See MoJo's full coverage of the surge of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America.
The federal government will tell you that it has heard the cries of the anti-immigrant protesters and created policies to slow down the surge of children picked up by the US Border Patrol. By coordinating with Central American governments, using US-produced TV ads to urge kids to avoid the perilous journey, and attempting to speed up court proceedings, the administration is trying to at least partially take credit for the recent dip in the number of unaccompanied children caught at the border.
But those claims are "just conjecture," says Adam Isacson, a senior associate at the nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America. Isacson, who focuses on regional security policy, says that it's simply too early to tell exactly what's going on. The ad campaigns could be dissuading some people, he says, as could the fact that the story has become such a hot topic in Central America. Or perhaps people were already planning to stop coming now that the rumored "permisos"—which allegedly would have granted free passing for unaccompanied children and mothers traveling with children—were supposedly set to end in June. There's also the fact that the rainy season starts in midsummer and provides more agricultural work in Central America than during other times of the year.
In other words, a lot of factors are at play. But the slowdown in the number of children picked up over the last few weeks also seems entirely predictable: Since 1999, the overall number of undocumented migrants apprehended by the Border Patrol has peaked in the spring before dropping precipitously during the summer months. In Texas' Rio Grande Valley area—the area seeing the most child migrants—July temperatures reach well up into the 90s, and often higher. Here's a month-by-month look at apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol sector:
The heat and the unforgiving terrain has very real consequences for would-be immigrants across the desert Southwest. Humane Borders, a Tucson, Arizona-based humanitarian organization, tries to "take death out of the immigration equation," says executive director Juanita Molina, by leaving drinking water in routes frequented by migrants. More than a decade ago, the group, along with the Pima County medical examiner's office, started tracking dead undocumented migrants found in the area. Many of the 2,187 bodies found since January 2001 were skeletal remains, so a cause of death was hard to determine. But 969 of them were listed as having died from exposure. The vast majority were also found in July:
Molina says there are many factors that could influence overall migration patterns: harvest season, weather, politics, among others. But the weather is among the biggest factors. "I think it's completely cyclical with the seasons," she says. "Unfortunately, politicians on both sides of the fence are using this opportunity to push forward whatever agenda they have."
To be sure, fluctuations in overall apprehension numbers are symptomatic of a complex immigration system dependent on factors spread across several countries. Solid answers won't be available until January 2015, Isacson says, when it's possible to compare apprehension numbers from 2014 to previous years.
But we can say for sure that it's a little early for the White House, immigration hardliners, or anyone else to be taking credit for bringing the numbers down. After all, Mother Nature might be playing the biggest role so far.
As the Obama administration continues to grapple with the humanitarian crisis surrounding unaccompanied immigrant children, some have suggested processing the children faster and moving them quickly through the immigration courts. One problem: The vast majority don't have lawyers. The ACLU and several other groups, including the American Immigration Council, filed a lawsuit Wednesday to force the government to provide these kids with counsel as they deal with the wildly complex immigration system.
See MoJo's full coverage of the surge of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America.
The ACLU's suit represents eight children, ages 10 to 17, from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico, but is also trying to force representation for the thousands of children who go through the same thing each year. The suit alleges that the children are being deprived of due process, citing previous case law ruling that children should have legal representation in legal matters. A 2014 report (PDF) from the University of California-Hastings and Kids in Need of Defense argues, "Without counsel, the children are unlikely to understand the complex procedures they face and the options and remedies that may be available to them under the law."
Part of Obama's $3.7 billion plan to address immigration issues is to provide $15 million to fund legal representation for unaccompanied children. (Notably, a 2012 report said that 40 percent of them were eligible for some sort of deportation relief.) The government says it's also trying to recruit lawyers and paralegals to help these children, but according to Ahilan Arulanantham, the deputy legal director of the ACLU of Southern California and the senior staff attorney for the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, "it's pretty clear that it's not enough."
"Obviously, we're happy the government is trying to do more, but this is entirely within government control," Arulanantham says. "These are complex cases, and the question at the core isn't about money. The question is about whether it's fair to have them present their cases on their own."
US Attorney General Eric Holder—a named defendant in the case—seems to agree, saying in March 2013 that it is "inexcusable that young kids…six-, seven-year-olds, 14-year-olds—have immigration decisions made on their behalf, against them…and they're not represented by counsel." More than a year later, though, unaccompanied kids still struggle to find pro bono legal representation, either because they and their families can't afford it or there is simply none available.
One child mentioned in the complaint, a 10-year-old boy from El Salvador, watched his father get killed by gang members in front of his house, and was threatened by that same gang a few years later at the age of nine. Another, a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador, was also threatened by gang members after her uncle, a police officer, refused to supply gang members with supplies.
"I wish we could have a judge or a government attorney question [her] about her case and about how immigration law works," Arulanantham says. "It's laughable."
Oil covers the ground after a 2010 well blowout near Cheyenne, Wyoming. The state leads the nation for uninspected wells on federal land. (The inspection status of this particular well is unknown.)
Johnson County, Wyoming, is the kind of remote, quiet Western community where life revolves around cattle—it was the site of an infamous 19th-century armed battle between cowboys and suspected cattle rustlers. The county ranks only 11th statewide for oil production, but it holds the No. 1 ranking nationwide for a more ignominious distinction: It has 249 new, high-risk oil and gas wells that the federal government has failed to inspect for compliance with safety and environmental standards.
Johnson County may have the most uninspected wells, but it's far from the only place where the problem exists. In fact, of all 3,486 oil and gas wells drilled on federal and Native American land from 2009 to 2012 that were identified by the Bureau of Land Management as high risk for pollution, 40 percent were not inspected at the most important stage of their development, according to records the BLM provided to Climate Desk.
"In a perfect world, we'd love to get to all those wells," said Steven Wells, chief of the BLM's Fluid Minerals Division. "Unfortunately we've been fighting an uphill battle. We hope that at some point we'll be able to catch up."
The map and chart below identify where these wells are located, by county:
Latest update, July 28: On Monday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s February ruling which found Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. However the court's decision will not go into effect immediately. You can read the full opinion here.
Just a few years ago, the fight for marriage equality looked incredibly bleak. More than half of all states had banned same-sex marriage through ballot initiatives or legislation, with some states going so far as to inscribe same-sex marriage bans into their constitutions.
Supporters of marriage equality today are reversing the situation at an astonishing pace. A massive 2012 campaign by marriage equality activists to reverse the pattern of defeat they'd suffered at the ballot box, as well as the Supreme Court's 2013 decision to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act have proven to be major catalysts for change.
But progress has been uneven. Depending on the state, the right to same-sex marriage relies on voters approving a new constitutional amendment, legislators repealing a law, or judges striking down the ban (and the judge's decision surviving the appeals process). States with domestic partnerships or civil unions don't offer nearly the same protections for couples as states that recognize same-sex marriage. For instance, Wisconsin law allows domestic partnerships but makes it illegal for same-sex couples to travel out of state to marry. Couples who do so, and continue living in Wisconsin, risk a $10,000 fine and nine months in prison.
Below are two maps that will help you keep it all straight. The maps, which are continually updated, tell you everything you need to know about how marriage equality is spreading across the country.
First, here's a look at where same-sex marriage stands in each state:
Where Is Gay Marriage Legal in the US?
The current status of gay marriage across the US. Latest state to legalize highlighted below. Click any state for details.
Ban struck down, appeal pending
Banned, currently challenged in court
As the above map shows, more states ban same-sex marriage today than allow it. But that's only part of the story.
Although the end of DOMA didn't have an immediate effect on state laws, the 2013 Supreme Court ruling signaled that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Accordingly, federal judges in nearly a dozen states—the ones in light green on the map above—have overturned such bans. (In each case, the state has appealed.)
With that in mind, the fight for marriage equality looks very different—more like a movement that is succeeding at a faster clip every year:
The tipping point came in 2012, when voters in Washington, Maine, and Minnesota recognized the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Of the nearly two-dozen states that recognize some form of same-sex unions, more than half joined the pack in just the past two years.