Human Rights: 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.”

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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Human Rights category from September 2009.

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