The Nation

Walmart’s Pregnancy Policy May Make You Sick

Walmart store

A Walmart store in Los Angeles, California. (Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn)

For the holidays, Walmart is offering moms-to-be special deals on its selection of “work-to-wear” maternity fashions. For its pregnant workers, however, Walmart is offering a raw deal.

When working as a Walmart maintenance associate in Laurel, Maryland, during her pregnancy, Candice Riggins paid a heavy price when her cleaning duties started making her sick. According to a complaint filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, Walmart refused to accommodate her request for a new job assignment in order to protect her health, and eventually fired her for being too sick to work.

Riggins’s troubles began in March, ironically, just as Walmart announced reforms to its pregnancy policy. Amid pressure campaigns by rights advocates, which had charged that the company systematically discriminated against pregnant workers in granting temporary disability relief, the company expanded the policy to explicitly include accommodations for “temporary disabilities caused by pregnancy.” But Riggins’s experience suggests Walmart continues to alienate, not accommodate, its most vulnerable pregnant workers.

Riggins was about six months pregnant when, according to the complaint, she “started to feel nauseated by the harsh chemicals she used when cleaning the bathrooms.” After she raised the issue with a co-manager, she was given temporary work as a cashier, but only when the position was short-staffed. At other times, she was stuck cleaning bathrooms, and eventually, she landed in the emergency room. Doctors warned her against working because the toxins “could harm her fetus and herself.”

Over the next few weeks, Riggins made several formal requests to be transferred to cashier duties, but she claims she was passed over, while Walmart instead hired new workers for the position. Then, about thirty weeks into her pregnancy, waiting at the bus stop to get to work, she fell unconscious. The doctors again warned of the dangers of her job. But she worried about the dangers of losing the meager income her future family depended on. She tried to resume work the next day, but still felt ill and returned to the hospital.

Throughout the ordeal, Riggins later told ThinkProgress, “I was really afraid of losing my job. I would go in and try to push through it and put on this face, like I’m okay.”

But she wasn’t. After the hospitalization she approached management again to plead for a new assignment. By then, she was suffering both the chemical-related symptoms and back pain. She was reassigned to cleaning doors, but the duties were similar and her health problems persisted. Later she was assigned to work as a greeter, but met with a new hardship: she had to stand constantly, and “a co-manager told her she could not sit on the stool” while working. Finally, she was literally too sick and tired to keep working, and “began to call out sick, losing critical income.”

Her termination letter came a few weeks later in May, not long before she gave birth. So Riggins spent the first few months of her newborn’s life struggling with unemployment and, eventually, getting evicted from her home.

In a statement, Riggins recalled that one of her male coworkers had received a special accommodation when he was injured. And yet somehow, Walmart decided it could not accommodate her needs to protect the health of her and her pregnancy:

I made it clear to my supervisors that I wanted to keep working and that I could do several other jobs well. I just needed to keep away from the chemicals, but Walmart said “No,” even though I know they gave light duty to a coworker of mine when he hurt his back. Finally, I was forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and my paycheck.

Riggins’s case comes during an important time for pregnant women’s rights. The Supreme Court is now weighing a major case involving the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978, one of the laws that Riggins accuses Walmart of violating. As we reported previously, the law’s protections have been eroded by inconsistent application over the years. It requires bosses to treat pregnant workers as they would any other worker in a comparable situation, with a medical condition or temporary disability: that should, in theory, give them access to modest accommodations like light duty (like the alternative cashier job Riggins had requested to protect her health), or basic job modifications (like the permission she had requested to do her job sitting instead of standing to ease the physical strain).

Emily Martin of the National Women’s Law Center, which is representing Riggins, says it’s unclear why Walmart apparently flouted its own policy:

It isn’t completely clear whether Walmart has concluded that Candis (and workers like her) don’t have pregnancy-related disabilities and thus don’t qualify for accommodation under their policy, or whether they have just failed to adequately implement their announced policy and that’s why she wasn’t accommodated. Either way it is a legal problem for Walmart.

Workplace rights for pregnant women have expanded over the years thanks to the PDA, paid leave policies and parallel state level protections (Riggins’s complaint also cites Maryland’s pregnancy discrimination law). And federal legislation has been introduced to strengthen existing PDA rules on accommodating pregnancy-related conditions. Nonetheless, pregnancy still places a disparate labor burden on working-class women. In the pending Supreme Court lawsuit, a UPS worker claims she was unjustly denied her right to stay on the job when she was healthy and willing to work. Meanwhile, women like Riggins face significant pregnant-related health problems, but are often denied critical protections and are pushed to work in hazardous conditions. Many workers just want time off, but lack access to paid leave. These barriers disproportionately hurt working women of color and immigrant women.

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Walmart is the country’s largest employer of blacks and Latinos. It wields massive influence over wage levels for poor women of color and shapes standards on labor policies for parents and pregnant workers in the retail industry. The company seems to grasp this—sort of. Following an inquiry about the Riggins case, spokesperson Randy Hargrove stated via e-mail, “Our pregnancy policy is best in class and goes well beyond federal and most state laws,” and for individual disability cases, “we’ll work with our pregnant associates to make sure we provide reasonable accommodations when they are requested.”

But Walmart’s women workers have launched strikes and protests nationwide to demand decent wages and benefits and a fair workplace for pregnant women, and it seems their request keeps getting denied. Even after the new pregnancy policy was announced, activists complained workers were being denied even basic accommodations on the job. These women don’t want best in class, just fairness. So although Walmart didn’t allow Riggins to sit down while working, more and more mothers like her are determined to stand up for their rights at work.


Read Next: Michelle Chen on the Obama administration’s whirlwind deportations

Watch The Colbert Report’s Triumphant Final Song

Katrina vanden Heuvel bid farewell to The Colbert Report along with an eclectic chorus of some of Stephen’s favorite guests: Jon Stewart, Randy Newman, Willie Nelson, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jeff Daniels, Keith Olbermann, Samantha Power, Katie Couric, Matt Taibbi, Charlie Rose, Big Bird… We wish him all the best!

We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where, don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.
Keep smiling through,
Just like you always do,
Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds, far away.
So will you please say hello,
To the folks that I know,
Tell them I won’t be long, (i wont be long)
They’ll be happy to know that as you saw me go
I was singing this song.

What Bernie Sanders and Dwight Eisenhower Have in Common

Senator Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Dwight Eisenhower was right when he warned at the close of his presidency about the development of an American military-industrial complex, as most everyone in the United States and around the world is now well aware.

Eisenhower was also right when he warned at the opening of his presidency about the danger posed by the bloating of military budgets.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” the newly inaugurated commander-in-chief told the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention in April 1953.

“This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people,” Eisenhower explained, as a president who also happened to be a retired general. “This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

The cross of iron has grown a good deal heavier with the passage of time, as a United States Congress that argues about whether the country can afford to pay for Food Stamps and nutrition programs just approved a Department of Defense bill that authorizes $585 billion in Pentagon spending for the 2015 fiscal year. If history is any indication, the actual spending total will turn out to be a good deal more than that once all the supplemental appropriations have been added.

“The United States spends more on its military in absolute terms than any other nation on earth,” notes Germany’s Deutsche Welle. “In 2013, the US spent $640 billion on defense, followed by China with $188 billion and Russia with $88 billion, according to figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.”

The US spending tends to be approved with very little of the questioning that Eisenhower encouraged. In the House the vote to approve the latest Pentagon plan was 300-119. In the Senate, it was an even more lopsided 85-11.

And a number of the latest “no” votes came from Republicans—such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz—who were griping about a provision that designated new national parks and wilderness areas,

But Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders cast a “no” vote on what might reasonably be described as “Eisenhower principles.”

“I am voting no because I have very serious concerns about our nation’s bloated military budget and the misplaced national priorities this bill reflects,” explained Sanders. “At a time when our national debt is more than $18 trillion and we spend nearly as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, the time is long overdue to end the waste and financial mismanagement that have plagued the Pentagon for years.”

Sanders, who is set to take over as the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, is making an argument for cracking down on budgeting abuses that the Pentagon that liberals and conservatives ought to be able to respect.

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“The situation is so absurd that the military is unable to even account for how it spends all of its money,” says the senator. “The non-partisan watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, said ‘serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense made its financial statements un-auditable.’ ”

That does not make Sanders anti-defense. It makes him a senator who is willing to call out waste, fraud and abuse—and to apply the standards that Eisenhower proposed.

“I support a strong defense system for our country and a robust National Guard and Reserve that can meet our domestic and foreign challenges,” argues Sanders. “At a time when the country is struggling with huge unmet needs, however, it is unacceptable that the Defense Department continues to waste massive amounts of money.”

Read Next: John Nichols on why Dick Cheney is wrong about the torture report

How Should Journalists Cover Sexual Assault?

Salamishah Tillet

What responsibilities do journalists have when reporting on sexual assault? In the past few weeks, two high-profile cases have ignited a heated debate on just that question. One of those cases is an alleged rape case at the University of Virginia first reported by Rolling Stone, the details of which have since been thrown into question by an article in The Washington Post pointing out possible inaccuracies in the magazine’s reporting. The second case involves the numerous allegations of sexual assault made against Bill Cosby. Salamishah Tillet, Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, joined Melissa Harris-Perry to discuss her latest Nation piece, Why It’s So Hard to Write About Rape. She explains, “[There is] that skepticism that journalists are supposed to always have when it comes to covering a story. And then we have this kind of inherent skepticism, not inherent, a socialized skepticism against the stories of rape survivors. And when they come together as this moment has produced, there’s a sense to kind of restore the integrity of journalism without necessarily protecting the rights of victims.”
—N’Kosi Oates

One Hand Washes the Other

Last week’s puzzle wasn’t quite thematic, but it was built around a few entries that interacted closely with each other. Without giving too much away for those who haven’t solved it yet, suffice it to say that there are certain entries in the puzzle that are defined (and/or clued) only in terms of other entries—and vice versa.

This sort of mutual cross-reference is a trick we like to invoke from time to time. The most common motivation is to use it as a vehicle for showing off a pair of long anagrams. For example, Puzzle #3264 included this matched pair of clues:
   1 (OPERATING COST)  Expense for a business ruined 27 (9,4)
   27 (PROGNOSTICATE)  Predict 1A inaccurately (13)

Or in Puzzle #3300:
   13 (ISAAC STERN)  Violinist playing 21 (5,5)
   21 (ASCERTAINS)  Discovers unlucky 13 (10)

Some skeptics might complain about these clues, because in each case neither one can be solved without reference to the other. If you’re a firm believer that each clue in a cryptic crossword should be its own independent solving challenge, for example, then you’d be apt to see these as not quite fair.

But we believe that a clue should be considered in the context in which it appears. And if there’s helpful information from somewhere else in the grid that can lead a solver to the solution, there’s no reason not to use it. For many solvers, this adds to their enjoyment: The penny drops for both clues in quick succession, usually after letters are provided by crossing entries. And for expert solvers, it is interesting to see how early in the game they can crack the pair. During a test-solving session, we were stunned to see crossword champion Tyler Hinman get OPERATING COST / PROGNOSTICATE before entering a single letter into the diagram.

In fact, such mutually reinforcing clues are just an extreme case of a more general technique that many constructors use freely, namely the one-way cross-reference. In those cases, one clue is solvable on its own, and a second then relies on that answer. The two most common uses are as anagram fodder, as in this pair from Puzzle #3343:
   19 (BEEP)  Buzzer on front of porch makes sound heard in the street (4)
   2 (REPUTABLE)  Ultra-19 eccentric is well-regarded (9)

or as part of the definition, as in this pair from Puzzle #3320:
   24 (SATAN)  Old Nick took a chair on the outskirts of Austin (5)
   23 (EVIL)  Upset to be like 24 (4)

These cross-references aren’t as snazzy as the circular constructions, which have a little whiff of M.C. Escher about them. But both are useful resources in a constructor’s bag of tricks and, we hope, an entertaining change of routine for the solver.

This week’s clueing challenge: MUTUAL. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

What ‘The Colbert Report’ Taught Us About the Psychology of Conservatives

Stephen Colbert

(Photo: Comedy Central)

No one thought that Stephen Colbert, the character, would last this long. His right-wing, self-regarding, bloviating pundit was a shtick, a bit, good for a year or two, tops.

As Colbert said Monday of the soon-to-retire Michele Bachmann, “Godspeed, Michele, Godspeed. I cannot believe you kept up that crazy conservative character for eight years.”

But for nine years now Colbert has been reminding us that politics, and the right-wing shtick in particular, is a performance.* For his last show, tonight, the Grim Reaper will reportedly be taking him out. But we can thank his longevity in part to the still longer reigns of his sources of inspiration—“Papa Bear” Bill O’Reilly, of course, but also Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Steve Doocy, and the Fox News mindset itself.

We can also thank these last nine years to the very thing that made them seem improbable: as a character, and not merely a critic, of the right, Colbert held a unique key to the riddle of modern conservatism: How do they keep getting away with it? Why have so many conservatives turned into such small-minded haters and deniers of science, of reality? Voters tend to disagree with their actual policies, so why do they keep voting for them?

We liberals keep banging our heads against the wall of their illogic, and in frustration sputter the only explanation we can think of: “They’re… they’re… they’re INSANE!”

Instead of trying the key from the outside, as most critics of the right must, Colbert jiggled it from the inside, counterfeit though his key was. By inhabiting their heads via a character, Colbert could demonstrate, four nights a week, how right-wing psychology works.

And so in his last “Formidable Opponent” segment, the rabid-right Stephen said that America would never torture. The more moderate Stephen countered that the Senate report proves it does. To which the first Stephen replies, “Oh, I’m not talking about the actual country. I’m talking about the idea of America. The idea of America would never torture….And that, my friend, is why I choose to live in the idea of America.”

You can’t stick with that kind of truthiness-based character (and play him in public appearances off the show) without some sympathy for him, and even for conservatism itself.

Colbert expressed that sympathy by showing that beneath his character’s assertion of omnipotence and certitude, there’s a fragility, one that’s also buried in most of the real-life blowhards and their dittoheads.

If they stop clapping, Tinker Bell will die. If they stop nodding in agreement, or step off the reservation of Tax Cuts, Guns, and Built It Myself, they could get Other-ed. If you stop stampeding in one direction, you get trampled.

Every night, Colbert’s character would steel himself to stay on the straight and narrow path out of fear.

His braggadocio disguised the fact that he was a coward and a big baby. (In that, the character closest to Colbert would be Lawton Smalls, Marc Maron’s old right-wing foil who’d break down and sob when he could no longer maintain his political delusions.) Every now and then Colbert would come apart at the seams, hiding under the desk, or going off on how we have to wipe bears off the face of the earth! Conceivably, bears stood for Russia, as in the Reagan “Bear in the Woods” commercial, or maybe for Papa Bear. But more likely, Colbert’s bear fear was fear itself, an irrational dread of something he’d never encounter, like death panels or jack-booted government thugs coming to take his guns. Were they going to take “Sweetness,” the pistol he’d caress and which was, as far as we know, Stephen’s only serious love interest?

More frequently, though, Colbert would ride fearlessly straight through his absurdities, oblivious to any problems at all. That was the Inspector Clouseau aspect of Colbert. It’s the character’s odd innocence and the real person’s heart that combine, I think, to create so much affection and outright love for Colbert.

I’ve always said that I appreciate Jon Stewart (and I really, really like John Oliver), but I love Stephen. I laugh so hard I cry, and in crying, I swoon.

It’s commonly thought that Stewart does the harder-hitting political satire. But Colbert, softly sheathed in fiction, can actually bite much deeper. Colbert is in fact more of a threat to O’Reilly—who seems to actively dislike him—while O’Reilly and Stewart are mutually supportive buds.

On occasion, Colbert shared in Stewart’s left-and-right false equivalencies—as he did by co-hosting the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in 2010. But Colbert also does things closer to the activism that Stewart tends to find so uncool. Like when he testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee about the plight of migrant farm workers, or when, in one of the most brilliant, ballsy moments in comedy ever, he hosted the 2006 White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Standing just feet from President George W. Bush, Colbert, the character, said:

We’re not so different, he and I. We get it. We’re not brainiacs on the nerd patrol. We’re not members of the factinista. We go straight from the gut, right sir?…

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The greatest thing about this man is he’s steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man’s beliefs never will.

But Colbert bit most deeply into the attending Beltway journalists, who famously found him unfunny:

Over the last five years you people were so good—over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn’t want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.

But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works: the president makes decisions. He’s the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you’ve got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know—fiction!

It’s hard to imagine that the nonfiction Stephen Colbert would say anything like that to a guest on The Late Show. But you never know. He’s amazed us before.

*I was on the O’Reilly show years ago, arguing in defense of Martha Stewart, who was then headed to prison. After our joust, as I was getting up to leave, O’Reilly said to me, “The audience loves this stuff.” As if he was admitting it was all for show.


Read Next: “Can Al Sharpton Be Both an Activist and a Fair TV Anchor?”

How Bad Can Marco Rubio and Congress Muck Up the Cuba Shift?

Marco Rubio

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Barack Obama announced a new era in US relations with Cuba Wednesday morning in which diplomatic ties will be reopened, along with a US embassy in Havana, while business and travel restrictions are eased.

These changes can be accomplished by executive order—but the next president could reverse them, and only Congress can lift the embargo. The permanence and depth of Obama’s policy shift thus remains in doubt.

Even if Congress doesn’t lift the embargo, the degree of opposition on Capitol Hill will significantly affect Obama’s attempted policy shift. Senator Marco Rubio openly threatened during a press conference Wednesday that the Senate would not confirm an ambassador to Cuba, and he also promised to work against any funding for a new US embassy. Senator Lindsey Graham joined in that threat.

Rubio, who is of Cuban heritage, jumped to the front of the Republican response to the new policies and seems to be leading the charge.

His first line of attack dovetailed with traditional GOP criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy: in a statement not long after the news broke Wednesday, Rubio called the shift “just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost.” Rubio also blasted the White House for turning its back on Cubans who face repression from the Castro regime. “The president and this administration have let the people of Cuba down,” he told reporters later.

Rubio also attempted to frame it as a populist issue, with a twist of animus towards liberal elites: “While business interests seeking to line their pockets, aided by the editorial page of The New York Times, have begun a significant campaign to paper over the facts about the regime in Havana, the reality is clear,” his statement said.

No doubt some on the left will share Rubio’s ostensible concerns about free-market exploitation of Cuba, if not for entirely different reasons. (White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest further invited this line of attack when he literally read from a Chamber of Commerce press release from the briefing room podium Wednesday afternoon.)

Rubio was joined in his vehement criticism by House Speaker John Boehner, the chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee Edward Royce and the chairman-for-now of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez.

Menendez is a Democrat. However, the incoming Republican chairman of Senate Foreign Relations, Bob Corker, issued an entirely neutral statement on the policy shift towards Cuba.

So will Congress lift the embargo? Will it go so far as to block an ambassador? On the one hand, the opposition of the House Speaker and the (soon-to-be) ranking Democrat on Senate Foreign Relations is a bad sign. Rubio also chairs a key Foreign Relations Committee on the Western Hemisphere. And “no, Congress won’t do anything” is a safe bet, generally speaking. But members of both parties also support normalized relations—Republican Speaker Jeff Flake flew to Cuba to see imprisoned American Alan Gross home on Wednesday—and Americans favor lifting the embargo.

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Unfortunately, presidential politics may trump a rational discussion in Congress.

Elections have a way of freezing domestic politics: just since November 4, Obama has signed sweeping immigration orders, released the CIA torture report and normalized relations with Cuba, while Congress finally passed an appropriations bill for the 2015 fiscal year. None of this was feasible in the heat of midterm election campaigning, and the 2016 presidential election may soon act as a vise once again.

Thanks to the traditional (though rapidly shifting) conservative politics of Cuban Americans, along with some pure happenstance, the likely GOP presidential field is top-heavy with Republicans who oppose normalized relations with Cuba.

Along with Rubio, Senator Ted Cruz is also a Cuban-American who opposes lifting sanctions against Cuba. Cruz also criticized Obama’s shift in a statement. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who announced just this week he is “actively exploring” a presidential run, has long-standing political ties with conservative Cuban-Americans in his state and already announced he, too, opposes Obama’s actions.

The primary debates next year will likely give a huge, and arguably disproportionate, voice to the exact Republicans who most oppose normalized relations with Cuba. Maybe one of them will win the White House and wipe out Obama’s executive orders—but even if that doesn’t happen, it’s easy to see how the election might pressure Republicans in Congress to fall in line and drag their feet on legislative action.

Read Next: “Détente With Cuba: Just About Freaking Time”

Did Barack Obama Just Win Florida for the 2016 Democratic Nominee?

Flags US and Cuba

(AP/Franklin Reyes)

That was pretty impressive! In a coordinated set of press conferences, Barack Obama and Raúl Castro came as close to complete normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States as is possible short of repealing Helms-Burton. The New York Times writes:

The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century after the release of an American contractor [Alan Gross] held in prison for five years, American officials said Wednesday.

In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican, President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 minutes off the American coast. In addition, the United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking relations, and Cuba will release 53 Cuban prisoners identified as political prisoners by the United States government.

There’s a lot at stake in this policy turn-around, including for broader US-Latin American relations. But out of all of Obama’s post-midterm initiatives, this one is pretty deft: It nicely boxes potential Republican presidential nominees into a corner, especially pulling the rug right out from under Jeb Bush, just as he was basking in his “I-may-be-running-after-all” tease.

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Bush sounded completely flatfooted and off-guard this morning: “I don’t think we should be negotiating with a repressive regime.” He did grudgingly say he was “happy for Gross’s return.” Polls will tell, but Bush—along with Marco Rubio and any other potential nominee—is going to have to come up with a better soundbite. Even if this doesn’t play well in Florida, which I think it will, Obama, with this move, has just finally nationalized the Cuba question.

Who could possibly advocate (except these guys) going back to the way things were? That is, it will no longer be enough to pander to a small margin of extreme-right-wing Cubans in Florida on the issue. That will be particularly difficult for Jeb Bush, because of his family’s deep ties to Cuban anti-communists, going back to his father’s days as CIA director.


Read Next: “Six Lessons for Obama on How to Improve Relations with Cuba”

Whirlwind Deportations Are Depriving Thousands of Migrants of Their Rights—and Some, of Their Lives

Deportation plane

A Guatemalan man waits to board a plane during his deportation process in Mesa, Arizona. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

Nothing should ever come between a mother and her child—certainly not hundreds of miles of fences and barren terrain. But somehow, Isidora Lopez-Venegas found herself stuck on the wrong side of the US-Mexico border.

Immigration authorities approached the middle-aged mother in 2011 on a San Diego street and asked if she had papers. While in custody with her son, a citizen who has an autism-related disorder, she later recalled, the officer intimidated them and warned that unless she agreed to “voluntary departure,” she might be detained for months or years, and “then they’d take away my child, he’d be sent to a foster home.” She was led to believe that the easier way to sort out her status would be to return and apply to re-enter the country “lawfully.” She wound up with a one-way ticket to exile: she didn’t understand that, thanks to an obscure immigration law, immigrants like her were subject to a ten-year bar to re-entry.

According to the ACLU, which later advocated for Lopez-Venegas as part of a class action suit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—which recently reached a settlement that includes reforms for the California area—Lopez-Venegas “would have been eligible for cancellation of removal if they had gone before an immigration judge, given their strong family and community ties, their long presence in the United States, and their lack of criminal history.” But Lopez-Venegas, like about 80 percent of deportees from the United States, never got her day in court. Her case fell into a legal machine built for mass expulsion, churning people through “summary removal” policies that the ACLU says ignores immigrants’ constitutional rights.

According to the ACLU’s extensive analysis of deportation cases, the Obama administration’s unprecedented deportation record is made possible by a Kafkaesque bureaucratic procedure: “the summary removal infrastructure rapidly and reflexively deported hundreds of thousands of people, including people who are eligible for relief from deportation or who were already in or entering the United States lawfully.” People are not adequately informed of their legal options, and are sometimes deterred from seeking asylum. Parents and children are separated. Domestic violence victims are arbitrarily excluded. Some get funneled through “assembly line” hearings designed to “streamline” expulsion of migrants by the score. Even citizens can get deported if they are accidentally apprehended and lack adequate identification.

Longtime residents may get deported based on a past conviction (often a minor criminal offense that is treated as an “aggravated felony” for immigration purpose). These so-called 238b proceedings, ACLU says, “provide… no meaningful opportunity to provide evidence or question witnesses, and no verbatim recording of the proceeding.”

And as they await banishment, many are detained in facilities known for “verbal abuse, freezing conditions, inadequate food, lack of adequate medical care, and overcrowding.”

In the case of Laura S., deportation was a death sentence, according to one legal case described in the report. She was “stopped by police for an alleged traffic violation” in 2009 and turned over to immigration authorities. Though she told the DHS officers that she “feared being attacked by her ex-partner” if she was deported, “DHS officers coerced her to sign a voluntary departure form and dropped her at the bridge to Reynosa, Mexico.” There, isolated from her children and alone, according to the complaint, she was soon murdered by her ex-partner.

Several of the migrants the ACLU interviewed were “attacked, kidnapped, raped, or robbed after their deportation.”

In contrast to stereotypes, researchers found that many of those roped into these proceedings are not economic opportunists but people facing real humanitarian crises: though news outlets have in recent months focused on a seemingly sudden influx of “unaccompanied minors” from Central America, their migration stems from a broader pattern of youth fleeing persecution and economic devastation. The vast majority of Mexican children who migrate alone (who, unlike their Central American counterparts, do not have special access to an asylum hearing) are turned away, returned to an environment of epidemic poverty and violence.

ACLU researcher Sarah Mehta says via e-mail:

Of the 89 individuals I interviewed who were ordered removed at or near the U.S. border, 55 percent said they were not asked about their fear of returning to their country or were not asked anything in a language they understood…40 percent of those asked about fear said they told the agent they were afraid of returning to their country but were nevertheless not referred to an asylum officer before being summarily deported.

Though Obama’s recent executive action on immigration extends deportation relief to up to 5 million undocumented people, primarily parents of citizens and permanent residents, this stopgap reprieve program may actually compound the current deportation crisis. The White House plans to simultaneously intensify border security and focus on deporting “criminals” and “recent arrivals,” which signals more aggressive deportations for future arrivals.

DHS has recently promised some piecemeal reforms to deportation practices—for example, providing immigrants with more information about their legal right to a hearing and clarifying guidelines on referring asylum cases. But Mehta says, “we are concerned that without much-needed reforms, oversight and accountability, individuals with claims will continue to be removed in the border zone.” Noting that current laws are routinely flouted, she adds, “many people don’t need new rights to be in the United States; they need their existing rights to be respected by immigration enforcement officers.”

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In this constitution-free zone, material dispossession compounds the denial of due process. According to another report by the advocacy group No More Deaths, the government regularly robs people in the deportation process. About a third of deportees last year were deprived of money or belongings. These takings occurred sometimes through direct confiscation and destruction of possessions. Or migrants may face technical barriers to accessing money “returned” to them in unusable forms, like special debit cards that are extremely hard to redeem from abroad. People are stripped of identification documents and phones, which may contain crucial contacts for relatives, or immigration lawyers. A significant majority of migrants surveyed reported that the theft had left them unable to afford the trip home, or even food and shelter.

To impoverished, stranded migrants, such theft “puts people at risk of sexual assault, kidnapping, extortion, forced recruitment by cartels,” researcher Alicia Dinsmore says. “It should be simple to return people’s belongings.”

But the government apparently finds it much simpler to return people back over the border, alone and destitute, than to return the modest possessions they carried.

This rampant theft of life, liberty and property at the border reveals that a government that seems obsessed with “border security” shows scant concern for the security of the people struggling to cross it. Yet the migrants are never robbed of hope, and that’s what keeps them coming back, day after day, determined somehow to redeem their dignity.


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