November 3, 2018 in 3,641 words

‘You descend into hell by coming here’: how Texas shut the door on refugees

At the US-Mexico border, asylum seekers are trapped in a hostile environment

Pictured above: US riot police on the border bridge between Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas.

The El Paso Processing Center, informally known as the Camp, is a sprawling, walled compound of low-lying cinder-block buildings and trailers tucked between the landing strip at El Paso International airport and the Lone Star golf club, a public course that sits just across the street. The camp houses around 800 immigrants at any given time – some awaiting deportation, some awaiting their hearings or appeals. Some pass through for a day; others stay for years.

Wassim Isaac, a 32-year-old Syrian with ginger hair and impeccable manners, had been at the Camp for over a year by the time we met, in December 2017 – his asylum denied, his appeal wending its way through the system. Isaac, who asked that I not use his real name, had been the owner of a pharmacy back in Syria, and described himself as a college-educated, law-abiding churchgoer. When he first arrived at the Camp, he asked himself how he had come to be incarcerated. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) designates the Camp as a “holding and processing facility”, but as far as Isaac could tell, it was a prison. “Like in the movies,” he said flatly.

He would be stuck in the facility for who knew how long, having been refused asylum for reasons he couldn’t quite grasp. The judge had initially implied that Isaac, a Christian fleeing both militiamen and Islamic extremists, had a convincing case, but then, in an abrupt about-face, denied him. “Is it personal? No,” Isaac said, perplexed. “Related to the law? Political?”

He concluded that trying to make sense of his predicament was an exercise in futility. He decided instead to look at his captivity from the US government’s point of view. “In their opinion, I make a crime because I come here with no visa,” he told me. “I convince myself. I say: ‘OK, I am illegal. I am illegal.’”

In fact, Isaac had not committed a crime. He had not slipped into the country outside a designated port of entry – a misdemeanour or, if done repeatedly, a felony. Instead, on 2 October 2016, Isaac joined a throng of people in the pedestrian lane of the Paso del Norte International Bridge, which divides Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez from El Paso, Texas – the same bridge that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, outfitted in riot gear, have barricaded, in preparation for the arrival of the Central American migrant caravan. Below the bridge runs the border between the two nations: a trash-clogged trickle of the Rio Grande, no deeper than a puddle. When Isaac reached the front of the line, he used broken English to inform a border agent that he was a Syrian national seeking protection. In doing so, he behaved in accordance with international human-rights law and US immigration law. He also crossed into the El Paso jurisdiction, which, unbeknown to him then, is one of the worst places in the US to seek asylum.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while, it’s The Long Read.


An 1898 US Supreme Court case confirmed birthright citizenship

ALL PERSONS


The US Constitution’s 14th Amendment could not be more clear.

The plain language of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution explicitly provides for birthright citizenship. Nonetheless, on Oct. 30, president Donald Trump revealed that he intends to issue an executive order that would bar children of foreign parents from becoming Americans by virtue of birth on US soil.

With this revelation, Trump ignited debate about a long-settled issue, one the Supreme Court resolved 120 years ago in favor of birthright citizenship, though at the time the country’s laws were explicitly exclusionary and racist.

A San Francisco native comes home

In 1898, the Supreme Court decided US v. Wong Kim Ark. Wong was born in San Francisco to Chinese parents in 1873. He lived in the US all his life. His parents eventually left the country and he visited them in China in his late teens and again in his early twenties. Upon his return to the US in 1895, a customs agent refused him entry, stating that Wong was not a US citizen based on the Chinese Exclusion Acts, federal laws that barred Chinese immigration, originally passed in 1882 and extended in various forms until 1943.

Wong challenged the exclusion, arguing that he was a US citizen based on the 14th Amendment. The amendment, adopted in 1866, provides that “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Wong argued that the Chinese Exclusion Acts, which barred immigrants, did not apply to him because he was American by virtue of birth on US soil.

One thing was clear, the Supreme Court noted in the majority opinion—a US citizen can’t be denied entry to the country based on exclusionary immigration laws. “It is conceded that, if [Wong] is a citizen of the United States, the acts of Congress, known as the Chinese Exclusion Acts, prohibiting persons of the Chinese race, and especially Chinese laborers, from coming into the United States, do not and cannot apply to him,” the majority wrote.

So, the question the justices had to answer was whether the 14th Amendment applies to any child born in the US, or whether it had some built-in limitations not evident from the plain language of the law.


Ad Hoc Nation

The unmaking of the steady job.

What happened to the steady job? Gig-economy start-ups like to imply that it has outlived its usefulness. Americans are supposed to have rejected it, leaving behind the ornery supervisors, fixed schedules, and rigid corporate culture that come with dependable employment. Whether they are freelance writers or cab drivers, engineering contractors or couriers or cleaners, these workers, we are told, want to choose their own hours and assignments—to be their own bosses—and the rise of mobile technology has at last made that possible.

Of course, all this independence comes with more than a few drawbacks. Unlike full-time employees, temps don’t have paid sick days or vacation days, and their positions are, by their nature, short-term, which can make planning for the future difficult in basic ways. (Will the next job mean moving to a new city? Will next month bring a significant drop in income?) For a specialist who can demand generous fees, these might be minor considerations. But freelance work is now common at almost every level: 94 percent of jobs created in the last 10 years were “nontraditional” employment, and one-third of Americans now do some form of contract work. More often than not, it is far from a liberating option: In many cases, the pay is measly—after operating costs, Uber drivers in Detroit would have made more working at Walmart—and stringing together hours can itself be a struggle.

Louis Hyman’s new book, Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary, shows that this shift in work did not happen on its own, and that it began long before the founding of Uber or TaskRabbit. In this persuasive and richly detailed history, Hyman traces a decades-long campaign to eliminate salaried positions and replace them with contract work. Between the emergence of the first temp agencies in the 1940s and the growing power of management consultants in the ’70s, American business adopted a new set of principles and began to squeeze not just blue-collar workers but also middle managers and top executives. The unmaking of the good job, Hyman argues, followed not from technological advances but from an organizational breakthrough, as executives at companies like Manpower Inc. and McKinsey & Co. convinced businesses to add and shed staff at a moment’s notice, with little regard for their employees’ well-being or the effects on society.


4 Sexual Behaviors That Have Become Oddly Common in Public

There are some places where you just don’t expect to stumble across people having sex. So if I’m hiding in a refrigerator in the back of a Best Buy, and you burst in with your partner to have sex in it, don’t look at me like I’m the weird one. However, some of these places have become such prime boning locations that we’re having to make new rules about it. Like how …

4. People Are Constantly Filming Smut In … Libraries?


The library is kind of an inherently sexy place. All those books that maybe describe boobs. That’s hot. But whereas I can look at a book full of boobs and appreciate it for the literature that it is, it seems that some people become inflamed with uncontrollable lust. For example, a fellow Canadian using the pseudonym of “lilsecrett” (who, full disclosure, is not me) made headlines in 2015 for getting caught studying her Hemingway at a Windsor, Ontario library. Note that I need to you to read “studying her Hemingway” in kind of a lascivious tone, because we’re using it as a euphemism for her masturbating on webcam.

When the media caught wind, they looked her up “for work purposes,” and discovered about 50 videos of Ms. Secrett getting herself off in libraries, and not always the same one. Was this the start of a new trend? Hell no, it was the continuation of one. A 19-year-old woman at Oregon State managed to film a solid half hour of her going to town on herself in the library. In 2012, Cornell University students noticed that their engineering library played an uncredited role in some amateur porn. It happened at a public library in Louisiana, and at Humboldt University’s library in Germany. It seems that having a library in the background is porn shorthand for “He’s both well-dong’d and smart.”

People getting nasty in the stacks is so common that some libraries have installed security cameras as a way to keep tabs on people’s tabs and slots. Presumably, this is not to get their own copies of the porn.


‘A wall built to keep people out’: the cruel, bureaucratic maze of children’s services

In a system cut to the bone, gaining access to the support we had been promised for our daughter’s special educational needs was an exhausting, soul-sapping battle.

One morning back in May 2016, my wife and I had a visit from a nurse, who had come to the house to discuss our daughter, Alice. We made coffee, put biscuits on a plate and sat around the kitchen table.

“So,” said the woman, who was part of the local community learning disabilities team, “how can I help you?”

My wife and I exchanged weary glances. We had lost count of the health professionals who had asked this very question. But perhaps it was going to be different this time. Our visitor was young and bright-eyed. Would she be the one to finally give us the support we needed? We started telling our story all over again.

It began in 2003, when we adopted Alice, then four months old. For those first few years, you would have described her as determined, boisterous and noisy. In July 2006, we moved from Cambridge to the West Country, and everything changed. Alice would wake in the middle of the night and scream for hours on end. A new problem emerged when she started at the village primary school. She would wake up every morning in a state of high anxiety. If we asked her to put on any item of clothing that she found too tight, too itchy or the wrong design, she refused to get dressed. At one time, she would only ever wear knickers with a panda design on – when BHS stopped stocking them, I had to buy an indelible marker and draw the designs on myself. Many children do this at some stage, but Alice’s difficulties with clothing were prolonged and extreme by any measure.

Some days, we would make it out of the door to walk to school, only for Alice to turn around and run home, go back in the house and lock us out. Only a visit from the headteacher, who would dash around the corner from school, would persuade her to come out. After school, Alice was agitated, hyperactive and difficult to control. She refused to go anywhere in the car. When we finally got her into the car, she could become angry and violent. Or she would simply remove her seatbelt.

Alice could not settle at night, which meant one of us had to stay with her until she fell asleep. It often took hours. Hours of reading the same Horrid Henry stories or watching a film we had already seen dozens of times, which she found comforting. Such bedtime rituals are not uncommon with children, but this was the norm every night, throughout her primary school years, and beyond.

We sought help from the GP, who referred Alice to a paediatrician. Following an assessment in October 2010, when she was seven, we were told she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), foetal alcohol syndrome, auditory processing difficulties and pervasive developmental disorder (a diagnosis that acknowledged Alice had some autistic traits, but not enough to be described as autism spectrum disorder). We experienced a mix of shock and relief. Perhaps now we would get some help. But again and again, we came up against the same problem. If we managed to reach the head of a long waiting list and had Alice assessed for support, we discovered that there was none on offer.

My wife is an occupational therapist who works with adults with disabilities. She understands much of the terminology used by services, and is a dab hand at filling in the long-winded forms. I am a psychotherapist, so I recognise some, if not all, of the phraseology used. I am also freelance and can therefore be more flexible than many parents who work full time, when it comes to attending appointments. But even with this head start, we were really struggling to get any support. For Alice’s sake, and for ours, we desperately needed someone who could help her to communicate her frustrations and help us develop effective strategies.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.


The age of banter

It used to be just a word – now it is a way of life. But is it time to get off the banter bus.

‘Ir’s the most fucking ridiculous story, isn’t it? We went to watch fucking dolphins, and we ended up in fucking Syria.” Last summer in the Mediterranean party resort of Ayia Napa, Lewis Ellis was working as a club rep. “I mean, it was fucking 8am,” he told an Australian website soon afterwards, “and the last fucking club had closed, and we thought, We can still go dolphin watching. We’ll blag our way on to a fucking boat and go dolphin watching.”

But when the boat sailed so far that Cyprus disappeared from view, Ellis explained, they started to worry. “Why are we so far from land?” they asked the crew. “We’re fucking miles away and we’ve got no fucking wifi.” Something, Ellis said, had been lost in translation; his exuberant season as a shepherd for the resort’s party pilgrims had gone terribly awry. The crew wasn’t taking them to watch dolphins: they were going to a Russian naval base in the city of Tartus, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. Yeah, it is a little ridiculous.

It was, nonetheless, a story that had legs. “Hungover lads’ boat trip boob lands them in Syria,” wahey-ed the Mirror; “British holidaymakers board ‘party boat’ in Ayia Napa – and end up in war-torn SYRIA,” guffawed the Express. If you saw these headlines at the time, you may dimly remember the rest. A stubborn trawler captain, chugging doggedly onwards to Tartus, where he turfed the friends out upon landing; interrogation at the hands of Russian intelligence officers; mutual hilarity as the Russians realised what had happened; and, after a hot meal, a quick tour of the area, and a good night’s sleep, spots on the next fishing vessel headed back to Cyprus. It was never made clear why the captain had let them on the boat in the first place, but whatever. Everyone lapped it up.

Reflecting on the whole thing five months later, Ellis, a 26-year-old with a business degree and a marketing masters, couldn’t totally wrap his head around it. “I think I found 35 stories about us,” he told me. “I read about myself in the Hawaiian Express, do you know what I mean?” (Notwithstanding that there doesn’t appear to be any such newspaper, yes, I definitely do.)

What made it really weird to see the media pile in with such unstinting enthusiasm was that the story was total cobblers. “I could not believe how gullible they were,” Ellis said, a top note of glee still in his voice. “We were just having a laugh! It was banter!”

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Few Americans are aware of the fact that the first printing of the Declaration of Independence contained a copy error. As a result, many subsequent republications of the text display the typo. In a new video filmed at the 2018 Aspen Ideas Festival in June, Danielle Allen, a political theorist and professor at Harvard University, explains why this seemingly innocuous oversight can have grave consequences. Interpreting this sentence correctly, Allen argues, is crucial to understanding how the powers of government are organized—and, consequentially, how to be an effective civic agent.


Michael Kosta and Roy Wood Jr. hit the streets of Miami to find out what’s been destroying South Florida’s ecology.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.


Kids these days! …could exercise their constitutional right to change the course of their democracy.


Do Republicans or Democrats have kinkier fantasies? The answer won’t surprise you.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.


Bill recaps the top stories of the week, including good omens for the midterm election and fear-mongering over the migrant caravan.


On the eve of the midterm election, Bill asks voters to deliver a rebuke to President Trump’s undemocratic behavior.

THANKS to HBO and Real Time with Bill Maher for making this program available on YouTube.


Each Halloween, young people would vandalize Elizabeth Krebs’s town, inspiring her to plan a party that changed the way we celebrate the holiday forever.

About Drunk History:
Based on the popular web series, Drunk History is the liquored-up narration of our nation’s history. Host Derek Waters, along with an ever-changing cast of actors and comedians, travels across the country to present the rich tales that every city in this land has to offer. Booze helps bring out the truth. It’s just that sometimes the truth is a little incoherent.

THANKS to Comedy Central and Drunk History for making this program available on YouTube.


シーツを洗ってベッドメイキングしているとやってくるまるとはな。When I make the bed with the washed sheet, Maru&Hana come over.


FINALLY . . .

CBD is everywhere. But is it a scam?

The super-popular cannabis compound, explained.

The coffee shop in my Brooklyn neighborhood has a chalkboard outside. It usually reads something like, “Our soup of the day is coffee.” Recently, though, it’s had a marijuana leaf on it, drawn in green chalk.

Recreational marijuana is not legal in New York state. What the coffee shop is selling is CBD-infused lattes; CBD, which stands for cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant. Out of curiosity, I bought one. It cost $9 and tasted like a latte with that hint of marijuana herbiness you get from a weed cookie. Google research informed me I would not get high but would be calmer, less anxious, maybe a little sleepy. I have no idea if I felt anything at all. Mostly, I felt like I just spent $9 on coffee.

My coffee shop is not unusual in selling CBD products. In New York, and all over the country, you can find CBD oil in convenience stores, CBD vapes in smoke shops, and CBD tinctures and topical creams in beauty stores. You can buy CBD dog treats in Chicago, a $700 CBD couples massage in Philadelphia, and CBD chocolate chip cookies in Miami. CBD is also being combined with ice cream, savory snacks, and cocktails. Even Coca-Cola is reportedly working on a CBD-infused beverage.

CBD exists at the confluence of three huge consumer trends. The first is the herbal supplement boom, a $49 billion-a-year industry that has seen rapid expansion since about 2010. The second is the rise of the anxiety economy, in which all sorts of products, from fidget spinners to weighted blankets, are pitched as reducers of the mild panic of everyday life. And the third is the near-overnight creation of a legitimate cannabis industry, thanks to the spread of marijuana legalization.

The exact legality of CBD is tricky. The Drug Enforcement Administration maintains that CBD is federally illegal but will not bother going after anyone for possessing or using it. Many argue that a provision in the 2014 farm bill allowing industrial hemp pilot programs, mostly aimed at the textile industry, actually makes non-THC use of cannabis legal; the much-delayed 2018 farm bill would make CBD and industrial hemp legal nationwide if passed as it stands.

It doesn’t really matter: The result is that anybody, in any state, can seemingly buy CBD online or in a local brick-and-mortar shop without fear of arrest. That availability made CBD at least a $350 million industry last year; some estimates suggest that by 2020, annual sales of CBD products could top $1 billion — and some say it already has.


Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?