Category: human rights

Dallas preacher says Jesus would seal the border

JeffressBy Alan Bean

The Rev. Robert Jeffress thinks Jesus would build a fence at the U.S. border so desperate children from violence-ridden countries would be discouraged from heading north.

“Yes, Jesus loved children,” Jeffress admits, “but he also respected law. He said, render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars.”

In other words, Christians shouldn’t trouble themselves with immigration policy; that’s Caesar’s concern.

Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, once suggested that Barack Obama is preparing the world for the coming of Antichrist, so his “Caesar” reference probably doesn’t mean that we should leave immigration policy in the hands of the presiding president.  He means instead that everything Jesus said about welcoming children, and all the warnings he pronounced against those who harden their hearts against the pain of young ones, is irrelevant to American immigration policy.

Sure, Christians must be kind to the children they encounter within the suburban bubble, but the boys and girls of Honduras simply are on their own.

Since nothing can be done for the unaccompanied migrant children on our doorstep, the most compassionate course is to build a border wall so thick and so tall that the poor little blighters will have no choice but to return to the violence and squalor that drove them into the arms of America.

That young girl of seven or eight, carrying her two-year old sister on her back has spawned a crisis of conscience among American Christians.

On the whole, we have responded admirably.  “This is an unfortunate, even awful, situation for everyone,” said David Hardage,  Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. “So much of what has happened and is happening is out of our control. What we can control is our response to human need. We will try to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need.”

Hardage sees Jesus standing on the side of desperate children, an assumption shared by most Texas Baptists.

Terry Henderson, state disaster relief director for Texas Baptist Men, compressed the issue to a simple question: “If Jesus was standing here with us, what would he tell us to do? That sounds kind of basic, but that’s the deal.”

That’s supposed to be a rhetorical question, but Robert Jeffress doesn’t provide the expected answer.  He thinks Jesus would slam the door.  Call it tough love. (more…)

205K deported parents separated from their children in just two years

By Alan Bean

Americans don’t agree on issues like abortion and gun rights, but most sentient citizens understand that kids need to be with their parents and parents need to be with their children.  We grieve for the families in Newtown CT who lost a child to a mad rampage because the worst nightmare of any parent is the horror of losing a child.

Does our compassion extend to undocumented parents separated from their children through deportation?  Seth Wessler has faithfully covered this issue for Colorlines and his most recent article raises issues most of us never think about because we don’t have to.  Parents frequently cross the border illegally in an attempt to reunite with a child.  Deportation destroys families.  Some deportees make several failed attempts to cross the border regardless of the consequences.  That’s what parents do.

Nearly 205K Deportations of Parents of U.S. Citizens in Just Over Two Years

by Seth Freed Wessler

The federal government conducted more than 200,000 deportations of parents who said their children are U.S. citizens in a timespan of just over two years, according to new data obtained by The figures represent the longest view to date of the scale of parental deportation. (more…)

Did the Religious Right enable Guatemalan genocide?

Pat Robertson

In January, former Guatemalan military dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt was ordered to stand trial for his role in almost 2,000 deaths and 1,400 human rights abuses that occurred during his rule as de-facto president from 1982-1983. Montt, according to the New York Times, faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for his part in Guatemala’s brutal 36-year civil war which resulted in the deaths of nearly 200,000 people.

According to Bill Berkowitz of, televangelist Pat Robertson enabled the Guatemalan genocide.

Montt was a favorite among conservative evangelicals, including Robertson who “praised Montt for his ‘enlightened leadership.'” Berkowitz argues that the Religious Right played a large role in U.S.-Central American relations during the 1980s. In an attempt to end communism and expand evangelical Protestantism in Central America, the Religious Right supported military dictators and policies that were “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.”

Take a moment to read Berkowitz’s enlightening essay posted below. MWN

Guatemala’s Former Leader Charged with Genocide. Pat Robertson Enabled It.

by Bill Berkowitz

Nearly thirty years ago, Guatemala’s ruthless dictator, José Efraín Ríos Montt and televangelist Pat Robertson were practically tied at the hip. Now, Guatemala’s judicial system is debating how to handle charges of genocide against the former military dictator, while Robertson, who had praised Ríos Montt for his `enlightened leadership,’ appears to have turned his back on his old friend.

In the early 1980s, José Efraín Ríos Montt, a military general was a favorite of the Reagan Administration and U.S. Christian conservative evangelical leaders – particularly televangelist Pat Robertson — and organizations. Ríos Montt was one of a series of military dictators that masterminded the murders of perhaps as many as 200,000 Guatemalans — including tens of thousands of Mayan people — as well as the destruction of a numerous Mayan villages. (more…)

“What have we become?”

by Lisa D’Souza

A few days ago, the New York Times reported that 2,000 of the 11,000 people housed in Chicago’s Cook County Jail  have a serious mental illness.   Sheriff Tom Dart calls himself the “largest mental health provider in the State of Illinois.”  In the next two months, Chicago plans to close half of its mental health care centers.  This will exacerbate an already tragic problem.

It’s what I think of as the sordid secret of the criminal justice system: a lot of the people we lock up in jails and prisons aren’t criminals.  Many have untreated mental illness.  A mentally ill person is about three times more likely to be jailed than they are to be hospitalized.

The 1960s were a watershed for freedom in this country.  New laws enforced the rights of  all people, regardless of skin color, to vote, go to school and find employment.  People with mental illnesses and physical disabilities gained the freedom to live in the communities instead of the  institutions where many had been warehoused.  The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that from 1955 to 1980, the number of people institutionalized in state mental hospitals fell from 559,000 to 154,000.

But how well have we stood by our brothers and sisters who struggle with mental illness?  The National Alliance on Mental Illness gives the U.S. an overall grade of D, with 6 states earning a failing grade.

Our neighbors are in crisis.  They have health care needs going unmet.  Our current answer is to put them in jail.  We, like Sheriff Dart, must ask ourselves, “What have we become?”

Will Texas return to detaining immigrant families?

In 2006, the state of Texas began detaining immigrant families and children at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, TX. The detention center did not stop housing immigrant children until 2009, after the ACLU of Texas sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Rather than turning to more humane and practical solutions like probation or home-like community shelters, however, Texas may soon reinstate the practice of detaining immigrant families. According to KUT, ICE recently requested 100 new family detention beds in the state.

We need to consider how the criminalization of immigration contributes to mass incarceration. We must also look at the looming possibility of family detention, the effects of which would be devastating to the physical and mental well-being of immigrant children and families in Texas. MW

Immigrant Family Detention Could Return to Texas

by Erika Aguilar

Undocumented families waiting for their immigration status to be determined could soon be held in detention centers in Texas. The federal government is reviewing contracts from companies interested in running them.

Central Texas housed immigrant families in the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor from 2006 to 2009, and some immigration rights advocates say they fear the practice of detaining families could return.

The ACLU of Texas sued the T. Don Hutto Center and  Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2007 for detaining immigrant children.

“The ICE field office started using its discretion a little more bit more wisely, allowing some of the bond-eligible families to bond out,” said Lisa Graybill, the legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “Others were placed in shelters like Casa Marianella, which is a shelter for immigrant families and immigrant women, and other sort of community-based alternatives.”

After that, the only detention center in the country still housing families was in Pennsylvania. That center will be closed in March. But last November, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement put out a request for proposal for 100 new family detention beds in Texas. (more…)

Immigrant detention in the U.S.: Tales from within

by Melanie Wilmoth

In a recent report published at, Seth Freed Wessler describes his experiences visiting the Baker County Jail and several other immigrant detention centers throughout Florida and Texas.

Since 2009, the rapid expansion of immigrant detention in the U.S. has led Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to create or expand at least 10 detention centers. In addition, immigrant detention accounts for over $2 billion in the 2012 federal appropriations bill. The private prison industry, which grosses about $5 billion annually, is contracted to operate most of these detention facilities.

Despite the Obama administration’s plan to reform immigration laws and prioritize alternatives to mass detention, “ICE under Obama has moved to build more facilities, which it says will be ‘humane.’”

But, in reality, how “humane” are these facilities?  (more…)

Obama administration backs away from mass deportation

By Alan Bean

The Obama administration appears to be backing away from the mass deportation of the undocumented.  As Maria Hinojosa’s excellent (and disturbing) documentary, Lost in Detention asked whether “the worst of the worst” were being deported (the administration’s official line) or if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel were scrambling to meet a self-imposed quota of 400,000 deportations.  Lost in Detention focused on the thousands of people who have been detained indefinitely while their cases proceed slowly through the immigration bureaucracy.  In the meantime, children have been separated from their children and wives from husbands.

It’s an unprincipled mess.

The new policy will begin with a pilot program targeting only those accused of a felony.  Since being in the country without documentation does not rise to the level of a crime, those with no criminal record will not be treated like dangerous criminals.  According to the New York Times, immigration officials

will focus on cases of immigrants who have been arrested for deportation, but who are not being held in detention while their cases proceed.  Immigrants who are deemed to qualify for prosecutorial discretion will have their cases closed, but not dismissed, officials said. That means that agents could re-open the deportations at any time if the immigrants commit a crime or a new immigration violation. Immigrants whose cases are closed will be allowed to remain in the United States, but they will be in legal limbo, without any positive immigration status.

The new policy is a lot like don’t ask, don’t tell, a pragmatic compromise driven by the lack of a national consensus.  Hopefully, the days of mass deportation are over–at least for now.  Media coverage, particularly Ms. Hinojosa’s compelling documentary, have given the Obama administration a black eye and damaged the President’s standing with Latino voters. 

Advocacy is the art of embarrassment.  Homeland Security officials insist that the 400,000 will be met, but, if this new policy takes hold, that seems unlikely.  There simply aren’t that many bad actors out there.

U.S. to Review Cases Seeking Deportations


The Department of Homeland Security will begin a review on Thursday of all deportation cases before the immigration courts and start a nationwide training program for enforcement agents and prosecuting lawyers, with the goal of speeding deportations of convicted criminals and halting those of many illegal immigrants with no criminal record. (more…)

“Lost in detention”: The criminalization of immigration

by Melanie Wilmoth

Earlier this week, PBS Frontline aired its documentary “Lost in Detention.” The documentary takes a hard look at the broken U.S. immigration system and the resulting increase in the number of detained and deported immigrants.

Under the Obama Administration, over 400,000 immigrants were detained and deported this year alone (which is a significantly higher number of deportations than in previous administrations). As Frontline suggests, much of this increase in detention and deportation is a result of Secure Communities, a partnership between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI that uses fingerprint data to track criminal immigrants. Secure Communities allegedly aids in the deportation of immigrants who have committed serious crimes and, thus, pose a threat to public safety. According to ICE, Secure Communities prioritizes “the removal of individuals who present the most significant threats to public safety as determined by the severity of their crime, their criminal history, and other factors.”

However, the Secure Communities program has reached far beyond its stated purpose. Since its implementation in 2008, Secure Communities has successfully broken up families and incited fear in immigrant communities. Thousands of individuals, many of whom are non-criminals, U.S. citizens, and parents of children who are U.S. citizens, have been arrested. In addition, Latinos have been disproportionately affected by Secure Communities, making up 93% of those arrested through the program.

After arrest, 83% of individuals are placed in detention centers. Punitive in nature, the 250 detention centers in the country warehouse immigrants in prison-like settings until deportation. Reports of abuse in these centers run rampant.  (more…)

“A culture of cruelty:” Anti-immigrant sentiment and the war on immigration

By Melanie Wilmoth

A recent report published by No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, documents in detail the abuses perpetrated by U.S. Border Patrol against immigrant detainees. No More Deaths is an Arizona-based organization that fights for immigrant rights and immigration reform. Through their research over the last 3 years, they have documented over 30,000 incidents of immigrant abuse.

Their report, “A Culture of Cruelty,” tells the stories of a sampling of the individuals who suffered from these abuses. The abuses documented include deprivation of food and water, failure to treat serious medical conditions, physical and psychological abuse, death threats, and inhumane conditions within detention centers.

During the course of their investigation, No More Deaths also uncovered thousands of instances in which due process was denied to immigrant detainees:

“We recorded 1,063 incidents of detainees not receiving due process. Common ways in which due process were violated were:

  • Forms not being provided in a language that the person can read
  • Failure to inform people of their rights to legal counsel and the Mexican Consulate
  • Failure to provide access to the Mexican Consulate when requested
  • Failure to follow protocol for detainees requesting asylum
  • Coercion into signing voluntary repatriation documents under threat of violence, criminal charges, or lengthy detention times
  • Forced fingerprinting on voluntary deportation documents”

As No More Deaths rightly suggests, the “culture of abuse” among U.S. Border Patrol did not arise in isolation. The documented abuses and maltreatment are a reflection of an increasing anti-immigrant sentiment and a punitive consensus that has resulted in the criminalization of immigration.

“In the first half of Fiscal Year 2011, illegal entry and reentry were the most common federal criminal charges prosecuted nationwide,” No More Deaths reports. In Alabama alone, the recent immigration laws have caused thousands of individuals to flee for fear of being detained.

In addition to the anti-immigrant policies that contribute to the war on immigration, there is also an economic aspect that cannot be ignored. Private prison industries, in particular, profit from the increasing numbers of immigrant detainees:

“In the last five years, the annual number of immigrants detained and the cost of detaining them have doubled: in 2009, 383,524 immigrants were detained, costing taxpayers $1.7 billion at an average of $122 a day per bed. Private industry, thus, has strong economic incentives to push for ever more extreme anti-immigrant policies, regardless of the cost to government or the human toll involved…The nation’s largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, not only lobbied for but actually helped to draft Arizona’s SB 1070.”

The narratives of the immigrants that unfold throughout No More Deaths’ report are tragic and heart-wrenching, but their stories must be told if anything is to be done to change immigration policy and the current anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S.

Three Years, 30,000 Incidents of Human Rights Abuse: Are Border Patrol Agents the Real Criminals?

by Valeria Fernandez

Allegations range from Border Patrol agents denying food and water to adults and children in detention for several days, to purposely separating families during deportation.

Those are the findings of a new report released by the Arizona humanitarian aid organization No More Deaths. (more…)

Why declaring war on the undocumented is a really bad idea

By Alan Bean

A federal judge has upheld key portions of an Alabama immigration law that will likely drive thousands of Latino students out of the public school system.  Under the new law, public schools can now determine the immigration status of students.  Police can also question residents suspected of being undocumented and hold them without bond.

The Alabama law, as originally passed, was designed to make it impossible for undocumented residents to live in Alabama.  Judge Sharon Blackburn has temporarily blocked provisions that would:

_ Make it a crime for an undocumented immigrant to solicit work.

_ Make it a crime to transport or harbor an undocumented immigrant.

_ Allow discrimination lawsuits against companies that dismiss legal workers while hiring undocumented immigrants.

_ Forbid businesses from taking tax deductions for wages paid to workers who are in the country illegally.

_ Bar undocumented immigrants from attending public colleges.

_ Bar drivers from stopping along a road to hire temporary workers.

_ Make federal verification the only way in court to determine if someone is here legally.

Since the Hispanic population of Alabama is 3.9 percent, one wonders why state politicians are suddenly so exercised about immigration.  It’s simple.  Conservative politicians got elected by promising to clamp down on illegal immigration.  (more…)