The brutal secret of school sport initiations

Hazing rituals have long been a brutal secret among high school and college sport teams. But in the #MeToo era, can teenage victims shatter the code of silence?

*This story includes some graphic descriptions of sexual assault*

When Allison Brookman arrived at Reed Custer High School to pick up her 14-year-old son Anthony from American football camp, she knew something was wrong.

“You can kind of tell when your kid is hurt or sad,” she told the BBC.

“When I pulled up I saw that same look in his face, that he was hurt.”

After some needling, he admitted he had just been “jumped” by four senior football players.

But it wasn’t until she took him to hospital to have his injuries examined that she heard what had really happened – that Anthony had been beaten up and sexually assaulted by members of the team as part of a violent hazing ritual.

“The first guy who slapped me twice and knocked me down, he kicked me in my right side on to my ribs,” Anthony told CBS in an interview.

“While the fourth one took my shorts off and they pulled my legs up so that he could get his finger to my, you know, body part.”

Allison says when they heard this in the hospital examining room, she and her husband were stricken with horror.

“They didn’t just beat you up, they tried fondling you?” she recalls asking.

“At that point my son looked at us and said ‘don’t worry mom, don’t worry dad, they didn’t get in me.'”

“That was probably the breaking point for both of us.”

Now the family is suing the Reed-Custer Community Unit School District 255 in Braidwood, Illinois, claiming it failed to prevent the sexual assault and for allegedly not properly responding to the incident once they became aware.

Superintendent Mark Mitchell defends the schools actions and says the players were punished “according to the terms of the School District’s Athletic Code of Conduct.” The school is defending the legal action.

Three of the alleged attackers have also been charged as juveniles with aggravated battery. They are not named as they were minors at the time of the incident.

As their case winds through the courts, other eerily-similar incidents have also come to light. In Maryland, four 15-year-old members of the Damascus High School junior varsity football team are accused of raping a younger teammate with a broomstick as part of a hazing ritual, and trying to rape others.

Prosecutors have told in chilling detail how the alleged attackers cornered four freshmen teammates in the locker room.

“It’s time,” one of them said before they ganged up on the first victim, holding him down and sodomising him with the broom handle.

They are being tried as adults. A fifth suspect is being charged as a juvenile.

And in the Canadian city of Toronto, seven 14- and 15-year-old football players from St Michael’s College School are facing charges of gang sex assault related to three separate hazing incidents.

In one incident, a video allegedly showing a teammate being penetrated by a broom was shared online.

These high-profile cases of sexual assault have reignited the call to end hazing in sports. And in the #MeToo era, many former victims are coming out to share their story.

What is hazing?

Hazing is when members of a group deliberately embarrass or harm new or prospective members as part of a right of passage, or initiation into the group.

“These are powerful forces that we’re talking about, wanting to belong and wanting to be a part of a community,” says Jay Johnson, an expert on hazing on sports teams who teaches at the University of Manitoba.

Hazing rituals can run the gambit from relatively benign – forcing team members to carry the gear to matches, or chant silly songs on campus – to extreme forms of bullying, including physical and sexual abuse.

It has been most commonly associated with university fraternities and sororities and athletic clubs, but high school groups are not immune. A 2000 survey by Alfred University found that about half of high school students reported participating in activities that qualified as hazing – while only 14% identified as being hazed.

In the US, 44 states have banned hazing.

In Canada, many universities and sport organisations have anti-hazing policies, though no federal law specifically targets the practice. Like in the St Michael’s incident, police have often relied on assault laws when laying charges in hazing cases.

In the UK, the Rugby Football Union, the sport’s governing body, has said initiations at university clubs are putting people off wanting to continue playing.

It claimed the traditions are partly to blame for an estimated 10,000 school leavers who recently stopped playing.

When hazing turns criminal

Most students who have been hazed have trouble realising they were, says Johnson, in part because a lot of the activities may seem harmless and like they were “just being a part of a team”.

But hazing can turn sinister, and the practice leads to several deaths a year, often from alcohol intoxication.

Sexualised hazing is also fairly common, says Johnson.

From Texas to Australia, there have been reports of ritual sex assault on school sports teams for years.

A 2017 investigation by the Associated Press found 70 cases of teammate-on-teammate sexual assaults in US public schools between 2012-2017, which it called “the tip of the iceberg”.

The cases are shocking both in their violence and their similarity, often featuring some variation of older teammates sodomising victims with anything from a fist, to a Gatorade bottle to the nozzle of a carbon-dioxide tank.

Earlier this year, an organisation called End Rape on Campus released a report saying that orientation week at Australian Universities is called “The Red Zone” by sexual assault support workers due to the combination of assaults, hazing rituals, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Code of silence

Sometimes all it takes is one bad apple to push a team to commit sexual assault, Johnson says.

“All it takes is that one person in power, or at the top of the hierarchy… a veteran player who came in who was a bit on the sadistic side, who pushes that boundary of what it can become,” he says.

But hazing rituals usually stem from a toxic team culture, he says.

Traditions are passed down from year-to-year, and today’s aggressors were often last year’s victims. Often, coaches and other authorities turn a blind eye, Johnson says.

In their lawsuit, the Brookmans blame the school for allowing the hazing to fester on the team until it escalated to their son’s assault. They also blame the school for allegedly not protecting their son from bullying after the incident.

Allison says Anthony was harassed every day by fellow students who called him a “rat”. Meanwhile, she says, the alleged attackers only received a three-day game suspension.

It was the lack of action, she says, that led the family to sue.

“We just wanted to do our best to let our son see that he was somebody who was worth fighting for,” she says.

Anthony now goes to a different school, and is seeing a therapist. The head coach resigned from the team, although he is still a teacher at the school.

Superintendant Mitchell says the student-athletes were disciplined according to school guidelines. He says he is not legally allowed to comment on individual disciplinary cases.

“We intend to vigorously defend these baseless allegations and protect the reputation of our fine School District and its staff,” he said in a written statement.

In Toronto, the hazing allegations led to the resignation of school principal Greg Reeves and school president Father Jefferson Thompson.

Several alumni critiqued what they claim was the elite school’s culture of “toxic masculinity” and claimed it had a “code of silence”, especially once it was revealed that Principal Reeves did not immediately report the video of the alleged sexual assault.

He said that he did so the next day, after first helping the victim to tell his parents, because caring for the victim had been his first priority.

“This is a great school, and the majority of the teachers are great people. Where was the oversight? Like, what’s going on with your teams? What is the mentality here? … There’s a code of silence at the school,” a parent told Postmedia news outlet.

#MeToo in the locker room

The Brookman’s story, and the sexual assault cases in Maryland and Toronto, have come to light during an era of public reckoning about sexual violence.

From Hollywood to the Supreme Court, victims have come forward to describe how powerful institutions silenced them to protect their attackers.

Are youth sports next?

Johnson says he believes the attention that is being paid to Anthony’s case, and the sexual assault charges laid in Maryland and in Toronto, show that people are beginning to think differently about hazing.

“I actually have hope that this might sort of be the flashpoint, for opening up the floodgates, similar to what happened to the #MeToo movement,” Johnson says.

“That more people might start to come forward and feel empowered to share their stories.”

There are signs that is starting to happen. In Toronto, prominent NHL players have revealed they were victims of sexual hazing while playing in junior ice hockey leagues, as have some alumni of St Michael’s.

Ultimately, that is why Anthony agreed to tell his story on the nightly news.

“You see a lot of hazing on TV, but that’s all it is, it’s the news reporter maybe talking with the other news reporter and a picture of the school,” Allison recalls her son telling her.

“Nobody ever steps forward, I want people to actually see my face and see what people did to me.”

Source: Read Full Article

U.S. stock, bond funds leak $30.4 billion in ominous start to 2019

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Investors demanded cash back from U.S.-based funds for a 13th straight week, showing increased concern over economic growth as stock and bond returns disappointed, Investment Company Institute (ICI) data showed on Wednesday.

People withdrew $30.4 billion from U.S.-based mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) on a net basis during the week ended Jan. 2, including $14.2 billion from bonds and $11.3 billion from stocks, the trade group said.

Investors have been preparing in recent weeks for the Federal Reserve to further tighten monetary policy as the United States and China spar over trade, making a recession more likely.

During the week studied by ICI, Apple Inc (AAPL.O) warned that iPhone sales in the holiday quarter were weak due to slower sales in China, a bad omen for the coming earnings season. The widely owned company’s shares fell nearly 10 percent the following day.

Some investors view elevated withdrawals as a contrarian signal that now is the time to buy.

In the days since the withdrawals, stocks have staged a rebound after Fed chair Jerome Powell said on Friday that policymakers “will be patient” as they watch how the U.S. economy performs. Those remarks and others by Fed officials signaled that further rate hikes are on hold for now.

While recent withdrawals are less than a percent of these funds’ overall assets, investment products focused on equities likely posted record monthly outflows in December, according to earlier estimates from Lipper, a research service. More cash was pulled from bond funds over the latest seven days than at any point in nine weeks, ICI data showed.

Bond funds would normally attract interest when people flee the stock market. But tight monetary policy, ballooning U.S. budget deficits and record levels of U.S. corporate debt are raising the specter of losses in debt markets, too.

The high-yield “junk” bond market, which has been a leading indicator of recessions, is flashing “yellow” now, Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive of Doubleline Capital LP, said on a Tuesday webcast.

Gundlach described U.S. government debt as “a completely horrific situation,” saying the United States could be at a “tipping point.”

The U.S. government spent more than it made from taxes to stimulate the economy following the 2007-09 global financial crisis. More recently, Washington cut individual and corporate taxes, adding to the country’s debt.

“Are we growing at all or is it all just the increase in debt?” Gundlach asked.

Source: Read Full Article

Trudeau calls 3 byelections, including for seat NDP’s Jagmeet Singh seeks

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced three upcoming byelections on Wednesday, including in the B.C. riding where NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is vying for a seat.

The byelections will be held in Burnaby South, B.C., Outremont, Que., and York–Simcoe, Ont., on Feb. 25.

Trudeau’s announcement comes after he faced mounting pressure from Singh to call a byelection in Burnaby.

On Sunday, Singh was in the city and called out the prime minister over the delay.

“It looks like Trudeau is again delaying byelections in Burnaby South,” Singh told assembled supporters.

“This is a decision that impacts the bedrock of our democracy. Having an elected representative in Ottawa is the bedrock of our representational government, of our system … They’re doing it in their own political interest, and that’s deeply disappointing.”

Singh, who doesn’t have a seat in the House of Commons, has not been able to participate in debates and other official matters since becoming NDP leader in 2017.

The byelection will be a crucial test for New Democrats, who’ve been struggling to find their footing since their party was relegated to a distant third in the 2015 general election.

The race in Outremont, left vacant after former NDP leader Tom Mulcair resigned, will also be seen as a test of whether the NDP can hang on what’s left of the orange wave that swept Quebec in 2011.

The Conservatives are expected to easily keep York-Simcoe, left vacant by the resignation of long-time Tory MP Peter Van Loan.

Source: Read Full Article

May's Brexit deal is 'dead' – says DUP's Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster said Mrs May’s Brexit deal is “dead”.

She told the BBC: “We would prefer if the backstop disappeared, what we’ve been presented with is a narrative and doesn’t add anything.”

Ms Foster added: “We told Theresa May to stop wasting time last November, she is still not listening and she is going to put a plan to Parliament that is dead.”

The SUP leader spoke as it was reported today that the Northern Ireland Assembly would have the power to veto new EU rules if the so-called backstop came into effect post-Brexit under proposals published by the British government.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is desperately seeking to build support for her Brexit deal ahead of a Westminster vote on the Withdrawal Agreement next week.

The backstop to avoid a hard border in Ireland is the main sticking point with Brexit-supporting MPs fearing it would lock the UK into EU rules indefinitely.

The proposals published today are designed to allay concerns over the backstop but they were rejected early by Northern Ireland’s DUP, who Mrs May’s government relies on to stay in power.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson dismissed the document as “window-dressing” and a “meaningless piece of paper” insisting the backstop “has to go”.

Earlier British Cabinet Office minister David Lidington Mrs May’s de facto deputy said the measures in the document “make clear the continuing place of Northern Ireland within the UK internal market”

He added that the proposals “give the Northern Ireland Assembly – when, as we all hope, it is reconstituted and working again – a veto over introducing any new areas of law and policy into that backstop”.

Under the British government’s plans the Assembly – which collapsed almost two years ago amid a row between the DUP and Sinn Féin – would have a “strong role” if the backstop is ever triggered.

If a comprehensive EU/UK trade deal is not sealed by the end of the Brexit transition period in 2020, there would be a legally-binding commitment to “consult” with Stormont before deciding to either enter the backstop or ask for an extension of the Implementation Period.

The view of the Northern Ireland Assembly would then be presented to Parliament in Westminster before MPs took a final decision on the issue.

If the backstop does come into effect, the British Government said the Stormont Assembly and Executive would then be given a strong oversight role in its operation.

If the EU proposed changing any laws that impacted the operating of the backstop, the UK would have to consent to such a measure applying to Northern Ireland and the British Government has now committed to seek the agreement of the Assembly before signing off on any such change.

There was a cautious response to the proposals.

Leo Varadkar has said it would not be acceptable for Northern Ireland to have a veto over conditions attached to the backstop.

Speaking in Ethiopia, Mr Varadkar said he had not been fully briefed on the position paper published by the British government today which indicated Stormont would be given a veto over new EU laws if the so-called backstop is triggered.

“The existing Irish protocol does provide for an input by the Northern Ireland Assembly already but I don’t think we could have a situation whereby the Northern Ireland Executive or Assembly had a veto power because that would essentially give one of the two communities a veto power over the other and that would create a difficulty,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said the people of Northern Ireland want to avoid a hard border which the current agreement provides for and said ratification for that deal is being sought now.

He said he did not have prior sight of the document before it was published but was given an indication some commitments would be made.

“They did indicate to us some weeks or months ago that they may make some unilateral commitments to Northern Ireland that would not contravene the Withdrawal Agreement but I didn’t have prior sight of what was published today,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said he was supportive of an amendment proposed in the House of Commons today that would give the Uk parliament a chance to vote on triggering the backstop or extending the transition period if a trade deal has not been reached by 2020.

He said Ireland was happy with the proposal and had previously discussed it with the UK government.

“We are happy with parliament making that decision because either way it means there will be no hard border and that’s fundamentally the red line that we stand over,” he said.

Source: Read Full Article

‘Western egotism and white supremacy’: Chinese ambassador pens op-ed on Canadian detainees

OTTAWA — China’s envoy in Ottawa suggests Canada and its Western allies are white supremacists for calling for the release of two Canadians imprisoned last month by his country’s communist government.

Ambassador Lu Shaye’s accusation in an op-ed in the Hill Times Wednesday indicates the raw nerve that the Trudeau government has touched in China in recruiting key allies to pressure China to release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

The Canadian diplomat and the entrepreneur were arrested after Canada detained Chinese telecommunications executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States, which wants her extradited to face fraud charges.

Meng has had a bail hearing in open court and has been released on conditions, while neither Kovrig nor Spavor has been formally charged or had access to lawyers.

The U.S. State Department has called for the release of the two Canadians, while Germany, France, Britain, the European Union and Australia have also issued supportive statements.

Lu questions whether countries such as the U.S. and Britain are truly representative of the international community and he reiterates his government’s assertion that Western countries are employing a “double standard” in judging his country.

“The reason why some people are used to arrogantly adopting double standards is due to Western egotism and white supremacy,” Lu writes. “What they have been doing is not showing respect for the rule of law, but mocking and trampling the rule of law.”

The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa did not immediately reply to a request for comment, and has repeatedly refused interview requests from The Canadian Press in recent weeks.

Lu’s op-ed is the second time a Canadian newspaper has published his remarks, seemingly unfiltered, in column form.

Last month, the Globe and Mail also published an op-ed from Lu in which he called Meng’s arrest in Canada “a miscarriage of justice” that has “chilled” the feelings of the Chinese people towards Canada. Lu wrote that Canada was complicit in a U.S. “witch hunt.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has said Canada has followed the rule of law in arresting Meng because of its extradition law with the U.S. She and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have stressed that the arrest of Meng was a legal matter that was divorced from politics.

Freeland’s spokesman Alex Lawrence reiterated Canada’s call for the two men to be released immediately and reaffirmed the international support Canada is receiving.

“We are deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of two Canadians last month,” said Lawrence.

“Canada remains closely engaged with partners, who have also spoken in support of these detained Canadians and the rule of law, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the EU, the United States, and Australia.”

Source: Read Full Article

Vic Fedeli serves Patrick Brown libel notice over tell-all book

TORONTO – Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli is taking legal action against the former Progressive Conservative leader over allegations contained in a recent tell-all book.

Patrick Brown resigned as party leader last year amid allegations of sexual misconduct that he denies and later published a book portraying himself as a victim of a conspiracy led by senior Tory officials.

The book also made allegations against several key members of the Progressive Conservative government, including Fedeli, whom Brown says faced allegations of sexual misconduct when he was party leader.

Fedeli has called the allegations “categorically false and without any merit” and has now served Brown and his publisher with a libel notice.

Brown’s publisher, Dean Baxendale, says Fedeli’s lawyers have asked for a full retraction, which would gut the entire book.

Baxendale says he has briefly responded to the lawyers but is planning a more extensive response.

Source: Read Full Article

U.N. struggles to implement deal over disputed Yemeni port city

DUBAI (Reuters) – The guns have mostly fallen silent around the Yemeni port of Hodeidah and the skies are clear of warplanes, but a U.N.-sponsored deal for the warring armies to quit the city has stalled, risking efforts to end a conflict that has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

The Iranian-aligned Houthis and the Saudi-backed government agreed to a ceasefire in Hodeidah and to withdraw forces at peace talks in Sweden in December following months of diplomacy and Western pressure to end the nearly four-year-old war that has killed tens of thousands of people.

But the agreement did not spell out who would control Hodeidah city, which is now held by the Houthis while thousands of Saudi-led coalition troops are massed on the outskirts. Both sides were to withdraw their troops by Jan. 7 under the deal.

Sporadic skirmishes have taken place but the truce has put on hold an anticipated assault by the Saudi-led coalition that aid agencies feared would have terrible consequences for civilians.

The air strikes that had rained death and destruction on Hodeidah have also paused, although they have continued in other regions.

In New York on Wednesday, U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths told the United Nations Security Council that both sides had largely stuck to the ceasefire but substantial progress would be needed before more peace talks could be held.

“There has been a significant decrease in hostilities,” he said.

Griffiths had met the rival leaders in recent days and he said both had expressed determination to find a way forward but all shared the view that “substantial progress, particularly on Hodeidah, is something we would like to see before we reconvene the next consultations”.

The Stockholm pact had stipulated that Houthi forces leave Hodeidah port and two other ports and that international monitors be deployed. The monitors would then oversee a complete withdrawal of troops of both sides from the city, which would be run by “local authorities” under U.N. supervision.

“I am afraid that agreement did not spell out how to build that authority nor who will control what,” a Western diplomat involved in the peace talks told Reuters.

The Houthis said late last month their fighters quit Hodeidah port and handed control to local coast guards units in place before the war. The Saudi-led coalition disputed the move, believing those units were loyal to the Houthis.

Related Coverage

  • Both sides largely sticking to Yemen ceasefire, more progress needed: U.N.Both sides largely sticking to Yemen ceasefire, more progress needed: U.N.

The Houthi withdrawal from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa would have been met with a retreat by coalition forces from the eastern outskirts of the city, where battles had raged before the ceasefire went into effect on Dec. 18.

Retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert, head of the Redeployment Coordination Committee tasked with overseeing implementation of the deal, told U.N. chief Antonio Guterres and his envoy Griffiths it was not possible to verify the neutrality of the coast guards in position since the withdrawal of Houthi fighters, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Allegiances among Yemen’s many factions have shifted several times during the conflict that pits the Houthis against the internationally recognized government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which was ousted from the capital Sanaa in 2014.

The Houthis control most urban centers in the Arabian Peninsula country. Hadi’s government is based in the southern port of Aden and controls some western coastal towns.


Disagreements over control of Hodeidah, the main entry point for the bulk of commercial imports and vital aid supplies to Yemen, have delayed the opening of humanitarian corridors needed to reach millions of Yemenis facing starvation.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are leading the Sunni Muslim Arab coalition that intervened in Yemen’s war in 2015 to restore Hadi’s government.

“Houthi manipulations threaten the Sweden agreement and the next steps in the political process,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs AnwarGargash tweeted on Wednesday.

Houthi spokesman Yahya Sarea said the United Nations must play a stronger role to avoid “the other side taking advantage”.

Guterres has asked the U.N. Security Council to approve the deployment of up to 75 observers to Hodeidah for six months. The council will need to decide by about Jan. 20, when a 30-day authorization for an advance monitoring team expires.

“I don’t think any country will send monitors before a full withdrawal of forces,” one diplomat said.

Yemen descended into war after pro-democracy unrest forced late former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. Hadi was elected to a two-year term to head a transitional government but the Houthis drove him into Saudi exile. The Houthis say they are waging a revolution against corruption.

The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Muslim Iran.

The Saudi-led coalition receives weapons and logistical support from the United States, Britain and other Western countries, but their involvement has come under increased scrutiny following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in October, and over the civilian toll from the air campaign.

Source: Read Full Article

Reopening of downtown Kingston library delayed until March

It will be almost a year delayed, but the Kingston Frontenac Public Library’s central branch is set to reopen in March, according to library officials.

The library was closed in November 2016, and renovation work began on the Johnson Street location in early 2017. The library was originally scheduled to open in April 2018, but the reopening date was delayed until the summer of 2018, then delayed again until November.

Issues with the building cropped up in 2017 when demolition began and damage to the structure was discovered. The library also had to address the discovery of contaminated soil on the property. Materials, meanwhile, have been stolen from the site, and in August, a torrential downpour flooded the building.

In mid-December 2018, library officials said they were starting to move back into the refurbished building and that they expected the branch to open in mid-January. Although the project was significantly delayed, officials said in December that the project was sticking to its $13.8-million budget.

But on Jan. 9, library officials pushed that date back again to March 23. Although this marks yet another delay, this is the first time the library has offered up a specific opening date.

“Final preparation of the building is still underway,” said chief librarian Patricia Enright in a news release. “There is still some work to complete before we can open our doors and obtain full occupancy.”

Enright did not specify what those final preparations were.

Nevertheless, the move-in process seems to be in full swing, with the central branch’s equipment and books now back in the Johnson Street location. Library officials say that the number of items moved back into the central branch was equivalent to 30 houses worth of equipment and materials — a large move that was done in nine days.

The Wellington Street branch, which was open during the central branch renovations, has now closed, as has the St. Remy Place administration office and collection storage warehouse.

A pop-up library has opened at Artillery Park, and there are four other branches in the city to visit.

Until the central branch opens, inter-library loans and reservations from the central branch collections will be temporarily disrupted, and it will take longer than usual to fulfil requests.

“We regret the delays associated with this project, which have largely been beyond our control,” said Enright.

—With a file from Darryn Davis.

Source: Read Full Article

Opinion | Jorge Ramos: Trump Is the Wall

Donald Trump wants more than a wall.

The president, once again, has created his own reality, manufactured a crisis, invented an invasion, criminalized immigrants, made up facts and, in a nationally televised speech on Tuesday, argued for a new wall at the United States-Mexico border. “How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?” he asked from the White House.

Mr. Trump is not the first president to ask for money for a wall. George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush built fences and walls along the southern border. Barack Obama maintained the resulting system of roughly 700 miles of physical barriers. So why don’t we want Mr. Trump to build his wall? What is different?

The difference is that Mr. Trump’s wall is a symbol of hate and racism, it would be completely useless, and it does not address any national emergency.

The $5.7 billion requested by the Trump administration to build 234 more miles of walls and fences would be an enormous waste of time and money. Beginning with the first, 14-mile stretch of border fencing, built between San Diego and Tijuana in the early 1990s, undocumented immigrants have shown they can adapt very fast and move to areas with no border barriers. Deserts in Arizona and open areas along the Rio Grande in Texas are now a favorite point of entry. The same thing would happen with a new Trump wall.

We also know that almost half of all undocumented immigrants arrive by plane or with a visa. They come legally as tourists or visitors and simply overstay their visas. The tallest fence cannot stop that.

Nor would a new wall prevent the flow of illegal drugs entering the country, as Mr. Trump claimed in his speech. Most drug seizures happen at ports of entry. And as long as we have more than 28 million Americans regularly using illegal drugs, we will have drug dealers in Mexico and the rest of Latin America moving their products to the most profitable market in the world.

The White House claims that 4,000 suspected terrorists were arrested along the southern border last year. That is simply wrong: A vast majority were detained at airports. Just six were actually caught crossing illegally by foot.

I have recently traveled to the border in California and Texas, and I can report that contrary to what the president said in his speech, there is no invasion. The undocumented population has not grown in a decade; in fact it has fallen to 10.7 million. And despite the presence of violent drug cartels on the Mexican side, the American border towns are among the safest in the country.

What is undeniable is the humanitarian crisis in Tijuana. But it is a crisis created in part by Mr. Trump. Record numbers of desperate families, fleeing violence, corruption and extreme poverty, have been arriving in caravans to our southern border. Instead of their asylum requests being promptly processed, as established by international and United States laws, only a few are allowed in every day. This policy of cruelty by design has unjustly affected children and the most vulnerable people in our hemisphere. These refugees certainly do not pose a danger to our national security.

There is no need for a new wall — except, of course, in Mr. Trump’s mind. The closest he got to building his wall was in January 2018, when Democratic senators negotiated a compromise for a wall in exchange for legislation on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Then the White House unexpectedly walked away from the deal.

Would the Democrats revisit the offer? Luis Gutierrez, who recently retired from the House of Representatives after 26 years, once explained to me that it was like paying a ransom for a kidnapping. If the White House brings up the deal this time, it will put the Democrats in a moral dilemma: Protect the Dreamers — maybe including siblings and families — and, in the process, open the government. But the wall would be an essential element of any new deal.

It won’t be easy. It is no longer 2018. Things have changed dramatically. Democrats control the House and the wall has become toxic. And then, there is the racist thing.

The wall has become a metaphor to Mr. Trump and his millions of supporters. It represents a divide between “us” and “them,” a physical demarcation for those who refuse to accept that in just a few decades, a majority of the country will be people of color.

This is about more than just a wall. Mr. Trump promised it in 2015, in the same speech in which he announced his candidacy, the same speech in which he called Mexican immigrants rapists, criminals and drug traffickers. His goal was to exploit the anxiety and resentment of voters in an increasingly multicultural, multiethnic society. Mr. Trump’s wall is a symbol for those who want to make America white again.

The chant “Build that wall, build that wall” became his hymn — and an insult not just to Latinos but also to all people who do not share his xenophobic ideals. The wall went from a campaign promise to a monument built on bigoted ideas. That is why most Americans cannot say yes to it. Every country has a right to protect its borders. But not to a wall that represents hate, discrimination and fear.

No, Mexico will not pay for the wall. And it seems Congress won’t either. But the concept of America as an unwelcoming country to immigrants and uncomfortable for minorities is already here.

In a way, Mr. Trump already got what he wanted. He is the wall.

Jorge Ramos is an anchor for the Univision network and the author of, most recently, “Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.”

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Source: Read Full Article

Both sides largely sticking to Yemen ceasefire, more progress needed: U.N.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Both sides in the conflict in Yemen have largely stuck to a ceasefire agreed last month, but substantial progress is still needed before more talks can be held on ending the war, the U.N. special representative to the country said on Wednesday.

Martin Griffiths told the United Nations Security Council he had met the leaders of the two sides in recent days and both had expressed determination to find a way forward.

“I am pleased to report that both sides have largely adhered to the ceasefire we agreed in Stockholm,” Griffiths said. “There has been a significant decrease in hostilities since then.”

He said while there had been some violence, it had been remarkably limited compared with in the lead-up to Stockholm.

However, while there was a sense of tangible hope and optimism, there was also concern, Griffiths said.

He said he and the leaders of both parties shared the view that “substantial progress, particularly on Hodeidah, is something we would like to see before we reconvene the next consultations.”

“I am still hopeful that we can proceed to a next round of consultations within the near future and I am working with both parties to make sure that that will happen at the earliest possible date,” he said.

At the end of peace talks in Sweden, the United Nations said another round of consultations would be held in January on a wider truce in the country, a framework for political negotiations and transitional governing body.

Griffiths said he had met the President of the Saudi-backed government Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was ousted from the capital Sanaa in 2014, in Riyadh on Tuesday and with Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi, whose forces control most urban centers in Yemen including Sanaa and Hodeidah, on Sunday.

A major challenge lies in securing an orderly troop withdrawal from Hodeidah, the main port used to feed Yemen’s 30 million people that has been the focus of fighting over the past year.

Griffiths said the United Nations was working with both parties to finalize a list of prisoners to be exchanged as part of a prisoner swap agreed in December and he hoped a meeting of the supervisory committee for this could be held in Amman next Monday.

He said work was continuing to try to secure support for the central bank and to reopen Sanaa airport before the next round of talks, both of which would significantly ease humanitarian suffering.

The central bank, split into two rival head offices, has been slow to finance imports of food needed to fend off widespread hunger and is struggling to pay public-sector wages as foreign exchange reserves dwindle.

Sanaa airport is in Houthi territory but access is restricted by the Saudi-led military coalition, which controls the air space. Hadi’s government wants international flights inspected before flying in or out of Sanaa, but the two sides did not reach agreement in Sweden on where that would happen.

The war and the ensuing economic collapse has left 15.9 million Yemenis facing severe hunger.

Western nations, some of which supply arms and intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the war in 2015 to restore Hadi’s government, have pressed for an end to the conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and spawned an urgent humanitarian crisis.

U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that while the Stockholm agreement was having an impact, the humanitarian situation remained “catastrophic,” with millions of Yemenis hungrier, sicker and more vulnerable than a year ago.

He said that while the situation with fuel imports had improved, commercial food imports had plummeted in December and he called on the government and others to allow unimpeded flow of imports including humanitarian aid.

Source: Read Full Article