Things That Matter

It Hasn’t Always Been A Crime To Cross The US-Mexico Border, So When Did Things Change?

Let’s start from the beginning. While immigration has been an issue on everyone’s lips over the past while after the Trump administration started enforcing a zero tolerance policy against border crossings, a new way of thinking about the issue was introduced during the Democratic debates.

Presidential hopeful Julián Castro suggested that border crossings should be decriminalized. Because if border crossings aren’t a criminal offense, then people can’t be charged for crossing the border illegally, right? Well, in short, yes. But the issue concerning what’s officially known as “Section 1325” is more complicated than what it initially seems, on the surface.

Decriminalization does not mean a free-for-all across the border.

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As much as the Trump administration would likely characterize the proposed policy as a stab at open borders, that’s not the case. The reality is that crossing the border at the moment is treated as a criminal offense, meaning that those without the appropriate documentation are automatically detained indefinitely: they are treated as a criminal.

However, decriminalizing border crossings would instead ensure that those who do attempt to cross the border are not slapped with charges of a criminal offense.

Instead, border crossings without appropriate documentation would be treated as a civil offense. In the same way that people aren’t considered a criminal for accruing a speeding fine, people crossing the border also wouldn’t be automatically treated as a criminal. This proposed approach is also more consistent with the US’ role as a signatory for the United Nation’s 1951 Refugee Convention. That is, that it’s not illegal for people to cross international borders and request asylum from another country.

Decriminalization would mean considering a new model for regulating the traffic of people across the border.

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Granted, the US still has to consider its security interests when processing requests for asylum. However, the current state of things has seen exponential overcrowding and related issues in detention centers near the border, with no indication as to whether people are seeing their requests for asylum considered at all.

Beyond the human rights problems this presents, there is also a legal quandary that must be considered in the US judicial system. Currently, the appropriate punishments for migrating across the border include both detainment and deportation – which, let’s face it, cannot be fulfilled at the same time. 

This turns into an argument around semantics: should someone be deported if they haven’t served their time in a detention center? And should someone stay in a detention center when they really should have been deported long beforehand, to prevent them from accessing the US at all? Castro’s proposal is not just about alleviating the stress being placed on US resources by detaining considerable numbers of immigrants, nor is it only about correcting human rights atrocities. It’s also about considering how immigrants are treated by the legal system.

It’s actually possible that decriminalization could reduce the number of illegal immigrants who stay indefinitely in the US.

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And yes, that’s including those who have been detained. Instead, if an immigrant was caught crossing the border without papers, they would be detained only for a brief amount of time. Once it is determined by authorities that the immigrant doesn’t raise any red flags, they would be released into the US, complete with a case management system to check in on them. The immigrant would then have to attend an immigration hearing, which would determine their status. Should it be found that the immigrant did not qualify for asylum, they then would accordingly be deported.

The positive of such a proposal is that family separation would be a thing of the past. Because border crossings wouldn’t involve criminal prosecution, there would be no reason to detain, and thus separate, families. Children would not be psychologically scarred for life simply because their parents sought a better future for them.

In fact, the US has had a longer history of decriminalized borders than criminalized ones.

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It’s worth noting that this idea of decriminalized borders isn’t really a new one. It wasn’t until 1929 that the US passed a bill that considered border crossings as a criminal misdemeanor, which meant that people could be prosecuted for entering the US without the proper authorization.

Most immigration laws before this point were focused on keeping out alcohol, gun traffickers and Asian immigrants. But, it was a white supremacist senator, Coleman Livingston Blease, who suggested fees and testing at the US-Mexico border – or, Section 1325 of Title 8 in the US Code. Are we surprised? In retrospect, no, no we are not. 

To be honest, even with this relatively short history of the criminalized border crossings, most presidents paid immigration little attention, as doing so would result in forever prosecuting misdemeanor illegal entry cases. Generally speaking, those caught crossing the border were simply informally returned.

Granted, there were some exceptions to this attitude. For example, The Great Depression saw Mexicans demonized for taking much-needed work, and deportations spiked around that time. However, it wasn’t really until the Bush administration that more decisive, ongoing action was taken on immigration. This gradual escalation in enforcing immigration policies led us to the catastrophe we’re seeing today at the borders, under the Trump administration.

So, how can you look forward to a future of decriminalized border crossings?

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Voting for 2020 presidential candidates who favor decriminalized border crossings are your best bet, if you’re keen on seeing the law changed. It’s worth listening to each candidate’s stance on immigration. For instance, aside from Castro, Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren has also endorsed repealing Section 1325. On the other hand, Beto O’Rourke rejected the idea from the outset, proposing his own set of aggressive immigration plans. The key is to listen to the policy proposals – not just smooth platitudes.

While voting strategically is probably one of the most effective ways to see decriminalized border crossings, you do have other ways of continuing the conversation. Sharing articles on social media, like this one, can educate people and start worthwhile discussions around the issue. Writing, and even meeting with, your local political representatives can increase their own awareness of constituent interests. After all, it’s their job to represent you! Getting involved with activist groups that promote immigrant rights is another way that you can promote and work towards the decriminalization of border crossings.

Anyway, we’ll leave you with this: the wildest fact is that, from 1980 to 2010, the Border Patrol budget was increased 16 times. This was despite the reality that the number of attempted undocumented entries did not rise during this time. Considering the mounting numbers of detainees at the border, it stands to reason that immigration is yet another issue reduced to sound bites and narrative twisting from those politicians seeking to Make America Great Again – despite human welfare being at stake. While we can discuss all we like about when and how border crossings have been treated by the criminal system, the important thing to focus on is how we value human lives.

READ: Fear And Anxiety Grip Undocumented Community Nationwide As Walmart Arrests Escalate

Here Are Nine Fascinating Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Puerto Rico

Culture

Here Are Nine Fascinating Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Puerto Rico

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Over the last couple of years, Puerto Rico has been in the news probably more than ever. From the lingering effects of Hurricane Maria to the resignation of the island’s governor over a sexist and homophobic scandal, Puerto Rico has seen its share of environmental and political drama. Meanwhile, the island is also home to some of the world’s top artists – Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny, Residente – just to name a few.

But unless you or your family are actually Puerto Rican, very few people really know the island. Scratch the surface, though, and you’ll uncover all manner of surprising facts far beyond the white sands and crystal-clear waters. Whether it’s science, geography or politics, here are nine fascinating insights into this unique and beautiful island.

1. Rum, Rum, And Más Rum

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Rum is the libation of choice, the island’s chief export, and the base ingredient in many of Puerto Rico’s best cocktails. Puerto Rico and rum go way back, about 400 years, give or take a decade. Bacardi and Don Q are the largest producers on the island.

Puerto Rico is the only rum producer in the world to maintain a minimum aging law for its rum. You can get three main categories of rum here: light, dark, and añejo, or aged.

2. It’s About The Size Of Connecticut

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Given its population (it’s one of the most densely populated islands in the world), Puerto Rico is a relatively small place. If it were a state, it would be down near the bottom of the list in terms of size, even if you include the network of islands around the mainland.

3. It’s Home To The World’s Largest Radio Telescope

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Not known as a scientific hub, Puerto Rico has a technological marvel nestled in the hills of Arecibo. The dish measures 1,000 feet in diameter, spans about 20 acres, and is the most sensitive radio telescope in the world.

There’s a chance you’ve seen the Arecibo radio telescope, even if you’ve never been to Puerto Rico before. In the climactic last scene in the James Bond movie Goldeneye, the (inevitable) showdown between 007 and the bad guy takes place right here.

4. It’s Mascot Is The Unique Coquí Tree Frog

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Anyone who has been to Puerto Rico is familiar with the incredible coquí, which is native to the island. The inch-long amphibian has a powerful and melodic voice, and its high-pitched, chirrupy song can be heard for miles.

The coquís sing from dusk to dawn, and while the locals find this a lilting lullaby, unsuspecting foreigners aren’t always comforted by their song. But they are cute, and a much-loved symbol of Puerto Rico.

5. It’s One Of The World’s Beauty Queen Capitals

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The Miss Universe beauty pageant is one of the biggest and most famous across the globe. Among the countries whose representatives have won the title more than once is Puerto Rico. Despite the island’s small size and population in comparison with other countries, 5 winners have come from Puerto Rico: Marisol Malaret, Deborah Carthy Deu, Dayanara Torres, Denise Quinones, and Zuleyka Rivera.

6. The Island Was Home To Real Life Pirates

El Pirata Cofresi is Puerto Rico’s most famous, real-life pirate as the legend goes. Born in the seaside town of Cabo Rojo, he was encouraged to dream about exploring the sea from sailors in town.

According to Cofresi Palm Resort, as a pirate Cofresi would attack boats and share his spoils with the poor and as a result, people would help him hide. Compared to Robin hood for his actions, there is a story that says that some of his treasure may still be hidden.

7. It’s Home To Its Own Version Of The Galapagos Islands

Credit: US National Park Service

Off the western shore of mainland Puerto Rico you’ll find Mona Island, a natural reserve unspoiled by man. It has been compared to the Galapagos Islands for its natural beauty and its colony of iguanas. These iguanas, known as the Mona Iguana, are found nowhere else on earth, adding to the uniqueness of this ecosystem.

8. Coconuts Aren’t Native To Puerto Rico – Or The Americas At All

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You might picture yourself on the beach sipping delicious coconut water out of a freshly cut coconut, but did you know that coconuts are not native to the Americas?

The coconut was introduced to Puerto Rico in 1542, after the Spanish imported it from the Far East. Soon after it became part of the colonial Spanish diet and eventually emerged in one of the most popular drinks on the island – the Piña Colada.

9. San Juan Served As Headquarters During The Spanish Inquisition

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The Catholic Church has played an important role in the history and development of Puerto Rico since the early 1500s. As mentioned before, the oldest church still in use in the Americas was built in Old San Juan in 1522, yet, in 1519 Pope Leo X declared Puerto Rico the first ecclesiastical headquarters in the New World. 

As a result, Puerto Rico became the epicenter of the Spanish Inquisition – one of the most barbaric and infamous events of Western civilization.

Coronavirus Sparks History Lesson In Mexico As Citizens Learn About Cocoliztli

Things That Matter

Coronavirus Sparks History Lesson In Mexico As Citizens Learn About Cocoliztli

latinamericanstudies.org

Mexico is struggling to combat the effects of the global Coronavirus pandemic. So far, the country has almost 25,000 confirmed cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, with the worst still expected to come. With the country confronting one pandemic, it’s been forced to look back into history at another pandemic of epic proportions some 500 years ago.

We all know that the arrival of the Spaniards to the Americas brought disease and famine that left millions of Native Americans dead. However, one epidemic in particular has always mystified both modern-day scientists and Indigenous cultures that survive to this day.

During the 16th century, Mexico suffered a demographic catastrophe with few parallels in world’s history. In 1519, the year of the arrival of the Spaniards, the population in Mexico was estimated to be between 15 and 30 million inhabitants. Eighty-one years later, in 1600, only two million remained.

Cocolitzli was a massive epidemic that killed millions of Indigenous Mexicans – particularly the Azteca – shortly after the arrival of the Spanish.

From 1545 to 1550, Aztecs in what is today southern Mexico experienced a deadly outbreak. Anywhere from five to 15 million people died. Locally, it was known as cocoliztli, but the exact cause or causes has been a mystery for the past 500 years.

Based on the death toll, this outbreak is often referred to as the worst disease epidemic in the history of Mexico. Subsequent outbreaks continued to baffle both Spanish and native doctors, with little consensus among modern researchers on the cause.

It’s long been accepted that Europeans brought with them smallpox and other contagious diseases that wiped out Native populations. In fact, before the cocolitzli outbreak, smallpox killed an estimated eight million Indigenous Mexicans in just over a year.

What did this cocolitzli outbreak look like across the country?

The outbreak started in 1545 when disaster struck the Aztec nation. The disease had a very short course, lasting three to five days. It started abruptly with high fever, vertigo, severe headache, insatiable thirst, red eyes and weak pulse. Patients became intensely jaundiced, very anxious, and restless. Subsequently, hard painful nodules appeared behind one or both ears, sometimes so large that they occupied the entire neck and half of the face. 

Within five years as many as 15 million people – an estimated 80% of the population – were wiped out in an epidemic the locals named “cocoliztli”. The word means pestilence in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Its cause, however, has been questioned for nearly 500 years.

Scientists have tried to identify the cause of the epidemic and it turns out it might have been from a common type of bacteria.

Credit: Christina Warriner / YUCUNDAA ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT

According to study author Åshild Vågene from the Max Planck Institute, the strain is a bacterial infection that causes a type of enteric fever nearly identical to typhoid. While that specific strain of salmonella is much rarer today, Vågene says it would have spread similarly. Any food or water contaminated with the strain would have turned deadly once ingested.

Salmonella enterica—subset Paratyphi C to be exact—was present in the DNA of ten different individuals buried at the only known burial site, Teposcolula-Yucundaa, associated with cocoliztli.

Historians and archaeologists have long suspected that a blood-borne illness was responsible for cocoliztliDepictions by both Spanish and indigenous artists show the infected with nose bleeds and coughing up blood.

“This is one of the diseases that doesn’t leave any visible clues on the skeleton,” Vågene told National Geographic, adding that very few diseases do.

The epidemic has many worried about Covid-19’s effects on today’s Indigenous communities.

It’s difficult to say why the cocoliztli was so deadly for the Indigenous community, but they may also have been suffering from malnourishment as a result of a great drought that afflicted the region at the time.

If the bug wasn’t present in the Americas before European arrival, the locals may have lacked a strong natural immune response to the disease and made them more susceptible. Whatever the pathogen, it swept through the region like a storm. At the time, historian Fray Juan de Torquemada wrote, “In the year 1576, a great mortality and pestilence that lasted for more than a year overcame the Indians … the place we know as New Spain was left almost empty.”