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Migrants treated 'like criminals' in Mexican immigration centers
Luisa Jimenez thought she was visiting an office to regularize her stay in Mexico, but instead she found herself detained in an immigration center similar to the one where dozens of migrants perished in a fire.
"It's a holding cell, a detention center, like we're criminals," the Venezuelan migrant told AFP in Ciudad Juarez, where 39 people died and 27 were injured in the blaze that began on Monday.
Jimenez said the facility where she was held was in Tuxtla Gutierrez in the southern state of Chiapas.
She was taken there with the promise that she would be given a permit to remain in Mexico while seeking asylum in the United States.
Jimenez was actually notified that she had to leave the country, she added.
"It's a disgusting place," the 56-year-old woman said, describing conditions similar to those in Ciudad Juarez.
The tragedy there unfolded after a migrant lit a fire in apparent protest over deportations, according to authorities, who have accused immigration officials and guards of failing to even try to evacuate the migrants.
Arrest warrants have been issued against three officials, two private guards and a migrant who allegedly started the fire, as part of a homicide investigation.
Just a week earlier, Moises Chavez was held in the same cell, which he described as a smelly room where guards treat migrants with disdain.
"There are no fire extinguishers or smoke detectors, but there are cameras," the 41-year-old Nicaraguan told AFP.
It was the second time that Chavez had been taken to the National Institute of Migration facility, where the fire claimed the lives of 18 Guatemalans, seven Salvadorans, seven Venezuelans, six Hondurans and one Colombian.
- Harsh conditions -
Video surveillance footage appeared to show guards leaving the 68 detainees locked inside as flames spread and smoke filled the room.
Ostensibly, such facilities are service and accommodation centers for foreigners who cannot prove their legal stay in Mexico.
In reality "you're treated like a prisoner," said Yusleidy Garcia from Venezuela, who was detained in Ciudad Juarez, where women and men are held in separate places.
"It was cold at night. They take away all your belongings. In the cell where I was there were 150 people" of various nationalities, she said.
Such conditions are in sharp contrast with rules issued by the government in 2012 requiring adequate food, hygiene protocols and protection of people and property in the event of riots.
Migrants are not supposed to remain in temporary-stay centers like the one that caught fire for more than seven days.
Some are transferred to other immigration facilities -- where the stay must not exceed 15 days -- to resolve their situation and receive legal assistance, and may be deported.
- 'Not shelters' -
Mexican immigration last year detained at least 281,149 people in "overcrowded" centers and deported at least 98,299 people, including unaccompanied children, Amnesty International said this week in an annual human rights report.
Following Monday's fire, the rights group called for "an end to the practices that have caused untold damage, including torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, to thousands of migrants who have passed through these centers."
"These facilities are not 'shelters,' but detention centers, and people are not 'housed' there, but deprived of their freedom," Amnesty said, alluding to statements by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
The United Nations office in Mexico noted that the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration -- an intergovernmentally negotiated agreement -- outlaws arbitrary detentions and calls for legal detentions to be as short as possible.
Other international standards advocate alternatives to arrest, the UN said.
Jimenez's detention lasted for two days, following a long and dangerous journey during which she said she slept next to the bodies of migrants who died in the Darien jungle between Colombia and Panama.
Outraged at being locked up when she was only trying to regularize her status, she recounted asking an immigration official: "Is it a crime to migrate?"
"She turned her back on me and left," Jimenez said.
© Agence France-Presse
While Don Trump Jr. and Eric Trump have taken to their social media platforms to viciously lash out at Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for indicting their father on a reported 30 charges, Ivanka Trump posted a rather muted statement on her Instagram account which simply said, "I love my father, and I love my country. Today, I am pained for both. I appreciate the voices across the political expression expressing support and concern.”
According to Daily Beast conservative columnist Matt Lewis, the so-called "First Daughter," who served in the White House with her father, is trying to stay true to her former president dad while distancing herself from his legal problems -- and it is not going to work for her.
As Lewis put it, Ivanka is "flailing" in her attempts to shed the memory of her participation in the Trump administration that reached its lowest point on Jan. 6 when supporters of Trump stormed the Capitol and sent lawmakers fleeing for their lives.
"It’s hard to argue with anything Ivanka says here, but it is not a statement of moral clarity. Nor is it (conversely) a statement of strong support for her father. She’s flailing and trying to have it both ways," Lewis wrote before adding, "Now, it’s understandable that a daughter might not want to utterly condemn her father. Further, children are not responsible for their parents’ sins. Except, of course, if you consider the fact that Ivanka served as the primary weapon in the 'Trump’s not such a belligerent pig as his four decades as a public figure would make you think' propaganda push."
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Noting that Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner -- who has baggage of his own -- both stuck with Trump in the White House for all four years, Lewis added, "As far as the former first daughter goes, she and her husband might be done with politics, but once you’ve been a party to an administration like Trump’s, it’s going to be a long time before politics is done with them."
"So, Ivanka, you want to have a seat at the cool apolitical kids’ table? You want to be once again accepted by the socially liberal billionaires’ children you used to go to the Hamptons with and now have Miami Beach playdates with? You want to enjoy the privileges of being a Trump with none of the shame? Good luck with that," he concluded.
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Trustees report shows Social Security expansion a 'question of values, not affordability'
The board of trustees for Medicare and Social Security released a report Friday showing the programs' trust funds will be able to cover all benefits and expenses until 2031 and 2034 respectively, findings welcomed by advocates as further confirmation that the key lifelines are strong and can be expanded.
Nancy Altman, president of the progressive advocacy group Social Security Works, argued in a statement that "the takeaway from this report is that whether to expand or cut Social Security's modest but vital benefits is a question of values, not affordability."
The board of trustees, which consists of top government officials including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, estimated that even if Congress doesn't act, Medicare's trust fund would be able to pay 89% of total scheduled benefits after 2031.
The Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund, meanwhile, would be able to pay 77% of scheduled benefits after 2033 in the absence of congressional action. The OASI Trust Fund had roughly $2.7 trillion in reserves at the end of 2022, according to the trustees report, while the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund had $118 billion in asset reserves.
If the OASI and DI trust funds are combined, the report notes, the resulting fund would be able to pay 100% of total scheduled Social Security benefits until 2034.
“Contrary to conservative claims, Social Security is not 'going bankrupt'; the program will always be able to pay benefits because of ongoing contributions from workers and employers," said Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. "This is yet another trustees report showing that Social Security remains strong in the face of turmoil in the rest of the economy. Its projected insolvency date has stayed roughly the same even after a global pandemic and recent economic upheavals."
Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, echoed that message, saying the trustees report proves the Social Security trust fund is "strong and solvent, with enough money to cover full benefits and expenses until 2033, one year earlier than reported last year."
"Further, the Medicare Part A Trust Fund for hospital care has sufficient funds to cover its obligations until 2031, three years later than reported last year," Fiesta added. "The trust funds are strong because most Americans contribute to them with every paycheck. They could be even stronger if the wealthiest Americans paid their fair share."
Richtman, Fiesta, and other advocates urged Congress to expand Social Security benefits by lifting the cap on income subject to payroll taxes.
The cap, which is $160,200 this year, allowed millionaires to stop paying into Social Security in late February, not even two full months into the year.
Skyrocketing inequality over the past several decades has meant that a larger share of earnings at the very top has been exempt from the payroll tax, costing the Social Security trust fund an estimated $1.4 trillion since 1983.
Last month, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced legislation that would subject all income above $250,000 a year to the 6.2% payroll tax, a move the lawmakers said could fund a $200-per-month benefit expansion for all Social Security recipients.
Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) said Friday that he will soon reintroduce separate Social Security expansion legislation.
"Now is the time to not merely protect but to also expand benefits that have not been addressed in over 50 years," Larson said in a statement.
Despite pressure from Sanders and other progressives, Biden did not include a Social Security expansion plan in his latest budget request, which did contain a proposal to shore up Medicare's trust fund by raising taxes on the rich.
Congressional Republicans, for their part, have floated unpopular proposals to slash Social Security benefits across the board by raising the retirement age and partially privatizing the program.
"Unfortunately, Republican politicians are not listening to their voters," Altman said Friday. "The most recent budget of the Republican Study Committee, which consists of about three-quarters of the House Republicans, includes deep cuts to both Social Security and Medicare. Other Republicans are trying to create fast-track commissions that operate behind closed doors, aimed at forcing cuts that would not be supported in the sunshine."
"To see the results of cutting earned retirement benefits through an undemocratic process, one only needs to look across the Atlantic Ocean, where the French people are rising up in anger," said Altman. "Congress should take action to expand Social Security and close the system's modest shortfall. Democrats have put their ideas on the table. Now, Republicans should do the same, so that Congress can debate Social Security's future in the light of day."