Saturday, July 19, 2014

Human Trafficking and Immigration Reform: The Refugee Crisis At Our Southern Border

This morning as I drove in there were two pre-teen boys standing on the overpass holding signs. As I slowed to read their messages, which were obviously written in their own somewhat sloppy script, one said, "Secure Our Border" and of course the other, "Impeach Obama".

To say this nation is weary of politicking when it comes to our immigration policies is an extreme understatement. The Twitter and Facebook feeds, the news headlines and op-ed columns are full of rants and pleas for resolution. No matter if you fall on the humanitarian side of the fence or the national security side, everyone agrees the status quo is unacceptable and the whole process is deeply flawed and broken.

There are no simple answers, there is no easy way out. There is only the critical need to come together for the sake of human dignity and to protect the most vulnerable among us. Here are the facts and the stories of those most at risk.

Homeland security reports there are 12,000,000 unauthorized immigrants in the USA. But according to border patrol agents this is closer to 20 million. “The more likely figure is 18-20 million and rising daily,” says Zack Taylor, chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, Inc. 

Whether it is 12 million or 30 million as some have claimed is not the issue. The reality is those are huge numbers that represent families living in limbo. And if the number does approach the 30 million mark, well then our sense of urgency must match it.

According to a Pew Hispanic Center report, 57% of unauthorized immigrants are from Mexico; 24% are from other Latin American countries, primarily from Central America; 9% are from Asia; 6% are from Europe and Canada; and 3% are from Africa and the rest of the world. The PHC also reported that in 2010, there are "1 million unauthorized immigrants under age 18 in the U.S., as well as 4.5 million U.S.-born children whose parents are unauthorized". 

That's 5.5 million potentially vulnerable children as a conservative estimate based on the number 12 million for unauthorized immigrants so that number could be two or three times higher. And the number of children immigrating alone is spiking exponentially, especially from Central America. The graphic below from The Economist.

Why the recent spike? What are these children fleeing from? The answers are deeply disturbing. This article from Vox is a must read to understand the current state of many Central American countries. The article reports "the murder rate in Honduras in 2012 was a whopping 30 percent higher than UN estimates of the civilian casualty rate at the height of the Iraq war. In other words, all three Central American countries were, statistically speaking, twice as dangerous for civilians as Iraq was."

This extreme violence is due to pandemic gang activity and children are uniquely vulnerable to gang violence. "The street gangs known as "maras" — M-18 and Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 — target kids for forced recruitment, usually in their early teenage years, but sometimes as young as kindergarten. They also forcibly recruit girls as "girlfriends," a euphemistic term for a non-consensual relationship that involves rape by one or more gang members. If children defy the gang's authority by refusing its demands, the punishment is harsh: rape, kidnapping, or murder."

Below, with well over 60,000 members, Mara Salvatrucha (aka MS-13) is easily one of the largest and most feared criminal gangs in the world.

Two more articles that outline the terror that these children live in: from The Guardian, and The New York Times. The stories in these articles are graphic. Especially the NYT piece. But they are the true accounts of what these kids are running from. Please read them and let them crush your heart.

Along with this refugee crisis of children fleeing violence is the issue of human trafficking across our southern border. The State Department estimates up to 50,000 people are trafficked across our southern border with Mexico annually. This usually takes two forms.

1. Sex trafficking: young girls are brought into the US and forced into prostitution or are sold over and over again as sex slaves. A high profile case in Houston where Federal prosecutors described a trafficking ring that was selling young Mexican girls, "[they]fixed the prices for sex with the underage girls based on how young and pretty they were. The victims were kept locked in a room over the bar and regularly beaten by pimps and clients.The prices for the sex acts ranged from $65 for 15 minutes to up to $500 per hour." A quick Google search reveals endless stories of young girls tricked, coerced, or kidnapped and brought to the US as sex slaves. A 12 year old forced to service 25 men a day in a field under a tarp is one of many stories revealing the need to act now with relentless determination.

2. Forced labor: There are thousands of documented cases of forced labor in the US agriculture industry. From the tomato farms and citrus groves of Florida to the livestock ranches of Colorado workers are lured to the US with false promises and then coerced into slave labor. Many of the types of labor exploitation trafficking victims endure are touched on in this report from Free The Slaves.

According to  "Enslaved workers are taken to labor camps where they face brutality and a near-total loss of control over their lives. As many as 12-16 [workers] may be housed in one cramped, run-down trailer, kept under constant surveillance by employers using a variety of methods, including armed guards. Some endure a constant barrage of verbal abuse along with threats of violence and death to themselves and their families back home. In the most severe cases, employers use public beatings, pistol-whippings, and shootings to make an example of those trying to escape. In addition, women in forced labor are sometimes faced with sexual harassment and even violent sexual assault."

When workers are undocumented they are afraid to call police when abused. They fear retaliation, deportation, incarceration, or worse. And yet we continue to demand cheaper and cheaper goods in America. We continue to claim that these men and woman are doing the jobs Americans will not do (unauthorized immigrants make up 25% of farm workers (not including temporary workers)) making them vital to our economy. We continue to profit from this cheap, sometimes free labor and because of this we the people have been silent too long.

My heart here is to outline a possible solution which makes the very best of a very bad situation. One that brings ultimate resolution and safety for the vulnerable caught in this border-less labyrinth. I feel any reform bill must have these three points included to be just, effective, and compassionate. 

First: We must close our borders. We must do it to keep the children from being sold into sexual slavery here. We must so we will know who is here, know they are citizens and make sure they have full rights. So they are not scared to seek justice or medical care. So they can better themselves through education and the many opportunities this incredible nation affords its people. And going forward we must enforce the law. A society who protects the weakest among its people is one who is governed by compassion and the rule of law. We must at the same time always and perpetually have open doors to all those who are fleeing persecution and abuse.This is what has always made America amazing, it is what I would love my country to be known for again. We cannot solve all the worlds problems. We cannot end all the abuses that send people fleeing. But when those that are desperate for freedom come to American shores we can say to them, "you are welcome here, you are safe now, you are family."

Second: We must give amnesty to those who are already here. We have benefited from their hard work and cheap labor. Those who have fake social security numbers have paid into a retirement they will never see. Money the US government is glad to have and use. We must fast track these unauthorized immigrants to citizenship. Not superseding the ones who have immigrated legally but with an urgency that admits that what we have is not an immigration crisis but a refugee one. Once these immigrants are in our system then those few that are dangerous felons can be deported. 

Third: We must take political expediency and opportunism out of the equation. Whether we suspend the right of those unauthorized immigrants receiving amnesty to vote for an election cycle or two; this is a small price to pay for not giving political parties a voter base they can leverage. Our response to this humanitarian crisis must be apolitical and dignified. We must restore the humanity to this deeply troubled situation. This is not about what is best for America anymore. This is about what is right, what is ethical, what is good. We the people have eaten the fruits picked by bruised and broken hands. We the people have worn the cotton picked by beaten and bloodied backs. We the people with bellies full while those who have labored without pay in our fields have gone hungry. No more.

We are a nation of immigrants who once proudly, compassionately proclaimed:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Have we become a nation of closed and hardened hearts? Have we long forgotten where we came from? Are we willing to do less for the scared and battered children of the world then we will for our own children? Are we willing to allow this refugee crisis to continue unabated?

I hope our collective response is a loud, resounding "No! Not on our watch, not now, not ever!"

Please contact your congressperson. You can do so here. Tell them what we have in America is a refugee crisis and you will not allow it to be politicized. Tell them you want reform now. If you agree with the some or all of the three points above then email them to your senators and representatives along with your ideas. Let them know your America is one of compassion. Let them know your vote is for human dignity and always for safe harbor of the persecuted. Please sign this petition. And thank you for caring about justice and opening your hearts with compassion. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Locust Effect: Why The End Of Poverty Requires The End Of Violence

In the following quote Gary Haugen sums up the title and the premise of his new book The Locust Effect. “Without the world noticing, the locusts of common, criminal violence are right now ravaging the lives and dreams of billions of our poorest neighbors.” It is rare, that a statement like this, one so enormous, so far reaching in its implications, so shocking in its claim can also be undeniably true. As with the holocaust or the purgings of Stalin or Mao's "great leap forward" that saw 45 million killed in 4 years, all humanity wonders aloud how this could be happening under our noses, "without the world noticing". They ask where the good people are? The collective ego assumes we have evolved past this sort of mass evil. Mr. Haugen goes on to indict us all.

“One would hope that if the world woke up to such a reality, it would swiftly acknowledge and respond to the disaster—but tragically, the world has neither woken up to the reality nor responded in a way that offers meaningful hope for the poor. It has mostly said and done nothing. And as we shall see, the failure to respond to such a basic need—to prioritize criminal justice systems that can protect poor people from common violence—has had a devastating impact on two great struggles that made heroic progress in the last century but have stalled out for the poorest in the twenty-first century: namely, the struggle to end severe poverty and the fight to secure the most basic human rights.”

Here are just a few statistics from The Locust Effect that we at COH found excruciating.

-29.8 million men, women and children enslaved today

-70% of women in Peru have been the victims of rape or attempted rape.

-95% of women and girls who have reported sexual violence are still waiting for justice. Average wait time 6 years for those that finally get justice. Most do not.

-Only 5 perpetrators of forced labor in India have been arrested in the last 15 years. There are upwards of 10 million enslaved in India in forced labor.

-Worldwide there are nearly 2 million children in the sex trade.

-Every year 5 million people are the victims of forced eviction. 

-In the developing world school is the most prevalent place for sexual violence. This means more girls denied education when parents keep them home to keep them safe. And of course many girls dropping out of school traumatized by the sexual violence.

-And finally, the statistic that brings this all together in staggering, mind-bending soul-crushing fashion, 4 billion of the world's poorest people are estimated to live outside of the protection of the law.

In the absence of enforced law the strong take from the weak whenever they desire. Land, sex, physical labor; all the poor have, coerced or stolen or worse from them all across the developing world. The problem is deeply complex, rooted in and mired by years of bad governance and inattention by the world community. And though it speaks to the wickedness men are capable of it also reveals how this same wickedness can be kept in relative check where there is rule of law. Please read this book. It will change how you understand poverty, how you view the world. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Child Pornography and Human Trafficking in the News

New research shows that Internet pornography is more addictive than cocaine and heroine — and that it “literally changes the physical matter within the brain so that new neurological pathways require pornographic material in order to trigger the desired reward sensation”. And current trends suggest that the material desired is of an increasingly violent nature and of younger and younger victims. The rate of production of child pornography is eclipsing all other forms of porn production.

Though it is true that there are women who choose to be filmed sexually, any child filmed pornographically is always a coerced or forced victim and therefore they have been exploited. And if they have been transported or sold or rented for this purpose they have also been trafficked. The following articles are vile and horrific and they reveal an alarming escalation in the amount of child pornography being produced and children being violated. These stories involve some of the youngest victims of commercial sexual exploitation by some of the most perverse perpetrators the world has ever known. Please read them, let the horrors of these stories change you forever. Let them be the catalyst that makes you an abolitionist for life. Truly there is no one more voiceless than children. Please be their voice. Thank you.

Click the bold heading to be taken to the full articles. 

John Bidmead (above), 65, was caught red handed by police as he watched a child sex abuse movie on a 50-inch television, when they knocked on his front door with a warrant to arrest him. They found him in possession of one million child porn images including 24,000 images of adults violating children.

Stewart Matthew Kidwell (above), 36, of Blanchester, Ohio, was arrested today on charges that he sought someone online to rape a 4-year-old family member while he watched and that he distributed child pornography through a social media website.

Experts say New Zealanders seeking child pornography are increasingly demanding younger victims and more violent abuse. The Department of Internal Affairs has already blocked 34 million attempts, now upwards of a million a month, within New Zealand to access at least one of 582 child sex abuse sites blocked by government filters since 2010.

Tommy Lee Waugh (above), 29, of Wartburg, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday morning to production of child pornography. Authorities rescued a 5-week old infant baby girl in his care that he had sexually abused, recorded it, and shared the images over the internet.

Bret Allan Nichols, 29, made an initial appearance in federal court Tuesday on three counts, including producing child pornography, possessing it, and receiving and distributing it. A woman reportedly told agents that he would make payments of up to $200 to watch her and her husband have sex with their daughter.

Toronto Police Service Detective Constable Lisa Belanger (L) and Inspector Joanna Beaven-Desjardins of the Toronto Police Service Sex Crimes Unit (R) announce hundreds of arrests in a global child exploitation investigation.
Nearly 400 children have been rescued and 348 adults arrested following an international child pornography investigation. A pornography site run by 42-year old Brian Way, sold and distributed images of child exploitation to over 50 counties. Police seized over 45 terabytes of data from the $4-million business that included images and videos of “horrific sexual acts against very young children that were some of the worst they have ever viewed." Among those arrested were 40 school teachers, nine doctors and nurses, six law enforcement personnel, nine pastors and priests and three foster parents.

A Broward county Florida man — who agents say was using a dead man's identity — was arrested Friday on allegations he was part of a child pornography conspiracy that victimized a baby girl and toddler. For now, the suspect is booked into the Broward County jail under the name that he gave to law enforcement: Cliff Shaw (above), age 48. "Shaw" and Jason Barber, 36, who lives in Las Vegas, are accused of creating and exchanging pornographic images of an infant girl, between 6 and 9 months old, and a female toddler.