Based in the Bay Area, 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: igordon [at] motherjones [dot] com.
Migrants walk along the tracks in Ixtepec, Mexico, in July 2014.
In September 2014, in an effort to keep more child migrants from risking the dangerous journey north, President Barack Obama approved a plan to let some Central American kids apply for refugee status without leaving their home countries. Now, more than a year later, only a tiny fraction of applicants have gotten approval to come to the United States.
Roughly 4,600 kids have applied to the Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program. To be eligible, minors must be from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras, and they must have a parent living legally in the United States. However, just 90 applicants have been interviewed so far by the Department of Homeland Security, the final step before the government makes a refugee decision.
Of those, 11 have been conditionally approved for refugee resettlement in the United States. Another 76 have received humanitarian parole—a category, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, that is "used sparingly to bring an otherwise inadmissible alien into the United States for a temporary period of time due to a compelling emergency."
See MoJo's full coverage of the surge of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America.
Meanwhile, another 35,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended along the US-Mexico border in the 2015 fiscal year, which ended in September, and tens of thousands more have been picked up in Mexico, where the government recently cracked down on Central American migrants at the request of the United States.
A State Department official who asked not to be named defended the program, noting that the small number of interviews is the result of a lengthy screening process that can take 18 to 24 months. "We all would like that to go faster," she said. Wendy Young, executive director of Kids in Need of Defense, a nonprofit that helps find pro bono counsel for immigrant and refugee children, said that while the program is a start, "it hasn't, frankly, been a perfect system."
When the State Department rolled out the Central American Minors program in December, advocates were concerned that limiting it to kids with parents legally living in the United States made it too restrictive and would turn away truly endangered kids. That didn't stop Senate Republicans from blasting the program in an April judiciary committee hearing titled "Eroding the Law and Diverting Taxpayer Resources." Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions—one of Congress' loudest anti-immigration voices—stated that "rather than stop the new illegal immigration wave, it appears that the results, if not the objective of this program, is to capitulate to the illegality."
"Resettlement to the United States is a golden ticket."
To combat child trafficking, the Central American Minors program requires refugee applicants and their US-based family members to take DNA tests. Parents have up to six months to give a sample, and only after the tests confirm a parent-child relationship will DHS go ahead with interviewing the child in Central America. "We don't want our refugee family reunification program—and this CAM program is a variant of that—to be used for people to try to bring kids to the United States who aren't their own," the State Department official said, adding that "several hundred" applicants have submitted DNA samples to date. "Resettlement to the United States is a golden ticket."
Beyond that, Central American minors have found building successful refugee cases to be particularly tricky, even with help from attorneys working with organizations like Kids in Need of Defense. Many claim to be fleeing violence caused the region's powerful gangs. But the official said they often can't prove that they face persecution on account of a so-called protected ground, such as race, religion, social group, or nationality. It appears as though those kids are receiving humanitarian parole through the Central American Minors program. Yet this does not grant them any immigration benefits and is meant to be temporary.(That didn't stop Breitbart from blaring, "96 Percent of Interviewed Central American Minors Approved to Fly to U.S.")
As Young is quick to point out, the situation in Central America hasn't improved much from just a year and a half ago, when Obama called the surge of child migrants "an urgent humanitarian situation." Guatemala's president recently resigned at the center of a corruption scandal, El Salvador has endured renewed violence following the end of a gang truce, and Honduras' murder rate is still the worst in the world. And according to an upcoming report by social scientist Elizabeth Kennedy, 83 people deported by the United States in the past 21 months have been killed upon their return to El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.
"The idea that the 'crisis' is over makes me cringe a bit," Young said. "To me, it went from a boiling-over situation last year to a constant simmer. But it could start boiling over again at any time."
Salvadoran troopers graduating from artillery school, 1981
In November 1981, early in what would become a 12-year civil war, Lt. Colonel Sigifredo Ochoa Pérez led an estimated 1,200 Salvadoran troops into a rural region near the Honduran border. As part of an eight-day campaign to eliminate guerrillas in the area, the soldiers allegedly killed dozens, even hundreds, of fleeing civilians near the community of Santa Cruz.
Now, nearly 34 years later, a group of human rights experts is trying to help bring Ochoa Pérez to justice—and is taking the fight to the CIA, as well. On Friday, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights (UWCHR) filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the CIA after the agency would neither confirm nor deny the existence of documents surrounding the Santa Cruz massacre. That includes files on Ochoa Pérez, who until recently was a member of Congress in El Salvador.
According to UWCHR project coordinatorPhil Neff, the massacre was emblematic of the Salvadoran government's scorched-earth campaigns to "cleanse" areas of guerrillas while often claiming the lives of civilians. Ochoa Pérez, whom Neff calls "one of the US's top counterinsurgents during the '80s," is currently facing a criminal investigation in El Salvador in connection to the offensive. Now that Ochoa Pérez's congressional immunity has run out, the UWCHR is hoping to use CIA intelligence from that era to move the long-stalled cases against him.
Ochoa Pérez marches with supporters in a 2012 protest. Luis Romero/AP
"There have been no successful prosecutions of this kind in El Salvador," Neff says. "In comparison to Guatemala, the advances have been insignificant. So it's thought that he may be low-hanging fruit—but he's not an insignificant guy."
Kate Doyle, a senior analyst of US policy in Latin America at the National Security Archive, says the UWCHR faces an uphill battle. "The CIA has been traditionally very well protected against the efforts of citizens to gain records through the legal channels we have open to us," she says, noting that most CIA documents are exempt from FOIA thanks to a 1984 law signed by President Ronald Reagan. The declassifications that do occur, Doyle says, generally happen because the agency releases the information on its own or is forced to by presidential order. That very thing happened in 1993, when President Bill Clinton, under pressure from Congress, pushed the CIA to declassify an estimated 12,000 documents on the Salvadoran civil war, including some on Ochoa Pérez.
"The CIA has got a lot of tricks up its sleeve to protect itself from responding to something like this," Doyle says, noting that the courts rarely overrule the agency when it invokes national security. Still, she says the FOIA suit is a valuable public reminder that the US government has been knowingly sitting on records with important details of grave human rights abuses.
"The lawsuit has the tremendously positive effect," Doyle says, "of bringing that gap between the rhetoric of human rights policy in the United States and the practice into the light."
This story has been updated. For more on the Santa Cruz massacre, check out this short documentary from the University of Washington Center for Human Rights:
"You think the gringos are going to block that border? They're not going to block it, man."
So says "Carlos," a Honduran smuggler interviewed in the latest story from Radio Ambulante, the Spanish-language podcast created by novelist and journalist Daniel Alarcón. In the fascinating "El Coyote," Carlos discusses his own past as an undocumented immigrant in the United States, his road into the smuggling business, and how much money people like him actually make. (As he puts it: "You only keep 25 percent. If you charge $7,000, you are only left with $1,800.")
But what struck me about Carlos' monologue was how he describes last year's child migrant crisis, when nearly 70,000 kids—mostly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—were apprehended at the US-Mexico border, many without even trying to evade Customs and Border Protection agents. His goal, he implies, was just to get kids across the border; parents wanted them to be caught by CBP because, as minors traveling without a guardian, they'd have a chance to apply for different forms of deportation relief and potentially stay in the United States for good.
Here's what he had to say (emphasis mine):
What there was was an avalanche of young people, kids running away from our countries. We could tell you it was a wonderful time. You got the Central American kids, made them cross the Rio Bravo, and they were caught by Immigration…It's less money but it's safe money, because the parent wants you to hand the kid off to Immigration. So it's a safe bet. Now, ask me, what do the governments in our countries do about that? Nothing.
Champs doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. Is it a paean to boxing mythology that relies on celebrity fans (Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington, 50 Cent, and Mary J. Blige) to sing its praises? Is it a memoir of three iconic heavyweights: Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and Bernard Hopkins? Is it a sociological take on inner-city America and the criminal-justice system? Or, most interestingly, is it a stinging indictment of the sport's inadequate regulations—of predatory managers, brain trauma, and more—that led one journo to call boxing "laissez-faire capitalism run amok"? By aspiring to do too much, Champs delivers more of a glancing blow than a KO.
The Duke University student newspaper reported today that a player recently dismissed from the school's powerhouse men's basketball team had been twice accused of sexual assault. Moreover, it found that athletic department officials, including Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, knew about the allegations as early as last March but failed to act for months.*
According to the Chronicle, two different women claimed that junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon had sexually assaulted them during the 2013-14 school year. In October 2013, a woman told classmates at a retreat that Sulaimon had assaulted her; at the same retreat in February 2014, another woman made a similar claim. The Chronicle reported that the team psychologist was made aware of the allegations in March 2014, and that several key members of the athletic department—including Krzyzewski, several assistant coaches, and athletic director Kevin White—found out shortly thereafter.
At a press conference, Krzyzewski declined to comment on the Chronicle article. But here are three reasons why this particular story won't be going away anytime soon:
Slow response: Neither woman filed a complaint with the university or went to the local police in part due to "the fear of backlash from the Duke fan base," according to the Chronicle. Nonetheless, the allegations reportedly were brought to the coaching staff shortly after the second incident was disclosed. According to the Chronicle, most Duke employees are required to report sexual assault; under Title IX, the university must investigate any such allegations. "Nothing happened after months and months of talking about [the sexual assault allegations]," an anonymous source told the newspaper. "The University administration knew."
It's Duke, and Coach K: It has been nearly nine years since the Duke lacrosse rape case, which fell apart after months of intense scrutiny and media attention. Given the prominence of Krzyzewski and his program—he has the most wins of any Division I men's coach in history, and the Blue Devils are ranked No. 3 in the country—this story could gain a lot more traction as March Madness nears. Sulaimon was the first player Krzyzewski has dismissed in his 35 years at Duke; here's how the coach described the decision in a January 29 press release: "Rasheed has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program. It is a privilege to represent Duke University and with that privilege comes the responsibility to conduct oneself in a certain manner. After Rasheed repeatedly struggled to meet the necessary obligations, it became apparent that it was time to dismiss him from the program."
It's yet another sexual-assault accusation against a college athlete: The Sulaimon story comes just days after a former Louisville University basketball player was charged with rape and sodomy. On January 27, two former Vanderbilt University football players were convicted on multiple counts of sexual battery and aggravated rape, a case dissected in a Sports Illustrated feature last month. And in another highly publicized recent case, Jameis Winston, Florida State University's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and the likely No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft, was accused but never charged of raping a fellow student. (The school recently cleared Winston of violating its code of conduct.)
UPDATE, March 4, 2014: In a statement released yesterday to the Sporting News, Duke athletic director Kevin White had this to say about how Krzyzewski and the athletic department handled the Sulaimon situation:
Any allegation of student misconduct that is brought to the attention of our staff and coaches is immediately referred to the Office of Student Conduct in Student Affairs, which has responsibility for upholding the Duke code of conduct. The athletics department does not investigate or adjudicate matters of student conduct, and cooperates completely in the process…
These investigations are conducted thoroughly, in a timely manner, and with great care to respect the privacy and confidentiality of all students involved. Those procedures have been, and continue to be, followed by Coach Mike Krzyzewski and all members of the men's basketball program. Coach Krzyzewski and his staff understand and have fulfilled their responsibilities to the university, its students and the community.
For more on Duke's legal footing with regard to how much information it needs to share with the media, read Michael McCann's latest at Sports Illustrated.