politics of immigration

Conviction in Syrian regime war crime —at last

For the first time, after six years of war and escalating atrocities, a member of the Syrian regime's military has been convicted of a war crime. The perpetrator, identified as Mohammad Abdullah, was a low-level soldier who is now in Sweden as a refugee. He was convicted by a Swedish court Oct. 2 of violating human dignity by posing with his boot on a corpse and sentenced to eight months in prison. Abdullah, 32, arrived three years ago in Sweden, where other Syrian refugees recognized him through his Facebook posts and connected him to a photograph he had posted earlier, in which he stands with his boot on the corpse of a man in civilian clothing surrounded by other corpses. As the New York Times notes in its coverage, this is the first conviction of an Assad regime solider in any country, six years after the Syrian revolution was sparked by an incident in which school-children were tortured after painting anti-regime slogans on a wall.

Puerto Ricans to become climate refugees?

Hurricane Maria's destruction on Puerto Rico could spawn one of the largest mass migration events in the United States' recent history, as tens of thousands of storm victims flee the island territory to rebuild their lives on the mainland. Some 97% of the island's 3.4 million residents are still without power. About half of the island's residents do not have running water. And no one knows when things will be fixed. Scientific American warns that the displaced islanders, thousands now awaiting flights from San Juan's Luis Muñoz Marín airport, might be among the United States' newest "climate refugees," a demographic that includes former residents of the Louisiana coast and of shrinking islands in Alaska's Bering Strait.

Federal judge halts Texas anti-sanctuary law

On Aug. 29, a federal judge in San Antonio issued a preliminary injunction against most of SB4, the anti-Sanctuary Cities law that was set to go into effect two days later. The law would have effectively forced every police agency in Texas to allow its officers to question the immigration status of anyone stopped for any reason. It would have also have forced agencies to send information on undocumented or out-of-status detainees to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Those agencies that instructed officers to ignore the law would be subject to large fines, and the heads of those agencies could face firing or even jail. The law would also force police agencies to hold detainees suspected of being undocumented if ICE so requested, even if those people were due to be released or had paid a bond.

South Asia: millions more 'climate refugees'

With stateside media focused on the unprecedented flooding and cascading industrial disasters from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, the far great deluges that have struck three countries in South Asia are going largely unreported. The death toll is estimated at 1,200 after weeks of unusually strong monsoon rains affecting India, Bangladesh and Nepal. According to the Red Cross, 14 million people have been affected by flooding in India; more than seven million in Bangladesh, and 1.5 million in Nepal. The United Nations puts the total number of those impacted by floods and landslides at a total nearly double that, of 41 million.

Arpaio pardon: green light for rights violations

President Trump's Aug. 25 pardon of former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio is a clear signal that constitutional and human rights violations are to be rewarded, not punished, under his administration. A federal judge found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt last month, for violating a court order in a racial profiling case and continuing his immigration patrols that discriminated against Latinos. In his announcement, Trump said that "Arpaio's life and career...exemplify selfless public service." He cited Arpaio's army time and his tenure as the Drug Enforcement Administration's Arizona chief before concluding: "In 1992, the problems facing his community pulled Arpaio out of retirement to return to law enforcement. He ran and won a campaign to become Sheriff of Maricopa County. Throughout his time as Sheriff, Arpaio continued his life's work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation, he is worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon."

Libya: Haftar vows to attack Italian warships

The military commander of Libya's unrecognized eastern government, Khalifa Haftar, has threatened to bombard any warships sailing into the country's national waters—an explicit challenge to Italy, which is dispatching vessels to the Libyan coast as part of its effort to intercept migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa. "The General Commander of Armed Force Marshal Khalifa Haftar instructs chiefs of staff of air and navy forces to intercept any foreign vessels in the Libyan waters except the commercial ones," read a statement from the media office of Haftar's Operation Dignity forces. The statement took aim at the recognized government in Tripoli, which it accused of entering into agreements with foreign powers that "violate the sovereignty of Libya under the pretext of fighting illegal immigration." (Al Jazeera, Aug. 3; Libya Observer, Aug. 2)

Syrian refugees return —to face genocide?

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that this year has seen a "notable trend of spontaneous returns" of displaced Syrians to their homes, both from outside and inside the country. Around 31,000 refugees returned from neighboring countries in the first six months of 2017, while more than 440,000 internally displaced persons went back to their homes—a combined total of nearly half a million. The main destinations are said to be Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus—all now largely under regime control after years of heavy fighting against rebel forces. UNHCR representative Andrej Mahecic said Syrians are seeking out family members, checking on property, and "in some cases responding to a real or perceived improvement in security conditions in parts of the country." But he warned that despite hopes over recent peace talks in Astana and Geneva, the "UNHCR believes conditions for refugees to return in safety and dignity are not yet in place in Syria."  (The Independent, July 1)

Supreme Court to review Trump travel ban

The US Supreme Court on June 26 agreed to review (PDF) the Trump administration's travel ban, partially lifting the temporary injunction that had blocked the ban's enforcement. The administration sought review of decisions issued by the US Courts of Appeal for the Fourth and Ninth circuits last month. The Supreme Court's order permits execution of the travel ban, but it "may not be enforced against an individual seeking admission as a refugee who can credibly claim a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."