafiq Shahadah of the military intelligence branch “hosted a celebration [of Colvin’s death] in his office.” His account included one officer calling Colvin “a blind bitch,” a reference to the patch she wore after she lost an eye when Sri Lankan soldiers shot her in 2001; and another receiving a new luxury sedan as a “reward for the successful operation” that killed her.

Whether her death was accidental or deliberate, it has become a point of dispute between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, rather than a mystery requiring a serious investigation of the kind Colvin herself was well-suited to undertake. One aspect of Colvin’s life emerges above all others in the pages of “In Extremis”: She courted death so often that it was ready to take her on one battleground or another.

Hilsum’s tale begins with Colvin’s birth on January 12, 1956, in Queens, New York, and an idyllic childhood by the sea in Oyster Bay, Long Island, “quintessential suburbia.” Her parents, Bill and Rosemarie, were “lace curtain Irish,” 1950s American parents along the lines of “Leave It to Beaver.” Colvin, the oldest of five children, emerged as the most independent and ambitious. Fortunately for the author, as well as the reader, she kept a revelatory diary from 1969, when she was in high school, until she died. Its many entries provide insights into her moods and preoccupations to add to the accounts of the many family members, friends, and colleagues (myself included) whom Hilsum interviewed.


Photo: Courtesy of Farrar Straus & Giroux Publishing

Colvin worried, like many teenagers, about her looks and her weight. She was also interested in the world beyond Oyster Bay and resolved to get out. Her intellectual gifts took her to Yale, and her capacity for love and adventure led her into many well-recorded and often painful love affairs. She emerges as someone it would be difficult not to love, reckless in romance as on her many sailboats. Tempests on the high seas invigorated her, and getting back to shore was a minor concern.

She dabbled in journalism at Yale, took local news assignments in New York, and landed a job with United Press International in Washington and Paris. From Paris, she flew to Libya for her first taste of war when Ronald Reagan bombed Muammar Gaddafi’s residence and civilian quarters of Tripoli. Gaddafi courted her, often calling her in the middle of the night to ramble incoherently but failing to seduce her. She became the sometime girlfriend of my friend David Blundy, who bequeathed her his flat in London and his job as roving correspondent for Britain’s Sunday Times when he moved to Washington. Blundy would be killed in El Salvador in November 1989, a loss felt by countless friends and lovers. Colvin was more fortunate in her female friends than her male lovers. Lovers sometimes became friends, and vice versa.

Both of her husbands, Englishman Patrick Bishop and Bolivian Juan Carlos Gumucio, were fine journalists. The marriages didn’t last, and Hilsum blames no one for their failures. Bishop, a distinguished correspondent for London’s Daily Telegraph, met Colvin while covering the Middle East. He admitted later to making mistakes that wrecked the marriage, and he was jealous when she began her romance with Gumucio. Gumucio, whom I met in Beirut when he worked for the Associated Press, called me from Jerusalem one day to announce he was going to marry Colvin. I blurted, “You can’t. She’s one of the guys.”

I meant it as a compliment. She was a great companion on a story, could drink all night, had a contagious laugh, and set standards that forced some of us to work harder. Shortly afterward, in Jerusalem, I accompanied Colvin and Gumucio on a pub crawl. They were Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, dancing in ill-lit wine shops, singing on the stone lanes of the old city, and making me jealous of whatever they had between them. Like the Fitzgeralds, their romance was doomed. They moved to London, where Gumucio felt it demeaning to be viewed as Colvin’s consort and Colvin became terrified of his drunken, violent temper. Hilsum tells this story straight, not taking sides and showing especial sympathy for Gumucio’s daughter, Anna, by his previous marriage to the formidable Swedish journalist Agneta Ramberg.

Hilsum takes the reader with Colvin on her many dangerous assignments to Chechnya, the West Bank and Gaza under Israeli siege, Iraq, Sri Lanka, East Timor, and the other modern wars where she risked her life, as she said, “because we believe we do make a difference.” What makes the biography and the life on which it is based so impressive is the truly heroic proportions of Colvin’s dedication to getting the story of human beings trapped in war. She saved lives by arousing public outrage at the fate of Palestinian refugees under siege by Amal militiamen in Beirut, of Kosovars attacked by Serbs, and of Timorese terrorized by the Indonesian army. Awards and plaudits came in abundance, even as she suffered from too much alcohol and a heart too often broken. Hilsum weaves the accomplishments into the personal story: “Her real struggle was with herself — her fear of being alone, and a sense that her public persona as a brave war correspondent was out of kilter with the insecurity she felt inside.”

Marie Colvin was the Dorothy Parker of war correspondence, a woman who towered over male colleagues, yet neglected to produce the book everyone expected of her. Like Parker, her life taught her:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
a medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
and I am Marie of Romania.

The post Marie Colvin Dedicated Her Extraordinary Life to Describing “What Really Happens in Wars” appeared first on The Intercept.

No, Hodge, It Is Violence Against the Left that Is Increasing!

Yesterday, the Beeb covered the story that the Met police are now investigating accusations of anti-Semitism against members of the Labour party. The investigation is based on a dossier of such incidents, which was leaked to LBC Radio, who have now passed it on to police commissioner Cressida Dick. Mike wrote a piece about it yesterday welcoming the move, as it means that these accusations will have to be investigated according to proper police procedure and law. This means that while such incidents will be registered as a hate crime, they will still have to be investigated and held to the same standard of proof as any other criminal investigation. An action cannot be considered anti-Semitic solely because a Jewish person says it is.

And Mike also draws attention to the way he was smeared by someone leaking information to the press from within the Labour party. And that he has spent the last nine months trying to defend his good name. He is now due to appear before a hearing, and is also appealing to people to contribute to his crowdfunding campaign, so that he can afford to sue those responsible for libel.


The Beeb, which has shown itself to be committed to repeating the anti-Semitism smears against the Labour party sent in walrus-moustached John Pienaar to report on the story. Pienaar’s also shown himself all-too willing to repeat the smears uncritically. This time he interviewed Margaret Hodge, who had slithered out from whatever hole she’d been hiding in after she got a drubbing the last time she smeared Corbyn.

Hodge told Pienaar that there was a problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour party, and Jews like her now lived in fear of their lives. This was the woman, who managed to outrage Jews, people of Jewish descent, and gentiles, who had experienced persecution by the Nazis, or had relatives who had. Hodge, remember, had called Corbyn a ‘F***ing anti-Semite’ in parliament, a disciplinary offence. When she was threatened with it, which was later dropped, Hodge showed herself to be a massive self-pitying narcissist by declaring that she felt like the Jews in Nazi Germany did waiting for a knock on the door from the Gestapo.

Utter, utter, offensive, mendacious rubbish.

As the people on Twitter reminded everyone, including Tom London and the blogger Tom Pride, her experience was NOTHING like the terror the Jewish and other victims of Nazi persecution felt and experienced.

Way back in September, Martin Odoni wrote in his blog, the Critique Archives, a piece about how in fact violence against the Left was growing. Martin’s a friend of Mike’s blog, and a critic of Israel’s vile maltreatment of the Palestinians. He, like very many other critics of Israel, is Jewish. Which makes him a special target of the Israel lobby, who have an especial hatred of anti-Zionist or Israel-critical Jews.

Martin reported how a screening of the film about Jackie Walker’s suspension from the Labour party for anti-Semitism, and her attempts to clear her name at a fringe event at the Labour conference in Liverpool had to be called off due to a bomb scare. Later that week, he was in The Caledonian pub in the same city, discussing Israel and Palestine with other Labour party members and supporters, when this meeting too was subjected to another bomb scare. They reasoned that it was another false one, however, and carried on with their evening.

He then moves on to a far more serious case in which a young woman, Jade Unal, and her mother were abused and attacked in a pub in Wakefield, west Yorkshire. Unal is an activist and local campaign manager for Young Labour. She and her mother were drinking quietly when a group of people came up and assaulted them. Jade was called “a posh c*nt in politics, that’s stuck up your own a*se” and a paedophile. Her head was then smashed against the bar, raising a lump and leaving a gash that required hospital treatment. The gang also followed her and her mother home, and threatened to torch their house. Martin shows the photographs of the wounds, with a warning about how grim they are.

Martin goes on to make the point that she was attacked because she was a Labour Leftist, but has received precious little help from the authorities. The police took her complaint, but have done anything further to help her or find her assailants. Jade also tried to get the help of social services, as her attackers had children with them. But she didn’t get any help there, either. And the Labour party itself has done nothing to help her, beyond the support she is receiving from her circle of friends.

Martin compares this with the massive attention given to the Blairites, who have claimed that they have suffered threats of attack. He writes

In short, while I do not wish to sound over-dramatic, the British Left is currently facing growing aggression and threatening behaviour from other parts of the political spectrum. That aggression is largely being overlooked or misrepresented. When Labour centrists complain about ‘bullying’ and ‘victimisation’, as I have pointed out before, they seem highly selective over which victims they care about. Hence, an almighty ker-fuffle is made over the very obviously faked and theatrical ‘bodyguard’ requirements of Luciana Berger this week. But there is a muted reaction, or no reaction at all, when a young woman in the party is actually beaten up for her political persuasion, and when party meetings are threatened with bomb attacks.

I am not in any doubt that there are some violent, over-aggressive leftists out there. But the Left is not the aggressor here. It is the target. And it is time that it was made clear to the public at large just how dangerous the aggression is getting.

And in addendum to his piece, Martin also talks about the criticism he has received for using an image of far-right violence in Germany as a link to the article on Twitter and Facebook. His detractors believe it is inappropriate. Martin explains it is all too appropriate, because far right violence is growing. He himself was threatened with murder on social media by one of Tommy Robinson’s supporters. Tommy Robinson is the monicker of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the infamous Islamophobe and founder of the EDL, who was banged up for contempt of court.

Martin concludes

Okay, maybe I should have been more explicit, but my point was, if people are bothered about political violence, why are so many of them looking for it on the left, when all of this is happening on the right?

Sounds perfectly consistent with what is in this article? I would say so.

Absolutely. But the lamestream media does not want to talk at all about the real and rising violence against the left, preferring to indulge the fantasies and posturing of people like Hodge. It’s just another example of the completely corrupt nature of the Beeb and the rest of the media, who are determined to slander Corbyn supporters as anti-Semites. And in their way, they are responsible for promoting and inciting this violence against the left.

Standing Rock Pitches Last-Ditch Fight for the Right to Vote in North Dakota

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 04/11/2018 - 2:36am in


Justice, Politics

To find Honorata Defender’s home on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, mention her name to whoever you can find walking down the main street of her tiny town. They’ll tell you to turn when you get to the powwow grounds and to take the paved road, rather than the gravel one. Drive until you see a hill, and look for her car. Her house has no number on it, and mail is not delivered there; it goes to a P.O. box instead.

As Defender put it, “We’ve never believed that a person can own land; it’s the land that owns us.” She added, “The concept of an address wasn’t a big deal.”

Defender was working at her job as a reporter for the Corson/Sioux County News-Messenger — the local paper that covers Standing Rock, including one of the key North Dakota counties that voted Democrat in 2012’s Senate election — when she learned that the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld North Dakota’s voter ID law. The law will require each voter to present identification that displays a residential address, a major barrier for tribal members, since thousands of Native voters don’t use a home address. Defender’s home is on the South Dakota side of Standing Rock, but it is typical of the communities throughout the reservation.

The law is widely understood as the result of Republican state Congress members’ cynical mathematics. Six years ago, North Dakota Native Americans helped swing Democrat Heidi Heitkamp narrowly into the U.S. Senate by less than 3,000 votes. The next year, state Republicans introduced the new law. Tribes fought it in court up until October 9, when the Supreme Court declined to support their appeal.

“To have this happen is a slap in the face,” Defender said. “The U.S. government has been breaking their promises to us for over a century now.” The timing of the court’s decision left the state’s five federally recognized tribes with only a few short weeks to make sure that members who do not have home addresses — or do not know them — are able to participate in a highly contested election that will help decide which party controls Congress.


Horonata Defender at the voter drive headquarters.

Still: Jihan Hafiz

Tribal leaders contend that the state government has provided no meaningful support in ensuring that eligible Native voters will be able to overcome the new hurdle. On Thursday, North Dakota District Court Chief Judge Daniel Hovland denied a last-minute request for an emergency halt to enforcement of the new law in advance of the midterm elections. The suit, brought by the Spirit Lake tribe and six Native voters across the state, described the law’s implementation as “unplanned, untested, and broken.” Hovland contended that halting the law’s implementation so close to the election would sow even more confusion and chaos.

In response, a tenacious voter drive has emerged on Standing Rock, led by some of the key figures in the tribe’s 2016 fight against Energy Transfer’s Dakota Access pipeline, which drew thousands of pipeline opponents to resistance camps on the edge of the reservation. Ultimately, the pipeline was completed, and oil now flows under the Missouri River, long the primary drinking water source for the reservation.

The drive’s organizers see their efforts to counteract the new law as yet another demonstration of what Indigenous people are capable of when their right to exist is challenged. But it is not a campaign for Heitkamp, who remains a controversial figure on Standing Rock. “She did not support us on DAPL; she blindsided us,” explained Phyllis Young, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and get-out-the-vote organizer.

During the pipeline fight, Heitkamp issued statements in support of law enforcement, calling some of the protesters “violent and unlawful” less than two weeks after police hosed them down with icy water in below-freezing weather. Before that, she was a key supporter of ending the crude oil export ban, which helped fuel demand for a pipeline, and she has declined to stand up to the oil, gas, and coal industries in the face of the climate crisis. Notably, she was one of only two Democratic senators to vote in favor of confirming Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

But the stakes of having Native voices represented in the U.S. government are high. And in many ways, Heitkamp has been a rare advocate in Congress for Native Americans, spearheading efforts to address human trafficking and violence against women, and pushing for the creation of a commission to address issues facing Indigenous children.

“We abandoned her” after DAPL, said Young. “She is redeeming herself.”

The issue that has obsessed Defender as a reporter is the looming expiration in December of the Violence Against Women Act, which, among other things, offers a means for tribes to prosecute cases of domestic violence committed by non-Native people on the reservation, and includes funding to address an epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women. To Defender, VAWA’s future is inherently linked to the voter ID issue and an example of why it’s so important for tribal members to vote this election. It’s an issue Heitkamp has championed.

Defender was one of the earliest participants in the Dakota Access pipeline resistance, but she understands Heitkamp’s pipeline silence as a compromise to be expected from a Democrat in such an oil-soaked, Republican state. For Defender, the potential consequences for Native women of losing an advocate in the Senate are too great to place the weight of her political position on DAPL. But the even greater threat is that the new law will affirm a perception that Native people can remain invisible.

“My biggest fear is that this won’t work,” she said of the voter drive. “And that’ll push us back to feeling like we don’t matter, our voice doesn’t matter. We’re going back to when we weren’t citizens of this place even though we were here first.”

“My greatest hope is that we have the biggest Native American voting drive that we’ve ever had,” she said. “I’m hoping that, whoever wins, that Native Americans will be able to vote.”


Volunteers moving furniture at the voter drive headquarters.

Still: Jihan Hafiz

A Fail-Safe System

On a crisp October day, a week and a half after the Supreme Court decision, Young directed activities as a small house typically rented out by the tribe for birthday parties was transformed into a voter drive headquarters. Furniture that had been used by the Water Protectors Legal Collective, which provided representation to those arrested during the pipeline fight, was being pulled out of storage and repurposed. A staffer from the Lakota People’s Law Project, which also provided DAPL-related legal support, volunteered to field phone calls from the media. Posting the house’s address outside was on the agenda. It wasn’t that no address had ever been assigned to the building; the numbers had simply blown off on one of the prairie region’s windy days.

Long before she became involved in attempting to stop construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, Young co-founded the Women of All Red Nations arm of the American Indian Movement, or AIM, where she fought for the fulfillment of treaty rights and an end to forced sterilization of Indigenous women. When she ran communications during AIM’s occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973, residents of the community were still not allowed to vote in county elections. In a community where people have always had to fight for survival under harmful U.S. government policies, one movement can quickly bleed into another, and nothing kicks people into gear like a U.S. government-induced crisis.

“It’s innate in us to defend our people,” said Jenn Ghost Bear, Young’s niece.

Young’s granddaughter, 27-year-old Danielle Ta’Sheena Finn, the tribe’s external affairs director, said the get-out-the-vote effort was accelerated by the challenge to Native people’s right to participate. “Before, we were more hesitant on this election because the two Senate candidates, we have had issues with in the past,” she said. As Standing Rock’s first Miss Indian World in 2016, Finn used her platform to speak out against DAPL.

But although Heitkamp’s silence on the pipeline is a black mark on her record, her opponent’s reputation is worse. Republican Kevin Cramer, currently a U.S. representative, is notorious for a 2013 tirade against the tribal provisions of the Violence Against Women Act during a meeting with a Native advocate for survivors of domestic abuse. According to the account of attendee Melissa Merrick, Cramer claimed that tribal governments were dysfunctional and that a non-Native man would not be able to get a fair trial on a reservation, adding that he wanted to “wring the tribal council’s neck and slam them against the wall,” in reference to a scandal related to the Spirit Lake tribe’s child welfare program. Since then, he’s become a co-sponsor of a House bill that would strengthen some provisions of VAWA, but he has failed to earn many Native people’s trust.

“Due to this law being placed on us, people now realized that if we don’t stand up, we will be oppressed further,” said Finn.

Many of the eligible voters the drive is targeting face challenges beyond just having the right address. According to the Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey, 38 percent of Sioux County’s population lives below the poverty line. Many people lack vehicles or cellphones.

Young and her team have been spreading word that the tribe has waived the fee for issuing tribal IDs, offering them for free. But to pick up the ID, residents have to go all the way to Fort Yates, nearly 100 miles away from Standing Rock’s western border. As a result, one of the voter drive’s key tasks has been to make it as easy as possible for people to get to the polls. Young has been busy tracking down drivers willing to take voters to Fort Yates to pick up the ID and, while they’re in town, submit an absentee ballot.

Also taking direction from Young were OJ and Barb Semans, founders of the Native voter rights group Four Directions. The organization is working with students at Claremont Graduate University to help the tribe set up a “fail-safe” system so that even voters who show up to polls without the right ID will be able to vote.

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger has encouraged eligible voters who lack a residential address to request one through the 911 system. Years ago, in an attempt to manage the challenges of providing emergency services to homes that lack addresses, the 911 system mapped residences on the state’s reservations. Yet Spirit Lake’s lawsuit underlines that the system is unreliable, “characterized by disarray, errors, confusion, and missing or conflicting addresses.” According to the suit, at least one individual submitted an absentee ballot using their 911-assigned address only to have it rejected. In some cases, coordinators, who are often law enforcement officers, have simply been unavailable to respond to requests. The state has argued in the past that an ID is necessary because other methods of proving voter eligibility are “self-authenticating.” Yet, to obtain a 911 address, callers simply describe where they live without providing any verification.

The case of 69-year-old plaintiff and Standing Rock member Terry Yellow Fat is an example of the chaotic situation facing reservation residents. According to the suit, a few years ago a sign reading “Buffalo Avenue” mysteriously showed up near his home. He figured Buffalo was his street. Still, he decided to request an address from the 911 coordinator, who happens to also be the county sheriff. To his surprise, the sheriff gave him an address on 92nd Street. Yet when he attempted to have UPS deliver a package there, the parcel never arrived. A delivery driver let him know that the address actually belongs to a nearby liquor store. The error has been perceived by some as a racist jab by the county’s lead law enforcement officer. Meanwhile, Yellow Fat’s ID lists his P.O. box, and his assigned 911 address is incorrect. How he’ll vote remains unclear.

Four Directions’ system would allow voters to identify where they live on a map and then be assigned an address on the spot. Jaeger has declined to endorse it.


OJ and Barb Semans at the voter drive headquarters.

Still: Jihan Hafiz

Unwelcome at the Polls

For the Semans, none of what’s happening in North Dakota is new. “Any time we’ve won an election, when there’s an election and their candidate loses, the first one they say committed fraud are Indians,” said OJ Semans.

Democrats haven’t consistently stood up for Native voters either. “They all looked down on us until they found out they could use our vote,” said Barb Semans.

American Indians were only made full citizens of the U.S. in 1924, but states have continued to find creative ways to deny Native people access to the ballot ever since. Until 1975 in South Dakota, for example, residents of counties considered unorganized under state law could not vote in county elections. Of course, the only counties that fit that description were Todd, Oglala (at the time known as Shannon), and Washabaugh, which are located within the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations.

That legacy is another barrier to getting Native voters to the polls. Defender said family members have told her stories of being turned away. “It put this feeling, this thought, into their heads that they shouldn’t even try to vote,” she said. “And that carried on into the next generation because they sit there and tell their kids, why bother?”

Four Directions started after another election in which Native voters tipped the scale. At the close of voting day in 2002, polls indicated that the Democratic Senate incumbent Tim Johnson had lost to his Republican opponent Jim Thune. But by morning, the scales had tipped by a meager 528 votes.

Barb Semans and her effort to get out the Native vote on the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota was credited for the narrow win. At first, when Semans started working on the campaign, she said, “They insisted we do it the white way.” The campaign flew in door-knockers from out of town to ask for Native people’s vote. “They didn’t get one registered voter.”

Barb Semans told them that if a strange white guy knocks at your door on the reservation, “it’s either a church person trying to convert you or an FBI agent. I knew it wouldn’t work,” she said. “We had the white guys drive the van and the Indians knocked.”

“We were able to really get people excited,” said OJ Semans. “Why not elect someone that understood our treaties and got along with us? When you start talking about actually doing this to protect your treaties, people understood that and were willing to participate.”

The voter drive was effective, yet unexpected barriers continued to arise. The Semans said that on voting day, the auditor opened Rosebud’s poll in Central time, even though the reservation operated in Mountain time. The campaign demanded an extra hour and got it. Based on polls campaign workers took on the reservation, the couple estimates that the final hour may have tipped the scales. Altogether, hundreds of voters participated who had previously sat out the elections.

Since then, Four Directions has sued officials in South Dakota, Montana, and Nevada to open new and accessible offices where tribal members can obtain and submit absentee ballots without traveling exceedingly long distances. OJ Semans said they’ve developed a reputation. “If we say you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do, and you disagree with us, we will sue you; we will take you to court until we win.”

A key factor has been relying on the communities where they’re working. “We don’t operate outside what the council wants us to do, and we don’t come here with a bunch of people to take over,” he said. “We look at the people here, and we utilize them as the leaders.”

The urgency to make sure that Native voices are included in the North Dakota election has been heightened by recent actions by the Trump administration and others. The administration recently announced that it would take the lands of the Mashpee Wampanoag in Massachusetts out of trust — something that has not been done since the termination era when the federal government systematically ended its relationships with numerous tribes in an attempt at forced assimilation. Meanwhile, the Indian Child Welfare Act, which protects Native children from being easily removed from their families, was recently declared unconstitutional by a Bush-appointed judge in Texas. And Native people have not forgotten that Trump advisers advocated privatizing reservation land.

Representation of Native interests has long been thin in Congress. There are currently only two Native members of Congress, both Republican representatives from Oklahoma. And, according to a Senate website, there have been only three Native senators, none of whom are in office.

But Native people are increasingly throwing around their electoral weight. In fact, 2018 is already a historic year for Native candidates, especially women. In New Mexico, Democrat Deb Haaland is expected to become the first Native woman ever to serve in Congress as a U.S. representative, and in Idaho, Democrat Paulette Jordan is vying to be the nation’s first Native American governor. South Dakota, too, has an array of Native candidates running for state offices.

But none of that suggests that the Semans’s work will get easier. As OJ Semans put it, “The more we fight, the more laws they come up with.” And in South Dakota, a court order requiring the state to maintain accessible offices for absentee voting on the Pine Ridge reservation expires this year. “We’ll probably have to start all over again.”


Floris White Bull, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe speaks with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp at a rally.

Still: Jihan Hafiz

Confronting Heitkamp

At the Prairie Knights Casino on the northeastern edge of the reservation, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp stood before a banquet hall filled with tribal members, asking for their vote on November 6. The quiet in the room deepened as Heitkamp named two young mothers who disappeared and were later found dead in the past two years, Savanna Greywind, a member of the Spirit Lake tribe, and Olivia Lone Bear, of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation. She described her work on the Violence Against Women Act and her efforts to pass Savanna’s Law, written to improve efforts in the criminal justice system to deal with the epidemic of disappearances of Indigenous women. Audience members applauded when she noted her vote against Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment as a Supreme Court justice.

But there was one issue — the Dakota Access Pipeline — that she referenced only cryptically. “I’m humbled by the turnout because I know there’s been disappointment,” said Heitkamp. “Indian people are forgiving people.”

As the Heitkamp event ended, the senator shook hands with various constituents as she exited. Fifty-nine-year-old Charlotte Ramsey broke down as she asked the senator to do something about the meth epidemic. And Floris White Bull’s voice cracked as she described being locked in a dog kennel for protesting the pipeline. “I want to be able to support you, and I know that a lot of people of my community want to support you, but I feel let down,” she said. “You talk about giving us a voice, and you talk about our children, but respect our water was ignored.”

“What amends can be made?” she asked.

“We can’t go back to where we were, but we can move forward. That’s why I said I was grateful and humbled,” Heitkamp replied. “Unfortunately you don’t have the choice between someone who’s perfect or someone who isn’t. From your perspective, I’m not perfect, so you’ll have to decide whether I’m someone that you can support.”

White Bull listened intently, lips pursed, as Heitkamp continued, “I intend to do everything I can to improve housing, to improve education, to improve access to justice for women. I think the question is, How do you move forward?”

Asked by The Intercept what she would do in the future when called to stand up to the oil and gas industry, Heitkamp refused to respond. When The Intercept asked her to describe her plans to address the climate crisis, an aide rapidly ushered her out of the building.

Ladonna Allard, on whose land the first DAPL resistance camp was built, observed the exchange. She was unsurprised, she said. “I was really undecided about even coming, but when Heidi voted against Kavanaugh, I said OK.” She added, “Even though she did not support us when we needed her the most, right now she is the only choice at this moment. We must vote. We must show our power.”

The post Standing Rock Pitches Last-Ditch Fight for the Right to Vote in North Dakota appeared first on The Intercept.

Florida’s Amendment 4 Would Restore Voting Rights to 1.4 Million People

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 04/11/2018 - 12:00am in


Justice, Politics

Stefanie Anglin is a grandmother, business owner, and convicted felon, though when she’s out on the streets of Orlando, Florida, knocking on prospective voters’ doors, she introduces herself by the latter.

Then, she usually tells people that she can’t vote — along with 1.68 million other Florida residents who have felony convictions, 10 percent of the state’s adult population, and 1 in 5 African-Americans. Across the country, over 6 million people can’t vote because of felony convictions. Only two states, Maine and Vermont, allow prisoners to vote; most restore voting rights at some point between release and the end of probation; only Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky disenfranchise for life all felons who have completed their sentences.

Felon disenfranchisement has a long history in the United States. Because the right to vote is not enshrined in the Constitution — and in fact, the 14th Amendment allows for it to be “abridged” in certain cases — felon disenfranchisement has remained one of the most effective ways to keep people, particularly African-Americans, from voting, and it was widespread across the country between Reconstruction and the civil rights era. Where it remains in place today, felon disenfranchisement joins a number of other measures — such as voter ID laws and voter purging — that effectively keep hundreds of thousands of people from exercising their right to vote.

But in Florida, a major swing state where the 2000 presidential election was infamously decided by 537 votes, that could soon change, as voters heading to the polls on Tuesday decide whether to pass Amendment 4 to the state’s constitution, restoring voting rights to 1.4 million of the state’s 1.68 million felons — all those who have completed their sentences, with the exception of people convicted of murder or sex offenses. In the 1970s, Florida legislators tried and failed to restore voting rights to convicted felons. They tried and failed again after the 2000 Bush-Gore recount, and after it emerged that more than 12,000 people had been purged from the voter rolls that year, many because they were wrongly identified as felons. Next week, at last, that decision will be directly in the hands of Florida voters themselves. If the amendment passes, it will enfranchise the largest number of people at once since American women won the right to vote in 1920.

Not Real Citizens

Twenty-six years ago, Anglin, now 49, got into a fight with another woman and was charged with assault and battery with a deadly weapon. She paid the consequences of that fight long past her three-year sentence: For years, she struggled to get jobs and housing, and she was prevented from accompanying her four children on school field trips. Today, her three sons all have felony convictions as well.

Anglin wasn’t particularly political before her sentence, but she always voted because her parents raised her to believe that voting was important. Then, two years after her sentence ended, a mail-in ballot was returned to her and she learned she could no longer vote. “You finish your jail sentence, your prison sentence, your probation, you paid all your fines. But at the end of the day there’s something to hold you back,” Anglin told The Intercept during a recent interview. “It was 26 years ago. I’ve done my time. I’ve done everything that was required of me, and I’m still not supposed to be able to vote? I pay taxes, I do everything else.”

For years, Anglin tried to make up for her inability to vote by getting everyone in her family to do so — at least, those who were still eligible. “I’m like, y’all go. Y’all need to go and vote,” she said. Today, with Amendment 4 finally on the ballot after years of campaigning and raising signatures, Anglin is taking that message further, knocking on strangers’ doors in between jobs with her cleaning business. With the exception of the many people she meets who are themselves felons or have felons in their families, most of those she speaks to don’t even realize felons can’t vote in Florida. Almost nobody objects to restoring their voting rights. If they do, “I just ask them, ‘You realize you’re talking to a convicted felon?’” Anglin said. “My sentence was 26 years ago. How long do I have to suffer for that? And then they’re just like, ‘No, no, okay, not you.’”

 Eve Edelheit for The Intercept

Stefanie Anglin talks to a man who identified himself as Frank while canvassing about Amendment 4 in Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 29, 2018.

Photo: Eve Edelheit for The Intercept

This week, with days to go before the vote, Anglin canvassed the Parramore neighborhood in central Orlando, a nearly all-black neighborhood, and the city’s poorest. Anglin volunteers with a number of groups supporting Amendment 4, including the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which was instrumental in getting the proposal on the ballot. But this week, she was representing Color of Change PAC, the political action wing of the national racial justice group Color of Change. The group, which focuses on building black political power and electing candidates who are accountable to black communities, got behind a number of races, including some already successful efforts, from Philadelphia to Ferguson, to elect progressive prosecutors. In Florida, in addition to supporting Amendment 4, the group is endorsing the campaigns of Andrew Gillum, who could become the state’s first black governor, and Bill Nelson, who is challenging exiting Gov. Rick Scott for a Senate seat.

Anglin mostly likes to talk about the voting rights of “returning citizens” like herself. On a hot morning, even by Orlando standards, she knocked on door after door, keeping away only from dogs and “no trespassing” signs and taking notes on an app used for election canvassing, through a neighborhood where she says incarceration is all too familiar. Of half a dozen people she spoke to in the neighborhood, half said they couldn’t vote because of a felony.

On a battered porch where a handful of middle-aged men and a woman were hanging out, Anglin’s arrival prompted discussions about whether voting served any purpose. “In Jamaica, they pay you to vote,” a man laughed before saying he can’t vote and declining to explain why. “He doesn’t want to stand in line,” a friend joked. “You can do an absentee ballot,” Anglin quickly chipped in. “Can you vote, Mike?” the man then shouted at another friend.

 Eve Edelheit for The Intercept

Stefanie Anglin looks for her next address while canvassing in Orlando, Fla.

Photo: Eve Edelheit for The Intercept

“I’ve been to prison three times, I can’t even get a passport,” the friend, Michael Bennett, replied. Bennett, 48, later told The Intercept that the last time he voted was for Bill Clinton, in 1992. He was serving in the military at the time. As he got older, he said, he became more interested in politics and the news, but as he got in trouble with the law, he couldn’t do much to exercise his newfound awareness. “We’re not real citizens like everyone else,” he said.

A few blocks down the road, another man, who identified himself only as Frank and declined to discuss his criminal history beyond saying he had a felony, pointed out the lack of election signs in Parramore that were ubiquitous elsewhere in the city. He met Anglin’s efforts to get out the vote with passionate skepticism. “This is Orange County; most African-American males like me can’t vote,” he said. “We got people with a DUI in ’97 who still can’t vote.”

“None of these politicians will ever get elected if they allow black people to vote. None of these people come around here; there is no vote here,” he added. “Me voting is just a dream, it’s just like me praying to hit the Powerball. It’s a big difference for this skin color. We don’t have dreams anymore.”

Anglin was undeterred. “We believe we can fix it,” she insisted. “We have got to be hopeful.”

“I’m going to come back and see you,” she told Frank resolutely. “Once it passes, I’ll come back to you and tell you, ‘Can I register you to vote?’ and I want you to come out with that same enthusiasm!” Frank pledged that he would vote if the amendment passed. “Watch this pass, we’ll see politicians here, walking up and down, kissing babies.”

For most of the morning, Anglin ended up in conversations about the broken justice system with others who, like herself, could not vote, but a couple of people told her they had already cast their ballots early — prompting high fives and hugs.

Willie McDonald said he voted for Amendment 4 because he had relatives with felonies. “But they did their time, they did what they had to do,” he added. If the amendment passed, he promised, he would register them himself. “I’ll get them to vote.”

 Eve Edelheit for The Intercept

Stefanie Anglin hugs Willie McDonald after he told her that he already voted in Orlando, Fla.

Photo: Eve Edelheit for The Intercept

Forced to Live in the Shadows

Of course re-enfranchising 1.4 million people doesn’t mean that they will automatically turn into voters — but those getting behind the effort hope that many will, and that the move could drastically transform both Florida’s politics and the country’s. “If we get 50 percent, that’s 50 percent that we didn’t have,” said Anglin.

Before Amendment 4 got on the ballot, after supporters collected the required 766,200 signatures and the state Supreme Court approved the measure, the only way for convicted felons to regain their voting rights was to individually petition Florida’s governor for clemency. But the process remained arbitrary and political. Former Gov. Charlie Crist, who was then a Republican, re-enfranchised about 155,000 people during his tenure, in part by allowing those convicted of certain crimes to automatically become eligible for clemency without having to personally appeal. But Scott rolled back those measures, and only about 3,200 people saw their voting rights restored under his administration.

Those hoping to have their rights restored would have to wait years to gain a personal appearance before the governor and three cabinet members, and could then be subjected to lectures and arbitrary decisions.

Gillum, who is running for governor on a progressive platform, has endorsed Amendment 4, while his opponent, Ron DeSantis, after skirting questions about the amendment for months, has indicated he opposes it. Neither campaign responded to The Intercept’s questions about how they would approach the clemency process should Amendment 4 fail, and whether they would consider extending voting rights to former felons currently excluded from Amendment 4 if it does.

But for the man who, years ago, started the campaign that ended up on the ballot as Amendment 4, the issue was less one of politics than of humanity. Desmond Meade, the president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, stresses that the group is nonpartisan and that the issue affects people across political and racial lines. He resists connecting felon disenfranchisement to other sustained efforts to exclude millions of voters across the country — mostly people of color and the poor.

 Eve Edelheit for The Intercept

Desmond Meade, photographed in Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 29, 2018.

Photo: Eve Edelheit for The Intercept

“What drives this campaign is not about voting, and it’s not about voter suppression,” Meade told The Intercept during a short break from the campaign’s hectic final stretch. “There are so many people who have made mistakes in their lives, but those mistakes and going through those mistakes have made us much better people.”

“We’ve been giving back forever and a day, but in the past we’ve been forced to live in the shadows because of this scarlet letter,” he added. “This movement has really helped to humanize, to pull back the curtain and demystify who a felon is. It’s no longer the scary black guy anymore.”

While a disproportionately high number of Floridians with felonies are black, the majority are not, and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is careful not to frame the issue in terms of race, or as others have suggested, in terms of the potential to turn Florida solidly Democratic. To pass, Amendment 4 must receive 60 percent of the vote, and so far, polls have indicated that support for the measure is widespread across the political spectrum. The measure has earned broad support, including from the American Civil Liberties Union, faith groups, and the Koch Brothers. There is no organized effort to oppose it.

The ACLU has spent $5 million in support of the initiative, and a political action committee supporting the measure and chaired by Meade has raised at least $14.5 million. Meade and Neil Volz, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition’s political director, say that growing support for the amendment is a sign of felon disenfranchisement’s wide impact across Florida.

“It’s rural Florida, urban Florida, suburban Florida, the whole deal,” said Volz, who is white and a former Republican operative. “There is a universal value of ‘when a debt is paid, it’s paid’ that people support. I think it’s something really cool in this divisive moment that there’s something that unifies people.”

“I’m a 25-plus year conservative,” Volz added. “Desmond created a space where my story fit into the bigger story.”

“When I share my story, I don’t share my story and then ask, ‘Are you are Republican or are you a Democrat?’ I just share my story,” added Susanne Manning, who joined the coalition after serving 19 years of a 30-year sentence for embezzlement. Then, pointing at herself, Volz, and Meade, an unusual trio, she added, “This right here demonstrates that it can affect anybody.”

Manning, 57, lost her only son while she was incarcerated. “When I first came home, and until this day, I’m very embarrassed of my story, but I see the power of sharing it because it moves people,” she said. “I met a woman the other day and shared my story with her; she had never heard of Amendment 4, and she just hugged me and kissed me and told me, ‘You’re going to vote again.’”

Limited Compassion

But for all the barrier-breaking the campaign to pass Amendment 4 has achieved, and for all the inclusiveness it touts, its loudest critics have come not from the ranks of those who are conservative on crime, but from the felons Amendment 4 excludes.

“The problem with Amendment 4 is that it perpetuates discrimination and bigotry against a sub-class of former prisoners and convicted felons, namely those convicted of murder and sex offenses,” the Human Rights Defense Center, a Florida-based prisoners’ rights group that distributes the monthly Prison Legal News, wrote in opposition to the ballot proposal. “All the talk of Amendment 4 supporters about second chances, redemption, reintegration into the community, etc. rings hollow and opportunistic when they made the decision to exclude murderers and sex offenders from the franchise and to enshrine this form of discrimination into the state constitution.”

 Eve Edelheit for The Intercept

Political signs outside of Marks Street Senior Recreation Complex in Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 29, 2018.

Photo: Eve Edelheit for The Intercept

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition ran focus groups that concluded that people wouldn’t support the amendment without certain “carve-outs,” Volz said. “There’s a practical side to this,” added Meade. “We spoke to people and found out what people wanted, what people are able to tolerate. … Exactly what they drew the line at was exactly what we wrote.”

But Paul Wright, the founder and director of the Human Rights Defense Center, who is himself a convicted felon and spent 17 years in prison in Washington state for a murder conviction, said the campaign around the amendment reinforced misconceptions about who is redeemable and drew unfair divisions between people who had equally paid their debt to society.

“From an activist and a political perspective, I think there’s a lot of problems with that, because basically, you are just saying the lowest common denominator is all you can aspire to,” Wright told The Intercept. “That just means as an activist, you don’t think you have the ability to change people’s minds, to sway them or convince them of anything.”

He noted that the exclusion of certain felons mirrored tendencies within the broader criminal justice reform movement to limit compassion to certain offenders. “A lot of people that have been pushing for sentencing reform, for example, have created this artificial divide between so-called violent offenders and nonviolent offenders,” he said. “What I can say, having been imprisoned myself, the prison officials certainly don’t treat people differently based on what the offense was.”

Wright believes that growing support, including significant financial backing, for the restoration of certain felons’ voting rights in Florida is driven by the desire to push the state’s political scales rather than a genuine commitment to the formerly incarcerated. “I think they’re just looking at a crass thing of, ‘If we re-enfranchise a bunch of people, we think enough of them are going to vote Democratic that Florida will cease to be a swing state.’”

“There is no plan for afterwards. This isn’t a case where people are getting into the lifeboat and saying, ‘We’re going to come back for you,’” he added. “If Amendment 4 passes, that’s pretty much the end of the road for everyone else.”

 Eve Edelheit for The Intercept

Travis Hailes, right, talks to Mony Dorce about voting in Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 29, 2018.

Photo: Eve Edelheit for The Intercept

Everyone Deserves a Second Chance

Following canvassers as they knocked on doors in Orlando, The Intercept found that people were quickly on board with restoring felons’ voting rights — whether they had heard of Amendment 4 before or were learning about it for the first time.

In Pine Hills, a low-income, majority black suburb west of Orlando decked out in Halloween decorations, Travis Hailes, a volunteer with Color of Change PAC, mostly talked to people who had already cast their ballot. Mony Dorce, an elderly Haitian-American man, held a piece of paper where he had written down all of his votes, to check them against those Hailes was recommending.

“There are a lot of people who are locked up who shouldn’t be there,” said Janice Sessler, a few doors down. She had voted for Amendment 4 and after some hesitation said it should apply to those with murder and sex offense convictions as well. “Once they do their time, for whatever reason, they should get their rights back.”

“Everyone deserves a second chance.”

Hailes and Sessler traded stories of excessive punishment; someone he had recently met, he said, was caught “relieving himself in public” and ended up with a class 3 felony for indecent exposure. “It all started in the Jim Crow days,” Hailes added. “You were busted for a petty crime, and you’d lose your right to vote.”

Hailes, a 39-year-old business consultant, said he hadn’t realized until recently that felons couldn’t vote in Florida — even though his own mother had a felony. Hailes first joined Color of Change at a protest over the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin, just north of Orlando. For years, he remained what he called a “paper warrior,” signing the group’s many online petitions but keeping his activism limited to the internet. “I was the least political person you could think of, I didn’t care for much,” he told The Intercept. “But then Trump happened.”

“A lot of people feel like this current administration doesn’t care about brown-skinned people or people that are living in underprivileged areas,” he said. “Trump is giving people motivation, but they need direction. I’m just a regular person like them, no different, and I get a chance to tell them, ‘Six months ago, I knew nothing about this either.’”

 Eve Edelheit for The Intercept

Candice Fortin, a field organizer with Color of Change, photographed in Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 29, 2018.

Photo: Eve Edelheit for The Intercept

That’s the Color of Change PAC’s model. “We’ve been doing a lot of work to move folks from online to offline engagement; we’re doing a lot more in-person events, and in-person voter contact versus digital outreach,” said Arisha Hatch, the PAC’s director. “We’re really trying to build community. People are hungry for community in this political climate, so we’re trying to create a space for black people to come together.”

In Orlando, across Florida, and in the other states where Color of Change PAC has focused its efforts this election cycle — Michigan, Nevada, and Georgia — the group has held brunches and cookouts with more than 12,000 participants nationwide. They also knocked on over 50,000 doors in black neighborhoods, but they want to make sure they don’t just show up when an election is around the corner to ask for people’s vote.

“We believe that we shouldn’t be treating our members just as voters, but also as leaders in their communities,” Candice Fortin, a field organizer in Orlando, told The Intercept, describing a new model for sustained political engagement. “Money is really not the thing anymore. Now it’s just about getting people.”

The post Florida’s Amendment 4 Would Restore Voting Rights to 1.4 Million People appeared first on The Intercept.

“The United States Is Not a Safe Country”: Canadian Advocates Want to End a Policy That Turns Asylum-Seekers Back to U.S.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/11/2018 - 11:00pm in


Justice, World

Ronald Sylvain was feeling confident as he approached the U.S.-Canada border crossing in Champlain, New York in a taxi with his wife and their 9-month-old son last July. The 36-year-old Haitian national had been assured that it was best to “do it legally.” After all, they are professionals: Ronald is an economist and his wife Pamela is a nurse. While other refugees opted to roll their suitcases into Canada over a narrow dirt path five miles to the west at Roxham Road, border agents would surely understand Ronald’s asylum request, based on the fact that gangs in Haiti had threatened him.

Instead, an agent directed his family to wait overnight. They slept uncomfortably on hard benches at the Lacolle Inspection Station next to a public restroom. The next morning, they were turned back to the United States. Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, a 2004 treaty between the United States and Canada, most refugees who approach Canada at an official border crossing are rejected, on the grounds that they should have tried for asylum in the United States first.

Two weeks later, Ronald and his family decided to try to enter Canada again, this time over Roxham Road. (“Given the current situation in the U.S., we were really afraid to stay there,” Ronald later testified.) The process was smooth, eerily so. Yet migrants who attempt to cross the border at land ports only have one chance to make a refugee claim. Without realizing it, they had already blown their shot. Ronald and Pamela are now fighting a deportation order from Canada.

The theory behind the Safe Third Country Agreement, or STCA, is that the United States and Canada are interchangeable options for refugees. Not everyone agrees. Three major organizations fighting for immigrant rights in Canada — the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Council of Churches, and Amnesty International Canada — filed a challenge in federal court last year to the “safe third country” designation. For the second time in a decade, they’re arguing that the United States is not, in fact, safe.

“Canada is bearing one part of the responsibility for those people who end up being sent back to their country of origin and persecuted.”

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, can quickly tick off conditions in the United States that make the country hostile to refugees. Asylum claimants often don’t have access to counsel and are often kept in detention while their claims are assessed. The Trump administration has launched an aggressive crackdown on asylum-seekers, through policy changes that Amnesty International recently said “appear to be aimed at the full dismantling of the U.S. asylum system.” (Most recently, President Donald Trump has threatened to hold asylum-seekers along the southern border in tent cities.) Whereas in Canada, detention is rare (less than 1 percent of all foreign entries annually, according to government data) and many claimants, depending on which province they entered through, can have access to a free lawyer.

This is “a story about whether Canada wants to take responsibility for its human rights obligations,” explained Dench. When asylum claims fail in the United States, she said, “Canada is bearing one part of the responsibility for those people who end up being sent back to their country of origin and persecuted.”

TOPSHOT - A long line of asylum seekers wait to illegally cross the Canada/US border near Champlain, New York on August 6, 2017. - In recent days the number of people illegally crossing the border has grown into the hundreds. (Photo by Geoff Robins / AFP)(Photo credit should read GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)

A line of asylum-seekers wait to cross the U.S.-Canada border near Champlain, N.Y., on Aug. 6, 2017.

Photo: Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images

For thousands of refugees, crossing between land ports has proven a viable alternative. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, 50,469 refugees asked for asylum in Canada last year, a 10-year high and more than twice 2016 levels. About 40 percent of those claimants crossed from the United States on foot between official points of entry, where the STCA doesn’t apply.

The surge has had logistical consequences. Stéphanie Valois, a refugee lawyer of 25 years based in Montreal, told The Intercept that she’s never had a summer quite like 2017. “I felt like a doctor in the emergency room but without the pay,” she said. Unofficial border crossings have slowed this year: There were 15,726 between January and September. Still, on June 25, the city manager of Toronto issued a report stating that the city has “exhausted all facilities, personnel, and financial resources” attempting to shelter refugees who have traveled from Quebec.

But Dench challenges the notion that suspending the STCA would open the floodgates to migration across the U.S. border, which has been increasing since Obama’s second term as the global refugee crisis has intensified. As it stands, she says, the agreement is “not really working anymore as a break from letting people into Canada.” Instead, it is pushing people to unofficial crossings.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has positioned himself as a great defender of refugees, in contrast to Trump. But Canadian academics and immigrant advocates told The Intercept that the STCA has given Conservative politicians in Canada a powerful political tool that Trudeau’s Liberal government has failed to adequately challenge. Both Canadian and international law protects refugees seeking asylum across the Canadian border, but in the last year, the technical term for crossing outside of land ports, “irregular,” is becoming interchangeable with the more loaded “illegal.” Rather than suspend the STCA — and allow asylum-seekers to come through legal ports of entry — Trudeau’s administration is fighting to maintain it. The next hearing in the rights groups’ challenge will take place in May 2019. Meanwhile, Dench says, “the situation in the U.S. has been getting worse.”

“The spectacle of [irregular] border crossings incites people because of this obsession with loss of control,” says Audrey Macklin, chair of human rights law at the University of Toronto. Remove the STCA, she says, and the spectacle would evaporate. “Why not do that?”

Champlain, New York - July 18, 2018. A view down Roxham Road towards the illegal border crossing into Canada in Champlain, New York, July 18, 2018. (Andre Malerba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A view down Roxham Road toward the border with Canada in Champlain, N.Y., on July 18, 2018.

Photo: Andre Malerba for the Washington Post via Getty Images

In the late 1990s, Canada hoped to emulate the European Union, where several countries had signed on to the now-defunct Dublin Regulation requiring refugees to apply for asylum in whichever participating country they entered first. The United States dismissed Canada’s request for a similar agreement, though, until September 11, 2001, when border security became a central issue. “The United States demanded and secured a series of border management concessions from Canada,” Macklin explained. “And in exchange for that, Canada said, ‘Now it’s your turn to do something for us.’” The STCA took effect in December 2004.

Efrat Arbel, an assistant law professor at the University of British Columbia, has been studying the impacts of the STCA since 2005. She says she’s been most troubled to see refugee flows shifting into more treacherous territory. In the eight years before the STCA took effect, between 6,000 and 14,000 refugee claims were being made annually at land ports on the border. The average number between 2005 and 2012 was just 5,600. “The Safe Third blocks the safest, most organized mode through which asylum-seekers can enter,” Arbel said.

“The Safe Third blocks the safest, most organized mode through which asylum-seekers can enter.”

Roxham Road is by far the most popular alternative. Wendy Ayotte, 66, is part of a Canadian neighborhood group called Bridges Not Borders that has been crossing into the United States on Sundays since November to offer encouragement to refugees. She said that Roxham Road has become more orderly lately, and that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had responded to her group’s concerns about officers they’d observed telling refugees to turn back or go to an official border crossing.

Still, smaller numbers of refugees continue to cross at less organized irregular points. This year to date, more than 700 people have crossed at Manitoba and in British Columbia, representing about 4 percent of the total crossers. There were multiple reports of frostbite at Manitoba during the winter of 2016 and last May, the body of 57-year-old Mavis Otuteye, a Ghanaian woman, was found just south of the Canadian border at Manitoba in Noyes, Minnesota.

Refugees like the Sylvains, who choose to cross at an official point of entry, are taking a different gamble. The number of refugee claimants turned back annually from the Canadian border because they do not qualify for an exception to the STCA more than doubled in 2017 over the previous year, to 1,949 claimants. In all of 2015, before Donald Trump’s election, 418 people were turned back.

It is Canada Border Services Agency policy to notify U.S. Customs and Border Protection whenever a claimant is turned back from the border, which can result in detention for refugees without valid U.S. visas. Immigration detention centers in the U.S. are rife with reports of abuses, including sexual assault, inadequate food, lack of medical care, and racism. The Intercept spoke with a 22-year-old Haitian woman who was arrested with an expired visa before she made it to Canada last year. During her 100-day stint in Clinton County Jail in New York, she said, “They treated us like criminals. … The food was bad. I didn’t eat it. It’s cold, no heat, and they didn’t give us jackets.” (The Intercept is withholding her name because her U.S. immigration case is pending.)

Nadege Jean-Mardy volunteered last year as a translator for refugee claimants arrested by CBP and detained in Clinton County Jail. “People are definitely confused by the law,” she told The Intercept. “In their head, it doesn’t make sense because … the way they see it: ‘OK, I’m going to ask for asylum, but I’m going to do it the right way.’”

Inside the jail, she recalled, refugees “were sleeping on benches and they were treated as prisoners, [when] their only fault was asking for help.”

The Lacolle Border crossing into the United States is seen from Lacolle, Quebec, Canada, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

The Lacolle border crossing into the United States, seen from Lacolle, Quebec, Canada, on Feb. 13, 2017.

Photo: Christinne Muschi/Reuters

In 2007, Canadian Federal Court Judge Michael Phelan upheld the first legal challenge to the STCA. “The U.S. does not meet the Refugee Convention requirements nor the Convention Against Torture,” Phelan ruled. But a Canadian appeals court granted a stay of Phelan’s order one day before it was set to go into effect and ultimately overturned his ruling — not on the grounds that the United States was safe, but that this was not the court’s decision to make.

Advocates’ current legal strategy is similar to the first. They’re highlighting the story of a woman who fled gang violence in El Salvador with her two young daughters: first to Texas in November 2016 and then to the official Canadian border crossing at Fort Erie, where she was denied asylum because of the STCA. They’ve also collected testimony from a man who came to the United States on a student visa last year and was placed in immigration detention in March after attempting to join his aunt in Canada, and another man who spent 10 days in solitary confinement after Canadian officials turned him away.

Meanwhile, a fresh wave of anger is cresting among refugee advocates and attorneys in Canada. Sean Rehaag, a law professor at York University, described the STCA as “dead” in the face of the Trump administration’s particular hostility to asylum-seekers. Canada’s minority New Democratic Party called for its suspension last year, wondering in a statement, “What will it take for the Liberals to finally take this situation seriously and act?” In addition to Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy that has separated thousands of children from their parents along the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued new guidelines in June ordering judges to block asylum claims for victims of domestic abuse and gang violence. The Trump administration has also been trying to arrange a Safe Third Country Agreement with Mexico, which would allow the United States to turn back refugees along the southern border (rights groups have loudly protested the idea.)

Lobat Sadrehashemi, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, called her country’s ongoing commitment to the STCA “appalling” in a statement to The Intercept. “We are watching the images of children being ripped apart from their parents in horror,” she said. “Refugee law has been turned on its head in the United States.”

At the same time, conservative anxiety about irregular border crossings in Canada continues to escalate. Alberta Conservative Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel proposed this spring to turn the entire length of the Canadian border into a formal point of entry – which would mean that anyone could be turned back under STCA. Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée called for a fence to be built at Roxham Road, quipping that “the Mexicans” should pay for it. And as news of Trump’s harsh southern border policies spread in June, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer made a publicity trip to Roxham Road, which he described as the “epicenter of the crisis at our borders.”

During an Immigration Committee hearing in March, Conservative members of parliament pressed Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen to use “illegal” to describe refugees crossing the border irregularly. “I have used the word ‘illegal’ and I have used the word ‘irregular,’ and I think both are accurate,” Hussen acquiesced.

More recently, the Trudeau administration has criticized anti-refugee rhetoric. For example, when Ontario Premier Doug Ford called on Liberals to address the “mess” of “illegal border crossers” in July, Hussen, a refugee himself, bemoaned that “Ontario sadly has chosen the language of fear. They’ve chosen to intentionally use language that could potentially criminalize asylum-seekers in the minds of Canadians.” That month, his department quietly replaced the word “illegal” with “irregular” on its website.

But Hussen also maintains that the United States is safe for refugees. His office declined to comment to The Intercept on the STCA legal challenge, on the grounds that it is an open matter before the court. However, spokesperson Mathieu Genest said in a statement that “in general, we can say that Canada has carefully analyzed recent developments in the United States, including the Executive Orders related to immigration and refugee matters, and determined that the United States remains a safe country for asylum claimants to seek protection there.”

In late May, more than 100 members of the Canadian far-right group Storm Alliance, an offshoot of the more openly fascist Soldiers of Odin, drove to the U.S. border at Lacolle. Many of them waved middle fingers and Quebec flags and carried hand-painted signs in French: “No Illegality! Enough!” Attendee Sebastien Cormier, a 38-year-old single father and nursing assistant from Sherbrooke, Quebec, said that he decided to join Storm Alliance because the situation at Roxham Road is “anarchy.”

“The response of the Trudeau government has been pretty horrible. They continue to maintain this fiction that the United States is a safe third country, when people are being thrown out and when Trump is quite actively slandering entire groups of people.”

Storm Alliance has gathered near the Quebec border three times since 2017, and each time, anti-racist activists have organized a counterprotest. It’s a delicate balance, they say, since they don’t want to draw attention to the far right but still want to be sure that refugees aren’t met with intimidation. Messages scrawled in white and pink chalk near temporary refugee processing trailers this spring read “Bienvenue Refugies!”

Speaking to The Intercept at the May border demonstration, anti-fascist activist Jaggi Singh said that the Trudeau administration has failed asylum-seekers.

“[When] you have far-right people and some of the politicians that pander to them talking about shutting down the border, it kind of gives the Trudeaus of the world a pass,” Singh said. “But the response of the Trudeau government has been pretty horrible. They continue to maintain this fiction that the United States is a safe third country, when people are being thrown out and when Trump is quite actively slandering entire groups of people.”

Historically, hard-line immigration policies have gained traction in Canada when refugees arrive in highly visible ways. For example, in August 2010, 492 Sri Lankan refugees arrived by ship on Vancouver Island off the west coast of Canada. The passengers on the Sun Sea were the second such group in less than a year and were met with public skepticism verging on alarm. At the time, the Conservative government managed to pass legislation imposing mandatory detention and multiyear delays on permanent residency applications for certain refugee claimants.

Now, beyond simply maintaining the STCA, Canada’s Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship office has announced plans to enhance border security. Hussen is in “continuous discussions on improving all aspects of managing the border, including through potential modernization of the STCA,” according to Genest, his spokesperson. This summer Hussen told CBC News that “modernization” of the STCA could entail the use of biometrics, such as fingerprints and photographs, though privacy watchdogs and refugee lawyers told The Intercept that they are awaiting clarity on the new policy.

And in mid-July, Trudeau created a new government office, appointing Liberal Member of Parliament Bill Blair as Canada’s first minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction. In a press release, Trudeau’s office stated that Blair will “ensure Canada’s borders are managed in a way that promotes legitimate travel and trade while keeping Canadians safe.” Blair sent a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in September with “a request to begin negotiations as soon as possible to enhance and modernize the Safe Third Country Agreement to the mutual benefit of both countries,” spokesperson Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux told The Intercept. (Homeland Security declined to comment.)

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulates Bill Blair after he was sworn-in as Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction during a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie - RC182BD57630

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulates Bill Blair after he was sworn in as minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on July 18, 2018.

Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters

Brenda McPhail, director of the Privacy, Surveillance and Technology Project at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said she worries that the Liberal government’s talk of biometrics will further enforce the perception of refugees as criminals. “We fingerprint criminals,” she said. “So I think there’s some sort of implicit message to Canadians that if we’re taking fingerprints from people … we’re treating them in a criminal manner.”

She added that it’s “no coincidence” that Blair is a former police chief. “The government seems to want to position the appointment as a way to counter and assuage fears for public safety,” she said. “But it also validates those fears in the process.”

Macklin, the human rights lawyer, said that Trudeau’s government has its priorities wrong. For Canada, she said, “the problem is irregular entry, so the solution has to be preventing irregular entry. No. The problem is that the United States is not a safe country.”

The post “The United States Is Not a Safe Country”: Canadian Advocates Want to End a Policy That Turns Asylum-Seekers Back to U.S. appeared first on The Intercept.

ICE Arrests at New York City Courthouses Are Increasing — This Video Captures One

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/11/2018 - 5:09am in



Arrests of immigrants at or near New York City courthouses by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have spiked dramatically in recent months, according to a leading advocacy organization tracking the practice.

While these highly controversial operations have drawn outrage from defense attorneys, who argue that turning courthouses into hunting grounds for arrests perverts and undermines the role of the court as a place to seek justice, the arrests themselves are rarely seen by the outside world.

That changed on Thursday, when a bystander outside the Queens County Criminal Court filmed a crew of plainclothes ICE officers, in coordination with New York state court officers, dragging a man into an unmarked vehicle as he attempted to enter the court.

“Why are you doing this to me?” the man yelled, as roughly a half-dozen officers took him into custody.

“Who is this?” a woman off camera asked.

“They’re ICE,” someone replied.

With his hands cuffed behind his back, the man was pushed into a white Dodge.

“Why you do this to me? Why?” the man asked again, before being taken away.

Joshua Epstein, supervising immigration attorney at Queens Law Associates, confirmed that the man was a client of his organization. Though the public defender organization declined to provide the man’s name for privacy reasons, Epstein told The Intercept that they had confirmed that his arrest was carried out by ICE. The man was appearing in court for a misdemeanor, he said, and he was on a path toward a noncriminal disposition. ICE did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday’s arrest.

“This one example is just one of many where someone was just trying to access his due process rights in criminal court and wasn’t able to,” Epstein said. Had the man appeared in court, he likely would have been able to settle his case without producing a criminal record, Epstein explained, but now that he is in immigration custody, the situation becomes far more complicated. “One of the problems now, when someone is in ICE detention, is that we have to request writs for the people to produce the client in criminal court on their next court date, which may or may not happen.”

Once in immigration detention, Epstein went on to say, clients are effectively cut off from meaningful programs that they would otherwise have access to before pleading to a noncriminal violation. “When you’re in detention, you can’t access those programs, so your plea offers get much worse,” Epstein said, adding that if an individual is in immigration detention, an open criminal case also makes “meaningful deportation relief” all but impossible to obtain.

Since President Donald Trump’s first week in office, in which he signed an executive order effectively making every undocumented immigrant in the country a priority for deportation, immigration advocates in New York City have seen a marked increase in arrests in and around courthouses. With New York’s status as a “sanctuary city,” ICE cannot trawl through local jails in order to locate deportable immigrants, and the agency has argued that courthouse arrests have become more necessary. Those arrests have skyrocketed in recent weeks, according to the Immigrant Defense Project, a legal advocacy organization that has long tracked the agency’s tactics. That work has included the documentation of a 1,200 percent increase in courthouse arrests from 2016 to 2017, and an interactive project mapping ICE raids across New York City.

“We’ve gotten 23 reports of ICE operations over the last month, which is more than double the previous month,” said Lee Wang, a senior staff attorney at IDP who tracks courthouse arrests. The influx of new reports from lawyers and legal organizations has been overwhelming, Wang said, with calls coming in almost daily. “Over the past couple of months, we’ve seen a pretty alarming escalation in ICE operations, both in terms of the number of arrests that they’re making around courts in New York City, and throughout the state really, but also just in their tactics,” Wang said. “They’re getting much more aggressive. I think this video speaks for itself — there are six people who are holding somebody down, but in the past couple months, we’ve heard reports of ICE following people into bathrooms, following their family members, eavesdropping on attorneys, and getting very physical and basically engaging in assaults on attorneys and family members.”

“I think that the longer that this goes unchecked, the more that ICE thinks that they have carte blanche to do what they want in the courts,” she added. Epstein said the heightened intensity of ICE’s operations tracks with what his organization has been seeing in Queens. “The last two weeks have just been awful,” he said, adding that his organization has seen ICE operations in courts happening on a nearly daily basis.

Both Wang and Epstein noted that it is all but impossible to predict who precisely ICE will target, though Epstein said the “vast majority” of clients targeted appear to be individuals whose personal data has been logged by the Department of Homeland Security or one of its component agencies. As The Intercept reported in April, something as simple as having fingerprints taken during an encounter with the New York City Police Department appears to be sufficient for routing an individual’s personal identifying information to ICE.

According to Wang, the lack of predictability makes the job of defense attorneys all the more difficult. “They are just as likely to go after an undocumented person who has no prior criminal history who’s there on a trespass charge, as they are to go after a longtime lawful permanent resident with felony charges,” she said. “There’s really no rhyme or reason to who they’re targeting. Particularly in a very, very immigrant-heavy borough like Queens, what that means on a daily basis for defenders is they have dozens of clients who could be at risk.”

Echoing a concern felt by New York defense attorneys since courthouse arrests became a prevalent Trump-era strategy, Wang said the active participation of New York state court officers in Thursday’s arrest was particularly alarming. “Federal law does not require or compel state court officers to assist in these arrests. Period. There is no provision of federal law that requires them to do this. And so why are court officers proactively assisting?” she said. IDP is currently pushing a piece of model legislation, known as the New York Protect Our Courts Act, aimed at placing “significant restrictions on civil arrests of those attending court.”

“I think it would fix a lot of problems,” Wang said. “We’re hopeful.” Until that time comes, ICE is likely to continue arresting people at courts. In Epstein’s words, “it’s just like this crazy, rogue security force — no warrants, no meaningful identification, no probable cause for warrants, completely unmarked cars, just sort of snatching people.”

The post ICE Arrests at New York City Courthouses Are Increasing — This Video Captures One appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump Administration’s Limits on Asylum for Domestic Violence Put Guatemalan Women in Peril

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/11/2018 - 1:46am in


Justice, World

Dora Marisol López helped put the woman’s husband in jail years ago.

“He would leave work to go stay in the street in front of her house. She would go to the market, and he’d go along behind her,” López recounted. “She went to the kids’ school and he’d be right behind her. At night, he’d climb up on the roof of the house and shine a light into her bedroom to see if she was sleeping with someone.”

The woman had come to López, a litigator for the Guatemalan public prosecutor, with gouges on her hands where her husband had driven a pen beneath her skin. He told her that if she denounced him to the authorities, he’d kill her. But she did it anyway, and the prosecutor’s office brought charges. He was sentenced to 12 years.

This past July, eight years into her husband’s punishment, the woman got a worrisome visit from his brother. The sentence had been commuted, she learned, and he would be released that very weekend. The brother had a message: “It didn’t matter to him if he spent the rest of his life in jail, when he got out, he would kill her.”

The woman called López in a panic. López, a graying, middle-aged woman who has been handling cases of violence against women for years, said she remembered her story clear as day; she’d felt great affection for the woman, and her predicament had affected López deeply. She counseled the woman to leave the city immediately and go into hiding. In the meantime, López went to the office in charge of reducing sentences and tried to argue against the commutation, but did not prevail.

“I know if she didn’t leave the capital this weekend, he would get out of jail and kill her, and this case would become a femicide like so many others,” López said. The woman wanted to apply for asylum in the United States – but her chances of even getting in front of a judge have decreased significantly under policies instigated by the Trump administration.

Over the past few weeks, leading up to the midterm elections, President Donald Trump has stoked animus against immigrants from Central America by spreading falsehoods about refugee caravans currently making their way north through Mexico. He has ordered thousands of troops to the southwestern border, promised to hold asylum-seeking families in tent cities, and floated an executive order that would limit Central Americans’ ability to request asylum. But the administration has already taken steps that have drastically impacted the prospects of one group in particular: Central American women fleeing domestic violence.

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of deadly violence against women, or femicide, in the world — 7,357 violent deaths tallied between 2008 and 2017 by the nonprofit Grupo Guatemalteco de Mujeres (Guatemalan Women’s Group, or GGM.) An unknown but certainly large number of those crimes, both physical and sexual, begin in the home, as domestic violence at the hands of husbands, partners, or relatives. The particular combination of factors that contribute to violence against women in Guatemala — a patriarchal culture, devastating poverty, racism against Indigenous Maya, and a society strained by the legacy of armed conflict and now riven with violence from gangs and drug traffickers — has been recognized internationally, including in the United States.

In 2014, a landmark decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals, which has jurisdiction over all U.S. immigration courts, established that “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” qualified as a particular social group that could be singled out for persecution. The board underlined that the Guatemalan state was incapable of providing protection and could even be complicit in the violence against them. That decision, building off others that recognized violence against women as grounds for asylum, set a far-reaching precedent that has been especially important for women from Central America.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, aimed to change all that. In June, using a rarely exercised power of his office, Sessions personally intervened to overturn an asylum decision concerning a woman from El Salvador. He used the opportunity to issue a sweeping statement about the nature of domestic abuse, calling it a private crime, and saying that “generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by nongovernmental actors will not qualify for asylum.” The decision also argued against the idea that widespread violence against women in Central America meant that local governments were unwilling or unable to take on the problem, “any more than the persistence of domestic violence in the United States means that our government is unwilling or unable to protect victims of domestic violence.”

A woman and her daughter look at crosses displaying clothes of women victims of violence during a tribute at the headquarters of the Survivors Foundation in Guatemala City on November 23, 2014, in the framework of the Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.  AFP PHOTO/Johan ORDONEZ        (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman and her daughter look at crosses displaying clothes of women victims of violence during a tribute at the headquarters of the Survivors Foundation in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Nov. 23, 2014.

Photo: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

Sessions’s decision led to new guidelines for officers who conduct “credible fear interviews,” an initial step in a petition for asylum at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The new guidance follows Sessions in saying that gang and domestic violence cases likely won’t qualify, and also tells officers to factor in whether someone crossed illegally, and if they could’ve found refuge within their home country or another country besides the United States.

In August, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, filed suit, saying that the new guidelines were causing people with legitimate asylum claims to be rejected, thus putting their lives in danger. The attorneys general of 19 states joined the suit, with the attorney general for Washington, D.C. writing that the “cruel policy arbitrarily closes our borders to refugees who seek asylum due to legitimate fears of violence in their home countries,” and added that it “ignores decades of state, federal, and international law.”

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of deadly violence against women in the world.

A decision in the suit is expected soon. In the meantime, lawyers and advocacy groups are pushing forward with domestic violence asylum claims and urging refugees not to give up hope: They say that Sessions’s word is not, in fact, law.

Sessions’s ruling “tries to bully decision-makers to deny these cases,” said Karen Musalo, a professor at UC Hastings and director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies. “The attorney general with this decision doesn’t rip out stem and root the viability of these cases. But he’s trying to signal that these cases are no longer viable, and some asylum officers doing credible fear interviews, and some judges reviewing cases — they are going to take the path of least resistance and dismiss.”

The Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for USCIS said, “We are unable to comment on matters involving pending litigation.”

The government does not release statistics that break out the reasons why asylum-seekers are approved or denied, so it’s not possible to know precisely how many women have been granted asylum on the grounds of domestic violence before or after the 2014 decision, and it will be hard to know how many are turned away because of the new guidance.

But recent statistics show that the number of asylum cases approved overall has dropped sharply this year. Advocates say that there has been a visible narrowing of opportunity at the credible fear stage, where migrants rarely have the assistance of a lawyer who prepares them to make a nuanced argument for why they need protection. Groups working in border detention centers say that, anecdotally, they’ve seen an increase in denials of credible fear from domestic violence cases since June.

Robert Painter, with the Texas legal services organization American Gateways, said that his organization is seeing cases in which officials are interpreting the guidelines simplistically: “Other components — political opinion, ethnicity — those tend to get overlooked by the asylum officer or the judges. If they hear the words ‘domestic violence,’ their knee-jerk reaction is to think, ‘This isn’t a good claim.’”

Relatives mourn next to the corpse of Gabriela Ordonez, 15, who was riddled with bullets by alleged gang members in the northern outskirts of Guatemala City, on the eve of the celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 24, 2014. More than 550 women have died so far this year in Guatemala. AFP PHOTO/Johan Ordonez        (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Relatives mourn the corpse of Gabriela Ordonez, 15, on Nov. 24, 2014. She was shot by alleged gang members in the outskirts of Guatemala City, Guatemala, on the eve of the celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Photo: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

In Guatemala, the administration’s attempts to close avenues for asylum have reverberated deeply. Multiple women’s rights advocates interviewed in early August said outright that there was now no asylum for domestic violence in the United States. Despite that common belief — which attorneys in the U.S. say is incorrect — lawyers, shelter directors, and others argued forcefully that Sessions’s decision rested on fundamental misunderstandings of how violence against women functions in Guatemala.

In his argument, Sessions made a glancing, dismissive reference to a “broad charge that Guatemala has a ‘culture of machismo and family violence,’” which he said was “based on an unsourced partial quotation from a news article eight years earlier.” But most everyone agrees that the situation for women in Guatemala is dire and not improving.

“If they hear the words ‘domestic violence,’ their knee-jerk reaction is to think, ‘This isn’t a good claim.’”

In 2016, eight years after Guatemala recognized femicide and other forms of violence against women as a specific crime, the government said it had received over 456,000 reports since 2008, with 65,543 made in 2016 alone. In 2017, according to the Grupo Guatemalteco de Mujeres’s count, 732 women died violent deaths; every recent year has seen a similar figure.

The roots of Guatemala’s patriarchy run deep, said Gabriela Monroy, a psychologist who works at Casa Alianza, a home for abused girls in Guatemala City. “The man is the master, the head, the boss of the family and the home. And this is so deep in our culture that it justifies that the man has physical and sexual access to his wife, his daughters,” she said. She connected this to the legacy of colonialism and to Guatemala’s decades of armed conflict, when many men were forced to watch their wives and relatives raped, abused, and killed by those in power: “There was also the use of female bodies to cause damage to men.”

Poverty exacerbates the situation, making it difficult for women to leave their abusers: “How are you going to report the man who is keeping the household afloat? If you say something, your five siblings or your five kids are going to be left without any economic protection,” Monroy said.

Family and friends attend the wake of Madelin Patricia Hernandez, a victim of a fire at the Virgen de Asuncion children shelter, at her grandmother's home in Guatemala City, Guatemala March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Saul Martinez - RC18CDE59090

Family and friends attend the wake of Madelin Patricia Hernandez, a victim of a fire at the Virgen de Asuncion children shelter, at her grandmother’s home in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on March 9, 2017.

Photo: Saul Hernandez/Reuters

“We’re at the lowest levels in terms of education, health, and employment,” said Carolina Escobar, Casa Alianza’s director. One child had come to the shelter after her father sold her into marriage with an older man “in exchange for a double-liter of soda and some sandwich bread.”

“The parents couldn’t feed the rest of their kids,” Escobar said. “It’s horrible what I’m saying, but it’s a real case, even if it seems so surreal.”

Indigenous women especially struggle to access justice and face additional discrimination. The lead plaintiff in the ACLU’s case, a Mayan woman going by the pseudonym of Grace, was raped and beaten continuously for 20 years by her non-Indigenous husband, who “frequently disparaged her and mocked her for being indigenous and unable to read and write,” the ACLU said. In rural areas, there are few outposts of the public prosecutor, few specialized judges, and little police presence. “There’s discrimination against women wearing Indigenous clothing, and they often aren’t bilingual, and the judicial system is all in Spanish,” said Hilda Morales Trujillo, a pioneering women’s rights lawyer and activist.

The entire country has suffered from an increase in drug trafficking and the spread of gangs. When a woman’s abuser is connected with organized crime, the situation can be extremely dangerous not just for the woman, but also for those who try to help her, said Norma Cruz, director of the Fundación Sobrevivientes (Survivors’ Foundation), a shelter and legal services provider in Guatemala City.

TOPSHOT - A police officer stands next to a poster during a march to mark International Women's Day in Guatemala City on March 8, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Johan ORDONEZ        (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

A police officer stands next to a poster during a march to mark International Women’s Day in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on March 8, 2018.

Photo: :Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

As for whether the Guatemalan state is capable of handling the problem, most agree that police protection is inadequate, justice is excruciatingly slow, and impunity is the norm — for femicides, it’s estimated to be 98 percent. Even if authorities aren’t actively complicit in the crime — which is sometimes the case — they often display the same prejudices that generated the violence in the first place.

Morales Trujillo said that women are often discouraged from coming forward with their denunciations as often by officials they encounter as by their families and communities; they’re told that they’ll be shunned or suffer more if they denounce their husbands, that they will lose their family’s breadwinner, that their children will grow up without a father. She has also seen judges perpetuate the antiquated stereotype that a woman who has been abused must have provoked it.

That’s despite the fact that in 2008, Guatemala passed path-breaking legislation, the Law Against Femicide and Other Violence Against Women, which recognized new categories of violence specifically directed at women, opened new angles for prosecution of those crimes, and the possibility of reparations for victims. It also created a network of specialized prosecutors and judges who were sensitized to deal with them. It was hailed as a major turning point. But the law hasn’t been sufficient, advocates say.

“The patriarchal interests, the macho interests, those classist, racist interests — they’re taking the teeth out of that law,” said Giovanna Lemus, director of a government-funded network of women’s centers and shelters run by GGM. As of August, the shelters had received no money in 2018. In a recent report, GGM laid out various ways in which the law’s impact has been weakened by lack of funds, contradictory legal developments, and bureaucratic slow-walking.

Many of the programs set in motion by the law are no match for the burden of caseloads. For instance, there is a specialized team from the public prosecutor that works with Indigenous women, offering translation and culturally sensitive services, but their reach is limited. “There are backlogs everywhere because there’s too much need and too little capacity,” said Escobar. (The U.S. government is a major donor to initiatives attempting to strengthen Guatemala’s judicial systems, and Trump’s threat to cut off aid over Guatemala’s handling of the refugee caravan could make things worse.)

Many of the advocates blamed the current president, a comedian-turned-politician named Jimmy Morales, for steps backward on women’s rights. They were especially distressed by Morales’s silence and inaction in the case of 41 girls who died in a fire at a government-run shelter in March 2017. After the fire, stories of abuse and human trafficking in the shelter surfaced. (A former Guatemalan foreign minister made headlines this summer saying he knew of several women who’d accused the president of sexual abuse, but to date, no victims have come forward. Morales has denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the allegations as rumors and lies.)

“With this government, we’re losing the advances we’d made because we have a government that’s indifferent toward policies protecting women, to laws for women and children,” said Cruz.

To compare the United States’ handling of domestic violence and Guatemala’s, as Sessions did in his decision, was “crock,” said Musalo, of UC Hastings. “To argue that even in the U.S. we don’t have a perfect system for protecting women, it’s so not comparable that you can’t even wrap your mind around it.”

Near-total impunity combined with the lack of funding and political will for women’s rights also makes it difficult for advocates to accept the idea, implicit in Sessions’s decision, that women could simply move within Guatemala. Aside from the limitations imposed by poverty and lack of resources, Guatemala is a small country, and it’s not so easy to disappear.

Authorities can be bribed for information or paid to track a woman down, said Lemus, mentioning the long history of Guatemala’s shady, deadly intelligence apparatus. Narcos can pay others to do their dirty work. “When the abusers have more resources, they do more,” she said. After helping women from rich and powerful families, Lemus said her group ended up under surveillance, with cars circling their offices and sex workers placed outside to watch the door. They’d even had their phones tapped.

Women dressed in black take part in the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Nov. 25, 2016.  According to a UN report released on Thursday, 625 women have died due to violent events in Guatemala this year. / AFP / JOHAN ORDONEZ        (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Women take part in the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Nov. 25, 2016.

Photo: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

“When the women want to leave, they believe that the only way to get away from the violence is to get out of the country. And I believe them. Justice is very slow. They can’t stay shut up in a shelter the whole time,” said Cruz. In extreme cases, her foundation finds places where women can stay for up to 15 days completely isolated, without a phone and without leaving the premises, to hide from their abuser. Sometimes the women aren’t even told exactly where they are. But that solution isn’t permanent, and prolonged protection also puts shelter staff in danger. The network of shelters in Guatemala is small and insufficient to the number of women needing help.

The guidelines also tell USCIS officers to consider which other countries asylum-seekers passed through before reaching the United States. The Trump administration has been pressuring Mexico to accept the status of being a “safe third country” to which the U.S. could send asylum-seekers. In Mexico, on top of well-documented threats to migrants and the fact that in many states they’d remain within easy access of their abusers, women have fewer economic opportunities and encounter less robust immigrant communities to welcome them than in the United States, said Cruz.

The idea that the U.S. has a moral burden to take in more Central American refugees was a common refrain among Guatemalan advocates. After supporting a 1954 coup against Guatemala’s left-leaning president, the U.S. funded and supported the genocidal regimes of Guatemalan military leaders during the civil conflict that lasted 36 years, until 1996, killing over 200,000 people, many of them Maya.

“There is a chain that has not been broken with the armed conflict,” said Morales Trujillo. “The violence was organized with the support of the United States. … There is a responsibility from a political point of view because of their interference in Guatemalan affairs. But also from the point of view of humanity. When someone comes knocking at your door, and they have no alternative, the door has to open.”

Reporting for this story was supported with a grant from the International Women’s Media Foundation.

The post Trump Administration’s Limits on Asylum for Domestic Violence Put Guatemalan Women in Peril appeared first on The Intercept.