The app, based on information compiled by the medical examiner and other sources and made possible by an anonymous $175,000 grant to the county, could help identify the unclaimed bodies of migrants and reunite them with their families. The data can be sorted by gender, cause of death, approximate location, and the victim's last name, if known. The medical examiners "get these calls from people—'My loved one disappeared three months ago, five months ago, at this point,'" says John Chamblee, a researcher at the University of Georgia who helped create the app. "Or they'll get a call like, 'The smuggler called me,' and they left their loved one at this point and they try to find out about them." Now can just create a custom map using whatever information they have, and sift through the results.
The Pima County data's impact is potentially far-reaching. Humane Borders hopes better tracking will help reduce the number of fatalities across the borderlands by giving aid workers an idea of where to place food and water. The data can also be used to trace shifts in migrant traffic and how policing strategies affect migrant safety. In Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the number of migrant deaths jumped from 52 in 2011 to 129 last year, an alarming increase immigration experts attributed to more effective strategies to block crossings in Arizona. Researchers like Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey have attributed the swelling number of deaths along to the militarization of the border: With easily followed geographic corridors closed off, migrants are forced to travel through less navigable terrain, where they may become lost or run out of supplies. According to the Border Patrol, there were 463 migrant deaths in the Southwest in 2012, the highest total since 2005.
But Pima County is mostly alone in its quest for better information on migrant deaths. Only a handful of other counties, such as Imperial in southeastern California, have even produced reliable data. Data collected by the Border Patrol is unreliable, and not very specific. (One of Chamblee's challenges was to reconcile often contradictory data sets maintained by the border patrol, foreign consulates, and the Pima County medical examiner.) As Mother Joneshas reported before, the Pima County medical examiner is unique because it is wholly independent of law enforcement, which means it faces less political pressure and fewer distractions. In some smaller counties in Texas, for instance, coroner is just a part-time job.
It's not that officials in other counties don't care about the issue; they're just worried that the data would be misused. "Some of them think politically don't think it's a good idea to create this," said Kat Rodriguez, a program director at Coalición Derechos Humanos Arizona. "Suddenly the narrative would be, 'Oh my God, look how much money is being spent on these illegals.'"
The Pima County project looks at a slice of a larger dataset that does not exist for now. Draft legislation floated by the White House in February included language requiring US Customs and Border Protection to collect statistics on deaths along the border. It would be required to publish those statistics at least once a quarter and issue a report within one year of the bill's passage analyzing any trends and recommending actions to prevent such deaths. The draft immigration bill being considered in the Senate has no such provision, nor do any proposed amendments. In the meantime, Pima County's program will have to do.
After leading the Senate's unsuccessful push for background check legislation, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has a new target: "Wiki Weapons." At his usual Sunday press conference, Schumer announced his support for legislation that would criminalize the production of firearms made from 3-D printers (which can replicate or "print" plastic objects using digital files).
The bill was introduced in April by Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) in response to the boasts of University of Texas law student Cody Wilson, who last fall launched a company called Defense Distributed to manufacture the plastic guns. On Monday, Wilson unveiled the first fully-operational prototype, a handgun he calls "the Liberator." The file has already been downloaded 50,000 times.
But there's a problem with Schumer's pitch: The legislation in question would not stop the guns from being made. Israel's bill is mostly a reauthorization of the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, which was originally written to combat the anticipated onslaught of fully plastic Glocks. (It was an onslaught, Bloomberg Businessweek's Paul Barrett explained, that never really materialized.) It's not especially controversial, and part of the reason is that it doesn't take many significant steps to stop 3-D-printed weapons from being printed.
A protestor stands outside the Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlor in Worcester, where Tamerlan Tsarnaev's body is being held.
On Monday, Cambridge City Manager Robert Healy announced he would not grant a permit for the burial of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, citing his authority as "chief conservator of the peace within the city." Instead, Healy argued, federal authorities should arrange the disposal of the body—preferably somewhere far away.
The response was mixed. The protesters who have gathered outside the funeral home where the body is being kept were no doubt encouraged. Gov. Deval Patrick called the burial a "family issue." The family, for its part, had not even formally sought a burial permit in Cambridge. Tamerlan's mother wants his body returned to Russia; his uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, wants the body to remain in the Boston area where he spent the last decade of his life.
Cambridge's fight over the resting place of the older Tsarnaev brother is complicated by the fact that the remains of a Muslim cannot be cremated. "This is very unusual circumstances that make it really complicated and hard to think of another historical parallel," said Gary Laderman, a professor at Emory University.
In March, shortly after President Barack Obama signed an extension of the Violence Against Women Act into law, the Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women sent an email to the hundreds of nonprofits and government agencies around the country that rely on its annual grants. The message was grim: Due to cuts mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act, better known as sequestration, programs that fight domestic violence and sexual assault would see a $20 million drop in funding over the next year. It was Washington at its most inept: Almost immediately after renewing VAWA, a popular law intended to help victims of abuse, Congress had stunted its own efforts, leaving already cash-strapped programs looking for ways to scrape by.
In the months since sequestration kicked in, Congress acted swiftly to restore funding for tuition aid for active-duty service members and prevent unpopular furloughs at the Federal Aviation Administration. But lawmakers have shown little interest in restoring funding to programs that deal with domestic violence and sexual assault.
"The tower is understaffed and the rescue plane can't land," says Kim Gandy, president and CEO National Network to End Domestic Violence. "We're talking about really vital services to people who are already in a terrible situation and really in need of emergency services—and there aren't alternatives."
Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz might run for president. That's been apparent for a while, but it was confirmed most recently on Wednesday, when the National Review's Bob Costa cited Cruz confidantes who believe their guy could be "a Barry Goldwater type...but with better electoral results." The case for Cruz, according to Cruz, is that he is uniquely positioned to capture the kind of grassroots conservative activists who propelled him to victory in his 2012 Senate primary.
If nothing else, Cruz seems determined to hold onto those right-wing supporters. That might explain why, last week, he and and eight other Republican senators signed onto a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan opposing the Common Core curriculum standards, which the Department of Education has been encouraging states to adopt. As I reported last month, Common Core has attracted criticism from all sides of the education debate, and for a variety of reasons. Some advocates decry the lack of flexibility it affords local school districts. Others, like Diane Ravitch, think it's a great idea but should be purely voluntary. And still others, specifically grassroots conservative activists, believe it is nothing less than back-door brainwashing—part of a global push to indoctrinate kids into a socialist worldview. That's the Glenn Beck view, anyway.
Cruz's letter is comparatively tame. Put simply: He wants the Department of Education to back off. But it's a move that's sure to please the conservative base in the weeks and months ahead. Here's the letter:
Meanwhile, here's a letter from Tuesday signed by 34 Republican congressmen, including Rand Paul acolytes Justin Amash (Mich.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.):