Ian Gordon

Ian Gordon

Copy Editor

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.

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ICE Cold: US Citizens Getting Caught in Immigration Dragnet

| Thu Feb. 21, 2013 2:16 PM EST

The Obama administration has taken plenty of heat in the past couple of years for its record number of deportations. A new report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, though, highlights a different (albeit related) problem: US citizens are getting snagged in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement dragnet, too.

Of the nearly 1 million people for whom ICE issued detainers (a.k.a. immigration holds) from fiscal year 2008 to FY 2012, 834 were US citizens. As the above chart shows, that's right on par with the number of Korean, Belizean, Iranian, and Thai citizens that the government asked local law enforcement to hold after arrests. Those numbers are nowhere near those of, say, Mexican citizens (No. 1 at more than 690,000 detainers), but, as the TRAC report noted: "It is illegal for DHS to detain US citizens, and to do so is a significant violation of their constitutional rights."

Given the administration's stated focus on criminal offenders (PDF), it seems odd that only 23 percent of those who received ICE holds had a criminal record, and that just 9 percent had committed what the agency calls Level 1 crimes—a definition broad enough to include "serious" offenses like traffic violations and marijuana possession.

ICE holds by crime

ICE did change its policy (PDF) in December, restricting the use of detainers on people arrested for small-time misdemeanors, and the White House's draft immigration bill proposes to give judges more discretion when it comes to deporting such offenders. Still, for an unpopular agency already dealing with its union members' acrimonious lawsuit against the federal government and with a recent USA Today story that detailed desperate ICE efforts to reach deportation quotas, detaining Americans isn't helping its image.

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The Pistorius Case and South Africa's Gun Problem

| Thu Feb. 14, 2013 5:24 PM EST

South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius, the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics, has been charged with murder for shooting his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, early this morning. While initial reports suggested that the 26-year-old athlete had mistaken Steenkamp for a burglar, the BBC reported that authorities were skeptical: "Police say neighbours heard screaming and shouting around the time of the shooting, and that they had been called to investigate incidents of a domestic nature at the same house in the past."

Pistorius' ownership of and affinity for guns has been well documented by journalists, including the New York Times Magazine's Michael Sokolove and others. Check out this tweet from last November:

(Following the shooting, Nike pulled a South African TV ad featuring Pistorius and the tagline "I am the bullet in the chamber.")

The shooting is the most high-profile case from a country that, like the United States, has recently grappled with the impact of its well-established gun culture. Interestingly, firearms are not mentioned in the South African constitution, and a tough gun control law was passed in 2000. When it went into effect five years later, it put a five-gun limit on most citizens, allowing just one gun per person for self-defense purposes. As the Times explained:

But getting any gun at all, critics say, is the big task. Guns are to be automatically denied to drug or alcohol abusers, spouse abusers, people inclined to violence or "deviant behavior" and anyone who has been imprisoned for violent or sex-related crimes. The police interview three acquaintances of each applicant before deciding whether he or she is competent to own a gun. Prospective gun owners must pass a firearms course. They also must install a safe or strongbox that meets police standards for gun storage.

South Africa now ranks 50th in the world in gun ownership rates, and gun-related crime has dropped 21 percent since 2004-05. Shooting murders of women, particularly by their partners, has dropped, as shown by this chart from a 2012 report (PDF) by the South African Medical Research Council. (Murders by partners are called "intimate femicides.")

Gun homicides

Still, in 2007, the country's gun homicide rate was among the highest in the world, ranking 12th at 17 gun murders annually per 100,000 people. To put that statistic in context: In 2007, there were 8,319 gun deaths murders in South Africa, a country of roughly 49 million people. The United States—No. 1 in gun ownership, and with more than six times as many people—had 9,960 gun deaths homicides in 2012.

In many ways, American and South African gun culture and gun violence are quite different. But the possibility that Pistorius intentionally shot and killed Steenkamp brings to mind two of the most prominent pro-gun myths: namely, that keeping a gun at home makes you and your loved ones safer, and that guns make women safer.

The 49ers' Embarrassing Gay-Unfriendly Fumble

| Fri Feb. 1, 2013 3:59 PM EST

Remember all the excitement when the San Francisco 49ers became the first NFL team to make an "It Gets Better" video in support of bullied LGBT teens? Now the Niners are the first NFL team to have its "It Gets Better" video pulled from Dan Savage's site.

What brought this on: In the same week that 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver said at Super Bowl media day that he "don't do the gays, man," and that gay players wouldn't be welcomed in the locker room following news reports that effectively outed former Niners offensive lineman Kwame Harris, two more San Francisco players, Ahmad Brooks and Isaac Sopoaga, then denied any involvement with making the "It Gets Better" video—even after a reporter showed them the clip on an iPhone.

The 49ers issued a statement Wednesday separating the organization from Culliver's comments. He apologized—but not before offending even more people by riffing on menstrual cycles in a since-deleted tweet. Some teammates and coaches have voiced their concerns; Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan thinks the NFL should suspend Culliver.

Anyway, if you're still on the fence about Super Bowl XLVII, here's a helpful reminder: Brendon Ayanbadejo plays for the Ravens.

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