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US child migrants: First ladies speak out on Trump separation policy

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The former US First Lady Laura Bush has condemned a co..

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The former US First Lady Laura Bush has condemned a controversial policy that splits up families who illegally enter the country at the Mexican border.

Writing in the Washington Post newspaper, she describes the separation of children from their parents as cruel, immoral and heart-breaking.

Her comments follow growing controversy over President Donald Trump's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy.

Earlier Melania Trump made a rare statement expressing concern.

Mrs Trump "hates to see children separated from their families", her spokeswoman said.

She repeated her husband's call for "both sides" to work on immigration reform as a solution. However, fact-checkers point out that the policy was introduced by Mr Trump's attorney general and does not require congressional action to be stopped.

In a recent six-week period there were nearly 2,000 family separations following a crackdown on illegal border crossings.

Adults who try to cross the border outside of official entry points – many planning to seek asylum – are placed in custody and face criminal prosecution for illegal entry.

As a result, hundreds of children and babies are now being housed in detention centres, including warehouses and converted supermarkets, and kept away from their parents.

What's been said?

Laura Bush, wife of the former Republican President George W Bush and a Texas resident, launched an outspoken attack on the policy.

"This zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart," she wrote in the Washington Post.

"Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert."

"These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War Two, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in US history," she added.

Earlier Mrs Trump said she "hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle [Republicans and Democrats in Congress] can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform".

"We need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart," her statement added.

The first ladies' comments come amid growing alarm over the impact of the policy.

On Monday, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein called on the US to end what he called its "unconscionable" strategy of forced separations.

Earlier Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended her agency's role at the border, saying: "We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period."

But she said authorities would remove children if the parent they were travelling with had broken the law.

Who is to blame?

Mr Trump has said a law "Democrats gave us" is responsible for the policy, but it is unclear which law he is referring to.

In a tweet on Saturday he urged Democrats to work with Republicans to create new legislation.

Skip Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump

Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change! This is why we need more Republicans elected in November. Democrats are good at only three things, High Taxes, High Crime and Obstruction. Sad!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2018

End of Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump

However, critics have pointed out that detaining children separately from their parents is the consequence of a policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month to deter new arrivals.

The significant change, analysts say, is the justice department's decision to prosecute parents if they illegally cross the border, even if it is their first offence. The children are not charged with a crime, which means they cannot be jailed together.

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Until this policy was announced, such families were usually subject to civil deportation proceedings, which did not require separation.

What's happening now?

The recent child detentions have resulted in some shelters and foster homes reporting that they are running out of space.

On Sunday, Democratic lawmakers visited shelters and processing facilities in New Jersey and Texas, demanding to see detainees.

"They call it zero-tolerance, but a better name for it is zero-humanity. And there is zero logic to this," Sen Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who organised a visit to Casa Padre detention centre in Brownsville, Texas, told the BBC.

"What we saw is this huge warehouse, it was a super centre for Walmart before, now it's a super detention centre. It's holding almost 1,500 kids inside there."

Vermont congressman Peter Welch said he saw children held "in chain link cages" in a processing facility and one shelter "filled to capacity".

Skip Twitter post by @PeterWelch

I saw chain link cages full of unaccompanied children. They sat on metal benches and stared straight ahead silently

— Rep. Peter Welch (@PeterWelch) June 17, 2018

End of Twitter post by @PeterWelch

Meanwhile, officials announced plans to erect tent cities that will hold hundreds more children in the Texas desert where temperatures regularly reach 40C (105F).

Local lawmaker Jose Rodriguez described the plan as "totally inhumane" and "outrageous", adding: "It should be condemned by anyone who has a moral sense of responsibility."

Protesters marched to one such tent city in Tornillo, Texas, on Sunday where hundreds of children were being held separately from their parents.

They chanted "Families united!" and "Free our children now!", reported NPR.

The policy faces legal challenges, including a federal case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Is the policy working?

The number of families trying to enter the US overland without documentation is on the rise.

In the first two weeks of the new "zero-tolerance" approach, 658 minors – including many babies and toddlers – were separated from the adults that travelled with them, according to US border officials.

In many of the cases, the families have been reunited after the parent was released from detention. However, there are reports of people being kept apart for weeks and even months.

But it is not clear if this new tougher policy will stop the migrants from travelling.

This is because many are fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Honduras and El Salvador, and staying put is often fraught with dangers.

Was your family split up after entering the US? Are any of your family members currently being detained and kept apart? Email [email protected].

Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist. You can also contact us in the following ways:

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Latin America

Coronavirus: What’s behind Latin America’s oxygen shortages?

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Before the clinic ran out of oxygen, Maria Auxiliadora da Cruz had been showing encouraging signs of progress against Covid-19. On 14 January, her oxygen levels had been above the normal level of 95% but, within hours of being deprived of that vital resource, her stats plummeted to 35%.

At this point, patients would normally be given intubation and oxygen by machine. Instead, the 67-year-old retired nurse died. “It was horrible,” her grieving daughter-in-law Thalita Rocha told the BBC. “It was a catastrophe. Many elderly patients began to deteriorate and turn blue.”

In an emotional video that went viral on social media, she described what was happening at Policlínica Redenção in the northern Brazilian city of Manaus. “We’re in a desperate situation. An entire emergency unit has simply run out of oxygen… A lot of people are dying.”

Brazil has the world’s second-highest Covid death toll with more than 221,000 fatalities. In Manaus, the health system has collapsed twice during the pandemic and deaths doubled between December and January.

Now there are fears the lack of oxygen supplies seen there could unfold elsewhere in Brazil and even in other parts of Latin America, where a second wave of Covid-19, in many countries, is proving to be worse than the first one.

In Peru, some hospitals have been unable to meet the demand brought by a steep rise in cases in recent weeks. As a result, patients’ relatives have had to hunt for oxygen in the black market. In some cases, they come back with nothing.

A black market is also thriving in Mexico, where more than 155,000 have died in the pandemic. To make things worse, there have been reports of thieves taking oxygen cylinders from hospitals and clinics.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) one in five Covid-19 patients will require oxygen. In severe cases, this rises to three in five. The organisation says some hospitals have seen demand for oxygen increase between five and seven times above normal levels because of the influx of patients with severe and critical disease.

The most dramatic situation in the world is in Brazil, where nearly 340,000 oxygen cylinders are needed every day, according to the Covid-19 Oxygen Needs tracker. The online tool helps estimate the scale of the challenge for policymakers and was developed by the Covid-19 Respiratory Care Response Coordination partnership which includes Path and Every Breath Counts.

Also according to the tracker, Mexico and Colombia each need more than 100,000 cylinders daily.

So how does a hospital run out of oxygen?

Oxygen has been considered an essential medicine by the WHO since 2017, but Lisa Smith, from Path’s market dynamics program, says ensuring adequate supply depends on many “components” falling into place.

This includes not only sources of production, but also training to enable medical staff to monitor and manage oxygen levels.1px transparent line

Medical oxygen is produced in large quantities at plants and delivered to hospitals in two ways: either in bulk in liquid tanks or as pressurised gas in cylinders containing smaller volumes.

Liquid oxygen is the cheapest and best technology available but it requires hospitals to have the right infrastructure to pipe oxygen to the patient’s bedside. This is common in developed countries such as the US and those in Europe.

Cylinders do not require pipes and can be delivered to clinics without a sophisticated infrastructure. However, their distribution on a smaller scale means they are less cost-effective, in addition to being cumbersome to transport and handle, which also carries an increased risk of cross-contamination.

Another source of production is on-site oxygen plants, which produce oxygen to be piped or compressed into cylinders. The WHO says it is currently trying to map how many such plants exist in the countries.

After Manaus reached crisis point, oxygen donations were sent from the federal government and other states – as the local providers said they were unable to increase production – and across the border from Venezuela. But even transporting them became a problem.

Jesem Orellana, an epidemiologist at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, said the risk of shortage continued and was exacerbated by global demand.

According to Path, medical oxygen accounts for just 5-10% of the world’s oxygen production. The rest is used in various industries, such as mining, chemical and pharmaceutical.

“We need to think about oxygen as much as we think about electricity, water or other essential utilities,” says Ms Smith. “This can’t be something that we’re only concerned about when it’s bad, because when it’s bad, people will die.”

In the meantime, there are concerns that the strain of Covid-19 on oxygen supplies could have a knock-on effect for the treatment of other diseases.

“Covid has shown us just how essential it is in countries where there is no vaccine against Covid, no medicines,” says Leith Greenslade, who leads the Every Breath Counts Coalition. “Often, it’s down to whether you get oxygen or not, whether you live or die.”

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55829424

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Latin America

Honduran abortion law: Congress moves to set total ban ‘in stone’

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Parliament in Honduras has initially approved a bill that will make it virtually impossible to legalise abortion in the country.

The new measure will require at least three-quarters of Congress to vote in favour of modifying the abortion law, which is among the strictest in world.

Honduras forbids abortion under any circumstance, even rape or incest.

Its latest move comes in response to Argentina legalising abortion last month.

Across Latin America, there has been increased pro-choice campaigning, known as the “green wave”, based on the colour worn by protesters.

The new legislation in Honduras hinges on an article in the constitution that gives a fetus the same legal status of a person. Constitutional changes have until now been permitted with a two-thirds majority, but the new legislation raises that bar to three-quarters within the 128-member body.

The measure still needs to be ratified by a second vote. However, support was clear on Thursday: with 88 legislators voting in favour, 28 opposed and seven abstentions.

Honduras has a stanchly conservative majority, which referred to the measure as a “shield against abortion”.

“What they did was set this article in stone because we can never reform it if 96 votes are needed [out of 128]”, opposition MP Doris Gutiérrez told AFP news agency.

Mario Pérez, a lawmaker with the ruling party of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, formally proposed the change last week, calling it a “constitutional lock” to prevent any future moderations of the abortion law.

“Every human being has the right to life from the moment of conception,” said Mr Pérez.

Ahead of the vote, UN human rights experts condemned the move, saying in a statement: “This bill is alarming. Instead of taking a step towards fulfilling the fundamental rights of women and girls, the country is moving backwards.”

Abortion has been constitutionally banned in Honduras since 1982.

In 2017, lawmakers voted on decriminalising it in the case of rape, incest or when there was danger to the mother or the fetus, but the move was roundly rejected.

Nicaragua, El Salvador and Haiti also have complete bans on abortion, but Honduras is the only country to also prohibit the use of emergency contraceptives in all cases, including after rape.

Cuba, Uruguay, Guyana and Argentina are the only Latin American countries to permit abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55764195

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Latin America

Mynor Padilla: Killer of anti-mining activist pleads guilty

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The ex-security chief at a mine in Guatemala, Mynor Padilla, has pleaded guilty to killing an anti-mining activist in 2009.

Adolfo Ich was killed at the Fénix mine, which was owned at the time by a subsidiary of Canadian mining giant Hudbay Minerals.

He had been campaigning against the mining project and for his community’s land rights.

Germán Chub, a bystander, was also shot, leaving him paralysed.

The guilty plea comes at a retrial after Padilla was cleared of murder at a previous trial.

What happened in September 2009?

The Fénix nickel project was owned by the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN), a subsidiary of Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals.

CGN wanted to develop the mine, but the indigenous Maya community objected, arguing that much of the company’s land belonged to them.

The company said it engaged in talks to negotiate their resettlement but members of the Maya community said they were threatened with forced evictions.

On 27 September 2009, security guards at the mine attacked members of the community with machetes and firearms, according to witnesses.

Adolfo Ich was killed, Germán Chub was left paralysed, and at least seven more people were injured.

What was Mynor Padilla’s role?

Mynor Padilla was the chief of security at the Fénix project and witnesses said he was the key man in the attack on 27 September 2009.

Hudbay defended its personnel, alleging that members of the Maya community had turned on each other and that their security staff had acted in self-defence.

Following a three-year murder trial Padilla was acquitted, much to the outrage of the victims’ families who launched an appeal.

What’s the latest?

The court of appeal overturned the acquittal and ordered a retrial which began in December 2020.

After having for years maintained his innocence, Mynor Padilla entered a guilty plea which was accepted by the court on Wednesday.

A lawyer for Adolfo Ich’s widow in a civil lawsuit against Hudbay Minerals in Canada called it a “momentous day”.

Why does it matter?

There are three civil lawsuits under way against Hudbay Minerals in Canada, in connection with the Fénix mine.

One of them was filed by Adolfo Ich’s widow, Angélica Choc, who alleges that the company failed to take adequate precautions to ensure that human rights abuses would not be perpetrated by Hudbay’s security personnel.

In 2013, a court in Ontario allowed the lawsuits to proceed, making it the first time that foreign claimants were allowed to pursue a lawsuit against a Canadian company in Canada for alleged human rights abuses.

Cory Wanless, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, said that following Mynor Padilla’s guilty plea “it will be difficult for Hudbay to continue to argue that it does not bear responsibility for the killing and shooting”.

Hudbay Minerals has released a statement saying it would “review the court’s decision once it is released”, which is due to happen later this month.

The company, which sold the Félix mine to Swiss-based Solway Group in 2011, also stated that “any agreements made in the Guatemalan court do not affect our view of the facts of Hudbay’s liability in relation to civil matters currently before the Ontario court”.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55573682

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