Things That Matter

They Were Told To Wait In Mexico And Followed Every US Law, Now They’re Being Denied The Right To Claim Asylum

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and other immigrant advocacy groups believe the Trump administration is using three recent measures to effectively pull a “bait and switch” on migrants seeking asylum. The first measure is referred to as “metering” which limits the number of asylum seekers accepted at the United States and Mexican border. 

The second is the Migrant Protection Protocols which requires Central American asylum seekers to stay in Mexico for the duration of their legal proceedings.

The third measure known as the “safe third country” deals requires that migrants seek asylum in the first country they pass through before applying in the United States. This essentially bans all asylum seekers at the southern border except for Mexicans. 

Advocates say the result of the third measure means thousands of migrants who were stuck waiting due to metering or MPP will never be able to apply for asylum in the U.S. and are being punished for correctly using the legal system.

How the “safe third country” deal works to ban most asylum seekers.

The “safe third country” deals or transit ban, which is being challenged in the courts by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), requires migrants to apply for asylum in the first country they pass through before they’re eligible to apply in the United States. Any migrants from Central America who travel through Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala would have to apply there first.

 According to Vox, “under both international torture agreements and the asylum system,” the administration can send migrants, “back to Central America, where rampant crime, violence, and corruption is driving tens of thousands to flee.” 

However, because this policy only took effect on September 12, many asylum seekers who were forced to wait due to metering or MPP before the rule was in place, will now be turned away. 

Attorneys say the government pulled “immoral bait and switch.” 

The Associated Press highlighted one Salvadoran family who was put in the situation many migrants now face. Julio Lopez and his family chose to seek U.S. protection legally. The new ban applies to any migrants who arrived after July 16, the Lopez family reached the border before the cut off date, but are still suffering the consequences because of a different policy. The Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) require asylum-seeking Central Americans to remain in Mexico while their legal proceedings take place. 

This means that although the Lopez family arrived in the U.S. before the July 16 cut off, because they were forced to wait in Mexico long enough for the “safe third country” deals to go in effect last September, they are no longer eligible to seek asylum in the United States — they would have to apply in the country they passed through before. 

“I’m being punished for doing it the correct way,” Lopez told the Associated Press. “It’s unjust.”

The SPLC and ACLU believe this is unfair and have challenged the procedure in court so that the new restrictions do not apply to anyone who was claiming asylum before July 16. 

Advocates are challenging the policies in the courts. 

Multiple lawsuits by the SPLC, ACLU, and advocacy groups like Al Otro Lado have been filed to challenge the three policies. However, the battle to ban asylum seekers has taken a bizarre turn in the courts. The Supreme Court ruled that the ban can take effect while lawyers challenge the policy going against a previous Supreme Court ruling of the same ban. 

“On September 11th, this year, the Supreme Court ruled—and issued a stay, in contrast to what it had done with the first asylum ban. This time the Court said that the second asylum ban could go into effect immediately nationwide,” Lee Gelernt a lawyer with the ACLU told the New Yorker

Gelernt believes the ban assumes that El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are safe countries with functioning asylum systems, but migrants will “continue to be in danger, that the gangs who have been attacking them—or the perpetrator of the domestic violence they’re fleeing, or other types of danger—can easily locate them in Guatemala or Mexico; they will not be safe.”

SPLC will challenge metering claiming that the daily migrant limits deny the individual’s right to seek asylum under international and U.S. laws. 

“This is not the DMV. This is not the deli counter. There shouldn’t be numbers,” said SPLC attorney Melissa Crow.

Challengers to the MPP assert that the executive branch of the U.S. government does not have the legal authority to force asylum seekers to go to Mexico to wait for legal proceedings. 

While these legal proceedings take place and migrants are forced to wait in dangerous countries their lives are increasingly put at risk. In the meantime, Julio Lopez and his family are prepared to do what is necessary to survive.

“I can go to (immigration) court with my head held high and say, ‘Sir, I have followed the laws of the United States,” he told said. 

Border Patrol Agents Threw Away Meaningful Items Belonging To Migrants, Now There’s An Art Show Displaying Dozens Of Items

Things That Matter

Border Patrol Agents Threw Away Meaningful Items Belonging To Migrants, Now There’s An Art Show Displaying Dozens Of Items

Tomkiefer.photographe / Instagram

Photographer Tom Kiefer worked as a custodian at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Southern Arizona from 2003 to 2014. When migrants and asylum seekers crossed the Southern border officials would throw away their belongings, medications, and nonessentials during processing. Kiefer collected all of those belongs, arranged them systematically, and photographed them.

The photos will be displayed in the exhibition “El Sueño Americano / The American Dream: Photographs by Tom Kiefer” at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. 

The result is eye-catching and colorful art that, upon closer inspection, reveals the rich inner lives of migrants. Kiefer’s photographs of the CDs they were listening to, the medications they were on, and even diary entries provide insight into the almost ordinariness of migrants. These were just people carrying things that meant something to them the way anyone else going somewhere would. Then the U.S. government deemed those personal and sentimental items trash. 

What Kiefer provides is a rarely seen snapshot of what migrants cared about when they came to the United States looking for a better shot. 

Kiefer was documenting American history through his lens and labor. 

“It was my way of documenting a piece of our nation’s history,” Kiefer told the Washington Post

In one of his haunting photos, there are 32 CDs lined up. Some CDs are from artists like Trapt but others are mixed CDs with intimate labels like “Brown Pride” or “Super Sappy Songs for Issa 2.” The image reminds the viewer that these migrants were real people — and we don’t know who any of them are and because of the United States’ ever-changing immigration policies, we don’t know if they’re even OK. 

Kiefer began to find the belongings when he asked if he could donate the canned goods that Border Patrol authorities seized to food pantries. He went through the trash bins to look for the nonperishables, but what he found instead was a wealth of humanity. 

“The Bibles, the rosaries, the family photographs. I was shocked,” he said. “And I didn’t know what to do, because it was obviously being condoned.”

Kiefer knew he would get into trouble if he took other items so everything he gathered was by intuition. Altogether in his years working there he collected 100,000 items. 

“I had to do it all very quick, discreet,” he said. “It was just rapid-fire, split-second decisions about what I could keep and what had to go in the trash, stay in the trash.”

Throwing away migrants’ possessions is particularly cruel, Kiefer feels.

 “[It] underscores the cruelty of the tentative punishment that the government feels the need to levy against these people. It’s clear the majority of which are decent, contributing and who want nothing more than a better life for themselves or for their family,” he told the Los Angeles TimesWhen Kiefer first began going through the trash looking for cans, he found mostly toothbrushes. However, when things appeared to be more personal like religious items and diaries, he felt compelled to save them because, he says, “no one would believe me if I had not collected these items.” He purposefully used colorful backgrounds to humanize the items. He didn’t want a cold, white background that would make things look sterile, more like products than personal items. 
“[The photos are] like a knife to the gut, and that’s precisely something that I think gives this work its power — that it draws you in with its beauty and then it has this really profoundly sad backstory,” Laura Mart, Skirball curator, told the Los Angeles Times.

He hopes the legacy of his exhibition is empathy above all else. 

“Dora the Explorer. A personal belonging carried by a migrant or someone seeking asylum. When apprehended by USCBP while crossing the desert most personal belongings considered non-essential or potentially lethal are confiscated and discarded,” Kiefer wrote in a caption of a children’s Dora the Explorer purse. 

Things like children’s toys, backpacks, and clothing items are enough to infuriate and sadden just about anybody.

“Whether it’s an individual object, shoelaces, I present them in a way that I hope the viewer can not just identify, but just kind of be empathetic, or put themselves in the person or persons’ shoes: ‘Wow, a person carried that.’ ‘That’s the same cologne I use, the same toothbrush or toothpaste,” Kiefer said. 

While he was a custodian during the Obama administration, Kiefer says he didn’t witness the abuses of powers reported under the current president. Kiefer personally condemns the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants and hopes his exhibition will change some peoples’ stances. 

“Is this the nation we want to be?” He said. “The way things are now is not sustainable.”

Seven Men Sentenced To Up To 50 Years For The Murder Of Honduran Environmental Activist Berta Caceres

Things That Matter

Seven Men Sentenced To Up To 50 Years For The Murder Of Honduran Environmental Activist Berta Caceres

Berta Caceres Flores / Facebook

Seven men were sentenced to up to 50 years in prison in a Honduras court on Monday for the 2016 murder of the environmental activist Berta Caceres. Four of the men, Elvin Rápalo, Henry Hernández, Edilson Duarte, and Oscar Torres Velásquez, who were identified as the hitmen hired to shoot Caceres dead in her own home, were sentenced to 34 years in prison each.

An additional 16 years and four months were handed down to them for the attempted murder of Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro, who was also with Caceres during the shooting. Three more prison terms of 30 years were handed down to other individuals that played a part in the murder including an officer, an ex-soldier, and a manager of the dam project that Caceres opposed. The three men reportedly paid the four gunmen $4,000 to kill Caceres because of her activism work. 

The slaying of Berta Caceres, then-45, brought international outrage and protests as she became a well-known women’s rights defender and indigenous lands rights activist. 

Caceras, a member of the Lenca indigenous community, may not have been a household name but her impact in the world of environmental rights was certainly felt. She was one of the co-founders of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, a grassroots organization that advocates for the rights of indigenous people. Caceras gained notoriety by protesting the company Desarrollos Energeticos (DESA), which had planned to create the $50 million Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam across from the Gualcarque River. Various indigenous communities depend on the river staying clean and healthy and free-flowing to sustain their communities.

“The river is like blood running through your veins. It’s unjust. Not only is it unjust, it’s a crime to attack a river that has life, that has spirits,” Caceres told Aljazeera in 2016. 

The building of the dam would have had major impact on water, food and medicine for her Lenca people and even caused flooding. One of her successful protests included placing a roadblock that halted construction workers from reaching the dam building site. After almost 10 years of opposition, the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, who was jointly developing the dam project with DESA, pulled out of the project citing community resistance. 

Her activism and work in stopping the building of the dam gave Caceres notoriety and international attention. Caceres was awarded the Goldman environmental prize in 2015 for her role in preventing the building of the dam. The project was suspended shortly following her untimely death.

Authorities have connected her death directly to her activism work against the failed dam project.

The individuals behind the death of Caceres were connected to executives that were connected to DESA and the failed dam project. The reasoning behind the plotted murder was due to multiple delays and financial losses that were linked to protests that Caceres was behind. Back in November 2018, a Honduran court convicted the seven men for the attack. 

“From the outset, the path to justice has been painful, as our rights as victims have not been respected. These sentences are a start in breaking the impunity, but we’re going to make every effort to ensure that all those responsible – the company executives and state officials identified in the trial – are prosecuted,” Bertita Zúñiga, Cáceres’ second-eldest daughter, said after the men were charged on Monday. 

While Caceres’ family is happy to see some justice be delivered, Zúñiga still believes the real culprits behind her the murder still on the loose. She has previously blamed the Atala-Zablah family, a well-known Honduran business group and DESA shareholders, as the ones behind her mother’s murder. 

“This is a day of pain because the intellectual authors of my mother’s murder are still enjoying impunity,” Zuniga said to reporters. “We are not going to believe that there’s true justice until these people are in jail.”

Despite this tragedy, Zuniga is not letting her mother’s legacy go to waste.

The message that Caceres spread of protecting indigenous communities still lives on according to her daughter, who continues to do similar work. She is committed to keeping her mother’s legacy alive and remembers her for the amazing impact she had on marginalized communities around the globe. 

“I remember her as a hardworking person. But I also remember her with a big smile on her face, because I believe that this struggle cannot be just to martyrize ourselves. We fight with joy and hope because if we do not, more than half of the struggle is lost,” Zúñiga told EarthJustice. “We always say that the image of my mother multiplied because we found her present in the struggle of so many women from so many communities who continue to fight very hard.

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