US Is Using Pandemic as an Excuse to Send Asylum Seekers Back Into Harm’s Way

The U.S. is using the pandemic as a pretext to further shut down asylum, while spreading the virus through deportations.

. . .

COVID-19 Weaponized to Shut Down Borders

The Trump administration began pushing its agenda of shutting down asylum in the U.S. right out of the gate, and COVID-19 has now provided a new justification. Purportedly to protect public health, the government has essentially shut down asylum at the southern border with Mexico while the U.S. spreads the virus through deportations. Asylum deals with Central American nations are currently in limbo, but the administration could begin sending people to a third country, Honduras, at any time.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security signed a series of bilateral agreements with security officials in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, including an asylum cooperative agreement (ACA) with each country. The agreements permit the U.S. to send asylum seekers of other nationalities to precisely those Central American countries that hundreds of thousands of citizens have been fleeing, and forcing them to seek asylum there instead or return home.

More than 900 Hondurans and Salvadorans were sent to Guatemala under the agreement between November 2019 and mid-March 2020, when implementation was suspended due to factors related to COVID-19, and the president of El Salvador said months prior that his country did not yet have any capacity to receive people under the third country deal. But implementation of the U.S.-Honduras asylum cooperative agreement could potentially begin at any time, following its publication on May 1 in the U.S. Federal Register.

“There are some reasons why the Trump administration might roll out some other ACAs like the Honduran ACA,” said Yael Schacher, senior U.S. advocate at Refugees International, a humanitarian and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

Together with Human Rights Watch, Refugees International just released a new report, “Deportation with a Layover,” that examines the U.S.-Guatemala asylum cooperative agreement. The May 19 report details rights violations and lack of protection at every step of the way, from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody to Guatemala. People are effectively compelled to abandon their asylum claims, according to the report, which notes only 20 of the 939 Hondurans and Salvadorans sent to Guatemala under the deal applied for asylum in Guatemala.

Source: US Is Using Pandemic as an Excuse to Send Asylum Seekers Back Into Harm’s Way

The Detention Camps at the Border Are a Crime – The Atlantic

“The initial rollout of the family-separation policy, and then its denial, showed the Trump administration that its campaign of dehumanization against Latino immigrants is weakest when it targets children. This is the reason for the secrecy behind the squalid conditions at immigrant-detention facilities holding minors, which contrasts sharply with the very public announcements of “millions of deportations” by the president himself.“They don’t want eyeballs on the actual conditions of these places,” said Amy Cohen, a doctor who consults on cases involving the 1993 Flores settlement, which continues to govern the conditions for children in immigration custody. “What they tell you is that they are protecting the privacy of these children. That makes no sense. What we need to be doing is protecting the lives of these children. And unfortunately, that does not seem to be a priority of the government.”The journalist Jonathan Katz argued in May that given the intent behind these facilities, and the conditions that migrants are being held in, they are best described as a concentration-camp system in the United States. That assessment was echoed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was promptly accused of trivializing the Holocaust. “Allegations that somehow the United States is operating in a way that is in any way a parallel to the Holocaust is just completely ludicrous,” Representative Liz Cheney wrote. Although Ocasio-Cortez did not mention the Holocaust, the association between the Shoah and concentration camps is strong, and attacking an opponent for hyperbole is easier than defending the torture of children—not that Cheney is at all opposed to torture.”

Source: The Detention Camps at the Border Are a Crime – The Atlantic

The Complicity of Ben Carson – Rolling Stone

“The Housing secretary has a new rule that may force tens of thousands of children into homelessness, all because President Trump tells us we should hate their undocumented relatives.

. . . On April 18th, the very same day that Attorney General William Barr released a redacted version of Robert Mueller’s findings, Carson announced a proposal that would reinforce a 1980 law stating that undocumented immigrants are ineligible for any financial assistance related to public housing and make it even more strict. (That this new rule targets Hispanic, Latinx and Muslim communities goes without saying; if American public housing was traditionally packed with Scandinavian families, I sincerely doubt that Carson would be displaying the kind of haste manifested in the quote below.)”

Source: The Complicity of Ben Carson – Rolling Stone

The Myth of Irish Slavery: A History of One of the Alt-Right’s Oldest Memes :::

inverseIn July 15, comedian Josh Androsky tweeted a video of a Proud Boy, a member of the alt-right men’s group started by Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, claiming that the Irish were enslaved.

“Irish people were slaves just like the fucking black people,” said the young man in a MAGA hat.

The statement, while probably jarring to most, is derived from a common alt-right myth and is yet another instance of fringe conservatives molding history into white supremacist propaganda. What makes this myth particular interesting is its own peculiar history: It was one of the first right-wing memes to be spread on the early internet.

One of the Oldest Memes on the Internet

Liam Hogan is a historian and researcher who has spent the past five years studying and debunking the Irish slavery myth. According to him, one of the seminal figures propagating the theory is Michael A. Hoffman II, who first spread his ideas on internet newsgroups in the 1990s. Hoffman’s perhaps most well known for his 1993 book They Were White and They Were Slaves: The Untold History of the Enslavement of Whites in Early America, a self-published title that was harshly criticized by academics, and like many alt-right mythologies, is still available on Amazon today.

Hoffman's book.
Hoffman’s book is still on Amazon.

That book has gone on to be the cornerstone of the Irish slavery myth, which according to Hogan, was ultimately concocted for nefarious purposes.

“The far-right embrace of the false equivalence inherent in the ‘Irish were slaves, too’ meme is not an attempt to assuage guilt,” Hogan wrote in an email to Inverse. “It is instead a blatant bid to support pre-existing anti-black racism.”

The myth was a common sight on white supremacist websites and message boards in the early 2000s, but Hogan noticed a sharp uptick in searches for “Irish slaves” between 2014 and 2016. It got so bad that 82 Irish researchers and writers (including Hogan) wrote an open letter excoriating the myth and urging publications to stop quoting conspiracy theorists.

Were the Irish Actually Slaves?

Brooks slave ship diagram
A diagram of the slave ship, Brooks. No Irish servant ever arrived to America like this.

The Irish have suffered many injustices in America from nativist resentmentjob discrimination, and religious bigotry. But they were never enslaved.

A small number of Irish arrived in the Americas as indentured servants. While the life of an indentured servant was brutal, it was not at all comparable to the chattel slavery that Africans were subjected to.

For one, indentured servitude was conditional and temporary. Irish servants were released after their contracts were up (typically seven years).

African Americans, however, were literally classified as a slave race. In early American history, children of slaves could be born free if they had a white parent, but these laws were slowly stripped away so that anyone with African heritage would be classified as black and therefore a slave.

Moreover, the conditions in which they worked were completely different. African slaves were subjected to inhuman horrors that would have been unthinkable to commit against an Irish servant. Whippings, brandings, mutilation, and rape were common.

American slavery was shockingly cruel even by historical standards. Though the treatment of slaves varied widely throughout the ancient world, most of them were still entitled to some basic rights and many slaves were even highly educated. The Greek philosopher Epictetus, for example, was born as a slave and trained to be a teacher.

Why Is the Irish Slavery Myth So Persistent?

Twelve Years a Slave, 12 Years a Slave
An illustration of Solomon Northrup, author of the memoir ‘Twelve Years a Slave’. Northrup was born a free man but drugged and enslaved on the basis of his race.

If the myth of Irish slavery is so demonstrably false, then why does it continue to be an alt-right talking point? As Hogan mentioned, it’s used as a cudgel for anti-black racism, but it also upholds the white supremacist narrative of fighting against the world.

“The far-right also promote the ‘white slavery’ or ‘Irish slavery’ meme because victimhood is the propagandic engine room of ethno-nationalism,” Hogan told Inverse in an email. “White nationalism is fundamentally rooted in victimhood, whereby the dominant group in society takes the position of ‘the oppressed’ to justify violence against the ‘other.’”

The glaring dissonance of white supremacist rhetoric is the simultaneous belief that white people are a superior race despite claiming constant victimhood in being outwitted by supposedly inferior forces such as the liberal media and its Jewish globalist puppet masters.

Altering history and referring to the Irish as slaves is an attempt to solve that discrepancy. For white supremacists, if the Irish managed to rise above discrimination through hard work and ingenuity, then it must mean the other races are lazy or unworthy. It also means that white supremacists will ultimately prevail over their foes.

In truth, the Irish escaped systematic inequality through neither work nor drive — that’s an impossible feat for any group of people. The target was removed from their backs because they began to be understood as white, according to scholar Noel Ignatiev. In 1863, Irish rioters targeted hundreds of black workers during the New York City draft riots, furious over the prospect of fighting in a war to free black slaves. By actively working against abolition movements and aligning themselves with the nativists who originally opposed them, Ignatiev says the Irish were eventually inducted into whiteness.

Law professor David Bernstein also pointed out that, as far as the law was concerned, the Irish were always considered white. During segregation, Irish children attended whites-only schools and none of them were subject to Jim Crow laws. African Americans, Native Americans, and Chinese Americans could not testify against white citizens in court, but Irish Americans could.

Unfortunately, facts and contexts aren’t held in high regard within the alt-right. On a grander scale, White Americans as a whole have been resistant to the idea that systematic racism is an enduring feature in American government because of a phenomenon that sociologist Robin DiAngelo has dubbed white fragility. The combination of far-right groups to falsify history and the refusal to acknowledge institutionalized discrimination means that the Irish slavery myth isn’t going away any time soon.

The Irish Slavery Myth Moving Forward

Irish slavery myth, coal miners
One of the more popular Irish slavery memes. Hogan points out that these boys were child miners for Pennsylvania Coal Co. but not slaves. The photograph was taken in 1911 by investigator Lewis Hines.

Ultimately, the propagation of the Irish slavery myth can be linked backed to the perennial white fear of changing demographics. It’s an attempt to counteract the well-documented benefits that White Americans enjoy by claiming there was a time when whites supposedly suffered more than minorities. This notion of white victimhood seems to be a pervasive belief among most White Americans.

55 percent of White Americans believe there is discrimination against white people in America today, according to a poll jointly conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Their beliefs are unfounded, yet it is the chief reason why the majority of white people across the board — from income level to gender — voted for Trump.

Racist anxiety has even altered the moral purity tests that white evangelicals once demanded from their chosen political candidates. In 2011, only 30 percent of white evangelicals were tolerant of elected officials who behaved unethically in their personal lives, according to a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute. In 2016, the same year Trump got elected, the number of white evangelicals expressing sympathy for immoral politicians doubled to a whopping 72 percent.

Whiteness has been a historical shield that has protected various groups from cultural and political bigotry, one that many White Americans believe will be forfeited if the country becomes less white. But unfortunately, a more diverse country doesn’t necessarily mean a more progressive one.

John Judis, a journalist who claimed that an increasingly diverse America would mean a less racist America, recanted his thesis after Donald Trump’s election. Judis and many other pundits believed that the rising numbers of interracial marriages and mixed-race Americans would lead to a more progressive country.

But in doing so, they vastly underesimated the flexibility of white supremacy. White people continue to be a majority power in the United States because of changing attitudes over who gets to be white and who doesn’t. The one-drop ruleapplied to Americans with African ancestry and the Irish induction into whiteness set these historical precedents hundreds of years ago.

As Judis pointed out, this has already been happening with some Asian Americans and Latino Americans. More than a quarter of both groups are in interracial marriages, the vast majority of which are Asian-White and Latino-White. Although the US census lists the children of these unions as Asian American and Latino American, more than 50 percent of biracial people from both groups identified as white. If this trend continues, then it’s unlikely that the United States will become a minority-majority country in the near future.

The Irish slavery myth is cribbing from an old playbook established by white supremacists years ago. The alt-right is simply the latest to do it by shitposting memesgaming Google results, and leveraging social media.

“These are the trademarks of Disinformation Age racism, the blanket denial of the existence of racism allied with feigned victimhood and the absolute obliteration of history,” Hogan said.

Jonathan D. Lee is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School. A lifelong competitive gamer, he’s written for Major League Gaming, 1337mag, GLHF Magazine, and the New York Videogame Critics Circle. He’s a big believer in Christian existentialism and mustard on hamburgers.

An Open Letter to Those Who Still Give a Damn ::: John Pavlovitz

An Open Letter to Those Who Still Give a Damn

JULY 21, 2018 / JOHN PAVLOVITZ

From   JohnPavlovitz  Stuff That Needs to Be Said

It’s exhausting to give a damn isn’t it?

To be a person of compassion in a time when compassion is in such great demand?

To wake up every day in days like these, and push back against predatory politicians and toxic systems and human rights atrocities and acts of treason and spiritual leadership failures and Presidential Tweet tantrums—the volume and the relentlessness of the threats can be wearying.

You may have noticed.

I think you have.

And you’re not simply carrying around these big picture, larger systemic sicknesses and political realities—but the people behind them; the names and the faces and the lives of specific human beings who are under unprecedented duress right now; people whose stories you listen to and know and are living within, people you dearly love.

And day after day, all these massive realities and these individual stories begin to accumulate upon your shoulders and in your clenched jaw and in your elevated heart rate, and in the knot in your stomach that returns every morning when you check Twitter or turn on the news or step out into your community or walk into the kitchen—and you see so many reasons for grief, places so many places compassion is so needed and yet so scarce.

And worst of all, is how many people both at distance and very close to you, just don’t seem to give a damn; how the pain of other people simply doesn’t register in them anymore.

It seems like fewer and fewer people are capable of even an entry-level empathy for the suffering around them, and you’re seriously considering joining their ranks, because of how tired you are of carrying both your own and their share of compassion for a hurting humanity.

Not long after the election I purchased a blood pressure monitor. And not one of those manual base models, either. I went high-end, top of the line; full upper arm cuff, automated pressure, digital readout—the works. I soon stopped using it though, as it was a daily reminder of how stressed I was. I don’t look at it any longer. I don’t measure my blood pressure anymore. Now I just assume it’s dangerously high.

Those of us who give a damn all have new dangers assailing our hearts these days, and it is in this time of relentless urgency and sustained trauma and prolonged fatigue and profound fracture that you and I find ourselves.

I’m not sure why you’re reading this, but it’s probably because still you’re a damn-giver; because you are a fierce lover of humanity and of the planet, and of people who don’t look or worship or sound like you. As a result you probably find yourself pissed off, disconnected, isolated, worn out, and exhausted because how few people are as moved by the need around them as you are.

Whether you’re an activist or a minister or a parent or a caregiver, or just a citizen of the planet who is moved by other people’s suffering—you likely feel the immeasurable heaviness of these days. Sure, speed and activity can mask it for a while, but if you stop long enough, the reality of the fatigue catches up to you—you can measure the toll it’s all taken on you. I want you to measure it. I want you reckon with how tired you are. I want you to hear yourself exhale with the heavy sigh of someone who feels the weight of it all.

There is a cost to compassion, a personal price tag to cultivating empathy in days when cruelty is trending. There is in your body and head and in your midst, a collateral damage to you giving a damn when others do not, and it manifests itself in many ways: in irritability, impatience, physical illness, eating emotionally, addictive behavior, the inability to be present to the people who love you, an obsession with social media, a fixation on how jacked up everything is.

Notice these things in you today, and give them your attention.
Extend some of that compassion you’re so willing to extend to the world—to yourself.
Take some time to step away from the fray and the fight. It will still be there when you return, and you’ll be better able to face it.

Friend, I know you’re exhausted. If you’re not exhausted right now your empathy is busted. But I also know that you aren’t alone.
Millions of people are as tired as you are right now.
We too, live in disbelief at how callous so many people we know and love have become.
We too, are incredulous witnessing our elected leaders and parents and neighbors and pastors and parents and favorite aunts abandon any semblance of kindness.
We too, feel the fatigue of believing we’re doing this damn-giving alone.

You are in good company, so keep going.
Fight like hell to keep your heart soft, even while so many people have become hardened.
Yes the world is upside-down right now, but we can make it right—one beautiful act of decency at a time.
Get some rest and keep going.
The world needs people like you.

Blessed are the damn-givers, for they will right-side the world.

About John Pavlovitz  

John Pavlovitz is a writer, pastor, and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. In the past four years his blog Stuff That Needs To Be Said has reached a diverse worldwide audience. A 20-year veteran in the trenches of local church ministry, John is committed to equality, diversity, and justice—both inside and outside faith communities. In 2017 he released his first book, A Bigger Table. His new book, Hope and Other Superpowers, arrives on November 6th.

Contact John

Amazon continues to profit from the sale of white-supremacist propaganda

July 6 at 6:00 AM  

The Washington Post

“Hate movements really rely on symbolism to carry their ideologies and signal their belief systems to other members of their tribe,” said Carrie Sloan, research director for the Action Center on Race & the Economy. “It’s so easy to go to Amazon and get a backpack to signal that your kid is somehow connected to neo-Nazi and white-nationalist ideology.”

Shoppers can purchase Amazon.com merchandise displaying symbols of white supremacy, such as a swastika necklace, a baby onesie with a burning cross, and a child’s backpack featuring a neo-Nazi meme, all in contradiction of the retail giant’s policy against selling products that promote hatred, according to a new report from two watchdog groups.

Amazon’s policy says that “prohibited listings” on its website include “products that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views.” But the report, to be released Friday by the Action Center on Race & the Economy and the Partnership for Working Families, argues that Amazon is failing to adhere to its own policy by allowing the sale of dozens of products in its online store as well as its publishing and music platforms that facilitate the spread of racist ideology.

“It’s clear that Amazon is bringing in money by propping up these hate organizations and allowing them to spread these messages in a moment of rising white nationalism and violence,” said Mariah Montgomery, campaign director for the Partnership for Working Families. The Action Center on Race & the Economy and the Partnership for Working Families are national nonprofit organizations that say they are focused on advancing racial and economic justice.

Continue reading

Roaming Charges: America, Unchecked and Unbalanced

Roaming Charges: America, Unchecked and Unbalanced

 

+ Someone should put together a volume of Trump’s lectures on natural resources. It will rival John Wesley Powell. This week’s  lesson was delivered in West Virginia is on how coal is more vital to US national security than oil & gas because you bomb pipelines but coal is “indestructible.” Read closely, there will be a quiz.

+ Jacques Derrida could’ve written an entire book trying to deconstruct these two sentences, plus fragment. Trump: “We also love the European Union. I was there many many years ago. Meaning my parents were born in the European Union.”

+ According to the Wall Street Journal, Silvio Berlusconi’s brand of populism is finally beginning to fade.  I looking back on those bizarre years, I find that I much prefer the Bunga-Bunga of Berlusconi’s proto-fascist Italy to the Womp-Womp of Trump’s proto-fascist America.

+ The kids at Mighty Writers’ El Futuro branch, an after-school writing academy in South Philly, had a great idea: collect Spanish language children’s books and deliver them to the kids locked up in  immigration detention centers. They got a grant to buy 700 books, most of them for the Berks Detention Center 75 miles north of Philly. The Mighty Writers packed the books in boxes and were prepared to deliver them, when ICE rang up to reject the offer. No explanation given. This is cruelty as policy.

MORE

Did the Founding Fathers Lead the American Revolution for the Pursuit of Liberty — Or Personal Greed?

Did the Founding Fathers Lead the American Revolution for the Pursuit of Liberty — Or Personal Greed?

Two political scientists are that the founding of the United States was less idealistic than we were led to believe.

In their book The Spoils of War, Bueno de Mesquita and Smith expand on their theory of political action as deriving largely from the personal ambitions of rulers and politicians in power. They apply this theory to the American presidents, and they begin their case with no lesser figure than President George Washington.

Washington, they argue, had deep financial interests in land. One estimate ranks him as the 59th richest man in all of American history, and he died with 60,000 acres to his name across Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, Maryland, and West Virginia, the authors write.

More:

https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/did-founding-fathers-lead-american-revolution-pursuit-liberty-or-personal-greed

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham l “The State of Black America: A Tale of Two Countries” l Guest: Dr. Wilmer Leon l April 6, 2013

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham

April 6, 2013       10 pm ET  LIVE

“The State of Black America: A Tale of Two Countries”

Tonight’s Guest: Dr. Wilmer Leon

 

04-06 Wiler2 Leon

 

“The State of Black America: A Tale of Two Countries”

Tonight’s Guest: Dr. Wilmer Leon

Dr. Leon comes to OCG once again to weigh in on the issues which face Black America, the politics of our problems and the light of solutions available.

Wilmer J. Leon III, Ph.D. is a Political Scientist whose primary areas of expertise are Black Politics, American Government, and Public Policy. He is a Teaching Associate in the Political Science Department at Howard University in Washington, D.C., a nationally syndicated broadcast radio talk show host, columnist, commentator, political consultant, TV host, lecturer, and much sought after motivational speaker.

Dr. Leon earned a BS degree in Political Science from Hampton Institute, a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from Howard University, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Howard University.

A serious void exists in the public discourse relating to the issues that directly and/or disproportionately impact the global village in which we live. Dr. Leon’s lectures and writings focus on issues such as the media’s coverage of national and international issues, the criminal industrial complex, environmental racism, school vouchers, health care, crime policy, economic globalization, American domestic and foreign policy from as much of a non- biased and academically accurate perspective as possible. Dr. Leon’s perspective and lectures are grounded in the history of the African American community and the tradition of African American scholarship.

Dr. Leon is host/producer of the nationally broadcast call in talk radio program Inside The Issues With Dr. Wilmer Leon on XM/Sirius satellite radio channel 169 “Urban View” and the host of Epilogue, a political book discussion program on Press TV. He hosts discussion on Facebook as Dr. Leon Prescriptions.

Dr. Leon was a regular guest on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight and is a contributing columnist to The Grio.com, The Black Agenda Report, The Maynard Institute.com, TruthOut.org, PoliticsInColor.com and Black Star News.

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham

“Speaking Truth to Power and Ourselves”

BROADCASTING     BRAVE     BOLD BLACK

LISTEN LIVE 

Join the discussion in our Open Chat during the broadcast.

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LIVE: OCG Meetinghouse: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/OCG
For More Information: http://www.ourcommongroundtalk.wordpress.com/

 

Profiting From Human Misery l Chris Hedges l TruthDig

Profiting From Human Misery

AP/Mel Evans
A row of beds inside the Elizabeth Detention Center.

By Chris Hedges

Marela, an undocumented immigrant in her 40s, stood outside the Elizabeth Detention Center in Elizabeth, N.J., on a chilly afternoon last week. She was there with a group of protesters who appear at the facility’s gates every year on Ash Wednesday to decry the nation’s immigration policy and conditions inside the center. She was there, she said, because of her friend Evelyn Obey.

Obey, 40, a Guatemalan and the single mother of a 12-year-old and a 6-year-old, was picked up in an immigration raid as she and nine other undocumented workers walked out of an office building they cleaned in Newark, N.J. Her two children instantly lost their only parent. She languished in detention. Another family took in the children, who never saw their mother again. Obey died in jail in 2010 from, according to the sign Villar had hung on her neck, “pulmonary thromboembolism, chronic bronchiolitis and emphysema and remote cardiac Ischemic Damage.’ ”

“She called me two days after she was seized,” Marela told me in Spanish. “She was hysterical. She was crying. She was worried about her children. We could not visit her because we do not have legal documents. We helped her get a lawyer. Then we heard she was sick. Then we heard she died. She was buried in an unmarked grave. We did not go to her burial. We were too scared of being seized and detained.”

The rally—about four dozen people, most from immigrant rights groups and local churches—was a flicker of consciousness in a nation that has yet to fully confront the totalitarian corporate forces arrayed against it. Several protesters in orange jumpsuits like those worn by inmates held signs reading: “I Want My Family Together,” “No Human Being is Illegal,” and “Education not Deportation.”

“The people who run that prison make money off of human misery,” said Diana Mejia, 47, an immigrant from Colombia who now has legal status, gesturing toward the old warehouse that now serves as the detention facility. As she spoke, a Catholic Worker band called the Filthy Rotten System belted out a protest song. A low-flying passenger jet, its red, green and white underbelly lights blinking in the night sky, rumbled overhead. Clergy walking amid the crowd marked the foreheads of participants with ashes to commemorate Ash Wednesday.

“Repentance is more than merely being sorry,” the Rev. Joyce Antila Phipps, the executive director of Casa de Esperanza, a community organization working with immigrants, told the gathering. “It is an act of turning around and then moving forward to make change.”
The majority of those we incarcerate in this country—and we incarcerate a quarter of the world’s prison population—have never committed a violent crime. Eleven million undocumented immigrants face the possibility of imprisonment and deportation. President Barack Obama, outpacing George W. Bush, has deported more than 400,000 people since he took office. Families, once someone is seized, detained and deported, are thrown into crisis. Children come home from school and find they have lost their mothers or fathers. The small incomes that once sustained them are snuffed out. Those who remain behind often become destitute.

But human beings matter little in the corporate state. We myopically serve the rapacious appetites of those dedicated to exploitation and maximizing profit. And our corporate masters view prisons—as they do education, health care and war—as a business. The 320-bed Elizabeth Detention Center, which houses only men, is run by one of the largest operators and owners of for-profit prisons in the country, Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, has annual revenues in excess of $1.7 billion. An average of 81,384 inmates are in its facilities on any one day. This is a greater number, the American Civil Liberties Union points out in a 2011 report, “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” than that held by the states of New York and New Jersey combined.

The for-profit prisons and their lobbyists in Washington and state capitals have successfully blocked immigration reform, have prevented a challenge to our draconian drug laws and are pushing through tougher detention policies. Locking up more and more human beings is the bedrock of the industry’s profits. These corporations are the engines behind the explosion of our prison system. They are the reason we have spent $300 billion on new prisons since 1980. They are also the reason serious reform is impossible.

The United States, from 1970 to 2005, increased its prison population by about 700 percent, according to statistics gathered by the ACLU. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the ACLU report notes, says that for-profit companies presently control about 18 percent of federal prisoners and 6.7 percent of all state prisoners. Private prisons account for nearly all of the new prisons built between 2000 and 2005. And nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government are shipped to for-profit prisons, according to Detention Watch Network.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which imprisons about 400,000 undocumented people a year, has an annual budget of more than $5 billion. ICE is planning to expand its operations by establishing several mega-detention centers, most run by private corporations, in states such as New Jersey, Texas, Florida, California and Illinois. Many of these private contractors are, not surprisingly, large campaign donors to “law and order” politicians including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

In CCA’s annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission for 2011, cited by the ACLU, the prison company bluntly states its opposition to prison reform. “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws,” it declares. CCA goes on to warn that “any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration” could “potentially [reduce] demand for correctional facilities,” as would “mak[ing] more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior,” the adoption of “sentencing alternatives [that] … could put some offenders on probation” and “reductions in crime rates.”

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Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

Hedges was part of the team of reporters at The New York Times awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. He also received the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism in 2002. The Los Angeles Press Club honored Hedges’ original columns in Truthdig by naming the author the Online Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011. The LAPC also granted him the Best Online Column award in 2010 for his Truthdig essay “One Day We’ll All Be Terrorists.”

Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City and has taught at Columbia University, New York University and Princeton University. He currently teaches inmates at a correctional facility in New Jersey.

Hedges began his career reporting the war in El Salvador. Following six years in Latin America, he took time off to study Arabic and then went to Jerusalem and later Cairo. He spent seven years in the Middle East, most of them as the bureau chief there for The New York Times. He left the Middle East in 1995 for Sarajevo to cover the war in Bosnia and later reported the war in Kosovo. Afterward, he joined the Times’ investigative team and was based in Paris to cover al-Qaida. He left the Times after being issued a formal reprimand for denouncing the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.

He has written twelve books, including “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” (2012),  “Death of the Liberal Class” (2010), “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009), “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008) and the best-selling “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2008). His book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. In 2011, Nation Books published a collection of Hedges’ Truthdig columns called “The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.”

Hedges holds a B.A. in English literature from Colgate University and a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard University. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif. Hedges speaks Arabic, French and Spanish and knows ancient Greek and Latin. In addition to writing a weekly original column for Truthdig, he has written for Harper’s Magazine, The New Statesman, The New York Review of Books, Adbusters, Granta, Foreign Affairs and other publications.

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