Watchdog: Thousands more children may have been separated
By COLLEEN LONG and RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
Friday, January 18
WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands more migrant children may have been split from their families than the Trump administration previously reported, in part because officials were stepping up family separations long before the border policy that prompted international outrage last spring, a government watchdog said Thursday.
It’s unclear just how many family separations occurred at the U.S.-Mexico border; immigration officials are allowed under longstanding policy to separate families under certain circumstances. Health and Human Services, the agency tasked with caring for migrant children, did not adequately track them until after a judge ruled that children must be reunited with their families, according to the report by the agency’s inspector general.
Ann Maxwell, assistant inspector general for evaluations, said the number of children removed from their parents was certainly larger than the 2,737 listed by the government in court documents. Those documents chronicled separations that took place as parents were criminally prosecuted for illegally entering the country under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.
“It’s certainly more,” Maxwell said. “But precisely how much more is unknown.”
Maxwell said investigators didn’t have specific numbers, but that Health and Human Services staff had estimated the tally to be in the thousands.
Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who sued on behalf of a mother separated from her son, said the separation policy “was a cruel disaster from the start. This report reaffirms that the government never had a clear picture of how many children it ripped from their parents.”
Most of the tens of thousands of children who come into government custody cross the border alone. But the report found that in late 2016, 0.3 percent of children turned over to Health and Human Services had crossed with a parent and were separated. By the summer of 2017, that percentage had grown to 3.6 percent, officials said. The watchdog did not give exact numbers, but the total number of migrant children who passed through the agency’s care during the 2017 budget year was 40,810. The separated children had already been released to sponsors, who are generally parents or other close relatives.
The inspector general did not say why the children had been separated before the zero-tolerance policy. Immigration officials are allowed to take a child from a parent in certain cases — serious criminal charges against a parent, concerns over the health and welfare of a child or medical concerns. That policy has long been in place.
Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for Homeland Security, said the report reinforced what officials have long said. “For more than a decade it was and continues to be standard for apprehended minors to be separated when the adult is not the parent or legal guardian, the child’s safety is at risk” or there’s a record of a “serious criminal activity by the adult,” she said.
In some cases, however, Homeland Security officials said a parent had a criminal history but did not offer details on the crimes, the watchdog reported.
The number of families coming across the border has grown even as overall illegal border crossings have decreased dramatically compared with historic trends. Over the past three months, families made up the majority of Border Patrol arrests.
The Administration for Children and Families, the division under Health and Human Services that manages the care of unaccompanied minors, said it generally agreed with the findings and noted the report did not find that the agency lost track of children under its care. It also noted new policies were in place to help track newly separated children. And the court never instructed officials to determine the number of children separated before the June 26 ruling.
Last spring, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said anyone caught crossing the border illegally would be criminally prosecuted. Families were brought into custody by U.S. Border patrol officials, then their parents taken to criminal court. If the parents were gone longer than 72 hours — the length of time Border Patrol is allowed to hold children — the children were transferred to the custody of Health and Human Services.
The practice prompted an outcry, with church groups and lawmakers calling the separations inhumane. Trump ordered an end to the separations on June 20. At the time, a federal judge who was already hearing the case of a mother separated from her son ruled that children must be reunited with their parents. Since the court order, 118 children have been separated.
Despite “considerable” effort by Health and Human Services to locate all the children placed in its care, the report said officials were still finding new cases as long as five months after the judge’s order requiring reunifications.
“There is even less visibility for separated children who fall outside the court case,” investigators concluded.
They said it’s not clear the system put in place to track separated children is good enough. And the lack of detail from immigration authorities continues to be an issue.
The border remains a crucible for the Trump administration, with a partial government shutdown that has dragged on nearly a month over the president’s demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall that congressional Democrats are unwilling to provide.
The inspector general’s office was also looking into other aspects of the separations, including the health and mental well-being of the children who had been separated. It expects to have other reports on the topic.
Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he would hold the government accountable in the matter. “The Trump administration, with its unique blend of incompetence, cruelty, and disregard for basic decency, misled the American public on one of its most heinous policies to date,” he said in a statement.
Bison are back, and that benefits many other species on the Great Plains
January 18, 2019
Author: Matthew D. Moran, Professor of Biology, Hendrix College
Disclosure statement: Matthew Moran is Professor of Biology at Hendrix College in Conway, AR. He has received research funding from the National Science Foundation, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, and the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, as well his employer, Hendrix College. Funding from Hendrix College supports research performed on the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy. He is also a volunteer fundraiser for the Children’s Eternal Rainforest based in Costa Rica.
Driving north of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, an extraordinary landscape comes into view. Trees disappear and an immense landscape of grass emerges, undulating in the wind like a great, green ocean.
This is the Flint Hills. For over a century it has been cattle country, a place where cows grow fat on nutritious grasses. More recently, a piece of this landscape was transformed in 1992 when the nonprofit Nature Conservancy bought the Barnard Ranch. It created a nature reserve there, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, which now covers almost 40,000 acres.
A central element of the group’s conservation strategy was reintroducing the American bison (Bison bison), which had been eradicated from the land in the mid-1800s. Releasing the first bison in 1993 was a step toward restoring part of an ecosystem that once stretched from Texas to Minnesota.
Today some 500,000 bison have been restored in over 6,000 locations, including public lands, private ranches and Native American lands. As they return, researchers like me are gaining insights into their substantial ecological and conservation value.
It was not always certain that bison could rebound. Once numbering in the tens of millions, they dominated the Great Plains landscape until the late 1800s, anchoring a remarkable ecosystem that contained perhaps the greatest concentration of mammals on Earth. That abundance was wiped out as settlers and the U.S. government engaged in a brutally effective campaign to eradicate the ecosystem and the native cultures that relied on it.
Bison were shot by the millions, sometimes for “sport,” sometimes for profit, and ultimately to deprive Native Americans of vital resources. By 1890 fewer than 1,000 bison were left, and the outlook for them was bleak. Two small wild populations remained, in Yellowstone National Park and northern Alberta, Canada; and a few individuals survived in zoos and on private ranches.
Remarkably, a movement developed to save the bison and ultimately became a conservation success story. Some former bison hunters, including prominent figures like William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and future President Theodore Roosevelt, gathered the few surviving animals, promoted captive breeding and eventually reintroduced them to the natural landscape.
With the establishment of additional populations on public and private lands across the Great Plains, the species was saved from immediate extinction. By 1920 it numbered about 12,000.
Bison remained out of sight and out of mind for most Americans over the next half-century, but in the 1960s diverse groups began to consider the species’ place on the landscape. Native Americans wanted bison back on their ancestral lands. Conservationists wanted to restore parts of the Plains ecosystems. And ranchers started to view bison as an alternative to cattle production.
More ranches began raising bison, and Native American tribes started their own herds. Federal, state, tribal and private organizations established new conservation areas focusing in part on bison restoration, a process that continues today in locations such as the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas and the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana.
By the early 2000s, the total North American population had expanded to 500,000, with about 90 percent being raised as livestock – but often in relatively natural conditions – and the rest in public parks and preserves. For scientists, this process has been an opportunity to learn how bison interact with their habitat.
Improving prairie landscapes
Bison feed almost exclusively on grasses, which, because they grow rapidly, tend to out-compete other plants. Bison’s selective grazing behavior produces higher biodiversity because it helps plants that normally are dominated by grasses to coexist.
Because they tend to graze intensively on recently burned zones and leave other areas relatively untouched, bison create a diverse mosaic of habitats. They also like to move, spreading their impacts over large areas. The variety they produce is key to the survival of imperiled species such as the greater prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) that prefer to use different patches for different behaviors, such as mating and nesting.
Bison impacts don’t stop there. They often kill woody vegetation by rubbing their bodies and horns on it. And by digesting vegetation and excreting their waste across large areas, they spread nutrients over the landscape. This can produce higher-quality vegetation that benefits other animals.
Studies, including my own research, have shown that bison-induced changes in vegetation composition and quality grazing can increase the abundance and diversity of birds and insects in tallgrass prairies. Bison also affect their environment by wallowing – rolling on the ground repeatedly to avoid biting insects and shed loose fur. This creates long-lasting depressions that further enhance plant and insect diversity, because they are good habitats for plant and animal species that are not found in open areas of the prairie. In contrast, cattle do not wallow, so they do not provide these benefits.
It is hard to determine the ecological role that bison played before North America was settled by Europeans, but available evidence suggests they may have been the most impactful animal on the Plains – potentially a keystone species whose presence played a unique and crucial role in the ecology of prairies.
The growth of bison ranching
The return of the bison has generated a new industry on the Plains. The National Bison Association promotes these animals as long-lived, hardy and high-quality livestock. The group hopes to double bison numbers through its Bison 1 Million commitment, a program designed to increase interest in bison ranching and consumption.
Advocates cite health, ecological and ethical arguments in support of bison ranching. Bison meat is lean and has a high protein content. Many bison ranchers are committed to ethical and sustainable ranching practices, which sometimes are lacking in modern industrial livestock farming.
“I have a love of nature and want to protect it. It was one of my family’s goals to restore the grasslands. Bison helped us regenerate the land,” Mimi Hillenbrand, owner and operator of the 777 Bison Ranch near Rapid City, South Dakota told me. She adds, “I love the animal. We are lucky that we brought them back. I learn every day from them.”
Will bison live on in relatively small, isolated herds as they do now, or something greater? The American Prairie Reserve, a Montana-based nonprofit, has a big and controversial idea: creating an ecologically functioning 3 million acre preserve of private, public and tribal lands in northeast Montana, with a herd of over 10,000 bison – the largest single population in the world. Although this would be small compared to the millions that once existed, it still would be something to see.
Bison were saved through the combined efforts of conservationists, scientists, ranchers and ultimately the general public. As their comeback continues, I believe that they can teach us how to be better stewards of the land and provide a future for the Plains where ecosystems and human cultures thrive.
Zimbabwe’s crackdown continues with arrest of labor leader
By FARAI MUTSAKA
Monday, January 21
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s government intensified its crackdown on dissent Monday by charging the leader of the country’s largest labor organization with subversion, as the courts ruled that the shutdown of the internet was illegal.
Zimbabwe police arrested Japhet Moyo, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and charged him with subversion for his role in organizing last week’s national strike.
The arrest comes after a week of turmoil. During the strike, some people went onto the streets to protest the government’s drastic increase in fuel prices. The government said the demonstrations degenerated into riots, prompting it to launch a sweeping clampdown in which 12 people were killed, according to human rights organizations. Security forces opened fire on crowds, wounding many bystanders, and went house to house in some neighborhoods, beating up many men, according to witnesses. More than 600 people were arrested.
The government also imposed an internet blackout across the country. On Monday Zimbabwe’s High Court ordered the government to restore full internet to the country. The shutdown of the internet was illegal because the Minister of State for Security, who ordered the internet closure, does not have powers to issue such a directive, said the court ruling. Only President Emmerson Mnangagwa has the authority to make such an order, said the court. Over the weekend the government restored partial internet access, but kept a blackout on social media apps like Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter. The government alleges the internet has been used to organize violent demonstrations.
Zimbabwe’s capital gingerly recovered from the week of tumult Monday. Most shops and businesses reopened, although many people are stocking up on food items in case of further unrest.
Mnangagwa is expected to return to the country late Monday, after announcing Sunday that he will skip attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He is in Kazakhstan, after visiting Russia last week, where he met with President Vladimir Putin to ask for a loan.
Indicating the severity of Zimbabwe’s economic problems, South Africa confirmed that it turned down Mnangagwa’s request for a loan of $1.2 billion recently. “We just don’t have that kind of money,” South African treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane told the broadcaster, eNCA.
Activist and pastor Evan Mawarire has been jailed since Wednesday and has been charged with subversion against the government for which he faces 20 years in jail if convicted. Mawarire had used social media to support peaceful protests against the fuel price increases. The case against Mawarire is a “travesty of justice” said his lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. His application to be released on bail will be heard on Jan. 23.
In the widespread crackdown, about two-thirds of the more than 600 people who were arrested have been denied bail, said Mtetwa.
When Mnangagwa tweeted Sunday that he would cut short his European trip and to come back to Zimbabwe, he didn’t mention the violence, saying only that he is returning “in light of the economic situation.” He said his first priority “is to get Zimbabwe calm, stable and working again.”
At Davos, he planned to appeal for foreign investment and loans, but the visit had been expected to be a challenge. His Davos visit a year ago came shortly after he took over from longtime, repressive leader Robert Mugabe, a move cheered by Zimbabweans and the international community.
But Mnangagwa has faced a year of troubles in which his administration failed to improve the collapsed economy, narrowly won a disputed election and violently put down anti-government protests.
The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference last week lamented the government’s “intolerant handling of dissent” and its failure to halt economic collapse, concluding that “our country is going through one of the most trying periods in its history.”
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Martin Luther King Jr., union man
January 18, 2019
Author: Peter Cole, Professor of History, Western Illinois University
Disclosure statement: Peter Cole does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
If Martin Luther King Jr. still lived, he’d probably tell people to join unions.
King understood racial equality was inextricably linked to economics. He asked, “What good does it do to be able to eat at a lunch counter if you can’t buy a hamburger?”
Those disadvantages have persisted. Today, for instance, the wealth of the average white family is more than 20 times that of a black one.
King’s solution was unionism.
Convergence of needs
In 1961, King spoke before the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest and most powerful labor organization, to explain why he felt unions were essential to civil rights progress.
“Negroes are almost entirely a working people,” he said. “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs – decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”
My new book, “Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area,” chronicles King’s relationship with a labor union that was, perhaps, the most racially progressive in the country. That was Local 10 of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union, or ILWU.
ILWU Local 10 represented workers who loaded and unloaded cargo from ships throughout San Francisco Bay’s waterfront. Its members’ commitment to racial equality may be as surprising as it is unknown.
In 1967, the year before his murder, King visited ILWU Local 10 to see what interracial unionism looked like. King met with these unionists at their hall in a then-thriving, portside neighborhood – now a gentrified tourist area best known for Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39.
While King knew about this union, ILWU history isn’t widely known off the waterfront.
Civil rights on the waterfront
Dockworkers had suffered for decades from a hiring system compared to a “slave auction.” Once hired, they routinely worked 24 to 36 hour shifts, experienced among the highest rates of injury and death of any job, and endured abusive bosses. And they did so for incredibly low wages.
In 1934, San Francisco longshoremen – who were non-union since employers had crushed their union in 1919 – reorganized and led a coast-wide “Big Strike.”
In the throes of the Great Depression, these increasingly militant and radicalized dockworkers walked off the job. After 83 days on strike, they won a huge victory: wage increases, a coast-wide contract and union-controlled hiring halls.
Soon, these “wharf rats,” among the region’s poorest and most exploited workers, became “lords of the docks,” commanding the highest wages and best conditions of any blue-collar worker in the region.
At its inception, Local 10’s membership was 99 percent white. But Harry Bridges, the union’s charismatic leader, joined with fellow union radicals to commit to racial equality in its ranks.
Originally from Australia, Bridges started working on the San Francisco waterfront in the early 1920s. It was during the Big Strike that he emerged as a leader.
Bridges coordinated during the strike with C.L. Dellums, the leading black unionist in the Bay Area, and made sure the handful of black dockworkers would not cross picket lines as replacement workers. Bridges promised they would get a fair deal in the new union. One of the union’s first moves after the strike was integrating work gangs that previously had been segregated.
Local 10 overcame pervasive discrimination
Cleophas Williams, a black man originally from Arkansas, was among those who got into Local 10 in 1944. He belonged to a wave of African-Americans who, due to the massive labor shortage caused by World War II, fled the racism and discriminatory laws of the Jim Crow South for better lives – and better jobs – outside of it. Hundreds of thousands of blacks moved to the Bay Area, and tens of thousands found jobs in the booming shipbuilding industry.
Black workers in shipbuilding experienced pervasive discrimination. Employers shunted them off into less attractive jobs and paid them less. Similarly, the main shipbuilders’ union proved hostile to black workers who, when allowed in, were placed in segregated locals.
A few thousand black men, including Williams, were hired as longshoremen during the war. He later recalled to historian Harvey Schwartz: “When I first came on the waterfront, many black workers felt that Local 10 was a utopia.”
During the war, when white foremen and military officers hurled racist epithets at black longshoremen, this union defended them. Black members received equal pay and were dispatched the same as all others.
For Williams, this union was a revelation. Literally the first white people he ever met who opposed white supremacy belonged to Local 10. These longshoremen were not simply anti-racists, they were communists and socialists.
Leftist unions like the ILWU embraced black workers because, reflecting their ideology, they contended workers were stronger when united. They also knew that, countless times, employers had broken strikes and destroyed unions by playing workers of different ethnicities, genders, nationalities and races against each other. For instance, when 350,000 workers went out during the mammoth Steel Strike of 1919, employers brought in tens of thousands of African-Americans to work as replacements.
Some black dockworkers also were socialists. Paul Robeson, the globally famous singer, actor and left-wing activist had several friends, fellow socialists, in Local 10. Robeson was made an honorary ILWU member during WWII.
Martin Luther King, union member
In 1967, King walked in Robeson’s footsteps when he was inducted into Local 10 as an honorary member, the same year Williams became the first black person elected president of Local 10. By that year, roughly half of its members were African-American.
King addressed these dockworkers, declaring, “I don’t feel like a stranger here in the midst of the ILWU. We have been strengthened and energized by the support you have given to our struggles. … We’ve learned from labor the meaning of power.”
Many years later, Williams discussed King’s speech with me: “He talked about the economics of discrimination. … What he said is what Bridges had been saying all along,” about workers benefiting by attacking racism and forming interracial unions.
Eight months later, in Memphis to organize a union, King was assassinated.
The day after his death, longshoremen shut down the ports of San Francisco and Oakland, as they still do when one of their own dies on the job. Nine ILWU members attended King’s funeral in Atlanta, including Bridges and Williams, honoring the man who called unions “the first anti-poverty program.”