After our investigation, the Department of Justice decided to end its contracts with private prisons. Read our story, and what it took to report it.
Based in Mother Jones' San Francisco office, Ian covers sports, immigration, and Latin America. His work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, Wired, and Slate, among others. Got a comment or a tip? Email him: email@example.com.
A guide to the execs, coaches, and administrators who are raking it in.
Ian GordonJan. 12, 2015 6:45 AM
At least you have that Heisman to fall back on, Marcus.
The first-ever College Football Playoff, culminating in tonight's national championship game between Oregon and Ohio State, has been years in the making: Fans, coaches, and players had long complained about the lack of a tournament, à la college basketball's March Madness, to determine a national champ. The four-team tourney has proved a smashing success: The semifinal games on New Year's Day each brought ESPN more than 28 million viewers, breaking the cable TV ratings record set in 2011 by the title game between Oregon and Auburn. Thanks to NCAA rules, though, the players will make bupkis. So who is cashing in, then? Here's a partial breakdown.
ESPN: In 2012, the sports network inked a 12-year, $7.3 billion deal for the rights to air seven postseason college games—the four big bowl games plus two national semifinals and the championship game. That's a ton of money, even when you consider that media buyers told Advertising Age that 30-second spots during this year's title game are selling for $1 million a pop. But even if ESPN barely covers its expenses, securing the long-term rights to the playoffs has further cemented its dominance as the go-to channel for sports fans. And that, in the end, should prove immensely profitable.
The NCAA: College sports' governing body loves to prattle on about amateurism while pulling in nearly $1.4 billion annually in TV royalties for the football playoffs ($608 million) and March Madness ($771 million). Still, Mark Emmert, the NCAA's embattled president, made $1.7 million in total compensation in 2012, 46 percent more than his predecessor, Myles Brand, earned in his last full year as prez.
Nike: There have been plenty of swooshes on your screen this playoff season: All four playoff semifinalists—Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, and Oregon—wear Nike gear due to $15 million in contracts for the 2014-15 academic year. (Nike founder Phil Knight is a well-known Oregon alumnus and superbooster.) Related: Have you picked up your special-edition Oregon title game jersey yet? How about your custom CFP Zoom Hypercross TRs?
The Big 5 Conferences: The biggest recipients of the TV largesse will be the so-called Big 5 conferences—the Atlantic Coast, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pac-12, and the Southeastern—which will each receive $50 million a year, according to the CFP's revenue distribution plan. The ACC, Big 10, Pac-12, and SEC also all got a $6 million bonus because their teams made the semifinals, plus millions more for travel expenses. (As you might imagine, these conferences already have hefty TV deals that are distributed among the schools.)
Coaches Mark Helfrich and Urban Meyer: Meyer—who won national titles at Florida in 2006 and 2008 and is earning nearly $4.5 million in base compensation this season at Ohio State—will take home $250,000 just for making it to the championship game. OSU athletic director Gene Smith told USA Today in December that those numbers are right on the mark: "He's the CEO of a large corporation. We're fortunate we have him at Ohio State." Helfrich, the second-year Oregon coach, will pocket $2 million in salary this year (the lowest among semifinalist head coaches), plus $250,000 more should the Ducks win Monday night. (His assistant coaches already have snatched an additional six months' worth of base salary this postseason, and could earn even more.)
Gene Smith: The Ohio State athletic director came under fire last year when it was reported that he earned a bonus of more than $18,000 after a wrestler won an individual national title in March. He's on track to make another two weeks' worth of base pay, roughly $36,000, if the Buckeyes bring home the trophy Monday night.
On Tuesday, the CFP announced that the NCAA would let it help cover the expenses of parents who wanted to come watch their kids play in the title game, allotting up to $1,250 per parent/guardian (maximum: two) for travel, meals, and accommodations. So that's nice. But what of the kids whose hard work makes this all possible? Don't they deserve something?
As it turns out, the NCAA allows players up to $550 each in goods from gift suites set up by individual bowl games. According to SportsBusiness Daily, the Rose Bowl (the Florida State-Oregon semifinal) handed out Fossil watches, Oakley Works backpacks, and New Era 59Fifty caps, while the Sugar Bowl (the Alabama-Ohio State semifinal) also gave away Fossil watches and New Era hats. It's not the custom-made Fathead wall decals handed out by the Quick Lane Bowl, but hey, these kids are amateurs.
Immigration officials are opening new lockups for moms and kids seeking refuge from violent homelands. So much for compassion.
Ian GordonDec. 19, 2014 7:15 AM
An unidentified Guatemalan detainee at the family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico
This past summer, the "border kids"—tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras detained after crossing into the United States—became the country's latest immigration crisis. Aid groups mobilized, Congress held hearings, and pleas for compassion resounded at the highest levels of government. "These are our kids," Vice President Joe Biden told a group of lawyers in August, urging them to offer the children free legal representation.
But the Obama administration hasn't extended that caring attitude to another huge group of Central American migrant kids—those traveling with a parent or guardian, usually their mother. In fiscal 2014, according to data from US Customs and Border Protection, these so-called family unit apprehensions nearly quadrupled. By comparison, the increase in kids arriving at the border alone—the surge that put Capitol Hill in a crisis mode—was a relatively modest 77 percent.
In perhaps the biggest policy reversal since the surge began, the federal government has rebuilt the controversial family detention system it gutted only a few years ago, in no small part to send a message to would-be immigrants—even though 98 percent of those at one Texas detention facility were asylum seekers who claimed that they feared returning to their home countries, according to a recent report by the Women's Refugee Commission and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. "I certainly would've never expected it from this administration," said the WRC's Michelle Brané, who coauthored the report. "Why they went for this draconian detention, I just don't get it."
In 2009, the feds stopped detaining women and children at the notoriousT. Don Hutto facility near Austin, Texas, following Bush-era allegations of stark conditions and sexual abuse. Family detention seemed to be on the outs. Then, in July, the White House put forward a $3.7 billion emergency appropriations request that included $879 million for about 6,300 new family detention beds. While the request never made it through Congress, the Department of Homeland Security still managed to open a temporary family facility in Artesia, New Mexico, and a second one in Karnes City, Texas. (Nearly 500 women and children have been deported since these facilities opened their doors to family-unit detainees.)
The Artesia facility is set to close this month, just in time for DHS to open yet another family detention center in Dilley, Texas. Built to house 2,400 migrants, the South Texas Family Residential Center will be the largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility ever. Like Hutto, it will be run by the private prison firm Corrections Corporation of America.
Anti-detention advocates argue that locking up families is not only expensive—ICE spends $161 a day to detain the typical immigrant, but $266 a day per family-unit detainee—but also traumatic and unnecessary. For the past several years, said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Michael Tan, women with children who passed the so-called credible fear of persecution screening, which comes before an asylum hearing, were allowed to live in the community while they went through the immigration process. "The agency understood that if you were a bona fide asylum seeker we didn't need to lock you up," Tan said. Besides, alternatives to detention can be nearly as effective in getting people to their immigration hearings, at a fraction of the cost.
"Detention puts a whole lot of pressure on extremely vulnerable people to give up their cases," Tan said. "The immigration authorities know that one way to facilitate removal is to keep people locked up."
See MoJo's full coverage of the surge of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America.
But this past summer, the government instituted what the ACLU, in a just-filed class action lawsuit, describes as a blanket no-release policy that keeps women and children under lock and key—even though they've passed credible-fear screenings and have every incentive to show up for an asylum hearing. Worse still, attorneys who've been to Artesia and Karnes City have been complaining for months about what they've seen at the two facilities. Artesia, for example, is a remote oil town in southeastern New Mexico, halfway between Carlsbad and Roswell on US 285. Because it is so isolated, legal services there have been limited to a rotating cast of attorneys organized by the American Immigration Lawyers Association who are working pro bono for a week at a time. In August, several groups filed a complaint alleging a violation of due process rights at the facility.
At a House Homeland Security Committee hearing this month, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson acknowledged some of the criticisms, saying he wanted "to make sure we have adequate ability for effective attorney-client communications" moving forward. He continued: "I believe that added detention capability on the southern border, and some disagree with me, is essential to border security." On Monday, at the Dilley facility's inauguration, Johnson was more blunt: "It'll now be more likely that you'll be detained and sent back."
I recently spoke with a woman I'll call Jessica Ramos, who landed at Artesia after fleeing Honduras with her two-year-old son, Nicolás (also a pseudonym). She left as soon as she could after her gang-affiliated boyfriend put a gun to her boy's head and then, moments later, stuck the barrel in her mouth. The preceding months had been marked by increasing violence, including twice-daily sexual assaults, and Ramos was sure she'd end up dead if she didn't get far away fast. "The law doesn't do anything there—what options do we have?" she told me in Spanish. "To run away with our kids."
"The law doesn't do anything there—what options do we have?" said Jessica Ramos of her native Honduras. "To run away with our kids."
So, on July 2, Ramos and Nicolás left Olancho, which is located along Honduras' eastern border with Nicaragua and is one of the most violent regions in the world's most violent country. Her sister helped wrangle a smuggler to lead them through Guatemala and Mexico. On July 17, they entered South Texas by crossing the Rio Grande, and were quickly apprehended. A few days later, they were shipped to the recently opened Artesia facility.
According to Brané's report, some of the problems that led to Hutto's closing are cropping up again. More than half of the 1,050 minors booked into family detention this year were six or younger, the report notes. At the Karnes City facility, which is now facing a complaint alleging sexual abuse, extortion, and harassment by guards, women reportedly had to carry their infant children incessantly—no crawling was allowed. Many children were depressed and lost weight. Jesse Lloyd, an attorney who has spent time at Artesia, told me that one three-year-old stopped eating solid food because he couldn't process the institutional fare. ICE officials wouldn't let seven-year-old Nayely Bermúdez Beltrán leave the Karnes City detention center to see a doctor, despite a malignant brain tumor that required immediate treatment. (She and her mother, Sara Beltrán Rodríguez, were eventually released, after the local media caught wind of it.)
Additionally, Artesia offered scant child care, which meant that children were in tow while their mothers met with immigration attorneys and asylum officers and shared traumatic stories of violence and sexual assault. (Some mothers censored their stories to protect the kids, the report noted, in effect hurting their cases.) Attorneys complained that the new facilities didn't have telephone rooms, and instead relied on guards to carry around cellphones the detainees could ask to use—Brané points out that such a setup could enable guards to coerce and sexually harass women and girls.
In detention, Nicolás lost nearly a third of his weight, dropping from 55 pounds to 39. Ramos shed 20 pounds herself, and even started losing some hair.
When Ramos arrived at Artesia, she said, the staff went out of their way to antagonize her, telling her that there was no chance she'd get asylum. Detainees were compelled to make the foamy bathroom hand soap double as shampoo. The food was "horrible." Nicolás lost nearly a third of his weight, dropping from 55 pounds to 39. Ramos shed 20 pounds herself, and even started losing some hair. She mostly kept to herself, she told me, making friends with just one other detainee, a woman from El Salvador. She was wary about befriending other Hondurans, on the off chance her ex might find out where she was.
Nicolás didn't understand why they were locked up, and he grew increasingly withdrawn as the weeks turned into months; at one point, outside in the detention center's yard, he saw a bus drove by. "Mommy," he said, "let's go on that bus. I don't want to be here." Ramos grew desperate. She knew she couldn't go back to Honduras. When a Denver-based attorney named Elanie Cintron walked into a roomful of Artesia detainees one day and asked if any of them needed legal representation, Ramos shot her hand up.
With Cintron's help, it wasn't long before Ramos was granted an asylum hearing. Following hours of testimony, the judge gave a 45-minute explanation of her ruling, all in English. Ramos had attended with another lawyer, since Cintron was back in Colorado at the time. She kept tapping the attorney's hand, searching for clues as to how the judge would decide. Finally, the judge stopped talking. The lawyer turned to her: "Congratulations, Jessica!"
Ramos broke down crying. Her legal team was able to get her and her son released immediately—some women have had to wait up to 30 days—and Nicolás requested a pizza and chicken dinner to celebrate. Several days later, the two were on a plane to New York City. They settled with Ramos' sister in Brooklyn.
"The government came into this with a very clear assumption and goal," Brané said. "The assumption was these families didn't have protection needs, and the goal was to get them out quickly. I think that that's being proven wrong." Still, Obama's recent immigration executive action doesn't protect new arrivals, and it remains to be seen whether the shift to the new Dilley facility, located just 70 miles from San Antonio, will mean that more women and children will get legal aid and eventually be released.
"All the women in there," Ramos told me, "have a case."
Yes, there are still tons of classic cars, but the island has changed rapidly in the past several years.
Photographs by Greg Kahn; Text by Ian GordonDec. 18, 2014 7:45 AM
If you know anyone who's been to Cuba in the last decade or two, you've likely seen the photos from their visit: some lovingly restored colonial manors, sometimes right alongside a crumbling facade; the bookshelves lined up around Havana's Plaza de Armas; and image after image of 1950s Buicks, Fords, and Chevrolets. All too often, Cuba is visually portrayed as nothing more than a tropical time machine, a place where the people and their lives aren't nearly as interesting as the relics surrounding them.
Photographer Greg Kahn went to Cuba last year and documented the recent expansion of private businesses under Raúl Castro, a shift that has brought, Kahn writes, "a hesitant, wary embrace of new expression." Sure, his collection includes the occasional photo of state iconography—for example, that famous Che Guevara sculpture in Plaza de la Revolución—but many of the images are of everyday people working, playing, and, in a way, making sense of a rapidly changing environment. In other words, they're a window into a culture that might soon become increasingly familiar to Americans in the coming years.
A couple kisses along the Malecón, a famous avenue along the water in Havana. With new regulations passing, allowing some forms of capitalism, many Cubans are wondering if this is the beginning of moving from isolation to globalization.
Yodany Rivero Marcial, a member of the group Onda Expansiva, records his part for a new track at a home in Alamar. Reggaeton, a style of music with Caribbean roots, has become wildly popular in Cuba, even though the Cuban government has cracked down on reggaeton artists, saying the lyrics are too vulgar and offensive.
More than half of the Cuban population is Catholic, and while Castro restricted religion shortly after he seized power in 1959, the government has since backed off and generally allow the freedom to practice religions that obey the laws of the country.
Children play in the streets of Havana.
Pigs are butchered in the morning at a local street market in Vedado, a suburb of Havana.
After spending the morning harvesting sugar cane, Yulien Díaz Hernández tries to get his old television to work to show cartoons to his son and daughter. Díaz Hernández said sugar cane workers are the first link in the chain of production, but the last to get paid.
While many in Cuba live in poverty, there is a class of wealthy Cubans who have found success in owning private restaurants. This one, in Havana, is located on the 11th floor of an apartment complex and doubles as living quarters for the two men who own it.
Farmworkers pick up harvested sugarcane on a private farm in Caimito. The group, who work almost every day, only gets paid when the cane sells, so sometimes they can go weeks of work without being paid.
In a nearly empty apartment in Regla, a neighborhood of Havana, Juli Roby el Emperador, right, is joined by his entourage and friends to start creating new music for an upcoming US tour.
Dozens of flags titled the "Mount of Flags" in "Anti-Imperialism Park"sits directly outside the US Interest Section in Cuba.
A mechanic works on bicycles in his shop in Old Havana. With a shortage of parts for many everyday items, Cubans have learned to reuse scraps to patch everything from cars to ovens.
An oil refinery, a sign of old industry, sends black smoke into the sky while residents wait at a bus stop along the Malecón in Havana.
Cars travel around the famous Revolutionary Square in Havana.
The Malecón is a popular spot for Cubans and tourists alike.
A tiled Cuban flag in a rundown building sits empty besides a sculpture of José Martí.
Saying goodbye to Carlos and Luis Enrique as the diplomatic freeze comes to an end.
Dec. 18, 2014 7:15 AM
Carlos (left) and Luis Enrique (right) with the author, 2005. (The flag was their idea.)
When Luis Enrique passed in early September, just a couple of months after first learning he was HIV-positive, Carlos took his remains to Cuba's best funeral parlor, the one where they bring the government officials. He had seven of the nicest wreaths made, and he dressed Luis Enrique, his longtime partner, in his best clothes. Their Italian friend Maurizio had once given them some French cologne, and Carlos made sure to spritz it throughout the coffin. He then rode with Luis Enrique by the church before ending up at the cemetery, where another friend gave a stirring eulogy. Carlos dabbed some more cologne in the tomb and headed home.
He told me all of this in an email, two weeks later. He was wiped out. "Don't stop writing me," he said, "since the emails make me feel like I'm surrounded by people I care about."
As it turns out, Carlos was HIV-positive too.
We first met Carlos and Luis Enrique at the doorstep of their apartment during a blackout, deep inside a tumbledown building off a dilapidated thoroughfare in Central Havana. Large chips of paint had fallen from the facade, and the dark, humid stairwell reeked of fresh dog shit. It wasn't exactly where my wife and I had envisioned staying at the start of our two-week Cuban vacation.
It was 2005. We were living in Venezuela at the time, and after reading an article online about a Cuban tax on exchanging US dollars, I was convinced that we should bring bolivares instead. Chávez and Castro were panas, right? Perhaps, but upon arriving at José Martí International Airport we learned the limits of that friendship: There was virtually nowhere to exchange Venezuelan currency on the entire island.
A cabbie brought us into the city after we'd explained our situation. He assured us that the two men now in front of us were good people, that their unregistered casa particular was the most affordable place to stay. Brooke and I shared a glance—as if to say, We've stayed in dodgier-seeming places before, right?—and steeled ourselves for the introduction. Carlos, whose threadbare tank top hung low off his slight frame, asked us where we were from. Brooke smiled. "The United States." Walking to his tiny kitchen to prepare coffee, Carlos stopped short. He turned around and folded his arms across his chest. While Luis Enrique, the graying one, whispered Estados Unidos behind me, Carlos took a step back, as if he were trying to get a better look at the two of us. They'd never met Americans before.
After a pause, Carlos snapped back to life. He let out a big smile, unfurled his arms, and pointed above the doorway to the dining room. There, a mid-'80s Madonna poster looked down on us, her hair short-cropped, her bejeweled bra exposed. "Imagine that, Luisito," said Carlos, still grinning. "Americans!"
A mid-'80s Madonna poster looked down on us, her hair short-cropped, her bejeweled bra exposed. "Imagine that, Luisito," said Carlos, still grinning. "Americans!"
The lights were out, they told us, to save electricity for the Canadian and European tourists who would crowd Old Havana's colonial plazas and Varadero's white-sand beaches that summer. We sat in the dimming apartment, sharing stories. When they found out we'd lived in New York, they pumped us full of questions about everything from the state of the World Trade Center site to the length of a subway car. After the lights popped back on Carlos shared his music collection—a hodgepodge of Madonna, Michael Jackson and, strangely, Barry Manilow—while Luis Enrique prepared a dinner of rice and beans.
While we ate they told us that they each earned roughly $10 a month as a bookkeeper (Carlos) and grocer (Luis Enrique). They had met years ago, after Luis Enrique arrived from the central countryside; it was his idea to rent out a bedroom in Carlos' place to make a little extra money. We were their third guests halfway through 2005. Because they didn't have a license from the government, which cost about $150 monthly, they were a strictly word-of-mouth operation.
After several hours of conversation, we felt comfortable enough to tell them that we only had enough cash for a day, and that we would be searching for a place to change our bolivares the next morning. When Luis Enrique got the gist of what we were saying—that these young Americans didn't bring the world's most recognizable currency along with them—he shook his head and cringed. "You messed up," he said.
We were in some kind of trouble. Because of the embargo, we couldn't use our credit cards to get a cash advance or buy new tickets home. Since we didn't want to risk possible State Department fines, going to the proto-US Embassy known as the Interests Section was out. By trying to save a couple hundred bucks on the dollar tax, we'd ended up having to try to survive on about $20 for two whole weeks.
Carlos must have noticed the stress on my face. He walked past the refrigerator, a 1940s Westinghouse beauty, and over to a couple of buckets. "Don't worry," he said, opening the lids. "We have rice. We have beans. We have eggs. Forget the money. Están en su casa."
Carlos and Brooke dancing in the living room, 2005
The next two weeks were a whirlwind. Within a few days, we figured out the money situation, thanks to Western Union and our incredulous but accommodating families. Because we were having such a good time with Carlos and Luis Enrique, we scrapped our plans to try to travel across the entire island and stayed closer to Havana to spend more time with them, off the tourist circuit. So instead of checking out cigars in Pinar del Río, for example, we ended up a party at Carlos' workplace, a meatpacking plant, where folks drank Bucanero by the crate and a British grad student named Camillia sang Dido karaoke to an entranced crowd.
We passed hours around their dining room table, drinking nips of rum and talking about practically everything. (Things we didn't discuss: the contours and complications of their relationship, and Cuba's historical persecution of gay men.) Both Carlos and Luis Enrique were around 40 and never had known life without Fidel. They told us they admired his character and strength, and that they both were repulsed by the idea that some day, a Miami-bred Cuban American might try to take the apartment away, claiming it was his family's 50 years ago. That said, they loved what little American culture they could access and considered Cubans and los yumas to be brothers separated by a messy divorce.
Some of that came from their families. When Carlos was 16, his parents applied for the Interests Section lottery, which each year grants some 2,000 visas to Cubans. Somehow, Carlos parents hit the jackpot. There was only one problem: He didn't want to go. He believed deeply in the revolution and just couldn't see himself leaving. So, despite waiting years to leave, his parents died in Cuba. On the surface, Carlos always played by the rules, always did what the state expected. But here he was, the proprietor of an unregistered casa particular, paying off the neighborhood snitch from the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution with mayonnaise and chocolate ("Cuban business") and guarding an armoire full of deodorant, toothpaste, and aftershave given to him by guests during the past several years.
"I think there will be a lot of people who will try to humiliate us Cubans," Luis Enrique said. "I'm not looking forward to that."
If Carlos was nervous and overly excitable, Luis Enrique was guarded, depressed. A week into our stay he told us that he had planned to leave for the United States during a paid-for trip to visit friends in Bogotá. His nephew in Naples, Florida, had fronted $6,000 and set it up: Luis Enrique was to go to Caracas, where we would get a fake Venezuelan passport, and fly to Mexico City, after which he would make his way to the Texas border. His nephew would meet him there, and upon crossing he would qualify for asylum. Two months into the stay in Bogotá, he crossed into western Venezuela and made his way to the capital. He was terribly nervous at the airport, and when he got to immigration he handed over the passport. The agent looked at it, then at him. "Sir, you and I both know this is fake." Luis Enrique tried his best Venezuelan accent. "Sir, you should just turn around and walk away." He did.
Looking back, Luis Enrique wondered if he should've stayed in South America, as his nephew had wanted. He had sold everything he owned, and he moved in with Carlos, he said, to avoid his empty apartment. When he told us the story, he seemed resigned to the fact that he'd be in Cuba until Castro's death, maybe longer. "I'm scared," he told us. "Who knows what the United States will do? I think there will be a lot of people who will try to humiliate us Cubans. I'm not looking forward to that."
Carlos' emails often started by lamenting the fact that he hadn't heard from us in months. "HAVE OUR AMERICANITOS FORGOTTEN US?" But when he wrote to tell us that Luis Enrique was sick, he was sober and to the point: "I haven't been able to write because the news here is pretty sad." He'd later send photos from the hospital, with an exhausted-looking Luis Enrique underneath a purple-and-green blanket, Carlos standing by his side, in scrubs.
Last week, I wrote to Carlos to see how he was holding up, a couple of months after Luis Enrique's death and a couple of months after he'd started his own HIV treatment. I didn't think much of it when I didn't hear back right away, given his condition and the generally unreliable internet connection on the island. And then, early Wednesday morning, I got this response:
HELLO, CARLITOS DIED OF HIV TOO AFTER LUISITO. THIS A FRIEND OF THEIRS, LA MULATA WHO LIVES AROUND THE CORNER WHO RENTS TO FOREIGNERS. THIS IS MY EMAIL ADDRESS NOW. IF YOU EVER COME TO CUBA AND NEED A ROOM…
No warning, no slow decline, no goodbye. He was gone too, just like that—and just before the Obama administration made history by reestablishing diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.
I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about Carlitos and Luisito these past few months, flipping through photos and replaying those two weeks over and again in my mind, and I keep coming back to the last night Brooke and I spent with them. It was a Saturday, and we arrived back at the apartment from a stroll along the Malecón at midnight, mid-blackout. Central Havana was dark—even the normally bright Capitolio was unlit—but inside Carlos' building his neighbors milled around, tense. The illegal-cable guy was on the roof.
They had been waiting for weeks, although no one knew what to expect. There allegedly were two American channels available for $10 per month. Carlos wanted to watch American music videos. Luis Enrique wanted Hollywood movies. The taxi dispatcher next door wanted Major League Baseball, while his wife, whom everyone called China, wanted Mexican soaps. The wannabe rocker upstairs said he didn't care, but he was getting cable anyway. Everybody was.
The outage didn't last long. Gustavo, the cable guy, went to work when the oscillating fans puttered on, barking orders to the roof through a walkie-talkie. He almost looked like a professional. His silver Motorola cellphone hung from a belt clip off olive Abercrombie cargo shorts, covered at the belt by a ribbed white tank top, and in the new light I could see he was covered in sweat. Carlitos paced in front of his red wicker-and-vinyl couch, long ago warped by the humidity, and asked Gustavo several times if he could help. Brooke laughed and told Carlitos to relax, and Luisito stood with China outside, waiting for the first program to come across the screen.
We stared at the television, dying to see what the first yanqui transmission in the building's revolutionary history would be.
The whole process took no more than 20 minutes. Soon Gustavo gave the word, and his partner clicked into the movie. We stared at the television, dying to see what the first yanqui transmission in the building's revolutionary history would be. I hoped for something classic, maybe even artistic. Instead, we got the Wayans brothers spoof Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. Brooke shook her head and sighed. The Cubans were transfixed.
The clock read 1:45 a.m., and it looked like they would be up all night watching whatever beamed though the screen. When I woke up and padded across the cool marble into the living room early that morning, Luis Enrique was sitting in the very same spot on the couch, watching Bob the Builder in Spanish. He hadn't slept much, but he grinned at me from beneath Madonna's pouty lips. "You know, Carlos is the most communist person in the building," he said, leaning in, "and even he has cable now."
The details of President Barack Obama's much-rumored, much-debated executive action on immigration have been leaked to the press, and the broad outline, according to Fox News and the New York Times, includes deportation relief for upward of 5 million people.
Republicans are already lining up to block the White House's plans, and Obama's successor could go ahead and reverse course in 2017, anyway. Still, here are three reported provisions that could have a dramatic impact on the lives of the United States' 11 million undocumented immigrants:
1. Expansion of DACA, the program for DREAMers: Back in 2012, a Department of Homeland Security directive known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) extended deportation relief to those young immigrants who came to the United States before their 16th birthday and went on to graduate from high school or serve in the US military. As Vox's Dara Lind has reported, the program has been a success for the roughly 600,000 immigrants who received deferred action by June 2014, although just as many are eligible but haven't yet applied. According to the Fox News report, Obama's executive action would move the cutoff arrival date from June 2007 to January 1, 2010, and remove the age limit (31 as of June '12); a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report details how changes to the initial plan could make hundreds of thousands of immigrants DACA-eligible:
Migration Policy Institute, 2014
2. Relief for the undocumented parents of US citizen children: According to the Times, a key part of the executive action "will allow many parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents to obtain legal work documents and no longer worry about being discovered, separated from their families and sent away," a move that would legalize anywhere from 2.5-3.3 million people. The Huffington Postreported in June that more than 72,000 parents of US-born children were deported in fiscal year 2013 alone; of those, nearly 11,000 had no criminal convictions. (One 2013 report estimated that 4.5 million US-born kids have at least one undocumented parent.)
3. Elimination of mandatory fingerprinting program: Under Secure Communities, or S-Comm, immigrants booked into local jails have their fingerprints run through a Homeland Security database to check their legal status. (If they're unauthorized, they can be held by local authorities until the feds come pick them up.) The program, which began under President George W. Bush and was greatly expanded under Obama, has long come under fire for quickly pushing people toward detention and potential deportation, as well as for contributing to racial profiling and even the detention of thousands of US citizens. According to one 2013 report, S-Comm led to the deportation of more than 300,000 immigrants from fiscal years 2009 to 2013.
There are other reported parts to Obama's plan, including hundreds of thousands of new tech visas and even pay raises for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. Still, given this year's border crisis, it's notable that the president's plan seems to make little to no mention of the folks who provoked it: the unaccompanied children and so-called "family units" (often mothers traveling with small kids) who came in huge numbers from Central America and claimed, in many cases, to be fleeing violence of some sort.
The administration has been particularly adamant about fast-tracking the deportation of those family unit apprehensions, whose numbers jumped from 14,855 in fiscal 2013 to 68,445 in fiscal 2014, a 361 percent increase. Meanwhile, ICE has renewed the controversial practice of family detention (a complaint has already been filed regarding sexual abuse in the new Karnes City, Texas, facility) and will soon open the largest immigration detention facility in the country, a 2,400-bed family center in Dilley, Texas—just as Obama starts rolling out what many immigration hardliners will no doubt attack as an unconstitutional amnesty.