Happy to be invited to talk about immigration on the Little Faith podcast.
Pictures of children behind what appear to be cages, reports of 1,500 children lost, stories of parents being separated from their children to be criminally prosecuted, and photos of long lines of families waiting outside ports of entry have filled the news recently. But what is really happening?
The Trump administration is reacting to rising month-to-month numbers of mostly Central American families and unaccompanied minors coming to the United States. The administration says they are trying to take advantage of the country’s asylum laws.
To deter people from coming in the first place, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced a “zero tolerance” policy in which Border Patrol agents are instructed to refer for prosecution everyone they apprehend, including parents traveling with their children.
The administration is separating children under two situations: one, if the parent can’t prove it’s their child; and two, if the parent is criminally prosecuted, said Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, in a recent congressional hearing held by U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson.
While CBP hasn’t provided numbers of parents prosecuted and separated in Arizona since the policy went into effect, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman said Friday that the Border Patrol along the entire U.S.-Mexico border held 1,995 minors traveling with 1,940 adults between April 19 and May 31 while the adults were prosecuted.
When most news consumers think of immigration or refugees, they think of specific geographies — the U.S.-Mexico border or Western Europe receiving people from Africa or the Middle East. But the movement of people is global, and the issues across geographical regions are more similar than different.
Opinion pieces about security and immigration published in a newspaper in Nairobi could be reproduced almost word for word in Washington; Sicilian advocates’ concerns over Frontex are almost identical to what Texas activists say about the Border Patrol; and when businessmen in Greece talk about Islamization and Sharia law, they echo concerns of Southern Arizona ranchers.
Migration has once again jumped to the top of the news agenda on both sides of the Atlantic — fueled by the Trump administration in the United States and by the arrival of more than a million people seeking refuge in Europe — but is the media giving this issue the right coverage?
I have focused on the topic of diversity and migration for the last 10 years and every election cycle, as politicians trot out immigration to motivate voters, we hear about the importance of reporting on this issue. That enthusiasm is almost always short-lived, though, and we find ourselves back where we began. Ideally, immigration should be treated to constant coverage that captures the nuance in the issues, much like education or health care. Instead, the media in general seems to cover it like a natural disaster.
One could argue that coverage in the last decade or so has been hampered across the board, as newsrooms in North America and Europe face shrinking resources while expectations to be faster and do more with less continue to rise. But the use of stereotypes, and the focus on crime and terrorism in immigration coverage by some media outlets, is hardly novel.
While in Germany the media is largely credited with the overwhelmingly positive reaction seen in the beginning of the so-called refugee crisis, earlier (and subsequent) coverage has been problematic. In the United States, coverage on immigration, according to researchers, has contributed to polarization on the issue.
If anything is different in this new wave of coverage, it is the climate in which news is being received. Now, on top of immigration being a hot-button and highly-politicized issue, we are living in an era when everything some people don’t like gets called “fake news” and where the term “lügenpresse,” the lying press, has come back in use. The distrust of the mainstream media is high and growing — especially in the United States. Among President Donald Trump’s supporters, nearly nine in 10 respondents to a new University of Virginia Center for Politics poll said that media criticism of the president reinforces that he is on the right track. The same percentage agreed with Trump’s assertion that the press is “the enemy of the American people.” In Germany, a poll conducted by the Allensbach Institute found 40 percent of respondents described the reporting on refugees as “one-sided.”
Immigration touches on issues of identity, human rights, justice and fairness — all against a backdrop of real and perceived economic impact. And based on the current picture researchers paint of how we in the media are doing, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
The stories we cover or don’t cover, the language we use, the voices we choose to represent, play a major role in shaping the public policy debate on immigration.
The Robert Bosch Foundation fellowship kept me busy for the latter half of 2016 but I did have the opportunity to participate in U.S. election coverage on Deutsche Welle’s Spanish-language broadcasts. I’ve added them to the list below.
Latino USA: Build! That! …Fence?
English. Radio. National Public Radio. Nov. 18, 2016.
Cuadriga: Trump y el mundo: ¿socios o enemigos?
Spanish. Television. Deutsche Welle. Nov. 10, 2016.
Cuadriga: Sexo, mentiras y video: ¿el fin de Trump?
Spanish. Television. Deutsche Welle. Oct. 13, 2016.
Poynter: No matter the era, covering immigration means helping people see nuance
English. Q&A. March 23, 2016.
University of Arizona: “Besieged Borders” panel
English. Panel discussion. Feb. 18, 2016.
Metro Week: Woman Banned from US; Children Stay
English. Television. Arizona Public Media. Sept. 26, 2015.
Arizona Week: Journalists Who Journeyed with Immigrants Tell Their Story
English. Television. Arizona Public Media. July 30, 2014.
The ACLU and four other civil and immigrant rights organizations filed a complaint Wednesday on behalf of 116 children who said they suffered abused and mistreatment while in custody of Customs and Border Protection.
The complaint released to the public said the abuse of immigrant children “persists in spite of prior litigation concerning the treatment of unaccompanied children,” in reference to the Flores Settlement Agreement.
In 1985, a class action lawsuit was filed against the then Immigration and Naturalization Service challenging the way it processed, apprehended and released children in custody.
Almost two decades ago, in 1997, a settlement was reached under which immigration officials are required to provide children:
(1) Access to food and drinking water.
(2) Medical assistance in the event of emergencies.
(3) Toilets and sinks.
(4) Adequate temperature control and ventilation.
(5) Adequate supervision to protect minors from others.
(6) Separation from unrelated adults whenever possible.
The Flores Agreement stipulates that unaccompanied minors in DHS custody be separated from unrelated adult detainees unless it is not immediately possible. When separation is impossible, a child’s detention with an unrelated adult will not exceed 24 hours.
It also requires that up-to-date records be maintained on minors placed in proceedings and remaining in custody for longer than 72 hours.
And under the agreement, meals must be offered to the unaccompanied child at least every six hours. The policy also requires that two of the meals served within the 24-hour period must be hot, and that juveniles must have regular access to snacks, milk and juice.
Many of the children included in this week’s complaint reported that officers had refused to give them sufficient water and that the food was not adequate, causing some of them to get sick.
A 2010 Office of Inspector General report found that CBP was in compliance with the general provisions of the Flores v. Reno Settlement Agreement, but still recommended that the agency: (1) evaluate its food-purchasing and contracting methods to ensure efficient use of resources; (2) ensure that detainees are informed of the safety of drinking water provided in hold rooms; (3) determine whether unaccompanied alien children are injured or require medical attention; (4) document medical care provided; (5) ensure that detention facilities maintain sufficient inventories of medical supplies; (6) ensure that toilets and sinks are routinely inspected and work properly; (7) verify that all required personnel complete the mandatory annual refresher training; and (8) accurately and consistently document required information pertaining to unaccompanied alien children.
Legal-service providers say the abuse of children while in custody and the violations of the settlement are systemic.
In May 2013, the National Immigrant Justice Center released a report in which it found that from 2008 to 2012, DHS detained more than 1,300 in adult facilities for periods ranging from three days to more than one year in violation of the Flores settlement.
Recently I spoke with Abdirahman Chirango, a 29-year-Somali native, about the current situation for refugees in Kenya.
In the article, I briefly touch upon how as a 6-year-old, Chirango had to flee on foot from his home country of Somalia to the Kenyan border. His village in lower Juba was raided and his mother was killed in front of him and his siblings by four masked men because she refused to be raped. There was nothing they could do but run.
There is much more to his story than what I could include in the article. His is a story about determination and perseverance. Of finding refuge and hope in education.
Chirango and his family walked for about 15 days to get to the Kenyan border. His aunt and uncle carrying his siblings, then 3 and 1 years old, in their arms. Back then he assumed his father was dead (he found out he was still alive many years later, when he was already in the United States).
“It the end only some survived,” he said inside the University of Arizona library, wearing a crisp white shirt, dress pants and pointy shoes. “Some people got tired and couldn’t walk anymore.”
Their feet would swell and even though their mind was telling them to go, he said, they just couldn’t walk.
They were so thirsty some would drink their own urine. In some cases, friends or relatives would offer their urine to another under the promise that they return the favor later on.
From 100 families traveling together, Chirango estimates only 20 made it.
“It was sad,” he said.
Even fathers gave up on their children.
Chirango lived as a refugee for 13 years in Kenya’s two camps, Dadaab and Kakuma, before coming to Tucson, Arizona, in 2005.
When asked about life in the camp, he repeatedly said it was “really, really hard.”
“I had to go to school during the day, then come back home and find ways to provide for me and for my grandma,” he said.
His grandmother used to fetch wood and weave baskets, fans and mats to sell, but Chirango had to assume the responsibility of providing for the family when he was about 12 years old, when his grandma could no longer work.
He would offer his services to other refugees in the camp. At one point he fetched water for a family for an entire month, earning a little more than $1.
Sometimes they would only have boiled beans and corn to eat, but they were lucky, he said, some families didn’t even have that.
“A lot of my peers left the refugee camp to go to neighboring towns in Kenya, but for me, inside my heart I know life is hard, but I can’t just walk away like this,” he said. “For me, I thought, no matter what happens I don’t want to give up my education because it’s the only way out.”
Chirango speaks with immense pride of his accomplishments in school.
He was always No. 1, he said. He might not have had clothes, shoes or books, but he was always No. 1.
Kenya taught him how to be a strong person, he said, to not walk away from his problems, but to instead find long-term solutions.
As a Bantu Somali, he said he was discriminated against by other Somalis. He was beaten until he bled. Forced to sit on the floor. Made to beg to borrow a classmate’s books. Robbed of his awards. Called slave. Dog.
But none of that mattered if he could continue learning to speak English, to write the ABCs.
“I had to learn to adapt,” he said. “If they told me to go and sit down on the floor, I did. If they beat me, I took it like a man.”
When he transferred from primary to secondary school, he had 805 points – 32 more points than the student who had held the previous record.
How does he remember the precise number, so many years later? “It was a very glorious moment in my life,” he said.
Today Chirango is working towards a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Arizona. After that he wants to earn a master’s degree (he still doesn’t know in what, though). All while helping run Tork’s Café and Grocery and, together with his wife, raising four young children.
To say I was impressed by what he has accomplished despite all the challenges he has faced would be an understatement. It definitely gave me something to think about. It was a great reminder of what we can do if we set our minds to it.