Political MoJo

More Than 100 Migrant Kids Detail Abuse by US Border Patrol

| Thu Jun. 12, 2014 3:12 PM EDT

This year, more than 70,000 unaccompanied immigrant children are expected to show up at the US border.

A complaint filed Wednesday with the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of 116 unaccompanied minors gives a glimpse of the sort of treatment the kids may receive if they are taken into custody. Prepared by the ACLU and four other civil rights organizations, the complaint details claims of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse directed at children—some as young as five years old—at the hands of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), often after the children fled violence or threats in their home countries.

 
 

The complaint is not an exhaustive accounting, but rather, the organizations note, a "representative sample" based on interviews conducted this spring. About a quarter of the children reported some form of physical abuse by CBP officials, including "sexual assault, beatings, and the use of stress positions." More than half reported verbal abuse and denial of medical care. The children are not guaranteed legal counsel after being apprehended.

Below are some excerpts from the full complaint (PDF), divided by categories of abuse:

Physical and sexual abuse: "D.G. is a 16-year-old Central American girl. Shortly after CBP arrested her, officials mocked her and asked her why she did not ask the Mexicans for help. When they searched her, officials violently spread her legs and touched her genital areas forcefully, making her scream. D.G. was detained with both children and adults. She describes the holding cell as ice-cold and filthy, and says the bright fluorescent lights were left on all day and night."

Inhumane conditions: "C.S. is a 17-year-old girl who was apprehended after crossing the Rio Grande. CBP detained C.S. in a hielera [a cold cell, or "freezer" in Spanish] in wet clothes that did not dry for the duration of the three and a half days she was there. The only drinking water available to C.S. came from the toilet tank in her holding cell. The bathroom was situated in plain view of all other detainees with a security camera mounted in front of it. C.S. could not sleep because the temperature was so cold, the lights were on all night, and officials frequently woke the detainees when they tried to sleep."

Verbal abuse: "K.M. is a 15-year-old girl who was detained in CBP custody for four days...In the hielera, CBP officials woke K.M. and the other children every 30 minutes as they tried to sleep, and K.M. could not keep track of the time because the lights were always left on. CBP officials called her and the other children 'sluts,' 'parasites,' and 'dogs.'"

Due process concerns: "K.H. is an orphan who was apprehended at the border when she was 17-years-old. K.H. fled to the safety of her extended family in the United States after a gang tried to force her into a sexual relationship with one of their members...Because she is an orphan, K.H. would have been eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a defense to removal which must be initiated prior to a child’s 18th birthday. However, because CBP officials confiscated her identity documents and did not return them, K.H. was unable to file an application for SIJS before her 18th birthday."

Similar complaints have been filed over the past few years, to little or no response from the Department of Homeland Security: Earlier this year, the American Immigration Council found that 97 percent of the 809 abuse complaints against CBP between January 2009 and January 2012 resulted in the classification of "no action taken." Sixty percent of those complaints involved the abuse of migrant children.

This week did bring a bit of good news for migrant children: the Obama administration announced the launch of a legal aid program that will enroll about 100 lawyers and paralegals to provide legal services to the "most vulnerable" children. However, the program is only expected to help a fraction of the 74,000 kids who could arrive this year.

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Industry Says Car Insurance Obviously Affordable for Poor Because They Buy Booze

| Thu Jun. 12, 2014 12:04 PM EDT

Poverty in America remains stuck at record levels. But people who are poor aren't that bad off—because they can afford booze, cigarettes, and TVs, the car insurance industry said Monday.

The odd rationale was included in a letter to the Federal Insurance Office, an insurance industry watchdog, in response to a request for comments on whether auto insurance is affordable for low-income Americans.

The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), which represents half of the nation's car insurance companies, asserts in its letter that households in the lowest two-fifths of the income spectrum spend nearly as much on alcohol and cigarettes as they do on car insurance, and even more on "audio and visual (A/V) equipment and services." Therefore, the industry group says, "it seems implausible to suggest that automobile insurance is not 'affordable' for these consumers."

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA), a consumer advocacy group, calls the trade group's comments not only "offensive," but "factually incorrect." Here's why: Only about 19 percent of all low-income households spend any money on cigarettes in a typical three-month period, and only 22 percent spend any money on alcohol. When you average all low-income household spending, you find that these households spend about $102 more a year on car insurance than on cigarettes and alcohol, according to the most recent numbers from the federal government’s Consumer Expenditure Survey.

"Many households spend nothing on these products and this abuse of statistics reveals the underlying disrespect that many auto insurers have for low-income drivers," CFA's director of insurance J. Robert Hunter said Tuesday.

Car insurance companies often charge higher rates to blue-collar workers and people with less education. Low-income and moderate-income drivers with insurance spend about $1,000 a year on coverage.

It's About Time for Obama's First Visit to American Indian Land

| Wed Jun. 11, 2014 3:39 PM EDT
President Obama signing the Tribal Law and Order Act in 2010.

This Friday, President Obama will step on American Indian land for his first time as president. He'll be visiting the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles one million acres of the Dakota plains, to meet with leaders and discuss issues facing American Indians. The last sitting president to visit reservation land was Bill Clinton in 1999, so this week's visit is a big deal.

In a June 5 op-ed in Indian Country Today, the president promised to do more for American Indians. But he also argued that his administration has already delivered great progress. Is that the case?  

When Obama visits Standing Rock, he will find a community where 86 percent of residents are unemployed. That's only the sixth–worst unemployment rate among Indian reservations: the worst is 93 percent, at the Sokaogo Chippewa Community in Wisconsin.

On top of unemployment, the American Indian community faces a number of other challenges: sky-high rates of adolescent suicide, rape, obesity, alcoholism, drug use, physical abuse and even post–traumatic stress disorder.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 11, 2014

Wed Jun. 11, 2014 10:00 AM EDT

The Marine Corps Logistics Command performs a flag folding ceremony in Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Cody Haas)

Eric Cantor Loses GOP Primary. Wait, What!?

| Tue Jun. 10, 2014 9:26 PM EDT

Buckle your seatbelts, K Street: Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is looking for work.

On Tuesday, in the biggest political upset of recent memory, Cantor, the House majority leader who was considered next-in-line to be House speaker, lost his Republican primary by double digits to David Brat, a college professor he'd outspent down the stretch by a factor of 12.

It was never supposed to be close. After Cantor flooded the district with nearly $1 million in advertising and direct mail, a leaked internal poll showed the incumbent with a 34-point lead over Brat. Cantor became the first majority leader to lose a primary in 115 years.

So who is Brat?

  • A libertarian economist—but not a Randian. Per Betsy Woodruff's January profile in National Review:

He chairs the department of economics and business at Randolph-Macon College and heads its BB&T Moral Foundations of Capitalism program. The funding for the program came from John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T (a financial-services company) who now heads the Cato Institute. The two share an affinity for Ayn Rand: Allison is a major supporter of the Ayn Rand Institute, and Brat co-authored a paper titled "An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand." Brat says that while he isn't a Randian, he has been influenced by Atlas Shrugged and appreciates Rand’s case for human freedom and free markets.

According to his Rate My Professors page, he is "SOLID," "humorous," and "hot":

  • An immigration hardliner. For months, the only interesting thing about the race was its impact on Cantor's public comments on immigration reform. Brat considered Cantor a sellout for tepidly supporting some sort of comprehensive immigration reform, and Cantor responded by taking credit for killing the entire thing and alleging that Brat secretly had the support of "liberal" reform advocates. Voters received mailers bragging that "CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN ERIC CANTOR IS STOPPING THE OBAMA-REID PLAN TO GIVE ILLEGAL ALIENS AMNESTY." With Cantor's defeat, you can bet Republicans who so much as hinted at supporting an immigration overhaul are hearing footsteps.
  • A debt-ceiling denialist. A top Brat critique of Cantor is that he supported raising the federal government's debt ceiling—however reluctantly. As Brat told Slate's Dave Weigel last month, "My commitment is not to increase spending; to have a spending bill where you don’t increase it. Cantor’s voted for 10 of the last 15 debt ceiling increases. I just don’t buy the idea that you are truly put in the position of backing the debt ceiling increase the last minute, that you had no choice."
  • A dragon slayer. With the primary victory, Brat will almost certainly head to Congress next fall representing a deep-red central Virginia district. Cantor is prohibited by Virginia's "sore loser" law from appearing on the ballot as an independent candidate in November. Brat just needs to get past Democrat Jack Trammell, a colleague at Randolph-Macon College who runs the school's disability services and, according to his Amazon author page, is currently writing a vampire novel.

Cantor, who has been dubbed a "rising star" going back to 2001, will almost certainly land on his feet. There's already a helpful Craigslist posting for "Experienced House Republican Seeking New Opportunity." Serious offers only.

Big Surprise: Vicious Anti-Hillary Attack Ad Coincides With Her Book Release

Tue Jun. 10, 2014 5:19 PM EDT

Washington bureau chief David Corn and Kiki McLean joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball" to discuss a new attack ad accusing Hillary Clinton of joining in the "slander" of Israel. Once you're done watching, check out our definitive guide to every Hillary Clinton conspiracy theory so far.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

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New White House Program Will Provide Legal Aid to Unaccompanied Migrant Kids

| Tue Jun. 10, 2014 3:51 PM EDT

Last Friday, the Obama administration announced the launch of "justice AmeriCorps," a new program that will provide legal support to unaccompanied migrant children facing deportation. As Mother Jones has reported extensively, the number of undocumented children caught illegally entering the US without a parent or guardian has more than doubled in recent years, to nearly 39,000 in 2013.

The new initiative is sponsored by the the Department of Justice's Executive Office of Immigration Review and the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS), which runs AmeriCorps. According to a CNCS statement, around 100 lawyers and paralegals will be recruited to provide legal services and representation for unaccompanied kids under 16 facing removal hearings. Nonprofits in 29 cities with high immigrant populations will enlist and supervise the legal volunteers, who will commit to one year of service as AmeriCorps members. Attorney General Eric Holder called the program "a historic step to strengthen our justice system and protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society."

This marked the administration's second major recent announcement regarding the influx of unaccompanied children. Last Monday, the White House announced the creation of a task force to ensure that federal agencies are "unified in providing relief to affected children," as well as plans to relocate 600 kids from border holding cells to an emergency shelter at Naval Base Ventura County in Southern California.

In his statement, Holder noted that many of the children and teens who will be assisted by the new AmeriCorps program "are fleeing violence, persecution, abuse, or trafficking." This description of the circumstances under which children migrate alone matches the findings of a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Of 400 unaccompanied migrant children interviewed, 58 percent "had suffered, been threatened, or feared serious harm" that might merit international protection.

As Wendy Young, executive director of KIND, a nonprofit that helps unaccompanied immigrant kids find pro bono legal support, told Mother Jones' Ian Gordon, "This is becoming less like an immigration issue and much more like a refugee issue. Because this really is a forced migration. This is not kids choosing voluntarily to leave." Deported children often return to the same dangerous or desperate situations they attempted to escape, further burdened with smuggling debt. The new initiative will attempt to curb this problem by training its members to identify signs of human trafficking and abuse in the children they serve.

Kimi Jackson, director of ProBAR, which provides legal services to detained children in South Texas, said in an email that "this initiative is a good step. Currently, the majority of kids appear in court and represent themselves without a lawyer. Attorneys for released kids are urgently needed."

Although the program aims to serve the "most vulnerable" unaccompanied children, the 100 funded lawyers and paralegals will only be capable of providing assistance to a fraction of the 74,000 children anticipated to be apprehended by Border Patrol this year. CNCS estimates that 10,000 unaccompanied kids will appear in immigration court in the 29 participating cities in the 2015 fiscal year.

Hillary Clinton Picks Miami Heat Over San Antonio Spurs, Is Clearly Running in 2016

| Tue Jun. 10, 2014 1:31 PM EDT
Tim Duncan has a sad.

Former Secretary of State and potential 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton has finally weighed in on the most pressing political issue of the day: which team she's rooting for in this year's NBA Finals. During an interview touting her new book with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts Tuesday, Clinton pledged her allegiance to the LeBron James-led Miami Heat over the San Antonio Spurs. Why? Does she love Chris Bosh's newfound ability to hit the corner three? Is she a fan of Chris "Birdman" Andersen's impressive array of body art? Is she hoping for LeBron to get his three-peat so that he's on equal footing with Jordan during GOAT conversations?

Roberts posed the question to Clinton as simple electoral math. "Heat or Spurs," she asked. "So you have to go with Texas or Florida. That's tough." No trouble for Clinton, though. Without hesitation, she responded "Florida, when you pose it like that," with a sly laugh. That answer has to hurt for the Obama alums who founded Battleground Texas in effort to turn the Lone Star State blue for future presidential elections.

The series is currently tied 1-1, with Game 3 scheduled for tonight in Miami. Perhaps the support of the next Democratic president will mend Dwyane Wade's knees and crush Tim Duncan's spirit (he'll never robocall for a Democrat again). But by siding with the Heat, Clinton might have betrayed her party's interests: Spurs head coach Greg Popovich donated $5,000 to Barack Obama for the 2012 election, while Heat front-office guru Pat Riley supported Republican Mitt Romney to the tune of $2,500.

Watch Clinton's GMA interview (most of which focuses on sexism in politics) below, with her NBA fandom coming at the tail end of the chat:

A Missouri Juror Tries To Save Man She Helped Send to Death Row

| Tue Jun. 10, 2014 12:24 PM EDT

Americans are generally supportive of the death penalty, although slightly less now than 20 years ago. But capital juries are especially partial to the death penalty, largely by design: only people who support capital punishment are allowed to serve on them. So Kimberly Turner is an unusual defector. In 1998, the 30-year-old single mom served on a Missouri jury that sentenced John Winfield to death for murdering two women who were friends of his former girlfriend. Winfield is scheduled to be executed on June 18, the seventh execution in the state since November.

Turner, though, doesn't think Winfield should die. She has told his lawyers that while serving on the jury, court officials pressured the jury to continue deliberating, even though at least two jurors wanted to vote for life without parole. According to Turner, the jury was already a bit of a pressure cooker. They had been sequestered for several days, and by Friday night, the jurors wanted to go home. Turner also had been struggling to find care for her daughter while she performed her civic duty. So in the end, she and another juror who'd wanted to spare Winfield's life caved and voted for death. But 16 years later, she still regrets that vote and has been helping Winfield challenge his conviction.

She's not giving media interviews, but Turner gave Winfield's lawyers a written declaration describing her recollections of the jury proceedings. It's a poignant document describing her regrets, but it also provides an unusual window into a process that forces ordinary citizens to decide whether or not a person should be killed.

Turner outlines her concern about the way the case played out, such as the bad defense lawyers who failed to call many witnesses who might have humanized their clients. She faults the prosecutor for playing up racial biases, for instance, writing:

The jury was predominantly white, including me, and Mr. Winfield is black. The prosecutor made me think that Mr. Winfield was a thug. She played up that he drove around St. Louis in a Cadillac with tinted windows. I could not identify with the picture that the prosecutor painted. When we were deliberating as a jury, a lot of people described Mr. Winfield as a thug and that influenced the way that people voted. Ultimately, we deadlocked in deliberations. Another juror and I had voted for life without the possibility of parole. That was my vote. In my heart, that has always been my vote. Despite the fact that Mr. Winfield's defense had not given me a picture of who he was as a person, I still had compassion for the man in front me at the trial. I knew he was someone's son, and I did not want him to be killed.

Turner describes how difficult it can be for jurors to vote their conscience in a capital trial, calling out the role she saw of court officials in trying to pressure the jury towards a unanimous verdict for death. She writes:

We alerted the Court to the fact that we were deadlocked and could not come to a decision. We were then directed to keep deliberating. Even though I had voted for life without parole, when an officer of the Court told me to keep deliberating, I thought that I had to. It was Friday afternoon and the other jurors were tired of being sequestered and wanted to go home. They were pressuring me and the other life vote to change our votes to death. One juror even exclaimed that we should fry him and go home. That comment upset me, it did not seem to take seriously our decision and the life in front of us. I saw that juror years later, and I would not even speak to him because I was still so upset over his comment.

As the afternoon went on, the other jurors wore me down. I had not wanted to keep deliberating, but after the order to continue, I did not know how long I was supposed to keep defending my vote for life. I was worried about my daughter and did not know when I would be able to get home to her. So I changed my vote to death. It is a decision that has haunted me.

Turner has followed the case ever since, and in 2007, came forward with another juror to help Winfield's lawyers by arguing that a bailiff had given the jury an illegal instruction to keep deliberating even though their votes were split—an outcome that would have resulted in a sentence of life without parole, not a mistrial.  She explains her decision in the declaration:

When I discovered that Mr. Winfield had been given an execution date, I was sick to my stomach. This has been very emotional for me. I have always tried to do the right thing. It was hard on me to be a juror as a single mom, but I did my civic duty. I was called to fulfill this duty. I did not ask to be a part of deciding whether a man should live or die. It bothers me that I was not presented with all of the information available about who Mr. Winfield is as a person to aid me in my decision. Nevertheless, I voted for life. I defended my vote for life and was then instructed by the Court to keep deliberating after I had made my decision. Now, I feel that this is my fault. I feel responsible for Mr. Winfield's fate. I struggle with that. If Mr. Winfield is executed, I will have to deal with that forever. I ask that Mr. Winfield's sentence be commuted to life without the possibility of parole.

Unfortunately for Winfield, Turner's testimony and declaration didn't persuade the Missouri Supreme Court, which rejected Winfield's challenge to the jury treatment a few years ago. But Turner is apparently still trying to help him win clemency, or at least clear her conscience the best she can. Her written declaration was signed May 28 of this year, not long after Winfield's most recent execution date was set. In a state that's recently won notoriety for executing several people even though they still had appeals pending in the courts, Turner is likely tilting at windmills. But her activism ought to remind court officials that jurors could be victims in a death penalty case, too.

 

Karl Rove-Backed American Crossroads Attacks GOP Candidate as "Perennial Loser"

| Tue Jun. 10, 2014 12:17 PM EDT

Last year, American Crossroads, the super-PAC conceived of by Republican operative and fundraiser Karl Rove, hatched a plan: Inject itself into 2014 GOP primary races to protect incumbents from hard-line challengers in the mold of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock who could cost the party winnable seats in Congress. Immediately, conservatives howled with outrage over an establishment group targeting tea partiers—Mike Huckabee called it "fratricide." The plan never got off the ground, and American Crossroads itself has largely shied away from picking primary fights.

But here's an exception: A brand-new Crossroads ad slams Matt Doheny, who's vying with Elise Stefanik to be the GOP nominee in New York's 21st congressional district, as a "perennial loser." Crossroads accuses Doheny, a investment fund manager, of mistreating his employees and not paying his rent on time, while at the same time depicting him as a one-percenter who owns two islands. "With his selfish fiscal irresponsibility, Matt Doheny is no conservative," the narrator says. "And he's a big mistake for Congress."

Stefanik, Doheny's opponent, appears to be the establishment's pick in the NY-21 race. As Mother Jones reported, she received more than $110,000 in the first quarter of 2014 from a fundraising committee backed by Paul Singer, a hedge fund manager and major GOP donor, and other prominent party funders. Singer also gave $250,000 to American Crossroads in early 2014, the group now attacking Doheny.