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.
Rotten food, limited access to sunlight, and even arbitrary solitary confinement: For undocumented immigrants in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, detention could mean all that and more.
According to the Detention Watch Network, a national coalition pushing for changes in immigration detention, ICE holds more than 400,000 immigrants in 33,400 jail beds across the United States. On Thursday, DWN released a report highlighting what it calls the nation's 10 worst immigration detention centers and calling for their immediate closure. Among the abuses at these jails and prisons—most run by county prison systems, but some by private firms like Corrections Corporation of America—the report claims:
At all ten of the facilities, people reported waiting weeks or months for medical care; inadequate, and in some cases a total absence, of any outdoor recreation time or access to sunlight or fresh air; minimal and inedible food; the use of solitary confinement as punishment; and the extreme remoteness of many of the facilities from any urban area which makes access to legal services nearly impossible.
This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has seen Frontline's excellent "Lost in Detention," which focused on the fallout from Obama's deportation-heavy first term. Still, the 2009 death of 39-year-old Roberto Medina Martínez at Georgia's Stewart Detention Center—one of the facilities called out by DWN—is a graphic reminder of what can happen when more and more immigrants are rounded up for deportation and sent to overwhelmed and inadequate facilities, where they're often treated like prisoners even though they're not serving criminal sentences. (Rather, they're undergoing administrative immigration proceedings that usually result in deportation.)
Immigration reform may be a post-election topic du jour—with everyone from President Obama to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio pledging to push legislation posthaste—but hardly anyone is talking about fixing our broken detention system. As Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said in a Thursday press call, "Taxpayers shouldn't be asked to continue to support this waste of money and resources."
Click on our map below to learn more about each of DWN's worst offenders:
While Alarcón aims to air his show on radio stations throughout the Americas, his iTunes-savvy home audience is key. "There are 50 million Latinos here and more Spanish speakers than in Peru," he told me when we met in an Oakland café just as his podcastwas picking up steam. "That's why I can't believe no one did Radio Ambulante before."
Mother Jones: After the publication of Lost City Radio, the BBC sent you to Peru for your first radio assignment. What was that like?
Daniel Alarcón: Amazing. I'd been on tour for eight months. You read the same section of the novel every night. You answer pretty much the same questions. You do interviews that are all basically the same. At the end of a year of this rote performance, this was the antidote. And it was beautiful. I remember calling up a friend of mine and just telling him how—this sounds really cheesy—I feel so alive. [Laughs.] And we did all kinds of interviews. We did interviews in Lima. We did interviews in little towns. We interviewed, like, the mayor. We interviewed, like, musicians. We interviewed singers and laborers and all kinds of people.
With the passage of Tuesday's Question 4 ballot initiative, Maryland became the latest state—and the first by popular vote—to pass a so-called state Dream Act, allowing undocumented college students to pay in-state tuition rates for public college and universities there. Fourteen states* now have such laws on the books:
It might not have been the most controversial initiative on Maryland ballots this year—that'd be Question 6, the same-sex-marriage measure, which also passed—but the Dream Act still generated a heated debate in the Old Line State. The bill originally was approved by the General Assembly and was signed by Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley in 2011, but opponents, led by the group Help Save Maryland, collected well over the nearly 56,000 signatures required to force a referendum on the issue.
In the riveting new documentary film Ballplayer: Pelotero, there's an early scene in which four Dominican teens are sitting in a spartan dorm room, shooting the shit about the future they anticipate as professional players in the United States. They joke about how their countrymen play with more flair than Americans and venture that Dominicans are harder workers and more talented than their northern counterparts. Then one of them gets serious. "A lot of us have pulled off tricks so we can sign," he says. "People change their ages and all that. But that's just what you have to do."
For years, that sentiment—you do what you gotta do—has pervaded baseball in the Dominican Republic, home to 11 percent of major-leaguers, 24 percent of minor-leaguers, and a not-insignificant percentage of the game's recentscandals. Baseball is seen by many young men and their families in the Dominican as a way out; nearly 3.5 million people live in poverty (including some 1 million who subsist on less than $2 a day), and that sense of desperation has helped contribute to steroid abuse and widespread age and identification fraud among would-be players, often with the help of exploitative talent brokers known as buscones.
In the film, directors Ross Finkel, Travor Martin, and Jon Paley zoom in on two players, highly coveted Miguel Ángel Sanó and under-the-radar Jean Carlos Batista, as they train in advance for the big day: July 2, the first day that Dominican 16-year-olds can sign a contract with a big-league club. They go behind the scenes à la Hoop Dreamsto illustrate just how shady the recruiting process can get in Major League Baseball's favorite feeding ground.
The basics: On July 1, our neighbors to the south held a presidential election. In a stinging rebuke to the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and President Felipe Calderón—whose six-year term has been marked by an increasingly violent drug war and a lagging economy—Mexicans elected Enrique Peña Nieto, a former governor from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which controlled Mexico from 1929 to 2000. Like Calderón in 2006, Peña Nieto received less than 40 percent of the vote but still beat Andrés Manuel López Obrador, an old-school leftist from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and former mayor of Mexico City. (Josefina Vázquez Mota, the PAN candidate, finished third.) While the result was long seen as a foregone conclusion (Peña Nieto led in the polls throughout the election), López Obrador closed the gap in the final weeks of the campaign thanks in part to a growing student movement fed up with the Televisa-TV Azteca television duopoly, which runs 95 percent of the country's stations and which a June 7 Guardian report claimed favored PRI candidates over their PRD counterparts.
What's happened since the election: In Peña Nieto's victory speech, he promised to try to meet the demands of those that voted against him and applauded the election for being an authentic democratic fiesta. López Obrador, who garnered 31 percent of the vote, was quick to write off the election as a sham, alleging that it "was plagued with irregularities before, during, and after the process." Protesters, many of them belonging to the mostly student movement YoSoy132 (see below), took to the streets in Mexico City and across the country the next day in an "anti-fraud" march. Videos of the protests flooded YouTube; in one, marchers' demands in an underpass—México votó, Peña no ganó!—translate to:"Mexico voted, Peña didn't win!"
In the days after the election, during what's now being dubbed "SorianaGate," the arrival of hundreds of shoppers with prepaid gift cards—supposedly handed out by the PRI campaign—at the Soriana grocery chain around Mexico City sparked suspicion that the PRI had bought votes, though Peña Nieto denied his party's involvement,questioning the credibility of online videos of the Soriana shoppers and claiming they were orchestrated. On July 5, Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) announced that it planned to recount votes at more than half of the country's polling stations, citing inconsistencies. The final results, including the recount, could be in by this Sunday, but the IFE has until September 6 to declare a winner, and the recount could be long and expensive.