Empowered by #MeToo, a new generation fights sexual abuse in South Korea’s schools


When students reported that a male teacher at the private Yonghwa Girls High School in Seoul was touching them inappropriately, they were ignored.

So they came up with their own defenses: Block your chest with a textbook. Wear gym pants under your skirt.

That was six years ago.

The response was far different last March when recent graduates joined current students in publicly calling out sexual abuse and harassment at the school. Their complaints went viral on social media, and this time, authorities listened. The teacher was fired.

“It was unbearable to think he would continue teaching,” said Sophie Park, now 23, who last year accused the teacher of sexually assaulting her in 2012. “It seemed like if it wasn’t now, we’ll never be heard.”

The #MeToo movement, which arrived in deeply patriarchal South Korea early last year, has triggered a groundswell of activism among girls and young women, giving rise to a new generation of feminists and leading to a dramatic shift in the culture of schools.

Over the last 10 months, students at more than 65 schools across the country have taken to social media and other public forums to speak out about sexual abuse by teachers. Using the hashtag #SchoolMeToo, they have described teachers who had been verbally or physically abusive for years, some luring them into private spaces to assault them.

“This generation of young students are recognizing it’s not just their individual experiences, but a problem with the education system here, and that’s impressive,” said Yunkim Ji-yeong, assistant professor at Konkuk University’s Institute of Body and Culture. “I experienced it. The generation before me experienced it. We just didn’t have the means to verbalize it — we just talked about the weird, creepy teacher.”

Criminal investigations were launched at several schools. One former middle school teacher was sentenced to a year and half in prison this month for repeatedly assaulting a student over the course of eight months.

“It’s devastating how long these abuses have just been endured,” said Yang Ji-hye, an organizer who runs a youth feminist group with mostly school-aged members.

In the cutthroat environment of the South Korea education system, she said, teachers have enormous control over who gets into college, making it especially difficult for students to challenge them.

“It’s so endemic to the way our education system and culture is structured, where a teacher has overwhelming power,” Yang said.

In recent months, schoolgirls held a march several hundred-strong in downtown Seoul and gathered in front of the presidential palace to protest what they said has been an inadequate response to widespread abuse. They have also filed complaints with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

In 2018, the most-tweeted social-issue hashtag in South Korea was #SchoolMeToo.

Lee Yu-jin, an 18-year-old high school senior, said that she had privately become depressed over harassment by male students that she kept to herself for a year and half at her small private school in Cheonan, a city south of Seoul.

The #MeToo movement provided comfort and sisterhood, fueling her courage to speak at a school assembly — and later at a rally in downtown Seoul — to call out male students who made sexual remarks about her.

“It was sad and painful that the boys I went to school with thought of me as an object, not a person,” she said. “Then I spoke up using my voice. It was empowering.”

The movement, which began in Hollywood, has reverberated throughout Asia, exposing sexual abuses by powerful men and toppling prominent politicians, journalists and entertainment figures.

It hit South Korea in January of 2018, when a prosecutor named Seo Ji-hyun spoke on national television about being groped by a higher-up in her office. When she complained internally, she was subjected to retaliation and relegated to lowly assignments in a rural office.

Her story inspired women to come forward from all corners of a society that consistently ranks near the bottom of the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index, falling between Sierra Leone and Guinea in 2018.

In a country where hostess bars — where female employees are paid to drink with men — are still an accepted part of the working culture, it wasn’t surprising that many had experienced harassment and abuse in the workplace.

Speed skaters spoke up about being abused for years by coaches. Actresses said directors demanded sex in exchange for roles. A writer revealed in a poem abuses by a prominent poet, an oft-cited Nobel Prize candidate. Congregants at a megachurch said a pastor there had assaulted them for years.

After an aide accused Ahn Hee-jung, a governor and one-time presidential contender, of repeatedly raping her over eight months, he was forced to resign from his post. Last month, an appellate court reversed his acquittal and sentenced him to 3 1/2 years in prison.

Though women and girls are finally being heard, they have also faced backlash.

Male students have mocked and bullied feminist activists in their schools. In the city of Gwangju, where 11 teachers at one school and the principal were criminally charged with molestation or harassment, a newspaper editorial questioned whether the movement was going too far in undermining teachers’ authority and allowing students to accuse teachers of harassment simply for remarking on the length of their skirts.

“Teachers are forced to keep their mouths shut however students act or dress. School becomes not a place students are formed into humans but a place where you just make them study,” it said.

Shin Yeon-jeong, who runs a sexual-education program for teenagers and has been getting more business than ever, said there is still a widespread belief in South Korean schools was that girls needed to be taught how to dress and act to prevent abuse because boys will be boys.

“Don’t behave this way because it’s dangerous, and you’ll be talked about,” she said, describing the way sexual abuse is taught in many schools. “The burden is put on the victim.”

Park felt that burden six years ago, when she was 17 and her homeroom teacher, a man in his 50s, called her into a room for a counseling session and then, she said, casually slipped his hand under her uniform skirt and stroked her thigh.

She sat there frozen, feeling that she had no right even to question what he was doing, she said.

Classmates later told her about similar experiences with the teacher and reported their allegations to trusted female teachers or anonymously wrote about the teacher on evaluation forms.

The students graduated believing nothing would ever be done.

Then, when the #MeToo movement reached South Korea, Park and her former classmates began collecting stories online about the teacher — and many of his colleagues.

They petitioned the education ministry and contacted reporters with their findings: More than 300 students and graduates accused 18 teachers of inappropriate behavior, including sexual comments and unwanted touching.

The teacher who Park accused of assault was investigated by police, but prosecutors ultimately decided there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant charges. He was banned from teaching.

Another teacher was also fired, a temp did not have his contract renewed, three others were suspended, and the rest received reprimands or warnings.

Looking back, the accusers said a major turning point in their quest for accountability came last spring.

Using yellow and pink Post-it notes to form giant letters in the school windows, students spelled out a message that went viral on social media and made national headlines. It was three-stories high and said:


 We can do anything



By : Victoria Kim
Date : February 22, 2019
Source : LA Times

Posted in Democratization & Social Movements, Latest Post, Social Justice | Leave a comment

Human Smugglers Are Thriving Under Trump


In his quest to build a border wall, President Donald Trump has warned of jobs stolen from American workers, suburbs terrorized by criminal aliens, and desperate migrant caravans headed north. Lately, though, he has found a favorite new target in the “ruthless coyotes” and “vicious cartels” that smuggle migrants into the United States. “Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate—it is actually very cruel,” Trump said in his State of the Union address. “Smugglers use migrant children as human pawns to exploit our laws and gain access to our country.”

Yet Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies have made America’s historically weak anti-smuggling efforts even weaker. Over the past two years, as smuggling networks have thrived, the Department of Homeland Security has shifted money and manpower away from more complex investigations to support the administration’s all-out push to arrest, detain, and deport immigrants here illegally. Hundreds of agents have been temporarily reassigned to low-level enforcement tasks, such as checking businesses for undocumented workers or locating foreigners who overstayed their visas. Some investigators’ travel has been curtailed, officials said; others have lost funds to pay informants.

In the first full fiscal year of Trump’s presidency, the number of new human-smuggling cases launched by Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI, the investigative arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, dropped from 3,920 to 1,671, a decline of almost 60 percent. Even more than in the past, the agency has focused its anti-smuggling efforts on low-level “coyotes” caught in the act of sneaking migrants into the country or transporting them inside the United States, current and former officials said. The Human Smuggling Cell, a special-intelligence unit set up within ICE to support more ambitious migrant-smuggling efforts, has dwindled to less than half the staff it had in 2016.

Some far-reaching investigations continue, with intermittent help from intelligence agencies and coordination with foreign governments. But those cases are heavily concentrated on a tiny fraction of illegal immigration from Middle Eastern and South Asian nations where Islamist terrorist groups have a presence. Absent a link to terrorism, the CIA and other intelligence agencies have shown little interest in combatting smuggling networks, despite their growing sophistication and links to drug-trafficking organizations.

“The emphasis on low-level enforcement is detracting from the mission of going after the smuggling rings,” a former senior HSI official, John Connolly, said in an interview. “It’s like focusing on drug users and small-time dealers instead of the cartels and the drug lords.”
Since the establishment of HSI, its work against migrant smuggling has also had to compete with the disparate other responsibilities the agency inherited from the old U.S. Customs Service—from cybersecurity and child pornography to drug seizures at the border. Current and former HSI officials at all levels of the agency said it has never dedicated adequate resources to investigate the larger and more consequential smuggling networks that operate across Latin America and elsewhere overseas. Those resources, they add, have grown even more scarce under the Trump administration.

Internal figures provided by a former official give an indication of HSI’s priorities. From October 2017 to May 2018, HSI agents dedicated 1.6 million case hours to drug-smuggling investigations, 1 million hours to financial crimes such as money laundering, and 675,000 hours to child-exploitation cases, most of which center on pornography. Next came workplace immigration checks, which took up 430,000 hours. Migrant-smuggling cases followed at 356,000 hours. (The list also included gang investigations, identity fraud, human trafficking, and half a dozen other crimes.) An ICE spokesman, Brendan Raedy, said he could not confirm those figures but did not dispute their accuracy.

In a statement, a senior HSI official denied that the agency has undervalued or neglected migrant-smuggling investigations. “Combatting human trafficking and smuggling has and will always be one of HSI’s top priorities, and our work is never done,” said the agency’s assistant director for investigative programs, Greg Nevano. “ICE continues to evolve and adapt their investigative and enforcement methodologies to confront emerging threats and trends in the United States.”

In his 2019 budget request, Trump had proposed to cut $542 million from HSI, or about a quarter of the agency’s total budget, and to add nearly $1 billion in funding for the detention and deportation branch of ICE, Enforcement and Removal Operations, or ERO. Instead, the border-security deal approved by Congress last week trimmed HSI’s budget by $236 million, from $2.1 billion to $1.9 billion next year, and limited the increase in ERO’s budget to $163 million, raising it to $4.2 billion. Still, those parameters will not prevent the DHS leadership from moving some of that funding around to pay for expanded detention and deportation operations as it has in past years, current and former officials said.

Previous administrations have taken aim at the criminal networks that smuggle migrants—and have ended up doing relatively little to combat them. Barack Obama’s administration sought with some success to investigate and disrupt the smuggling rings that helped an estimated 60,000 Central American children and teenagers reach the United States during his second term, but that effort petered out after a couple of years. A multi-agency Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center, set up by Congress in 2004 to address the lack of attention to the problem, all but collapsed toward the end of Obama’s administration.

But the Trump administration’s policies have deepened a long-standing conflict between the two branches of ICE, with many investigators feeling they are steadily losing resources and influence to the detention side. Last summer, those tensions erupted openly when most of the senior agents in charge of HSI offices around the country asked that their agency be split off from ICE entirely in order to free itself from the albatross of its immigration policies.

“The perception of HSI’s investigative independence is unnecessarily impacted by the political nature of ERO’s civil immigration enforcement,” the agents wrote in a letter to the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen. “Many jurisdictions continue to refuse to work with HSI because of a perceived linkage to the politics of civil immigration.” (The administration rejected the agents’ proposal.)

The administration’s most dramatic shift in enforcement activity has come in the criminal prosecution of tens of thousands of people caught illegally crossing the border, an act that was generally dealt with in civil-immigration courts during prior administrations. The number of people prosecuted in the federal courts rose from 27,073 in fiscal 2017 to 62,185 in fiscal 2018. (During the previous four years of the Obama administration, the number of illegal-entry cases fell from 53,822 to 35,389, Justice Department figures show, as migrant flows ebbed and ICE focused on undocumented immigrants who had been accused or convicted of more serious crimes.)

The number of people charged with “bringing in and harboring certain aliens,” the most common migrant-smuggling charge, increased 18 percent, from 3,826 in 2017 to 4,532 in 2018. But that increase might be deceptive: Officials said it was driven in part by an April 2017 Trump administration directive that lowered the recommended threshold for prosecution of smugglers to those who bring in as few as three migrants. In the past, U.S. prosecutors had been instructed to charge only those caught moving at least five or even 10 migrants, although the guidelines varied among federal judicial districts.

Migrant-smuggling networks have long been a hard target for federal authorities. Compared with narcotics traffickers, they are generally smaller and less structured, operating in partnership with one another and with other organized-crime groups. Like drug traffickers, they frequently enjoy the protection of corrupt law-enforcement officials in their home countries.

Most of the smuggling cases that HSI investigators make follow a familiar pattern: Border Patrol agents capture a group of undocumented immigrants and pass along to their HSI counterparts information about drivers, stash-house operators, or other low-level figures on the U.S. side. But the investigators have generally struggled to take the cases any further. The prosecution of one South Texas smuggler, Eduardo Rocha Sr., illuminates the difficulties.

When federal agents burst into Rocha’s lonely trailer on a pitch-dark night in May 2014, they came upon a scene that horrified even officers hardened by the violence of the border underworld. Inside, they found a Honduran man moaning on the couch, covered in his own blood. Nearby was a hammer that the smugglers had been using to pound the Honduran’s fingers and a retractable knife with which they had threatened to slash open his belly. Another bloody migrant cowered in a bedroom, clad only in his underwear. A smuggler staggered naked into the hallway, having taken a break from raping a young Salvadoran woman in the back of the dingy, dilapidated trailer strewn with empty beer cans.

“I had heard of cases like this,” said Jonathan Bonds, the HSI agent who led the investigation. “It showed that everything we were being told about the brutality of the smugglers was true.”

Tipped off by a relative in Maryland of the Honduran, who was being extorted by the smuggling crew, the agents rounded up the gang members and then arrested Rocha, a U.S. citizen. Rocha’s crew of drivers, guides, and enforcers had moved hundreds of people across the border in the previous two years, charging about $2,500 a head, but also extorting more money by torturing and threatening their clients during phone calls to their relatives in the United States.

Prosecutors and investigators built a strong case against Rocha, using telephone and financial records and statements from the victims. Rocha’s son and another henchman testified that Rocha worked closely with Mexican gangsters in the Zetas drug mafia, which has long controlled smuggling corridors in the area. But while HSI agents were able to gather some detailed information about the Zetas’ role, they could do little to pursue the case south of the border or higher up into the gang’s hierarchy. Rocha steadfastly refused to cooperate with prosecutors and received a life sentence in 2016 after being convicted of conspiring to take hostages.

“He was willing to do life in prison rather than testify against the Zetas,” Bonds said. “We took our case and our evidence as far as we could take it.”

Although the disparity between the White House’s high-profile enforcement campaign and the weakness of the anti-smuggling effort has come into sharper relief under the Trump administration, the disconnect has bipartisan roots, current and former officials said. More than two dozen such officials were interviewed for this story, although some of them requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

In the mid-1990s, when Bill Clinton’s administration stepped up border-enforcement measures to reduce its political vulnerability on immigration issues, Mexicans made up the great majority of people entering illegally. Many of those migrants managed to cross on their own through thinly defended urban areas, such as those between Tijuana and San Diego, or Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, Texas. Some Mexicans and Central Americans hired local coyotes at the border, and a smaller number of migrants from other nations paid smuggling rings to arrange longer journeys or falsify entry documents.

After the 2001 al-Qaeda attacks, the George W. Bush administration began pouring more personnel and resources into border enforcement—deploying high-tech equipment, expanding metal barriers, and pushing migratory traffic away from cities and into desert corridors. The new Department of Homeland Security also began to improve visa security procedures and screening at ports of entry. HSI grew to more than 6,000 agents, becoming the second-largest federal investigative agency after the FBI.

As those defenses multiplied, the volume of illegal crossing declined. Arrests at the southwestern border, which peaked at 1.6 million in 2000 before dropping fairly steadily, have oscillated between about 300,000 and 600,000 over the past decade. But the underground migrant-smuggling industry has boomed over that same period. The Border Patrol estimates that 80 to 95 percent of people crossing the border illegally now hire smugglers. The smugglers’ rates have also escalated, from hundreds of dollars in the 1990s to several thousand dollars just to cross the border now.

In pressing their claim that the country faces a security emergency on its southern border, Trump administration officials have suggested that migrant smugglers and narcotics traffickers are effectively fused in sophisticated “cartels” that are flooding the border with migrants, drugs, and crime. “These criminal organizations are destabilizing the Western Hemisphere,” the president’s senior adviser, Stephen Miller, told Fox News in an interview on Sunday.

The weakening of the Mexican state and the expansion of organized-crime groups over the past two decades have generally strengthened connections between some migrant-smuggling gangs and drug mafias such as the Zetas, which routinely “tax” smuggling operations for each migrant they move across the border in areas that the larger organizations control. Some drug traffickers participate directly in migrant smuggling as a secondary enterprise, but other traffickers avoid the less-lucrative migrant business, and some experts believe the links between the trafficking of drugs and people have been overstated.

As Mexican immigration has fallen, Central Americans have come to dominate the smugglers’ clientele. Typically, those migrants now pay a succession of different smuggling groups to arrange or escort them at various stages of their trips. A Department of Homeland Security study in 2017 reported that Central Americans and Mexicans were paying as much as $9,200 for the journey, although the fees vary widely depending on the distance traveled and the methods used. (More recently, Central Americans have been paying as much as $15,000, officials said.) Because of heightened border defenses, smugglers have increasingly offered package deals that include repeat attempts if they cannot get their clients across.

Smugglers cross the border in a variety of ways. Many still lead their clients on hikes through remote desert and mountain areas. Less frequently, they provide them with fraudulent documents to cross at ports of entry, or even hide them inside secret compartments in cars and trucks. In recent years, a favored tactic has been to coach migrants to surrender to U.S. border authorities and request political asylum, which often gained them temporary residence while their cases languish in the overwhelmed immigration-court system. Officials said some smuggling organizations track the evolution of U.S. policies, adapting their routes to the enforcement strategies.

Stronger border defenses have also prompted drug mafias and migrant smugglers to intensify their long-standing practice of trying to corrupt U.S. border officials. Although the Customs and Border Protection agency has taken steps to deal with the problem, its expansion has posed new challenges. After Trump ordered the hiring of 15,000 new Border Patrol agents and immigration officers, the DHS inspector general warned that such surges weaken the screening of new personnel and exacerbate corruption and misconduct.

Technology has also transformed the smuggling industry. Cheap cellphones, internet communications apps, and electronic money transfers have allowed Central American parents, for example, to monitor the northward progress of their children or pay the smugglers in installments as they advance. Those same technologies have also made it easier for the smugglers to extort migrants’ relatives in their home countries and inside the United States.

Along the U.S.-Mexico border, HSI agents are often deluged. Border Patrol officers call the agents in when they arrest larger groups of people crossing the border illegally, discover immigrant stash houses, or see serious violence committed by the smugglers. The HSI agents are also generally brought in to look at any significant seizure of illicit drugs, guns, or money at ports of entry, and they take on responsibility for following up in criminal investigations that emerge from those cases.

“You don’t get much discretionary time at the border, because you spend so much time reacting and responding—to the Border Patrol busting a truckload of aliens, or CBP officers finding dope or guns or money,” said Jerry Robinette, who served as a special agent in charge in San Antonio, Texas. “And with all the other cases that the agents develop by following up on those kinds of arrests, you can’t always do a lot of in-depth investigating.”

The immigration-related crimes that draw closer attention from HSI agents are generally those in which migrants are killed; mistreated by smugglers, as in the Rocha case; or caught in large numbers. Cases involving deaths usually produce the most aggressive response from the authorities, such as the life sentence imposed last year on the driver of a truck in which 10 migrants died of heat exposure and asphyxiation in San Antonio.

The most challenging cases tend to be those that extend south of the border, current and former HSI officials said. In those instances, U.S.-based agents have to rely on counterparts in Mexico, Central America, and other areas where official corruption is endemic and migrant-smuggling organizations are considered less of a threat than gangs that smuggle narcotics or weapons. Like other federal investigative agencies, HSI maintains a network of attachés abroad, but those officers generally have a very limited capacity to investigate, even when they team with U.S.-trained units of law-enforcement agents such as those in Guatemala or Mexico.

“The Mexico-based HSI agents seldom do smuggling,” a veteran investigator said. “They don’t initiate many migrant-smuggling cases. They mainly follow leads generated from smuggling cases in the border districts by investigators there.”

HSI officials said they have at times identified powerful bosses of the smuggling networks, as well as corrupt government officials who facilitate their trade in various countries. But large parts of the smuggling networks are increasingly made up of semi-independent contractors who use cellphones and social-media apps to pass their clients from one group to another.

“When I look back at our cases, I think alien smuggling presents some of the greatest challenges,” Robinette said. “The smuggling networks in the border regions are a chain of individuals responsible for different aspects: driving, logistics, money, security, stash houses, scouts, on both sides of the border. It has been going on forever, and it is harder to identify a boss who is responsible for the entire network.”

Some groups seemingly have more structure and hierarchy. They move hundreds of migrants a week in large tractor trailers, or operate sprawling networks of stash houses, or obtain false documents from corrupt immigration officials abroad. Yet mapping out an accurate picture of the smuggling infrastructure has always been a major challenge.

“We were constantly frustrated by our inability to determine the extent to which the human-smuggling mafias were sophisticated and organized,” said Amy Pope, a former career Justice Department lawyer who worked on border-security issues in the Obama White House. “We never got information that gave us a clear path.”

For years, officials have sought better intelligence information on migrant smuggling. In 2004, fearing that terrorists could also slip across the border illegally, the Bush administration worked with Congress to address the issue by creating the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center, or HSTC, under the Department of Homeland Security. A primary goal of the center was to mobilize help from the CIA, the Justice Department, and the State Department with “human smuggling, human trafficking, and criminal facilitation of clandestine terrorist travel.” The development of better intelligence on the smuggling world was also a key objective.

Yet almost from the start, the initiative failed to live up to its promise. Most of the agencies that were assigned to work on the center never provided the resources, personnel, or commitment it needed, current and former officials said. Instead, the center became an outpost of bureaucratic dysfunction known for empty desks and limited activity.

“The problem has been and continues to be that we have never devoted the intelligence capacity necessary to really understand the human-smuggling networks in their entirety,” said Alan Bersin, who served as a top border-enforcement official in the Obama and Clinton administrations. “We never get a strategic sense of the organizations, [of] who is doing the smuggling and how it really works. They are pretty decentralized, and it would take work to understand them.”

The Obama administration made modest attempts to revive the HSTC with new leadership. There was also a proposal to move the center to the border in order to give its work greater urgency. Instead, it was stripped of its mission to coordinate intelligence on migrant smuggling and refocused to work only on human trafficking, which involves the movement of migrants for sexual exploitation or forced labor.

“We all concluded that it was a waste of time and resources,” Pope said. “The HSTC was like a stepchild. I would get feedback that it was a place for dumping people the intelligence community and other agencies couldn’t get rid of.”

Although some former officials traced the center’s failure to a lack of interest among senior administration officials, they also emphasized that the U.S. intelligence community has never considered the migrant-smuggling problem to be a priority. “Anytime that DHS would go to the [National Security Council] and say, ‘This is a big priority and we are going to need you to prioritize intelligence collection and analysis resources for the migrant-smuggling and trafficking mission,’ it just never happened,” one senior intelligence official said. “And those requests were made all the time, in all sorts of venues.”

The one notable exception in terms of intelligence-community cooperation has been in the investigation of smuggling networks tied to so-called special interest aliens, or SIAs, from countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia that have been categorized as having significant terrorist activity or other security threats.

Over the years, HSI and other agencies have deployed an array of measures overseas to “push out the border” and intercept such migrants as they make their way to the United States. Those strategies have included putting U.S. border inspectors at airports in Mexico and other countries, and enlisting Brazilian immigration officials to help identify suspicious travelers. HSI has also distributed handheld devices to law-enforcement agencies in countries from Panama to the Philippines so they can collect biometric data on any migrants whom they detain.

The investigations are typically led by HSI units such as the Extraterritorial Criminal Travel Strike Force. When those teams suspect potential links to Islamist extremism, U.S. intelligence agencies and the military have helped track the migrants along smuggling pathways or provided information about corrupt foreign officials who might be involved. One such case was that of a Pakistani smuggler based in Brazil, Sharafat Ali Khan, whose network was dismantled in 2016. The investigators identified some 80 migrants, mostly Pakistanis, who had paid as much as $15,000 to be smuggled across Latin America and into the United States over the previous two years.

But no concrete connection to terrorism was found among any of those migrants, court documents and interviews show. Pursued by the U.S. and Brazilian authorities, Khan was finally arrested in Qatar. A U.S. court sentenced him in 2017 to a mere 31 months in prison. And despite the investigative resources directed at such cases, countries outside Latin America account for only a tiny proportion of illegal immigration at the southwestern U.S. border. About 95 percent of those arrested at the border in 2017 were Central American or Mexican, official figures indicate, followed by small numbers from India, Brazil, Ecuador, and other nations.

As tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors began flooding across the southern border in 2014, the Obama administration turned to the intelligence community for insight into the smuggling industry behind the surge. At HSI, officials also created the Human Smuggling Cell, a small intelligence unit that took on some of the multi-agency HSTC’s responsibilities. Piecing together financial information and interviews with border-crossers, the cell identified their families in the United States so that agents could warn them not to finance the crossing of other children. The move eventually had some effect in disrupting the surge, some officials said.

A joint operation with the government of Honduras also helped impede the flow of unaccompanied children from that country, Pope said. The Mexican authorities finally blocked immigrants’ access to the freight trains that had for years moved thousands of Central Americans northward across Mexico. But the U.S.-led initiative exposed obstacles that persist today, including deeply entrenched official corruption south of the border and a view among many Latin American officials that migrant smuggling is not a particularly serious crime.

After Trump was elected on a platform that elevated immigration to new prominence, DHS quickly launched a crackdown, rounding up undocumented immigrants at the border and inside the country, deporting thousands more, and prosecuting virtually all those caught entering the country illegally. But those measures have at times undercut the effort to investigate migrant-smuggling networks, current and former officials said.

Early in the fall of 2017, the then-director of ICE, Thomas Homan, rattled HSI by ordering that its agents increase their workplace immigration audits by “four or five times.” The directive forced supervisors to pull investigators from other duties in a scramble to check thousands of businesses for undocumented employees, officials said.

“Doing workplace audits is not a sought-after job,” one HSI official said. “The agents don’t want to do those cases. It’s not investigative work.”

In addition, HSI lost $25 million in fiscal 2018 as the Trump administration took $200 million from various agencies for “zero tolerance” initiatives led by ERO. The prior year, $40 million had been pulled from the HSI budget to support detention and deportation activities. During both the Obama and Trump administrations, the loss of HSI funds to detention and deportation has cut into hiring investigators, paying informants, and purchasing weapons and equipment, officials said.

The Human Smuggling Cell, which had grown to as many as 50 people (some of them on temporary assignments), was among the units that lost out to newer priorities. While the cell continues to operate with a focus on rings that smuggle migrants from outside the Western Hemisphere, its staff has fallen to about half its former size, current and former officials said.

“The new administration comes in and starts emphasizing worksite enforcement, in particular, to the exclusion of investigations that took more work, more intelligence,” one former senior HSI official said. Referring to the Human Smuggling Cell, he adds, “We keep hearing so much about the smugglers, but it was a great program and it was not supported.”

Away from the border, ERO officers make most immigration arrests. But HSI agents who have been temporarily reassigned to low-level enforcement work under Trump “would ordinarily be doing counterterrorism or smuggling,” said Peter Vincent, a former chief of the agency’s international operations. “They feel that is not only insulting but dangerous, because of the missions that are being neglected.”
Investigations of immigrants who overstay their visas are especially cumbersome because of the antiquated technology that agents must use. A report by the DHS inspector general in 2017 found that information about visa overstays was scattered across “dozens of systems, some of which were not integrated and did not electronically share information.”

For the 2017 fiscal year, the number of HSI smuggling cases jumped to 3,920 from 2,110 the year before. Several current and former officials attributed that increase to both an unusually high pace of investigative activity, tied to some special operations, and a surge of border-crossers during the last four months of the Obama administration, amid fears of a Trump crackdown on immigration. (More than half of the migrants arrested at the Mexican border that year were caught in those busy months, from October to January, while the overall number of border apprehensions for the fiscal year was substantially lower than in previous years.)

During the 2018 fiscal year, those officials said, HSI anti-smuggling efforts were strongly affected by the change in ICE priorities under Trump. The agency spokesman, Brendan Raedy, attributed the sharp decline in new HSI cases that year, down to 1,671, to agents’ work helping with the increased federal prosecution of smugglers who were arrested the year before.

But several current and former senior homeland-security officials disputed that explanation, citing instead the new demands of worksite audits and other enforcement activities and the cuts in resources for their investigations. One senior official also cited the increasing number of migrant families who surrendered at the border and requested asylum, a tactic that agents said makes the smugglers harder to identify.

Inside DHS, some officials held out hope that the president’s declarations of war on the smugglers might eventually lead to a more strategic approach to the fight. But skeptics note that the enforcement campaign has yet to evolve much beyond the push for more arrests, more deportations, and a wall at the border.

“The rhetoric is always the same: The smugglers are terrible! What a pernicious underworld it is!” Bersin, the former border-security official, said. “But there has never really been the kind of enforcement effort that would make a difference.”


Claire Perlman contributed research to this report.


By : Sebastian Rotella, Tim Golden and PROPUBLICA
Date : February 21, 2019
Source : The Atlantic

Posted in Democratization & Social Movements, Latest Post, Social Justice | Leave a comment

High stakes in Nigeria’s elections for impoverished citizenry — and US interests


Africa’s largest democracy, Nigeria, is scheduled to hold elections today amid uncertainty and tension. Originally set for Feb. 16, voting was postponed hours before it was to begin because of logistical problems and violence. Even now, there are genuine concerns about a credible outcome. As Nigeria’s strongest Western ally, the United States should put pressure on Nigeria’s politicians and government to ensure peaceful, free, fair elections that reflect the will of the people.

The two leading parties in Nigeria — the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) — have accused each other of using the postponement to perfect plans for a massive rigging of elections. Nigerians are becoming used to election postponements; it happened in the last national elections. Indeed, then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria following that postponement to warn of dire consequences for politicians who would rig elections or foment post-election violence.

Many Nigerians are hoping that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will play a more decisive role in this election. The stakes are high because of growing insecurity in the land.

According to John Campbell, former U.S ambassador to Nigeria, the United States needs to adjust its focus in Nigeria — and in Africa as a whole — from assisting with regional security to promoting democracy and governance. This requires prioritizing long-term planning over short-term emergency intervention.

The United States should promote a foreign policy in Nigeria that supports a vibrant civil society and maintains pressure on the government to fulfill its duties to the citizens. It is better to support the evolution of good governance in Nigeria than to fight terrorism that results from failed governance. One way to do this is to play a strong role in overseeing the elections and hold political leaders accountable for any resulting violence.

Supporting democratization and strengthening the institutional structures of Nigeria aligns with U.S. economic, political and security interests in Africa. Nigeria is the second-largest trading partner of the United States in Africa, and the 48th largest goods trading partner of the United States with $9.2 billion in total (two-way) goods trade during 2017.

The African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), Congress has extended to 2025, offers even more opportunity for greater convergence and expansion of trade, services and cultural exchanges. Nigeria is the closest ally of the United States in Africa in the fight against religious extremism and global terrorism. In addition, more than 380,000 Nigerian immigrants have made America their home.

The sad reality in Nigeria today is that a corrupt, unpatriotic elite — military, ex-military men, and civilian and religious acolytes — has run Nigeria’s economy aground by siphoning and mismanaging Nigeria’s oil wealth. They have frustrated the hopes and aspirations of Nigerians through extractive, authoritarian leadership. According to London-based Chatham House, Nigeria loses about $1.5 billion every month to oil theft.

More than 70 percent of Nigerians suffer from grinding poverty, which causes widespread frustration and anger. Many Nigerians feel that President Muhammadu Buhari is insensitive to their suffering; his challenger, Atiku Abubakar, is weighed down with allegations of corruption in this past. Nigerians thus go into the presidential elections with difficult choices.

Sadly, this has been typical of Nigeria, where elections often make a mockery of democracy. The best candidates tend not to get on the ballot. In Nigeria, power belongs to a few elites — politicians usually kept afloat with national wealth through narrow appeal to their religious and ethnic bases. Political scientist Claude Ake argues that elections in Nigeria are “a metaphor for powerlessness and exploitation” of citizens.

Given this unfortunate scenario, Nigeria sorely needs the help of the international community — and especially the United States. The international community should not only monitor the elections in Nigeria but also hold the Nigerian political and religious elites accountable for the inexcusable suffering of Nigerians, most of whom never have had a taste of “the good life” despite the country’s abundant oil wealth.


Stan Chu Ilo is a research professor of African and Catholic studies at the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology, Depaul University. He is president of the Canadian Samaritans for Africa, which works with women in five African countries, and is the 2017 recipient of the AfroGlobal Impact Award. Follow him on Twitter @stanchuilo.


By : Stan Chu Ilo
Date : February 23, 2019
Source : The Hill

Posted in Democratization & Social Movements, Latest Post, Social Justice | Leave a comment

Mexican war on drugs has, in places, decreased life expectancy


Most countries in the world have experienced sizeable improvements in health, living standards and life expectancy since the second half of the 20th century. In Mexico, life expectancy increased for more than six decades – but as we found in our new research, this rate slowed down between 2005 and 2015, and in some states even reversed.

This slow-down coincides with an unprecedented rise in violence. The number of homicides for men increased by more than 50% between 2005 and 2015, from 20.4 to 31.2 per 100,000 men. There were 262,459 registered murders in that period. As a result, gains in life expectancy for young men due to reductions in other causes of death, such as infectious and respiratory diseases, floundered.

Life expectancy is generally used to monitor population health. But this indicator doesn’t tell the whole story, as it masks substantial variation in length of life. Inequality in length of life is the most fundamental of all inequalities: after all, every other type of inequality depends on being alive.

Greater uncertainty about life expectancy obviously impacts negatively on quality of life. Since 2005, this question has become more difficult to answer for Mexican males, such as ourselves, and current conditions do not suggest that this will get better. From a public health perspective, a larger lifespan inequality implies a vulnerable society.

At the state level, the strongest effect occurred in Guerrero, a state in the south of the country, where 43 students disappeared in 2014. Here, life expectancy was reduced by two years over the period and lifespan inequality increased substantially.

Chihuahua and Sinaloa, in the north, also experienced reversed life expectancy trends, with losses of one year each. To put these figures in perspective, in 2010, men aged 15 to 50 years in Chihuahua (which borders the US state of Texas) had a mortality rate that was three times higher than the US troops in Iraq between 2003 and 2006.

The war on drugs

The sudden increase of violence in Mexico is associated with military interventions to decrease illicit drug operations and organised crime since 2006, when president Felipe Calderón launched a “war” against drugs and criminals. This, along with the so-called kingpin strategy of apprehending or killing the most prominent leaders in organised crime, increased competition and violence within criminal organisations. The persistent dispute led to the fragmentation of criminal organisations, which fed the violent cycle.

At the same time, drug trade flows changed with a boom in the contraband of opiates and opioids to make up for a reduction in the price of cocaine and the decrease of marijuana exports due to its legalisation in parts of the US. But criminals also engaged in other illicit activities, such as protection rackets, migrant kidnappings, oil theft, extortion, and the illegal trade of weapons and persons. The so-called war on drugs has become an unfinished violent cycle that has decimated the country’s social fabric.

Mexico has also systematically failed to recognise and correct the detrimental consequences for health and human rights that drug prohibition policies have had on the population.

Now, the new government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised to take care of the deep causes of violence. New social programs focused on creating job and education opportunities for the young and other vulnerable groups are at the heart of his strategy. Nevertheless, he insists on asking Congress to reform the Constitution to legalise the use of the armed forces for public security and investigative tasks against crime. And this despite the fact that it was their intervention that contributed to the violent competition among organised criminals in the first place.

The Mexican government’s new focus on improving social and human capital through education, community support and employment programs should of course be celebrated. Whereas the state used to see drugs mainly as a national security problem, it has begun to recognise its violent consequences as a social justice challenge.

But there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that inequality is the main cause of violent behaviour, even though it is a great factor of vulnerability. So this new approach may be shortsighted. Meanwhile, the evidence that punitive and prohibitionist drug policies have helped trigger the current violence, as well as economic, human rights and health crises piles up.

The Mexican government’s new policy of combating poverty and inequality is well-intended, but drug policy reform really needs to be the top priority. The new president has promised to end to the “war” on drugs. Substantiating this promise by regulating marijuana and poppy is a step towards ending the cycle of violence.


By : Jose Manuel Aburto & Froylan Enciso
Date : February 18, 2019
Source : The Conversation

Posted in Democratization & Social Movements, Latest Post, Social Justice | Leave a comment

Male teachers are most likely to rate highly in university student feedback


University students, like many in society, demonstrate bias against women and particularly women from non-English speaking backgrounds.

That’s the take home message from a new and comprehensive analysis of student experience surveys.

The study examined a large dataset consisting of more than 500,000 student responses collected over 2010 to 2016. It involved more than 3,000 teachers and 2,000 courses across five faculties at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney.

Most bias in science and business

Interestingly, the bias varies.

In parts of science and business the effects are clear. In the science and business faculties, a male teacher from an English-speaking background was more than twice as likely to get a higher score on a student evaluation than a female teacher from a non-English speaking background.

But in other areas, such as arts and social science, the effects are almost marginal. In engineering, effects were only detected for non-English speakers.

When one looks at the probability of scoring very high ratings, and dissects the categories into genders and cultural background, the results are clear. The disparities occur mostly at the very top end: this is where bias creeps in.

Previously the university had looked at just the average (mean) ratings of teachers of different genders, and found that they are more or less indistinguishable (unpublished data). But this new study goes further and provides information that is not evident in superficial analyses.

Should we abandon student feedback?

Student feedback can be a useful mechanism to understand the varied experiences of students. But student feedback is sometimes used inappropriately in staff performance evaluations, and that’s where the existence of bias creates serious problems.

One can make the case for abandoning student feedback – and many have.

But it’s problematic to turn a deaf ear to the student voice, and that is not what national approaches such as the Quality in Learning and Teaching processes (QILT) are doing.

This is because feedback can often be helpful. It can make things better. In addition, it is often positive. Sometimes the feedback is actually the way students say thanks.

However, sometimes it can be very hurtful and damaging, particularly if it is motivated by prejudice. We have to be aware of that and the barriers it can create.

We know that minority groups already suffer from reduced confidence and visibility, so biased teacher evaluations may exaggerate existing inequities.

What do the numbers mean?

It is very important to be cautious when looking at the raw numbers.

Firstly, let’s consider what the numbers mean. Students are not evaluating teaching and learning in these surveys. They are telling us about their experiences – that’s why we call them MyExperience surveys at UNSW. We resist the idea that they are student evaluations of teaching, as are used in some settings.

Peer review can make contributions to evaluating teaching while assessments can help evaluate learning – however they may not be enough to overcome bias. When considering professional performance at UNSW, we do not exclude the feedback that students provide on their experience, but we look at a basket of indicators.

Secondly, one has to be serious about the biases that emerge, acknowledge them and confront the issues. Most universities pride themselves on being diverse and inclusive, and students support this.

But this study reminds us that we have work to do. Biases exist. The message is strong. You are more likely to score top ratings if you come from the category of white male: that is, if you are from the prevailing establishment.

The influence of history

These results may be surprising given the diversity of the student and staff body at Australian universities.

But our cultural milieu has been historically saturated by white males, and continuing biases exist. The important thing is to be aware of them, and when looking at the numbers to realise that the ratings are provided in the context of a particular society at a particular moment in time.

The scores should not be blindly accepted at face value.

Most universities, including ours, are working on being more inclusive. At UNSW a new Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion – Eileen Baldry – was recently appointed, and we are working hard to combat bias and to introduce new strategies aimed at supporting diversity. For example, the university will introduce new training for members of promotion panels, explaining the biases detected in our new study. By understanding the problem, we can begin to address it.

All staff across all of our universities can benefit from becoming more aware of issues around bias – especially those in powerful positions, such as members of promotion committees.

Reducing bias will have great benefits for society as university students represent a large proportion of future leaders in government and industry.

It is clear that negative stereotypes will contribute to the partiality that exists within our student community. Encouraging more women and cultural minorities at all levels in higher education, in leadership positions and in membership of key committees will help shrink these biases.

Training in values

Training students is challenging, especially at large modern universities such as UNSW, which has a cohort of over 50,000 coming from more than 100 countries. But our study found similar levels of bias in local students, as we did in international students.

In training students we have to remember that we provide knowledge, but also communicate values via our words and our behaviours.

If we are to continue to listen to the student experience, we need to be careful with the results. Rigorous statistical analyses such as this study, can help us recognise bias and work to address it. If our students graduate with less bias than when they entered their degree, we will be contributing to creating a more equitable and inclusive society in the future.

It is not easy to uproot prejudices but the data are clear. We expect people will be on board and be pleased to contribute to moving things in the right direction.


Merlin Crossley (Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic and Professor of Molecular Biology, UNSW)

Emma Johnston (Professor and Dean of Science, UNSW)

Yanan Fan (Associate Professor of Statistics, UNSW)


By : Merlin Crossley, Emma Johnston and Yanan Fan
Date : February 13, 2019
Source : The Conversation

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment
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