Immigrant children test our real values

What would you do to keep gang members away from your children?

Do you try to keep your children safe from kidnappers and molesters?

Would you willingly part with your children knowing you might never see them again?

Parents in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are taking extreme measures to protect their children. They are willing to part with them to keep them safe and give them a chance for a better life. Their home countries are among the poorest in the world, giving them few opportunities to improve life on their own. Unless people are willing to work for the drug cartels many remain unemployed. Their governments are too weak to control drug related violence ravaging the entire region.

The surge in immigrant children crossing America’s southern border recently grabbed headlines although Central American immigrants have been increasing notably since at least 2008. Hence their appearance in the three countries from where the immigrant children are coming. All of these problems have been building for years. As the Mexican government stepped up its attacks on the cartels, drug kingpins began moving their operations into Central America as early as 2008.

Increased drug trade correlates with the spike in violent deaths. El Salvador’s murder rate, already one of the higher ones in the world, jumped 37 percent in 2009. That increase was due almost entirely to wars among drug-trafficking organizations moving to the region. El Salvador’s defense minister, David Munguía Payés, states bluntly, “The more pressure there is in Mexico, the more the drug cartels will come to Central America looking for a safe haven.”

Los Zetas, a drug gang turned cartel, is believed to have expanded from Mexico to 11 Latin American countries. In December 2010 Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom had declared a “state of siege” in Alta Verapaz, an especially violent province near the border with Mexico, contending that the Zetas had overrun that province. They continue to take hold in other Guatamalan states. The more established Gulf Cartel and Los Zetos are having bloody turf battles, adding to the cruelty and loss of life.

It is not any better in Honduras. San Pedro Sula in Honduras has a murder rate of 187 per 100,000 people. “Honduras is actually the murder capital of the world,” says Mark Lopez from the Pew Research Center. By contrast the murder rate in the United States, for example is about 4.2 per 100,000.

The United States estimated in 2012 that 75 percent of all cocaine smuggling flights departing South America first land in Honduras. The Caribbean coastal region of Honduras is a primary landing zone for drug-carrying flights and maritime traffic. The region is vulnerable to narcotics trafficking due to its remoteness, limited infrastructure, lack of government presence, and weak law enforcement institutions.

Country Report: Honduras, Bureau of International Narcotics And Law Enforcement Affairs, 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR)

This is not to say the U.S. has ignored the region’s need for support in fighting the drug trade. Through the Central American Regional Security Initiative it has invested financial support, with much of it paying to provide gear and training for its Central American partners. The Central American Regional Security Initiative funds counter-drug units, or TAG (Transnational Anti-Gang) teams comprised of agents from the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, who partner up with local police to investigate drug trafficking, weapons smuggling and money laundering.

Whether the U.S. should provide this aid to fight the cartels does not change the effect they are having today.

One by one desperate families are dealing with the threats to their children in one of the few ways available to people who are already living in poverty. They are sending their children north toward the U.S. Mexican border. They pay human smugglers, known as “coyotes,” to transport children by bus toward the border. U.S. authorities claim that human smugglers are at the heart of the current border crisis because they have facilitated the travels of the 57,000 unaccompanied immigrant children who’ve been apprehended in South Texas since October. The coyotes will even help smaller children manage their inner tubes when they cross the Rio Grande so they won’t drown.

One coyote who calls himself El Lobo (the wolf) revealed to one reporter that they take care of the children to maintain a good reputation so parents will entrust them with their children. He can charge $2,500 per child. In fact, not only are coyotes moving the children away from the risky lives in Central America, they pay a fee to Los Zetos or the Gulf Cartel to allow them safe passage.

Drug trafficking is a global enterprise. It also happens in our own backyards, whether we live in inner cities or suburbs. We have been spending billions every year for decades for our “war on drugs.” Americans grieve for mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who grow dependent on drugs. Should we really be so outraged that parents are sending their children here?

The public is appropriately appalled when we learn an American child has been abused and tortured. We search our souls when the stories come out, wondering how we didn’t know it was happening in the house next door.

Well, it is happening next door. The children have crossed a street hundreds of miles wide to escape it. We can do better than treat them like miniature criminals masterminding an invasion into America. What does it say about us when the coyotes take better care of their charges than we will?

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Which came first – domestic violence or mental illness?

One in 17 people in the United States live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.[i]  Do you know more than 17 people? Someone in your circle of friends and family most likely has a mental illness.

Personality disorders afflict about 13% of people[ii]. That’s more than one in ten. It is not uncommon to say “so and so” must have a borderline or narcissistic personality in our effort to understand behaviors of people who repeatedly lie, bully, manipulate others or act impulsively.

This article cannot delve into the multiple factors that underlie either mental illnesses or personality disorders. Those are best left to highly educated medical practitioners and researchers. Yet there is one glaring factor that ordinary people can address without advanced degrees. Domestic violence.

There is no chicken or egg question here. Domestic violence precipitates extensive physical, emotional and psychological damage.

Typically we associate domestic violence as physical assault on someone close to the abuser.  The victims can be spouses, unmarried partners, parents and children. We recognize that it often leads to serious physical injury, or even death. We have made progress on fighting it. Laws like the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act (TVPA) codify victims’ rights to protection and provide funds.

Despite the fact state and federal governments legislate for change the incidence of domestic violence is still staggering. On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner or other family member.  That exceeds 12 million abused women and men over the course of a year in the United States alone.

Whether or not abusers cause physical harm to their victims’ bodies they cause infinite damage to their victims’ psyche. It is especially difficult for victims to recognize the psychological effect of abuse. They begin to think they are “crazy” and abusers are all too happy to encourage that belief.

“Domestic violence can cause an adverse ripple effect on the emotional and psychological state of a domestic violence survivor,” according to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, depression and anxiety are often ignited by domestic violence and/or other severe forms of abuse.”

This emotional impact is insidious. Domestic violence can lead to a chronic state of PTSD. Being abused by someone who should be trustworthy and loving leads many women to feel abandoned, betrayed and unlovable. Depression is by far the most common symptom of domestic violence, and it’s also one of the chronic effects of PTSD caused by abuse. The feeling of helplessness and hopelessness to which many victims fall prey profoundly undermines their mental and emotional well being.

Dr. Kelsey Hegarty, a professor at the University of Melbourne calls domestic violence the hidden epidemic associated with mental illness. Depression has long been recognized as one of the more common psychic injuries of battering.

Then there are the children. The trauma of domestic violence has severe and long-lasting psychological, emotional and developmental effects on them. “Families under stress produce children under stress. If a spouse is being abused and there are children in the home, the children are affected by the abuse.”[iii]  Children grow up learning that it’s okay to hurt other people or to let other people hurt them. A third of all children who see their mothers get beaten develop emotional problems. Boys who see their fathers beat their mothers are ten times more likely to be abusive in their adult intimate relationships.[iv]

These negative effects happen even when children are not harmed themselves. Studies show that children who witness violence in the home and children who are abused may display many similar psychological effects.[v] These children are at greater risk for internalized behaviors such as anxiety and depression, and for externalized behaviors such as fighting, bullying, lying, or cheating. They also are more disobedient at home and at school, and are more likely to have social competence problems.

There are adequate laws in place criminalizing domestic violence. They create a system in which we can work to end it. But laws themselves don’t change the world. We have to change our culture. We have the knowledge to prevent domestic violence and its trickle down effect on families’ total mental and physical wellness. At the same time we can break the cycles of homelessness, poverty, poor school performance and childhood trauma.

Change has to happen on the ground. People must face their suspicions that a friend or family member is a victim and take action. Religious communities can use their relationships with congregates to encourage victims to come forward. We must invest in school programs that teach children what abuse is and how to avoid it. Even more importantly, we have to teach children they are right to “tell” on people who hurt them or make them feel something is wrong. Laws against abuse must be enforced against anyone who exercises it – whether they are celebrities, politicians, law enforcement personnel or the guy down the street stocking shelves or pushing a broom. Then we have to protect victims with more than a simple piece of paper that protection orders can be.

Our laws, programs and generous donors to the cause show that compassion for victims is there. All too often they add up to an approach that spends less on prevention and far more on taking care of the victims after they are hurt.

Ending domestic violence is the answer. The incidence of mental illness will certainly decline and so will the social ills that go with it.


[i] National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Statistics: Any Disorder Among Adults. Retrieved March 5, 2013, from  (retrieved from

[ii] Last full review/revision August 2012 by John G. Gunderson, MD; Lois Choi-Kain, MD.



[v] Jaffe PG, Hurley DJ, Wolfe D. Children’s observations of violence: I. Critical issues in child development and intervention planning. Can J Psychiatry. 1990. 35:466–70.

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The Tent

Maryellen Hess:

This is an inspiring post. If people in general could see how the world looks from other people’s situations we would be so much better for it. It is common for homeless people to lose their friends, especially if they have a mental illness or addiction.

The value in building new social networks for people who are already isolated and deal with the disrespect of others cannot be overstated. We all need a support group. Kudos to tjmcfee for pointing this out!

Originally posted on brainsections:

Unfortunately, living in a tent in my city is seen as a terrible crime that must be eradicated by force, if necessary. I, on the other hand, see it as a positive sign. Tents clustered together shows a sign of community and support (maybe that is why it is so threating to some). The homeless nomads that drift to and from and sleep in doorways, more often then not, have some form of mental illness that keeps them from connecting to others and forming friendships. Some DSM terms such as “quiet form schizophrenia”, “attachment disorder”, etc. describes them. They have given up on people as a whole and keep to themselves. Not sharing their suffering until they die a victim of it.

That is why seeing a cluster of tents in a park or along a street is a sign of hope to me. Yes, I did say hope. These people are struggling , but…

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The hidden injuries to DV victims and boxers

Who can count how many blows to the head Muhammad Ali suffered on his way to 56 major titles? And don’t forget the thousands of hours spent sparring in the gym.

At least boxers know what they are risking. Victims of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) don’t see it coming. I can’t imagine many brides-to-be receive protective head gear at their wedding showers.

Not every blow will lead to a concussion. Most concussions are mild and with treatment patients fully recover. But – the effect of multiple concussions over time remains significant and can result in long-term neurological and functional deficits. In other words, one small concussion after another can do permanent damage.

Head injuries are common among IPV victims, and, like boxers, blows to the head are repeated over time. Even mild injuries may accumulate into major impairments, like the untreated stress fracture that ultimately leads to a broken bone. Batterers who assault their partners do so repeatedly.

One study of women in three domestic violence shelters found that:

  • 92% had been hit in the head by their partners, most more than once.
  • 83% had been both hit in the head and severely shaken.
  • 8% of them had been hit in the head over 20 times in the past year.

Ironically, the injuries caused by their batterers may add even more barriers to escaping. Victims must be at their most alert and decisive when preparing to leave. Of the total number of homicides resulting from intimate partner violence, roughly 75% of those killed are killed as they tried to leave or after they had left

The debilitating effects of head trauma make escape even more dangerous. How can a victim who is having difficulty processing information develop and follow an escape plan? People with brain injuries often suffer extreme physical fatigue yet the victim must move quickly. If s/he has children they may need to carry them. And those are just some of the cognitive disabilities. Imagine trying to escape despite persistent and severe headaches or blurred vision.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1.7 million people sustain some form of head trauma each year. With common sense we can prevent them if we wear helmets while riding our bicycles and motorcycles. High tech football and military helmets are reducing the incidence and severity of head injuries.

Victims of IPV obviously try to avoid head injuries, but victims wear sunglasses and heavy, heavy make up for a reason. We have all seen the pictures of  women trying to hide black eyes and bruised jaws.  And so, like boxers, they have to take it on the chin.

As for Ali, he is suffering with an illness medically linked to previous brain injury – Parkinson’s Disease.

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Is your neighbor part of human trafficking?

There are people who make bad choices. Then there are people who only have bad choices. They are people under the control of a human trafficker, someone who took control of them, maintained it and then used that control for their own greed.

It’s estimated that 50,000 people a year are trafficked in the U.S., including people brought into the country for that purpose. The trade earns over $32 billion per year putting it line with the huge profits made off illegal gun and drug trafficking. Human trafficking ranks up there with gun and drug trafficking as the largest money making schemes of organized crime.

This ugly crime might be closer to you than you could imagine, whether you live in a major metropolitan area or in a small town. You may question the real business of a massage parlor in town, but did you think of it as human trafficking? Or do you assume everyone there has free will? Movies like “Taken” and “12 Years a Slave” dramatize the cruelty and bondage. But that’s just Hollywood, not a lens into real life, right?

The United Nations Organization on Drugs and Crime recognizes human trafficking as a worldwide epidemic. It has grown into the third largest business of organized crime, falling behind only gun and drug trafficking.

According to U.S. Federal law, human trafficking is defined as:

  • Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • The recruitment, harboring, transportation provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

The CNN Freedom Project is more blunt.

“Slavery occurs when one person completely controls another person, using violence or the threat of violence to maintain that control, exploits them economically, pays them nothing and they cannot walk away.”

If you think you could tell whether someone might be a potential kidnapper you would be wrong. If you think you could tell someone is the victim of trafficking you would be wrong again. It is a crime that often can occur right out in the open and no one can tell.

The FBI and other organizations with a mission to fight this ugly crime have discovered cases like Ariel Castro, the Cleveland Ohio man who kept three girls imprisoned in his home for nearly ten years. He literally grabbed each girl off the street. They were bound, sometimes with chains. Over those years he exploited them for sex.

Castro was able to hide the girls almost in plain sight. His own son, Anthony Castro, wrote a story about the disappearance of Gina DeJesus, less than three weeks after it happened. The Plain Press in Cleveland assigned it to him. Despite his attention to the issue he had no idea what was going on in the house even when he visited his father. All he could tell police later was that there were locks on certain doors and he wasn’t allowed in those rooms.

The 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report includes recent reports of the abuse of deaf domestic workers in the United Kingdom, addicts forced to labor in fields in the United States, people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities enslaved in Chinese kilns, and persons with developmental disabilities forced to work as peddlers on the streets of India. Persons with disabilities remain one of the groups most at risk of being trafficked.

There are sophisticated traffickers who can use guile rather than brute force to capture their victims. Consider Brianna, a bubbly high school student, a girl anyone would think was safe. She had a stable home in a small town and worked after school in a diner. A normal appearing couple built trust with her by visiting the diner and engaging her in friendly small talk. They used that trust to mine her for information about the boys who attracted her. In fact the husband, Richard, was actually a veteran sex trafficker mining the young student for vital information he would use to try to lure her into a world of strip clubs and prostitution. Eventually he approached her directly inviting her to party with him which she declined.

Soon the man of Brianna’s dreams appeared in the diner. Nick played a gorgeous blond football player dressed to look financially well off. Brianna later said, “He flirted with me and made me feel so special and beautiful.” Nick invited her to visit him in Seattle. Despite her parents’ efforts to keep her home he convinced her to break her ties with them and move into his spare room. He suggested she could attend college while doing a little work on the side like dancing in a club where she could earn “tons of money doing little work.”

He made it sound safe enough with advice on how to avoid the wrong men and the money was too tempting. She willed herself to take the job with the idea that she would be naked only for a matter of minutes. In three nights she made $850—ten times what she made in a good night at the diner. For Nick’s next move he offered to take her on a trip to Arizona and Nevada, where Brianna most likely would have been completely cut off from her friends and family and disappeared into forced prostitution.

Brianna is one of the lucky ones though. Her sense of obligation to her parents led her to return her family’s car. She called a trusted friend who perceived the danger and alerted her family. Brianna resisted their efforts to break her trust until Linda Smith, founder and president of the national anti-trafficking organization Shared Hope was able to open Brianna’s eyes to the patterns and come-on lines of sex traffickers. In Smith’s discussion, Brianna recognized every line Nick had said to her.

Brianna had to make major changes to avoid any efforts by Nick to track her down. Now she tells her story educating girls about how polished traffickers can be in their traps. In partnership with Shared Hope she released Chosen. A kit for educators includes the video to teach children how careful they must be.

The thought of children being forced into sex or sweatshop labor is too horrifying for people to accept. To believe it is happening all around us is almost unfathomable. Didn’t slavery end with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union’s triumph in the Civil War? No. It did not. Slavery has existed and continues to exist on virtually every continent and it happens to people of all ethnicities, genders and ages.

The U.S. is part of the world community putting together the tools and manpower to end trafficking. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA are working together to fight it. There are task forces cooperating with all levels of law enforcement and in partnerships with the United Nations, hundreds of countries, and working groups to identify and arrest traffickers.

But this is an insidious crime that is especially attractive because it can fly so far beneath the radar. We need to recognize that prostitutes are not “working girls,” they are victims. It is immoral to ignore the fact that cheap clothing and goods are cheap because an employer workers in dangerous conditions with virtually no pay. There are even children among us who end up in slavery just because they are young and vulnerable.

The only way we can really end it is to deliver information to those who can use it to track down these predators. Learn the signs of trafficking and be on the lookout, before another Gina Dejesus can suddenly disappear from your neighborhood.

To join the fight against human trafficking learn how to spot it. You can start by visiting or

If you think a person should be investigated as either a victim or the criminal contact the FBI at or the Polaris Project at

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Couple who met in a homeless shelter pay it forward, help others transform lives

Maryellen Hess:

Enjoy this lovely story of two people who joined in their hearts and in their passion to help the homeless.

Originally posted on theGrio:

Homeless for three years, Ressurrection Graves vividly remembers the week she slept in her car, waiting for beds to become available at a Washington, D.C., homeless shelter. It was the week of Aug. 23, 2011, when a 5.8 earthquake shook the Virginia area and Hurricane Irene battered the East Coast with wind and rain.

“I prayed and was asking God how this could end,” she told “It was like, ‘Make it stop!'”

When beds finally became available at the shelter, Ressurrection checked in. And there she met Deven Graves, the “kind” man with whom she would leave homelessness behind and start an organization that is helping people caught in a cycle of poverty, including more than 75 homeless individuals so far this year.

“I had this guy staring at me,” Ressurrection recalled of her first encounter with Deven. “It felt like he was looking into my soul. It’s certainly…

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Reduce human trafficking with real immigration reform

Some people will do just about anything to get a job, feed their families and keep them safe. As a case in point consider the people who live in tin shacks next to sewage ponds in Mexico.  Refugees from countries mired in civil war want to escape sexual assault, physical assault, theft and death.

America is proud of its heritage as a land of opportunity. That is why so many Mexicans, refugees and people from other poor countries are willing to risk their lives to move here. They come from communist Cuba in flimsy boats or cross heavily fortified borders into the United States.

Then there are the “entrepreneurs” who offer to help desperate families get into America more safely.  These so-called entrepreneurs falsely promise help getting jobs and that will allow the immigrants to provide for their families. They do indeed get jobs. They just are not the jobs these parents envisioned; they are not jobs where hard work will lead to a decent life.

I have used the term entrepreneur in this piece to make a point. I am not referring to legitimate business people. I am referring to the monsters who are human traffickers. This kind of trafficking is nothing less than a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others.

Who are traffickers? They are people or businesses who recruit, transport, harbor, obtain, and exploit victims, often using force, threats, lies, or other physical and psychological methods of control.  United Nations data shows it is one of the most flourishing and profitable businesses worldwide, often quoted as the third most profitable business for organized crime after drugs and the arms trade. Human traffickers are making fortunes preying on illegal immigrants, among others.

Traffickers do not tell their victims the new jobs will entail exhausting physical labor or the sex trade. Since the immigrants are not supposed to be here anyway their traffickers do not have to give them any worker protections.  They will not get a 40 hour work week; 12 hour days, seven days a week are more common. Workplace safety is not apparent in some industries anyway. On April 7, 2010 an explosion in a Charleston W.V. mine killed 25 workers. The mine had accumulated 1,300 safety violations over five years leading up to the explosion. None had been corrected.

Sex trafficking has no moral boundaries. Men, women and children are all forced into prostitution. Coercion can include violence, humiliation, threats to injure loved ones and even forced drug use to impair the victims.

Traffickers of illegal immigrants have another powerful tool to subjugate their victims. They easily convince their victims they will report the immigrants to immigration authorities and get them deported.

This leaves illegal immigrants in a twilight zone. They cannot get jobs that allow them to contribute to the economy and become self-sufficient. If they do break away from their owners they become the hidden homeless, increasing the number of people already living in misery on the street.

Immigration reform can allow the victims to escape their slavery and join the real economy. Removing the threat of deportation empowers them to take back their lives. Greater legal access to America will prevent trafficking in the first place.

Immigration reform is a crime fighting tool. It can reduce the horror of enslaving children into prostitution. Families can work in places of basic decency with essential workplace safety. We can replace the path to slavery with one to open participation in a good life. It might even be a path to citizenship.

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