When not wrangling copy for the MoJo crew, Ian writes about immigration, sports, and Latin America. His work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, Wired, and Slate. Got a comment or a tip? Email him: igordon [at] motherjones [dot] com.
A child arrives at a government-run child migrant shelter in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, after being deported from Mexico.
In October 2013, I traveled to Guatemala's western highlands to report on the surge of children migrating from Central America to the United States. The largely indigenous region was more or less unchanged from when I'd lived in a village near the Guatemala-Mexico border in 2006, or when I'd returned to do graduate work there in 2009: It was poor, susceptible to natural disasters, and full of families with relatives living in the United States.
Photographer Katie Orlinsky visited many of the same places that I did, and her evocative work from Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango, the unofficial capital of the highlands, illuminates the poverty that continues to push children and families north. Recent data suggests that while far fewer Hondurans and Salvadorans have been arriving at the US border, the number of Guatemalans has dipped only slightly. As one Guatemalan migrant shelter official told Orlinsky, "Children do not migrate—they flee."
A young boy gathers wood in Quetzaltenango. The area has one of the highest levels of child migration in the country. Many of the children are economic refugees. In addition, a large population of Guatemalans from the area are already living in the United States and Mexico.
Paula (right) does not go to school and instead works washing clothing with female family members in the town of Los Duraznales.
A bus in Los Duraznales
A 16-year-old child migrant stands outside a government-run shelter in Quetzaltenango. The teenager was caught by the Mexican authorities and deported a day earlier. She was on her way to Ohio to meet her mother, who left 12 years ago.
A bus leaves for the Guatemala-Mexico border from the bus terminal in the largest market in Guatemala City.
A four-year-old stands outside her home in Quetzaltenango with her aunts. Along with her mother, she attempted to migrate to the United States, but they were caught in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico. Family members say they were imprisoned and abused before being deported back to Guatemala. The girl's mother continues to be unable to eat or speak after the experience.
The Alonso Lorenzo sisters, from left to right: Romina, 12, Alysa Karina, 16, and Isabel, 8, in Concepción Chiquirichapa. The sisters are orphans; their 14-year-old sister recently migrated to the United States, where she works to help support them. They currently live with their aunt in a cramped two-room home. All three sisters hope to migrate to the United States as soon as they can.
Romina Alonso Lorenzo, 12, washes dishes at her aunt's home in Concepción Chiquirichapa.
Romina and Isabel
Alysa Karina, 16, prepares atole at her aunt's home. She does not attend school.
The youngest Alonso Lorenzo sisters attend the Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta al Telena. Nearly half of the school's students have family in the United States.
Romina at school
Many students miss days or months of school in order to work. It is common to see children of varied ages in the same grade.
A girl studies against a wall in Guatemala City. Gangs and violence are one of the leading causes for child migration from Guatemala.
Jonathan, 13, works in a Guatemala City cemetery cutting and arranging flowers. He says he goes to school in the afternoons.
Thirteen-year-old Adonias sells garlic at the largest market in Guatemala City.
As Mother Jones' copy editor, I used to read the long, narrative features written by our former human rights reporter, Mac McClelland, many times over before they appeared in the magazine. They often wore me out, grammatically and emotionally, in the way that only intense work on difficult subjects can.
In her second book, Irritable Hearts:A PTSD Love Story (out February 24), McClelland returns to terrain she has covered before to great acclaim and great criticism: herself—specifically, her battle with PTSD following a reporting trip to post-earthquake Haiti in 2010. She unsparingly recounts her struggles to cope with the lingering effects of trauma: nightmares, sobbing fits, alcoholism. McClelland weaves these details into the telling of her own unexpected love story, the charming and jagged particulars of which left me, by the book's end, expectedly exhausted.
I recently spoke by phone with McClelland about how our knowledge of post-traumatic stress is evolving, what shocked her most about dealing with trauma, and how to define a badass:
Mother Jones: Was the topic of PTSD on your radar at all before the first Haiti trip? Was it something you thought about a lot?
Mac McClelland: I was familiar with it as a concept pretty much exclusively with respect to veterans, and that is the sum total of my experience with the topic. I definitely hadn't read any books. I probably read like one pretty famous, or maybe two, famous features about PTSD, some big ones that came out around 2003 or something. But other than that, I had nothing.
It was right around this time last year that sources in South Texas began telling me that an expected surge of unaccompanied child migrants was going to be much larger than previously anticipated. They were right: The number of kids crossing the US-Mexico border skyrocketed in 2014, and the border crisis was soon front-page news. But the numbers have been dropping since last fall, and according to new projections, they're on pace to recede even further in 2015.
According to projections from the think tank Washington Office on Latin America, around 41,000 child migrants traveling alone will be caught by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the 2015 fiscal year, a 39 percent decrease from last year. WOLA's data also suggests that border agents will nab more than 56,000 migrant families (typically a mother traveling with children), a 16 percent drop from 2014.
The number of apprehensions is proportional to the number of people crossing the border.The predictions are extrapolated from CBP data and seasonal migration trends. Adam Isacson, WOLA's senior associate for regional security policy, acknowledged that the numbers are "very tentative" and that the sample sizes were small, but that 2015 is still on pace to see the second-biggest influx ever of kids traveling alone.
What accounts for these projected decreases in the two groups of migrants that made up last year's border crunch? After all, things haven't gotten any better in Central America's so-called Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). "The situation in Central America hasn't changed in the last six months," says Maureen Meyer, WOLA's senior associate for Mexico and migrant rights. "So you're going to certainly see people fleeing their homes out of desperation and migrants continuing to be willing to run the gauntlet of risk they could face in Mexico, because they figure the risk is worth it if you could die in your home the next day anyway."
CBP has trumpeted the anti-migration ad campaign it ran last year, but few experts believe it had much impact. Instead, they argue, the decline in migrants can be attributed to the increasing difficulty of making the roughly1,500-mile journey from Central America through Mexico. In July, for example, Mexican officials closed off access to La Bestia (the Beast), the freight train that runs from southern Mexico to the US border. Migrants often sneaked rides on La Bestia because they didn't have the money to pay smugglers. Keeping them off the train has made the journey north more expensive and potentially more dangerous: A recent article in Mexico's El Universal newspaper detailed how migrants are walking increasingly risky routes or taking $250 boat rides to avoid detection in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.
Shutting down La Bestia was just part of Mexico's new crackdown on Central American migrants. Earlier last summer, President Enrique Peña Nieto announced an initiative called Programa Frontera Sur (Southern Border Program) to address the country's porous border with Guatemala. Meyer says that while the particulars of this plan are still vague, migrant shelter workers in southern Mexico have reported seeing more immigration agents patrolling the region and cracking down on safe houses for migrants.
"We won't see those images again of kids backed up at the border, but that doesn't mean there's no crisis in Central America anymore."
The Mexican government reports that it deported some 104,000 people to the Northern Trianglelast year, a 34 percent increase from 2013. (Given the poor conditions in Mexico's immigration detention centers, Meyer says many detained migrants choose deportation and another shot at heading north.) The uptick has troubled immigrant advocates, who worry that Mexico isn't applying its generous refugee and humanitarian aid laws—and is turning around Central American migrants without regard for their safety in their home countries."That's our biggest area of concern," said Jennifer Podkul of the Women's Refugee Commission. "Are they returning legitimate refugee seekers—people seeking asylum—before they even get here?"
In a January 6 meeting with Peña Nieto in Washington, President Obama praised Mexico's efforts along its border with Guatemala. US officials have repeatedly stressed that border's strategic importance; several years ago, border czar Alan Bersin said, "The Guatemalan border with Chiapas is now our southern border." The White House's 2016 foreign aid budget request earmarks money for bolstering Mexican border enforcement.
Along the US-Mexico border, the feds are intent on avoiding a repeat of last year's border catastrophe, including those visuals of little kids piled together beneath space blankets in fenced-off warehouses. Meghan Johnson, the managing attorney at the ProBAR Children's Project, the American Bar Association's pro bono legal defense program in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, says that federal shelters for unaccompanied minors are currently at 30 percent capacity and that officials are bracing for an influx of kids in the late spring and early summer. The federal government has streamlined its process for getting detained kids out of Border Patrol holding facilities, and now there are two large processing facilities to temporarily hold child migrants before they are placed in shelters or reunified with their families in the states. And Immigration and Customs Enforcement just opened its largest-ever detention facility, in Dilley, Texas, which will only hold "family-unit" detainees, i.e., mothers traveling with their children. (For more, read the New York Times Magazine's recent cover story on family detention.)
Two weeks ago, in a New York Times op-ed announcing the White House's $1 billion aid proposal for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Vice President Joe Biden wrote that "if the political will exists, there is no reason Central America cannot become the next great success story of the Western Hemisphere." In the meantime, it appears the issues that sparked last year's border surge—gang violence, abject poverty, regional instability—will continue to force tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and families to seek refuge in the United States this year.
Still, now that the numbers have dropped from their historic highs last year, it's a good bet that the kids and families won't make headlines anytime soon. "We won't see those images again of kids backed up at the border," Podkul says, "but that doesn't mean there's no crisis in Central America anymore."
Clarification: A previous version of this article suggested that the Office of Refugee Resettlement ran the two border processing facilities, which are run by CBP.
Famed college basketball coach Dean Smith died Saturday night at the age of 83, after years of decline. His on-court prowess as the frontman at North Carolina from 1961 to 1997 is unforgettable: 879 wins, two national championships, 11 Final Four appearances, and a lasting legacy as a hoops innovator. But for many, it's his off-court example—which manifested itself in something people in Chapel Hill still call the Carolina Way—that made him a legend.
Smith was an outspoken liberal Democrat who was anti-nukes, anti-death-penalty, and pro-gay-rights in a state that sent Jesse Helms to the Senate for five terms. (In fact, North Carolina Dems even tried to convince Smith to run against Helms.) His father, Alfred, integrated his high school basketball team in 1930s Kansas; years later, Smith would do the same at UNC, recruiting Charlie Scott in the mid-1960s to become the first African American player on scholarship there and one of the first in the entire South.
This story, from a 2014 piece by the Washington Post's John Feinstein, has been making the rounds today. It's worth re-reading:
…In 1981, Smith very grudgingly agreed to cooperate with me on a profile for this newspaper. He kept insisting I should write about his players, but I said I had written about them. I wanted to write about him. He finally agreed.
One of the people I interviewed for the story was Rev. Robert Seymour, who had been Smith's pastor at the Binkley Baptist Church since 1958, when he first arrived in Chapel Hill. Seymour told me a story about how upset Smith was to learn that Chapel Hill's restaurants were still segregated. He and Seymour came up with an idea: Smith would walk into a restaurant with a black member of the church.
"You have to remember," Reverend Seymour said. "Back then, he wasn't Dean Smith. He was an assistant coach. Nothing more."
Smith agreed and went to a restaurant where management knew him. He and his companion sat down and were served. That was the beginning of desegregation in Chapel Hill.
When I circled back to Smith and asked him to tell me more about that night, he shot me an angry look. "Who told you about that?" he asked.
"Reverend Seymour," I said.
"I wish he hadn't done that."
"Why? You should be proud of doing something like that."
He leaned forward in his chair and in a very quiet voice said something I've never forgotten: "You should never be proud of doing what's right. You should just do what's right."
With the Super Bowl days away, the sports world's hot-take artists have spent the past week toggling between the intrigue and idiocy of Deflategate to the press conference reticence of Seattle Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch. In some ways, it has been the perfect ending to a dreadful year for the NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell.
Famous for his "protect the shield" mantra and disciplinarian ways, Goodell has seen his reputation get battered throughout the controversy-filled 12 months since Super Bowl XLVIII. So, as Ballghazi rages on and the big game approaches, here's a look back at the recent firestorms and missteps that made 2014 such a rotten year for the league and its commish:
Ray Rice: It was bad enough when the league initially suspended Rice, then the Baltimore Ravens' star running back, for a paltry two gamesafter his February arrest for assaulting his then-fiancée (now wife) at an Atlantic City casino. It got worse when the Ravens further bungled the situation. But when TMZ released security camera footage in September that actually showed Ray Rice punching Janay Rice, the league had to suspend him indefinitely—even as Goodell maintained that he had never before seen the video. (Numerousreports have made those claims seem laughable.) The NFL toughened its domestic-abuse policies, sure, and will air an ad during the Super Bowl to raise awareness. But the damage from the league's initial inaction already has been done. As Tracy Treu, the wife of former Oakland Raiders center Adam Treu, told me back in September, "When you're with an NFL team, the message to you is clear: Don't fuck anything up for your partner, and don't fuck anything up for the team."
"When you're with an NFL team, the message to you is clear: Don't fuck anything up for your partner, and don't fuck anything up for the team," Tracy Treu, wife of former Raiders center Adam Treu, told me in September.
Adrian Peterson: Just days after the explosive Rice video was released, the Minnesota Vikings' All-Pro running back was accused of hitting his four-year-old son with a switch and was indicted for reckless or negligent injury to a child. For a short time it looked like Peterson would be back on the field after missing just a week of work, but the Vikings quickly reversed course, and the NFL ultimately suspended him for the remainder of the season.
Greg Hardy/Jonathan Dwyer: Lost a bit in the Rice and Peterson headlines were the domestic-assault charges against Hardy, a Carolina Panthers defensive end, and Dwyer, an Arizona Cardinals running back. Hardy's then-girlfriend, Nicole Holder, testified in July that Hardy had dragged her around his apartment, threw her on a futon covered in rifles, and then put his hands on her throat. "I was so scared I wanted to die," she testified. Hardy was convicted; his appeal is set for February. (He took a paid leave of absence in September, in part to avoid a possible suspension.) Dwyer allegedly head-butted his wife and broke her nose in July. She reportedly went to police after seeing the Peterson news in September and fearing for her child's safety. Dwyer was put on the reserve/non-football-injury list and pleaded not guilty to charges on Monday.
Concussions: The league's ongoing concussion scandal may have peaked in 2013 with the airing of the Frontline documentary League of Denial, but the issue of player safety—indeed, the long-term viability of the game—isn't going away anytime soon. In July, a federal judge preliminarily approved a settlement between the league andformer players over concussion-related claims. Since then, more than 200 players have opted out of the settlement, objecting to the restrictions embedded in the deal. As ESPN the Magazine's Peter Keating wrote, "Fewer than 3,600 athletes, or about 17 percent of all retired players, will end up with some kind of illness that the settlement will compensate, according to forecasts by both sides in the case." (The settlement is still awaiting final approval.) Next up: the Christmas release of Will Smith's Concussion, a feature film based on a GQ profile of neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, one of the first physicians to fight the NFL on brain trauma.
Snyder: Nick Wass/AP; dunce cap: Stockbyte/Thinkstock. Illustration by Dave Gilson.
Cheerleading lawsuits: If you haven't read my colleague Julia Lurie's roundup of the many lawsuits brought by current and former cheerleaders against NFL teams, go do that now. Here's an excerpt, about how different teams determine whether their cheerleaders are fit enough to perform:
The Jills allege being subjected to a weekly "jiggle test," which consisted of doing jumping jacks while their stomachs, arms, legs, hips, and butts were scrutinized. (The Jills manual also instructs, "Never eat in uniform unless arrangements have been made in advance. Just say 'Thanks so much for offering but no thank you'…NEVER say, 'Oh, we're not allowed to eat!'") Ben-Gals are required to weigh in twice a week, and if they come in more than three pounds over their "goal weight," they face penalties: extra conditioning after practice, benchings, probation, or dismissal from the team.
Aaron Hernandez trial: Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end who was arrested a year and a half ago for the shooting death of friend Odin Lloyd, is back in the news now that the jury has been selected and his murder case is set to start Thursday in Connecticut. Hernandez also has been charged with two more murder counts for a July 2012 double-murder in Massachusetts.
Anti-gay front offices: Linebacker Michael Sam came out as gay before the NFL Draft last February. No one knew for sure how it would play out—or what effect it would have on Sam's draft status—but a Sports Illustrated story that anonymously quoted general managers and front-office types around the league wasn't exactly welcoming. "I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet," said one personnel assistant. "In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it's still a man's-man game." Sam was drafted in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams but was cut just before the season began. (After latching on with the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad for a spell, he's once again a free agent, albeit an engaged one.)
Jim Irsay: The Indianapolis Colts' billionaire owner was charged with driving while intoxicated in October; he later admitted to having hydrocodone, oxycodone, and Xanax in his system. (Police said they found "numerous prescription medication bottles containing pills," as well as $29,000 in cash, in Irsay's car.) The NFL suspended the outspoken 55-year-old for six games and fined him $500,000.
Not so super: While Super Bowl XLIX could break the TV ratings record, Mina Kimes reports in the latest ESPN the Magazine that the mayor of Glendale, Arizona—this year's host site—told her, "I totally believe we will lose money on this."
Jameis Winston on the horizon: If all of this weren't enough, this spring's NFL Draft will surely be all about Winston, the presumptive No. 1 pick and Heisman Award winner who was accused (but never charged) of rape as a Florida State freshman in 2012. Winston was recently cleared of violating FSU's code of conduct, though a 2013 New York Timesreport alleged that "there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university," after the allegations were made. The story isn't going away anytime soon: Last week, Winston's accuser went public in The Hunting Ground, a documentary on campus sexual assault that debuted Friday at the Sundance Film Festival.