Supreme Court Strikes Down North Carolina’s Racial Gerrymander

from May 22, 2017 at 01:40AM

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down North Carolina’s congressional map, finding that the Republican legislature unconstitutionally used race in drawing district lines that reduced the voting power of minorities.

In the 5-3 decision, with ultra-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas joining the four liberal justices in the majority, the court ruled that North Carolina unconstitutionally packed African American voters into two districts, in violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who joined the court in April, did not participate in the ruling.

"This decision by Justice [Elena] Kagan is a major victory for voting rights plaintiffs, who have succeeded in turning the racial gerrymandering cause of action into an effective tool to go after partisan gerrymanders in Southern states," election law expert Rick Hasen wrote on his blog Monday morning. "That Justice Kagan got Justice Thomas not only to vote this way but to sign onto the opinion (giving it precedential value) is a really big deal."

The Republican majority in North Carolina’s legislature drew the contested congressional district map in 2011. It added more African Americans to two districts that already had significant black populations and had consistently elected the representatives—all Democrats—favored by most black voters since the 1990s. Voters in those districts sued, claiming the lawmakers had intentionally reduced African American voting power elsewhere in the state. States are generally not allowed to use race as the predominant factor in drawing district lines.

To justify their changes to one of those districts, the 1st Congressional District (CD1), Republican lawmakers claimed they were complying with the mandate of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), which states that minority voters must be able to elect representatives of their choosing. In a brief to the Supreme Court, the legal team defending the Republican map argued that past voting behavior in CD1 could not predict future voting, particularly since the 2011 map added nearly 100,000 people to the district. A federal district court disagreed in February 2016 and ruled the use of race in drawing CD1 unconstitutional.

A map of CD1 shows the lengths Republicans went to in order to fill it with as many African Americans as possible. A brief from the lawyers for the citizens fighting the map describes the district as "a behemoth sprawling from the rural Coastal Plain to the City of Durham, extending tendrils to sweep in pockets of African-American voters."

Kagan’s majority opinion found that the state unconstitutionally used race in drawing the map for CD1. "Although States enjoy leeway to take race-based actions reasonably judged necessary under a proper interpretation of the VRA, that latitude cannot rescue District 1," she wrote. "Neither will we approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence and whose raison d’être is a legal mistake."

Specifically, the Supreme Court found that the state’s argument that the VRA could be used to pack black voters into a district was not supported by the law. "[W]e further uphold the District Court’s decision that §2 of the VRA gave North Carolina no good reason to reshuffle voters because of their race," the opinion states.

The 12th Congressional District (CD12) is even more curiously constructed. It is 120 miles long but only 20 miles across at its widest point—making it so thin as to be barely perceptible on a map. CD12 has long been serpentine, but the new map exacerbated its strange shape. It doesn’t contain any whole counties or cities, but rather portions of six counties and 13 towns and cities. The Republican legislature explained its shape by saying it was based on partisan, not racial, concerns. The goal was to make it even more overwhelmingly Democratic in order to help Republicans win surrounding districts—a tactic that is presumably legal because states are allowed to consider partisanship when drawing districts. But in its February 2016 ruling, the federal district court found that race was the predominant consideration in drawing CD12 as well.

The Supreme Court deferred to the district court’s decision on CD12. "[W]e uphold the District Court’s finding of racial predominance respecting District 12," Kagan wrote. "The evidence offered at trial, including live witness testimony subject to credibility determinations, adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district’s reconfiguration."

Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, the 2011 map has served Republicans well in North Carolina even as it has made its way through state and federal court. In 2012 and 2014, when the statewide vote was closely divided, Republicans won 10 of the state’s 13 House seats. In 2016, with a slightly tweaked map, Republicans kept that 10-3 advantage, even as Donald Trump barely won the state and a Democrat, Rory Cooper, won the governorship.

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones

Texas Goes After Trans Kids With Its Latest Bathroom Bill

from May 22, 2017 at 08:19AM

Earlier today the Texas House voted overwhelmingly to give final approval to legislation that would force transgender students in public schools and public charter schools to use the bathroom that corresponds to their sex assigned at birth or a bathroom that’s separate from other students—ultimately prohibiting them from using the facility that best matches their gender identity.

The move comes in the final days of a tense legislative session that ended as it began: debating the economic, moral, and personal stakes of a so-called "bathroom bill." And it seemed, as recently as last week, as though the session might end without passing the long-debated legislation, prompting Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to threaten to force a special session if lawmakers failed to pass the bill.

Part of the hold up in the House was the sweeping nature of the Senate’s bathroom bill, passed back in March, which aims to prohibit transgender people from using the bathroom most appropriate for them in all public buildings and public schools, while simultaneously prohibiting localities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances. Conservative lawmakers in the House bristled at the legislation not out of concern for civil rights, but for state finances. The Texas Association of Businesses estimated the initial proposal could lose the state $8.5 billion per year. When North Carolina passed legislation barring transgender people from using the bathroom that best matches their gender identity and nullifying local nondiscrimination ordinances, businesses relocated and major revenue-generating events were rescheduled in other states. So, instead of voting on the more extreme Senate legislation, SB 6, Texas’s House amended a bill focused on school emergency operations, SB 2078. To become law, their amendment focused solely on schools. Now it’s kicked back to the Senate for approval.

Even still, narrowing the scope of the bill did little to placate Democrats, who say this legislation is about a lot more than bathrooms. "White. Colored. I was living through that era…bathrooms divided us then, and it divides us now," said Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), a black woman, according to the Texas Tribune. "America has long recognized that separate but equal is not equal at all."

Many Republicans, including the representative who authored the amendment, reject that assessment and insist the legislation isn’t discriminatory. "There is absolutely no intent, and I would argue nothing in this language discriminates against anybody," said Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall). "We want to make sure we provide definitive guidance to our school districts."

Beyond fears for students’ civil rights, the bill’s opponents also point out that this kind of legislation is dangerous for transgender youth, who are at a heightened risk for having depression, having anxiety, or attempting suicide compared to the general population, something linked to the discrimination they face. Access to the appropriate facilities plays a role in mental health outcomes: a 2016 study in the Journal of Homosexuality found that being denied access to housing and bathrooms that match one’s gender identity in college increased a transgender person’s risk for suicide.

It’s also clear that separate, segregated facilities are not equivalent to being able to use the appropriate bathroom. The bleak reality for trans students has been driven home by a five-year-old transgender girl and her mom, who have become the public faces of the Texas fight and profiled by several media outlets. Kai Shappley had an accident when the gender-neutral bathroom she was supposed to use in the nurse’s office was locked. "As a mom, you don’t want your kid to become bitter and jaded, and so you tell them it’s not your fault and it happens," her mother said in an interview with Fusion earlier this year. "But in your head, you’re like ‘What the hell? Nobody could get her to a potty?’" (The school says there’s no evidence the accident happened.)

"There is no moral middle ground on discrimination," said Texas Freedom Network president Kathy Miller in a statement. "Either you discriminate, or you don’t. This amendment, if it becomes law, would leave transgender students even more vulnerable to being stigmatized and bullied simply because they are different."

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones

Michael Flynn Is Pleading the Fifth

from May 22, 2017 at 02:59AM

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn will invoke the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination on Monday and refuse to comply with a congressional subpoena, according to the Associated Press. The Senate intelligence committee had asked Flynn for documents in his possession that might relate to the committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 election.

It’s not a surprising move—Flynn was not expected to turn over the documents without immunity, "because he would be waiving some of his constitutional protections by doing so," according to the AP. Last week, Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the intelligence committee, prematurely said Flynn would not cooperate.

It’s unclear how Republicans will respond to Flynn’s decision. The intelligence committee could ask Congress to vote on whether to hold Flynn in contemptan option that would force Flynn to face possible fines or jail time if he continued to withhold the documents. "I’m not going to go into what we might or might not do," Burr said last week when asked what the committee would do next if Flynn refused to cooperate with the investigation. "We’ve got a full basket of things that we’re willing to test."

Meanwhile, Democrats on the House’s oversight committee are increasing pressure on Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to subpoena the White House for documents on how the White House vetted Flynn, which the committee asked for two months ago. "The White House is obstructing our investigation on the Oversight Committee, covering up for General Flynn, and refusing to produce a single document that Chairman Chaffetz and I asked for in a bipartisan letter two months ago," Rep. Elijah Cummings (R-Md.), ranking member of the committee, said in a statement over the weekend. "I have prepared a subpoena that the Chairman could sign today." Cummings says if Chaffetz doesn’t want to issue the subpoena himself, he should allow committee members to take a vote on it.

Chaffetz isn’t always so shy about using the power to subpoena—he asked for the FBI’s full investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and just last week demanded that the FBI hand over the Comey memos, which detail President Donald Trump’s attempts to curb the federal investigation into Flynn, according to an explosive report last week from the New York Times.

Update, 3:32 p.m. ET: Former Trump campaign associates Paul Manafort and Roger Stone turned in documents Monday for the Senate intelligence probe according to NBC News.

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones

FBI’s Russia investigation now targeting top White House official

from May 19, 2017 at 07:11AM

Hacking FBI

The Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The relentless rush of Trump-related leaks continued on Friday, as the Washington Post revealed that the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign has now focused in on a high-level employee currently working out of the White House.

Citing anonymous sources, the newspaper did not name the senior Trump administration staffer but said that the individual had become a “significant person of interest.”

Mike Flynn, Trump’s former top national security adviser, was forced to resign after his ties to the Russian government were publicly revealed and he was shown to have lied to Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he’d had with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

According to a Wednesday report from the New York Times, Flynn informed Trump’s transition team on January 4th that he was under federal investigation for his ties to Russia and other foreign governments. Despite knowledge of the probe, the incoming administration decided to go forward with plans to hire Flynn as the National Security Advisor, a position that gave him access to America’s highest military and intelligence secrets.

According to the Times, Brandon Van Grack, a veteran espionage prosecutor, is leading a grand jury investigation that has recently been issuing subpoenas.

The larger Russia investigation is separate from the inquiry into Flynn’s previous work and may not result in criminal charges if the individuals involved were only found to have breached government protocol rather than federal laws.

In the Post story, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was quoted denying that investigators would find anything incriminating toward the former Trump campaign.

“As the president has stated before, a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity,” Spicer said.

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STUDY: House GOP O’Care Repeal Bill Cuts $43B From Children’s Medicaid

from May 18, 2017 at 02:12AM

The major overhaul of Medicaid House Republicans passed with their bill to repeal Obamacare earlier this month would cut $43 billion in Medicaid funding for non-disabled children over 10 years, a study by the consultant firm Avalere found. The study also broke down the cuts by states, finding that Texas, Florida and New York would be the biggest losers in Medicaid funding for children’s health care coverage.

The House GOP bill, the American Health Care Act, transforms the traditional Medicaid program from an unlimited match rate to what is known as a per capita cap, meaning the feds would set a limit on the funding offered to states on a per enrollee basis. Because the metric Republicans use to raise the caps overtime is slower than the inflation rate of Medicaid, the cuts to the program would grow bigger over time.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the original version of the legislation would cut $880 billion from the program over the next decade.

The GOP Senate is in the process of writing its own bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act that they said will include an overhaul of Medicaid. So far, they have signaled that they will embrace the House’s per capita cap’s approach, but are tinkering with the nuts and bolts of how the caps would work.


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Report: Trump Told His Advisers He Favors Move To Sabotage Obamacare

from May 19, 2017 at 06:16AM

President Donald Trump told advisers in an Oval Office meeting Tuesday that he favored ending crucial Affordable Care Act payments to insurers, Politico reported, a move that would almost guarantee chaos in the individual health insurance market.

A White House official said in a statement that the administration had made a commitment to Congress to make the payments only for the month of May. “No final decisions have been made at this time, and all options are on the table,” the official said.

Read More →

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Iowa Just Showed Us What Defunding Planned Parenthood Under Trumpcare Would Look Like

from May 18, 2017 at 07:38AM

In a harbinger of what’s to come if the Obamacare repeal bill becomes law, Planned Parenthood has announced that it will close four health clinics in Iowa next month that serve nearly 15,000 patients.

The move is a direct result of a defunding measure signed into law by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad last week that will go into effect on July 1. The new law rejects federal Medicaid dollars and replaces them with a state-run family planning program that will prohibit low-income patients from using their publicly funded insurance for care at providers, like Planned Parenthood, that also offer abortions.

“What is happening in Iowa is what we could see across the country if Congress passes this dangerous law to defund Planned Parenthood,” said Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. “This is hardest on people who already face barriers to accessing health care—especially people of color, young people, people with low to moderate incomes, and people who live in rural areas.”

The defunding measure enacted by Iowa is similar to the one attached to the Obamacare repeal bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), that passed the House earlier this month and must now head to the Senate. That proposal would undo a federal statute that allows Medicaid patients to use their coverage broadly, prohibiting states from excluding abortion providers in doling out Medicaid reimbursements for nonabortion care. (The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funds for most abortions.) Iowa’s new law rejects federal Medicaid funding and replaces it with state money so as not to run afoul of this federal requirement.

A number of other states have attempted to exclude abortion providers from their Medicaid programs, but only Texas has ever done so successfully, doing in 2011 exactly what Iowa did last week. Texas’ state-funded program promised to maintain the same level of care for patients without Planned Parenthood, through community health clinics, federally qualified health centers, and more. In reality, there was a significant drop in care for low-income patients: A number of clinics closed. Other health centers attempted to step in, but nearly 26,000 fewer women received reproductive health care. Medicaid contraception claims declined by 35 percent, suggesting that fewer low-income women were obtaining contraceptive care. There was also an increase in childbirths among women receiving Medicaid who’d previously received contraception from Planned Parenthood clinics. The areas that saw the largest drops in women served were those where Planned Parenthood clinics had to close.

The Iowa counties that will be losing Planned Parenthood clinics are poised for a similar decline in access to care: In three out of the four counties with health centers closing—Burlington, Keokuk, and Sioux City—Planned Parenthood served at least 80 percent of the family planning patients using publicly funded insurance, according to 2015 data. 

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones

Nigerian women are being trafficked into Sicily at a rapidly increasing rate

from May 18, 2017 at 03:25AM

Disheveled, barefoot and bleary-eyed, the Nigerian girls are some of the first to walk off the boats. A dream realized; they arrive in Europe — though the scene is anything but romantic. 

Caskets are carried off, carrying those who didn’t survive the two-day journey across the Mediterranean, from Libya to the Sicilian port of Palermo. Babies wail and those sick and burned from the effects of the gasoline mixed with saltwater stumble towards the medical tent.

The Nigerian girls are given a plastic bag containing a liter of water, a piece of fruit and a sandwich. They’re ushered to a vinyl tent for “vulnerabili” — the vulnerable ones. 

For at least 30 years, Nigerian women have been trafficked into Europe for sex work, but numbers have spiked recently. In 2014, the trickle of a few hundred women a year grew to nearly 1,500. The following year, it increased again to 5,600. In 2016, at least 11,009 Nigerian women and girls arrived on Italian shores.

These women used to arrive on planes with visas. Now, they come the “back way” — the smuggling route that has developed across Africa to bring hundreds of thousands of Africans to Europe.

Women make up a smaller percentage of total African arrivals to Europe, and aid response for them has been slow and misguided. Although the International Organization of Migration estimates that 80 percent of Nigerian females coming to Europe are trafficked, aid workers have no way of telling those seeking opportunity from those forced against their will. They hand out flyers warning against trafficking.

Time is of the essence: If officials can establish trust, girls who have not been trafficked may be less likely to become ensnared in sex work once they are in Europe. And those who were trafficked are more likely to supply details that reveal that they have been trafficked, allowing the IOM to refer them to Italy’s national anti-trafficking network, or local prosecutors, who can help them get international protection.

In the best-case scenario, they are placed in a safe house run by nuns or an NGO, which is supposed to house them for up to three years and try to integrate them into European life with school and job training, with the goal of becoming independent. 

That’s the ideal scenario — but it rarely happens. Safe houses are built for a dozen women — there aren’t nearly enough to take in the thousands of women arriving.

Traffickers know this.

Before leaving for Italy, Nigerian traffickers give the girls and women a phone number for a madam, and tell them to call as soon as they arrive. Madams are older Nigerian women, sometimes former prostitutes themselves, who have climbed the organizational ranks. A younger male is also involved, working for the madam by following, watching and accompanying the young women.

After arriving, the Nigerian women are taken with other asylum-seekers to facilities around Italy, built to house them as they await their documents. Teeming with people from Nigeria, The Gambia, Eritrea and elsewhere, many of whom have been there more than a year, they’re allowed to come and go, and use cell phones.

“Madams actually recruit inside the big immigration centers,” explains Tiziana Bianchini, who works for Lotta Contro l’Emarginazione, a Milan-based organization with an anti-trafficking mission. This means that girls who may not have been trafficked run the risk of falling into criminal networks once they are in Italy.

Peace is one teen girl who, in 2013 at the age of 17, migrated by boat to Sicily and was brought to CARA of Mineo, the largest refugee camp in Europe. Located in Sicily’s eastern province of Catania, the center, once an American military base, houses more than 3,000 men and women. It has become notorious for its dubious finances and for giving residents cigarettes instead of the payments they are entitled to under Italian law.

While she still lived in the camp, Peace stopped a Nigerian man on a street nearby, and asked to borrow his phone. She dialed the number she had been told to, and spoke to the Nigerian woman on the other line. Within days she was a sex worker. “Once you make the call, you’re off. You never go back to the camp,” she says.

I met her earlier this year in a small room in Sicily where church services are held, several months after she left the street.

She’s an energetic, fast-talking, smiley young woman, whose youthful stature is nonetheless marked by a distinct confidence. She wears her hair up high, with a long braid hanging down her back, bouncing as she walks and talks in the glaring Sicilian sunlight.

Peace isn’t her real name — it’s an alias we agreed to use because she still lives in fear of her traffickers, or that she’ll be deported. Or of repercussions for her family because she didn’t finish repaying her debt.

Trafficking officials would call her a typical victim: She grew up in Benin City, in the heart of Nigeria’s poor, rural southwestern Edo State, a major source of trafficked sex workers in Europe. She’s the eldest girl from a large family — and older girls are the most likely to be trafficked. Her mother died when Peace was 16, and her father “was not caring.”

She decided to leave, feeling the pressure of needing to help her family financially, and escaping from a situation that was hurting her. 

When a woman approached her, telling her she was beautiful and asking if she wanted to go to Europe, Peace agreed. She knew she’d have to work on the street, and she knew she would need to pay the woman 30,000 euros once she arrived in Europe. She completed what Nigerians call the “juju oath,” an animist, spiritual contract in which the girl agrees to be brought to Europe, and binds herself to her debt with bits of her pubic hair and blood.

The ritual is taken extremely seriously — and violation is considered justification for murder of a girl or her family.

“Back then, I just thought, f*** it,” said Peace.

Languishing in the camps

The lax oversight at these migrant centers has led to calls for a different response to migrant arrivals in Italy. The centers, which Italians call “welcome homes” and the people inside call “camps,” were Italy’s stop-gap solution to provide recent arrivals with housing as they awaited their documents or the result of their applications for international protection.

A process that was supposed to take a couple of months now lasts years, while applicants languish in overcrowded centers, often in the middle of nowhere.

“Italy was completely unable to create a national program to deal with the arrivals from Africa,” said Bianchini, explaining that the responsibility lies with understaffed and underfunded local governments, who end up outsourcing the oversight of these camps to private organizations, “making contracts with whoever.”

This means there is little oversight or transparency. Much of the staff operating these centers speak little to no English (nor French nor Arabic for that matter), the centers are overcrowded, and the people inside of them tend to be given little access to information on Italy’s legal system.

When I visited one center, many people asked me if they should try to get to France. Rumor has it that it’s increasingly tough to cross the borders out of Italy.

“The Italian system of housing asylum-seekers is completely inadequate for victims of trafficking,” Bianchini added, noting that women in general, but especially victims of trafficking, require specific psychological and educational support that these centers are unable to provide.

Every so often, law enforcement officials in Italy decide it’s time for a sweep and deport Nigerian women back to Nigeria, where they run the risk of being re-trafficked.

“Forcibly returning the girls to Nigeria would be another heavy violence against them,” explains Sister Valeria Gandini, a missionary nun who eight years ago founded Palermo’s Street Unity, a group of lay and religious volunteers who visit the women on the street each week. “Sooner or later, they will meet the same people who betrayed them and brought them to Europe the first time around.”

Deportation rumors often spur more women to run away.

Impossible to pay

Another young Nigerian woman who ran away from her camp, only to wind up on the street, is Favor — again, not her real name. When I met her, she had a big, warm smile beneath a fashionable knit cap. 

Like Peace, Favor is from Edo State, though from the more rural area, outside of the city. Before she agreed to seal the oath, Favor asked the woman who approached her if she was going to Europe to “do prostitution.” It was only once the woman assured her that she would be working in a shop that Favor agreed.

She was told the money would be easy to come by once she was in Europe.

When she first arrived at the madam’s house, Favor was exhausted. She slept for two days. On the third day, the woman said it was time to go to work.

In addition to the 30,000 euros she had to pay off, she would have to pay 80 euros a week for food, 250 euros a month for the rent, as well as the gas and electric bills. Favor was ready: OK, no problem. Just show me the shop, she said.

First, the woman took her shopping. They bought clothes that Favor says she “didn’t understand.” A few days later, the woman said she was ready for work. They took bus after bus, and then they walked. She found herself in the “bush,” standing on the side of the road. She was told to put on different clothes, clothes she had bought earlier with the woman, and that were now tucked inside the bag she had brought.

When it finally dawned on her what she would have to do, Favor cried. She cried all day, and for many days she refused to work. When she went home with nothing, the woman would beat her. After some time, she felt she had no choice, and she gave in.

In Palermo, women and underage girls like Peace and Favor work the streets among the trees lining the busy road of La Favorita, or along the trash- and urine-ridden streets around the port. 

They are there six nights, or days, a week, depending on their shifts. As the months get warmer, the clothes get skimpier: see-through tights that reveal a lacy thong, shirts open to reveal naked breasts. They wear wigs directly from Nigeria that cost 20 euros each. Blessing (not her real name), a woman of tiny stature and boundless energy who works on a Palermo street, shows off her fake eyelashes, which can stay on for several weeks

Peace now shares an apartment with an Italian woman whom she helps around the house. In her room, she brushes her hair, smiles often and laughs a lot. She is candid but guarded about her experience working on the street.

“It all depends on the client,” she says. “Sometimes, those clients don’t even want sex so much as they want company, and with them, you try to be jovial, you make them laugh. But then there are the clients who don’t want to pay you, the clients who are aggressive. Those are the bad clients.” Peace can talk about it without showing too much emotion, but she is reluctant to go too deep. She would like to go back to Nigeria eventually, but for now, she feels pressure to make money, either for herself or her family — she wasn’t clear. 

Favor’s experiences were worse. Once, a client knifed her. Another time, two men who approached her gave her a bad feeling. “Via,” she told them. “I’m not working tonight.” “You must,” they replied, before slapping her and dragging her into a room in a local train station. She cried a lot as she told her story. When she came to, she said she asked the first person she found to bring her to the hospital.

After that, she decided to get out. 

Getting out

The Street Unity group in the town where she was working had been asking her for months if she wanted out. Street Unity groups, like that established by Sister Valeria in Palermo, approach the girls offering medical support, and in the case of the religious groups, prayer.

The Nigerian women are extremely religious (there is no one in Nigeria, Peace once said, who can honestly say that they don’t believe in God), and prayer is often a source of bonding. Once the connections have been established, the groups can be a way off of the street — a difficult and uneasy step. 

Sicily has a 22-percent unemployment rate, high even by Italian standards. The only jobs available to Nigerian women are in cleaning or taking care of the elderly or children. But these jobs require Italian language skills, and they don’t come with guarantees of good payment or treatment.

As Sister Valeria sees it, “the women who are victims of trafficking, who have been forced into sex work for years, who are in the end destroyed, physically and psychologically — what future can they have here?”

Against all odds, Peace one day decided she would leave. It was a scary decision, because of the juju oath she had made back in Nigeria. Article 18 of Italy’s Consolidated Immigration Act provides protection and temporary residence permits to victims of trafficking who denounce their traffickers or madams, or who show visible signs of being in immediate psychological or physical danger.

But Peace, like many of these women, refused to take this route. Denouncing her madam or her trafficker would be the biggest violation of her oath. “I’m protected, in Europe,” she explains, “but I have to think about my family.”

Back in Nigeria, it would be easy for them to be killed or badly hurt. And, there is the fear of going crazy. She talks about her friend, Mary, who convinced a whole group of girls to denounce their madam. Mary has since gone “totally wacko” — a problem, Peace explains, that is not psychological but spiritual, linked directly to the effects of the juju oath.

Peace and Favor are moving on with their lives. Peace attends classes in Italian, sewing and cooking. She sings in her town gospel choir, and helps organize meetings in her church’s community, where she leads discussions about work opportunities and community empowerment.

Favor lives in a safe house in northern Italy. She is also taking Italian classes, and the operators taking care of her are working hard to find her job opportunities so she can be independent one day. Peace says she’s thankful for her experiences. She feels she has grown, and says it’s for this reason that she does not think of herself as a victim (though she admits that she can say this only because she is no longer on the street).

Favor, for her part, calls herself “a very big victim,” but she is looking forward, too. 

Maggie Neil is a writer and researcher based in Italy, focusing on trafficking and migration thanks to a Fulbright research grant. She reported this story with the assistance of The Fuller Project for International Reporting.

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A Private Prison Company Put This Immigrant Detainee in Solitary. 19 Days Later He Was Dead.

from May 17, 2017 at 08:23PM

A Panamanian man held in an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center died in an apparent suicide Monday after being held for 19 days in solitary confinement. Jean Jimenez-Joseph, 27, had spent two months in the Stewart Detention Center, a for-profit facility run by the private prison company CoreCivic, prior to his death on May 15.

While the investigation into the circumstances around Jimenez’s death is ongoing, according to Danny Jackson, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations special agent in charge of southeast Georgia, a recently released report on the Stewart Detention Center sheds light on some of the conditions he may have endured in the weeks leading up to his death.

ICE took Jimenez into custody in March, after he served time in North Carolina for stealing a vehicle. The agency began deportation proceedings and transferred him to Stewart. In late April, Jimenez broke the the facility’s rules when he jumped from a second-floor landing to the first. "You’re supposed to take the stairs down," Jackson says. "He decided he was going to jump over the rail." For this infraction, Jimenez was given 20 days in disciplinary segregation—otherwise known as solitary confinement. (A United Nations expert on torture has called for the "absolute prohibition" of solitary confinement for longer than 15 days, citing studies that show just a few days in isolation can cause lasting mental damage.)

Stewart detainees have been put in segregation for less, according to allegations in a report released earlier this month by Penn State Law’s Center for Immigrants‘ Rights Clinic and the advocacy group Project South. Drawing on interviews with more than 40 immigrants who had been held at the facility, the report’s authors found that men had been sent to solitary for talking too much, not tucking in their shirts, or arguing during soccer matches. Others were put in segregation because they filed complaints, or simply because Stewart’s other housing areas were full.

Once inside, segregation was "like hell," one Nigerian immigrant told the report’s authors. Each day, they had to chose between making a phone call or getting an hour of recreation outside. They were not allowed to shower and had to be handcuffed and escorted each time they needed to use a toilet. Without windows, they couldn’t tell if it was day or night. Their meals were smaller than the usual rations.

Five days into solitary, Jimenez "exposed himself" to a nurse, Jackson says, and his sentence was extended to 23 days. He got through 19. "He was in a cell all by himself, in an isolation cell," Jackson says. At approximately 12:45 a.m. on May 15, a detention officer found him hanging by a sheet inside the cell, unresponsive. It had been an hour since a guard had walked by his cell door, Jackson says. "They took him down from the position he was in, put him on the floor, and started lifesaving measures." Jimenez was pronounced dead at a local hospital less than two hours later. The preliminary cause of death was "self-inflicted strangulation."

Jackson warns that investigators can’t yet say for sure what led to Jimenez’s death. But if Jimenez was suffering from mental-health problems, there’s a good chance it would have gone undiagnosed and untreated at the facility, according to Azadeh Shahshahani, Project South’s legal and advocacy director, who oversaw the report released earlier this month. While Stewart offered counseling, most detainees interviewed by the report’s authors didn’t know about it, Shashahani says—or they were too afraid that seeking mental-health care would lead to them being placed in segregation. Expressing suicidal thoughts could land a detainee in solitary, she says. Those with "serious mental afflictions," according to the report, were "given pills and then are placed in handcuffs and helmets and put in segregation."

In its press release about Jimenez’s death, ICE noted that fatalities under its custody are "exceedingly rare," and that no detainees had died in Stewart in more than eight years. Jimenez’s death was one of eight that have taken place in ICE custody since last October, and the second suicide in the past two months.

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones

Turkish President’s Personal Security Force Beats Up and Bloodies Kurdish Protesters in Washington, D.C.

from May 17, 2017 at 09:31AM

At least nine demonstrators were hospitalized following the melee.

A violent clash between Kurdish protesters and the bodyguards of visiting Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan prompted the State Department to issue a response Wednesday after reviewing footage of the incident. 

"We are concerned by the violent incidents involving protesters and Turkish security personnel Tuesday evening," read the statement. "Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest."

News reports the previous day captured Turkish security agents assaulting protesters outside of Turkey’s embassy. The demonstration was held in opposition to Erdogan’s "crackdown on dissent and his consolidation of power," as well as Turkey’s prosecution of pro-Kurdish leaders, reported the Washington Post. 

Of the two-dozen protesters, nine were taken to the hospital following the melee and two Americans were arrested. 

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser also weighed in on the incident, which she called "an affront to D.C. values and our rights as Americans." 

"The Metropolitan Police Department will continue investigating the incident and will work with federal partners to ensure justice is served," she added.

Meanwhile, District police have vowed to work with the State Department and United States Secret Service to "identify and hold and hold all subjects accountable for their involvement in the altercation." 


Read more at: Alternet