In 1938, civil rights activist and poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967) wrote his chilling poem “Kids Who Die” which illuminates the horrors of lynchings during the Jim Crow era.  Now, Hughes’ vivid poetry is being featured in a three minute video created by Frank Chi and Terrance Green. It is a startling reminder that the assault on Black lives did not end with the Jim Crow era.

As we approach the one year mark of the Ferguson uprising that has sparked a movement of resistance against state violence, we are reminded of our ability to secure real change. This is a matter of life or death and we need collective power to win. Join the movement and text JUSTICE to 225568.

This is for the kids who die,
Black and white,
For kids will die certainly.
The old and rich will live on awhile,
As always,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.
Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Organizing sharecroppers
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Organizing workers
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together
Whites and Filipinos,
Negroes and Mexicans,
All kinds of kids will die
Who don’t believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment
And a lousy peace.
Of course, the wise and the learned
Who pen editorials in the papers,
And the gentlemen with Dr. in front of their names
White and black,
Who make surveys and write books
Will live on weaving words to smother the kids who die,
And the sleazy courts,
And the bribe-reaching police,
And the blood-loving generals,
And the money-loving preachers
Will all raise their hands against the kids who die,
Beating them with laws and clubs and bayonets and bullets
To frighten the people—
For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people—
And the old and rich don’t want the people
To taste the iron of the kids who die,
Don’t want the people to get wise to their own power,
To believe an Angelo Herndon, or even get together
Listen, kids who die—
Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you
Except in our hearts
Maybe your bodies’ll be lost in a swamp
Or a prison grave, or the potter’s field,
Or the rivers where you’re drowned like Leibknecht
But the day will come—
You are sure yourselves that it is coming—
When the marching feet of the masses
Will raise for you a living monument of love,
And joy, and laughter,
And black hands and white hands clasped as one,
And a song that reaches the sky—
The song of the life triumphant
Through the kids who die.

President Obama Unveils An Ambitious Clean Power Plan

On August 3, President Obama unveiled the final version of his Clean Power Plan, a set of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that, if implemented, would represent the strongest action ever taken by the United States to combat climate change.

Obama is using the authority of an existing law — the Clean Air Act, enacted in 1970 — to issue the regulations. That law says that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate any pollutant that is deemed a danger to human health and well-being. The Supreme Court upheld the agency’s finding that carbon dioxide in large amounts did qualify as a dangerous pollutant, since it contributes to climate change, providing the Obama administration with both the legal authority and the legal obligation to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

The Clean Power Plan is divided into three components.

One is an E.P.A. regulation that would require a 32 percent overall reduction in greenhouse gas emitted by existing power plants from 2005 levels by 2030. The rule will probably lead to the closing of hundreds of coal-fired power plants and give fresh momentum to carbon-free energy sources like wind and solar power, and possibly next-generation nuclear plants.

The second regulation would require power plants built in the future to produce about half the rate of the pollution now produced by current power plants. That rule would effectively ensure that no new coal plants are built in the United States. The plan then assigns every state a target for reducing its emissions and requires them to come up with a draft plan for how to do it by 2016 and a final plan by 2018.

When taken together with the administration’s other initiatives, chiefly the fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, it reinforces Mr. Obama’s credibility and leverage with other nations heading into the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in December.

Full implementation and enforcement of the plan is going to be an uphill battle. The plan’s opponents in industry, the states and Congress are already gathering their forces to try to undermine it on Capitol Hill and in the courts, claiming that the plan is radical, will cost thousands of jobs, drive electricity prices through the roof and irreparably damage the economy.

Attorney generals from states that oppose the plan are coming together in a lawsuit to argue that it represents too broad an interpretation of the Clean Air Act. Their legal challenge is expected to reach the Supreme Court around 2017, which will then have to decide whether to uphold the plan or strike it down.

But the truth is this: There is nothing radical about the Clean Power Plan.

For more than a decade, carbon emissions from power plants have been declining — a result of a shift in energy generation from coal to cheap and abundant natural gas, regulation of other pollutants, like mercury, which has caused utilities to shut down older plants, and investments in cleaner fuels and energy efficiency.

Coal generation, which 10 years ago provided just over half the nation’s electricity, last year provided 39 percent. Meanwhile, renewable energy sources like wind and solar power — driven by federal tax credits, improvements in technology and state mandates — have risen sharply in that time.

The new rules will codify and accelerate these trends, making sure that the shift to cleaner fuels continues quickly. Their main goal is a nationwide reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 32 percent by 2030, from a 2005 baseline. Among their many selling points is flexibility: The rules assign each state a specific target for reducing carbon pollution from plants inside its borders, but allows them to develop custom-tailored plans for meeting these targets. States can choose from a menu of options to meet their targets: switching from coal to natural gas, ramping up wind and solar, reducing energy consumption with so-called demand-side efficiencies, engaging in cap-and-trade systems with other states.

These individual state targets are a result of many months of painstaking negotiations between Washington and the states. Despite this, the plan faces formidable challenges in Congress and the courts. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, for instance, has begun a pre-emptive strike against the rules, urging states not to submit the required plans (a weirdly anti-states’ rights strategy, since the rules authorize the Environmental Protection Agency to impose its own plans on states that do not comply). But the greater threats lie in the courts, where opponents are preparing to argue that the plan usurps states’ rights, exceeds the agency’s authority or is deficient in other ways.

And then there is the little matter of the coming presidential election. Even if the courts rule that the new regulations are fully consistent with the E.P.A.’s authority under the Clean Air Act, a future president could rescind or delay them. Hillary Rodham Clinton has said she supports the plan and will carry it out.

Republicans are unanimously opposed to the plan.

Sources & Reprints: President Obama’s Tough, Achievable Climate Plan | NYT Editorial Board and 5 Questions About Obama’s Climate Change Plan -By Coral Davenport | NYT

Crown Jewel or Dream Deferred: The Voting Rights Act Turns 50


President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act, Washington, DC, 1965.

In the summer of 1962, 20-year-old Dorie Ladner accompanied a busload of black Mississippi residents to the county seat in Indianola, where the group of 18 tried to register to vote. It was a brave effort, if not something of a death wish.

Back then in Mississippi, literacy tests and poll taxes were par for the course, as was intimidation and sometimes actual violence. That day in Indianola, white men with guns drove circles around the county courthouse. Ladner, who was an early member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, recalled that the entire cohort was unable to register.

“It was uneventful in that no one was beaten,” she told The Huffington Post.

Such blatant, systemic discrimination to stop African-Americans from voting now seems the stuff of history books. The credit goes to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was signed into law 50 years ago this Thursday.

The VRA has been called “the most successful civil rights statute” in the nation’s history and the “crown jewel” of the civil rights movement. But its victory is not permanent. Minority voting rights are again under attack in America, as the bipartisan congressional majorities that once backed the VRA have crumbled.

In 1965, it wasn’t certain that voting reform would pass. President Lyndon Johnson was hesitant to call for such a bill so soon after he had alienated fellow Southern Democrats with his push for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. His hand was forced, however, on March 7, 1965, when civil rights marchers leaving Selma, Alabama, for the capitol in Montgomery were attacked by state troopers with nightsticks and tear gas at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday.”

Ladner, who was in Selma at the time, did not march because she thought walking across the bridge was “suicidal.” Her fear proved prescient, as her fellow SNCC leader John Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia, was nearly beaten to death.

But within days of “Bloody Sunday,” Johnson directed the U.S. Department of Justice to draft a bill that would protect the rights of minority voters across the country. He gave a game-changing speech urging Congress to pass the legislation swiftly and calling the right to vote “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice.” The Voting Rights Act was approved with bipartisan support; Johnson signed it into law on Aug. 6, 1965.

Recognizing that many states wouldn’t welcome new voters with open arms, Johnson ordered federal workers deployed to especially hostile counties in Southern states to register voters. That effort, along with the law’s limitations on the use of voter literacy tests, saw immediate results: In those states judged to have the most egregiously discriminatory voting regimes, black voter registration rose from 29.3 percent in 1965 to just over 52 percent in 1967.

In the longer run, the Voting Rights Act’s most effective weapon in protecting minority voters was its Section 5.

Before the VRA, voting rights enforcement depended on often reluctant judges and elected officials who simply created new methods of exclusion when their old ones were banned. Section 5 required those states and counties with particularly egregious histories of discrimination to clear any changes to their election procedures with federal officials or in federal court before implementing them.

The reach of this pre-clearance section became evident when the Supreme Court in 1969 ruled against election law changes in Mississippi and Virginia. In an 8-1 ruling, the court said that private individuals can bring cases under Section 5 and that it covered “the subtle, as well as the obvious” state acts that deny people the right to vote based on race.

Violations of the VRA continued to be found in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. In 2006, the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized for 25 years, over the objections of some conservatives who complained that Section 5 was an assault on states’ rights and who opposed the expansion of ballot accessibility for non-English speakers. Despite those critics, the reauthorization had bipartisan support in Congress.

And then Section 5 was torn out of the act.

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 because, as Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “things have changed in the South.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg found that rationale infuriating. In her dissent, she argued that the conservative justices were stripping from the Voting Rights Act the very mechanism that had made it such a success.

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes,” she wrote, “is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Woman holds sign 'Section 5 Keep it alive' as Supreme Court hears Voting Rights.
Woman holds sign that reads ‘SECTION 5, KEEP IT ALIVE’ as Supreme Court hears Shelby County, Alabama, v. Holder. Shelby County, a case challenging Section 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Credit: Richard Ellis / Getty Images)

The immediate question was how effective the act’s remaining sections could be in protecting gains made over the last five decades. Since Republicans captured a swath of state legislatures in 2010, civil rights groups have been fighting a flood of new voting restrictions that were enacted for the ostensible purpose of preventing almost non-existent voter fraud.

The advocates have turned to Section 2, which bars election procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, to combat these strict new voter identification laws, cutbacks to early voting and elimination of same-day registration. Their efforts received a boost on Wednesday when a federal appeals court found that Texas’ voter ID law violates Section 2.

A federal judge had earlier found that the law effectively served as a poll tax (because of the cost of obtaining the necessary documents for a valid ID) and was intentionally discriminatory. Over 600,000 Texans were estimated to lack a valid form of government-issued photo ID, with black and Latino voters much more likely to be without such an ID. But the Supreme Court had still allowed the measure to remain in place for the 2014 midterm election.

Despite this week’s victory, the problem remains that Section 2 offers more limited protection than Section 5, since it puts the burden on the plaintiffs to bring suit to show discriminatory effects after a law has passed.

“Instead of the Section 5 world, where the state would have to show that laws are not discriminatory before they implement them, now we have a situation where plaintiffs need to show that laws are discriminatory and are sprinting to do that before people’s rights are violated in an election,” said Julie Ebenstein, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project.

Sections 2 and 5 also differ substantively in how they judge whether a law restricts minority voting rights. Section 5 compared what the position of African-Americans would be under a proposed change of election procedure with their current position, while Section 2 considers whether an election law would, in effect, disproportionately affect minority voters compared to white voters.

“Obviously the VRA still plays a huge role in protecting voters, but it remains to be seen how the Voting Rights Act will protect against second-generation barriers,” Ebenstein said. “There’s no longer literacy tests, property requirements, but when you look at the information that we have today — who votes during early voting, how you can remove the exact days African-Americans vote, or who uses same-day registration, and how you can attempt to remove certain voters from the electorate — these are still very high hurdles and strong barriers against people casting a ballot, and they should be taken just as seriously as prior forms of discrimination.”

A coalition of civil rights groups, including the ACLU, is now challenging a package of voting restrictions that North Carolina rushed to pass after the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5. The plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to reinstitute the pre-clearance regime for North Carolina under Section 3 of the VRA. Section 3 allows a court to require pre-clearance of a state’s election law changes once it has found that the state intentionally discriminated in a current case. In this case, the plaintiffs argue that the lawmakers knew that African-American voters were disproportionately likely to vote early, vote out of precinct and use same-day registration.

But victory is not assured. The North Carolina plaintiffs don’t have the sort of damning emails or incriminating statements that have surfaced in other places — like Texas, where lawmakers discussed how to craft a district with a large Hispanic population but low proportion of eligible Hispanic voters or, as they called it, an “Optimal Hispanic Republican District.”

Fights over voting rights are a useful metric by which to measure how polarized the two major political parties in America have become. When the Supreme Court limited what kind of discrimination was banned under the VRA in 1980, Congress responded in 1982 in a bipartisan fashion to broaden Section 2. President Ronald Reagan signed the legislation.

Now, bills to restore the VRA can’t even get a hearing in committee. Republicans argue that the Voting Right Act deserves to be celebrated but that it has served its purpose, while Democrats say that discrimination is still rampant. With the two parties farther apart than ever on the issue, the VRA has fallen between the cracks.

This new reality is frustrating for Clarence Magee, who serves as president of his Mississippi county’s NAACP chapter. Magee and his wife, Carrie, were witnesses in a federal trial over denied voter registrations in the early ’60s. He finally received his registration card in 1963 or 1964, he said, after failing to get on the rolls at least five times.

“When I showed up, they would say the registrar’s not in — or if you saw the clerk, they would say, ‘What you want, boy, who sent you?’” he told HuffPost. “While it was embarrassing, it only increased our effort to get it.”

At the trial, Magee said, it was pointed out that an illiterate white truck driver had been registered to vote after he marked an X above the signature line.

Today, Magee looks around and sees an increasing number of states throwing up legal restrictions to once again impede the ability of people of color to vote.

“We thought the Voting Rights Act was permanent — it had been reauthorized over and over — so never in our imagination did we think Section 5 would be stripped away and made ineffective,” he said. “The roadblocks are still out there.”

Reprint (w/ substitutions): The Voting Rights Act Is 50 Years Old Today. So Why Do Things Still Seem So Bad? – By Samantha Lachman & Amber Ferguson | Huffington Post

On the Death of Sandra Bland and Our Vulnerable Bodies

Samdra Bland 2


I AM tired of writing about slain black people, particularly when those responsible are police officers, the very people obligated to serve and protect them. I am exhausted. I experience this specific exhaustion with alarming frequency. I am all too aware that I have the luxury of such exhaustion.

One of the greatest lies perpetrated on our culture today is the notion that dash cameras on police cruisers and body cameras on police officers are tools of justice. Video evidence, no matter the source, can document injustice, but rarely does this incontrovertible evidence keep black people safe or prevent future injustices.

Sandra Bland, 28 years old, was pulled over earlier this month in Waller County, Tex., by a state trooper, Brian T. Encinia. She was pulled over for a routine traffic stop. She shouldn’t have been pulled over but she was driving while black, and the reality is that black women and men are pulled over every day for this infraction brought about by the color of their skin.

We know a lot about Ms. Bland now. She was in the prime of her life, about to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University. She had posted on Facebook earlier this year that she was experiencing depression. She was passionate about civil rights and advocacy. According to an autopsy report, she committed suicide in her jail cell after three days. What I find particularly painful is that her bail was $5,000. Certainly, that is a lot of money, but if the public had known, we could have helped her family raise the funds to get her out.

As a black woman, I feel this tragedy through the marrow of my bones. We all should, regardless of the identities we inhabit.

Recently, my brother and I were talking on the phone as he drove to work. He is the chief executive of a publicly traded company. He was dressed for work, driving a BMW. He was using a hands-free system. These particulars shouldn’t matter but they do in a world where we have to constantly mourn the loss of black lives and memorialize them with hashtags. In this same world, we remind politicians and those who believe otherwise that black lives matter while suffocated by evidence to the contrary.

During the course of our conversation, he was pulled over by an officer who said he looked like an escapee from Pelican Bay State Prison in California. It was a strange story for any number of reasons. My brother told me he would call me right back. In the minutes I waited, my chest tightened. I worried. I stared at my phone. When he called back, no more than seven or eight minutes had passed. He joked: “I thought it was my time. I thought ‘this is it.’ ” He went on with his day because this is a quotidian experience for black people who dare to drive.

Each time I get in my car, I make sure I have my license, registration and insurance cards. I make sure my seatbelt is fastened. I place my cellphone in the handless dock. I check and double check and triple check these details because when (not if) I get pulled over, I want there to be no doubt I am following the letter of the law. I do this knowing it doesn’t really matter if I am following the letter of the law or not. Law enforcement officers see only the color of my skin, and in the color of my skin they see criminality, deviance, a lack of humanity. There is nothing I can do to protect myself, but I am comforted by the illusion of safety.

As a larger, very tall woman, I am sometimes mistaken for a man. I don’t want to be “accidentally” killed for being a black man. I hate that such a thought even crosses my mind. This is the reality of living in this black body. This is my reality of black womanhood, living in a world where I am stripped of my femininity and humanity because of my unruly black body.

There is a code of conduct in emergency situations — women and children first. The most vulnerable among us should be rescued before all others. In reality, this code of conduct is white women and children first. Black women, black children, they are not afforded the luxury of vulnerability. We have been shown this time and again. We remember McKinney, Tex., and a police officer, David Casebolt, holding a young black girl to the ground. We say the names of the fallen. Tamir Rice. Renisha McBride. Natasha McKenna. Tanisha Anderson. Rekia Boyd. We say their names until our throats run dry and there are still more names to add to the list.

During the ill-fated traffic stop, most of which was caught on camera, Mr. Encinia asked Ms. Bland why she was irritated and she told him. She answered the question she was asked. Her voice was steady, confident. Mr. Encinia didn’t like her tone, as if she should be joyful about a traffic stop. He told Ms. Bland to put her cigarette out and she refused. The situation escalated. Mr. Encinia threatened to light her up with his Taser. Ms. Bland was forced to leave her car. She continued to protest. She was placed in handcuffs. She was treated horribly. She was treated as less than human. She protested her treatment. She knew and stated her rights but it did not matter. Her black life and her black body did not matter.

Because Sandra Bland was driving while black, because she was not subservient in the manner this trooper preferred, a routine traffic stop became a death sentence. Even if Ms. Bland did commit suicide, there is an entire system of injustice whose fingerprints left bruises on her throat.

In his impassioned new memoir, “Between the World and Me,” Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage.” I would take this bold claim a step further. It is also traditional to try and destroy the black spirit. I don’t want to believe our spirits can be broken. Nonetheless, increasingly, as a black woman in America, I do not feel alive. I feel like I am not yet dead.

Reprint: On the Death of Sandra Bland and Our Vulnerable Bodies -By Roxane Gay | NYT OpEd (Published July 24, 2015)

Roxane Gay is the author of “An Untamed State” and “Bad Feminist” and a contributing opinion writer.

Mass Grave of Migrants Found in West Texas

Grave markers next to a Brooks County burial plot marked for exhumation in May 2013 by the Baylor University forensics team (Photo: Jen Reel).

In the summer of 2013, a team of forensic anthropologists from Baylor University and the University of Indianapolis descended upon Sacred Heart Cemetery, a small, county-run graveyard in rural Brooks County. Small metal markers with the words “Unknown” or “Skeletal Remains” were scattered through the dusty grass and along the cemetery access roads. More than 300 migrants had died in the county during the past five years, and unidentified human remains ended up here. For Dr. Lori Baker, a forensic anthropologist at Baylor University, identifying migrant remains and returning them to grieving families had become a mission. “Nobody cares about dead immigrants,” she said recently. “They’re invisible when they’re alive, and they’re even more invisible when they’re dead.” For years, she and her students had been conducting exhumations and gathering DNA samples across the border regions of South Texas.

But she’d never gone as far inland as Falfurrias, home to a Border Patrol checkpoint some 70 miles north of the Texas-Mexico border. As she had elsewhere, she approached the chief deputy sheriff, Benny Martinez, to offer her services. “Of course the chief was like, ‘Yes, we could use all the help we can get, any help you can give us,’” Baker said.

She knew the graves might be difficult to locate. “I can tell you that we have yet to find a cemetery that has a map,” she said. “So you can’t look at a map and know where human remains are buried. Especially when they’re not marked.” Still, even she was surprised by what she found at the cemetery. Digging around a handful of markers, Baker and her team of volunteers expected to find maybe 10 bodies. Instead, they exhumed more than 50 unidentified human remains during the course of 10 days, all presumed to be border crossers from Central America and Mexico. Some were buried in coffins; others in only body bags. She planned to go back the following summer to continue.

When Baker returned in early June of 2014, she came with a larger team in order to cover more ground. They recovered nearly 70 more human remains. This time, what they found made the evening news. “Mass Graves of Unidentified Migrants Found in South Texas,” read a headline in the Los Angeles Times. Reports emerged of bodies buried in kitchen trash bags, with as many as five piled on top of one another in a single grave. One corpse was wrapped in a burlap bag; other remains were found inside a milk crate. Skulls were wedged between coffins, Baker said. The shocking news attracted the attention of elected officials. By month’s end, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen, 75 miles to the south, said he would ask the Texas Rangers to investigate. “This is too serious of a wrongdoing,” Hinojosa said. “I’m appalled at the number of bodies just left in body bags and, in many instances, more than one body in one bag.”

On June 25, 2014, the Texas Rangers launched a preliminary inquiry to determine whether any criminal wrongdoing had occurred in the processing and burial of the unidentified remains. They assigned the job to Lt. Corey Lain, an experienced investigator who had recently been honored by the U.S. attorney in Dallas for his exemplary work on a federal attempted murder case. He was assigned to look into any improprieties on the parts of Elizondo Mortuary, which was tasked with collecting DNA samples, identifying bodies, and storing the remains before burial; Funeraria Del Angel Howard-Williams (Howard-Williams Funeral Services), which buried the remains and was suspected of improper burials, failure to properly mark remains and gravesites, and overbilling; and Brooks County, which was missing autopsy records. If Lain found evidence of possible lawbreaking, a criminal investigation would ensue.

The Real Death Valley: Full Length Weather Channel Documentary from Weather Films on Vimeo.

Three years ago, Elmer Barahona Iraheta, a 22-year-old father living in San Vicente, El Salvador, made a fateful decision. He had been struggling to find enough work in the impoverished agricultural city to support his wife and 2-year-old daughter, and gang violence there was spiraling out of control. But he had a contact in Houston who would help him find work. He pooled scarce resources to hire the services of a coyote, a human smuggler, to help him navigate the dangerous journey to the United States. It was the only way he could imagine providing a future for his new family.

Elmer said his goodbyes on June 10, 2012, and on June 27 called his mother to say that he’d crossed the border and arrived safely in McAllen. He said he was waiting in a stash house for a guide who would take his group north, and that he would call again once he reached Houston. According to his aunt, Marta Iraheta, who has since pieced together the chain of events, Elmer set out with the guide and a small group of other migrants a few days later, on July 2. They were most likely driven from McAllen to just south of the Falfurrias checkpoint, from where they would have to travel some 40 miles on foot to avoid detection by border agents. North of the checkpoint, they’d be picked up by another smuggler and taken to Houston. Home free.

But it was the height of summer, with temperatures over 100 degrees. The terrain is rough and sandy. Water supplies are quickly drained. Bodies overheat rapidly. The year Elmer took this trek, 130 migrant bodies were found in the remote ranchland he was about to cross.

On the Fourth of July, Marta, then living in Houston, received a call from her sister, Elmer’s mother, in El Salvador. She sounded distraught, and pleaded with Marta to try to find Elmer. Marta quickly went to the Salvadoran Consulate in Houston, a photo of her nephew in hand. She drove to McAllen, six hours away, where Elmer was when he’d last called home, and visited the Mexican Consulate there. She contacted law enforcement and local hospitals. No one had any information.

Marta returned home, where she frantically called and emailed anyone who might be able to connect her with someone who might know what had happened to Elmer. Finally, she found a man Elmer had befriended along the journey, someone who had made it safely to the East Coast. He told Marta that Elmer had injured his leg as they were making their way through a ranch at night. After that, Elmer could barely walk, and struggled to keep up with the group. They had almost reached their pickup point when the guide decided that Elmer had become a burden and left him behind, alone.

Months later, by September, Marta knew in her gut that Elmer was dead. Her new mission was to find his body and return it to his family in El Salvador, so his young daughter would have a place to visit her father. So she headed south to Brooks County.

On June 27, 2014, just two days after he was asked to conduct an inquiry into the mass graves, Lain submitted his report. It was four-and-a-half pages long, and relied heavily on an inspection of Howard-Williams, the funeral home, by the Texas Funeral Service Commission, which oversees mortuaries. He found no evidence of overbilling, no evidence of the use of improper burial containers, no evidence of irregularities with the autopsies, and “no evidence to show that human remains were buried in violation of the law.” Lain found that DNA samples were being properly collected, as required by law, and though they were not forwarded as required to a repository at the University of North Texas, that was only because county officials were “unaware of a requirement to do so.”

Far from insinuating any wrongdoing, Lain noted that Brooks County’s top executive, County Judge Raul Ramirez, said that Howard-Williams employees had built wooden caskets and left flowers at gravesites at their own expense. “It is my opinion,” Lain wrote, “that sufficient information and evidence does not exist to support the initiation of a formal criminal investigation.”

Texas Ranger Maj. Brian J. Burzynski, an award-winning investigator in his own right, signed off on Lain’s findings. And that was that. “Rangers: No Laws Broken in Border Burials,” the Houston Chronicle reported.

Texas law only lightly governs burials and the handling of human remains; in some cases, laws weren’t violated because the laws simply don’t exist. Lain notes, for example, “There are no statutes prohibiting more than one set of human remains to be buried with another at a government owned cemetery.”

None of the forensic or funeral service experts I spoke with could dispute that claim.

But a careful review of the practices Lain was charged with examining reveals that many laws and standard practices were violated in the handling of the unidentified remains. And these violations have made it nearly impossible for grieving families to locate and claim their loved ones. Repeated public-document requests of Brooks County produced only a fraction of what should be retained by law.

According to the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office, from 2009 through 2013, the years when the mass graves were most active, 361 migrant remains were recovered in Brooks County. Each of those remains would have passed through multiple hands. When remains are discovered, a deputy sheriff is called to investigate the scene, along with a county justice of the peace who makes a determination of death. Funeraria del Angel Howard-Williams, the funeral home in nearby Hebbronville owned by Service Corporation International, the nation’s largest death services provider, then arrives to recover the remains, which are transferred to Elizondo Mortuary in Mission for processing. However, Texas law does not require processing and identification of human remains be performed by a licensed medial examiner.

Courtesy of Baylor Forensic Team

Courtesy of Baylor Forensic Team

Elizondo is supposed to try to identify each set of remains, a process that by law includes gathering fingerprints, photographing any clothing or possessions, and “proper removal of a sample from a body” for lab tests. When Ramirez or a justice of the peace requests an autopsy, it is conducted by a third party—starting in 2007, that third party was a local pathologist, Dr. Fulgencio Salinas. After some weeks, Elizondo returns any unidentified remains to Howard-Williams for burial in Sacred Heart. At every stage, a paper trail accumulates. According to Texas law, death records must be retained for at least 10 years.

The sheriff’s office turned over all 361 crime scene reports. But the Brooks County clerk’s office could locate files related to the retrieval and burial of no more than 121 of these remains, leaving records on two-thirds of the dead unaccounted for. According to notes from a series of meetings that took place from December 2012 to June 2013 between the forensic anthropologists and county officials, and confirmed by Chief Deputy Martinez, the county sheriff’s office never received from Salinas a single autopsy report during this period, despite repeated requests. By law, such reports must be made available to law enforcement.

Also, despite requests, the sheriff’s office was never notified about which human remains had been positively identified and returned to loved ones. According to the meeting notes from Dec. 3-4, 2012, “no such list exists.”

Lain was tasked with looking into missing autopsy reports, but, based on a conversation with the county auditor, determined that they’d been sent to the county along with the invoices. Yet in response to a request under the Texas Public Information Act, of the 72 autopsies ordered on unidentified remains from 2007 to 2013, the county clerk could not produce 14 of them—nearly one in five.

Excerpt, read Graves of Shame -By John Carlos Frey | Texas Observer

Recommended: Mass Graves of Immigrants Found in Texas, But State Says No Laws Were Broken | Democracy Now!

Nicholas Winton, Savior of 669 Jewish Children on the Kindertransport from Prague, Dies at 106 (1909-2015)


Photo: Nicholas Winton, Petr David Josek/ AP

Nicholas Winton, a Briton who said nothing for a half-century about his role in organizing the escape of 669 mostly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II, a righteous deed like those of Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg, died on Wednesday in Maidenhead, England. He was 106.

The Rotary Club of Maidenhead, of which Mr. Winton was a former president, announced his death on its website. He lived in Maidenhead, west of London.

It was only after Mr. Winton’s wife found a scrapbook in the attic of their home in 1988 — a dusty record of names, pictures and documents detailing a story of redemption from the Holocaust — that he spoke of his all-but-forgotten work in the deliverance of children who, like the parents who gave them up to save their lives, were destined for Nazi concentration camps and extermination.

For all his ensuing honors and accolades in books and films, Mr. Winton was a reluctant hero, often compared to Schindler, the ethnic German who saved 1,200 Jews by employing them in his enamelware and munitions factories in Poland and Czechoslovakia, and to Wallenberg, the Swedish businessman and diplomat who used illegal passports and legation hideaways to save tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary.

Mr. Winton — Sir Nicholas in England since 2003, when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II — was a London stockbroker in December 1938 when, on an impulse, he canceled a Swiss skiing vacation and flew to Prague at the behest of a friend who was aiding refugees in the Sudetenland, the western region of Czechoslovakia that had just been annexed by Germany.

Mr. Winton found vast camps of refugees living in appalling conditions. The pogroms of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” had recently struck Jewish shops, homes and synagogues in Germany and Austria. War looked inevitable, and escape, especially for children, seemed hopeless, given the restrictions against Jewish immigration in the West.

Britain, however, was an exception. In late 1938, it began a program, called Kindertransport, to admit unaccompanied Jewish children up to age 17 if they had a host family, with the offer of a 50-pound warranty for an eventual return ticket. The Refugee Children’s Movement in Britain sent representatives to Germany and Austria, and 10,000 Jewish children were saved before the war began.

But there was no comparable mass-rescue effort in Czechoslovakia. Mr. Winton created one. It involved dangers, bribes, forgery, secret contacts with the Gestapo, nine railroad trains, an avalanche of paperwork and a lot of money. Nazi agents started following him. In his Prague hotel room, he met terrified parents desperate to get their children to safety, although it meant surrendering them to strangers in a foreign land.

As their numbers grew, a storefront office was opened. Long lines attracted Gestapo attention. Perilous confrontations were resolved with bribes. Eventually he registered more than 900 children, although he had names and details on 5,000. In early 1939, he left two friends, Trevor Chadwick and Bill Barazetti, in charge in Prague and returned to London to find foster homes, raise money and arrange transportation.

He and a few volunteers, including his mother, calling themselves the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Children’s Section, enlisted aid from the Refugee Children’s Movement, had photos of the children printed and appealed for funds and foster homes in newspaper ads and church and synagogue bulletins.

Hundreds of families volunteered to take children, and money trickled in from donors — not enough to cover all the costs, but Mr. Winton made up the difference himself. He also appealed to the Home Office for entry visas, but the response was slow and time was short. “This was a few months before the war broke out,” he recalled. “So we forged the Home Office entry permits.”

In Prague, Mr. Chadwick quietly cultivated the chief of the Gestapo, Karl Bömelburg — they called him “the criminal rat” after his inspector’s rank of kriminalrat — and arranged for forged transit papers and bribes to be passed to key Nazis and Czech railway officials, who threatened to halt trains or seize the children unless they were paid off. The Gestapo chief proved instrumental, clearing the trains and transit papers, Mr. Chadwick said.

Searing Separations

Mr. Winton sent more money, some for bribes and some to cover expenses for children whose parents had been arrested and shot or had fled into hiding, while many of the Czech families sold possessions to pay for their children’s escape. The red tape and paperwork seemed endless.

But on March 14, 1939, it all came together. Hours before Hitler dismembered the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia as a German “Protectorate,” the first 20 children left Prague on a train. Survivors told of searing scenes on the station platform in the final moments before departure as children sobbed and pleaded not to be sent away and parents faced giving up their children.

Mr. Winton and his colleagues later arranged for eight more trains to get the rest of the children out, crossing the Third Reich through Nuremberg and Cologne to the Hook of Holland, then across the North Sea by boat to Harwich, Essex, and on by British rail to the Liverpool Street Station in London. There, he and the host families met the children. Each refugee had a small bag and wore a name tag.

But only seven of the eight trains made it through, the last in early August, bringing the total rescued to 669. About 250 children, the largest group, were on board the last train out, on Sept. 1, 1939. On that day, however, Hitler invaded Poland, all borders controlled by Germany were closed and Mr. Winton’s rescue efforts came to an end.

“Within hours of the announcement, the train disappeared,” he recalled. “None of the 250 children aboard was ever seen again.” All were believed to have perished in concentration camps.

Nearly all the saved children were orphans by war’s end, their parents killed at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen or Theresienstadt. After the war, many remained in Britain, but others returned to Czechoslovakia or emigrated to Israel, Australia or the United States. The survivors, many now in their 70s and 80s, still call themselves “Winton’s Children.”

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - OCTOBER 28:  Sir Nicholas Winton during receiving the Order of White Lion, the highest order of the Czech Republic, from Czech President Milos Zeman during the Independence Day at Prague Castle on October 28, 2014 in Prague, Czech Republic. 105-year-old Winton saved 669 mostly Jewish children by organising their escape from occupied Czechoslovakia to Great Britain, earning him the nickname the 'British Schindler'.  (Photo by isifa/Eduard Erben)
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC – Sir Nicholas Winton during receiving the Order of White Lion, the highest order of the Czech Republic, from Czech President Milos Zeman during the Independence Day at Prague Castle on October 28, 2014 in Prague, Czech Republic. 105-year-old Winton saved 669 mostly Jewish children by organizing their escape from occupied Czechoslovakia to Great Britain, earning him the nickname the ‘British Schindler’.

A Scrapbook in the Attic

Among them are the film director Karel Reisz, who made “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” (1981), “Isadora” (1968) and “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” (1960); Lord Alfred Dubs, who became a member of Parliament; Joe Schlesinger, a Canadian broadcast correspondent; Hugo Marom, a founder of the Israeli Air Force; Vera Gissing, the author of “Pearls of Childhood” (2007) and other books; and Renata Laxová, a geneticist who discovered the Neu-Laxová Syndrome, a congenital abnormality.

Mr. Winton was born Nicholas George Wertheim in London on May 19, 1909, one of three children of Rudolf and Barbara Wertheimer Wertheim. His parents were of German-Jewish origin but converted to Christianity and changed the family name to Winton. His father was a merchant banker, and Nicholas and his siblings, Bobby and Charlotte, grew up in a 20-room mansion in West Hampstead, London. He and Bobby were skilled fencers and late in life established the Winton Cup, a major British competition in the sport.

Nicholas attended Stowe School in Buckingham, was apprenticed in international banking in London and worked at Behrens Bank in Hamburg, Wassermann’s Bank in Berlin and Banque Nationale de Crédit in Paris. He was fluent in German and French when he returned to London in 1931 and became a stockbroker.

He was a Royal Air Force officer in the war and later worked for refugee organizations and the Abbeyfield Society, a charity that assists the elderly. He raised more than £1 million in one fund-raising drive. In 1983, he received the Order of the British Empire for his charity work.

But for 50 years he said nothing of the children’s rescue, not even to his wife, Grete Gjelstrup, a Dane he married in 1948. They had three children, Nicholas, Barbara and Robin. Robin died at age 7 in 1962. Mr. Winton’s wife died in 1999. The Rotary Club of Maidenhead said his daughter, Barbara, and two grandchildren were at his side at his death, but complete information on his survivors was not immediately available.

Excerpt, read more here.

Charleston Shooting, Burning of Black Churches Reignites Haunting Memories of America’s Dark Past

When Dylann Roof allegedly opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina it was an act of terror of the kind that happens all too often in black houses of worship. Roof has been charged with shooting and killing nine people, including senior pastor of the church and South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.

Black communities in America have long used the church as a place to come together, to worship and to discuss social issues without fear of being targeted. But the ugly truth is that black churches have always been targets. White supremacists have sought to terrorize and destroy these institutions for as long as they’ve existed.

Although many church burnings, bombings and other hate crimes went unreported before and during the civil rights era, we know of at least 94 cases since the 1950s when black churches in America were the targets of what can only be described as domestic terrorism. (The list below contains relatively few incidents from the 1970s and 1980s, in part because exhaustive records from those years are hard to find. However, one report has found that there were 1,420 church fires in 1980 alone. There was a spike in violence against churches in the 1990s, which led Congress to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act in 1996.)

Attacks on Historically Black Churches, 1950s-Present

Bombing ArsonShooting Vandalism


Our list only dates back as far as 1956, but church bombings and burnings were happening well before then, and it also wasn’t uncommon for pastors to be targeted at their homes. On Dec. 25, 1956, in Birmingham, Alabama, the home of civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was damaged in an explosion, along with the church next door.

Dec. 25, 1956 Bethel Baptist Birmingham, Alabama
April 28, 1957 Allen Temple AME Church Bessemer, Alabama
April 28, 1958 Temple Beth-El Birmingham, Alabama
June 29, 1958 Bethel Baptist Birmingham, Alabama


On Sept. 15, 1963, four black schoolgirls were killed by a bomb at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church before Sunday morning service. It was the third explosion in the city in 11 days after federal legislation mandated the integration of Alabama schools. More than 8,000 people attended a public funeral held for three of the girls. The outrage over the bombing helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Jan. 16, 1962 New Bethel Baptist Church Birmingham, Alabama
Jan. 16, 1962 St. Luke’s AME Zion Church Birmingham, Alabama
Jan. 16, 1962 Triumph Church and Kingdom of God and Christ Birmingham, Alabama
Dec. 14, 1962 Bethel Baptist Church Birmingham, Alabama
Aug. 10, 1963 St. James United Methodist Church Birmingham, Alabama
Sept. 15, 1963 16th Street Baptist Church Birmingham, Alabama
June 17, 1964 Mt. Zion Church Longdale, Mississippi


In 1973, someone torched the Cartersville Baptist Church in Reston, Virginia, causing the pulpit and pews to fall into the basement. The church had been home to a congregation of 50 black people. Several years later, the Second Wilson Church, a meeting place for civil rights activists in Chester, South Carolina, was gutted when a flame spread from the windows to the ceiling shortly after a protest.

Summer 1973 Cartersville Baptist Church Reston, Virginia
Dec. 16, 1979 Second Wilson Church Chester, South Carolina


In 1980, police investigated a series of mysterious fires that damaged at least three black churches in New York City between April 23 and May 6.

Spring 1980 First Baptist Church New York City
Spring 1980 St. John’s Baptist Church New York City
May 4, 1980 Bethel AME New York City


In the mid-1990s, there was a spike in reported church fires. More than 30 black churches were burned in an 18-month period in 1995 and 1996, leading Congress to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act.

Jan. 5, 1990 Apostolic Faith Assembly Church Louisville, Kentucky
February 1992 Rock Springs Baptist Church McDonough, Georgia
April 4, 1993 Springhill Freewill Baptist Church Smithdale, Mississippi
April 4, 1993 Rocky Point Missionary Baptist Pike County, Mississippi
February 1994 Bucks Chapel Church Sumter County, Alabama
February 1994 Pine Top Baptist Church Sumter County, Alabama
February 1994 Oak Grove Missionary Church Sumter County, Alabama
February 19, 1994 Rock Hill Baptist Church Aiken County, South Carolina
Feb. 25, 1994 Old Rosemary Baptist Church Aiken County, South Carolina
July 21, 1994 Springfield Baptist Church Madison, Georgia
July 21, 1994 Elam Baptist Church Jones County, Georgia
August 1994 Benevolent Lodge #210 Clarkesville, Tennessee
Aug. 5, 1994 Greater Missionary Baptist Church Clarkesville, Tennessee
Sept. 8, 1994 Rice Chapel Buffalo, South Carolina
Dec. 30, 1994 Salem Missionary Baptist Church Fruitland, Tennessee
Jan. 13, 1995 Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church Crockett County, Tennessee
Jan. 13, 1995 Johnson Grove Baptist Bells, Tennessee
Jan. 29, 1995 Friendship Missionary Baptist Church Columbia, Tennessee
Jan. 29, 1995 Canaan AME Mount Pleasant, Tennessee
Jan. 31, 1995 Mt. Calvary Baptist Church Bolivar, Tennessee
March 9, 1995 Hammond Grove Baptist Church N. Augusta, South Carolina
March 24, 1995 Sike Savannah Methodist Church Ruffin, South Carolina
May 21, 1995 Summer Grove Baptist Church Aiken, South Carolina
June 20, 1995 Mt. Zion AME Church Greeleyville, South Carolina
June 21, 1995 Macedonia Baptist Church Manning, South Carolina
Aug. 15, 1995 St. John’s Baptist Church Lexington County, South Carolina
Oct. 14, 1995 Zion Chapel AME Sun, Louisiana
Oct. 31, 1995 Mount Pisgah Baptist Church Raeford, North Carolina
Dec. 1, 1995 Mount Hill Missionary Baptist Church Aiken County, South Carolina
Dec. 13, 1995 Jesus Christ Holy Gospel Laurens, South Carolina
Dec. 22, 1995 Mt. Zion Baptist Church Boligee, Alabama
Dec. 25, 1995 Mount Moriah Baptist Church Hillsborough, North Carolina
Dec. 30, 1995 Salem Baptist Gibson County, Tennessee
Jan. 6, 1996 Ohovah AME Church Orrum, North Carolina
Jan. 8, 1996 Inner City Church Knoxville, Tennessee
Jan. 11, 1996 Little Mt. Zion Baptist Green County, Alabama
Jan. 11, 1996 Mount Zoar Baptist Green County, Alabama
Feb. 1, 1996 Thomas Chapel Benevolent Society East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996 Cypress Grove Baptist East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996 St. Paul’s Free Baptist East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996 Sweet Home Baptist Church East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996 Thomas Chapel Benevolent Society East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 21, 1996 Glorious Church of God in Christ Richmond, Virginia
Feb. 28, 1996 New Liberty Baptist Church Tyler, Alabama
March 1996 Gays Hill Baptist Church Millen, Georgia
March 1996 Butler Chapel AME Orangeburg, South Carolina
March 5, 1996 St. Paul AME Church Hatley, Mississippi
March 20, 1996 New Mount Zion Baptist Ruleville, Mississippi
March 21, 1996 Mt. Zion Baptist Church Ruleville, Mississippi
March 30, 1996 El Bethel Satartia, Mississippi
April 7, 1996 St. Paul’s Primitive Church Lauderdale, Mississippi
April 11, 1996 St. Charles Baptist Paincourtville, Louisiana
April 13, 1996 Rosemary Baptist Church Barnwell, South Carolina
April 26, 1996 Effingham Baptist Effingham, South Carolina
May 14, 1996 Mount Pleasant Baptist Tigrett, Tennessee
May 23, 1996 Mount Tabor Baptist Cerro Gordo, North Carolina
May 24, 1996 Pleasant Hill Baptist Lumberton, North Carolina
June 3, 1996 Rising Star Baptist Greensboro, Alabama
June 7, 1996 Matthews Murkland Presbyterian Church Charlotte, North Carolina
June 9, 1996 New Light House of Prayer Greenville, Texas
June 9, 1996 The Church of the Living God Greenville, Texas
June 12, 1996 Evangelist Temple Marianna, Florida
June 13, 1996 First Missionary Baptist Church Enid, Oklahoma
June 17, 1996 Central Grove Missionary Baptist Church Kossuth, Mississippi
June 17, 1996 Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church Kossuth, Mississippi
June 17, 1996 Hills Chapel Baptist Church Rocky Point, North Carolina
June 20, 1996 Immanuel Christian Fellowship Portland, Oregon
June 24, 1996 New Birth Temple Shreveport, Louisiana
May 17, 1996 Three African-American churches Desha County, Arkansas
March 26, 1997 Church of Christ Henderson, Nevada
June 30, 1997 St. Joe Baptist Church Little River, Alabama


Terrorism against the black church is still an issue today. Five years before the mass shooting in Charleston, a man in Crane, Texas, burned down a Faith in Christ Church to gain status with a white supremacist gang. In the wake of the shooting at Mother Emanuel, at least seven black churches have been destroyed by fire. Three of the fires are being investigated as arson.

Jan. 12, 2004 Mount Moriah Baptist Church Roanoke, Virginia
Nov. 5, 2005 Macedonia Church of God in Christ Springfield, Massachusetts
Dec. 28, 2010 Faith in Christ Church Crane, Texas
June 17, 2015 Emanuel AME Church Charleston, South Carolina
June 21, 2015 College Hill Seventh Day Adventist Knoxville, Tennessee
June 23, 2015 God’s Power Church of Christ Macon, Georgia
June 24, 2015 Briar Creek Road Baptist Church Charlotte, North Carolina


Reprint: The Charleston Shooting Was At Least The 91st Violent Attack On A Black Church Since 1956 -By Taryn Finley | HuffPost

The President Obama Honors the Life of Reverend Clementa Pinckney and 8 Others (Video)

Black Churches are Burning Again in America -By Emma Green | The Atlantic

Photo Credit: Madeleine Schimming, age 7, pays tribute to the 9 “angels” who were killed by a gunman during a Bible story session at the historic Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015.

The nine angels were Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Cynthia Hurd, Ethel Lance, Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywaza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Susie Jackson, and Rev. and State Senator Clementa Pinckney.

Click here to learn how you can help or make a donation to Emanuel AME.

U.S. Supreme Court Declares Same-Sex Marriage Legal In All 50 States

Same sex marriage

To the list of landmark Supreme Court decisions reaffirming the power and the scope of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law — from Brown v. Board of Education to Loving v. Virginia to United States v. Windsor — we can now add Obergefell v. Hodges.

In a profound and inspiring opinion expanding human rights across America, and bridging the nation’s past to its present, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”

As news of the ruling came out on Friday morning, opponents of same-sex marriage struggled to fathom how the country they thought they understood could so rapidly pass them by. But, in fact, the court’s decision fits comfortably within the arc of American legal history.

As Justice Kennedy explained, the Constitution’s power and endurance rest in the Constitution’s ability to evolve along with the nation’s consciousness. In that service, the court itself “has recognized that new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within our most fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged.”

For gays and lesbians who have waited so long for the court to recognize their relationships as equal to opposite-sex relationships, it was a remember-where-you-were-when-it-happened moment.

Addressing what he called “the transcendent importance of marriage,” Justice Kennedy wrote that “through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation. There is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices.”

Justice Kennedy’s focus on dignity and equality has been central to his majority opinion in each of the court’s three earlier gay rights cases. In 1996, the court held that states cannot deny gays, lesbians and bisexual people legal protection from discrimination. In 2003, it held that states cannot ban consensual sexual relations between people of the same sex. And in 2013, it struck down the heart of a federal law defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

In Friday’s ruling, Justice Kennedy emphasized the dignity and equality not only of same-sex couples, but of their families and children. “Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers,” he wrote, the children of these couples “suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser.”

President Obama, who opposed same-sex marriage in his first presidential campaign but announced in 2012 that he had changed his mind, said the decision “affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts: When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”

And yet, in the midst of all the hard-earned jubilation surrounding the decision, it was difficult not to think of the people who did not live to see this day.

People like John Arthur, who died in October 2013, only months after he married his partner of more than 20 years, Jim Obergefell, on the tarmac of Baltimore-Washington International Airport. They lived in Cincinnati, but Ohio would not let them marry; voters there had passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004. As Mr. Arthur lay on a stretcher, dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, he and Mr. Obergefell took a private medical jet to Maryland, where same-sex marriage is legal. They were married in a brief ceremony and then flew home.

When Ohio officials refused to put Mr. Obergefell’s name on his husband’s death certificate, he sued. Last November, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled against him and other couples challenging bans in Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee. Same-sex marriage, the court said, is a “social issue” for voters, and not the courts, to decide. Friday’s decision reversed that ruling.

The humane grandeur of the majority’s opinion stands out all the more starkly in contrast to the bitter, mocking small-mindedness of the dissents, one each by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito Jr. and Antonin Scalia.

Faced with a simple statement of human equality, the dissenters groped and scratched for a way to reject it.

The chief justice compared the ruling to some of the most notorious decisions in the court’s history, including Dred Scott v. Sandford, the 1857 ruling holding that black people could not be American citizens and that Congress could not outlaw slavery in the territories; and Lochner v. New York, a 1905 case that is widely rejected today as an example of justices imposing their own preferences in place of the law.

He invoked the traditional understanding of marriage, which he ascribed to, among others, Kalahari bushmen, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. But Justice Kennedy had a ready reply: “The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest.”

Justice Scalia mocked the ruling as a “judicial Putsch” and a threat to American democracy. “This is a naked judicial claim to legislative — indeed, super-legislative — power,” he wrote. “A system of government that makes the people subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.”

But that rant is wholly wrong. In American democracy, the judicial branch is the great bulwark against a majority’s refusal to recognize a minority’s fundamental constitutional rights. As Justice Kennedy wrote, “An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act.”

As gratifying as Friday’s ruling is, remember that equality won by a single vote.

Meanwhile, the dwindling number of Americans who oppose same-sex marriage have shifted tactics to rely on so-called religious-freedom laws, which they say allow them to, among other things, decline to provide business services for same-sex weddings.

Justice Kennedy said that Americans who disagree with same-sex marriage, for religious or other reasons, have the freedom to believe and to speak as they wish. “But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the state itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied.”

Still, the court did not give sexual orientation a special status, like race or gender, which would provide stronger protection against discriminatory laws.

More than four decades ago, a male couple in Hennepin County, Minn., applied for a marriage license and was denied. When their lawsuit reached the Supreme Court, the justices dismissed it “for want of a substantial federal question.”

In the years since, Americans’ attitudes toward gays and lesbians and the right to marry have changed dramatically. Before Friday’s ruling, same-sex marriage was already legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, representing more than 70 percent of all Americans. A solid and growing majority now believes in marriage equality; among those ages 18 to 29, support is at nearly 80 percent.

Around the world the change has come even faster. Since 2000, 20 countries — from Argentina to Belgium to South Africa — have legalized same-sex marriage. In May, an Irish referendum on legalization won the support of nearly two-thirds of voters.

Justice Kennedy’s opinion will affect the course of American history, and it will change lives starting now.

Reprint: A Profound Ruling Delivers Justice on Gay Marriage ⎸NYT Editorial Board

After Same-Sex Marriage Ruling, Southern States Fall in Line -By Erik Eckholm & Manny Fernandez ⎸NYT

60 Million Uprooted: The Largest Refugee Crisis in Human History

In Nigeria, an estimated 1.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes amid attacks by the militant group Boko Haram. This woman sought refuge at St. Theresa Church in Yola, a poor, dusty city in Nigeria’s Adamawa State, in March 2015. (Photo: Peter Biro/ IRC). 

UNITED NATIONS (UNHCR) – Wars, conflict and persecution have forced more people than at any other time since records began to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere, according to a new report from the UN refugee agency.

UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report: World at War, released on Thursday (June 18), said that worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded. It said the number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 had risen to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.

The increase represents the biggest leap ever seen in a single year. Moreover, the report said the situation was likely to worsen still further. Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.

“We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

Since early 2011, the main reason for the acceleration has been the war in Syria, now the world’s single-largest driver of displacement. Every day last year on average 42,500 people became refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced, a four-fold increase in just four years.

In Pictures: Refugees Around the World

All Photographs by Peter Biro/ International Rescue Mission

“It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace,” Guterres added.

The UNHCR report detailed how in region after region, the number of refugees and internally displaced people is on the rise. In the past five years, at least 15 conflicts have erupted or reignited: eight in Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, northeastern Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and this year in Burundi); three in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, and Yemen); one in Europe (Ukraine) and three in Asia (Kyrgyzstan, and in several areas of Myanmar and Pakistan).

“Few of these crises have been resolved and most still generate new displacement,” the report noted, adding that in 2014 only 126,800 refugees were able to return to their home countries — the lowest number in 31 years.

Meanwhile, decades-old instability and conflict in Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere means that millions of people remain on the move or – as is increasingly common – stranded for years on the edge of society as long-term internally displaced or refugees.

One of the most recent and highly visible consequences of the world’s conflicts and the terrible suffering they cause has been the dramatic growth in the numbers of refugees seeking safety through dangerous sea journeys, including on the Mediterranean, in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, and in Southeast Asia.

Half of All Refugees are Children
The Global Trends Report detailed that in 2014 alone 13.9 million people became newly displaced – four times the number of the previous year. Worldwide there were 19.5 million refugees (up from 16.7 million in 2013), 38.2 million were displaced inside their own countries (up from 33.3 million in 2013), and 1.8 million people were awaiting the outcome of claims for asylum (against 1.2 million in 2013).

Most alarmingly, however, it showed that over half the world’s refugees are children.

“With huge shortages of funding and wide gaps in the global regime for protecting victims of war, people in need of compassion, aid and refuge are being abandoned,” warned Guterres. “For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution.”

Syria is the world’s biggest producer of both internally displaced people (7.6 million) and refugees (3.88 million at the end of 2014). Afghanistan (2.59 million) and Somalia (1.1 million) are the next biggest refugee source countries.

Almost nine out of every 10 refugees (86 per cent) are in regions and countries considered economically less developed.

Europe (up 51%)
Conflict in Ukraine, a record 219,000 Mediterranean crossings, and the large number of Syrian refugees in Turkey – which in 2014 became the world’s top refugee-hosting nation with 1.59 million Syrian refugees at year’s end – brought increased public attention, both positive and negative, to questions to do with refugees.

In the EU, the biggest volume of asylum applications was in Germany and Sweden. Overall, forced displacement numbers in Europe totalled 6.7 million at the end of the year, compared to 4.4 million at the end of 2013, and with the largest proportion of this being Syrians in Turkey and Ukrainians in the Russian Federation.

Middle East and North Africa (up 19%)
Syria’s ongoing war, with 7.6 million people displaced internally, and 3.88 million people displaced into the surrounding region and beyond as refugees, has alone made the Middle East the world’s largest producer and host of forced displacement. Adding to the high totals from Syria was a new displacement of least 2.6 million people in Iraq and 309,000 newly displaced in Libya.

Sub-Saharan Africa (Up 17%)
Africa’s numerous conflicts, including in Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere, together produced immense forced displacement totals in 2014, on a scale only marginally lower than in the Middle East.

In all, sub-Saharan Africa saw 3.7 million refugees and 11.4 million internally displaced people, 4.5 million of whom were newly displaced in 2014. The 17 per cent overall increase excludes Nigeria, as methodology for counting internal displacement changed during 2014 and it could not be reliably calculated. Ethiopia replaced Kenya as the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa and the fifth largest worldwide.

Asia (up 31%)
Long one of the world’s major displacement producing regions, the number of refugees and internally displaced people in Asia grew by 31 per cent in 2014 to 9 million people. Continuing displacement was also seen in and from Myanmar in 2014, including of Rohingya from Rakhine state and in the Kachin and Northern Shan regions. Iran and Pakistan remained two of the world’s top four refugee hosting countries.

Americas (up 12%)
The Americas also saw a rise in forced displacement. The number of Colombian refugees dropped by 36,300 to 360,300 over the year, although mainly because of a revision in the numbers of refugees reported by Venezuela. Colombia continued, nonetheless to have one of the world’s largest internally displaced populations, reported at 6 million people and with 137,000 Colombians being newly displaced during the year. With more people fleeing gang violence or other forms of persecution in Central America, the United States saw 36,800 more asylum claims than in 2013, representing growth of 44 per cent.

The full Global Trends Report contains this information and more, including data on individual countries, demographics, numbers of people returning to their countries, and available estimates of stateless population.

Worldwide Displacement Hits All-Time High as War and Persecution Increase ⎸UNHCR

Black, Poor, and Stateless: Over 200,000 Stripped of Citizenship in Dominican Republic

A Haitian sugar cane worker shows an identity card as he takes part in a march towards Haitian embassy in Santo Domingo, demanding Haitian passports needed to regularize their migration status in the Dominican Republic, on October 30, 2014.   AFP PHOTO/Erika SANTELICES  (Photo credit should read ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP/Getty Images)
A Haitian sugar cane worker shows an identity card as he takes part in a march towards Haitian embassy in Santo Domingo, demanding Haitian passports needed to regularize their migration status in the Dominican Republic, on October 30, 2014. (Photo Credit: ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP/Getty Images)

Juliana Deguis Pierre was born in 1984 in Los Jovillos, Dominican Republic, 72 miles (116 kilometers) west of Santo Domingo. Under the country’s constitutional recognition of birthright citizenship, Deguis—the daughter of two undocumented Haitian immigrants working in the sugar cane fields—was issued a birth certificate recognizing her Dominican nationality. Now 29 years old, she has never traveled outside her native country. She speaks fluent Spanish and hardly any Creole.

In 2008, Deguis visited a Junta Central Electoral (Central Electoral Board—JCE) office to request a voter identification card. The officers confiscated her birth certificate on the grounds she had two Haitian last names. The Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic denied Deguis’ appeal of the decision, with a ruling (TC-168-13) on September 23, 2013, that she was wrongly registered as Dominican at birth.

With its ruling, the Constitutional Court, in effect, retroactively overturned citizenship norms that had been in effect from 1929 to 2010. A constitutional provision that excluded anyone born to foreigners “in transit” from claiming citizenship by birth was extended to anyone born to undocumented residents of the Dominican Republic.

The Court then commanded the JCE to produce a list of “foreigners” in a similar position as Deguis under the Court’s new interpretation, and register them as foreigners, thereby stripping thousands of Dominican citizens of foreign descent—primarily the sons and daughters of undocumented Haitian migrant workers—of their Dominican nationality.

The Court then ordered the government to regularize all “foreigners living illegally in the country,” by officially changing their legal status from nationals to foreigners.

Apart from the injustice inflicted upon thousands of people, the Constitutional Court’s decision flew in the face of the Dominican Republic’s international human rights obligations, namely the prohibitions against racial discrimination and the arbitrary deprivation of nationality.

However, since last fall the Dominican government has engaged in a widespread misinformation campaign—ranging from opinion pieces in international publications, to sending a high-level government delegation to meet with foreign leaders, and even employing professional lobbyists in Washington—in an attempt to defend the legality of the Court’s decision and spin it as a positive development for Dominicans.

The government’s cynical, misleading argument was that the ruling and ensuing legislation — the Naturalization Law (169-14) — would regularize the status of undocumented migrants in an attempt to provide them a pathway to citizenship and participation in formal sectors of society. In the process, the Dominican government has essentially converted Dominican citizens into migrants who now need to be “regularized.”

In response to domestic and international pressure, the government first adopted the Plan Nacional de Regularización de Extranjeros (National Regulation Plan for Foreigners) in November 2013. The plan creates an expedited process by which “foreigners residing irregularly in the Dominican Republic” could gain residency status. For months it was unclear whether the government would force Dominican citizens affected by the ruling to self-report as foreigners. Then, eight months after the Court’s decision, the Dominican legislature summarily passed the Naturalization Law introduced by President Danilo Medina. While the law was billed as a humanitarian solution to the situation created by decision 168-13, it offers a practical solution only for Deguis and a handful of others, leaving roughly 90 percent of those affected by the ruling stateless.

The decision and the policies that have followed, though, are not isolated events. They are another example of a pattern of discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians in general. The novelty is that, in this case, the country’s highest court has put its stamp of approval on a long list of xenophobic government regulations propagated over the past decade.

But that should be a wakeup call to the international community. Currently, one of the largest and most systematic violations of civil and political rights our region has seen in recent history continues to be covered up by Dominican government myths, alongside positive developments designed to distract the world’s attention from the current manifestation of an age-old problem.

Myth 1: Only a Handful of People are Affected by Decision 168-13.

There are three main groups affected by the Constitutional Court’s decision. The first category comprises individuals like Deguis who were born in the Dominican Republic between 1929 and 2007 to undocumented foreign-born parents, were registered with the JCE and were issued birth certificates recognizing their Dominican citizenship.

According to the JCE’s initial audit of the civil registry, there are 24,392 individuals who were arbitrarily and discriminatorily deprived of their Dominican nationality. The Naturalization Law passed in May appears to rectify the situation of individuals in this group by granting them citizenship as foreigners. But it fails to recognize their national birthright, only regranting them nationality because the government once mistakenly gave them birth certificates.

That group is the only one helped by the law. There’s a second group that includes individuals born between 2007 and 2010 in the Dominican Republic to undocumented foreigners—prior to a 2010 constitutional amendment—who have been incorrectly registered as foreigners. According to the JCE, there are approximately 21,449 individuals in this group, the majority of whom are Dominicans of Haitian descent who will continue to be arbitrarily and discriminatorily deprived of their right to nationality. The Naturalization Law expressly excludes this group from the benefits of its special regime, forcing them to self-report to the Regularization Plan as foreigners.

Last are the individuals that comprise the third group, born between 1929 and 2010 in the Dominican Republic to undocumented foreign parents and undocumented Dominicans who have yet to be registered by the JCE. For example, while Deguis was registered at birth and falls into the first category, her four children have yet to be registered by the JCE. It is common for Dominicans of all backgrounds not to be registered, particularly in more rural areas, but discriminatory policies and broad discretion by local civil registry officials have prevented tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent from registering as well.

The government has yet to release any estimates of how many people in this third category will be affected by the Constitutional Court ruling. In its decision, the Court states that the National Regularization Plan “will benefit the lives of hundreds of thousands of foreigners.” A 2013 survey conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated that approximately 244,151 Dominicans born to undocumented foreign parents currently reside in the Dominican Republic.

Based on existing information and the immense discretion still afforded to local civil registry officials to thwart individuals’ access to documents, it is impossible to identify the exact number of individuals affected by the Constitutional Court decision. However, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that more than 200,000 people are left stateless by the decision.

Myth 2: The Constitutional Court’s Decision Complied with International Law.

In its September ruling, the Constitutional Court explicitly acknowledged that its new-found interpretation of the concept “in transit” in Article 11 of the Dominican Constitution conflicted with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) decision in the Yean and Bosico Children v. Dominican Republic case of 2005.

In Yean and Bosico, the iachr held that the Dominican government’s attempt to expand the interpretation of the term “in transit” was incorrect, and that “to consider that a person is in transit, irrespective of the classification used, the state must respect a reasonable temporal limit and understand that a foreigner who develops connections in a state cannot be equated to a person in transit.”

That decision is binding on the Dominican Republic. Non-compliance is a violation of the government’s ratification of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) in 1978. Ignoring this precedent, the Constitutional Court held that Deguis should not have been granted citizenship at birth and ordered the nullification of her birth certificate.

The retroactive application of the Court’s decision to Deguis and thousands more represents an arbitrary deprivation of the right to nationality, in violation of Article 20 of the ACHR, Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 24(3), together with Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

In a context of decades of discrimination against Haitians and those of Haitian descent, the Court’s decision perpetuates this discrimination by claiming that nationality “implies the existence of a set of historical, linguistic, racial and geopolitical features”—also in violation of Articles 1(1) and 24 of the ACHR and Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR.

The decision deprives Dominicans of Haitian descent basic rights such as voting, participation in government and freedom of movement, and also imperils a number of social, economic and cultural rights: the right to health, to social security, to work, and the right to education.

These are blatant violations of accepted international legal commitments and treaties signed by the Dominican Republic, ranging from the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness—which it signed but did not ratify—to the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Protocol of San Salvador), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Stateless in the Dominican Republic from Cronkite School on Vimeo.

Myth 3: The Government’s Hands Were (and still are) Tied Because it Had to Comply With the Decision of the Court.

Dominican government officials claim that whether they like it or not, the “ruling handed down by the Constitutional Court is binding on the three branches of government” and that President Medina must implement the Court’s decision. However, under international law and the international obligations of human rights treaties ratified by the Dominican Republic, the government is not bound by a judicial ruling that violates binding commitments already signed by the state.

Under the Vienna Convention on the Laws of Treaties, a state may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty. In other words, the government may still—at any point—step in to stop the widespread rights violations caused by an internationally illegal decision.

Myth 4: The National Regularization Plan and Naturalization Law Address the Citizenship Crisis Caused by this Ruling.

The Naturalization Law adopted by the government in May has been billed as a “humanitarian” solution to the citizenship crisis created by the Constitutional Court’s ruling. Admittedly, the law presents a practical solution for Deguis and the first category of the 24,392 individuals affected by ruling. Unfortunately, the law excludes both the second and third groups of individuals. In effect, this means that hundreds of thousands of individuals are prevented from accessing the solution presented by the Naturalization Law.

The arbitrariness of the government’s solution is highlighted by families where half of their children received birth certificates, like Deguis, while their younger siblings are discriminatorily denied such documents at birth. Despite being born and raised Dominican by the same parents in the same community, a brother could now be forced to report to the authorities as a foreigner (or face expulsion), while his sister’s citizenship is recognized.

Thus, while the National Regularization Plan promulgated by the president in an executive order last November is supposed to address the anomalies pinpointed by the Constitutional Court and regularize the status of undocumented foreigners, for many, it makes their situation even more precarious.

Under the plan, Dominicans born to foreign parents and who were never issued documents are now required to self-report as “foreigners illegally residing in the country” by May 2015, (18 months after the plan comes into force) or face deportation. Should these individuals successfully obtain temporary or permanent residency under the plan, and remain in good standing with the government for two years, they would then be eligible to apply for naturalized citizenship.

But those are both gigantic “ifs.” First of all, those with a criminal record could summarily be denied access, and everyone’s fate will now rest in the hands of the same JCE officials responsible for a long, sordid history of discriminatorily denying them documents in the first place.

Additionally, should the government eventually grant naturalized citizenship to Dominicans it has deprived of birthright citizenship, it would create a category of second-class citizens without the same rights as Dominicans citizens by birth.

Haitian girls 2

Correcting a Wrong

The Dominican government’s actions should be subject to the same international condemnation that has responded to the human rights abuses of repressive regimes from Russia to Egypt and Zimbabwe. In an era of growing awareness of human rights norms, blatant oppression under the veneer of rule of law should be exposed and condemned. As political theorist Hannah Arendt once said, the right to nationality is so fundamental that it can be described as “the right to have rights.”

The government of Haiti was initially strong in raising objection to these offensive policies, but as it rightly stated, this is not a Haitian issue, but an issue concerning Dominican citizens. Meanwhile, most Latin American countries and the international community have remained shamefully silent.

Should the Dominican government follow through on its plans to create a whole generation of second-class citizens of Haitian descent, it will only worsen the ingrained social prejudice and systemic discrimination in the country.

Dominicans who refuse to self-report as foreigners could face deportation by officials known for massive and indiscriminate expulsions. And the surrounding region will see a flood of refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons, as well as an increase in migration patterns.

That is to say, if left unaddressed, the repercussions of these policies will be felt around the world for years to come.

The implications of the court’s xenophobic ruling are disastrous. Ethnic Haitians — as well as the Dominican-born children of immigrants from Europe, China and elsewhere — may no longer be entitled to subsidized tuition, public health insurance or other benefits.

Reprint: The Dominican Republic and Haiti: Shame -By Santiago A. Canton & Wade H. McMullen, Jr. ⎸Quarterly Americas (Original publication, Summer 2014)

Recommended Readings
The Dominican Republic’s “Ethnic Purging”: Edwidge Danticat on Mass Deportation of Haitian Families ⎸Democracy Now!

Displaced in the D.R.: Letters from The Dominican Republic ⎸ Harper’s Magazine (May 2015)

The Dominican Republic Wants To Deport 60,000 Stateless Kids -By Roque Planas ⎸ Huffington Post

Thousands Find Themselves Stateless in the Dominican Republic ⎸Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications

The Dominican Republic’s Discrimination Against Haitians ⎸ Washington Post (Editorial Board)

Haitian’s Lynching Renews Protests Against Dominican Citizenship Law -By Kenya Downs ⎸ NPR