Monday, February 20, 2017

The Deportation of Dreams

On Saturday, I participated in my first official demonstration, which I guess technically qualifies me as an activist of some sort, right? After several years of arguing for refugee and Muslim rights on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, and in the past few years of working with predominantly undocumented individuals at work, I realized I needed to take a more active approach in the real world to support the cause. So I guess Queen Rania was right all along that online activism can lead to real world action and change, it just takes a few years more than I realized (check out my less than honorable mention at 3:03).

I am the daughter of an immigrant. My dad traveled to the United States from Mexico legally in the 1950s with my grandparents, aunt, and uncle. It was a gradual and difficult process as my grandfather scrimped and saved the money he earned from two full-time jobs in order to gather enough to secure green cards for his entire family. There was separation involved as my grandfather sent for the family members one by one to come to El Paso, Texas, Eventually they moved to Huntington Park, California, which was still a sprawling white only neighborhood back in the day, and, in the face of rampant racism, began the lengthy and expensive process of obtaining citizenship. My family worked hard to achieve this and they fervently believed in the importance of moving legally, following the rules, and beginning their new life in the US with a clean slate.

This is the environment I was raised in. Understand the sacrifice, appreciate the struggle, and observe the integrity that it took for our family to come here as documented immigrants, legal workers, and eventually legitimate Americans. My family looked down upon the undocumented immigrants who waded across the Rio Grande or high-tailed it through the desert with some shady coyote who may take advantage of their desperation or rape their women. Different sacrifices to make some feeble attempt of reaching the American Dream that so many hope for, but illegal sacrifices nonetheless. "If we came here legally, so should you!" I was fed many lies about illegal immigrants, the crime that they bring, the leeching off the system, the ineffectiveness of their existence in our economy.

For a long time I bought into this. I believed what my family would tell me because why would they lie? But as I've gotten older and wiser, as my critical thinking skills have kicked in and my brain decided to start working on its own for a change, I realized not everything is so black and white. I have come to understand the nearly impossible process involved in trying to come here legally from south of the border, and why so many break the laws to do so in any way they can. I have seen the hard work these people put in just to survive and feed their families. I have learned that while many of them are not legal residents, they have jobs that also pay taxes. I have seen them strive just to provide their children a small slice of what we all hope for growing up in this land of opportunities. I have seen them desperate to accomplish, to grow, to contribute to the country they love.

Now please do not mistake me, because I am not in support of illegal immigration. I believe that we must have an effective system in place to track and document any individuals coming into this country, whether it be our southern neighbors, our friends to the north, or any country from across the sea. These are difficult times with terrorism and violence, and we need to be aware of who enters our country, who is living in our neighborhoods. I think there is much to be done to improve the system that we already have, which clearly is not working if a terrorist can fly with his wife into California from Saudi Arabia and shoot up a regional center. But does that mean that deporting functional members of our society will solve our problems?

ICE raids have been rampant in the last few weeks, more so in Southern California where undoubtedly the Trump Administration has targeted undocumented immigrants because of the LA County Sheriff Department's refusal to help with deportation efforts and recent announcements that LA is looking to become a sanctuary city. Though the White House claims that these raids are targeting criminals, reports throughout SoCal indicate that anyone without papers is being picked up and deported. I admit I personally have no qualms with deporting undocumented individuals who have come to my country to commit crimes; if you can't respect the sanctity of our social laws, you must go! If you're here to mooch off the system, goodbye! But I can't comprehend the benefit of deporting mothers of small children who have been here for 14 years and have done nothing wrong. I can't understand why we would send a father packing for working in the fields of our agricultural divisions for 10 years and leaving his family without a provider. Why would we send parents away, leaving their American born children alone and susceptible in the US foster care system?

As I marched, I saw strength and unity in many groups of people: Muslims, Jews, Africans, Latinos. Some were refugees from war torn countries, others refugees from corrupt nations and politicians. All were marching for their right to not only exist, but to exist in a safe and secure environment, away from dropping bombs and gunfire, away from cartels and backwards police, away from poverty and disease. I also saw glimmers of fear and desperation as families pleaded to stay together, and children holding both American and Mexican flags who don't comprehend the dire situation they and their families are in with the risk of being separated forever. And I realized this is not my America.

A change must come. People who are already here must become documented and we must facilitate this process in order to help them do so, not provoke fear and intimidation in threats of being sent back to the murderous, corrupt hellhole from whence they came. Likewise, moving forward, people who plan to come here must follow the regulations set forth by our federal laws; we shouldn't make coming to America a difficult process, but it should be a required process either way to monitor for safety, security, and the economical issues of living in this country. Everyone should have the right to pursue the dream that we all strive for, no matter what the hypocritical immigrant in the white house has to say about it. Because let's not forget, FLOTUS is an immigrant who worked illegally in the US too, so if his wife deserves the opportunity, why doesn't everyone else?

Inarguably the best poster at the march

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Porte Fermèe

On November 13, 2015, members of the Middle Eastern terrorist group ISIL organized an attack on Paris, France. A triad of extremists descended upon the darkened city and began systematically detonating previously placed explosive devices around the city, namely in restaurants and cafes. One unsuccessfully tried to enter a sports stadium and detonated his bomb outside the area. One group of gunmen raided other eateries and began shooting several innocent patrons. Another group carried out a massacre in a local theater where the metal band Eagles of Death Metal were performing. Bodies and pools of blood filled the roads and sidewalks and screams filled the air. Innocent civilians were fleeing through the streets of the City of Lights as the country was enveloped in the darkness of senseless violence.

As first responders arrived on scene, authorities advised everyone to avoid travel, seek shelter, and stay off the streets. Then the Open Door Movement began. Parisians all over the city began publicly tweeting their addresses with the hashtag #porteouverte, translated to Open Door, indicating that their home was a safe house to anyone who could not get home that night, that shelter, food, and a place to sleep would be provided until the city was safe again. Parisians knew the dangers of allowing strangers into their homes. What if they were robbed? What if they were attacked? What if the person they were letting in was one of the terrorists themselves, seeking a gullible family to eliminate? But they didn't care, because the danger of helping a complete stranger was far less greater than the danger that lurked in the shadows on that fateful night.

There is a great danger lurking in the Middle East. Between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Syrian conflict, there are thousands of innocent civilians being brutally murdered with bombings, shootings, massacres, and even burnings. In Aleppo, men, women, and children caught in the middle of a civil war have been ruthlessly slaughtered, and make every attempt to flee the city if they have somewhere to go. Many don't.

Jordan, Lebanon, Kurdistan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt have taken most of the load in the Middle East in terms of providing safe havens. Over the past four years, over 4.8 million refugees have sought asylum in their neighboring countries. Gradually they started shifting over to Europe, where countries including the UK, Germany, and Sweden begin accepting refugees and estimate to have housed 500,000 of them as they cross into EU borders. Some families become desperate, like Alan Kurdi's family, who drowned when attempting to cross the sea into Turkey. He became international news when his small body washed up on a Turkish beach, reminding everyone of the gravity of the dire situation in Syria.

In spite of their great intentions to help their fellow man, eventually the efforts of these countries fell far too short. The conditions of the camp deteriorate as funding dwindles and many of the countries can no longer manage the extra thousands and millions of mouths to feed, clothe, and house. In camps in Jordan, they live in sorry excuses for a tent, where they struggle to stay warm through the frigid winters without enough blankets, sweaters, heaters, and few doctors to treat them when they become sick. In other camps, many described the settings as degrading, some were housed in what they described as imprisonment. Some Syrian women resort to prostitution to feed their families. And though many countries provided asylum away from the bombings, the death, and the terror of war, the refugees were not always out of danger. In many camps, refugee women were being sexually assaulted. In one Turkish camp, a worker was discovered to be sexually abusing young Syrian boys, at times paying them 70 cents to $1.70 to have sex with him. He did not deny these allegations, but he reported multiple workers in the camp were doing the same.

The added pressures of taking on refugees and the economic strain that tightened around these nations was beginning to take its toll. Turkey began to turn from the humanitarian cause and began unofficially refusing entry into their country. Soldiers were found to be shooting and beating Syrian refugees at the borders, and a Turkish factory was discovered to have been making fake life jackets that were provided to migrants attempting to flee to Greece. This was found after 30 emigrants washed ashore Greece's beach, prompting a raid and investigation.

Distrust also began to grow in the EU as well. As a very select few of the emigrants committed criminal acts (like select individuals of every ethnicity, race, and nationality do), Europeans began to associate these acts with the culture and religion as a whole. If one migrant acts like an asshole, they all must be assholes. Likewise as terrorist attacks surged in Europe, more and more people began to believe that the open door policy they have maintained have made it easier for terrorists to enter their country (however, attacks like the one on Paris were carried out by French citizens). Intensifying dissent regarding the refugee policies grew, which largely contributed to the Brexit motion of the UK.

The US is not immune to such suspicions. After the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade centers that killed 3,000 Americans, Islamophobia has been growing steadily, along with hostility. As refugees began filing into the states, more and more people began to turn against them. Though it seemed tensions eased a little under the comfort of Obama's presidency, with the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has been spewing from Trump's mouth since he began his campaign, hostilities are burning hotter than ever. Following the attacks on Paris, more people called for closing our borders, and Trump set out to do just that.

On January 27th, he signed a bill indefinitely restricting Syrian refugees from entering the country, along with temporary bans of other Muslims from various other nations including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. This includes refugees who have already been approved to come to America, students who went home to visit their families during the holidays and cannot re-enter, and immigrants with valid green cards, whom are set to be sent home. There was chaos at the airports as many incoming Middle Easterners, Muslims, and refugees were detained by customs and set to be deported. Some were handcuffed and interrogated. One New York judge stopped the deportations but has not motioned to allow them entry into the US. Protests are rampant, but Trump reports that they were "well prepared" for the rollout and felt that it was "working out very nicely, you see it at the airports, you see it all over." Apparently he hasn't turned on a TV. His ban has already brought legal challenges from two refugees, and more are set to follow. In response, Iran is blocking US citizens from traveling to their country as well. The silver lining for refugees is that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is happy to accept them and perhaps they can be re-routed up north until we can get Trump fired.

Some have supported the ban citing these ongoing fears of terrorists getting into the country. Let me briefly touch on the 9-step process refugees must go through in order to be approved to come to America for those of you still concerned with national security:

1. Basic identifying information is collected, applicants are interviewed on their need for relocation (only 1% of all applicants are approved to move on to step 2).
2. They are relocated to a federally funded camp, formal identification documents are collected, biographical security checks begin
3. They are screened by the National Counter-Terrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Sate Department to ensure they are not a security risk, they are not connected to other security risks, and have no history of criminal activities
4. They are heavily interviewed by multiple agents from Homeland Security and they run fingerprints
5. Fingerprints are run through the FBI, the Homeland Security office, and the Department of Defense (any security concerns result in rejection of application)
6. Medical checks are run (any medical issues result in rejection of application)
7. Applicants take cultural orientation classes and have a location identified for them
During this time, ongoing security checks are run repeatedly to ensure no new information arises on their records before they are sent to their new country.
8. Travel, processing through customs and TSA regulations
9. Arrival in the US, immediately begin the lengthy process to obtain a green card, including more security and background checks. If they do not obtain one within one year, they are deported.


This entire process takes approximately one and a half to two years as applicants are excruciatingly, painstakingly screened. Knowing the extent of this process, knowing that their records will arise and not only will they be rejected but detained and prosecuted, I sincerely doubt that ISIS or ISIL was using the refugee status application as a means to get to the US. And closing the borders won't stop them either. Do you really think the rebels of ISIS are going to say "aw shucks guys, they closed the borders! Well, I guess we should give up and go back to being farmers!" All we are doing is condemning the innocent civilians of war torn countries to die in their homelands, be sexually assaulted or starve in their camps, or to be recruited by ISIS.

In Paris, whatever dangers were present, on that night, the people were united. They opened their doors, they risked their own safety to provide safety to their fellow man from the evil of this world. They didn't ask for ID first, they didn't demand papers, they didn't ask about their religions. They simply said "come in, you will be safe here." Had I the opportunity, I would open my door to you, I would welcome you in and keep you safe. Sadly, there is no safe haven here for you for now my friends, no American dream, no opportunity or liberty, no pursuit of happiness. Our doors are portes fermèes; closed. But please believe that we will continue to fight for you. When Trump closes a door, we will break it down.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Contraceptive Deceptions

On January 21st, one day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, millions of women, girls, and their male-counterpart allies worldwide took to the streets to march and protest for Women's Rights, along with the human rights issues of ethnic minorities and LGBTs piggy-backing on the movement. I couldn't make the march myself, but I kept a close eye on the videos and photos streaming through my Facebook news feed, and teared up at the overwhelming and impassioned global response. This was one of the most historic events I have ever had the privilege to witness, and hope and inspiration for our future flooded my heart.

Everyone marched for various reasons: some marched for educational rights for girls throughout the world; some marched for equal pay; some marched for pro-choice rights and contraception; some marched for pro-life; some marched against the rape culture. Others' reasons weren't directly related to women's rights, but they marched for climate change, for marriage equality, for Black Lives, and for refugees and Muslims. But the underlying motive for many on this day was the swearing in of who is probably one of the most blatantly misogynistic presidents the US has ever known. With derogatory and brutal ad hominems attacking any woman who challenged him, with locker room admissions of sexual harassment and assaults, with promises to defund organizations that work to ensure women's health, Trump became the biggest liability to the Women's Rights movement in the western world when he became the leader of the most powerful country on the planet.

I have seen many people from various countries comment on the election and the ensuing danger that Trump's inauguration would bring. Many trolls on the internet often told these people to shut up, mind their own business, and stop sticking their noses in our politics. What they don't understand is the monstrous influence our country has on the global community and how our international relations, our foreign policies, our social issues trickle down and impact other countries and our fellow (wo)man. This is why multiple protests took place around the world, not just in our backyards. But, as if to perfectly demonstrate this point, Trump's first Monday in office tackled women around the world to the ground as he flipped a giant middle finger to us all.

In spite of the sea of protesters that packed into the streets and subways to demand their protection, Trump moved forward with his first blow to Women's Rights when he signed the Mexico City policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule. The Global Gag Rule is an international law which cuts funding to family planning organizations all over the world that utilize, promote, or even discuss abortions as options for expectant mothers. Even if the organizations continue these practices with alternate funding, they will be disqualified from receiving any US funds. This was no secret plan and really no shock, as Trump and Pence had been fighting Planned Parenthood from the beginning and promised to demolish the agency, but, as with most of his misinformed platform, Trump jumped without looking, without thinking, and the effects are going to backfire on a global scale.

During the presidential campaign, in order to garner more support for shutting down Planned Parenthood, the GOP fed a colossal lie to the public when it alleged that 95% of services provided by PP were abortions. Pro-Lifers ate this up and immediately joined the cause to level the murderous bastards by any means necessary, which of course meant electing a giant narcissistic carrot. But when actual facts come into play, the story is drastically different, making this move with the Global Gag Rule that much more detrimental.

The irrefutable truth is that organizations like Planned Parenthood provide a wide array of services to lower income and uninsured families, including STI/STD testing and treatment, providing contraception and sterilization procedures, pregnancy tests and prenatal care, and various forms of cancer screenings. All of these bypass abortions significantly, as they account for roughly 97% of the services provided by PP, and the remaining 3% is pregnancy terminations.

So what does it really mean when you close a Planned Parenthood down? By stopping free pregnancy tests and prenatal care, you eliminate early pregnancy detection, critical prenatal care, and you significantly increase the risk for unsafe labors. By shutting down STI/STD testing, you accelerate the spread of of HIV/AIDS worldwide, and shave years off the lives of those who test positive, since they can no longer receive the medications that save their lives. By ending cancer screening, early detection is non-existent, therefore factors that extend their lifespan are too. By refusing to provide free contraception, you will dramatically increase unwanted pregnancies, which will in turn, increase abortions. Yup, just because you shut down a clinic that does abortions on occasion does not mean you will end abortion. In fact, abortions will grow exponentially. How do we know this? Because it's been done before.

Though there is a long standing law that the US cannot use taxpayer money to fund any form of abortions, various presidents have toyed with it and signed the Mexico City policy in and out of activity with every change in office. Originally enacted by Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton lifted the policy when he entered office. George W. Bush re-enacted it when he took over, and Obama lifted it once more when he moved into the big house. Now Trump has signed it back in  just one day after the 44th anniversary of the passing of Roe vs Wade. According to the World Health Organization, when Bush signed the policy back in, abortions increased by 40% worldwide. Imagine that, if you take away birth control pills, condoms, and IUDs, people get more kids they don't want and will do anything to get rid of them, including risking their own lives. During this same period, the majority of the abortions that took place were illegal and unsafe, which ended in several maternal deaths. If the past is any indication, estimates are reporting that abortions will likely rise by 2.2 million internationally, and maternal deaths are estimated to increase by 13%.

During the election, I was appalled by the 44% of female voters who elected Trump into office. Hadn't they been listening? Hadn't they been paying attention? They rationalized away his horrific statements as being "misquoted," "edited by liberal news outlets," or just denying anything was said at all. This made it so much easier for them to look past this impending danger and allow the vicious beast past the gates. Even during these marches, women continued to berate other women from the comfort of their own computer chairs, not comprehending the significance of this moment or the benefits they already reap from so many marches that took place before this to secure the rights they enjoy today.

So many Trump supporters urge us to unite, and too often the abyss is too wide for us to bridge the gap, but finally this is something we can work together on, because right now we're all losing. If you're appalled by maternal deaths and unsafe abortions, this should scare the shit out of you. If you are pro-life, you should be infuriated that the GOP lied to you and enacted a law that will cause abortion rates to explode across the globe. This is the beginning of a long road of lies and bullshit that you will have to fight right alongside us to stop this giant farting T.Rex from not only hurting us, but destroying women's lives all over the world. Stand with us.