Sunday, March 15, 2020

Leveraging HCPSS Guidance for Children's Education

Howard County Public School System has been a valuable source of information since at least February 27. In fact the oldest email that I have the “COVID-19” phrase is that email: Coronavirus Prevention and Response Measures. The hcpss.org/health/coronavirus page is a wonderful resource.

Multi Language Overview Sheets



Links back to previous Coronavirus Updates

This page caused me to check my email and see that “Coronavirus” was a better search term. That turned up with my oldest emails being from County Executive Ball providing information from the Health Department (Jan 27), HCPSS News - 1/29/20 (Jan 29), and then Coronavirus Update from the Superintendent on Feb 3.

HCPSS has been keeping us informed long before extreme social distancing was being advocated.

Please check out the whole page for sections like FAQs, RESOURCES FOR PARENTS, and GENERAL INFORMATION AND RESOURCES.

What I am finding most useful are the age appropriate assistance for SUPPORTING STUDENTS AT HOME

Elementary



Middle School



High School



My own daughter was quick to notice that documentaries online were on her grade recommendation and has been watching Empire Games on Netflix.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Peoples Voice & HCCA Elkridge Forum - Feb 25

Introduction

First, Thank you to the People's Voice and the HCCA for having this forum. I’m Matthew Molyett and I’m running for Board of Education from District 1. It is nice that tonight is in Elkridge. My time with Howard County Schools started out right here as a parent of Ducketts Lane Elementary School. As a father, I am concerned about the long term success and stability of our community schools. These community schools, and the Board of Education, operate on and through numerous broken processes. These are processes that endanger student health, they waste taxpayer dollars, and they compromise the student academic achievement that we send our kids there for. As a local tech professional, identifying, correcting, and optimizing processes is what I do. So tonight I am hoping I can earn your support for Howard County Board of Education from District 1. Thank you very much.

Last year the Board’s proposed budget only reduced the requested budget by a small amount. Hard choices had to be made when it came back from the county. The impacts are still being felt. Would you present an aspirational budget asking for all possible covered needs. If not, why not. What would you prioritize and how in a budget for the county executive. Be as specific as possible.

Let's look at having the timekeeping go on reading the question because we can’t answer something in one minute if it takes that long to convey the problem. That said the school budget needs to accurately reflect the needs that the school has determined along with communicating to the county what is needed by the school system. We need to ensure that it is fully defended when we write down the amount that the school needs. We need to be justifying every line of it. We need to be able to prove that we have reviewed that and ensured that that line is what we need. That there is no way we can better spend the money as a school because we have already addressed that. And then the budget needs to reflect the needs. Thank you.

What do you believe are the positives and negatives of the recent redistricting decision? What would you have done differently, if anything?

The negatives are clear in that it has left the community whiplashed, uncomfortable, and just generally disappointed with the way the process had laid out. Right at the time that the community needed to be providing specific input into how to refine the plan the Board was still attempting to define a plan. The community couldn’t identify what individual small tweaks were needed because there wasn’t a plan. There were two feasibility studies, there were consultants brought in, and then it was all just completely left behind while a handful of board members created… something. Up until the vote was taken you couldn’t see what it was because there wasn’t a plan until then. That process needs to be corrected.


Please share an example of how you have worked collaboratively with people you don’t necessarily agree with.

Professionally I work in computer security. The interactions between security folks and basically everybody else is constantly a battle of disagreements. Every time you worked at a shared building and watched the side door be propped open so people can get through. You are seeing a great example of how security and everyone else don’t get along immediately. The key that ends up happening is that you have to stop and look farther. Look outside your own little bubble at what you are trying to achieve. Security and operations, both are trying to enable whatever the mission is. You gotta look past the immediate and see what the goal is. On the Board of Education, the path forward is to remember that, regardless of what you think about any specific issue or however you feel in a day or toward people, is you need to address keeping students safe, safeguarding taxpayer money, and ensuring student success.


Please explain if you agree or disagree with the recommendations from Kirwan.

When it comes to education policy, the first people we need to be looking at and focusing on are the educators. They are the ones that experience it every day. So we should be following their direction and coming up with “what is an education policy that works and will work for the school?” What I have seen of Kirwan is that, statewide, across the board, the pressure behind it, it is being supported by the educators and I think we should listen to the educators about how to educate. What has the school board done to guarantee redistricted children who need before and after school programs will receive bus transportation to school and home? The question is about how to equitably meet the needs of our students. It's drawing directly into the issue that we already aren’t. Access to school and access from school is currently provided to the general population by the buses that say when they are leaving home and when they get back. If there is any variation to what they need to that the school doesn’t meet it. It doesn’t provide it. It is on the parents now and post-redistricting its still on the parents. The after school programs that the school might provide or that Parks and Rec provide are simply not available to students that need to get home after that if the parents can’t meet it. Coming up with a solution for that is a way to provide equitably for the needs of our student body.


What is your opinion on the presence of guns in schools and does their presence serve to increase security?

She went ahead and reminded you that security people and people trying to get through the doors... do not agree. To the question, no. Our students at school should have no exposure to firearms that are not pre-planned through a curriculum, if that is decided. They are traumatic, they are developed for killing people, and no. They should not be in our schools.


How will you work with a state delegation and county council that are over eager to legislate and remove local control from the Board of Education?

I will work closely with our state delegation to ensure they are aware of the needs that they can go to Annapolis and ensure that the state funding is there to help us out. The behaviors of Annapolis don’t just take away control or reshape the school district, they fund our education. When local control was taken away, from Annapolis, our local delegation took that back. It removed the state level mandate on the calendar to provide local control.


What is your one decision you believe the current Board of Education got right?

The superintendent, this last cycle, negotiated an increase with the teachers and that wasn’t a line that the school board cut. The Board of Education chose to fund and support our teaching staff.


What type of involvement do you currently have with the PTA and/or BOE?

Currently I am a paid member of two separate PTAs that my students, my children, attend. That has been a priority for me since the first one went to kindergarten. Regardless of how much time I’ve been able to allocate or set up for it, sign up for it early sign up for it every year. The PTAs need the community’s support. They need some funding to be able to provide the services that they have. I have just recently attended a fantastic presentation that Dunloggin Middle School put on about keeping our kids safe online. The PTA bringing in resources like that to the parents and community are a real asset.


What are your solutions to the perpetual school overcrowding issues that plague our schools, especially in the Route 1 corridor?

The Board, itself, every-time it is looking at the numbers of student capacity needs to approach this problem, every-time, with an empathetic feeling toward what the student experience in life is like. Have you ever thought about going to the mall and then realized it is the week before Christmas and you don’t want to be a part of that? That's what our students go to at Howard and Centennial every day. Instead of adjusting the balance and planning for that we take away green space, we take away parking lots, to add more classrooms which, in turn, allows more students to show up to the same building which increases those crowds. That anxiety, that feeling, that they are getting everytime they are in those crowds that is the environment we expect them to be able to learn in.


Do you have any ideas on how to improve discipline in elementary schools?

The students need to be invested and their teachers need to be supported. It has come up a couple times today: local control, local control. Enable the principals to keep the teachers feeling supported. Keep the teachers and the students supported with therapists and guidance counselors. Make sure that everyone is ready to learn and go through class. Hungry kids are not invested in the day and so we need addressing food insecurity issues that could lead to discipline problems. If they are getting on the bus before they are hungry enough to eat breakfast then they are hungry before lunch. We need to ensure that our school schedules fit the students.


What is your plan for narrowing the socio-economic and racial opportunity gap in Howard County schools?

My proven approach to addressing problem solving, professionally, is rapid iterative prototyping. Find out what the problem is, make a change, be able to see the impact of that change, and then make your next one. We need to be able to properly identify what is the state of the opportunity and achievement gap right now. We need a system in place to collect that data as quickly as we can and be able to process it to identify what has just worked and what hasn't. Then make adjustments. The teaching staff needs to be made to represent the student body and that requires configuring our recruitment, hiring, and retention policies.


Whose voice is most important: staff, students, or parents? How will you represent that voice?

I agree. All the voices are important and the context of the discussion matters. We’re not going to poll the kindergartners about whether we have the appropriate high school sports. When a question impacts a population, that is when we must be listening to that population. If the high schoolers are telling us that they are not being provided a challenge, we figure out how to meet that. If the parents are telling us that the schedules and the transportation is not working for their family, we figure out a way to meet that need. When the staff isn’t being met by the building or their pay, we figure out a way to meet that need.


Closing

Thank you for coming out. Thank you for The People’s Voice and HCCA for having this forum. I want to make sure that the Board keeps a direction focused on three principles. We need to protect and ensure the safety and mental health of our students. We need to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollars. We need to maximize our students academic achievement. I’m Matthew Molyett. I hope you have heard enough to support me for Howard County Board of Education.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

IONHoCo meeting of Unity through Islamophobia

Tonight the Indian Origin Network of Howard County held a hearing session. Below is how the event was promoted.

“Recent events such as a student organization led event at Centennial High school has renewed the discussion between freedom of speech and profiling based on religion and ethnicity. This meet is to bring everyone to the table and hear each others perspectives.
Please join us on Saturday Feb 1st from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM.for a better understanding of issues such as CAA, NRC, religious shift in South Asian Countries, freedom of speech and other related topics. Please let us know if you like to speak for up to three minutes on any of these topics at the forum.”  

The first speaker began with the intention of laying groundwork to discuss the CAA as an effort to assist persecuted religious minorities in surrounding countries. He discussed vast decreases in the non-Muslim populations in those countries since 1947 and offered the CAA as a protective remedy against persecution. He described this being an area of concern since as early as the 1950’s.

Next up was a presenter with a supporting slide deck who was having trouble getting the projector to work. While the projector issues were resolved, he was replaced by the next speaker. This was where the hearing session went sideways. Instead of addressing the concerns raised by the Muslim Student Association or addressing the concerns raised by IONHoCo about whether the students were acting inappropriately at school, he instead was speaking to why India should be seeking to limit the influence or even population of Muslims. He spoke in graphic terms about how the partition of India by the British was damaging to the Indian people and equated the partition to having limbs severed. He blamed that history on Muslims as a class, and further called out the remaining Muslim population as unwelcome. Every possible concern of anti-Muslim hatred was legitimized by this speaker.

It was at this point I began to feel relief that the Centennial MSA members had not accepted the invitation to be a part of this gathering. They did not need to have a grown adult look at them and say that if people sharing their religion wanted to live in a country then f*ck them.

A library employee had come into the room and got the projector set up so the skipped speaker could present. Like the first presenter he was lobbying in support of the CAA. I noticed he used a lot of orange and green color scheme in his slides, which the IONHoCo uses as well in their logo, and which the flag of India uses. Around this time it was mentioned, I think by an audience member, that the MSA invoking green and orange meant they “were bringing religion into it.”

Comment: I would have thought that religion was sufficiently brought into it when a student organization was attempting to bring awareness to a foreign law for being damaging to a religious group on the basis of their religion.

... The Centennial High School Muslim Students Association has asked students to wear green and orange in support of Indian Muslims, to bring awareness to a citizenship bill in India that has been categorized as Islamophobic …
Description of the event from Howard County Muslim Council

Later it was described that the color to religion association was green for Islam and orange for Hindu. I can’t speak to the intentions of the organizing students as to whether they were meaning to assign any meaning beyond just that orange and green are the colors of the Indian flag.

The evening continued with more speakers speaking not to the awareness campaign, but to the dangers from Islam. Some provided anecdotes about specific acts of violence that have occurred with Muslim perpetrators as justification of broad Islamophobia. One speaker expressed intolerance of the mere word Islamophobia based on her families’ personal history of violence in Kashmir.

Her discussion of the elimination of indigenous Kashmiri Hindus resonated with me, something I brought up when I spoke. She explained that at one time ethnic Kashmiri made up 100% of the population and that they now make up a small minority before blaming that change on all Islam.

I took the floor to address that the hearing had derailed into Islamophobia and that some of the speakers had attributed to Muslims what was better described as the result of empire. I couldn't sit silently through such an event when I was in photos and videos. To do so would have been implicit agreement.

What she described is an all too common pattern that we observe in the post-empire fallout. Canada, United States, Australia: an aspect of the British Empire is decimation of the indigenous population. Another pattern that has played out repeatedly following the British Empire has been a society of apartheid. United States and its criminalization of black people. South Africa and its criminalization of black people. Israel and its ongoing criminalization of Palestinian Muslim people. History supports the concern that a recently freed country following British subjugation will resort to apartheid.

“As educators, we are constantly seeking balance between allowing for healthy student expression and providing structure, guidance, and even limitations for our students. As Principal, I believe in working alongside students to cultivate a sense of voice and empowerment while also helping them understand that their words and actions can cause a reaction in their peers and neighbors. Often, this reaction is one in which they weren't expecting or agree with. That is all part of the learning process and an effort to prepare them for life once they leave the accepting and supportive confines of Centennial High School and Howard County.”
-text attributed by a third party to the CHS Principal

The cherry on top of this Islam hating sundae of a hearing would have to be right at the end when the gathering questioned, to broad support, why a Muslim Student Association would even exist in school. The obvious response is that a Muslim student body exists.

I am running for Howard County Board of Education and as such it is in the public interest to know where I stand on incidents such as the initiating awareness campaign. First off, let me acknowledge that Tinker v. Des Moines, 1969, takes the decision out of the hands of the board. Second of all, I applaud the school district for helping train students to perform civics and not just read about it. Finally, Tinker v. Des Moines.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Not One More "Just One More"

Once upon a time I would joke that “all things in moderation, and that includes moderation.” Every joke contains a nugget of truth, and my nugget of truth was that Tuesday was Pizza Night where me and my wife split two large pizzas. Two large pizzas eaten by two people. A few years later I got hooked on Power 90, P90X, and then Insanity which cured everything. Forever. Except it didn’t. All things in moderation, including a fitness lifestyle. Some time on, some time off. Steps forward, then steps back.

This time I’m saying the hell with moderation. Fall 2018 through Spring 2019 was bad for me. Coming into the end of this past school year saw me pushing toward 250 pounds. On my way to a nice event I stopped at Target to buy a new shirt so it would fit and suspenders to wear under a sport jacket that couldn’t close.

Through June I dedicated to a strict diet reset regimen. Over three weeks I cut out all breads and pastas, most sugars, caffeine, and meats. It was just what I needed to get back on track, and I’m staying with it. No moderation this time on these fronts. Bread, pasta, sugar, and caffeine are four things that I can’t handle “just one.” Experiencing these major back slides has taught me that, for me, “just one” turns into “just one more.” I told myself that I was doing okay because I wasn’t back to picking up a roll of Oreos every other time I went past a convenience store, which didn’t stop me from storing up an extra thirty pounds.

Mostly veggies, my shakes, and no bread or pasta. This is how my body works best and it is my nutritional commitment for me. This morning I completed the third workout of a 100 workout set, which is my fitness commitment too. I can do this.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Rise of an American Reich

For a full three years I have been warning that Donald J Trump has sounded just like Adolph Hitler. My main research paper in high school had been about the charisma which enabled the rise of the Nazi party. Sources for that research included three different translations of Mein Kampf from the library. [I had to have found my way to a few government lists early]

In the 2016 campaign announcement speech (June 16, 2015), Donald Trump explicitly categorized Mexican immigrants as drug trafficking rapists while allowing that there may be some that are good people. He categorically defined an entire country's immigrants and naturalized American citizens as criminals. He then continued to explain that the problems faced by the United States are coming from Mexico, "all over South and Latin America", and "from the Middle East". This set of racist coded language translates to Hispanics and Muslims, a pair of groups that would be regular targets for his demagoguery over the next three years. That xenophobic demagoguery discourages assuming citizenship and benign intent to people that visually appear Latinx, Arab, or Persian which directly impacts how such American citizens are then excluded from full equality and respect.

In that speech, that very first speech as a candidate for POTUS, I heard echos of Mein Kampf. This should not be suprising to the people of the United States because we were warned back in 1990 that his bedside reading was a book of Hitler's speeches. Since then, since warning that Donald Trump presented eerily similar to the 1925 writings of Adolf Hitler, I have been told repeatedly that the comparison lacks merit. I was told "this comparison is a gross exaggeration when you consider all the facts of the atrocities committed by Hitler" by a very trusted, very educated family member. This rebuke was followed by...

 "Let each person's record speak for itself." 

So let's view the records

(1) Hitler (1925) and Trump (2015) were at the same point: scapegoating and vilifying minority groups: Jews and Immigrants vs Muslims and Hispanics.

(3) Hitler (1935) and Trump (2017) were at the same point: Enacting policies to marginalize and target their scapegoats. Nuremberg Laws vs Muslim Ban/planning family separation

(4) Hitler (1925) and Trump (2018) were at the same point: Priming their audiences for extermination by equating their scapegoats with vermin. Untermensch, vermin, rats vs Animals, infest.


(8) Hitler (1938) and Trump (2018) were at the same point: rounding up and imprisoning their scapegoats. Night of Broken Glass vs Zero Tolerance and ICE workplace raids

UPDATE:
Hitler (June 22, 1941) and Trump (June 24, 2018) were at the same point: unleashing their goons to target their scapegoats free from the burdens of proof, courts, or judges.
"with no Judges or Court Cases"

(9) Hitler (1941) enacted a policy of exterminating his scapegoats.

Creator unknown. Based on Gregory H Stanton's 10 stages of genocide. genocidewatch.net
The record shows a tyrannical despot, familiar with the works and methods of another tyrannical despot, echoing the processes of that historical example. There are two major differences in the tales of the two rulers: speed and war. It took 1925 to 1938 for Hitler to go from public scapegoating to mass incarceration, Donald Trump required less than three years to go from "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists." to the so-called "Zero-Tolerance Policy for Criminal Illegal Entry". What took Hilter 13 years to achieve, Donald Trump accomplished in less than 3. Hitler also had promises of Lebensraum, or Living Space, to provide for the German people. To accomplish this Hitler required war and territory invasion, but the United States of America already has plenty of open space. There is no need for a parallel of the 1939 invasion of Poland.

Without foreign invasions, there are no grounds for any foreign military to invade the United States. There is no cavalry of Allied powers that would land on the beaches of California or Virginia. While the United States carries out ethnic cleansing to achieve a white ethno-state, nobody is going to come to our aid.

Genocide will begin, not end with Hispanic immigrants. Quite arguably Stage 9 has already begun with the willful neglect and fully predictable deaths in Puerto Rico over the past year. Death was an obvious consequence of the conditions post-Maria, but they were allowed to occur anyway.

Obvious next targets include communities which have already been targeted by the malice of the Trump Administration: Muslims, LGBTQIA, black communities, handicapped, seniors, and the impoverished. Efforts have already begun to damage these communities: Muslim Travel Ban, transgender protection repeal, so-called "Religious Freedom" actions, cessation of police department consent decrees, budgetary attacks on Medicare/Social Security/Medicaid.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Context and Appropriation

The other night I found out that a friend of mine had used a solid green background on his Twitter profile picture. A few weeks ago I bought a video editing suite. This seemed like a good chance to learn about video editing and have some light hearted shenanigans. I needed a video that I had on hand which contained a scene that I could insert the profile pic.

A recent video that I downloaded contained a short scene with a choir singing. It was straight forward enough to clip out just ten seconds of the video and then apply the editing magic. A short while later my friend was an extra in the choir and dancing along in the back row for ten seconds.

Sounds fun and harmless. That is what I was thinking during my light hearted shenanigans. I showed my friend and he laughed. A few others saw it and laughed. So I posted the fun to share.

Not everybody enjoyed the edit. I didn’t tell the whole story above. I stripped my actions, the video clip, and everything from context. This is a very white American thing to do. Context is too often just minor flavoring or entirely optional. But that is not true. Actions, symbols, art, history, and people never exist wholly separate from their context.

The video I had downloaded was Childish Gambino’s This is America. I had extracted out from 1m 42s to 1m 54s. At 1m 56s a gun is tossed into the frame. By 1m 57s the choir has all been shot dead. I stopped the clip before that happened, but doing so did not make it a wholly unrelated thing.
Trying to understand the depth that I mocked

This is America is deep. If you search just that on Google then you will find four articles trying to dissect all the symbolism, allegory, and imagery. On the first page of search results. I’m not going to rehash any of those articles here. The important thing is that the clip cannot be removed from the video and the video cannot be removed from the allegory. I could ignore it while I focused on the exercise, I could ignore it while sharing the video, but I could not remove the association.

Did I intend to cause harm? No. Did I intend to make light of the abuses perpetrated on black bodies in America. No. Did I intend to ignore those abuses to instead focus on something I found fun. No.

By making and sharing the video that I did, I did all three of those things. Intent doesn’t matter. I caused hurt to my friends, I made light of and ignored the abuses carried out regularly across America. For this I am sorry.

I will end with a quote from the Insider article though: “black cultural production is often commodified and appropriated by white audiences”.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Human Rights on the American Border

Background


Back in 2014 the Obama administration was dealing with an immigration crisis: unaccompanied minors flooding toward the United States from Central America. (Cowan, 2014) Thousands of children and teenagers were fleeing violence and seeking a chance to grow up and become adults in the rebounding economy of the United States. By May there was an emergency shelter set up at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. (Cowan, 2014) As May turned to June, a warehouse building was made into a shelter in Nogales, Arizona which was quickly followed by Fort Sill, OK also being prepared as emergency housing. (Schwartz, 2014) Again, these were the lengths that the Administration was forced to resort to due to the surge in unaccompanied minors: children without family or guardians. Photos came out showing the facilities used for housing children awaiting processing: sleeping mats and space blankets on hard floors inside of chain link cages. (Franklin, 2014)
Detainees sleep and watch television in a holding cell on June 18, 2014. They are among hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children being processed and held at the U.S. CBP Nogales Placement Center.

Women's Refugee Commission wrote about the various ways that family units could end up separated by the various federal entities involved in border security and immigration. (Podkul & Obser, 2016) Among the causes of separation, which include different family members being processed differently, ending up in different legal proceedings, and an unverified biological relationship, they also identify punitive or deliberate separation. Under the Obama administration there were recommendations from the Women's Refugee Commission about ways to reduce and mitigate family separations and that the relevant Inspectors General “should investigate complaints involving family separation and track complaints across DHS components.” (Podkul & Obser, 2016, pg 3)

Separation from family members can cause undue trauma to children and may violate the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990.2 In addition, family separation can impede the ability of families to access asylum and other protection mechanisms because of a variety of issues associated with the reality of the situation, see Podkul & Obser for details. Separation of adult family members during the deportation process has also shown to expose deported individuals to serious harm, rendering them more vulnerable to abuse, assaults, kidnapping, and trafficking. (Podkul & Obser, 2016, pg 1)


International Law and Treaties


Early in the 20th century the migration of people fleeing violence and persecution began to reach numbers that caused international problems requiring international solutions. There were multiple agreements set up in the 20’s and additional agreements in the 30’s. (Robinson, 1953) Following World War II the Secretary General of the United Nations was requested to study the protection of stateless persons and then provide recommendations back to the United Nations. (Robinson, 1953) Coming out of the studies for the United Nations, there have been three major defining landmarks in the handling of refugees: 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and Resolution 2198 (XXI) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. (UNHCR, 2010)
Through the various international treaties, the United States as agreed to certain rights to be afforded to refugees which includes:

  • A refugee shall have free access to the courts of law (UNHCR, 2010, pg 21)
  • shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence … provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence (UNHCR, 2010, pg 29)
  • shall allow such refugees a reasonable period and all the necessary facilities to obtain admission into another country (UNHCR, 2010, pg 29)
  • shall not expel a refugee lawfully in their territory save on grounds of national security or public order (UNHCR, 2010, pg 29)
  • expulsion of such a refugee shall be only in pursuance of a decision reached in accordance with due process of law (UNHCR, 2010, pg 29)


As such, any asylum seekers, family or single, that cross the border into the United States and present themselves to the authorities without delay are not coming into the country ‘illegally’, they are doing so under the terms established pursuant to the UN Charter treaty. “There is nothing illegal about seeking asylum – on the contrary, it is a universal human right. Conflating ‘refugees’ and ‘migrants’ can undermine public support for refugees and the institution of asylum at a time when more refugees need such protection than ever before.” (UNHCR, 2016, pg 2)

Malicious Intent


In April 2018 it was reported that a caravan of asylum seekers was traveling through Mexico from Central America. (Schrank, 2018) President Trump, through his official line of communication @realDonaldTrump at twitter.com, put out three statements regarding this caravan. (realDonaldTrump, Apr 3,5,30)
Conflating ‘refugees’ and ‘migrants’
He intentionally conflated these refugees with migrants for the exact purposes referenced above in the 'Refugees' and 'Migrants' - Frequently Asked Questions. The same caravan was referenced by Attorney General Sessions in his Zero Tolerance remarks given in San Diego. (Sessions, 2018) Sessions further explained the zero tolerance for “illegal entry” (2018) as “If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you.” (2018) The Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees uses those exact words in Article 31: “unlawfully in the country of refugee” and “illegal entry” (UNHCR, 2010, pg 29) So long as the border apprehension involved the refugee having presented themselves without delay to the authorities then the asylum claim needs to be adjudicated. It has been clarified for me through an immigration lawyer that asylum seekers have a year to file under current US law.

This “‘zero tolerance’ policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border” (Sessions, 2018) represents a divergence from the United States’ obligations under international treaties. Criminal prosecution for asylum seekers also results in children being separated from their parents and consequently placed in ORR custody, as previously identified as an issue by the Women's Refugee Commission. (Podkul & Obser, 2016) Thus the illegal criminal prosecution is generating additional stress on the systems that already were strained by unaccompanied minors.

Unlike the family unit separation being reported on in 2016 by the Women's Refugee Commission, the separation resulting from the Attorney General’s decision is strictly punitive and directed by policy from the top. “If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you.  It’s that simple.” (Sessions, 2018) Except it is not that simple, because refugees have a right to “show good cause for their illegal entry” (UNHCR, 2010, pg 29)

This change was not a rash decision. Reuters has been reporting that the Trump administration has been looking into breaking up family units to discourage asylum claims for over a year. (Ainsley, 2017) In March 2017 the Department of Homeland Security was “actively considering separating women from their children but has not made a decision.” (Ainsley, 2017) The consideration was part of an exploration into “options that may discourage those from even beginning the journey.” (Ainsley, 2017) The following week then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly confirmed that “I am considering - in order to deter … exactly that” (Staff, 2017) It would have been accomplished through a “policy change would allow the government to keep parents in custody while they contest deportation or wait for asylum hearings” (Staff, 2017) which is exactly what zero tolerance criminal prosecution achieves.

Harm From Federal Actors

International norms and obligations are not the only reason that unnecessary custodial detainment and prosecution is unwise. As was discussed at the beginning, there are serious logistical concerns to large numbers of people detained for extended periods of time. Human Rights Watch found that asylum seekers around the southwest border “are generally placed in holding cells for several hours to several days, and sometimes a week or more” (Bochenek, 2018, sec 3) Bathing, dental hygiene, toilet paper, and feminine hygiene products are often unavailable no matter the length of holding. A 2015 court found that the holding cells had “widespread and deplorable conditions in the holding cells.” (Flores v Johnson, 2015) Similarly the court found that “Defendants have said nothing to contradict Plaintiffs' accounts of inadequate nutrition” (Flores v Johnson, 2015) Again, like the 2016 report and the 2014 unaccompanied minors influx, these conditions were present under the Obama administration. This was the situation before the decision was made to ignore international treaty obligations for refugees and increase the number of minors taken into custody separate from their families.

Department of Homeland Security has been found to make unfounded claims without evidence and
lie to federal courts to achieve desired outcomes. (Medina v US DHS, 2018) Gang affiliation has been used to justify dehumanizing speech, equating criminal immigrants with creatures to be exterminated. This pattern of speech, the language of genocide, has been widely used as a precursor to more vicious activity. Dehumanization was even used in the Abu Ghraib prison when prisoner were abused and treated like animals. (Kearney, 2007) Since the Department of Homeland Security is proven to lie about gang affiliation, the dehumanizing speech is targeting all immigrants.

Additionally, immigration judges previously had a method to remove low-priority cases from their backlog known as administrative closure. (Rosenberg, 2018) This method was “routinely used for people without criminal backgrounds who had lived for many years in the United States” (Rosenberg, 2018) Attorney General Sessions declared judges “do not have the general authority to suspend indefinitely immigration proceedings by administrative closure” although the change “would likely overwhelm the immigration courts.” (Rosenberg, 2018) This case, known as Castro Tum, relates to immigration cases rather than asylum seekers.

An extreme change reported just today seeks to reduce the number of successful asylum claims brought by refugees. Setting precedent for immigration judges, who are Department of Justice employees and not actually members of the federal judiciary, Attorney General Sessions overruled an immigration decision granting asylum to a victim of rape and domestic abuse. (Staff, June 2018) An immigration lawyer has told me that this could erase 85% of all asylum claims.

Conclusion


The Trump administration, through Attorney General Sessions, has enacted changes which undermine international law and throw more bodies into an already overwhelmed and abusive custody situation. As explicitly described in 2017 by Department of Homeland Security, these changes are punitive against current asylum seekers to discourage future refugees from attempting to reach the United States. Watchdog organizations including Human Rights Watch, the Women's Refugee Commision, and US Federal District Courts have all found abusive treatment not even consistent with rapidly weakening DHS policies. Federal Courts have also found that ICE has lied to them about the alleged gang affiliation of those taken into custody.

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