Lori Baker with her husband, Erich. Baker is founder and executive director of the International Consortium for Forensic Identification, Reuniting Families Project.

Lori Baker with her husband, Erich. Baker is founder and executive director of the International Consortium for Forensic Identification, Reuniting Families Project.

Thousands of immigrants have died crossing the southern U.S. border. Many are never identified, leaving their loved ones to speculate about their fate.

Lori Baker, an associate professor of anthropology at Baylor University in Texas, volunteers on behalf of those families, using DNA samples to identify bodies buried in unmarked graves. The 44-year-old sat down for StoryCorps with her husband, Erich, and talked about what inspired her work. Baker recalled visiting a sheriff’s office, where she noticed a disturbing object on his desk.

"It was the skull of a younger person, and [the sheriff] was using it as a pencil holder," Baker said. "He had pens and pencils in the eye socket of this person. So that’s when I decided something had to be done."

So, this is meant to be a heartwarming story about people who work to identify migrants who died trying to get to the United States, but fuck that sheriff using a skull as a pencil holder. Why didn’t it occur to her — or to anyone else — that people who express such disdain for the dead do not deserve to work as agents of justice?

Migrant lives are human lives. 

"If you go to analyze racism today in its complex structures and dynamics, one question, one principle above all, emerges as a lesson for us. It is the fear — the terrifying, internal fear — of living with difference. This fear arising as the consequence of the fatal coupling of difference and power."
Hall, S. 1992. Race, culture, and communications: Looking backward and forward at cultural studies. Rethinking Marxism 5 (1):10-18.

Border Patrol agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have killed more than 40 people since 2005, according to government records and statistics kept by civil rights groups. The violence recently has accelerated – more than half of the killings have occurred in the past four years. A half-dozen of those more recent deaths involved teenagers like Juan Mendez.

After shooting Mendez in the back, Taylor Poitevent faced no serious repercussions, despite his immediate worry about being convicted of killing an unarmed fleeing man. Nearly four years after the Oct. 5, 2010, shooting, he has not faced criminal charges. He went on administrative leave and eventually transferred to another Border Patrol station in South Texas, where he still works today.The deaths have resulted from agents shooting at people throwing rocks from Mexico, confrontations with smugglers and, in one bizarre case, an incident in which an agent shot a Taser dart at a car that burst into flames with the driver inside. Among the dead are foreigners and U.S. citizens, Anglos and Latinos, old men and boys, criminals and one of the Border Patrol’s own. No agent has been convicted of any crime related to a death in any of the 40-plus incidents.

Poitevent did not respond to requests for comment made to his family members. 

The Justice Department declined to prosecute the agent. Investigators from the FBI closed their investigation in 2011, followed by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general in early 2012. The local district attorney concluded that he couldn’t prosecute a federal agent, and there was insufficient evidence to charge him anyway.

The decisions to neither prosecute nor investigate further relied heavily on what some officials consider to be a weak investigation by a Texas Ranger, whose credibility previously had been challenged. The local district attorney decided not to prosecute because a Border Patrol agent isn’t a Texas peace officer, which several officials regard as an interpretation of state law that is questionable at best.

For a dozen current and former local and federal law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the investigation, the fact that an agent shot a fleeing unarmed man and did not face criminal penalties is, like other such shootings, a miscarriage of justice.

“You don’t shoot someone in the back because they beat you up,” said Robert Sifuentes, the Maverick County Sheriff’s Office’s lead investigator into the Mendez shooting…

In many ways, the Mendez case is a fitting window into the rise of violence in the Border Patrol, part of the nation’s largest law enforcement agency. The shooting involves someone whose death would not ignite the same public interest or media scrutiny as one of several lethal cross-border shootings by the Border Patrol into Mexico, or an immigrant killed by police on the streets of New York City. Mendez was an 18-year-old high school dropout, convicted thief and neophyte drug runner living in an isolated Texas border town. He was a U.S. citizen.

By his 18th birthday, Mendez had been arrested 17 times – the first time at 12 – and his case file was three folders thick. The charges ranged from marijuana possession and trespassing to burglary and assault, but almost all of those came as a minor. He had been involved with a gang when he was younger but was not suspected of any gang affiliation by the time he was an adult. His former juvenile probation officer described him as “a regular” who was “riding in the fast lane.” He often did that while high. He did not cut a sympathetic figure.

Yet the casual investigation into Mendez’s death offers a case study into how the standards of justice applied to police shootings in departments across the country have been largely jettisoned when it comes to the Border Patrol. The incident also illustrates how a poorly managed system of oversight has failed time and again to investigate abuses. Much of the reason is years of political infighting among homeland security agencies, despite Congress and Obama administration officials’ knowledge of these long-festering problems.

Outside the policies on using force, the operating philosophy for Customs and Border Protection – the parent agency of the Border Patrol – is protect your own and encourage agents to do what they have to do to get home safe. In the end, the Border Patrol agent was considered the victim, not Mendez.

US Military: Central America drug war a dire threat to U.S. national security

SCT Guatemala MWM 20140604
Marines with a security cooperation team work with Guatemalan marines during a train-the-trainer session at the Brigada de Infantera de Marina base in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, on June 4. (Mike Morones/Staff)

According to General John F. Kelly | SOUTHCOM:

After observing the transnational organized crime network for 19 months as commander of U.S. Southern Command, I see the only viable approach is to work as closely as we can with as many nations in the region. Our vision is of an economically integrated region that offers reasons for its people to build their futures at home instead of risking the dangerous and ultimately futile journey north. A region that offers economic opportunity, effective democratic institutions and governance, and safe communities is the key to their future and to our national security.

Drug cartels and associated street gang activity in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which respectively have the world’s number one, four and five highest homicide rates, have left near-broken societies in their wake. Although there are a number of other countries I work with in Latin America and the Caribbean that are going in the same direction, the so-called Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras) is far and away the worst off.

Other choice gems in the piece:

-He finds it “ironic” that Central American governments are democratic and “appear to want to stay that way” (I know, I know. Yes, these are direct quotes…)

-He thinks that the US is a leader in human rights, which is indisputable “unless of course one does not trust U.S. intentions in the region and also does not have faith in the decency of our military men and women”.

-Good news, there is a path Central American governments can follow: Colombia is the model.

The number of cases awaiting resolution in the immigration courts had grown to 396,552 by the end of July 2014. This backlog increased by nearly 75,000 cases, or 22 percent, since the start of fiscal year 2013, according to very timely government enforcement data obtained by the Transactional Access Records Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

"It is somewhat arbitrary to try to dissociate the effective practice of freedom by people, the practice of social relations, and the spatial distributions in which they find themselves. If they are separated, they become impossible to understand."
Michel Foucault, quoted in Border Dilemmas by Anthony Mora

Homeland Security investigates itself, says detained immigrants are fine

People who entered the United States illegally were held by the Border Patrol in McAllen, Tex. (photo by Rick Loomis)

Investigators have found no evidence to support a complaint that young migrants crossing the border illegally had been subject to “systemic abuse” in detention, according to a report released Tuesday by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security. The report also found that conditions had improved notably since mid-July in border stations where the young migrants were detained.

The finding was based on 57 unannounced visits by inspectors from July 17 to Aug. 20 to 41 detention facilities run by Customs and Border Protection. The inspector general’s office also investigated 16 of the most serious claims made in a complaint filed in June by groups that included the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Oh, I feel so much better now. Thanks, Homeland Security!


Representatives from indigenous, peasant and environmental sectors protested in front of the Guatemalan Congress against the Law on Plant Varieties, known as the “Monsanto Law,” which would allow for patenting of vegetable varieties discovered or produced in the country. The Mayan Peoples Advisory Council also presented a case to the Constitutional Court to place an injunction on the law. President Otto Pérez Molina announced over the weekend that he would ask his party legislators to modify some articles. Some protestors brought with them examples of the diversity of maize in the country. They had red, white, yellow, black. “It is the essence,” said a protestor, “that which constitutes the nature of things, is permanent and unchanging,” citing the dictionary definition.

[Sandra Sebastian for Plaza Publica | translated by guatepolitics]

The blatant colonialism in “discovering” maize varieties that Maya peoples have cultivated for centuries is revolting. 

Update: Activism across the country worked — Congress Repealed the Law!

According to Weekly News

Guatemala’s unicameral Congress voted 117-111 on Sept. 4 to repeal Decree 19-2014, the Law for Protection of Procurement of Plants, in response to a lawsuit and mass protests by campesinos and environmentalists. The law, which was to take full effect on Sept. 26, provided for granting patents of 25 years for new plants, including hybrid and genetically modified (GM) varieties; unauthorized use of the plants or seeds could result in one to four years in prison and a fine of $130 to $1,300. The law had already been weakened by the Court of Constitutionality; acting on an Aug. 25 legal challenge from the Guatemalan Union, Indigenous and Campesino Movement (MSICG), the court suspended the law’s Articles 46 and 55. The law was originally passed to comply with an intellectual property requirement in the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), and it was unclear whether Guatemala might now be excluded from the US-promoted trade bloc.

Opponents labeled the legislation the “Monsanto Law,” after the Missouri-based multinational Monsanto Company, the world’s leading producer of GM seeds. Activists charged that the law opened the way to the introduction of GM plants, which might contaminate local crop varieties and disrupt traditional indigenous farming. Campesinos also felt they could lose their livelihoods due to competition from large-scale farmers who can afford the higher-yielding seeds from multinationals. 

Opposition to the law appeared to be broad. On Sept. 2 thousands of indigenous campesinos blocked the Inter-American highway at three points in the southwestern department of Sololá until 6 pm to demand the law’s revocation. The protests were led by mayors of the department’s 82 indigenous communities, and some communities closed schools so that students could join in. Organizers estimated total participation at 120,000. Opposition to GM plants and to the dominance of multinationals like Monsanto has been growing in Latin America; indigenous communities in southeastern Mexico have won three court actions blocking GM soy so far this year [see Update #1229]. (Adital (Brazil) 9/2/14Prensa Libre (Guatemala) 9/2/14TeleSUR English 9/5/14)

Deportations don’t make Communities more Secure

Unauthorized migrants from a detention center in Broadview, Ill., on their way to deportation. (Leslye Davis/The New York Times)
NYTimes highlights an article that calls the entire Secure Communities program into question. What if we deported thousands and thousands (and thousands) of people and our communities are not any more secure?
Does immigration enforcement actually reduce crime? Surprisingly, little evidence exists either way—despite the fact that deporting noncitizens who commit crimes has been a central feature of American immigration law since the early twentieth century. We capitalize on a natural policy experiment to address the question and, in the process, provide the first empirical analysis of the most important deportation initiative to be rolled out in decades. The policy initiative we study is “Secure Communities,” a program designed to enable the federal government to check the immigration status of every person arrested for a crime by local police. Before this program, the government checked the immigration status of only a small fraction of arrestees. Since its launch, the program has led to over a quarter of a million detentions. We exploit the slow rollout of the program across more than 3,000 US counties to isolate the effect of Secure Communities on local crime rates. Moreover, we refine those estimates using rich data on the number of immigrants detained under the program in each county and month—data obtained from the federal government through extensive FOIA requests. Our results show that Secure Communities led to no meaningful reductions in the FBI index crime rate. Nor has it reduced rates of violent crime—homicides, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault. This evidence shows that the program has not served its central objective of making communities safer.
"In the fall of 1921, the president of Guatemala modified the October 1914 policy that required immigrants of color to make a deposit of fifty dollars. The new executive decree required immigrants of color to deposit two hundred pesos in American gold with customs officials before disembarking at any Guatemalan port… White foreigners interested in entering the country were treated quite differently. Because they were desired citizens, the government offered whites an open-door policy, free transportation to Guatemala, and land on which to settle."
Opie, F. D. 2009. Black Labor Migration in Caribbean Guatemala, 1882-1923. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

say it with me everyone:


latinx =/= indigenous 

latinx =/= indigenous 

latinx =/= indigenous 

latinx =/= indigenous 

latinx =/= indigenous 


Goddamn right.

Affirmations of indigeneity, “Aztec”, mestizaje, are almost never accompanied by an acknowledgment of African and Asian Diaspora histories, much less the caste system for zambos, mulattos, and ladinos.

And don’t tell me this is something we’ve “forgotten.”

Recognize that this is an active process — lack of political recognition is one of the strongest forms of oppression.

"Death isn’t simple in El Salvador. It’s like a sea: you’re subject to its depths, its creatures, its darkness. Was it the cold that did it, the waves, a shark? A drunk, a gangster, a witch?"

Martinez, O. 2014. The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail: Verso.

More than one-third (36%) of Americans view the number of children now coming from Central America as a crisis, while 43% see the situation as a serious problem but not a crisis. About 1-in-5 (19%) say the situation is a minor problem.

A majority (69%) of Americans say that children arriving from Central America should be treated as refugees and allowed to stay in the U.S. if authorities determine it is not safe for them to return to their home countries. In contrast, 27% say that children arriving from Central America should be treated as illegal immigrants and deported back to their home countries.

"Narco-refugees:" US immigration problems stem from its Drug War

Increasingly, when looking at Mexico and the phenomenon of narco-refugees, drug policy cannot be divorced from immigration policy or national security, and yet the effects of narco-refugees in the United States may shatter this paradigm as well. Americans spend between $18 billion and $39 billion annually on narcotics coming northward. As former Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora stated, “In that sense, the US is already financing this war. It is just financing the wrong side.”…

sudden mass exodus would pose special problems. Any policy option and the timing of its implementation would be subject to a number of questions demanding answers. Would the sheer volume of people in a short period of time require US detention facilities where Mexicans would be held as the determination of their status unfolds?… Policymakers should be prepared to answer these questions, politically charged as they are, before any sudden wave of narco-refugees moves towards the US border.

From a 2011 US Army War College article by Paul Rexto Kan on the looming crisis of Mexico’s “narco-refugees.” 2011. If you didn’t see this coming, maybe you were actively ignoring it.

"When allies of undocumented immigrants describe certain occupations as jobs that “no one wants,” they are decriminalizing unauthorized workers by describing them as valuable laborers who help rather than harm U.S. citizens and legal residents. This appeal, however, constructs poorly paid jobs as a privilege and poor U.S. citizens as the “no-one-who-wants” unskilled labor-intensive jobs. This appeal also naturalizes the notion that arduous jobs should not only be underpaid and exploitable but also that the poorest people, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, should feel lucky to be exploited if they are paid at all. The human value of undocumented laborers is measured only in terms of their economic value for the American middle class, whereas the human value of unemployed citizens of color is negated altogether. In this attempt to revalue undocumented workers, the middle-class and socially."
Lisa Marie Cacho,  Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected (via la-xingada)