Asylum a la carte
Border Patrol agents were recently reminded they can exempt Ukrainian asylum seekers from expulsions at the border. Mexican and Central Americans, however, continue to be turned back.
It’s been incredibly jarring to compare Europe’s welcoming of Ukrainian refugees with the way both Europe and the U.S. have treated refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and the dozens of other countries that have been torn apart by (often U.S.-backed) wars. The rationale is obvious but still worth stating outright: Ukrainians are white and Christian. Leaders of other European countries can relate to their plight, can picture themselves in their shoes, because Ukrainians more or less look like them.
Ukrainians aren’t just going to neighboring countries, though. There’s been a notable increase in Ukrainian war refugees asking for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks. And unlike countries in Europe, the U.S. was until recently treating them more or less the same way it treats the other people who arrive at our southern border seeking protection: by telling them to fuck off.
Border Patrol has invoked Title 42, a Trump-era public health policy that lets immigration authorities deny entry to anyone who might introduce disease into the country, to turn away several Ukrainian families. Since March 2020, the vast majority of asylum seekers and other migrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border have been refused entry under Title 42.
Some of the Ukrainian families sent back to Mexico under Title 42 were ultimately granted entry into the U.S. after reporters made their cases public. And last week, Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas reminded Border Patrol that they’re allowed to make individual exemptions to Title 42. Meanwhile, the administration has continued to use Title 42 to fly Haitians back to their country of origin without due process and to expel Mexican and Central American migrants back to Mexico, where they often end up in grave danger. There have been innumerable reports on the kidnappings, assaults, extortions, and other attacks that migrants face in Mexican border cities, but the policy persists.
Despite promising to end Trump’s immigration policies, Biden has kept Title 42 in place and has continued fighting a legal challenge—filed during the final week of the Trump administration—to the policy. For a few months last year, migrants found to be “particularly vulnerable” in Mexico were granted entry into the U.S. In practice, that meant that service providers had to interview the masses of migrants at the border, identify the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, and pass those names along to the government, which in turn let in a trickle of people each day. The idea was to keep doing this until the administration ended Title 42—but in July, the CDC extended the policy, and all the organizations working on the exemption process pulled out.
Two weeks ago, a federal court decided that while Title 42 is legal, the government can’t send families back to countries where they face persecution or harm. Advocates are hoping that the decision could be enough to end the policy entirely, at least for families—after all, all migrants, not just those from Mexico, face danger in Mexican border cities by virtue of being migrants. But it could also lead to a situation where Border Patrol agents are tasked with determining who faces harm in Mexico—and given their track record on granting individual exemptions, this could mean that the policy will endure more or less unchanged.
In the meantime, it seems like Europe’s hypocritical stance on refugees has reached the U.S. Ukrainians will now be largely exempted from Title 42—at least in situations where their expulsions lead to mass outrage—while Central American and Mexican migrants continue to be turned away. The solution, of course, isn’t to apply the policy to everyone, but to end it altogether.
Thanks as always for reading. Here’s the rest of the gang.
Ukraine continues to dominate Flashpoint coverage.
I looked at the growing refugee crisis, and the danger of human trafficking:
On the one hand, the threat of trafficking is terrifying for women and children who have fled their homes for a new country with little more than what they’re carrying. On the other, one doesn’t want to create more fear than is warranted.
“Eastern European women—especially Ukrainian women—have long been victims of trafficking and of the sex trade, so that's definitely something to be aware of. I wouldn't say that there's any huge vetting process for the people that are coming and holding up signs. A lot of them seem really sincere but it's really impossible to tell.”
I also talked to journalist Carol Schaeffer, on the ground in Eastern Europe, about the situation. You can listen to that interview here.
Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul uncritically repeated Hitler apologia on MSNBC, and the Rachel Maddow Show amplified the argument. I wrote about why that’s bad, actually:
McFaul told me that those comments were a mistake and that he shouldn’t have addressed the ethnicity issue at all.
“The lines between ethnic identities, nationalities, and citizenships is a complex issue about which I am not an expert,” McFaul said.
Two big interviews.
Thanks for reading and listening!
First, an announcement: Discourse Blog is having a big sale this week! New subscribers get 25% off annual subscriptions now through Friday. You can get details, and the link to the deal, by clicking here. We haven’t had a sale in ages so this is a great time to jump on this discount.
OK, now to what we’ve been up to. There was a lot of Ukraine stuff, obviously. I wrote about the media’s seemingly insatiable lust for the U.S. to do more war, and Katherine wrote about possibly the lowest moment of the week: Nancy Pelosi reading Bono’s Ukraine poem (right before she pivoted to…a Riverdance performance).
That’s it from us, thanks so much for reading! And here’s another shameless link to our sale.
Jordan Uhl & Rob Rousseau
Hey folks, we’ve got a few updates for you this week. First, if you still haven’t listened to our conversation with fellow Discontent-er (and OSINT-verified Putin propagandist) Spencer Ackerman, we had a really great, nuanced conversation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Spencer brought a ton of knowledge and experience in covering the War on Terror into this talk, which is really essential for understanding, while not — we repeat, not — co-signing Russia’s “humanitarian intervention” rhetoric here.
We also had a great chat with journalist Kelly Weill, author of the new book Off the Edge: Flat Earthers, Conspiracy Culture, and Why People Will Believe Anything about flat Earth, hollow Earth, QAnon, snake oil salesmen, disinformation and our ideal Wordle strategies. We also expose one of Rob’s deepest darkest secrets: that he has never visited the family restaurant Chili’s and has no respect for American cultural institutions.
Welcome to Hell World
I’ve been sharing a couple of short stories/prose poems(?) I’ve been working on lately including this one last week about a bird and one this week about some pigs. All sorts of other shit in either of those issues about Covid and dentists and whatever it is I usually write about.
And then there was this development on the matter of what’s to be done about the state of South Carolina simply needing to kill its citizens. Turns out the firing squad is back baby. As the AP reported:
South Carolina has given the greenlight to firing-squad executions, a method codified into state law last year after a decade-long pause in carrying out death sentences because of the state’s inability to procure lethal injection drugs.
Being shot does sound like it’s perhaps quicker and “more humane” than slowly being poisoned or electrocuted to death but perhaps which specific manner of state sanctioned murder is nicer than the others shouldn’t be the issue at hand?
Over the summer I published this great piece by Paul Bowers on the death penalty issue in South Carolina and around the country including a new interview with Mr. Death himself Fred Leuchter. I’m hoping to have Bowers join us again later this week for a follow up piece.
Last week, I wrote about Jackass.
I mean, sort of. I argued for a healthcare system that allows for total fuckups to get health insurance—even if they’re bad at reading their mail, like Jackass’s Ryan Dunn. Gotta read the post to find out where I was going with that. In this country, you can fully lose your insurance if you miss a piece of mail; I focused on Medicaid, which is especially outrageous because it’s supposed to be the ‘safety net’ program, but it’s true of private insurance, too. If you miss a piece of mail or email saying you underpaid your premium slightly, you’re out of luck until open enrollment rolls around again. That is an absolutely insane way to run a healthcare system!
I also wrote about Cerebral, the online mental health platform and possible pill mill, that advertises itself as a place to get ADHD treatment (including Adderall), fast. What could go wrong? Well, Bloomberg detailed all of the ways it does in fact go wrong—overloaded prescribers, poor follow-up with patients, and a business model that relies on prescribing to as many patients as possible. Above all else, the existence of platforms like this is just more evidence of a failed healthcare system. If you could just go to the fucking doctor and get what you needed, like a normal country, you wouldn’t need to deal with these startup vultures.
Wars of Future Past
Kelsey D. Atherton
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the first war in which an operating civilian nuclear power plant has been captured by invaders. Reactors, especially modern reactors, are shielded against all kinds of impacts, designed to remain intact in the face of everything from extreme weather to civilian airliner accidents. What stands out here, what is most striking to me, is the way a captured power plant will be used as part of modern siege warfare. I wrote about it for the Center for Public Integrity, the first in a series about the past of war and the future of war crashing into the present of war. (Which, provided no No Fly Zones happen, will remain decidedly not World War III).
Speaking of relics, the US is flying B-52s over Europe. It’s a kind of signaling, but the venerable bombers are no longer primarily about messaging a nuclear threat. This coverage has kept Wars of Future Past itself pretty sparse this month, but subscribers can get a more in-depth update on what I’ve been writing about. Which includes one last plug here: I’ve picked up main writing duties for Inkstick’s and The World’s Critical State newsletter. The full form only exists in inboxes, but you can read the main essays over on Inkstick’s website. The first two are about the political science of autocracy.
Alex Thurston’s latest FX column looks at the lamentable and hopefully reversible transformation of one DC think tank from independent analytical source to a wing of the Democratic Party:
The International Crisis Group is, in the organization’s own words, “generally regarded as the world’s leading source of information, analysis and policy advice to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.” From the beginning of my own career as an academic, Crisis Group has set the standard for research on conflict. Their reports have influenced my views of the West African countries I work on. Some of their reports with a global scope, especially the 2016 report “Exploiting Disorder” on the international jihadist movement, have also made an impact on my thinking. I long felt that Crisis Group pushed the envelope policy-wise, offering constructive criticism of existing policies and injecting new ideas into policy conversations.
During the Trump presidency, however, I became concerned about Crisis Group’s trajectory—specifically, that the relationship between ICG leadership and the Democratic Party’s foreign policy elite was watering down the organization’s ability to produce critical analysis and to articulate specific recommendations that break with status quo policies. There has been no decline in the quality of ICG’s research, but their conclusions increasingly lack punch. A leadership change at Crisis Group presents an opportunity for renewal, but I still detect a substantial strain of status quo bias and Western-centric attitudes in the organization’s output. The banalization of Crisis Group—into just another think tank, with a deep bench of experts but without much to say—would be a real loss for anyone interested in ending wars.
We took a breather last week but are back tomorrow with new stuff from me on the increasingly state-run conservative war on trans people. In the meantime, please read Spencer’s blockbuster story about a secret CIA inspector general report on the use of a detainee named Ammar al-Baluchi as a test subject for the CIA’s torture training program. The subject matter is wrenching, but the story is absolutely vital—a terrific piece about a document the CIA has been working to keep under wraps for more than a decade. I feel obligated to tell you again to go in aware of the content issues—it’s a graphic account of unspeakable violence including sexual assault, so give yourself a break if you need to.
This is an integral piece of reporting in the history of the War on Terror and I think it ranks among the best things Spencer has ever done.
WHILE IN THE CIA'S Lithuania black site, Ammar al-Baluchi had a conversation with an Agency torturer identified in legal documents as NZ7. It was 2005, about two years after the most physically excruciating period of al-Baluchi's torture, which took place inside the total darkness of the CIA prison in Afghanistan known variously as Cobalt and the Salt Pit. After all this time, al-Baluchi had a suspicion.
He voiced it cautiously. Long after that period of acute torture, al-Baluchi repeatedly told his captors that he remained "consumed by fear" that it could return at any moment. Al-Baluchi assured NZ7 that he knew he was being "irrational," according to a never-before-seen CIA inspector general report, but "Ammar described to him his concern that he was being used as an experiment."
As an example, al-Baluchi recounted that when he had been sent to the black site in Vilnius—one of at least five places the CIA caged him—"he was afraid to complain about a pressure sore on his nose." He explained to NZ7 "he was afraid Agency officers had caused it purposely to see what his reaction would be."
The CIA inspector general couldn't corroborate that. But its 2008 study, "Report of the CIA Inspector General Regarding Allegations of Torture Made by Ammar al-Baluchi," found much to validate al-Baluchi's suspicions that the CIA was experimenting on him.