Publicly Owned Open-Source Paper Ballot Voting System funding passes San Francisco Budget Committee!

Publicly Owned Open-Source Paper Ballot Voting System funding passes San Francisco Budget Committee!

In the past few months we’ve been telling you about our effort with our coalition partners to get San Francisco to fund publicly owned Open-Source Paper Ballot Voting Systems that will be more secure and transparent than proprietary voting systems from corporate vendors.  Thousands of you across the state responded by signing, calling, volunteering, and attending hearings and rallies — thank you!

Great news!  Under the leadership of San Francisco Board of Supervisors President and Budget Chair Malia Cohen, San Francisco’s Budget Committee approved nearly $1.3 million in funding for an Open Source Paper Ballot Voting System over the next two years — enough so that development can begin without delay!

This is a huge step towards replacing the insecure and secret software that now counts votes, and it’s thanks  to the leadership of Supervisor Cohen.  Supervisor Cohen was the first San Francisco city official to support the San Francisco Elections Commission request for funding to start developing an open-source voting system, and as Chair of the Supervisors Budget Committee has come through to secure funding!

Supervisors Jeff Sheehy and Catherine Stefani also spoke in support of funding for the open-source voting project in the Budget Committee, with Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer and Norman Yee also voting Yes!

Thanks also go to Mayor-elect London Breed, who worked with Budget Chair Cohen to secure the funding.  As she said, “For elections to be fair, they must be secure and transparent” , and she’ll“continue to work to get funds to fully develop the system — an investment that will dramatically reduce our costs in future elections.

The next step will be that for the Board of Supervisors to vote on the full budget plan and then send it to Mayor-elect London Breed.After any county develops and certifies an Open-Source Paper Ballot Voting System, every county in California can use and extend it for free.  So it will not only protect voting integrity by replacing secret and inherently insecure proprietary software from corporate vendors, it will also save counties and the state hundreds of millions in licensing fees.

In fact, the whole nation will be able to use and build on it.  Once again, California can lead the way!This is why our campaign to get San Francisco to fund Open Source was supported by 29 local, state, and national groups whose cosponsorship of our Clean Money Open-Source Voting campaign kickoff in May and other actions made a big difference.  Thanks to them all, including:

Californians for Disability Rights • California Association of Voting Officials • California Common Cause • Dean Democratic Club of Silicon Valley • District 6 South Beach Democratic Club • Endangered Habitats League • FairVote California • Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club • Indivisible SF • MOVI, Money Out Voters In • Older Women’s League • Open Source Election Technology Foundation (OSET) • Open Source Initiative (OSI) • People Demanding Action • Potrero Hill Democratic Club • Progressive Democrats of America • Richmond District Democratic Club • San Francisco Berniecrats • San Francisco for Democracy • San Francisco Latino Democratic Club • San Francisco Green Party • SF Tech Dems • San Mateo County Democracy for America • United America • United Democratic Club • Verified Voting • Voting Rights Task Force • Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club.

Now we must make sure that the full Board of Supervisors votes to keep the Open-Source Voting funding in the budget so that San Francisco can start building the system right away.  Nothing is more important to our democracy than the security and transparency of our elections.

(Submitted by John Fraser.)

What It Costs to Be Smuggled Across the U.S. Border

Bribes and shakedowns. Days in hideaways without food. For many fleeing violence in Central
America, this is what thousands of dollars gets them on the journey to the United States.

MATAMOROS, Mexico — Shortly before dawn one Sunday last August, a driver in an S.U.V. picked up Christopher Cruz at a stash house in this border city near the Gulf of Mexico. The 22-year-old from El Salvador was glad to leave the one-story building, where smugglers kept bundles of cocaine and marijuana alongside their human cargo, but he was anxious about what lay ahead.

The driver deposited Mr. Cruz at an illegal crossing point on the edge of the Rio Grande. A smuggler took a smartphone photograph to confirm his identity and sent it using WhatsApp to a driver waiting to pick him up on the other side of the frontier when — if — he made it across.

The nearly 2,000-mile trip had already cost Mr. Cruz’s family more than $6,000 and brought him within sight of Brownsville, Tex. The remaining 500 miles to Houston — terrain prowled by the United States Border Patrol as well as the state and local police — would set them back another $6,500.

It was an almost inconceivable amount of money for someone who earned just a few dollars a day picking coffee beans back home. But he wasn’t weighing the benefits of a higher-paying job. He was fleeing violence and what he said was near-certain death at the hands of local gangs.

“There’s no other option,” Mr. Cruz said. “The first thought I had was, ‘I just need to get out of here at whatever cost.’”

As Christopher Cruz made his way to the American border, his smugglers sometimes identified him by a numeric code or an assumed name, or simply called him “the package.” Christopher Lee for The New York Times

The stretch of southwest border where he intended to cross has become the epicenter of the raging battle over the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown. One clear consequence of the tightening American border and the growing perils getting there is that more and more desperate families are turning to increasingly sophisticated smuggling operations to get relatives into the United States.

Mr. Cruz’s story provides an unusually detailed anatomy of the price of the journey. The money paid for a network of drivers who concealed him in tractor-trailers and minibuses, a series of houses where he hid out, handlers tied to criminal organizations who arranged his passage, and bribes for Mexican police officers to look the other way as he passed.

Even with his family’s payment, he slept amid filth and vermin. He watched guides abandon some migrants who could not keep up, and guards prod others to become drug mules. Sometimes the smugglers identified him by a numeric code, other times by an assumed name. But as often as not, they simply called him “the package,” to be moved for profit like an illicit good.

For Mr. Cruz, it was worth it. “They can build as many walls as they want,” he said, referring to American officials. “They can send as many soldiers to the border as they want, but a people’s need and desire for a better life is stronger.”

President Trump and his supporters have called for greater vigilance along the border to keep out people like Mr. Cruz, a low-skilled worker who followed in the path of other family members who also arrived illegally, and who hopes those left behind will join him.

Pledging to halt illegal immigration, Mr. Trump has pushed for a 1,000-mile wall, ordered National Guard units to the border and encouraged workplace roundups of undocumented immigrants, which had largely been curtailed during the Obama years.

The number of illegal crossings has dropped significantly in the last decade, but responding to a surge in recent months of Central Americans arriving at the southern border or sneaking across it, the administration has embraced even tougher measures: “zero tolerance”for those arriving illegally, by requiring criminal prosecutions; family separation, a policy from which Mr. Trump was forced to retreat after images of children wailing for their parents provoked a public outcry; and eliminating domestic violence and gang violence as grounds for granting asylum to migrants who arrived at legal crossing points.

“The zero-tolerance policy and the publicity surrounding the child separations will further strengthen the smuggling networks and reinforce the patterns we have observed, as the risks, costs and fees are significantly growing,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a professor at George Mason University and an expert on organized crime. “This will certainly increase the demand for smugglers and will further strengthen the connection between human smugglers and other criminal actors, such as drug cartels and corrupt local law enforcement.”

The homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, told lawmakers in May that migrants paid $500 million a year to groups fueling violence and instability in the region. A decade ago, Mexicans and Central Americans paid between $1,000 and $3,000 for clandestine passage into the United States. Now they hand over up to $9,200 for the same journey, the Department of Homeland Security reported last year. Those figures have continued to rise, according to interviews at migrant shelters in Mexico.

To trace Mr. Cruz’s journey from El Salvador, The New York Times relied on extensive interviews with him and his family, and reviewed contemporaneous photographs, text messages, receipts and GPS positions.

His uncle in the United States checked in constantly by Facebook Messenger during his weeks on the road. He asked for proof-of-life selfies and confirmed his locations along the route using the Find My iPhone app before wiring money for each leg of the journey.

A screenshot Mr. Cruz’s uncle took as he

tracked Mr. Cruz’s progress on the journey.

The Times also interviewed dozens of experts, academics, and current and former law enforcement officials about the underground economy of human smuggling. Reporters reviewed more than 200 recent criminal complaints in smuggling cases along the southwest border, including those brought against drivers, stash-house operators, foot guides and migrants.

That day at the Rio Grande last summer, a guide prepared to lead Mr. Cruz and some two dozen other migrants to the far side of the river while three lookouts perched in trees, scanning the horizon for any hint of the Border Patrol.

When he arrived at the crossing, Mr. Cruz found that the river wasn’t wide, at most a few hundred feet, but the water was murky and full of debris. The smugglers had gathered the migrants at the water’s edge, with giant inflated inner tubes for those who couldn’t swim. They said the makeshift rafts were slower than swimming, so Mr. Cruz pulled off his skinny-leg khakis and T-shirt and paddled to the other side in his boxer shorts.

After climbing up the bank, his first tenuous toehold in the United States, he crouched, wet and shivering, in the brush and got dressed. Mr. Cruz’s face had lost much of its roundness as he had shed 30 pounds over a month of hard travel. A life of skateboarding, tinkering with computers and eating his grandmother’s cooking had not prepared him for the demands of the road.

The smugglers almost hadn’t let him cross, because they worried that his coughing fits from a respiratory infection might give the group away. But he had made it. The foot guide passed along the all-clear signal from the sentries in the trees, and the small crowd of migrants began to sprint toward the 18-foot steel security fence blocking their passage into the United States. That area of the border, which Mr. Trump wants to fortify with a new wall, was already among the stretches best defended by the Americans.

Mr. Cruz had climbed halfway up the fence when he heard a helicopter overhead and saw patrol cars converging. Agents grabbed those already over the fence and began to arrest them.

“When I saw that, I slid down and I ran back,” Mr. Cruz recalled. He dived again into the Rio Grande, his only hope to escape back to Mexico.

Under Fear of Death

Mr. Cruz grew up in San Miguel, the fourth-largest city in El Salvador. Gang violence is virtually endemic in the country, and Mr. Cruz dropped out of high school when the infamous MS-13 became too dangerous there. His family relocated to Berlín, about an hour’s drive away, which had less of a gang problem than the big cities.

Mr. Cruz’s mother lived in the United States, but he was much closer to her brother there, an uncle he considered a father figure and called “Papi.” Mr. Cruz lived with his grandmother and younger sister. He also had a 2-year-old son to provide for, though he and the boy’s mother had broken up.

In El Salvador, Mr. Cruz earned a few dollars a day picking coffee during harvest season. Fred Ramos for The New York Times

During coffee-picking season he rose at 4 in the morning, walked an hour to the farm where he worked, then plucked ripe red coffee cherries until dark. He usually earned $15 to $20 a week. Outside harvest season, Mr. Cruz painted murals and cleaned streets for the local government. He briefly worked as a bartender at a restaurant an hour’s bus ride away.

The police had all but declared open season on gang-age men, Mr. Cruz said, and he and his friends were harassed and beaten by the security forces. Meanwhile, gang members regularly threatened him and shook him down for money because they realized he received support from his uncle in the United States.

One night, Mr. Cruz and his friends were walking home when they noticed a blue Honda creeping behind them. When the young men started to run, the car accelerated, then followed Mr. Cruz as the group split up.

“I got to my house and it was locked,” he recalled. He considered climbing over the front gate but worried the men who were following him might kill his grandmother and sister too. Over his shoulder he saw the gang members draw guns as he fled across a soccer field before taking refuge in a nearby health clinic.

After that night, he resolved to leave. “That is the reality of El Salvador,” he said. “You are scared of both, the gangs and the police.” He did not consider trying to enter United States legally to seek asylum; even under the more lenient asylum policies a year ago only a fraction of gang-violence victims won that status.

Mr. Cruz had never gone farther than neighboring Honduras. But in some Central American cities, smuggling services to the United States are openly promoted on the streets, with hawkers luring customers the way agents at tourist destinations advertise sailing or snorkeling excursions. They take potential customers to a back room of a nearby store, where salesmen pitch them on a smuggling route. Some would-be migrants give up homes, cars, livestock and even farmland tilled by their families for generations and take on debt to pay the fees.

Mr. Cruz’s uncle, who now has legal status in the United States after arriving illegally years ago, spoke to a woman in his local Salvadoran community. She told him of smugglers who brought her three children over for a flat $20,000 fee after gang members back home killed her husband. The uncle used WhatsApp to contact a woman in Mexico representing the smuggling network, who became the point of contact throughout Mr. Cruz’s journey.

“Would it be possible to pick up my nephew as close as possible to the edge of San Salvador?” the uncle asked her in one message. “The boy is 22 years old but acts more like 12.” The uncle spoke on the condition of anonymity because he, like other relatives of unauthorized immigrants, feared he could be prosecuted for trafficking a family member.

Mr. Cruz worried about the trip. His best friend had made the same journey the year before only to be kidnapped near the American border and held for two months. His family paid $20,000 to free him, and he ended up back in El Salvador. And a female friend of Mr. Cruz had been raped by smugglers on the American side of the border, caught by the authorities and then deported.

His uncle assured him over Facebook Messenger that everything would be fine.

Don’t worry too much, the trip will be peaceful. That’s why I paid so much.
These people have good contacts.
Ok, but one always feels nervous and fearful.
In a short time you’ll be here and things will be different.

Mr. Cruz’s aunt and uncle earned enough to advance him the money for the journey, but Mr. Cruz would have to pay them back. They wired $800 to El Salvador the day he set out on the initial leg of the trip. “Any opportunity you have to connect, send me a message with your location,” the uncle wrote.

“Activate Find My iPhone so you can find out my location from the iCloud,” Mr. Cruz answered. “That way you’ll know the route I’m taking.” Mr. Cruz set off for the United States with a backpack carrying three changes of clothes, deodorant, cookies and a charger for the iPhone 5 that would be his connection and lifeline.

‘You Already Know How Much This Is’

His trip began with an idling pickup truck outside a mall in Soyapango, on the edge of San Salvador. The smuggler who would accompany him through El Salvador and Guatemala sat behind the wheel.

Mr. Cruz crossed into Guatemala legally with his national identity card. Fred Ramos for The New York Times

In the beginning, it was almost like being a tourist. Mr. Cruz crossed into Guatemala legally at La Hachadura, close to El Salvador’s Pacific coast, with his national identity card. He even received a printed receipt.

The driver left the pickup truck behind in El Salvador and chaperoned him by bus to the capital, Guatemala City. The two of them transferred buses and traveled a few hours further to Huehuetenango, in the western highlands, which serves as a jumping-off point for the Mexican border.

The bus terminal in Huehuetenango, a Guatemalan city that is often the last stop for migrants heading into Mexico. Fred Ramos for The New York Times

They spent a night in a cheap hotel and traveled the next day to La Mesilla along the Mexican frontier. Vendors under colorful umbrellas sold drinks and snacks at the crossing. A blue sign wished travelers a “feliz viaje,” or nice trip, above the gate separating the two countries.

To skirt the border police outpost, the smuggler directed Mr. Cruz to a nearby industrial area where he walked alone up a gravel path and into Mexico. For the first time, he became an illegal immigrant.

Mr. Cruz boarded a minibus, filled with local passengers, to begin his trip through the southern state of Chiapas. As instructed by the driver, at toll plazas he hunched down between the seats and covered himself with the passengers’ backpacks, suitcases and packages. The driver whistled when it was safe to come out.

He was vulnerable to criminals who might try to kidnap him, police officers seeking bribes and the more robust immigration enforcement that has taken root in recent years in southern Mexico. Under pressure from Washington, the Mexican government has cracked down on migrants passing through its territory. Because of the greater vigilance along the smuggling routes, between 80 and 95 percent of migrants bound for the United States used so-called coyotes in recent years, compared with fewer than half in the early 1970s, Border Patrol surveys of captured migrants found.

Just two days into Mr. Cruz’s journey, his family had to wire the smuggling network $1,900 to get him through southern Mexico.

Mr. Cruz spent several days in a small house near Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas, sleeping on a sofa. It was comfortable enough, but he wondered what the holdup was. “They want to move you even more than you do,” his uncle assured him, “because they have to pay for every day that you’re there but I don’t pay extra.”

When the smugglers finally continued the trip, Mr. Cruz spent a night on a hammock at an isolated spot near the Malpaso Dam, surrounded by trees. “I was headed for Puebla yesterday, but immigration stopped two people who had gone ahead,” he texted his uncle. “So they moved me here instead.”

The next morning, Mr. Cruz climbed into the cab of a tractor-trailer and rode alongside the driver. At a toll area, he had his first run-in with the police. Officers stopped the truck for a routine check, and after seeing Mr. Cruz’s Salvadoran ID, realized that he was in Mexico illegally. They demanded money or else they would deport him, Mr. Cruz said.

Mr. Cruz spent a night near one of the Grijalva River’s dams, delayed on his way to Puebla, in Mexico.Fred Ramos for The New York Times

He fished out $170 he had hidden in his shoes. Mr. Cruz remembered one of the police officers telling him it was his lucky day. “I was getting out of trouble. I was able to get away because I had this money on me,” he said.

The officers stole the truck driver’s cash as well. Once they left, the driver threatened to hand the migrant over to violent drug traffickers unless Mr. Cruz got him $600. Panicked, Mr. Cruz called his aunt and uncle in the United States for help, but they didn’t answer.

They arrested me and stole all my money
A man that’s transporting me helped me
But the feds took all of it
You missed a call from Christopher at 2:46pm
You missed a call from Christopher at 2:49pm

Thousands of miles away, the couple emerged from a water park — a rare day off with their young daughter — to find the missed calls. They had been observing Mr. Cruz’s progress on their smartphones and computers, watching him move northward through small towns, streets full of pastel houses and parking lots for Walmarts and Pemex gas stations.

On the phone with his relatives, he described the police theft and the driver’s threat. His uncle quickly turned to the Mexican woman at the smuggling network, who found another driver to carry Mr. Cruz to Puebla. The uncle asked Mr. Cruz to remain calm.

“Stay calm, stay calm, everyone keeps saying that,” Mr. Cruz responded in a Facebook message. “Knowing I’ve never been away from home. That I’m easily frightened in a situation like this. And you want me to keep calm and keep calm. I can’t.”

On subsequent traffic stops, the bribe for the police was always the same: 1,500 Mexican pesos, or about $84. At first Mr. Cruz tried to lie, saying he wasn’t a migrant but was on his way to Monterrey to make a delivery. Eventually he dropped any pretense. The fourth time he was stopped for a payoff, the cop simply said, “You already know how much this is.”

Doors Locked, Windows Barred

Mr. Cruz made it as far as Puebla, southeast of Mexico City and a pivot point on the journey. His family wired $450 to the smugglers, including pocket money for Mr. Cruz for food and bribes.

Mr. Cruz made it to Puebla, paying hundreds of dollars in bribes to police officers along the way. Fred Ramos for The New York Times

The woman he stayed with in Puebla treated him well, feeding him the local delicacy “chiles en nogada,” chiles in cream sauce with pomegranate seeds: green, white and red like the Mexican flag. She took him to buy soap, shampoo and toothpaste, but also got rid of his shoes — Bracos, a brand that the Mexican authorities would recognize as Salvadoran — and gave him another pair.

After four days there the smugglers tried to move him north, but word came that some migrants had been killed near Monterrey, his next stop, so they brought him back to Puebla. After waiting three more days, Mr. Cruz hid with a young woman and her infant son in the sleeping compartment of a tractor-trailer for the overnight drive to Monterrey.

On my way back to Puebla
People are being killed there, so I was turned back
Ok. Better to be safe

The driver insisted they each take a pill, saying it was to keep them alert in case they were stopped. He then ground another pill into powder and mixed part of it in the baby’s bottle before snorting the rest himself. Mr. Cruz said that he did not know what was in the pill but that after taking it he couldn’t have slept even if he had tried.

He arrived in Monterrey, the third-largest metropolitan area in Mexico and an industrial and commercial hub. Far from the booming downtown, behind a metal front gate, the windows and doors were shut and barred on the cinder-block house where Mr. Cruz was kept. Trash was everywhere. The small courtyard was filled with mud and debris. Ants and cockroaches crawled indoors. The only water ran brown and unfiltered from the faucet. A terrible smell wafted from the bathroom.

Mr. Cruz spent four days in Monterrey, locked in a dingy stash house far from the bustling downtown.Fred Ramos for The New York Times

“It was like a prison,” Mr. Cruz said.

Migrants like Mr. Cruz had to pay their captors to bring them bottled water or snacks, if they even had the cash to pay prices that were triple those at the local convenience store. Otherwise food arrived only every other day, in the form of a carton of 30 eggs to feed the dozen or so people typically there. At night, Mr. Cruz said, he lay on a thin mat on the floor but couldn’t sleep with mice and insects running over him.

Every day smugglers dropped off and picked up migrants, who were kept locked inside. A Guatemalan man everyone called “el dueño,” “the owner,” was in charge because he had been there the longest. He had run out of money to continue his journey a month and a half earlier.

Mr. Cruz was stuck there for four days. His uncle sent $2,800, and they carried him onward to the eastern Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, just below southern Texas. His journey took him first to Ciudad Miguel Alemán, across from Roma, Tex., before he boarded a bus for Matamoros, two and a half hours away, with the assumed name Carlos Hernandez on his ticket.

And you weren’t stopped at all?
No papi, there wasn’t a single checkpoint
Just an army one but they said nothing, didn’t check anything
Ok. And you crossed all the way next to the river after Miguel Alemán?
We got to Reynosa and at one turn you could see a big river
That’s the one you’ll cross. The other side is the USA

Tamaulipas has become known for violent confrontations between organized crime groups, and migrants caught in the middle have been massacred. In the summer of 2010, the corpses of 72 migrants killed by cartel members were discovered there in San Fernando. The message was clear: Crossing into the United States without permission from the drug traffickers, or narcos, who controlled the border territory could be lethal.

Rodolfo Casillas, an expert on illegal migration at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Mexico, estimated that up to $1,000 of the total smuggling price went to pay off the narcos for the “derecho de paso,” or right to pass. One migrant testifying in a human-smuggling case in Texas last year told the authorities that he had paid 11,000 pesos, or about $630, for protection from the Zetas criminal organization, and just 1,500 pesos for assistance with the river crossing.

A patrol near the border in Matamoros. Under pressure from Washington, the Mexican government has cracked down on migrants passing through its territory. Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The house where Mr. Cruz was kept in Matamoros was better maintained than the hovel in Monterrey. He and the 30 other migrants could bathe with buckets of water from a pair of concrete basins with spigots outside. The men watching the house, tied to the narcos, brought them beers and even offered them drugs from bundles of cocaine and marijuana.

“If you ran out of money, that’s when they would offer to cross you as a mule,” Mr. Cruz said.

Some migrants at the house agreed to ferry drugs.

After sending off the migrants with drugs one day, the traffickers returned to the stash house seething. “They were extremely angry,” Mr. Cruz recalled, not because the migrants had been arrested but because they had lost their shipment of drugs.

Back and Forth Across the Rio Grande

Mr. Cruz was sick. The temperature along his journey had yo-yoed 40 degrees as the altitude climbed to 7,000 feet in Puebla before dropping to sea level in Matamoros. The unsanitary conditions in Monterrey probably hadn’t helped.

Mr. Cruz was eager to leave the house in Matamoros, but his coughing spasms gave the smugglers pause. They didn’t want him giving their position away as a group tried to slip past Border Patrol agents.

His uncle asked Mr. Cruz if the Mexican woman from the smuggling network could insist that they move him anyway. But Mr. Cruz realized she had little sway at the border. “Someone else decides who leaves,” he told his uncle, “and she pays them.”

His family sent $180 to the smugglers, who said half would go toward medicine and half for a backup phone. Doses of cough syrup, along with several days of rest, seemed to help. That Saturday night Mr. Cruz wrote to his uncle, “They’re going to say if I leave in the morning.” Shortly after midnight he wrote again, saying, “At 4 o’clock in the morning I go.”

We have to pass the river and the wall and then be picked up.
If all goes well we will be in McAllen in 3 hours
Ok, I hope so!
Ok. I hope it’s clear and there’s no Border Patrol so we cross quickly

The region, where the Rio Grande coils and bends in switchbacks, has become the central battleground of the southwest frontier for illegal entries. Some 138,000 people were caught trying to cross here in 2017, close to half of all those apprehended from the California coast all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Illegal crossings fell significantly in the initial months of the Trump administration but shot up this year: From March to May, the number of migrants apprehended along the southwest border was triple the total for the same period in 2017, though far below the levels of a decade or two ago. Last year Customs and Border Protection intercepted 303,916 people there — compared with more than 1.6 million in 2000.

As part of the $1.3 trillion spending bill that Congress passed in March, $1.375 billion in funding went for more than 90 miles of physical barriers along the border with Mexico. Of that, 33 miles will be built in the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas, where Mr. Cruz was trying to cross.

For all the debate about Mr. Trump’s proposed wall, a virtual barrier was steadily strengthened under previous administrations. Doughy blimps equipped with cameras provide video surveillance, with thermal imaging for nighttime. Migrants unknowingly trip advanced seismic sensors with their first steps on American soil. The number of Border Patrol agents has grown to about 20,000 from roughly 9,000 in 2001, while budgets have quadrupled, spent on everything from all-terrain vehicles and horse patrols to helicopters and advanced reconnaissance drones.

That gives the Border Patrol a much better chance of combating criminal smuggling networks, which use Facebook and Craigslist to recruit drivers, satellite phones and encrypted communication applications to direct them, night-vision technology to scan for patrols, and off-the shelf tracking devices to monitor moving vehicles.

“They have evolved as the technology has evolved, and we have as well,” said Benjamine Huffman, chief of strategic planning and analysis for the Border Patrol.

Early that morning, the smugglers gathered Mr. Cruz, one of two dozen migrants from two stash houses in town, and crammed them into the back of an S.U.V., stacking them like cordwood. Wedged into a corner of the trunk with the weight of his fellow migrants crushing down on him, Mr. Cruz struggled to catch his breath.

Once at the Rio Grande, he swam to the other side, while those who couldn’t swim were pulled on the inner tubes. The migrants in his group began to mount the border fence. But the Border Patrol descended, grabbing some of the first arrivals. He realized he had to turn back.

The Rio Grande, which Mr. Cruz and other migrants swam to enter the United States. Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

“There was no other alternative but to cross the river,” Mr. Cruz said.

As was customary, the smugglers would give him three tries to make it across safely. One chance was gone. Mr. Cruz steeled himself to try again at a different bend along the river.

The temperature had climbed to 93 degrees by midday Sunday when Mr. Cruz made his second illegal visit to the United States, at another crossing nearby. It was even shorter than his first.

Border Patrol agents swarmed the group as they made landfall on the north bank again. One agent got a hand on Mr. Cruz’s back but, instead of arresting him, sent him sprawling into the river. Swallowing water and struggling to stay afloat, Mr. Cruz said, he barely managed to swim back to Mexico.

Patrolling the border in Brownsville, Tex. Mexico is to the right of the Rio Grande. Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The sun was low and dusk approaching by the time the coyotes brought the migrants to their third crossing point. The smugglers said the spot, more isolated, was usually reserved for moving drug shipments, more valuable than migrants. Mr. Cruz would have to swim across the Rio Grande for the fifth time that day.

Of the 17 people left from the two dozen in the morning, Mr. Cruz recalled, five were women, including one who appeared about eight months pregnant and another in her 50s, he guessed. He wondered how they would make it, but his family had warned him: Worry about yourself. Do not stop for anyone.

Mr. Cruz could hardly believe the determination of the pregnant woman as they emerged from the river again and started to run. But the older woman slipped behind and fell to the ground. The guide did nothing. “He just left her there,” Mr. Cruz said.

Checkpoints and Hidden Compartments

The driver of the waiting S.U.V. honked his horn to get their attention. He was angry, expecting just a few migrants to crawl out of the South Texas field and instead finding 16 people. In a region full of Border Patrol agents, it was a risky load to carry.

The driver told Mr. Cruz to ride shotgun, and he saw bundles of cocaine on the passenger seat. But it was only a short drive to a parking lot where the smugglers separated the group into different cars, depending on their destinations. Mr. Cruz and five others got into a Cadillac headed an hour northwest to a stash house in McAllen, Tex.

A recently busted stash house in McAllen, Tex. State authorities offer rewards for tips about such hide-outs. Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Drop-offs and pickups are often meticulously planned so that migrants are ready to jump in as soon as the car pulls up. Smugglers sometimes mark migrants with colored tape to quickly sort who is going where. Smugglers often drive two cars, using one to draw the attention of law enforcement and another to carry the migrants.

Border Patrol officers have grown more aggressive in their search for unauthorized immigrants throughout the 100-mile band of territory inside the United States border, where they have authority to establish checkpoints and perform searches.

At the stash house in McAllen, the caretakers took away phones and even migrants’ shoes so they wouldn’t run away. “One particular person, they beat him up and kicked him because he wasn’t paying attention,” Mr. Cruz said.

He estimated there were 70 people inside. They were given no food and were not allowed to speak to one another or even move without permission. Neighbors in border regions can be quick to report suspected stash houses. More than a third of all those busted by Customs and Border Protection last year — 140 out of 407 in the Southwest — were in the Rio Grande Valley, where Mr. Cruz was.

After just a day and a half in McAllen, Mr. Cruz huddled with four other migrants in the sleeping compartment of a tractor-trailer headed to San Antonio. They were nearly discovered by agents during a routine search at a highway checkpoint, cowering under blankets as they felt someone check the bedding they were hiding under. Mr. Cruz was transferred to a minivan with a concealed compartment built under the back seat, where he hid for part of the ride.

A Border Patrol checkpoint north of McAllen, in a band of territory where officers have grown more aggressive in their search for unauthorized immigrants. Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Mr. Cruz was brought to one last stash house, stripped to just his boxer shorts in a room “with no electricity, no light coming through, no windows and one big bed with four men,” as he described it, essentially a hostage until the final payments were made. Two days passed.

His family had to transfer the remaining $6,500 to the smuggling network. Although a record $28.8 billion in remittances was sent to Mexico last year, the authorities regularly flag suspicious transactions. Mr. Cruz’s uncle had to break up the sum into smaller, less conspicuous transfers.

Even with the precautions, one of the payments was flagged, canceled and had to be re-sent to a different recipient. Only when the final installment arrived in Mexico could Mr. Cruz go. “They gave me my clothes to put back on, and they blindfolded me again,” he said.

(Submitted by Laura Huff.)

Public bank that would boost pot shops, affordable housing could go before L.A. voters this fall

Public bank that would boost pot shops, affordable housing could go before L.A. voters this fall
Marijuana for sale at the Greenlight Discount Pharmacy in Sylmar this past April. (Ricardo DeAratanmha / Los Angeles Times)


The Los Angeles City Council is preparing to ask voters if they want to create a publicly owned bank, something no city or state in the United States has done in nearly a century.

Council members voted Tuesday to start the process of putting a measure on the Nov. 6 ballot that would allow for the creation of such a bank by amending the city charter.

The measure must receive final approval by July 3 in order to make the fall ballot.

The move is an early step in council President Herb Wesson’s plan to create a public bank, which he said could offer accounts to scores of city cannabis businesses that are shunned by commercial banks because of federal drug laws. It also could help finance affordable housing, he said.

Even if the measure makes it on the ballot and is approved, establishing a city-owned bank is far from a sure thing.

The city has yet to consider how such a bank would be run, and to get it off the ground, the city may need to seek changes to state and federal laws that are focused on regulating privately owned banks.

What’s more, a city report earlier this year suggested the costs of starting such a bank could be “exorbitant.”

David Jette, legislative director of advocacy group Public Bank L.A., said putting the issue to a citywide vote could be a make-or-break moment for public banking, an idea that has gained steam since the financial crisis and lately seen an influx of support from the cannabis industry.

Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and the state of California are all in the process of studying whether they can or should start public banks, in part to serve cannabis businesses. For now, though, the U.S. has just one public bank: the Bank of North Dakota, established in 1919.

“We’re cautiously ecstatic,” Jette said after Tuesday’s vote. “This will be a referendum on the idea of public banking. I think this is an existential vote for our entire national movement.”

From #OccupyICE Encampments to the Campaign Trail, Call Grows to Abolish ‘Unaccountable and Inhumane’ Agency

“It is not an accident that Donald Trump can use ICE and CBP as tools of unconstitutional illegal behavior: it is part of the structural flaw of the agencies themselves.”

Immigrant rights advocates and others participate in a demonstration against the Trump administration's family separation policy on June 1, 2018 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)Immigrant rights advocates and others participate in a demonstration against the Trump administration’s family separation policy on June 1, 2018 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


As calls to rein in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reached the halls of Congress this week, with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) calling to abolish the agency that’s enforced the Trump administration’s family separation policy, direct actions aimed at shutting down ICE’s facilities are spreading across the country.

With outrage growing this month over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, demonstrators in Portland, Oregon congregated outside ICE’s facility in their city on June 17 to hold a candlelight vigil. Many protesters have remained outside the building ever since, blocking the entrance in an effort to keep deportation trials from proceeding.

In the weeks that have followed, similar actions have cropped up at ICE’s offices in several other cities across the country.

More than 30 protesters temporarily shut down ICE’s operations in Detroit on Monday, with plans to stay at the agency’s field office until June 30.

Over the weekend, the #OccupyICE movement came to Los Angeles, with demonstrators blocking the agency’s vans from leaving its driveway.

Protesters in New York began their #OccupyICE demonstration last week, forcing all of Monday’s planned immigration hearings to be postponed.

“Make no mistake, ICE is a white supremacist organization following the orders of a white supremacist administration, and the intent of these policies is to discourage all nonwhite immigration…and to preserve the power of the rapidly shrinking white majority,” said Occupy ICE PDX in a statement to other activists last week. “It is not only possible to imagine a world without ICE, an organization which has only existed for the last 15 years, but necessary and our duty to make it a reality.”

As Common Dreams reported on Monday, Pocan introduced legislation to abolish ICE, accusing the agency of “tearing apart families and ripping at the moral fabric of our nation.”

The proposal was another sign that more Americans are refusing to tolerate the separation of families, raids by ICE agents that leave families and communities reeling, and the agency’s targeting of immigrants with no criminal records and people whose green card applications are underway.

ICE was formed in 2003, ostensibly to “protect national security and strengthen public safety.”

As Cynthia Nixon, who is running in New York’s Democratic primary for governor, told “The View” last week, ICE is far from fulfilling its claimed mission.

“I think we need to abolish ICE; that seems really clear. ICE is relatively new, it came in after September 11,” Nixon told Joy Behar. “We’ve been handling immigration and customs for a long time here. We don’t need ICE, and they have strayed so far from the interests of the American people and the interests of humanity. We need to abolish it.”

At least 19 Democratic challengers have also called for ICE to be abolished, according to New York magazine, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez making the proposal a signature issue of her campaign in the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th Congressional district.

In his campaign for Florida’s 27th district, progressive Democrat Matt Haggman made the issue the focus of a campaign ad.

Zephyr Teachout, Democratic candidate for Attorney General in New York, wrote about ICE’s “lawlessness” in an editorial in The Guardian.

“It is not an accident that Donald Trump can use ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as tools of unconstitutional illegal behavior: it is part of the structural flaw of the agencies themselves,” wrote Teachout. “ICE undermines what we aspire to be as Americans, and is an unaccountable and inhumane political tool, treating all immigrants as national security threats…ICE and CBP are so politicized that they are not credible as law enforcement agencies, and so deeply connected with illegal behavior that they are no longer credible as self-governing agencies. Instead, they have become tools of arbitrary power and cruelty; the opposite of law.”

Berkeley celebrates opening of $2.4M homeless navigation center

A small pocket garden in the new STAIR Center, which will open its doors to clients on Wednesday. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The city of Berkeley threw open the doors of its $2.44 million shelter for the homeless on Tuesday and it felt like a community celebration.

While the bulk of the funding for the shelter on Second Street (between Cedar and Virginia) in West Berkeley came from city and county sources, the project would not have happened without the help of numerous businesses, professionals, service organizations and individuals who contributed their time and money, Mayor Jesse Arreguín said right before he and other city officials cut the blue ribbon dedicating the STAIR center. (STAIR is an acronym for stability, navigation and respite, and the city is describing the facility as Berkeley’s first navigation center.)

More than 175 volunteers came together on two consecutive weekends in June to paint, haul and fill more than 80 galvanized metal planters with plants. Numerous city departments — from public works to the city manager’s office to health, housing and community services, the parks department, the fire department and more — spent hours developing and building the space. The City Council also gave its full support, said Arreguín.

The result is the transformation of a once barren and stark industrial block next to the railroad tracks in West Berkeley into an oasis of sorts. When the 45 people characterized as “chronically homeless” (meaning they have been living on the streets for more than a year) start moving in on Wednesday, they will enter a campus of portable trailers whose hard edges are softened by huge bamboo-filled planters and colorful banners flapping in the wind. There will be showers, laundry facilities, a place to eat and gather, a welcome center, and two dormitories with twin beds and moveable screens that offer privacy. The new residents will also be able to plant vegetables or gather in various “pocket parks,” with wooden benches and tables, bamboo “walls,” artificial turf and colorful shades.

“We see more and more people who are living on the streets who are in need of housing,” said Arreguín to a crowd of about 100 people. “The goal of this facility is to transform lives, to make a significant impact in addressing our homeless crisis, and to move people off the street and into self-sufficiency. We are so excited that we are at this point where we are going to be opening our doors to our first set of clients tomorrow. This will make a significant impact on the lives of people in this community. ”

City Councilwoman Sophie Hahn, who has been very involved with the project, said the STAIR Center reflects the urgency Berkeley feels about the plight of those living on the streets.

“Your City Council believes homelessness is a human-rights abuse,” she said. “We are committed to the humanitarian imperative of getting people housed, but also giving them relief from the harshness of life on the streets.”

The STAIR Center is part of Berkeley’s comprehensive Pathways project that aims to reduce homelessness. The plan was adopted by the City Council in 2017. While Berkeley already provides an array of services to those without a permanent home, and has about 166 shelter beds, the new facility is different than previous Berkeley programs. It is modeled, in part, on San Francisco’s navigation centers.

The idea is to offer a low-barrier, service-rich facility that will attract people who are dissatisfied with the traditional shelter experience and who have not had much luck in putting their lives back together. Unlike most shelters, where people can only enter in the late afternoon or evening and must leave by 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., the STAIR Center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People can bring their pets, can store their belongings, do their laundry, shower and sleep adjacent to their friends or partners. They will get at least one meal a day (although that may increase) and will have a place to seek respite from the streets.

Planters with bamboo around the STAIR Center. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Beds at the new Berkeley STAIR Center. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Laundry facilities at STAIR Center. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Most importantly, there will be services on site, meaning the residents won’t have to trek to offices scattered around Berkeley for help, according to Jamie Almanza, executive director of the Oakland-based Bay Area Community Services, or BACS, which will run and manage the program. There will be mental-health counselors, people to assist with getting SSI, job counselors, drug and alcohol counselors, housing counselors, family reunification experts, as well as other services. The city has also allocated $540,000 in flexible housing subsidies to help people secure places to live.

“This is the first step of intervention,” she said. “When a person is living here with services there’s a much higher success rate.”

tommillerlawyer weba - January 2017 - 300x250

The center can house 45 people at a time and they can stay for up to six months, so Berkeley is expecting the STAIR Center will help about 90 people a year.

BACS, as well as The Hub, Berkeley’s coordinated intake point for the homeless, have been working together and have started to reach out to the homeless to see if some might want to come to the STAIR Center, said Paul Buddenhagen, the city’s director of Health, Housing and Community Services. The city wants to bring in people who are “ready to seriously engage” with the process of getting off the streets, he said. The plan is to interact first with the people without homes in West Berkeley.

While those who work with the homeless support the STAIR Center, they say it alone will not solve Berkeley’s homeless problem. And they question the cost. At Arreguín’s state-of-the-city talk Monday night, a few people in the audience held up signs suggesting the new homeless center is just one piece of the puzzle. Barbara Brust, the founder of the community group Consider the Homeless, said while the new center will help, it will be less effective than BESS, the winter emergency shelter on Ninth Street in the old Premier Cru building that can sleep 90 people a night. It is scheduled to close on June 30. Brust was passing around a petition Monday evening that asked that the winter shelter be kept open longer.

Arreguín acknowledged Tuesday that, as terrific as STAIR is, it is only part of the solution. He said his office is implementing other ways to reduce homelessness, such as asking the City Council to place a $135 million housing bond on the November ballot. He will also ask the City Council tonight to authorize an additional $400,000 to keep the winter shelter open a few more months.

The opening of the STAIR center represents a huge political accomplishment for Arreguín, as well as for Hahn, who has worked closely with the mayor, and City Councilwoman Linda Maio, in whose district STAIR is located, and who has also worked diligently on the project. When Arreguín was elected in 2016, he declared that he would make the homeless issue a priority. Working with City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley, he has changed the path of the city government to focus on it and affordable housing.

Seeing people living on the streets, in sprawling, dirty and dangerous encampments around town — from Second Street to underneath freeway overpasses, to near City Hall, — has affected many Berkeley residents, as evidenced by the volunteer power that went into creating the STAIR Center.

Arreguín thanked a number of entities that assisted with the project. He gave a special shout-out to Robert Trachtenberg, a landscape architect, who firm, Garden Architecture, designed and oversaw the planning of the complex, a process that took hundreds of hours. Trachtenberg later told Berkeleyside that he tried to create a “cohesive type of streetscape that would evoke a real sense of place, perhaps like a small village.” Trachtenberg’s firm tried to do this by creating an allée of large timber bamboo running from one end of the site to the other, and surrounding the entire site with black bamboo that will grow dense and will enclose the space.

Arreguín also thanked UC Berkeley Professor Sam Davis, an expert in designing homeless shelters, who helped design the complex. Davis told Berkeleyside that he tried to create a “humane” place where people could interact with others in the communal spaces or sit back and watch in the small courtyard-like gardens.

Lehigh Hanson, the asphalt plant next to the STAIR Center, donated the asphalt used to pave the street, said Arreguín. Other companies that participated included Abrams/Millikan, the developers of Fourth Street; Jamestown LLP, another Fourth Street developer; Jetton Construction, McCutcheon Construction, Mueller Nicholls, Trachtenberg Architects and Read Investments. One individual, who asked to remain anonymous, donated $100,000.

Members of the supportive housing committee of the Berkeley Rotary Club helped get the site ready, and four of its members came to the dedication ceremony. Trudy Frei, who has been making socks for the homeless for years and stuffing them with chocolate before they are distributed, said she came to the ceremony because she has always been interested in the plight of people.

“I am very excited,” (by the STAIR project) she said. “It seems to fulfill what we need.”

Note from Mike Zint of FTCftH:

$2.4 million. The city displaced more in the last months raids. But those raids were a great way to get a list of new residents. What about the other thousand homeless? Oh yeah, the city is now broke. The winter shelter, Mr. Mayor? A years supply of needy for your new navigation center, if it closes. It would have cost much less if you had let us help. But it’s not about helping, it’s about removing. North Berkeley first, of course.

The center can house 45 people at a time and they can stay for up to six months, so Berkeley is expecting the STAIR Center will help about 90 people a year.

Demanding House Vote on Net Neutrality, Open Internet Defenders Gear Up for Nationwide Day of Advocacy

June 25, 2018 by Common Dreams

“Members of Congress ignore the overwhelming bipartisan support for net neutrality at their own risk.”

by Julia Conley, staff writer

Internet freedom advocates are preparing for a Day of Advocacy in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. (Photo: Free Press/Flickr/cc)

Open internet defenders warned members of Congress that on Tuesday’s Day of Advocacy for net neutrality rules, they will be hearing directly from their constituents about how they should vote on saving the regulations—and how the wrong decision could affect their job security.

“Most days the FCC and Congress are dominated by the opinions of large cable and telecom companies with armies of well-paid Washington lobbyists,” said Chris Lewis, vice president at the public interest group Public Knowledge. “Tuesday, in both Washington and in communities around the country, Americans are lobbying for themselves. Some FCC commissioners have dismissed the overwhelming public support for restoring net neutrality rules, but they are unelected. Members of Congress ignore the overwhelming bipartisan support for net neutrality at their own risk.”

Public Knowledge and Free Press will be joined by a number of other groups—including Fight for the Future, Common Cause, and the National Hispanic Media Coalition—for the day of advocacy.

The Senate voted in favor of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality in May—moving a step closer to preventing internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast from blocking and throttling websites and creating “fast lanes” that give priority to certain content.

Advocates are now demanding that members of the House of Representatives support a petition to force a vote on the CRA.

Activists will be at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, talking to their elected officials about how the end of net neutrality would affect their lives and work.

“People have been using the internet to save the internet every day,” said Sandra Fulton, director of government relations at Free Press Action Fund. “Tomorrow, they’re taking action in person, urging their elected representatives to stand with the vast majority of Americans who oppose the FCC’s unpopular decision to repeal net neutrality protections​. We know that the open internet is critical for marginalized communities that ​​corporate media have misrepresented; that it’s essential for free speech and political organizing online; and that working families need an open network to survive just as much as tech entrepreneurs do​.”

Dozens of events are also planned in cities and towns across the country, with internet freedom advocates set to protest at their elected officials’ offices.

“The overwhelming majority of Americans understand that strong net neutrality rules are the prerequisite for an open and citizen-friendly internet,” said Yosef Getachew of Common Cause. “Members of Congress will hear directly from their constituents—everyday Americans from all walks of life—on why net neutrality is important to them. Tomorrow’s advocacy demonstrates the strong voice of the American people demanding an open internet and urging their elected officials to support the resolution restoring the FCC’s net neutrality rules.”

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3 lessons of revolutionary love in a time of rage | Valarie Kaur

Published on Mar 5, 2018

What’s the antidote to rising nationalism, polarization and hate? In this inspiring, poetic talk, Valarie Kaur asks us to reclaim love as a revolutionary act. As she journeys from the birthing room to tragic sites of bloodshed, Kaur shows us how the choice to love can be a force for justice.

Check out more TED Talks:

(Submitted by Ruthie Sakheim.)

Antwon Rose (July 12, 2000 – June 19, 2018)


By Antwon Rose (poem written for a 10th grade honors English class at Woodland Hills High School on May 16, 2016)

I am confused and afraid
I wonder what path I will take
I hear that there’s only two ways out
I see mothers bury their sons
I want my mom to never feel that pain
I am confused and afraid

I pretend all is fine
I feel like I’m suffocating
I touch nothing so I believe all is fine
I worry that it isn’t though
I cry no more
I am confused and afraid

I understand people believe I’m just a statistic
I say to them I’m different
I dream of life getting easier
I try my best to make my dream true
I hope that it does
I am confused and afraid

Public Comment from the Berkeley Daily Planet

New: No Country for Old Women
By Steve Martinot
Thursday June 21, 2018

I’m reading Marcia Poole’s essay in the Planet (6/15/18) on Ani, an 80 year old Buddhist nun who’s been homeless for the last five years. She’s sick, and in a wheel chair, and living in a tent. That is, until she got thrown to the ground so hard that it cracked her skull. Now she’s in the hospital. She begged our Mayor, Jesse Arreguin, a couple of weeks ago, in a video interview at the encampment she’s living in, to please find her a place to live. She can’t beat her illnesses living in a tent. She needs to be able to wash.

She’s been applying to everything she can find that might be a way off the street, and none of it has gotten anywhere. One might suppose that the Mayor knows that the city is more intent on just closing homeless encampments, and moving people around from place to place, from one raid after another, and so on, like they did in 2016. So he smiles as he leaves her.

Osha Neumann sent an open letter to the city about the raids on RVs in the Marina just this month. Its essesntial message was, “oh no, not again; why is civility so impossible to embrace?” Many of the homeless who get kicked out of their encampments are disabled, but that doesn’t seem to matter. When seizing their property, the police are seizing their survivability.

How does it feel, knowing that, in this society, it is okay that someone in a wheelchair has to live in a tent – or otherwise the sidewalk? When we get justly upset about children being torn from their parents that we write letters and make phone calls, is it because that is happening 1500 miles away?

You know why so many Mexicans come to the US to work. Its because of corn. The US mass produces corn, and can sell it cheaper than Mexican farmers can produce the corn that they depend on for an income. NAFTA allows the US to export corn to Mexico free of tariffs. The Mexican farmers can’t compete. They lose their income, lose their land to the bank, and by growing the unemployment situation, drive the economy into recession. So they follow their money as if flees to the US hoping to get it back by working for it, so they can send it home to feed their kids. NAFTA takes parents away from their kids and ICE takes kids away from their parents.

When the police raid the homeless, and take their possessions, they are taking what the homeless need to protect themselves from the environment. Without that protection, they die. Everyday, somewhere in the US, some homeless people die on the street. To take their possessions is separate them from their survivability. It is, in effect, to kill them, slowly. It should be manslaughter, but it’s done knowingly. The police commit attempted murder whenever they raid a homeless encampment, and take the people’s possessions. Its unconstitutional, of course, but we’re speaking about civility here – you know, ethics.

How does it feel?

How many of the children having been put in cages in Texas without their parents will have to die, perhaps by throwing themselves off a bridge in hopelessness, before we find a way to say “stop” to the government without having to wait two years for the next election. Death doesn’t wait that long.

Homelessness happens. Maybe you have no pension, or maybe your pension is too little to keep up with what the real estate speculators are doing to rent levels and real estate prices in this whole area. Nowadays, old Victorians go for a million plus. To rent an apartment, you have to be able to pay $2000 a month for a studio or one bedroom.

Ani is old, and sick. and can’t leave her tent. Except to wind up in the hospital. She cracked her skull open trying to get down to a BART platform. Her wheelchair got caught in the escalator and she fell.

The city government claims it has no money for people. They spent over a hundred thousand for police overtime incurred during 2016 for all the raids on the homeless encampments. The US reaps huge profits from dominating Mexican markets with cheap goods, and have none to take care of the elderly and disabled homeless here.

But there is plenty of money. This is the richest country in the world. Mexico isn’t the only only economy exploited by it. Yet government claims it is starved for funds so that housing programs, and educational systems, and health care, etc. all have to be cut back. However, there is plenty of money. It is in the five-sided building, that institution that simply has to wave its hand to get appropriations it didn’t even ask for. The US right now is bombing seven different countries in the world. Perhaps it can’t stop killing people in order to make its attitude toward the homeless here at “home” look benign. The military has but to cancel one contract for a new plane to provide health and education for everyone.

Ani would have been dead by now if it weren’t for the other homeless people who belong to that prophetic group called “First the Came for the Homeless.” They call themselves an “intentional community,” which means they take care of each other, know each other well, make their own rules democratically, keep their place spic and span, and make sure nobody dies of hunger or a terrible disease. Alcohol and drugs are not an option. They are banned from the encampment. If you come into the camp wearing that millstone around your neck, they will take care of you, but only on the basis of agreements. Agreements occur between equals. It is what produces belonging. First, there is agreement on some method of getting rid of the millstone. Then, “belonging” means living up to the agreements.

So Ani is still alive. But she’s doing some serious hospital time.

You know what it makes me think of? There was a movie I saw a long time ago about a tribe in ancient Japan that would take their old people, who could no longer contribute to the well-being of the society, up into the mountains, and leave them there to starve to death, or throw them off a cliff. It was a 1958 film called “The Ballad of Narayama,” directed by Shichiro Fukuzawa. You watch the movie, and you go through the anguish of this family, torn between what the whole is doing and what the part must endure because of an age-old helplessness. (It is similar to the anguish that one sees in the woman who is the main character in the short story, “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson.)

There was a lot of controversy at the time the movie came out about whether the story was true or not. Fukuzawa took the story from a novel about the practice, and made it visible for everyone. Some said only savages would treat people like that. You can imagine what some other people were saying.

But now, we know the story in the movie was true. Except that the society that engages in this practice is the US, where homeless people who have been jettisoned sit on sidewalks waiting for the inevitable. They are stripped of belonging to society before the cops arrive, and they are deprived of survivability after they come. It is indeed savagery to simply leave the elderly to rot away on some mountain ledge or throw them off a cliff because they are no longer useful, or leave them sitting there on a sidewalk.

It is indeed savagery to let people rot away in the rain or confiscate their tent so that they become defenseless against the elements. That savagery may only be the soft subtle economic workings of markets and trade, but they form a cliff from which people are thrown to their death.