WTF Friday, 3/2/2012

Thanks to Shelby Grossman for pointing out some highlights of the Viktor Bout interview for those of us who don’t have a New Yorker subscription. “We learn that Bout researched the FARC before the meeting with undercover DEA agents, and arrived in Thailand with a copy of Lonely Planet: Colombia.” I’ll definitely be hitting the newsstand for this asap.

I don’t mean to go all “domestic” on you guys, but this man is too epic of an asshole to ignore (though I really should). Highlights:

  • “Arpaio, vowing that no troublemakers would be released on his watch because of overcrowding, procured a consignment of Army-surplus tents and had them set up, surrounded by barbed wire, in an industrial area in southwest Phoenix. ‘I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant,’ he told me.”
  • “He banned cigarettes from his jails. Skin magazines. Movies. Coffee. Hot lunches. Salt and pepper—Arpaio estimated that he saved taxpayers thirty thousand dollars a year by removing salt and pepper.”
  • “Why the Weather Channel, a British reporter once asked. ‘So these morons will know how hot it’s going to be while they are working on my chain gangs.’”
  • “He got a tank from the Army, had the howitzer muzzle painted with flames, and “Sheriff Arpaio’s War on Drugs” emblazoned on the sides, and rode in it, with Ava, in the Fiesta Bowl Parade.”
  • “A federal investigation found that deputies had used stun guns on prisoners already strapped into a “restraint chair.”
  • “He meant a press release. The Sheriff gathered eight or nine aides around a big table in his office. ‘Illegal Immigration Breeds Crime, Disease,’ Arpaio suggested.”
  • “The public-health specialist said gently, ‘Surgical masks do nothing to combat this virus.’ Arpaio erupted. ‘This is my press release! I’m the sheriff! I have some knowledge! I’m not just some little old sheriff!’”
  • “In 2005, he forced nearly seven hundred prisoners, wearing nothing but pink underwear and flip-flops, to shuffle four blocks through the Arizona heat, pink-handcuffed together, to a new jail. When they arrived, one prisoner was made to cut a pink ribbon for the cameras. This elaborate degradation, which is remembered fondly by Sheriff Joe’s fans, was ostensibly in the name of security—the men were strip-searched both before and after the march. But Arpaio also told reporters, ‘I put them on the street so everybody could see them.’”

WTF Friday, 1/14/2011

So a quick breakdown of the guest list for Iran’s nuclear tour. The EU said no last week, while Britain, France, and Germany were never invited (awkward), nor was the U.S. (duh). China and Russia have declined (kinda rude honestly). Now only envoys representing “developing” countries such as Cuba, Egypt, the Arab League, Syria, and Venezuela (Iran’s bff’s) are expected to attend, while there seems to be no word yet on Turkey and Brazil (waiting to see if they get invited to something better).

“Well if the DR can do it, why can’t we?” The U.S. getting ready to resume deportations of Haitian immigrants.

The Tunisian government has declared a state of emergency amidst protest. A curfew has been imposed, people cannot gather in groups bigger then 3 in the open and security forces can open fire on those not obeying orders. The 1,800 tourists gathering at the airport to be whisked away by Thomas Cook may wanna divide themselves into 600 groups.

WTF Friday, 1/7/11

With the South Sudan referendum fast-approaching, George Clooney’s “Not On Our Watch” is funding commercial sattelites to monitor possible conflict in the country. Clooney has described it as “the best use of his celebrity.” Kinda just seems like he’s trying to recruit a mercenary for Ocean’s Fourteen.

The Dominican Republic has again begun deporting illegal immigrants from Haiti after suspending this practice in the wake of last year’s earthquake. Alright, looks like everything’s back to normal.

Al Shabaab has arrested regional leaders for stealing $10,000 in aid intended for drought-affected areas. If they just kicked out the remaining aid agencies they wouldn’t have to worry about this kind of embarrassment…

WTF Friday, 4/30/10

  • Mother Jones highlights a photo series by Jonathan Torgovnik featuring women who had children as a result of rape during the Rwandan genocide. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like MJ’s headline, “Can You Love a Child of Rape?,” is really the right way to frame this. Doesn’t posing the question that way place “not loving them” as the default, and “loving them” as the exception? Doesn’t that make you kind of uncomfortable? Would really like to hear from our readers on this.

  • Speaking of rape and eye-catching headlines (as we tend to do), there has got to be a better way to convey that there has been a lot of rape in the DRC than calling it the “rape capital of the world.” I mean, shouldn’t the UN have some sort of “special representative on sexual violence in conflict” who would handle these matters more delicately? Oh, they do? Oh, she said it? Cripes.

  • FP has a great piece called “The World’s Worst Immigration Laws.” I find it interesting that Italy fines illegal immigrants while Japan pays them to leave. Wacky world we live in.
  • Lastly, from the “forgone conclusion department,” Bashir wins in a landslide.

Breaking News: Haitians Granted TPS

At 5 P.M. this evening, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that she was extending TPS to all Haitians currently in the United States:

“As part of the Department’s ongoing efforts to assist Haiti following Tuesday’s devastating earthquake, I am announcing the designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals who were in the United States as of January 12, 2010. This is a disaster of historic proportions and this designation will allow eligible Haitian nationals in the United States to continue living and working in our country for the next 18 months. Providing a temporary refuge for Haitian nationals who are currently in the United States and whose personal safety would be endangered by returning to Haiti is part of this Administration’s continuing efforts to support Haiti’s recovery. [. . .] Haitians in the U.S. who are eligible to apply for TPS should call USCIS toll-free at (800) 375-5283.”

We here at Wronging Rights HQ applaud the decision, and are very pleased that it was made so quickly.

(On a more personal note, we were deeply moved by the response to yesterday’s TPS post. Many, many of you let us know that you took immediate action, forwarded the request on to others, twittered it, wrote about it, signed petitions, and otherwise got involved. Likewise, the many immigrants’ rights groups who took the lead on advocating for TPS deserve praise for acting quickly, and getting results. This was the opposite of badvocacy. Nicely done.)

The Earthquake in Haiti: Another Way to Help

The situation in Haiti after Tuesday’s earthquake continues to defy any description other than “very, very bad.” Our thoughts are with the people in Haiti who have lost their lives, families, homes, and national treasures, as well as the many aid workers and UN officials who have been caught up in this tragedy.

If you want to give money, Chris Blattman and Laura Freschi both have good ideas and useful information. However, if you can’t give as much as you would like, or find yourself wanting to do more, then I have one further suggestion: contact the White House and tell them that you support granting Haitians Temporary Protected Status (TPS) immediately.

TPS is a form of temporary humanitarian immigration relief given to nationals of countries that have suffered severe disasters, natural or man-made. (For example, El Salvador got TPS was after the country was hit by a terrible earthquake in 2001, Honduras after Hurricane Mitch in 1999, and Burundi, Liberia, Sudan, and Somalia were designated because of ongoing armed conflicts.)

Once a country has been given TPS, its nationals who are in the United States can apply for work authorization (a very useful thing to have if, say, one needs to send money home to family members in need of medical care or a house that has not been reduced to rubble), can’t be deported or put into immigration detention (also quite handy if you’re trying to work and send money home), and can apply for travel authorization, which allows them to visit their home country and return to the US, even if they wouldn’t otherwise have a visa that would allow them back into the country (incredibly important if you have loved ones who have been badly hurt and need to visit them, or if you need to go home to attend funerals).

Designating Haiti for TPS status would provide an immediate, tremendously valuable benefit to Haitian immigrants in the United States. But, more importantly it would benefit their loved ones who remain in Haiti and are in desperate need of their assistance. TPS would increase and stabilize remittances at a time when they are absolutely vital. Equally significantly, especially in the quake’s immediate aftermath, it would allow immigrants to return to Haiti to find and help their loved ones, or to mourn those who they have lost, without jeopardizing their ability to return to the United States and support their surviving family members.

To express your support, contact the White House here. (Note from Kate: This is the White House’s generic “tell us a thing” form, so you’ll need to select “I have a policy comment” on the subject drop-down menu, choose “Immigration” from the drop-down menu that appears below and then write something to the effect of “I am writing to express my strong support for granting TPS to Haitians in the aftermath of the 1/13/10 earthquake” for the message content.)

If you’re interested in doing more, I suggest contacting the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, and the offices of Representatives Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, or Mario Diaz-Balart, who have sent a joint letter to President Obama urging him to grant Haiti TPS Status.

Update: Sarah from Amnesty USA noted in the comments that several organizations have set up online petitions urging the Obama administration to grant TPS. USCRI’s is here, CREDO’s is here, Change.org’s is here. Apparently Amnesty’s will be up very soon, so you should keep an eye on their site here.

Sad, Definitely. But, Um, Also Unconstitutional

Last week, Massachusetts announced that it is facing massive budget shortfalls, and is not likely to be able to fund its statewide healthcare program as it is currently structured. Their solution to that problem is to drop 30,000 legal immigrants from the program, by limiting it to U.S. citizens, and permanent residents who have been in the country for at least five years. The state estimates that the move will save $130 million per year. To his credit, Governor Deval Patrick is resisting the cuts, and has attempted to restore enough funding to the budget to at least continue partial coverage for immigrants.

Unsurprisingly, this proposal has been met with dismay from immigrants’ rights groups like MIRA, which told the New York Times that this plan sends the message that health care reform either cannot be done at all, or can only be done by excluding immigrants.

True. But as long as we’re on the subject, is there a reason why no one is mentioning that the plan also seems pretty clearly unconstitutional?

As a rule, states aren’t allowed to discriminate between aliens and citizens solely because of their citizenship status. There are a few narrow exceptions, such as jobs where there is a good reason to believe that U.S. citizenship is a necessity for the substantive tasks the employee will carry out. But in general, they must treat all state residents equally, regardless of whether or not they are U.S. citizens.

That’s because aliens are a “discrete and insular minority,” and therefore a protected class for the purposes of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. Most group classifications – “people who wear Save Darfur thongs,” “gum-chewers,” “taxi drivers”- don’t get any special protection. If a government wants to discriminate between them and other citizens, then it just has to show that there is some “rational basis” for believing that the law in question will help to achieve a legitimate state goal.

However, if a government wants to discriminate on the basis of a protected characteristic, such as race, gender, or alienage, then it must meet a higher standard, “strict scrutiny.” Under that standard, a state has to prove three things: (1) that the discriminatory statute serves a “compelling state interest”; (2) that it is “narrowly tailored” to achieve that interest, and (3) that the law in question is the “least restrictive means” available to achieve the stated goal. Roughly translated, this means that the state has to prove that they can’t achieve their goal without discriminating against a protected class, that they are not discriminating any more than necessary, and that the goal in question is really, really important.

In other words, Massachusetts is going to have to do better than “we’re broke.” Their impecuniousness may be sad for them, but it’s not enough to satisfy strict scrutiny. Invidious discrimination against minorities could often be cheaper -imagine how much more money they could save if they also dropped women and black people from the program!- but that’s not enough to make it constitutional.

In case there was any doubt about that, the Supreme Court has already struck down an essentially identical law. In Graham v. Richardson, the Court examined an Arizona welfare law that only granted benefits to U.S. citizens, and aliens who had been resident in the U.S. for a certain number of years. (Sound familiar?) The state argued that it needed to restrict benefits to save money, but the Court found that argument unimpressive. “[T]he justification of limiting expenses is particularly inappropriate and unreasonable when the discriminated class consists of aliens. Aliens, like citizens, pay taxes and may be called into the armed forces…. There can be no ‘special public interest’ in tax revenues to which aliens have contributed on an equal basis with the residents of the State. ” It’s unclear to me how Massachusetts’ plan is different in any meaningful respect from the unconstitutional Arizona law at issue in Graham.

I think that some confusion may have arisen from the fact that the federal government has far more ability to discriminate against aliens than states do. The Supreme Court has consistently held that the power of the political branches (that’s Congress, and the President) to decide immigration policy includes the right to determine what federal benefits immigrants can access when they get here. But that power is expressly limited to the federal political branches -it’s often known as their “plenary power” over immigration, because they get all of it and don’t leave any for the states, (or even, for the most part, the courts).

So, that means that federal medical benefits like Medicaid can be limited to citizens without raising an equal protection problem, but state medical benefits cannot. The difference between the two situations is not unlike the difference between forcing your child to stay in your house until she finishes her homework (good parenting), and forcing someone else’s child to (kidnapping). Just as parents can’t make other people’s children live by their rules, states can’t set immigration policy, even when the policy in question involves state benefits.

Sorry, Massachusetts. You’re super nice and all, but I just don’t think this is going to work out.

Why is Athens Burning?

Because Prof. Blattman has been so nice to us this week, I thought I’d take a crack at answering the question he posed on his blog on the 14th: why is Athens burning?

I, (predictably?), think that the situation of refugees in the Greek capital might offer some clues.

For the asylum seekers who are stuck there, Athens has actually been “burning” for a while now. Greece has a dismal record on asylum, essentially refusing to grant it to anyone, ever, but E.U. policy requires refugees to seek asylum in the first member state they arrive in. Unable to get legal status, unable to move on to a different European country, and afraid to return home, refugees in Greece are stuck in limbo. They have been protesting in the streets since late October, after police allegedly attacked thousands of people queueing outside police stations to submit asylum applications. Fifteen were injured in that violent dispersal, and a Pakistani asylum seeker fell into a canal and died. The October protests were peaceful, but significant -according to the organizers, 3000 people marched on October 27th. Then, on December 6th, another police dispersal of asylum seekers outside the same police station apparently resulted in another man falling into the same canal. At that point, the protests escalated. A small group of asylum seekers rioted, setting fire to garbage cans and tree branches, and throwing stones at passing cars. tearing branches off trees and setting them alight.

Later that same day, more riots broke out in Athens’ Exarchia neighborhood, after the police shot into a crowd of youths who had surrounded their car and were throwing rocks at it, sparking the better-publicized youth riots that have raged for days in Athens and Thessaloniki. I am not arguing that the refugee protests were the cause of the other riots, but I do think that the refugee situation probably says a lot about what’s going on in Greece today.

In particular:

1. The Athens police aren’t very impressive. Not only did the police apparently use violence to disperse crowds doing nothing worse than waiting in line to submit asylum applications, they did it in an uncontrolled way that lead to an innocent person’s death. To me, this sounds like a ridiculous overuse of force, and it also demonstrates that the police are not savvy about crowd control measures. (If the situation before your arrival is “peaceful queues of people,” and the situation after your departure is “fifteen injured, one killed, chaos everywhere,” you don’t get good reviews from me.) Worse, they came back a few weeks later and did the exact same thing, with the exact same results, suggesting that they either thought the first operation was a success, or that they couldn’t be bothered to learn from their mistakes. Either way, not a good reflection on them, and definitely not a good reflection on whoever is supposed to be responsible for overseeing their behavior.

2. This suggests an unpleasant governmental attitude towards individual rights. While the Greek government clearly treats refugees worse than it does other groups, their behavior evidences systemic problems as well as specific prejudices. A system that places a priority on respecting individual rights would not lead to the exact same abuses being repeated, with the same unacceptable results. (The same canal? Show some creativity, guys!) Such a system appears to be lacking, and I would imagine that causes problems for non-immigrant Greeks as well. It’s worth noting that an incident of police violence sparked the youth protests as well, and that the police were the initial targets of the rioters’ ire.

3. A government in the business of fixing things wouldn’t act like this. The refugees who the police dispersed weren’t trying to do anything illegal -they just wanted to apply for asylum. But the government has erected ridiculous procedural hurdles to obtaining relief, such as the refusal to take more than 300 asylum applications in Athens per week, and the requirement that refugees wait in line outside the police station to have a hope of making it onto that list. When Human Rights Watch asked the commander of Hellenic Police Headquarters Aliens’ Division why the process could not be organized in a more dignified way, he replied that the applicants were “mostly economic migrants” who shouldn’t be allowed to “clog the system.” (Because of course it’s possible to determine migrants’ purpose by looking at how they stand in line on the street.) That this system is in place despite its clear ineffectiveness is bad enough. But it’s worse that the commander is in a position to offer such thin excuses. If his job were to solve problems, or even to prevent violent incidents like the two that happened outside his station, that would not be the case. It’s hard to know if that attitude is present in other areas of the Greek state, but I’m going to guess that it is, and that it’s a cause of serious frustration for the people who live there. If my government ignored the needs they were tasked with fulfilling, and responded with casual violence when I tried to pursue relief for everyday problems, I’d certainly feel a little riot-y myself.

4. Economically, the Greek government is being a jerk. I think that the refusal to accept the influx of refugees and other immigrants arises at least partly out of the same attitudes that have caused the economic frustration of the younger generation of Greeks. (This bit is a little more speculative, but bear with me.) In this frustratingly un-embeddable BBC video, the Prefect of Athens says that he wants to give the migrants free health care and housing, but that the E.U. must help with any more lasting solutions, because the volume of migrants is too high for Greece to manage. In other words, “we’ll give them expensive social benefits, but we won’t allow them to integrate into society or contribute to it. Let them eat health care.” It seems strange, as an American, to encounter such a position -people here tend to be more worried about immigrants’ burden on our scarce social services than their desire to get jobs picking fruit. In much of Europe, however, there is an attitude that jobs are more precious and scarce than benefits, and must therefore be conserved by the lucky few that have them. Combined with the strict labor laws, that creates a sort of crisis of employment liquidity, as no one who obtains a job is willing to leave it, preventing the position from ever opening up to anyone else. That, in turn, means that it’s pretty hard for people without jobs to get them, leaving a large chunk of the population alone with underemployment if they’re lucky, and frustration and idleness if they’re not. Yeah, I can’t think of any reason why that would lead to rioting either…

I’m not saying that any of those factors, on their own, are “the” cause of the riots. But taken together, I think they offer a window into why so many people might be frustrated enough to spend a few hours throwing rocks and torching trash cans. Well, that and:

5. Rioting is pretty fun. Or so I hear, at least -I’ve never really gotten to try it. But it sure looks like a nice way to spend a few hours. Lots of chanting, and smashing of things, and throwing of other things, combined with a brisk walk in the fresh air? Sounds like good times to me.

* Photo via Nikoskrelis’ photostream, flickr.

Piiiiiiiraaaaaates!!!!

Somali Pirates and their derring-do have been all over the news lately. They hijacked an oil tanker as long as an aircraft carrier! They’ve turned the Somali port of Eyl into the “New Tortuga,” swarming with pirate accountants in business suits and pirate negotiators in land rovers! And, of course, they make excellent husbands.

But do you know what’s scarier than pirates? Asylum! That’s right: the Times of London reported last week that the Royal Navy has ordered its ships not to intervene against the pirates because it fears that any captured Somalis would be entitled to claim asylum in the UK.

Just to be clear: that’s ridiculous.

First of all, pirates are clearly not eligible for asylum. Under Article 1(F) of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, (to which the UK is a state party), any individual who has committed a serious non-political crime is not eligible for asylum. So unless the Royal Navy thinks that these guys are engaging in piracy in order to protest Somalia’s utter lack of a ruling regime, it’s hard to see how asylum would be on the table. (Just kidding -it still wouldn’t be. Committing a regular old crime for political reasons doesn’t make it a political crime.)

And even if it were, are you kidding me, Royal Navy? You are arguing that it would be worse to arrest, try, punish, and then grant asylum to pirates than to simply allow them to continue merrily a-pirating? Seriously? You know that all “granting asylum” means is that they get to stay in your country instead of returning to one that would persecute them, right? That they don’t get any additional licenses to eat babies or choose a bride from amongst your princesses or insist that “football” is a game played with hands, helmets, and an oblong ball made of pigskin? Really? You are so paralytically afraid of the duties for which you signed up under international humanitarian law that you refuse to take any action at all whatsoever? That is just lame.

I have always found the British fear of asylum seekers baffling. It is completely out of step with the relatively low levels of anti-immigrant sentiment, and is shockingly virulent. When my fiancé ran the London marathon for the charity Refugee Action several years ago, his mother begged him not to say so on his running jersey lest onlookers throw rocks at him. (Don’t worry -he runs faster than a speeding rock.) The Royal Navy’s statement was probably just an outgrowth of that strange persepective. I presume that the conversation went something like this:

Naval Officer 1: Good gosh, old bean! Seems as though we might be having a bit of bother here in the Gulf of Aden.

Naval Officer 2: Too right! Load of old tosh, this piracy bollocks is. Why, do you know, they actually fired shots across my bow this morning?

Naval Officer 1: They never!

Naval Officer 2: They did! I mean, if this keeps up we’ll be expected to actually do something about it.

Naval Officer 1: Mmm, don’t much like the sound of that. I’ve just begun a game of bridge, you see. It’s going quite well, and I’d hate to see it interrupted by open combat.

Naval Officer 2: Completely understand, old bean, completely. We’ll just have to come up with some consequence so horrendously scary that no one will allow us to engage the pirates. You know, something completely unimaginably awful. Like that they would make us all into zombies, or something like that.

Naval Officer 1: No, it has to be something scarier than zombies. No one takes them seriously since Shawn of the Dead.

Naval Officer 1: I’ve got it! Asylum! Nothing scarier than an asylum seeker!

Naval Officer 2: Brilliant! Now, where have I put those blasted scones…?