How Stigma Hurts Series: Opium and Chinese Repression

By Eva Pechtl

Samuel Walker proposes that America has two crime problems, one affecting most white, middle-class Americans and another affecting mostly people of color in poverty. Racial bias has been expressed in drug policy for centuries and has not ceased to marginalize certain racial and ethnic minorities. Chinese immigrants have been historically discriminated against in the United States and have not ceased to face racism in everyday life, especially after being associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Bias has not only affected drug policy over time, but drug policy has reiterated this bias. 

Stigma refers to a negative attitude toward a particular group of people, which is usually unfair and leads to discrimination. Stigma can be both explicitly expressed, like thinking people with mental health conditions are dangerous, and subtly embedded in societal norms, like repeatedly showing people of certain groups in the media in negative situations. Labeling someone in a positive or negative way is an easy solution to avoid the toll of understanding the challenges they are experiencing. Stigma is hugely based on social identity and perception of other groups, in that negatively stigmatizing other groups can be a way to justify inequalities in one’s own privilege compared to others. 

Understanding stigma toward other social identities is especially important in the context of historical and present drug policy. In this series of blogs, I will explore some important historical examples of how stigma against minority groups has been embedded in American drug sentiment. Throughout this series, I will review the opium trade and Chinese repression, the criminalization of marijuana and Mexican immigrants, the unequal playing field of the hippie counterculture movement and the Indigenous Peyote movement, and the controversy over racial disparities in crack and cocaine sentencing. I hope to offer new perspectives on how targeting and incarcerating drug users has resulted in challenges specifically for minority groups, and how stigma hurts in the criminal justice system.

  

Outlining the Opium Wars in China 

An early point to recognize in the development of drug prohibition was the Opium Wars in China and their effects on the criminalization of Chinese immigrants, especially in the US. This example importantly impacted policies on opiates, the term for the chemicals found naturally and refined into heroin, morphine, and codeine. These variations are derived and created from opium, a depressant drug from the sap of the opium poppy plant. Opioids can refer to both naturally derived opium and its variations synthetically made in the laboratory, like oxycodone and hydrocodone (partly synthetic) or tramadol and fentanyl (fully synthetic). As a medication, opium is meant to be used for pain control, but smoking opium causes euphoric effects almost immediately since the chemicals are instantly absorbed through the lungs and to the brain. The coming of opium smoking to the US created very toxic discrimination by those in privilege against Chinese immigrants, leading to blatant policies against Chinese people in poverty, even when the opium frenzy that followed was far from their goal. 

 

The cultivation of opium increased substantially after the Opium Wars strongly shifted China's economy.
An image of a woman and two children picking the opium poppy fields grown in Old China around 1900. Source: Yahoo Images via Flickr. The cultivation of opium increased substantially after the Opium Wars strongly shifted China’s economy.

 

In the 1700s, opium poppy fields in India were conquered by the British Empire and smuggled into China for profit. Even though China banned the opium trade in 1729, the illegal sale of the drug by outside nations caused an addiction epidemic and devastating economic consequences. In the Opium Wars, the Qing Dynasty attempted to fight against opium importation, but the British consistently gained more power over trafficking and forced China to make the opium trade legal by 1860. China had imported tea through the East India Company to Britain for many years, but it no longer appealed to Britain’s trade options, and this was detrimental to trade. As Britain ran out of silver to maintain the tea trade, the East India Company found that opium could be sourced in bulk from China, which led to a growing and promising market. The East India Company did not initially create the demand for opium but found a way to maximize the economic disruption and addiction in China for the benefit of trade.  

Opium was then trafficked increasingly and was effectively destructive to the Chinese. For example, for the British to get their fix of caffeine, the Chinese got their fix of opium. The drug was sold and medicalized to merchants around the world, notably America, which played a significant role in finding new sources of supply from China and expanding the opium market until 1840. In Chinese culture, smoking opium was initially a ritual luxury that was used to display privilege, but as it became more accessible, the government was less concerned with controlling its pharmacological effects and more with controlling the social deviance associated with it. The Opium Wars ended in an unequal trading arrangement in Europe’s favor, continuing importation and causing the market to become socially segmented. Depending on their wealth, people bought different varieties of opium. However, addiction did not discriminate by wealth. 

  

Judging Drugs by Culture 

When many Chinese immigrants came to the US in the mid-1800s, primarily to escape the social and economic devastation brought upon them by the Opium Wars, they were an easy scapegoat for US politicians to blame for the internationally emerging opium crisis. Opium smoking, as well as poverty, was popular among them, so many started businesses of their own, including Opium Dens. These were hidden places to smoke without social consequences, popular in San Francisco, and were typically run by Chinese immigrants, though people of all backgrounds could be found there. These dens were compared to sin and hell, which only increased the already pervasive anti-Chinese sentiment. There was popularity in claims that vulnerable white women who entered the dens were manipulated and their honor surrendered by Chinese men. Males made up 95% of Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century, working for the few available jobs amid the great depression, leading to strong discriminatory sentiment among Americans affected by unemployment, such as referring to cheap laborers as ‘opium fiends.’  

 

Opium users sit and lay relaxing on the floor of a small and organized Opium Den, wearing traditional Chinese clothing and smoking the drug through a pipe next to a tray of materials.
An image of two men inside an opium den run by Chinese immigrants in San Francisco in 1898. Source: Yahoo Images via Flickr. Opium users sit and lay relaxing on the floor of a small and organized Opium Den, wearing traditional Chinese clothing and smoking the drug through a pipe next to a tray of materials.

 

Several Chinese immigrants sit beside each other inside a dark and smoky Opium Den, some of them passed out or laid back.
A drawing of an opium den with several Chinese men appearing delirious and their surroundings unclean. Opium Dens were commonly perceived as disgusting places when many were well-kept and included people of different backgrounds. Source: Yahoo Images via Uncyclopedia. Several Chinese immigrants sit beside each other inside a dark and smoky Opium Den, some of them passed out or laid back.

 

Chinese people were at first welcomed by some Americans as “the most industrious, quiet, patient people among us,” by a California newspaper in 1852. Still, tensions rose at the same time that immigrants started impacting opium use and the workforce. Policies on opium reflect xenophobia and racism, perpetuating fear of the ‘yellow peril,’ a racist color metaphor in American campaigns disguised as ‘anti-drug.’  To further conceptualize racism in politics during this time, the California Supreme Court case People v. Hall in 1854 categorized several racial and ethnic minorities as lacking the progress or development to testify against White people. Even if states did not blatantly pass these laws, Chinese people would be dismissed as liars before even speaking for themselves. This pervasiveness made it impossible for Chinese immigrants to seek justice against the severe discrimination and bias of the drug wars or practically any repressive measures they were subjected to. With the completion of the railroad in 1869, thousands of Chinese people were out of work, denied access to jobs, and targeted as competition as soon as they began to succeed.  

With the quote "the Chinese must go," an American figure with long legs labeled 'the Missouri Steam Washer' chases away a Chinese man representing the competition of immigrant businesses. The fleeing man clutches a stool and a container of opium.
An image of a political cartoon describing the exclusion of Chinese immigrants, pushing them away from San Francisco back to China. A Chinese man flees from the American market competition while clutching a stepping stool and a container of opium. Source: Yahoo Images via History1700s. With the quote “the Chinese must go,” an American figure with long legs labeled ‘the Missouri Steam Washer’ chases away a Chinese man representing the competition of immigrant businesses. The fleeing man clutches a stool and a container of opium.

 

By the 1870s, it became apparent that many individuals, including white people, were picking up on opiate addiction. Opium use had increased alarmingly by the 1880s across the American medical field as well, and this led to criticism of Chinese immigrants by people who saw their fellow Americans as plagued by a disgusting habit. When more others were associated with Chinese people in this way, the criminalization of Chinese people represented a shift in focus toward protecting the perceived integrity of white people. For example, the San Francisco Opium Den Ordinance in 1875 made it illegal to maintain or visit places where opium was smoked, so many Chinese people and their neighborhoods were criminalized. Essentially, the US passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which was the first major federal legislation to explicitly restrict immigration for a specific nationality. This meant pushing Chinese people away from the US even when they were producing the backbone of American railroad labor and only making up 0.002% of the population at that time. 

 

A group of US Marshals stand close by a pile of opium and smoking materials to be burned on a busy Chinatown street while hundreds of people surround and watch.
An image of US Marshals burning opium and opium pipes resulting from an Opium Den raid in the middle of a crowded Chinatown street. Source: Yahoo Images via FoundSF. A group of US Marshals stands close by a pile of opium and smoking materials to be burned on a busy Chinatown street while hundreds of people surround and watch.

 

Parallels of Criminalization and Overprescription 

The Smoking Opium Exclusion Act in 1909 continued to ban the possession, use, and importation of opium for smoking, being the first federal law to ban the non-medical use of a substance. Even though opioids were rampantly prescribed and available in America by this time, the criminalization only applied to smoking opium, primarily done by Chinese immigrants in Chinatowns. Contrary to assumptions, it is not illegal drug cartels but pharmaceutical companies that fueled the opioid epidemic. For example, many Union soldiers in the Civil War returned home addicted to opium pills or needing treatment only possible by hypodermic syringes, which had become widely overused by both doctors and addicts due to their powerful relieving abilities. Male doctors prescribed morphine for women’s menstrual cramps, and it was even infused into syrup to soothe teething babies who became addicted. This was known as the ‘Poor Child’s Nurse, since the drug often led to infant death by starvation when sold as a medicine to calm hungry babies. In a broad sense, depending on or relating to one’s racial or ethnic community, opioids were regulated differently.  

When narcotic sales were banned in 1923, this forced many addicts subjected to this overprescription to buy illegally from the thriving black markets, especially in Chinatowns, again criminalizing Chinese people. Countless doctors warned and panicked over the rising commonality of addictiveness in opiates as early as 1833, and opium was rapidly synthesized by scientists all over the world into more dangerous variations. When problems with addiction to medicalized opioid variations spun out of control, the US blamed Chinese immigrants rather than consulting with the professional field to avoid harm in the irresponsible dispersion of highly addictive drugs. Instead of dispersing research on the new and dangerous variations, opium smoking was specifically centralized, with opium being generalized into street names like ‘Chinese molasses’ or ‘Chinese tobacco.’  

The narrative of opioid addicts was changed when opioid abuse rose among white people, and by this, I mean both the attitudes toward addiction and the actions taken to solve it. Framing addiction as a disease rather than a disgusting crime came when it was no longer just people of color getting in trouble. The idea of pharmaceutical treatments for drug abuse came when it was white people suffering and dying from the opioid epidemic. Meanwhile, opium ordinances had a heavy burden on the incarceration and continued detainment and deportation of Chinese people in the United States especially before accurate research was done. Repression was tied to opium but also purposely deprived Chinese immigrants of opportunities to succeed and created criminalized reputations among their communities. Despite its age, the history of the Opium Wars and its impact on societal discrimination in America is not a point to be missed when considering drug stigmatization.

The Unrecognized Effects of the Opioid Crisis on Native Americans

by Abigail Shumate

A Brief History of the Opioid Crisis

Beginning in the late 20th century, opioid prescription rates skyrocketed in shocking numbers, and in just over ten years, opioid sales quadrupled. With the introduction of OxyContin into everyday life and medication sales, an opioid that was falsely advertised as non-addictive, as well as pill mills across the United States, millions of people fell into a deadly addiction. As people lost access to prescription opioids, they often turned to more illicit drugs, such as heroin. This was worsened by the prices of heroin going down, making it much easier for people to afford large quantities of the drug. The use of heroin is often looked at as the second wave of the drug crisis, and heroin deaths surpassed prescription drug deaths in 2015. The third wave of the opioid crisis is where we currently reside, and it is characterized by overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

Connection to Native Americans and Alaskan Natives

The opioid epidemic has been heavily discussed in the past few years; however, it has been occurring for even longer. Opioid usage affects most groups; however, its large-scale detriment to minority race and ethnicity groups is frequently ignored. Native Americans and Alaskan Natives (here referred to as NA/AN) are disproportionately affected by the opioid crisis, and this discrepancy is ignored by many critical groups.

American Indians have the highest drug overdose death rates, and these rates are not stagnant. The CDC reports that overdose deaths have increased by 33% within the last several years. This pattern of drug abuse and overdose is not isolated to adults, as NA/AN youth also struggle with the use of unauthorized prescription painkillers, with some reports showing as many as 11% of high school students using painkillers without explicit orders from their doctors.

There are many factors that cause NA/AN groups to be affected more heavily than other groups, and these include historical trauma, lower educational attainment, lack of easy access to healthcare, housing problems, poverty, unemployment, violence, and mental health issues. In this post, I will choose to focus on two main reasons: lack of easy access to healthcare and mental health issues caused by lost connection to culture.

Health Disparities in NA/AN Communities

NA/AN groups have serious healthcare inconsistencies that must be addressed for these communities to gain adequate support during the opioid crisis. The Indian Health Service (IHS) is a group that provides care to over 2.2 million people, but it is severely underfunded by Congress. As this is one of the main organizations providing healthcare access to NA/AN groups, this underfunding affects millions of lives. To put these funding issues in perspective, funding would have to almost double to match the degree of care provided to federal prisoners, and it would have to increase by even more to equate to Medicaid benefits.

Alternate Text: Image of white OxyContin bottle with white pills laid out in front. Source: Flickr
Image of white OxyContin bottle with white pills laid out in front. Source: Flickr

Poor healthcare consistently results in the treatment of symptoms instead of causes, and, unfortunately, this means the prescription of opioids. Whether injuries occur from manual labor, physical activity, or driving accidents, NA/AN individuals are more likely to be treated with opioids as opposed to more effective means of treatment, such as physical therapy. Poor healthcare aligns directly with low-quality insurance or no insurance at all, and opioids are more likely to be prescribed in areas with uninsured people.

Mental Health and Cultural Disconnect

The traumatic history of Native American groups has a massive impact on these overdose rates, as forceful deprivation from culture leads not only to issues such as inadequate healthcare and poverty, but also mental health issues, one cause of opioid treatment, these being direct pathways to opioid addictions.

Mental health issues are incredibly prevalent within NA/AN communities, with suicide rates for them being more than double those for the entire U.S. population. NA/AN individuals are also more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders and PTSD. These mental health conditions, when left untreated or inadequately treated, can often lead to drug abuse. The IHS does provide care for mental health and substance abuse issues; however, the already underfunded organization only uses about 10% of these funds to support substance abuse treatment

These mental health issues can be attributed to many things; however, a major force playing into this is the history of trauma amongst Native Americans. This topic could be one if not several, entire blog posts, but here I will attempt to briefly sum it up. It is important to note that there are around 600 federally recognized tribes, so the experiences of NA/AN individuals can vary greatly. One thing most groups share is a prevalent history of displacement and loss of culture. In the late 19th century, the majority of Native American individuals were forced to relocate to reservations or into urban areas. This resulted in a decline in socioeconomic status, which resulted in poor living and working conditions, as well as heightened health issues, both mental and physical.

It is vital to remember that NA/AN groups are underrepresented in major clinical research studies. This results in the general public being unaware of the true extent of issues within these communities. This underrepresentation in research exacerbates the disparities and can easily result in the continuance of the opioid crisis for Native Americans with little to no acknowledgement from major government parties. Another impact of inadequate research is misconstrued statistics, and it is likely that the opioid crisis is worse for NA/AN groups than scholars anticipate, as overdose cases may be underestimated by as much as 35% due to race miscalculations.

Alternate Text: Image of a white hospital room with two bed placed in the center. Source: Flickr.
Image of a white hospital room with two bed placed in the center. Source: Flickr.

 

Creating Change

The first thing that needs to be done in order to improve the worsening opioid crisis in NA/AN areas is to improve funding for the Indian Health Service. The United States Congress must take action and increase funding—the funding in 2022 is less than half of what patients need. With adequate health care, individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues will be able to get the help that they need, and, on the more preventative side, with better care, individuals will be less likely to be prescribed opioids as a substitute for proper treatment.

The second action that needs to be taken is better awareness. There needs to be more research devoted to NA/AN groups, so that we are able to pin down what leads to these heightened addiction statistics. Overall, it is vital for individuals to take personal responsibility and increase their own awareness of the issues. Native Americans have been ignored and mistreated for decades, and this must be remedied in the present.

The Wine Industry: Years of Exploitation and Human Trafficking

by Caitlin Cerillo

Have you ever had a glass of wine and wondered how it’s made? Or, pondered what it comes from and how long the wine-making process takes? Who is responsible for making it? Surely, the wine industry has been modernized, where mechanical inventions can do most of the handiwork when creating a delicious bottle of wine used for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and other milestone celebrations.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The wine industry has had a history of exploiting its workers by forcing them to work in extremely poor conditions and grueling hours. Wine-making follows an intricate process, starting with the harvesting of grapes in vineyards. Mechanical harvesting does exist and is generally quicker than doing so by hand, as the average human can harvest 1-2 tons a day, while a machine can harvest 80-200 tons. However, human harvesting is still favored because it offers a more precise selection and lessens the severity of oxidation getting to the grapes due to damaged skins.

A person picking grapes to harvest for wine.
A worker manually harvesting grapes for wine. Source: Yahoo Images

The amount of grapes needed to produce a standard-size bottle of wine varies depending on the style of wine. However, a general number given by experts is an average of 1.25 to 1.50 kilograms, or 2.75 to 3.3 pounds. With the amount of wine that is produced worldwide within just a year, this adds up to a huge demand for grape pickers to supply the lucrative wine business. In the world, there are two primary countries responsible for the largest number of wine production: Italy and France. Both countries have come under fire for unethical practices in their wine production and human rights violations that include human trafficking, exploitation, and extremely poor working/living conditions for workers.

What is Human Trafficking and Exploitation?

Human trafficking is a huge issue across the world. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines human trafficking as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.” Human trafficking can come in many different forms, like sex trafficking, forced labor, and child sex trafficking. Victims of human trafficking can come from any kind of age group, gender, and background.

However, specific groups may be more vulnerable than others. These groups include people separated from their families or other support systems, refugees or migrant workers, sexual and gender minorities, people with disabilities, and members of lower socio-economic groups. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), human traffickers will use manipulation tactics and exploit the vulnerabilities of their victims, which is why these specific groups are at heightened risk.

Italy

In September 2021, a humanitarian organization by the name of Oxfam released a Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) on the Italian wine supply chain to assess their impact on human rights. The HRIA is titled “The Workers Behind Sweden’s Italian Wine” and focuses on the primary Italian wine supply chain in Sweden, Systembolaget. The HRIA’s objectives were to perform a context analysis on Systembolaget in order to “build an understanding of the nature of the Systembolaget supply chains” and then to “identify the actual and potential human rights impacts in Systembolaget supply chains in practice.”

Oxfam’s HRIA does a great job at going more in-depth with the current human rights violations occurring in the Italian wine industry, along with the potential human rights violations that are at high risk of coming to fruition. To summarize, Oxfam found several serious violations: forced labor, low wages, excessive working hours, health and safety risks in vineyards and wineries, lack of access to remedy, restrictions to freedom of association, sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and unsanitary housing. To read more about Oxfam’s findings, follow this link.

France

France’s primary region for wine production is called the Champagne region, located roughly to the east of Paris. In late 2023, a large portion of the region was shut down by French authorities and put under investigation for human rights violations. Wine-makers in the Champagne region are migrants primarily from West African countries. It was discovered that the lodgings that provided housing to the migrant workers were of poor quality, with makeshift beds surrounded by electrical cables and extremely unsanitary bathroom facilities.

Workers picking grapes in a French vineyard.
Workers picking grapes in a French vineyard. Source: Yahoo Images

The investigation also found that the contractors responsible for hiring the migrant workers exploited their vulnerabilities, as they were willing to work, even without proper contracts and for extremely low wages. At the end of the 2023 harvest season, another trafficking investigation was opened by authorities, which involved 160 laborers from Ukraine living in poor conditions in another area of the Champagne region.

South Africa

Although South Africa isn’t at the very top of the list of wine-producing countries, it has been accused of violating several human rights for years. In 2011, Human Rights Watch released a report titled “Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries,” detailing the problems surrounding the country’s industries. For over a decade, numerous attempts have been made to improve them, as well as conditions on farms. For instance, the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association was created in 2002. Unfortunately, significant improvements have yet to be made to rectify the issues at hand.

South African farmworkers who supply the grapes needed for wine are vulnerable to some of the following human rights violations: exposure to pesticides and harmful chemicals, working long hours, and being forced to work in extreme weather conditions. Many farmworkers don’t even have access to safe drinking water, toilets, or livable housing. They face difficulty in forming a union to bring attention to the injustices they face. Like Italy and France, South African farmworkers receive low wages and little to no protection from the government.

The Future of the Wine Industry

There are many possible routes that can be taken to improve the working conditions for wine-makers. One of the most productive ways includes wineries turning to certifications that can help lay a groundwork for better standards, like environmental sustainability and safe working conditions. These certifications can help ensure that wineries are being held to their promises. Several wineries across the world have turned to certification efforts, like Chile’s Emiliana Organic Vineyards, which is certified under B Corp. B Corp was established in 2006, with the initiative of encouraging accountability, transparency, and environmental performance in business. Similarly, Italy has founded the Equalitas standard in 2015, which is specifically aimed at the wine industry.

Femicide in Kenya: A Silent Crisis

 

by Grace Ndanu

 

An image with a group of people holding up a banner that reads, "There is no honor in killing!"
An image with a group of people holding up a banner that reads, “There is no honor in killing!” Source: Yahoo Images (free to share and use)

 

In recent years, Kenya has witnessed a horrifying increase in cases of femicide. The alarming statistics paint an ugly picture of the state of women’s safety in the country. This issue goes beyond simple statistics as it represents a deep-rooted problem that demands urgent attention. Femicide in Kenya is not just a crime against women but also a violation of basic human rights and an assault on the fabric of society.

Understanding Femicide

Femicide is not a new phenomenon, but the magnitude of the problem in Kenya is shocking. The term encompasses various forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, rape, honor killings, and dowry-related deaths. These acts are driven by deep-seated beliefs and cultural norms that perpetuate gender inequality and elevate toxic masculinity.

According to a 2020 report by the World Health Organization, Kenya experiences one of the highest rates of femicide in Africa, with an estimated 47 women killed each week. Shockingly, this represents a 50% increase in femicide cases over the past decade. Furthermore, the majority of these cases go unreported or unnoticed due to social and cultural factors, making the situation even more alarming.

The Cultural Factors Behind Femicide

An image of a Maasai woman from Kenya holding her baby at her hips.
An image of a Maasai woman from Kenya holding her baby at her hips. Source: Wikimedia Commons through Yahoo Images (free to use and share)

 

To tackle femicide in Kenya, it is crucial to dig into the cultural factors that contribute to this crisis. Some of these factors include gender roles, traditions, economic disparities, and the normalization of violence.

Gender roles deeply rooted in Kenyan society perpetuate a patriarchal system that devalues women. Women are expected to be submissive, nurturing, and bound by societal norms. Patriarchy creates a culture of power imbalance, where men feel entitled to control and dominate women, both within and outside the household.

Traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriages, and wife inheritance, further perpetuate the vulnerability and defeat of women. These practices condone violence against women in the name of cultural preservation and perpetuate harmful gender norms.

Economic disparities play a significant role in intensifying femicide in Kenya. Poverty and lack of access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities disproportionately affect women. When women are economically dependent on their partners or families, they are often trapped in abusive relationships with no means of escape.

Society’s normalization and acceptance of violence against women contribute to the perpetuation of femicide. Many cases of domestic violence go unreported due to fear, stigma, or lack of trust in the justice system. In some cases, many people, instead of helping, tend to record videos of women being wronged and post them on social media.

Addressing Femicide in Kenya

An image of a group of women from the Women's Ministerial Breakfast in Nairobi, Kenya.
An image of a group of women from the Women’s Ministerial Breakfast in Nairobi, Kenya. Source: Natalia Mroz; UN Environment Programme through Flickr

 

To address femicide in Kenya, a comprehensive approach is necessary. It requires collaboration between the government, civil society, community leaders, and individuals alike. Here are some key steps that can be taken.

Legal Reforms and Enforcement

Restoring the legal framework surrounding violence against women is paramount. Stricter laws targeting offenders, along with their effective implementation, are crucial. Adequate training for law enforcement officials and judicial personnel is also essential to ensure cases are dealt with sensitively and expeditiously.

Education and Awareness

Comprehensive educational programs should be implemented from an early age to challenge harmful gender norms, promote gender equality, and raise awareness about women’s rights. This includes teaching both boys and girls, as well as women and men, about healthy masculinity and respect for women.

Empowerment and Economic Independence

Efforts must be made to empower women economically. This can be achieved through vocational training, access to micro-financing, and opportunities for entrepreneurship. Women who are financially independent are better equipped to escape abusive relationships and have control over their lives.

Support Services and Safe Spaces

Accessible support services, including helplines, shelters, and counseling centers, are crucial for survivors of femicide and domestic violence. These safe spaces provide survivors with the support they need to rebuild their lives and break free from the cycle of abuse.

Community Mobilization

Community leaders, religious institutions, and local organizations play a vital role in challenging harmful cultural practices, promoting gender equality, and raising awareness about femicide. Mobilizing communities to change attitudes and behaviors towards women is essential to create a safer environment for all.

Conclusion

Femicide in Kenya is an urgent crisis that requires immediate attention. It is a reflection of deep-seated gender inequalities and cultural norms that perpetuate violence against women. Addressing this issue demands a comprehensive approach encompassing legal reforms, education, empowerment, and community mobilization. Only through collective efforts can we hope to build a society where women can live without fear, violence, and the threat of femicide. Together, we must strive to create a country that embraces gender equality, respect, and the protection of basic human rights for all.

Rohingya Refugee Crisis Leads to Shifting Tide in Indonesia

by Delisha Valacheril

Figure 1 Displaced Rohingya at a refugee camp. Source: Yahoo Images
Figure 1 Displaced Rohingya at a refugee camp. Source: Yahoo Images

 

The Rohingya are survivors of atrocities committed by the government of Myanmar. Described as the most persecuted minority in the world by the United Nations, the Rohingya are the world’s largest stateless population. Under Myanmar’s Citizenship Law, the government has consistently denied citizenship to this group of people for decades. 135 distinct ethnic groups are recognized under the law, with Rohingya being one of the few exceptions. Without citizenship, they are deprived of basic rights such as access to health services, education, and employment. Forced to leave their homes and families, more than 730,000 fled to neighboring countries like Bangladesh or Indonesia. Approximately 600,000 still reside in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State. They are restricted to refugee camps and settlements where there is a severe lack of food, adequate healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities. The long-lasting systemic abuses against the Rohingya at the hands of the Myanmar government are equivalent to crimes against humanity, deprivation of liberty, and even apartheid.

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group who have lived in the predominantly Buddhist region of the Rakhine State of Myanmar for generations. Since the government of Myanmar does not recognize them as an official ethnic group, during the conflict, authorities took over much of the former Rohingya land. Forced to flee their homeland, nearly a million Rohingya live in makeshift camps on the outskirts of civilizations. Despite being disenfranchised, refugees try to have a way of life, but the seasonal flooding and tropical storms endemic to safe haven regions like Bangladesh prevent them from doing so. Due to decades of state-sanctioned discrimination, repression, and violence, the Rohingya refugees cannot return to their homes either.

The remaining 600,000 Rohingya who have been arbitrarily detained in Myanmar endure even worse conditions with no agency or freedom. Of the 72,000 children who are confined to these detention sites, 40,000 were born into imprisonment, and it is all they have ever known. Access to indispensable necessities like clean water, enough food, and adequate housing is limited in this squalid, stateless purgatory. Military officials impose strict curfews, unnecessary checkpoints, and barbed wire fencing, significantly affecting the Rohingya population’s right to movement. This directly violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respective of Article 13. By depriving this community of their civil liberties and development rights, such as freedom to movement, food, water, and housing, the government is hardening the barrier of segregation to marginalize them from society permanently.

Figure 2 Young girl holding a child in detention sites in Myanmar. Source: Yahoo Images
Figure 2 Young girl holding a child in detention sites in Myanmar. Source: Yahoo Images

How did the crisis begin?

          Presently, in Sittwe, a town that was once home to approximately 75,000 Rohingya residents before 2012—constituting nearly half of the town’s population—only 4,000 individuals remain. Anti-Muslim sentiments across Myanmar marked the onset of a period of heightened oppression of the Rohingya in both policy and actions. Article 3 of the 1982 Law, on the other hand, positions taing-yin-tha, national race, and identity as an ongoing basis for recognition of citizenship. This meant that national race trumps citizenship, so even though Rohingya were born and raised in Myanmar, they can be kicked out because they are not a part of the national race. This environment set the stage for more severe and organized military atrocities in 2016 and 2017. The largest exodus of refugees is marked by military attacks that occurred in August of 2017 that resulted in the massacre of thousands, villages burned to the ground, and the whole community displaced. The war crimes that occurred offer a clear warning of Myanmar’s military to carry out ethnic cleansing and the government to support the internment of the Rohingya people. The brutality that played out in the Rakhine State is on par with apartheid, persecution, and imprisonment.

Figure 3 Rohingya landing on the shores of Indonesia. Source: Yahoo Images
Figure 3 Rohingya landing on the shores of Indonesia. Source: Yahoo Images

What is happening to Rohingya refugees in Indonesia right now?

Indonesia is turning away 150 Rohingya refugees from its shores because of local resentment about the arrival of boats carrying exhausted refugees. Due to the unending oppression in Myanmar and the growing risks of calamity in Bangladesh, refugees are now risking tumultuous sea voyages to seek refuge in neighboring countries like Indonesia. However, the growing influx of immigrants is a cause for concern for Indonesian residents. The Indonesian navy has intercepted a boat with Rohingya refugees as it neared the coast of Aceh. Aceh is the only state in the archipelago where 90 percent of the population follows Islamic law. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that since November 11 Rohingya boats have landed, and the refugees have relocated to informal sites, mainly in Aceh and one in North Sumatra. The attack on refugees is not an isolated incident but rather the consequence of an organized online campaign of misinformation, deception, and hate speech directed towards Rohingya.

In the escalation of hatred against the Rohingya, hundreds of students stormed a temporary Rohingya shelter in Indonesia’s western Aceh province, demanding their deportation. The students shouted and physically abused the migrants before forcing them onto trucks and transporting them to the government office responsible for immigration. Demands for relocation stem from local anger over the already limited resources that are overstretched to accommodate new arrivals. Residents do not want the refugees in their communities and have gathered to protest boat landings. The greater international pressure to provide fair asylum to Rohingya refugees is causing tensions to rise in Southeast Asian governments. It is unfair to expect these countries to deprive resources of their citizens instead of addressing the real issue.

What Can We Do?

The responsibility to end the worst forms of violence and persecution falls on the government of Myanmar. For instance, by cutting off the Myanmar military’s government funding, the revenue from the abusive operations can be allocated to the Rohingya people so they can finally experience justice.

The governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh should pressure the government of Myanmar to be responsible for the genocide and displacement of the Rohingya people. By exerting the existing international obligations that require governments to take a number of actions to prevent and punish genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, Myanmar will have to respond. It is a long road to repatriation, but placing pressure on governments and non-profit organizations ensures the onus falls on Myanmar to correct its wrongs.

The long-term root causes of the crisis must be addressed to quell the tide of hopelessness. However, until safe and dignified returns are guaranteed for Rohingya refugees, they will require emergency assistance in order to survive. Myanmar is strengthened as a state by its multi-ethnic, multi-religious makeup. With help from foreign governments and humanitarian aid, the Rohingya can work towards restoring their rights.

Modern American Slavery: Forced Prison Labor

by James DeLano

Historical Slavery in the United States 

Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment. The amendment reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” 

At least, that is what I was taught in high school: slavery ended in 1865 with the 13th Amendment. What was not taught was the century and a half of forced labor since then, predicated on an intentional loophole in the 13th Amendment. Activists were active in their denouncement of and work towards ending this system over a century ago, and not much has changed since. 

That loophole was not the only way slavery persisted. Chattel slavery, slavery as it existed in the South prior to 1865, existed in the United States until at least 1963. Mae Louise Walls Miller grew up in rural Louisiana, where she and her family were enslaved. They were freed in 1963, when she was only 14 years old. Her family, possibly the last chattel slaves in the United States, were freed after President Biden graduated high school. This was not an isolated instance; this form of slavery existed in scattered patches across the rural South for decades after the end of the Civil War. 

In this post, I will illustrate how forced prison labor continues to maintain slavery in the United States.The convict leasing system, where people convicted of crimes are “leased” to companies to perform hard labor, started in Alabama in 1846, and their prevalence exploded after the 13th Amendment abolished what was previously the most common form of forced labor. This system was incredibly dangerous; in 1874, a typical death rate was one-third of people working on railroads. A contemporary prison official said that “if tombstones were erected over the graves of all the convicts who fell either by the bullet of the overseer or his guards during the construction of one of the railroads, it would be one continuous graveyard from one end to the other.” Elsewhere, between 1888 and 1896, over 400 people died of tuberculosis contracted while working in Sloss Steel and Iron Company mines. 

Many of those arrested and convicted during this system were sentenced under questionable circumstances. One common situation was being arrested for riding a train without a ticket “by a man who is paid $2 for every person he arrests upon that charge.” After accounting for inflation, $2 in 1907 would be worth over $65 today.

Convicts being forced to work under a convict leasing program in Florida. Source: Yahoo Images
Convicts being forced to work under a convict leasing program in Florida. Source: Yahoo Images

 

Between 1880 and 1900, this system profited over $1,134,107 in saved labor costs, which would be worth nearly $40,000,000 today. It profited $1,322,279 between 1900 and 1906. Alabama banned this method of forced labor in 1928.

Modern American Slavery 

The United States has maintained both the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world and the highest prison population for several years. Two-thirds of inmates in American prisons are also workers in both private-sector and public-sector jobs. Alabama convicts on work-release programs are allegedly paid just over $2 per day.

 

Alabama did not stop using forced prison labor in 1928. A lawsuit was filed in December 2023 alleging gross mistreatment, violations of both the United States and Alabama Constitutions, and instances of retaliation against a convict on work-release due to reporting of sexual harassment. It alleges dangerous working conditions; in August, two convicts were killed while working as part of a road crew. It alleges the intentional violation of parole guidelines in order to continue the system of forced labor as it currently exists in prisons. It also repeats accusations of negligence in regard to healthcare. Antonio Arez Smith was released last year in “excruciating pain” due to untreated cancer. He died four days after his release. The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) stopped releasing inmate death statistics in October after years of increasing rates. 

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 64% of incarcerated people being forced to work felt unsafe while doing so, and 70% did not receive job training. None of what I have mentioned above is considered enough of a crime to warrant consequences. 

Workers’ protections do not apply to incarcerated people, including minimum wage laws, unionization, and any assurance of workplace safety. None of this should be surprising knowing the text of the 13th Amendment; incarceration is explicitly listed as an exception to the abolishment of slavery, and slaves are not permitted rights. 

A black incarcerated woman sewing with a Department of Corrections label behind her. Source: Yahoo Images
A black incarcerated woman sewing with a Department of Corrections label behind her. Source: Yahoo Images

This form of forced labor is ubiquitous. The lawsuit previously mentioned lists as defendants companies that have become household names: McDonald’s and the parent companies of Wendy’s, KFC, and Burger King. Elsewhere, well-known companies use prison labor as a cost-cutting measure: Amazon, AT&T, Home Depot, FedEx, Lockheed-Martin, and Coca-Cola, as well as thousands more nationwide. 

The Alabama Department of Corrections reported generating over $48,000,000 in 2021, and received hundreds of millions of dollars more from other sources. Most of that was directly appropriated from the state, but it also included federal funding intended for COVID relief. The total sum diverted into the Department of Corrections was $400,000,000, or about one-fifth of the total relief funds. The Treasury Department describes the funds as “support[ing] families and businesses struggling with [the pandemic’s] public health and economic impacts.” Instead of spending it on struggling Alabamians and small Alabama businesses, the state spent its funds on building new prisons despite us already having one of the highest incarceration rates in the country. 

What is Being Done 

The Alabama Department of Corrections is involved in several lawsuits related to alleged misconduct. The aforementioned lawsuit, Council v. Ivey, has a hearing scheduled for February 8th. ADOC is involved in several other lawsuits and has been for decades; Braggs v. Dunn was filed in late 2014 over neglect and remains unresolved, as does a Department of Justice lawsuit filed in late 2020 over critical understaffing. The new Alabama constitution, voted on in 2022, changed the text’s phrasing of its prohibition of slavery. Prior to that vote, it read, “no form of slavery shall exist in this State; and there shall not be any involuntary servitude, otherwise than for the punishment of crime, of which the party shall have been duly convicted.” The equivalent section now readsThat no form of slavery shall exist in this state; and there shall not be any involuntary servitude.” In addition, Congresswoman Nikema Williams and Senators Jeff Merkley and Cory Booker have proposed the federal “Abolition Amendment,” intended to close the prison labor loophole. 

Nationally, prison reform is a coordinated movement. Numerous organizations focusing on prison reform generally also have efforts in place to reform or abolish forced prison labor. I have used sources from the Equal Justice Initiative and the American Civil Liberties Union in this piece. The lawsuits mentioned were filed by current and former Alabama inmates, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Disability Advocacy Program, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Of those, only Council v. Ivey directly addresses forced labor; the others work towards improving prison conditions more broadly but still contribute to the common goal of reforming prisons.

The Politicization of Immigration and the Notion of Invasion: Human Rights Violations on the US-Mexico Border

 

by Lexie Woolums

Trigger Warning: This post discusses immigration, including physical barriers for migrants. The article includes a discussion of some drownings and other instances of death.

 

Broadly speaking, migration is not a new concept. The United States was built by people who were not from here, including people who were forced to come here through enslavement and others who were violently moved against their will through the relocation of indigenous peoples on the Trail of Tears. There have been different waves of immigration, where different crises from around the world prompted people to come to the United States seeking better opportunities.

For example, from 1845 to 1855, around 1.5 million Irish people settled in the United States due to potato blight combined with Britain’s colonial control that forced available crops to be exported out of Ireland. More recently, the US has admitted nearly 300,000 Ukrainians since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. There are many more examples of this, from Italian immigrants moving to the US in search of economic opportunities around the turn of the twentieth century to the influx of Puerto Rican immigrants after World War II due to economic depression in Puerto Rico, cheaper air travel, and job opportunities in the US.

A black and white photo of men wearing clothing from the early 1900s. The men are carrying suit cases and standing in a line at Ellis Island after arriving in the US.
Figure 1: Immigrants at Ellis Island c. 1900, Source: Yahoo Images

It’s no secret that not all migrants are treated the same—a concept that Danah Dibb previously wrote about on the blog. Additionally, my colleague, Kala Bhattar, wrote an article that discusses two specific scenarios that effectively demonstrate how politicized immigration has become in the US—one with Governor Greg Abbott of Texas sending busloads of migrants to Vice President Harris’s neighborhood and one with Governor Ron Desantis of Florida sending planeloads of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts—scenarios that in any other context would be considered human trafficking.

 

Politicization of Immigration in the US

According to a 2023 Gallup poll, the percentage of people who want immigration to decrease peaked in the mid-nineties with 65 percent of Americans against immigration. In a near all-time low, this number was 31 percent in 2018. Today, that percentage lies around 41 percent—an increase from 2018 but much lower than it was at its peak and still a minority of the polled population.

For much of the 1990s, both major political parties shared similar views on immigration (though they may have disagreed on the way to do things), but that started to change around 2006 and has become much wider today. Today a Democrat is twice as likely to share the view that immigrants strengthen the economy compared to a Republican.

Various presidencies have highlighted different aspects of immigration in the United States, but it has become a topic that is far more divisive in the wake of the Trump Administration. Former President Trump’s stance on immigration was well-known and relatively simple—build a wall to prevent illegal immigration. He favored a policy of “busing and dumping” immigrants to states that had pro-immigration policies; additionally, he also made comments about securing the border from “rapists and criminals” despite the fact that first-generation immigrants are predisposed to lower crime rates than native-born Americans. Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump became known to make off-the-cuff remarks—especially about immigration—that were frequently called out for being racist and xenophobic.

As the President of a free country that is as powerful as the United States, having views like this stirred uneasiness across the United States, especially among minority populations. This rhetoric of invasion is not new, but it does fuel extremism and racism.

 

Operation Lone Star

Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas launched Operation Lone Star in March 2021, shortly after President Biden took office. Governor Abbot has sent state troopers and members of the National Guard to the US-Mexico border as a part of the operation. Additionally, the Rio Grande River has been lined with various obstacles, from shipping containers to concertina wire. This is all under what is known as Operation Lone Star, which is a multibillion-dollar operation to mitigate illegal immigration and smuggling at the US-Mexico border. According to the Operation Lone Star website, the agency fills in the Biden Administration’s “dangerous gaps [due to its] refusal to secure the border.” It also regularly buses migrants to sanctuary cities.

Governor Abbott has coined the situation at the US-Mexico Border an “invasion,” which he claims allows him to invoke the invasion clauses in the Texas and US Constitutions. Through this rationale, he has the authority to defend the border through his own policies, even though immigration policy has been under the jurisdiction of the federal government since the 2012 landmark case of United States v Arizona. Human rights advocates have warned of the danger of referring to the border as an invasion since most migrants are seeking to claim refugee legal status and are not attacking the United States in any sense. University of Texas law professor Barabara Hines called this notion of invasion “unprecedented and extreme.” Additionally, Operation Lone Star is under investigation by the Department of Justice to determine if it violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. More specifically, the department is investigating if the state agency is subjecting individuals to “differential and unlawful conditions of confinement based on their perceived or actual race or national origin.”

Four men in military uniforms stand with another man wearing a maroon button down.
Figure 2: Members of the Texas Military Forces pose for a picture with representatives of the Remote Area Medical Foundation, Source: Yahoo Images

The Rio Grande River serves as a natural boundary between the United States and Mexico. Over the summer, national attention was brought to Texas when Governor Abbott announced that the agency would be implementing a 1,000-foot-long string of buoys with serrated blades in between them, with a mesh net that would connect them to below the surface. More specifically, the Texan government stated that they were installing the “new floating marine barriers along the Rio Grande River in Eagle Pass” in an effort to “help deter illegal immigrants attempting to make the dangerous river crossing into Texas.”

 

Human Rights Concerns

According to the Texas Department of Security, there has been at least one body found caught on the Southern side of the buoys, but they claimed that this body was initially upstream of the floating device and floated into it. Later, the body of a 20-year-old Honduran man was recovered, but it was reportedly upstream of the floating device.

Human rights groups have criticized the floatation device with concerns about humanitarian hazards such as migrants becoming caught in the device or drowning due to its placement. Even without the floatation buoy, crossing the border is extremely dangerous. Even before this barrier was implemented, migrant deaths on the US-Mexico border have hit an all-time high. In the 2022 fiscal year alone, over 800 migrants died trying to cross the US-Mexico border, largely from drownings. This stretch of the border is so dangerous that the United Nations migration agency declared the US-Mexico border as the deadliest land border in the world.

Beyond the buoys, numerous reported human rights concerns with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) exist. According to a 2023 report by WOLA, the Washington Office on Latin America, migrants are frequently treated poorly by CBP, which is the largest law enforcement agency in the US. One of the cases in the report is about an 8-year-old Panamanian girl named Anadith Danay Reyes Alvarez, who died in custody of CBP because she was denied a critical heart medication. Specifically, the report notes that this death was preventable.

Engraved sign on a concrete building that reads " U.S. Customs and Border Protection."
Figure 3: US Customs and Border Patrol Building in Washington, DC, Source: Yahoo Images

Another issue is that accountability for CBP officers is extremely rare. The same report states, “Most of the cases … would have gone completely unknown without reporting from victims and those, outside of government, who accompany them. That such abuses are happening so frequently at CBP and Border Patrol indicates that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) accountability system has done little to dissuade or disincentivize them.” A 2023 study found that 95 percent of complaints from 2010-2022 did not have a proper investigation.

In addition to the numerous reported concerns of CBP abuses, CBP followed a Congressional policy change in September 2021, which means that the agency only reports the deaths of people who died while in CBP custody. Though this change may not necessarily be bad, it is concerning when there are reports of CBP officers lying to migrants about where to go since this puts them at a higher risk of sickness or death that would not be counted in the CBP reports under the new policy (if the person is no longer in CBP custody when they die).

The US CBP came out with a policy known as “prevention through deterrence” in 1994. This policy sought to block popular crossing spots and push migrants into the dangerous areas of the sea and river crossings.  In theory, this would show migrants how dangerous the crossing is so that if they are caught and sent back (which often happens when migrants cross illegally), they would not attempt to cross again. However, it is no secret that this strategy is not effective in reducing the number of crossings. According to an article by the London School of Economics, this approach has not been effective in limiting the number of migrants seeking to enter the US but has increased the number of fatalities.

A view of a bluish green river stretching through the desert. Mountains are present in the background. The shore of the river is mostly sand, with some short green shrubbery present.
Figure 4: A Portion of The Rio Grande River in Texas. Source: Yahoo Images

Additionally, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has condemned Operation Lone Star’s instructions for Texas officials to push young children and nursing mothers back into the Rio Grande. According to the article, Texas uses harmful techniques like razor wire, even after children have been injured and one woman miscarried while stuck in the wire.

Sarah Mehta, ACLU senior border policy counsel, stated, “Texas must immediately stop intentionally endangering the lives of migrants seeking protection at the border. The federal government must also act by investigating these damning allegations and by the Department of Homeland Security decisively ending its own collusion with Operation Lone Star, which has facilitated and encouraged Texas’s expansion of a proven human and civil rights disaster.”

 

Federal Response

The Biden Administration has criticized this, citing the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899, which prevents the “creation of any obstruction not affirmatively authorized by Congress, to the navigable capacity of any of the waters of the United States.” This act gives the Army Corps of Engineers authority to regulate all navigable waters through permitting. The federal lawsuit against Texas also alleges they did not get a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers before placing the barrier on the river.

The federal government initially asked Texas officials to remove the barriers. Governor Abbott replied in a letter that stated, “Texas will see you in court, Mr. President,” implying that Texas would not remove the buoys without legal action. Subsequently, the Department of Justice sued Texas and asked a judge to make Texas remove the buoys.

US-Mexico border coordinator Hillary Quam expressed concern in an affidavit that accompanied the request to a federal judge to have the barriers removed: “If the barrier is not removed expeditiously, its presence will have an adverse impact on U.S. foreign policy, including our relationship with the government of Mexico.”

The request of the federal government was granted by Federal District Judge David A. Ezra, who ruled that Texas must remove the floating barriers. Legally speaking, he issued a preliminary injunction, which preserves the status quo until final judgment (the final ruling of the court). In essence, this meant that the buoys would need to be removed until the case reached its final court decision. Ezra stated the following in the discussion: “Governor Abbott announced that he was not ‘asking for permission’ for Operation Lone Star, the anti-immigration program under which Texas constructed the floating barrier. Unfortunately for Texas, permission is exactly what federal law requires before installing obstructions in the nation’s navigable waters.”

Governor Abbott’s office appealed this ruling, stating that Texas “is prepared to take this fight all the way to the Supreme Court.” The federal appeals court granted the request to halt the temporary injunction, but a hearing date has not been set, so the floating barrier remains in the Rio Grande until a further decision is made.

 

Mexican Response

The Mexican government has criticized the placement of these buoys, claiming that the placement is a violation of their sovereignty. More specifically, they have referenced that the presence of these buoys violates the Mexican Water Treaty of 1944.

Regarding the bodies, the Mexican government issued the following statement: “We express our concern about the impact on the human rights and personal safety of migrants that these state policies will have, which run counter to the close collaboration between our country and the federal government of the United States.”

A spokesperson for Governor Abbott claimed that the Mexican government was “flat-out wrong,” stating that neither body was attempting to cross the floating barriers.

 

Conclusion

It has been over 40 years since Congress reformed the US immigration system. According to the Center for American Progress, putting undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship would increase the US GDP by $1.7 trillion over the next decade. According to the Pew Research Center, immigrant families are expected to comprise 88 percent of the US population growth through 2065. To say that reform is necessary is an understatement.

As I mentioned at the start of this article, migration is not a new concept. Unfortunately, it has been used as a political pawn in many ways. From the rhetoric of dangerous crime to the mentality that immigrants “take all the jobs,” misunderstanding has been weaponized against groups of people for a long time, and that likely will not change until we learn to be more compassionate and think of better solutions for our broken immigration system.

A group of protesters standing with a large red sign. The sign reads "New Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform." Underneath, it says "Citizenship Now! Keep Families Together! Protect Workers! Safeguard Civil Rights!"
Figure 5: Protesters in New York City. Source: Yahoo Images.

Additionally, it is important to be critical of political officials who weaponize differences and prey on misunderstanding to further their own political agenda. To label such a diverse group as one negative thing that threatens the authority and safety of the United States is not only racist and xenophobic, but it undermines the value of the diverse groups of people who built this country (including the people who were forced to migrate to and build this country, whose impact often goes unrecognized even today). This portrayal minimizes the value of people with diverse experiences and limits the discussion of how crucial immigrants have been and continue to be in the US.

It is also imperative to recognize how slavery, forced assimilation, and genocide have both formed the social hierarchy we have today and continue to perpetuate racism, especially in the context of immigration. If you have not heard of the concept of “passport privilege” (including simply having a passport) or the connotative distinction between the words immigrant and expatriate or expat (not just their dictionary definitions), I highly recommend learning these concepts. It is important to examine where you fit within them, and which preconceived (perhaps racist) notions you might carry about a person based on job, skin color, accent, religion, or anything else.

Society will not change unless individual people change, so even if there is limited direct political action to take as of right now, there is still a lot of room to grow your understanding of these concepts so that racist institutions can be better understood and effectively dismantled.

The Indigenous Justice System: Over-incarceration of Indigenous People and the Need for Cultural Humility

by Eva Pechtl

To better understand the value of culturally centered practices in Indigenous justice, I encourage you to read my previous blog, “History of Limitations and Restorative Justice.” In this blog, I will be highlighting the resulting statistics on the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in prisons. Then, utilizing reports from several justice-oriented organizations, I will summarize how professionals from Indigenous communities conclude problems and solutions that need to be addressed to neutralize these disparities in the Indigenous criminal justice system. 

 

Serious complaints arose around a decade ago about the food quality of the catering hired by the provincial Saskatchewan government.
An image of a man in adult provincial custody in Saskatchewan, Canada, looking out of his cell with his arms between the cell bars. The data on the overrepresentation index for Indigenous people in 2020/2021 was highest in Saskatchewan at 17.7 times higher than the non-Indigenous incarcerated population (Statistics Canada, 2023). Image Source: Don Healy/Regina Leader-Post via Yahoo Images

 

Visualizing the Statistics 

Indigenous people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system across several countries, including the United States, Canada, and Australia. Extensive research has been conducted by human rights organizations around the world, but collecting accurate data on Native populations in the United States has proven difficult. The visibility of crime has come a long way since the Not Invisible Act of 2019 was signed into law in 2020 to increase information sharing and track cases of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) crisis. However, data on Indigenous populations is still flawed in some ways. According to the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) and a report by the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), categorizing people by a single race can wrongfully categorize people who identify with more than one race. The data that does exist is inconsistently labeled, meaning it could refer to Native people as Indian, American Indian-Alaska Native, Latino, or other. The number of incarcerated Indigenous people depends on how they are counted, and this generally underreports and, therefore, overlooks Native people in the system.  

According to the PPI, the data shows that Indigenous people are incarcerated in federal and state prisons at over four times the rate of white people. In the state prison systems of Alaska, South Dakota, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Utah, Indigenous people are highly overrepresented relative to the states’ Indigenous populations. The SJC report shows that in Montana, the Indigenous population is 7% but closer to 30% of the prison population. In South Dakota, Indigenous people convicted for aggravated assault received sentences 62% longer on average than any other racial group. 

 

Jurisdiction’s Impact 

Over-incarceration of Native Americans published by the SJC highlights complicated jurisdiction as a player toward overrepresentation. According to Indigenous experiences documented in the report, it is common for single crimes to be charged in more than one jurisdiction because of multiple police agencies patrolling reservation lands. Defendants may then face multiple charges with different requirements, which often results in punishment for failing to understand and/or follow those requirements. This is especially true for youth caught up in technical violations of probation or status offenses. 

A document titled Juvenile Justice, created by the National Congress of American Indians, speaks to the challenges of Indigenous youth in the justice system. Native youth are more likely to be subjected to the federal system and to be tried as adults, especially for drug-related crimes, leaving them with longer and harsher sentences.  

In Baytown, Texas, Olivia B. was arrested for a fight, expelled from her high school, and charged as an adult in court.
An image of a young girl being addressed by a judge in court beside her mother. The court proceedings for her misdemeanors, being charged as an adult, made it difficult for her to find employment and delayed her career goals of becoming a Psychologist (Open Society Foundations). Image Source: Michael Stravado/Redux via Yahoo Images

The federal system is not built for children, and sentencing often limits opportunities for diversion, parole, or services helpful in juvenile cases. Even if certain courts offer other options, youth are too often left with no support. Due to overlapping jurisdiction, professionals tend to assume that Indigenous youth will always be someone else’s responsibility. However, Tribal governments are often not informed when their youth interact with the state juvenile justice systems, and this prevents tribes from supporting reintegration and rehabilitation before, during, and after contact with the system. 

On the other hand, when Native children experience a culturally rooted court system like those of tribal courts and jails, they can have a better chance of receiving constructive intervention and support. For example, the Cherokee Talking Circle integrates Keetoowah-Cherokee cultural values that target substance use among youth. According to the Juvenile Justice document, researchers found that non-cultural education programs were significantly less effective in reducing juvenile delinquency compared to CTC. The Choctaw culture includes the practice of Immannumpuli, where an uncle or tribal court employee will educate youth offenders about the Choctaw justice system and talk to them about their life choices. Increasing collaboration between federal and tribal justice agencies to encourage US Attorneys to deter offenders to tribal court would be extremely beneficial for Native youth. 

 

Causes and Solutions 

The criminal justice system ultimately reflects an overreliance on locking people up, specifically Indigenous people, rather than offering services to rehabilitate offenders. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics displayed that in Indigenous areas specifically, the creation of more jails resulted in a direct increase in incarceration rates instead of being a remedy for overcrowding. As expected, the jail expansion also led to longer stays for both pretrial detention and actual sentencing.  

Especially in Indigenous communities, incarceration has harmful effects on health, as jails are not prepared to navigate chronic illnesses and are commonly dangerous environments. Incarceration is harmful to maintaining or finding employment, and this causes more poverty and debt among Indigenous individuals. Currently, because of high incarceration rates and a lack of restorative methods, many Indigenous people will be returning to their communities with significant challenges. Assisted reintegration is vital to the healing process needed after incarceration. 

The SJC report recognizes the long history of forced confinement of Indigenous people as a contributor to systemic inequities faced today. In the past and still today, disparities in justice are falsely attributed to the characteristics of Indigenous people rather than the more real factors of complex jurisdiction, deficiency of representation in court, racism, or violence. This is why legal professionals must consider the historical context of Indigenous trauma when analyzing current inequities.  

According to the SJC report, Tribal leaders have called for culturally relative alternative sentencing options that look to the roots of the crime problem. 15-16% of people in tribal jails were held for public intoxication or drug-related offenses, leading the Indian Law and Order Commission to state that drug abuse was a contributor to almost all crimes in Indian communities. Considering the serious financial and health effects of drugs, any efforts to prevent crime and recidivism would absolutely need to address substance use problems. 

Cultural Humility 

A reporter hears the story of an Indigenous man for the Intercontinental Cry report.
An image of a reporter listening to an Indigenous man, centering their focus on under-reported stories concerning Indigenous human rights. Image Source: Intercontinental Cry via Yahoo Images

 

Finally, the SJC report recognizes cultural humility as a necessary factor in supporting Indigenous communities. Practicing cultural humility means acknowledging your own inability to be an expert in a different culture. The disparities in representation in the criminal justice system can improve if non-Indigenous criminal justice professionals seek to understand that there is a lot they are not aware of concerning Indigenous experiences.  

Tribal agencies and activists across the United States have called for changes to be made, whether it is about legal jurisdiction, inadequate funding, or over-incarceration rates. Acknowledging the barriers that Indigenous communities and individuals face is a first step in creating cultural safety. Indigenous people are the best suited to handle justice and related problems facing their communities. It is time to listen to them. 

What Can We Do? 

To learn more about practices supporting native people, I encourage you to explore the lessons and solutions listed in the Over Incarceration of Native People. The document includes diverse proposals ranging from supporting Tribal Reentry programs, trauma-informed care, providing cultural mentoring, license restoration, victim assistance, housing, mental health services, and, most importantly, culturally relevant research and services. Juvenile Justice includes many evidence-based policy recommendations to change the status quo for Indigenous youth, helping them and their families to be better informed, tracked, assessed, represented, and treated. To find relevant services or contribute to their success, Tribal Justice also lists many resources and specified programs. 

Signs reading "Justice for Colten," "Indigenous Lives Matter," and "Murder is murder, lock him up!" advocate for justice for Colton Boushie, shot by farmer Gerald Stanley.
An image of a protest for Indigenous Justice In Canada in response to the shooting death of Colton Boushie and the acquittal of Gerald Stanley. Image Source: The Canadian Press/Jason Franson via Yahoo Images

In this series, I have reiterated many of the issues at the tip of the iceberg, but to continue supporting Native people, we must be able to acknowledge our ignorance of the rest of the iceberg that is the Native experience. With cultural humility in mind, we can work to unveil injustice in the Indigenous Justice System. 

 

Tragic Killing of a Corporal and the Urgent Need to End Female Genital Mutilation

by Grace Ndanu

The Kenya Girls Guide Association hosted a rally against FGM during 16 Days of Activism in 2011.
The Kenya Girls Guide Association hosted a rally against FGM during 16 Days of Activism in 2011. Source: Yahoo Images

The killing of Corporal Mushote Boma on December 15, 2023, in Elgeyo Marakwet County, Kenya, has brought to light the deeply entrenched issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) and the urgent need for increased awareness and action to eliminate this harmful practice. The tragic incident, where Corporal Boma was stoned to death by a mob of young men after rescuing a group of girls who had been forced to undergo FGM, signifies a significant setback in the fight against this violation of human rights in Kenya.

Female genital mutilation, also known as female genital cutting or female circumcision, is a practice that involves altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. FGM is a harmful practice and a violation of the rights of girls and women. It can lead to severe physical, emotional, and psychological consequences, including but not limited to severe bleeding, infections, complications during childbirth, and long-term psychological trauma. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified FGM into four types, with type 3 being the most severe, involving the removal of all external genitalia and the stitching of the vaginal opening.

According to reports, the incident involving the Corporal occurred when the police were taking the rescued girls to the hospital after the illegal FGM procedure. It is a grim reminder of the challenges faced by law enforcement officers and activists in combating such deeply rooted harmful practices. Despite the ban on FGM in Kenya, the practice still persists in certain areas, often conducted during school holidays, using crude methods and tools by individuals who continue to defy the law.

It is essential to understand that the practice of FGM is not limited to Kenya but is prevalent in many African countries, as well as in some parts of Asia and the Middle East. The complexity of cultural, social, and traditional beliefs and practices surrounding FGM makes the fight against it particularly challenging.

An infographic on FGM, including information about how many girls and women are impacted by it, practiced in over 30 different countries around the world. Source: Yahoo Images
An infographic on FGM, including information about how many girls and women are impacted by it, is practiced in over 30 different countries around the world. Source: Yahoo Images

In the wake of Corporal Boma’s tragic killing, there is an urgent need for heightened awareness and education about the dangers of FGM. The involvement of communities, religious leaders, and other stakeholders is crucial in effectively addressing and eliminating this harmful practice. There is a pressing need for community-based interventions focused on education, awareness, and empowering women and girls.

Furthermore, it is imperative for the Kenyan government and other relevant authorities to take decisive action and strengthen the enforcement of laws against FGM. Perpetrators of FGM must be brought to justice to send a clear message that this harmful practice will not be tolerated in any form. The government should collaborate closely with local organizations and international partners to develop and implement comprehensive strategies to combat FGM effectively.

The media can play a pivotal role in raising awareness about FGM and shaping public opinion on the issue. Media campaigns and educational programs can provide crucial information on the physical and psychological consequences of FGM, dispel myths and misconceptions, and promote positive social norms around the issue. Additionally, the media can highlight success stories of communities that have abandoned the practice of FGM, inspiring others to follow suit.

At the global level, the international community plays a vital role in supporting efforts to combat FGM. International organizations, including the United Nations and its specialized agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations, have been advocating for the elimination of FGM through various programs and initiatives. These efforts range from providing direct assistance to affected communities, conducting research and data collection, advocating for policy changes, and supporting grassroots organizations working at the local level.

Some resources laid out for community members to learn about the dangers of FGM. It includes pamphlets, brochures, and a 3D model used to teach about different types of FGM.
Some resources are laid out for community members to learn about the dangers of FGM. It includes pamphlets, brochures, and a 3D model used to teach about different types of FGM. Source: Yahoo Images

The killing of Corporal Mushote Boma serves as a stark reminder of the urgent action needed to eliminate the harmful practice of female genital mutilation. It is crucial to work collectively to raise awareness, educate communities, and enforce laws to protect the rights of girls and women. This tragic incident must galvanize individuals, communities, and governments to address FGM comprehensively and put an end to this barbaric practice.

The world must unite to protect the rights and well-being of girls and women globally and ensure that no one else suffers the same fate as Corporal Mushote Boma. By fostering a culture of respect for human rights and gender equality and by promoting positive social norms and behaviors, we can strive to create a world where every girl and woman has the right to live free from the fear and trauma of female genital mutilation. Together, we can work towards a future where every girl and woman can fulfill her potential without being subjected to the physical and emotional pain of FGM.

The tragic killing of Corporal Boma is a solemn call to action, and it must be responded to with determination, compassion, and unwavering commitment to bringing an end to the harmful practice of female genital mutilation once and for all.

The Indigenous Justice System: How Underfunding is Failing Tribal Police

by Eva Pechtl

For a better understanding of the information you will encounter in this blog, it may be valuable to read part one of my series on the Indigenous Justice System, History of Limitations and Restorative Justice,” on the legal jurisdiction of Indigenous authorities and the traditional forms of justice in many Indigenous communities. In this blog, I will expand on the struggles of Indigenous communities due to insufficient federal funding. Multiple Indigenous tribes are suing the federal government for violating treaty obligations to provide adequate funding for law enforcement and justice services on reservations.  

An image of an old U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs police badge. Source: Yahoo Images via Flickr              
An image of an old U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs police badge. Source: Yahoo Images via Flickr          

 

Tribes like the Oglala Sioux and the Northern Cheyenne are suing the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which operates 23 police agencies out of 258 official tribal law enforcement entities. The BIA’s Office of Justice Services is responsible for ensuring public safety and justice across Indigenous communities with a proposed 2024 budget of 641.8 million for Public Safety and Justice operations. Under section (900.33) of Public Law 93-638, proposals by agencies outside of the BIA must be reviewed by declination criteria under Subpart (E) and can be declined. Under section (900.31), tribes are entitled to appeal such decline of a proposal and can sue if they wish to challenge the decision.  

The findings of U.S. Code Title 25 Section 3601 state that “tribal justice systems are inadequately funded, and the lack of adequate funding impairs their operation.” There are 234 tribally operated law enforcement agencies; however, the BIA allocates more funding to the minority of agencies that are operated internally. Indigenous communities deserve well-prepared protection from law enforcement, but they are currently faced with battles they cannot win because of this disparity in resources. 

 

Agencies Bound to Crumble 

In a Senate roundtable discussion on Public Safety in Native Communities, several Indigenous speakers spoke about problems surrounding law enforcement in their communities. Tribal police Chief Michael Ford from the Reno-Sparks Indian colony expressed the challenges of keeping tribal officers when external wages are more competitive. Chief Ford explained that after years of training, tribal officers consider better positions for themselves and their families, making it difficult to build trusting relationships with community members and to have experienced officers capable of addressing serious issues. Similarly, Alex Cleghorn, Senior Legal and Policy Director at the Alaska Native Justice Center, explains how the competitiveness of grant processes and the non-guarantee of funding makes it difficult to have continuity in services. This causes challenges for Tribal law enforcement programs and deprives them of a chance to grow consistently or make positive impacts. These are examples of issues generated due to the lack of funding for police services and its effects on failing to adequately support tribal police. 

An image of a student and Tribal instructor training in a firearms proficiency session. Source: Yahoo Images via Flickr
An image of a student and Tribal instructor training in a firearms proficiency session. Source: Yahoo Images via Flickr

Executive Director of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Lucy Simpson, comments on the effects of the lack of trust in police in Indigenous communities. Strong negative perceptions of law enforcement are present in Indigenous communities following consistent delays in services or instances of abuse by officers. Police abusing their power mixed with low expectations of law enforcement cause both a lack of reporting and of prospective police officers. This weakens the legitimacy of tribal police departments and perpetuates cycles of crime in Indigenous communities. When crimes aren’t reported or followed up on, it’s difficult for tribal police to maintain statistical information that is needed to handle crime reliably. Insufficient resources over time do not only prevent tribal police from effectively responding, but they preserve cycles of criminal behavior and negative police relations. 

 

Jeopardizing Indigenous Community Safety 

In a podcast made this summer by Native America Calling, the President of the Fort Belknap community, Jeffrey Stiffarm, says, “The community knows when there is only one person on staff.” Stiffarm said that drug pushers would make prank calls about domestic violence incidents, knowingly distracting the officer toward a remote end of the reservation while they make a shipment. This is not only dangerous for the community but also for the officers, who often have no choice but to arrive at dangerous calls alone. 

An image of a police car for the Nooksack Indian Tribe in Washington. Source: Yahoo Images via Flickr
An image of a police car for the Nooksack Indian Tribe in Washington. Source: Yahoo Images via Flickr

 

What Stiffarm found particularly frustrating was how the BIA funds departments that are not run by tribes at double or triple the amount. In Fort Belknap, the Chief of Police, criminal investigator, and four dispatchers are paid half the amount of BIA salaries for the same duties, and the tribal officers are paid 70%. Gary Lamere, a supervisory criminal investigator also from Fort Belknap, further exhibited this disparity when he recalled working for the BIA-run law enforcement on the Mescalero Apache Tribe in New Mexico, which had significantly more funds. He argues that with over $2 million for personnel alone, his patrol officers could be proactive, unlike in Fort Belknap, where the entire department has received $1.2 million for all services and is constantly fighting to catch up with crime.  

In the Native America Calling podcast, criminal investigator John Grinsell from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation says that the BIA closed the local jail and moved it 50 miles away with the promise of offering rehabilitation programs. However, the programs never showed, and the Northern Cheyenne and Crow tribes are only allowed 50 beds each out of the 400 beds in the facility. When there is an overflow in the facilities, offenders are transported to Oklahoma, where, if they are released, they often must wait for the monthly transportation services to transfer them back to their community. There is generally high frustration among Indigenous communities about the extended periods it takes for law enforcement officers to respond, often reaching an hour and a half. Furthermore, tribal police often must follow up on crimes without proper compensation when the BIA’s operations fail to follow up. Recently, in the Northern Cheyenne community, arson of a local thrift store was never followed up on, according to Grinsell.  

 

Constantly Running Behind 

When asked in the podcast what he knows about any tribes that are adequately funded, Stiffarm notes tribes like the Crow, which use money from their natural resources to fund their own programs. However, most reservations have been stripped of natural resources like coal and oil, leaving them with minimized opportunities to raise funds for themselves. For centuries, Indigenous people have been stolen from, wrongfully, and not reimbursed fully enough to escape the poverty that ensues. 

Geno LeValdo, a tribal council member in Fort Belknap, comments in the podcast that “no one cares about our communities as we do” and spoke to the BIA’s blatant rejection of pleas for funding. Frankly, the perception among Indigenous communities is that no one cares. A caller on the podcast from Fort Berthold in North Dakota argues that Indigenous people need representatives in Congress who are ready to listen to tribal members. Furthermore, they need Indigenous advocates who will advocate, not just fill a diversity spot. 

President Biden has made tremendous changes, which he highlighted in his Proclamation on National Native American Heritage Month, including appointing many Indigenous people in his administration. His changes are positive, but they are not as impactful as Biden implied, according to Indigenous leaders still dealing with serious issues facing their communities. Biden’s budget for 2023 allocated $2.8 billion to the BIA, with $562.1 million designated for Public Safety and Justice operations. Indigenous leaders wonder about the specific destination of the funds, as they are well aware they are not being allocated towards their services. 

Legislation deemed more highly supported by Indigenous people is the Parity for Tribal Law Enforcement Act, a bill introduced by Dan Newhouse in July 2023. It aims to address the barriers limiting tribal law enforcement by offering measurable steps to improve the hiring and retention of tribal officers. Again, Indigenous leaders are the ones who truly know what they need. Federal funding is a complicated process, but there is no reason to doubt and reject Indigenous calls for help.