Gravity's Rainbow

botany, shoes, books, and justice

December 9, 2018
by sarcozona

We have laws requiring us to accept refugees. The laws define refugee very narrowly. These laws aren’t being followed by the people tasked with implementing and enforcing them.

Isaac arrived from Syria, a country with a relatively developed infrastructure before the war. With the help of his family back home, who mailed materials to support his asylum claim, Isaac could produce a passport, a birth certificate, a personal-identification card, high school and university diplomas, university records, a baptism certificate, a letter from his hometown priest (who called Isaac his “son in spirit” and asked that the reader “extend help to him according to his need”), a business license, and a military-recruitment booklet that exempted him, year after year, until 2016, when he was ordered to report for mandatory service.

Most promising, Isaac fit neatly into the definition of a refugee. Asylum law can skirt issues of morality, even logic, and can ultimately rest on the technical elements of a case. And technically, asylum law was designed for someone just like Isaac—a targeted religious minority from a country in the midst of a civil war.

To beat the extreme odds in El Paso, Isaac had spent fifteen months in detention and paid thousands of dollars in legal fees to an elite lawyer who then worked dozens of pro bono hours on his appeal. This feat required an enormous amount of translated and notarized evidence discretely sent overseas by family members in Syria, the emotional and financial support of his brother and his lawyer, and the wherewithal to withstand a complex, taxing, humiliating process. How many asylum seekers could or should have to endure such an ordeal in order to gain internationally recognized rights meant to protect the persecuted?

via A Culture of No | VQR Online

A condensed version of this article was published in The Guardian if you don’t have time for such a long read. They mostly excised details of why refugees were seeking asylum, how asylum law works, and details of the research supporting their reporting that the El Paso courts are not doing their jobs and just sending legit refugees to their deaths.

But I found this summary of our current refugee immigration law in the VQR article useful:

Modern refugee law was codified by the United Nations after World War II, when countries grappled with the fact that they had turned away Jews and other vulnerable people fleeing persecution and death. The law’s core principle is that of non-refoulement: the practice of not returning a refugee to a home country in which he has been harmed or has a well-founded fear of future harm. A refugee, according to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, is “an individual who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence who is unable or unwilling to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.” Technically, Isaac wouldn’t be a refugee if he had simply fled beatings, shootings, and death threats. He needed to prove that he had fled beatings, shootings, and death threats because he was Christian. To be granted asylum, one must demonstrate the existence of “nexus”—the point at which a person’s identity (as embodied in the five categories) and the reason for his terror meet.

“Yes, you were shot and killed and raped, but not because of your political opinion,” Spector told me with exasperation. “Horrible things happen and the judge’s biggest problem is nexus.”

Indeed, nexus eludes many contemporary immigrants seeking relief, such as those fleeing landscapes decimated by climate change or countries wracked with poverty, corruption, starvation, or widespread gender-based violence. Even those who have been targeted by Mexican and Central American cartels and gangs—a major influx, especially in recent years—often find themselves ineligible for legal forms of protection. Simply being born in a violent country—even facing real threats of harm—doesn’t qualify. Few Mexicans and Central Americans can demonstrate a claim of persecution that is due to race or nationality or religion. Few, too, can meet the burden of proving that their persecution is due to political opinion or membership in a particular social group, since such a group must be socially distinct and fundamental to a respondent’s identity. Being, say, a Honduran who is harmed because he refuses to join a gang is not enough. So most Mexicans and Central Americans coming to the US to escape gangs and drug cartels may be unlucky, even fatally so, but unless they’re being harmed on one of the five grounds, they have few avenues for relief.

Asylum offers an immigrant protection and significant benefits: asylum for spouses and children, permanent residency and eventual citizenship, social services, and travel documents. When applying for asylum, an immigrant also often applies simultaneously for two other types of fear-based relief—Withholding of Removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture—that involve more onerous burdens of proof, are hardly ever granted, and do not offer all of the advantages of asylum, though they do offer the potential for work authorization. Still, many people who will likely be harmed once deported do not qualify for any of these forms of relief, and a judge can—and sometimes must—deny them protection.

November 24, 2018
by sarcozona

What if instead of becoming the world’s police, we’d become the world’s doctors?

In Liberia, we saw that communities with strong primary healthcare were better able to stem the spread of Ebola. We are now applying these lessons to more effectively protect the health of our people should another outbreak strike. We have prioritised investments in primary healthcare to ensure that citizens can secure essential health services free of charge and see primary healthcare providers in their own communities, even in the most remote parts of the country.

Source: As Ebola has shown, the global health system is as strong as its weakest link | Global development | The Guardian

Oligarchic control compromises a society’s ability to make correct decisions in the face of existential threats.

Citizens in countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia, or the Eurozone members, would generally consider themselves to be living in democratic societies. However, when the political systems of Western democracies are scrutinized, clear and pervasive signs of oligarchy emerge.

A 2014 study by American political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page revealed that the great majority of political decisions made in the United States reflect the interests of elites. After studying nearly 1,800 policy decisions passed between 1981 and 2002, the researchers argued that “both individual economic elites and organized interest groups (including corporations, largely owned and controlled by wealthy elites) play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence.”

Source: The Ecological Crisis is a Political Crisis – Resilience

Aspergillus fumigatus likes very warm temperatures; it grows happily in the steamy interior of a compost heap, which just happens to be the same temperature as the inside of our bodies. So once it settles in the lungs, the fungus reproduces wildly, spills into the bloodstream, and is conveyed to other organs, where it grows and overwhelms them in turn. That outcome is called invasive aspergillosis, and it is diagnosed as often as 500,000 times a year worldwide, in up to 10 percent of immunocompromised patients. It is deadly—or was, until a tiny group of drugs called triazoles came on the market in the 1990s and 2000s. The triazoles, which have names such as fluconazole and voriconazole, worked against many types of fungal infections—a rare feat, because fungi are more like us biologically than bacteria are, and it is harder to make an antifungal that will kill just them and not us than it is to make an antibiotic. Invasive aspergillosis had been a death sentence, but the triazoles dialed the death rate down from 100 percent to 40 percent. In other words, three out of every five patients who would have died began to survive their infections instead.

And then that trend reversed. At Radboud, the death rate began to creep up again, to 88 percent. Running a review of the samples his department had processed, Verweij spotted the reason: The patients’ infections were resistant to the triazoles, possessing cellular defenses that protected them from the drugs’ attack.

Source: When Tulips Kill – The Atlantic