David Bennion: September 2009 Archives

Today’s guest post comes from Greg Bloom at Bread for the City, a Washington D.C. nonprofit that serves the city’s low-income residents. Cross posted at the Sanctuary.

Bread for the City is best known here in Washington DC for our food pantry (which is the largest in the city). But in addition to food assistance, we also offer a comprehensive range of services to all kinds of poor and vulnerable people in our community.

As of this year, that includes victims of torture who have fled to America to escape persecution.

For years, many such people have turned to us for food and medical care. But for those who are undertaking the complicated legal process of seeking asylum in America, there is great and special need- and it isn’t currently being met in many places.  

Asylum-seekers must essentially prove their claims of persecution - often times through the physical evidence present on their own bodies. This process can entail a lengthy and resource-intensive medical examination, requires extensive, legally-appropriate write-ups, and the doctors might even need to provide testimony in court. Furthermore, the doctors must have the psychological capacity to engage with deep trauma.

As a result, it can be very difficult to find doctors who are willing to play this critical role in the asylum process.

With the help of some volunteer doctors and engaged board members, we’ve recently opened our medical clinic on a special monthly basis for this purpose. It’s hard work, and this week the Washington Post profiled the clinic in a special feature, profiling our Medical Clinic director, Randi Abramson, among others:

Abramson drops onto a stool, composing her thoughts before entering on a laptop the horrifying story of her most recent patient at the District nonprofit organization’s new monthly clinic for political asylum-seekers: a 24-year-old Kenyan woman who recently fled Mexico and is petitioning to stay in the United States. Raised by abusive grandparents who beat her and, at 10, subjected her to genital mutilation. Cast out by her family for choosing school over marriage, she was tricked into a prostitution ring couched as a scholarship opportunity. She ended up in a Mexican brothel, where she was held captive, beaten and knifed by a customer.

Such shocking tales of cruelty can take a toll, said Abramson, one of three doctors who have volunteered to lend expert medical credence to clients’ allegations of torture and abuse. It has been difficult to find doctors willing to take on these cases. But those who have stepped forward say they find powerful satisfaction in the opportunity to boost wrecked lives onto a path toward salvation.

“The scars, everything I found in the physical exam completely support the history she related,” Abramson said. “It’s just very rewarding to know that I will document what I heard and saw this evening and that will have a huge impact on her life.”

Obama pensive.jpgBarack Obama recently explained to Univision anchor Jorge Ramos why he used the term "illegal immigrants" in his health care speech, prompting Rep. Joe Wilson to yell at him (via Latina Lista):

Well, keep in mind what I was addressing. I was addressing misinformation by the other side that was engaging in scare tactics. So I was essentially quoting them. I was saying, "for those of you who are saying that illegal immigrants are going to be covered under this plan," I said that's not true. Right? So I'm using their language because I was addressing the misinformation that they are providing. And I was speaking directly to an audience, the American people, who because of this misinformation, I think actually were very responding often times in a negative way.
I don't buy it. 

Obama's use of the term dovetails with his ally Senator Schumer's public repudiation of the term "undocumented immigrant" in favor of the tough-sounding but legally meaningless term "illegal immigrant."  Obama's usage dates back to a decision in early 2008 to adopt right-wing framing on immigration in the hope of later passing a legalization bill. 

If that was the plan, it hasn't worked very well so far.  We have no idea when the Democrats will introduce an immigration bill.  Schumer keeps pushing the date back.  I've seen little evidence congressional Democrats or the administration are interested in expending political capital on immigration.  They want it to be easy.  They want something handed to them on a platter, with the work already done.

Meanwhile, opponents of immigration reform are deeply committed to their cause.  Most so-called supporters are lukewarm at best about the issue, and right now I place Barack Obama in that category.

Trafficking image.jpg

The blogosphere and cable news have been talking for the last week or so about James O'Keefe and his hidden camera video of ACORN employees in Baltimore. O'Keefe posed as a pimp and brought along college student Hannah Giles to pose as a prostitute who worked for him. He led two ACORN employees through an elaborate scenario in which he solicited advice on how to circumvent U.S. tax laws to run a brothel using underage undocumented Salvadoran prostitutes. Two ACORN employees proceeded to give him the advice he asked for.

I watched the video recently. Those employees were fired and rightly so. ACORN needs to do a better job of screening its employees and instituting procedures to ensure its employees are obeying the law. ACORN has a lot of housecleaning to do, and hopefully will become a more effective organization in the process.

But O'Keefe did not make this video out of a desire to improve provision of services to low-income communities. Glenn Beck didn't devote an entire FOX show to the piece out of concern for Latin American victims of sex trafficking.

Beck pushed this video to derail discussion of the health care bill and take down a longtime political opponent of the GOP: ACORN, a national organization that works to register low-income voters of the kind O'Keefe wants to see excluded from the polls, an organization that helps low-income homeowners avoid ending up on the street.

I watched O'Keefe's video at the Baltimore ACORN office and Beck's show promoting the clip. On my reading, James O'Keefe and Glenn Beck have not demonstrated that they care about improving the situation of low-income communities or that they want to improve the situation of actual undocumented Salvadoran children in this country, or mitigate the suffering of real victims of trafficking.

If I am wrong, where is the evidence? Where is O'Keefe's story on unaccompanied minors in the U.S. who are smuggled by coyotes to rejoin their parents or trafficked into prostitution, then arrested and targeted by DHS? Where is Beck's expose on the failure of the U.S. government to prevent human trafficking or protect trafficking victims? Has O'Keefe ever met any undocumented Salvadoran children? Does he know what their concerns are? Does he know anything about their struggles in El Salvador or in the U.S.? I've seen no indication that he does.

Instead, I've seen him and his accomplice use underage Central American prostitutes--who do exist in this country--to execute a dirty takedown of a political opponent.

Update: Send a fax to DHS in support of Alonso here.

Alonso Chehade is due to be deported this Friday, September 25 (his plane ticket is set for the 24th). He recorded the message above last week in honor of Citizenship Day. Alonso is one of the most motivated and determined people I have ever known. He refuses to sit and wait for something everyone told him was inevitable: his own deportation. Senators Cantwell and Murray, as well as the SEIU, have stepped up to help Alonso. Will you? Please sign this letter on Alonso's behalf to ICE at the SEIU's website.

Alonso wrote his story at the Sanctuary a few weeks ago:

I was brought to the United States from Peru when I was 14 years old. Eight years later, I am being deported for reasons I cannot comprehend. On March 14, 2009, a friend and I went to visit some friends at Western Washington University and rather than driving back home late at night we decided to stay at our friends' place. The next morning, not being familiar with the area we took a wrong turn on the highway. By the time we noticed we were heading north rather than south, there was one more exit to turn around before the border. This was blocked by construction which left us no choice except to enter Canada and turn around behind the port of entry to return to the United States. I was stopped by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities and when it was discovered that I was undocumented, I was arrested and jailed for 2 weeks. I am set to be deported on September 25th to a country that I barely know.

I have lived in the United States for 8 years. I have never had any problems with the law. All I ever wanted to do was to go to school, work, have a normal life and help others. Unfortunately because of a broken immigration system I am being prevented from continuing my life and career path after I graduated from the Michael G. Foster School of Business at the University of Washington.

Unless you step up and help there is little hope that I won't be deported on September 25. I humbly urge you to immediately take action to stop my deportation.

Please use the SEIU's click to fax tool to co-sign send this letter to DHS on Alonso's behalf. Time is running out!

I picked this video up from Atrios, but it's a good intro for a pitch to sign this petition asking your Congressional reps to support ACORN and the low-income communities ACORN serves instead of cowering before Glenn Beck.

Someone please tell Congressional Democrats that it is unbecoming to prostrate oneself before a supreme weenie like Beck.

Clearly, ACORN needs to do some internal housekeeping, including training and screening its employees better. Workers at community-based organizations should give clients advice on how to comply with the law, not circumvent it. But Beck's promotion of O'Keefe's video is a transparent political hit piece. If the GOP gets any nonwhite votes at all in the next twenty years, it will be despite the best efforts of Beck, Hannity, and Limbaugh.

coda to a year at change.org

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At the end of August, I ended eleven months of blogging for the change.org Immigrant Rights blog.  I learned a lot from the experience, which was for me a continuous education in blogging and activism.  Writing for the site was a great opportunity for me.

Eventually I learned what other bloggers on the site had realized long before, that a certain reactive style of blogging based around the news of the day or content provided by other sources was not the most effective use of time or blog space.  What I saw other editors doing there which I tried to mimic was to introduce new content and analysis into the blogosphere and use the site to promote offline campaigns.  

It is clear that management and the bloggers at change.org are committed to achieving impactful social change.  I only recently started to realize the truly revolutionary potential of the platform which the site's founders have put in place.  I sincerely hope that the site reaches its goal of becoming a hub for grassroots collaborative activism, and I am happy that the site plans to maintain its current commitment to promoting the rights of migrants both inside and outside the U.S. 

Julio Maldonado and mother.jpg
(Sign the petition demanding justice for Julio and Denis here.)

Julio Maldonado and his cousin Denis Calderon were victims of a bias attack in South Northeast Philadelphia in 1996. Denis's family was the first Latino family to live in the neighborhood. Tragically, one of the attackers, Christian Saladino, fell into a coma and later died. Police assumed that he had been struck in the head by Julio, acting in self-defense as a result of a fight. However, later medical evidence showed conclusively that Christian had not sustained any outer injury that could have led to his physical reaction. He did, however, suffer from a rare preexisting blood clotting condition. It is clear from the medical evidence that it was physically impossible for Julio to have put Christian Saladino into a coma.

But due to the one-sided investigation by police and the biased prosecution by Seth Williams, now the nominee for District Attorney of Philadelphia, Julio and Denis were convicted of assault. After Christian Saladino passed away, Williams brought murder charges. Once the medical evidence came to light in the murder trial, the jury acquitted Julio and Denis of murder. Then the original trial judge who convicted Julio and Denis of assault, Judge Gregory Smith, vacated his own verdict and called for a retrial.

Kyle has graciously lent me the Citizen Orange platform again after a hiatus of several months.  Going forward, I will most likely be spending more time here and at the Sanctuary (more to come soon on recent events in the social change-o-sphere, such as it is). 

This by way of pointing out that an uncouth pseudonymous libertarian blogger has again accurately deciphered the most recent chapter of the U.S. imperial adventure--Vietnam Part VIII: Afghanistan.  Now that the last U.S. troops have finally exited Iraq, all four million Iraqi refugees have happily returned to their ancestral lands, and Iraqi citizens have breathed a collective sigh of relief to live in the peaceful, fully sovereign, beacon of democracy they now inhabit, President Obama has turned a stern eye to the Enemies of Freedom currently plaguing the good people of Afghanistan. 

Or at least that's the version of events Tom Friedman subscribed to until recently.