Tag Archives: migrant

How undocumented migrant workers are slipping through Ontario’s COVID-19 net

The house where the undocumented workers live isn’t hard to find.

Located just 100 metres from one of Leamington, Ontario’s main intersections, the sprawling structure has clearly seen better days. The paint is peeling, shingles are curling, and some of its filthy windows are cracked. 

Yet it is home for nearly 20 foreign farm labourers — most of them lacking the proper permits to work in Canada. Men who are now trying to balance concerns about COVID-19 with fears that the act of getting tested might get them deported.

Ontario has started onsite testing as a way to tackle the COVID-19 outbreaks on farms and in greenhouses in Windsor-Essex County. But the government’s measures overlook approximately 2,000 undocumented migrant workers in the area, and fears of deportation prevent them from coming forward. 4:05

“If I get sick, there is no solution,” says one resident. “Because I don’t have money.”

The 43-year-old came to Canada from Guatemala a year ago under a government program. His permit has since lapsed, but he continues to work, moving from farm to farm as a temporary hired hand, and sending his modest wages back home to support his wife and 11 children. He asked not to be named because of his immigration status.

And despite the outbreak in Southwestern Ontario that has now sickened close to 1,000 migrant farm workers — most  in Leamington and neighbouring Kingsville in Windsor-Essex County — and killed three of them, the man says he has no plans to get tested for the novel coronavirus.

“I don’t show any symptoms. I don’t know anyone who has it, and I feel there’s no need to at the moment,” he says. “I don’t see it, so it doesn’t exist to me.”

Provincial ‘action plan’

Agriculture is big business in Windsor-Essex, with more than 175 farms, greenhouses and wineries contracting some 8,000 official migrant workers to help raise and harvest the crops every year.

So as coronavirus cases began to spike among workers, Ontario Premier Doug Ford unveiled a three-point “action plan” last week, dispatching mobile testing units to farms, promising benefits and supports for ill workers who are put in quarantine, and altering rules to allow farmers to keep asymptomatic labourers on the job.

WATCH | Trudeau on the temporary foreign workers who died from COVID-19:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says “rules weren’t followed” in the cases of temporary foreign workers who were infected with and died from COVID-19. 0:45

But none of his measures target undocumented workers, who are unlikely to present themselves for testing, and don’t qualify for free provincial health care, let alone any sort of government employment assistance. 

It’s a gap that could make it more difficult to bring the farm outbreak under control, given the large number of so-called paperless labourers in the area, and help keep Leamington and neighbouring Kingsville the last two places in the province stuck at Stage 1 of the pandemic lockdown.

Santiago Escobar is a national representative with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and a co-ordinator of the Agricultural Workers Alliance. He spent two years working out of a satellite office on Leamington’s main street, and says the local population of undocumented workers was much larger than the province or Ottawa liked to let on — as many as 2,000 workers, by his and other advocates’ estimates. A big number that Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald has also been citing.

“I think is it’s common knowledge that most of the workers that are hired through a temp work agency are undocumented,” says Escobar. “And due to their precarious status, unscrupulous employers and temporary work agencies are taking advantage of these workers.” 

‘No masks, no gloves’

Rogelio Muñoz Santos, a 24-year-old from Chiapas, Mexico, arrived in Canada on a tourist visa in February. His family have told Mexican media outlets that he found a Spanish-language post on a Toronto Facebook page offering farm jobs paying $ 13 an hour — $ 1 an hour less than Ontario’s minimum wage — for a 70-hour week. He arrived in Leamington in early April.

Santiago Escobar, of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, says unscrupulous employers and temp agencies are taking advantage of undocumented workers. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

He ended up living in a local motel, arranged by his recruiter, with four men sharing two beds and a bathroom, at a cost of $ 600 each per month, deducted from their pay. 

His co-worker, who asked to be identified only as “Juan” because of his own undocumented status, recently told CBC’s French-language service Radio-Canada about how they both fell ill in early May as a flu-like illness swept through the farm where they were working. 

“I didn’t want to work because I was already feeling sick. Everyone was getting ill, but they sent us to work all the same,” Juan said, noting that they travelled in vehicles containing as many as 20 people at a time. And no one took any measures to protect them from coronavirus spread. “No masks, no gloves, or goggles or information.”

Rogelio Muñoz Santos, a 24-year-old from Chiapas, Mexico, was admitted to Erie Shores Hospital in Leamington on June 1 with breathing difficulties, and transferred to an ICU in Windsor the next day. He died in hospital on June 5. (GoFundMe)

The pair didn’t have a relationship with the farmer, only with the temp agency recruiter — a Spanish-speaking Canadian who paid them in cash. And when they fell sick with the novel coronavirus, isolating themselves at the motel, a public health nurse would call to check up, but no one brought them food or supplies.

“They abandoned me,” Juan said. “Same with Rogelio. They did nothing for me or for him.”

Muñoz Santos was admitted to Erie Shores Hospital in Leamington on June 1 with breathing difficulties, and transferred to an ICU in Windsor the next day. He died in hospital on June 5. It took more than three weeks for his body to be returned to his family in Mexico. He was finally laid to rest on June 27. 

Barriers to fighting farm outbreaks

Dr. Ross Moncur, the chief of staff and interim CEO at Erie Shores Hospital, says there have been a series of barriers to overcome as health officials try to fight the farm outbreaks. Many workers have been reluctant to get tested for fear of losing weeks of income should the results come back positive. And some farmers have resisted, as well, concerned about the potential fallout during their busiest time of year. “What happens to their workforce?” asks Moncur. “Does it mean that they literally have crops rotting in the fields for the next few months?”

But undocumented workers are proving the hardest to reach. 

“The biggest impediment there is that they don’t have [provincial health insurance] coverage, and so their assumption is that this type of testing is not available to them,” Moncur said, noting that his hospital will treat anyone who needs care, regardless of their immigration status.

A man who asked to be identified as Juan, spoke with Radio-Canada about how he and Muñoz Santos both fell ill in early May as a flu-like illness swept through the farm where they were working. (Radio-Canada)

That message, however, doesn’t seem to be getting through. CBC News spoke to a number of undocumented workers in Leamington. None of them had been tested. And few seemed aware that the local hospital was providing free COVID screening just a few blocks away from where they live and shop, complete with Spanish signage and interpreters.

Some were taking a fatalistic approach to COVID-19. One worker, a 39-year-old from Mexico who entered Canada on a tourist visa 10 months ago, says he’s leaving things up to a higher power should he fall ill.

“First, I would pray to God. If he sends me, allows me to go to hospital, I’ll go to the hospital,” he says. “But we are all going to die one day. We never know how. So it might be here or it might be in Oaxaca. We just don’t know.”

Signs at Erie Shores Hospital are posted in different languages. Chief of staff Dr. Ross Moncur says the hospital will treat anyone who needs care, regardless of their immigration status. (Jonathon Gatehouse/CBC)

Asked specifically about their efforts to reach undocumented workers, Ontario Health, the agency overseeing the testing told CBC News that it is working with “key stakeholders” in the agricultural industry “to understand the full breadth of needs” and “other factors relating to the temporary worker experience in Ontario.” The agency stressed that testing is available to all workers, regardless of immigration status, but remains voluntary.

Justine Taylor, the science and government relations manager for the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, says the Leamington-based organization has been encouraging its members to have all farm labour tested for coronavirus, regardless of how they have been hired.

Officially, the group doesn’t support the use of undocumented workers, although Taylor acknowledges that it is a “very complicated” issue for farmers, who often struggle to find enough hired help during their busiest periods.

“There is a need there,” Taylor said, adding that her association wants to work with governments to close the undocumented “gap” and “ensure that all workers are protected.” One path, she says, might be to follow British Columbia’s lead and create a provincial registry of recruiters and make farmers hire only from the accredited firms.

All such measures, however, will address the future, not the current crisis. 

Erie Shores’ Moncur says there is a sense of a missed opportunity in Windsor-Essex, that these farm outbreaks — and deaths — were all too foreseeable.

From the very beginning, local health officials understood that agricultural workers  were a “high-risk population,” he says, due to their living and working conditions. But the system was consumed with fighting COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, where more than 300 outbreaks have killed some 1,600 residents.

“We may have had a false reassurance that because they were relatively young and relatively healthy, that agrifood workers would be OK,” Moncur said. “That theory was certainly tested.”

And with hundreds of new cases this past week — 175 of them on a single farm — the region’s battle against COVID-19 is only beginning. 

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CBC | Health News

Exploitation, abuse, health hazards rise for migrant workers during COVID-19, group says

A group representing migrant workers in Canada is demanding better protections after two men died from COVID-19, hundreds more have been infected and complaints mount over dangerous work and housing conditions.

A new report paints a grim snapshot of workers who fear for their health and livelihoods after arriving in Canada to perform work the federal government has described as vital to the country’s food supply.

The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change heard complaints from more than a thousand workers on a variety of issues, including a lack of access to protective equipment, crowded conditions that don’t allow physical distancing, poor access to proper food during quarantine and unfair gouging on wages and meal costs.

The group’s executive director, Syed Hussan, said dismal housing and working conditions have been reported for years, but during the pandemic, they’re even more dangerous.

“Two workers are already dead, hundreds are sick, at least two are in ICU. And we don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” he told CBC News.

Hussan said most migrant workers don’t report conditions out of fear of reprisal, or because they don’t have the ability to do so. They want the federal government to give them permanent resident status so they can assert their right to a safe workplace.

“If you leave a job right now, or you refuse unsafe work, you face termination, homelessness, deportation and you can’t come back in the future. Permanent residence status takes away those limitations on you so you can keep yourself safe,” Hussan said.

$ 50M to help cover costs

Each year about 60,000 foreign workers come to Canada.

In April, the federal government announced $ 50 million to help farmers and fish processors who are bringing in temporary foreign workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Under that program, employers are eligible for up to $ 1,500 per foreign worker to help cover the costs of complying with a mandatory two-week quarantine upon their arrival in Canada.

Employers must provide accommodation for the employees during the self-isolation period and pay the workers during the 14-day period.

At the time, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the funds were to help employers carry out the “vital” work of feeding the nation while protecting the health and safety of Canadians.

“The men and women who work in our food supply chain are essential to ensuring Canadians have access to a variety of high quality food at a reasonable price. In many regions in the country the production of food, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables, relies on the contribution of experienced temporary foreign workers right from planting season to harvest,” she said at the time.

A spokesperson for Agriculture Canada said If an employer is found to not have been compliant with requirements under the Quarantine Act or the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, they would no longer be eligible for the $ 1,500. If they have already received reimbursement, they are required to repay the funding.

‘Crisis from within a crisis’

The alliance will officially release its report, called “Unheeded Warnings: COVID-19 and Migrant Workers,” at a noon ET news conference today with foreign workers speaking out about their experiences.

Calling the heightened dangers “a crisis from within a crisis,” the report calls for immediate action to address the “fundamental discrimination and exploitation built into Canada’s temporary immigration programs.” 

“Until then, there will always be more abuses to expose, indignities to denounce and demands for change to be made,” it reads. 

The report says the workload for many foreign hires has intensified during COVID-19, and that some employers are forcing workers to go at “breakneck speed.”

“As fewer workers are coming in, or workers’ arrivals are delayed, migrant workers already here have seen dramatic work intensification: 128 workers reported working for weeks without a day off, being forced to work long hours, and suffering increased strains, injuries and sickness due to increased pace of work,” the report says.

As employment and labour laws often exclude migrant workers, there are no rights to minimum wage, overtime pay, hours of work, breaks, days off, or collective bargaining, the report states.

Farms are ‘rigorously’ inspected

Bill George, chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, said he is not aware of any unsafe conditions or inappropriate pay issues described in the report. He said bunkhouses are “rigorously” inspected twice a year by local health units and are also subject to inspections by provincial and federal authorities.

“If there were problems, I’m sure they were corrected. But I haven’t seen, to my knowledge, any fines being levied against any grower for violating the new rules as far as housing is concerned.”

George said during the pandemic, challenges are not limited to foreign workers.

“It’s not just the migrant workers. It’s any workplace in Ontario that’s going to have challenges with outbreaks going forward this year until we have a vaccine. I think it’s just important that the employer as well as employees follow the best safety protocols in place and limit the spread of COVID-19.”

Workers cited in the report also alleged increased acts of racism from employers, local shops and some community members who treated them like they were “disease carriers.”

The report says 209 migrant workers reported increased intimidation, surveillance and threats from employers, “often under the guise of COVID-19 protocols.”

Reports of anti-Black racism

The report also noted a higher number of complaints from Caribbean workers, who are mostly Black men.

“Racism, and specifically anti-Black racism, underpins workers’ experience,” the report states.

Other complaints outlined in the report include:

  • Workers who could not physically distance during the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Canada.
  • Lack of access to health care and information.
  • Unfair wage and meal cost clawbacks.
  • Crowded housing conditions after quarantine without essential sanitization.
  • Lost income becaue of border closures and extended travel times.
  • Lack of ability to send remittances (payments) to family at home.

CBC News has not verified the complaints in the report.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan says the government must do more to protect foreign workers.

“We say we value them and we need them for our economy, and yes we do. But we also need to ensure that we follow on that when they come to Canada. They should be able to return home safe and sound,” she said.

NDP calls for pathway to residency

Kwan said the federal government must also offer a pathway to permanent resident status under the principle of “good enough to work, good enough to stay.”

Kwan also said the government needs to step up enforcement to make sure employers are treating workers safely and humanely.

Service Canada can carry out inspections, with or without notice, to verify and employer’s compliance with the program, including within the first 14 days of the temporary foreign worker’s arrival.

Between March 1 and May 29, there were 585 inspections, according to a spokesperson for Carla Qualtrough, the minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion.

Penalties for not complying with the new conditions include fines of up to a $ 1 million and bans on hiring foreign workers up to a permanent ban.

The government has not yet responded to a request for information on what penalties, if any, have been imposed to date.

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CBC | Health News

While Singapore touts its COVID-19 success, migrant workers face the greatest risk

Singapore has had an enviable record in handling the coronavirus outbreak. Based on the latest figures, the country has had only 21 deaths, or four per million of population, compared to 137 per million in Canada, 251 in the U.S., 482 in the U.K. and 511 in Italy. 

Indeed, Singapore learned lessons from the outbreak of SARS in 2003, when 33 patients died there.

This time, the government was ready with an elaborate testing and contact tracing regime that nearly snuffed out the COVID-19 outbreak at an early stage.

The first case in Singapore was a female shopkeeper who had welcomed a large group of Chinese tourists in mid-January. Health department contact tracers quickly chased down almost everyone she encountered, and ordered them to self-quarantine as a precaution.

“One of the things about Singapore being very small, it is completely wired up, it is all connected through the latest IT system,” said Leo Yee Sin, executive director of Singapore’s National Center for Infectious Diseases. “So it gives this advantage in terms of contact tracing.”

But the COVID-19 wave has a way of exposing a society’s faults. In China, it’s an authoritarian government that covered up the severity of the outbreak. In Canada, it’s a long-neglected long-term care system.

In Singapore, the fault-line has been its guest-worker system.

Reliance on migrant workers

According to Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower, 1.4 million of the country’s 5.8 million residents are migrant workers, mostly from Bangladesh and India.

A large number of them are in construction and other heavy industry such as shipbuilding, and are sometimes paid as little as the equivalent of $ 20 Cdn a day. These workers live in company dormitories, often 10 to 20 per room in unsanitary conditions.

WATCH | A look at Singapore’s efforts to tame COVID-19

Singapore contained its coronavirus outbreak through aggressive tracing, testing and clamping down on its economy, but it exposed some ugly truths about its treatment of migrant workers in the process. 6:18

Most work almost as indentured labourers to pay off the debt they incurred to come to Singapore, and are reluctant to do anything that might jeopardize their stay.

“If a migrant worker is ill, he’s not going to say that he’s ill, because he’s afraid of what happens if he takes sick leave,” said Singapore journalist Kristen Han, who recently wrote an article for Foreign Policy magazine entitled “Singapore Is Trying to Forget Migrant Workers Are People.” 

“His employer might be unhappy, [the worker] might get fined for taking sick leave, he might have his work permit cancelled and then be repatriated.” 

Singapore’s good record on COVID-19 became tarnished when the novel coronavirus entered the migrant-worker population and spread. In early April, the government forced all of the company dormitories to be locked down and the economy ground to a halt.

Migrant workers pray inside their dormitory during the holy month of Ramadan. (Edgar Su/Reuters)

During February and March, the number of new cases never reached more than 100 per day. But on April 20, it peaked at 1,426.

According to the ministry of health, on May 6, infections in dormitories made up 88 per cent of the cases nationwide.

Political scientist Ja Ian Chong at the National University of Singapore said racism has been a contributing factor.

“The infection in migrant worker dorms, I think, is uncovering a lot of the nastiness and, frankly … racism that have been latent in Singapore society for a long time,” Chong said.

“People [are] saying, ‘Well, these migrant workers, they’re dirty by culture … and, you know, they have it good here in Singapore, why are they demanding more? They deserve their lot.'”

‘We will care for you’

In his May Day address, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong seemed to bend over backwards to express his appreciation and concern for migrant workers, saying, “Let me emphasize again: We will care for you just like we care for Singaporeans.”

But that is not quite the case. In fact, special facilities have been constructed to treat infected migrant workers outside of Singapore’s hospitals. 

For the most part, the care is administered through robots, which bring food and medicine to patients’ bedsides. Doctor visits are performed through other robots to minimize human contact.

A migrant worker living in a factory-converted dormitory speaks on the phone. (Edgar Su/Reuters)

There is even a robot dog to lead quarantined workers from one place to another.

These measures seem to have lessened the second wave of infections. Probably because the workers are young and healthy, the death rate in Singapore is still very low. 

Contact tracing app

On March 21, the government began encouraging all citizens to download a new contact tracing app called TraceTogether to their phones.

The app keeps a log on the phone of every other device that shared close contact with the owner over a 14-day period — information that would be turned over to health authorities if the carrier of that phone became infected.

So far, the app has not been a great success.

“We’ve learned that a very small number of Singaporeans, about 1.1 million, downloaded it,” said Han, which “is quite far from the three-plus million that they actually need before it becomes effective in contact tracing.”

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong. centre left, visits the contact tracing operation at Mandai Hill Camp, Singapore. The country’s armed forces are assisting in contact tracing efforts. (Singapore Ministry of Defence)

Many Singapore residents are concerned about the privacy implications of the app. Unlike a similar app in Australia, the location information gathered is not restricted to use by health officials. It can be shared with the police and army, who could find other uses for it. 

Now, because the infection rate among migrant workers is still high, the Singapore government is apparently considering legislation to require all residents to download the app and participate in the program. 

But it’s not clear what proportion of migrant workers even have the smartphones necessary to make the app work. 

As many countries are learning, there may be limits to technology as a solution to an outbreak.

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CBC | World News

Child dies in fire in Greek migrant camp

A young child died Monday in a fire in an overcrowded migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, fire department officials said.

The fire burned through two containers used as living quarters by people in the Moria camp, as well as some tents, a spokesperson said.

“During the operation, a dead little girl was found,” the fire department spokesperson told Reuters. The child was aged six or seven.

The cause of the fire was not immediately clear.

Moria — built to accommodate roughly 3,000 people — has about 19,400 people in the camp and the surrounding area, living in crowded and filthy conditions.

Lesbos was on the front line of a massive movement of refugees and migrants to Europe in 2015 and 2016.

There was an upsurge in arrivals after Turkey announced on Feb. 28 it could no longer contain the large numbers of migrants it hosts because of an anticipated surge of displaced persons from Syria.

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CBC | World News

U.S. judge to block Trump administration’s rules on detaining migrant children

A U.S. judge on Friday said she will block the Trump administration’s rules for the detention of migrant children because they fail to honour a decades-old settlement agreement that spells out the conditions of custody.

The decision came after a hearing where attorneys for detained migrant children said the rules would let the U.S. government keep kids locked up indefinitely and in facilities that aren’t licensed by the state.

U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee said during the hearing in Los Angeles that she didn’t see how the new rules adhered to a 1997 settlement that applies to all children — not just those caught on the U.S.-Mexico border without their parents.

“Just because you tell me it is night outside doesn’t mean it is not day,” Gee told government lawyers.

In her decision, she wrote that officials “cannot simply ignore the dictates of the consent decree merely because they no longer agree with its approach as a matter of policy.”

The Trump administration sought to end the agreement as part of its crackdown on asylum seekers arriving on the southwest border. It issued the rules with the hope of detaining migrant children in facilities with their parents.

U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee said she didn’t see how the new rules adhered to a 1997 settlement that applies to all children, not just those caught on the U.S.-Mexico border without their parents. (National Asian Pacific American Bar Association via AP)

The 1997 agreement allows for the settlement to be phased out when rules are issued for the care of detained migrant children that honour its terms.

The attorneys who represent detained migrant children celebrated Gee’s position on the case, which she conveyed to them in a draft ruling. They said they wouldn’t let the administration use young migrants to try to deter migrants fleeing desperate conditions from seeking asylum.

“We will continue vigorously to defend the rights of detained immigrant children,” Neha Desai, director of immigration at the National Center for Youth Law, told reporters.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said the administration is disappointed with the ruling because it did what was required to implement the new rules.

During the hearing, August Flentje, an attorney for the government, argued the rules were consistent with the agreement, and the government had spent significant time to develop them.

Attorneys for both sides said they would be willing to meet and discuss whether some aspects of the rules aren’t subject to the settlement. Gee gave them until Oct. 4 to do so.

Crackdown on migrants

More than 400,000 migrants travelling in family groups with children have been stopped on the Mexico border in the past year.

In its crackdown, the Trump administration has had migrants await immigration court hearings in Mexico and required those who cross through a third country to seek refuge there before applying for asylum in the United States.

Migrant advocates have decried the changes, which threaten asylum for many people fleeing violence in their countries.

The Los Angeles case dates back to the 1980s, when migrant advocates sued the government over detention conditions for migrant youth. The settlement reached in 1997 requires children to be released from custody as soon as possible to a relative in the U.S.

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CBC | World News

Police fatally shoot man who attacked Washington state migrant detention centre

A man armed with a rifle and throwing incendiary devices at a migrant detention centre in Washington state early Saturday morning died after four police officers arrived and opened fire, authorities said.

The Tacoma Police Department said the officers responded at about 4 a.m. local time to the privately run Tacoma Northwest Detention Center, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security detention facility that holds migrants pending deportation proceedings.

The detention centre has also held immigration-seeking parents separated from their children under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, an effort meant to deter illegal immigration.

The shooting took place about six hours after a peaceful rally in front of the detention centre, police spokesperson Loretta Cool said. She said another rally was planned for later Saturday, but it would have to be held in a different area because of the investigation into the police shooting.

Police said the man caused a vehicle to catch fire and that he attempted to ignite a large propane tank and set buildings on fire. Police said that besides the rifle, he had a satchel and flares.

Police said officers called out to the man, and shots were fired.

Cool said all four officers fired their weapons, but she didn’t have specific details of what took place. She said the officers weren’t wearing body cameras, but the area is covered by surveillance cameras from the detention centre. She said she didn’t know if the man fired at the officers.

After the gunfire, officers took cover, contained the area and set up medical aid a short distance away, police said.

Officers then located the man and determined he had been shot and was dead at the scene. His name hasn’t been released.

Authorities say investigators are processing the scene and police are continuing to investigate. No law enforcement officers were injured. The four Tacoma police officers who fired their weapons have been placed on paid administrative leave as is standard in officer-involved shootings.

A motive for the man’s actions hasn’t been determined, Cool said.

‘Misplaced aggression’

GEO Group, which runs the 1,575-bed Northwest Detention Center, in an email to The Associated Press said baseless accusations about how detainees are treated at its facilities “have led to misplaced aggression and a dangerous environment for our employees, whose safety is our top priority. Violence of any kind against our employees and property will not be tolerated. We are thankful for the quick and brave action by the Tacoma Police Department, which prevented innocent lives from being endangered.”

GEO Group said the detention centre in Tacoma has modern amenities with air conditioning, recreational activities, a bed for every individual and medical care available at all hours.

Last year, a federal judge ruled that Washington state could pursue its lawsuit seeking to force GEO Group to pay minimum wage for work done by detainees at the detention centre.

In November, a Russian asylum-seeker who conducted a hunger strike to protest the conditions at the detention centre died by suicide, the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled.

Mergensana Amar, 40, was taken off life support after attempting to kill himself while in voluntary protective custody on Nov. 15, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

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CBC | World News

Migrant advocates brace for deportation raids Trump says will start ‘fairly soon’

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday mass deportation roundups would begin “fairly soon” as migrant advocates vowed their communities would be “ready” when immigration officers come.

Trump, who has made a hardline immigration stance a key issue of his presidency and his 2020 re-election bid, postponed the operation last month after the planned date was leaked to the press, but on Monday he said the roundups would take place after the July 4 holiday.

“They’ll be starting fairly soon, but I don’t call them raids, we’re removing people, all of these people who have come in over the years illegally,” he told reporters at the White House on Friday.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last month said raids would target undocumented migrants who had recently arrived in the United States so as to discourage a surge of Central American families at the southwest border.

ICE said in a statement its focus was arresting people with criminal histories but any immigrant found in violation of U.S. laws was subject to arrest.

Government documents published this week by migrant rights groups showed some past ICE raids had more collateral arrests than apprehensions of targeted migrants. Migrant rights groups say this general, looming threat to undocumented migrants is harmful to communities and the U.S. economy, as it forces adults to miss work and children to skip school out of fear they may be picked up and separated.

“We have to be ready, not just when Trump announces it, because there are arrests every day and they have been increasing,” said Elsa Lopez, an organizer for New Mexico immigrant and workers’ rights group Somos un Pueblo Unido.

U.S. President Donald Trump warned on Friday that his plan to roundup and deport illegal migrants will happen ‘fairly soon.’ (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Migrant apprehensions on the southwest border hit a 13-year high in May but eased in June as Mexico increased immigration enforcement.

An increasing number of migrants are coming from countries outside Central America, including India, Cuba and Africa. The Del Rio, Texas, border patrol sector on Friday reported the arrest of more than 1,000 Haitians since June 10.

Democratic lawmakers visited an El Paso, Texas, border patrol station on Monday and said migrants were being held in atrocious conditions, with women told to drink out of a toilet.

To “dispel” what he called “the misinformation,” chief border patrol agent Roy Villareal put out a video showing fresh water available from a cooler and a faucet in a cell at a Tucson, Ariz., sector migrant processing centre.

“We’re not forcing aliens to drink out of the toilet,” said Villareal, head of an area that in May apprehended nearly six times fewer people than the El Paso sector, a stretch of border that has borne the brunt of the migrant surge.

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CBC | World News

Drowned migrant father and daughter mourned at El Salvador funeral

A man and his young daughter who drowned trying to cross into Texas were buried Monday, a week after a heartbreaking image of their bodies floating in the Rio Grande circled the globe.

About 200 relatives and friends followed a hearse bearing the bodies of Oscar Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria inside La Bermeja municipal cemetery in southern San Salvador. The ceremony was private, and journalists were not allowed access.

Many mourners wore black and wept. They carried flowers and green palms, and some held signs bearing the logo of the Alianza soccer team favoured by Oscar Martinez, who belonged to a group that supports the club.

“For those who cheer you on from heaven,” one sign read.

“I knew them. They are good people, and I can’t believe they died this way,” said Berta Padilla, who arrived earlier along with about 30 others on a bus from Altavista, El Salvador, the working-class city the Martinezes called home before they left in early April, headed for the United States.

“We came from Altavista to be with Oscar’s family,” Padilla added. “We are with them in their pain.”

Journalists take pictures and video of the graves at La Bermeja cemetery. (Alex Pena/Getty Images)

Tania Vanessa Avalos, the wife and mother, returned to El Salvador on Friday ahead of their remains.

A municipal police officer said their graves were in a section of the cemetery named after St. Oscar Romero, the San Salvador archbishop who devoted himself to helping the poor and was assassinated in 1980. Romero, who was canonized last year, is buried in the crypt of the city’s cathedral.

After the burial, relatives stayed at the grave to say goodbye, said family friend Reyna Moran.

They went in search of a better future, but everything came to an end in the river.— Reyna Moran, family friend of Oscar Martinez

“This is very painful, most of all because of the baby,” Moran said. “They went in search of a better future, but everything came to an end in the river.”

A collection of floral arrangements adorned the grave, including one from El Salvador’s president and first lady. Interior Minister Mario Duran was among those who attended.

Drownings spark global outcry

The photographs of Martinez, 25, and Valeria, lying face down along the riverbank, the tiny girl tucked inside his black shirt and her arm draped over his neck, prompted a global outpouring of emotion. They underscored the perils faced by migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the United States.

“We are dismayed, shocked, everyone is in pain,” said Altavista Mayor Victor Manuel Rivera. “This family has lost an angel of just under two years, and seeing that heartbreaking image, the photo, is shocking.”

This photograph, first published in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, shows the bodies of Oscar Martinez and his nearly two-year-old daughter Valeria on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico. It sparked a global outpouring of emotion and showed the dangers migrants face trying to reach the U.S. from Central America. (Julia Le Duc/The Associated Press)

President Nayib Bukele said late Sunday that the drownings were “a great tragedy” and that there’s blame to be shared among governments.

U.S. policies designed to deter Central Americans and others from heading north have stalled thousands on the Mexico side of the border as they wait to request asylum in the United States. Meanwhile, Mexico is stepping up immigration enforcement under intense pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.

Bukele, who took office a month ago, said his own country shares responsibility.

“We can speak blame to any other country, but what about our blame?” Bukele said in lengthy remarks, much of them delivered in English. “I mean, what country did they flee? Did they [flee] the United States? They fled El Salvador. They fled our country. It is our fault.”

He said El Salvador has not been able to provide good jobs or schools.

“What if there’s a little girl who had a decent school here, a decent health-care system for her and her family, a decent house with water supply, a job for his parents, for his mother and his dad, a decent job, living in a zone where a gang member would not come to rape her and kill her family?” Bukele said.

A photo of father and daughter stands at a vigil in their honour in Brownsville, Texas, on Sunday. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

Many of those trying to reach the U.S. border in recent months have said they were fleeing grinding poverty, a lack of opportunity and violence in the gang-dominated Northern Triangle region of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, or a combination of these factors.

Martinez’s mother said last week that the family had hoped to live and work in the United States for a few years, saving enough money to return and build a home.

“These are situations that make visible the problem of migration, something that happens daily,” said Mario Vega, pastor of the Elim Protestant church, one of El Salvador’s largest. “Yesterday it became known that another Salvadoran died in a detention centre in Texas, and this is something that happens every day.”

Vega criticized U.S. policies on migration and expressed hope that all countries would heed a UN call to respect migrants’ human rights.

“May God will that this tragedy [sensitizes] people,” he said.

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Will photo of migrant father and daughter who drowned at U.S.-Mexico border bring lasting change?

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what’s happening around some of the day’s most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • As the photo of a migrant father and daughter who drowned trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico makes headlines around the world, but will it bring lasting change?
  • Victims of the Ethiopia Airlines crash open up about their need to hold someone accountable for the loss of their loved ones. 
  • Youth ER visits are on the rise and experts say increased smartphone use may be part of the reason.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Horror along the U.S. border

It’s hard to say what’s most heartbreaking about the photo of the bodies. 

The fact that the father tucked his little girl inside his black T-shirt in an effort to keep her close? That her tiny arm remained draped around his neck? Or that the swift Rio Grande current finally deposited them in the long grass on the Mexican shore?

But the story of how Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, a 25-year-old migrant from El Salvador and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, drowned Sunday as they tried to cross into the United States — within sight of an international bridge — is no less disturbing. 

According to the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Ramirez, his wife and child had spent eight weeks travelling north across the country to the Texas border, arriving in Matamoros, Mexico on Sunday, only to find that the wait time for an asylum interview with American authorities would be months

Frustrated, they chose to try to swim to Brownsville, Texas instead. Ramirez and Valeria made it safely across, but when he started to collect his wife, the little girl jumped in to follow. And Tania Vanessa Avalos watched in horror as her husband and daughter were swept away.

The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, Monday, June 24, 2019, after they drowned trying to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas. (Julia Le Duc/The Associated Press)

They are hardly the only would-be migrants to die on America’s doorstep

And there have been many moreclose calls. On Sunday morning, a patrol boat plucked a Honduran father and his 2-year-old child from the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, as they struggled to stay afloat. Since the beginning of October, U.S. border agents have responded to more than 3,300 “rescue emergencies,” with their busy summer season still to come.

Last year, there were 283 reported deaths along the southern U.S. border, the second lowest number in a decade

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol haven’t released any stats for the current fiscal year, but the trend doesn’t look promising. A local coroner in Arizona, reports that the bodies of 58 border crosserswere found in the desert between the beginning of January and the end of May. 

Weather has played a part. There’s the usual desert heat. And an unusually snowy winter, and wet spring in the Rockies, that has the waters of the 3,058 kilometre Rio Grande at their highest levels since 1985

But in the wake of the searing photo of Ramirez and his daughter, the focus is firmly on the Trump administration policies that have more migrants following dangerous routes to the United States — on pool floats through alligator filled waters, for example — with sometimes deadly consequences

Trump is responsible for these deaths,” former Texas Congressman and would be Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourkeposted on his Facebook account last night. “As his administration refuses to follow our laws—preventing refugees from presenting themselves for asylum at our ports of entry—they cause families to cross between ports, ensuring greater suffering and death. At the expense of our humanity, not to the benefit of our safety.”

More people — many of them of seeking to escape violence and poverty in Central America — have been arriving at the U.S border over the past couple of years, with arrests hitting a 13-year high of 144,000 in May. But the numbers remain far below their early 2000s peak, and many of the difficulties have arisen from Trump’s desire to detain those who cross for much longer periods, and an unprecedented flood of families and unaccompanied children

Attempts to help migrants are also being actively discouraged by authorities. Earlier this month, Scott Warren, a volunteer with an Arizona group called No More Deaths, was put on trial for allegedly helping two illegal migrants enter the U.S. The charge of harbouring and conspiracy to transport carried a sentence of up to 20 years in jail, but were dismissed after the jury failed to reach a verdict.

It’s possible that one photo will move hearts and change minds

As in the way that the images of the lifeless body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi lying on a Turkish beach in the fall of 2015, raised worldwide concern for the plight of Syrian refugees, and spurred some governments into action

But even that shock wasn’t lasting.

So far this year, at least 597 migrants have drownedwhile trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe’s shores.

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A note to readers

After close to 380 editions and 12 million email deliveries, this is my final week of National Today newsletters as I’m moving on to some other writing opportunities at CBC News.

I want to thank you all for subscribing and reading, and for all the feedback that you’ve sent my way over the past 20 months.

The National Today is going to take a break for the summer and then return in September, refreshed and revitalized under new management.

Please keep reading.

Searching for answers

Senior correspondent Susan Ormiston and producer Sylvia Thomson were on the ground in Ethiopia to cover the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March. Months later, Thomson writes, families are still looking for answers and accountability. 

It’s been almost four months since Ethiopian Airlines 302 crashed and killed all 157 people on board.

Canada lost heavily; more died from this country than from any other except Kenya – 18 Canadians and at least four more permanent residents. 

Paul Njoroge’s wife, three kids and mother-in-law all died in that crash. 

Paul Njoroge, who lost his wife, three kids and mother-in-law in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, says his family’s remains have still not been identified months after the crash and he will never be the same. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

“It’s not well with me. It will never be well me for the rest of my life,” Njoroge said when we met him in Toronto’s High Park last week.

“They’ve not been able to identify my children,” he said. “They’ve not been able to identify my wife yet.”

Another Canadian, 47-year-old Chunming (Jack) Wang, died on his way to Kenya to organize some final paperwork for his Canadian citizenship.

Four other young Canadians, including Danielle Moore, were young delegates to a UN environmental conference in Nairobi. 

The pain is still so fresh with Moore’s mother Clariss, that the very first interview question brought her to tears as she answered.  

“It’s a struggle,” Clariss Moore said from her home in Scarborough. “I think because Danielle’s always away and you keep hoping that she can come back.”

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 victim Danielle Moore’s father Chris Moore, mother Clariss Moore, and younger brother David Moore, at their home in Scarborough. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

“I feel guilty breathing because she’s not breathing. And you just wonder what that six minute looked like,” she said, referring to the six minutes the flight was in the air before it crashed.

“Was she with someone? Was she calling me? Was she thinking of me?” 

Six of the  families from Canada have now joined legal action against Boeing, the company that makes the Max 8 aircraft, and against the FAA, the U.S. agency which oversees certification. 

U.S. lawyers allege Boeing was negligent and are pursuing wrongful death claims. The case against Boeing is in a U.S. federal court Thursday in Chicago. 

Boeing’s 737 Max 8 aircraft are still grounded around the world but Boeing did negotiate a tentative contract for more Max series planes at the Paris air show in June, the first intent to purchase Max series aircraft since airlines around the world grounded the Max 8 last March. 

Perhaps lost in these news headlines is the personal toll still, the long grieving. So many Canadian families still haven’t heard whether their loved ones’ remains have been identified or DNA-matched, all these months later. 

So many families here, waiting for final burial and funeral ceremonies, and waiting to see if anyone will be held responsible for the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.

  • WATCH: Susan Ormiston speaks with three Canadian families suing Boeing over the Ethiopian Airlines crash tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online.

Youth ER visits on the rise

Researchers have found an increase of ER visits and self-harm cases among youth, and as CBC News Health Reporter Christine Birak writes, the numbers also highlight a change in society. 

When we called Dr. Chris Wilkes to discuss a dramatic increase in the number of kids showing up in emergency rooms with mental health problems, the teen psychiatrist said something about social and emotional maturity that caught our attention.

“The new 18, is now 28.”

In other words, when compared to previous generations, “kids these days” are taking an extra 10 years to mature.

A new analysis suggests that increased smartphone use could be one factor contributing to a rise in self harm and ER visits among teens. (File/Associated Press)

It smacked of “in my day” but it seems, no one over 28 objects to this observation.

It’s true, people are taking longer than ever to “grow up” and mentally mature.

Research shows teens are delaying things like dating, sex, drinking, getting a job or even a driver’s license.

Keep in mind, it also means fewer teen pregnancies, fewer kids binge drinking and fewer fatalities on the roads.

But as Dr. Wilkes points out, consider what they’re doing instead.  

“They spend a lot of time on smartphones,” he says.

The Canadian Pediatric Society says, 20 per cent of high school students are logging more than five hours a day on social media alone.

The more time kids spend staring at screens, the less time they spend interacting with people, and that’s likely delaying social and emotional maturation, Wilkes adds. 

Stunted maturity – add that to the list of how smartphones may be affecting children. We already know when kids get less exercise and less sleep, it harms their mental health.

Another reason why kids might not be growing up as quickly as they used to? 

Maybe they don’t have to.  

Families are smaller than they used to be, couples are waiting longer to have their first child and parents are more financially stable. 

It all raises another important question — is slower development toward adulthood a bad thing?

The short answer is, we don’t know. 

Researchers can only tell us that it’s happening.

  • WATCH: Christine Birak’s story on the increase in ER visits and self-harm cases involving youth tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online.

A few words on…

Parking problems.

Quote of the moment

“When somebody is sick enough to resort to spitting on someone, it just emphasizes a sickness and desperation and the fact that we’re winning.”

Eric Trump, the son of the U.S. president, tells Breitbart News that an employee of a Chicago cocktail lounge was taken into custody by the Secret Service after she spit on him Tuesday night.

What The National is reading

  • China considering halting all Canadian meat imports over fake vet certificates (CBC)
  • Iran ‘won’t be alone’ if U.S. attacks, Russain official says (Moscow Times)
  • As coal fades, natural gas becomes the climate battleground (NYTimes)
  • Denmark’s youngest prime minister to lead new, leftist government (Guardian)
  • Twitter banning political ads in Canada until election campaign (CBC)
  • Migrant rescue boat enters Italian waters, defying government ban (Reuters)
  • Claiming to be Cherokee, contractors with white ancestry got $ 300 million (LATimes)
  • When Pepsi had the world’s 6th largest navy (Hidden History)

Today in history

June 26, 1997: Rael says cloning holds secret of eternal life

You would have thought that heading up a free-love, free-sex space cult and being a race car driver would have been enough to keep Rael busy, but the Quebec-based guru had another passion — cloning. The aliens, he claimed, had taught him the secret of eternal life and Raelian scientists were working to put it into action. In fact, four-and-a-half years after this interview, the group held a Florida media conference to announce that they had indeed cloned a human baby girl, genetically identical to her mother. Seventeen years later the world is still waiting for proof.

CBC reporter Mark Kelley investigates the claim by Rael that human cloning is possible. 3:02

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U.S. government moves migrant kids after poor conditions exposed

The U.S. government has removed most of the children from a remote Border Patrol station in Texas following reports that more than 300 kids were detained there and caring for each other with inadequate food, water and sanitation.

Just 30 children remained at the facility near El Paso Monday, said Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar after her office was briefed on the situation by an official with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Attorneys who visited the Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, last week said older children were trying to take care of infants and toddlers, The Associated Press first reported Thursday.

They described a four-year-old with matted hair who had gone without a shower for days, and hungry, inconsolable children struggling to soothe one another. Some had been locked for three weeks inside the facility, where 15 children were sick with the flu and another 10 were in medical quarantine.

“How is it possible that you both were unaware of the inhumane conditions for children, especially tender-age children, at the Clint Station?” asked Escobar in a letter sent Friday to U.S. Customs and Border Protection acting commissioner John Sanders and U.S. Border Patrol chief Carla Provost.

She asked to be informed by the end of this week what steps they’re taking to end “these humanitarian abuses.”

Lawmakers from both parties decried the situation last week.

Border Patrol officials have not responded to Associated Press questions about the conditions at the Clint facility, but in an emailed statement Monday, they said: “Our short-term holding facilities were not designed to hold vulnerable populations and we urgently need additional humanitarian funding to manage this crisis.”

‘Very, very cold’

Although it’s unclear where all the children held at Clint have been moved, Escobar said some were sent to another facility on the north side of El Paso called Border Patrol Station 1. Escobar said it’s a temporary site with roll-out mattresses, showers, medical facilities and air conditioning.

But Clara Long, an attorney who interviewed children at Border Patrol Station 1 last week, said conditions were not necessarily better there.

This still image from video shows the entrance of the U.S. Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas. U.S. Customs and Border Protection told a Texas congresswoman on Monday that the agency is removing children from the patrol station following reports that children locked inside were in a perilous situation. (Cedar Attanasio/The Associated Press)

“One boy I spoke with said his family didn’t get mattresses or blankets for the first two nights, and he and his mom came down with a fever,” said Long, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. “He said there were no toothbrushes, and it was very, very cold.”

Long and a group of lawyers inspected the facilities because they are involved in the Flores settlement, a 1997 legal agreement that governs the treatment of migrant children and families in U.S. government custody. The lawyers negotiated access to the facility with officials, and say Border Patrol knew the dates of their visit three weeks in advance.

Last week, a U.S. Justice Department lawyer argued the long-standing settlement agreement was vague about what is required to determine a facility is safe and sanitary. Sarah Fabian told an incredulous three-judge panel at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that the agreement requiring sanitary conditions for detained immigrant children may not necessarily mean a toothbrush and soap must be provided for shorter stays. 

“It’s within everybody’s common understanding that, you know, if you don’t have a toothbrush, if you don’t have soap, if you don’t have a blanket, it’s not safe and sanitary. Wouldn’t everybody agree to that? Do you agree with that?” said Judge Atsushi Wallace Tashima. “You mean there’s circumstances when a person doesn’t need to have a toothbrush, toothpaste and soap for days?”

Children who were interviewed described sleeping on concrete floors in cold, crowded rooms with the lights on all night.

“No one would argue that this is secure and sanitary, safe and sanitary — at least I don’t think you’re arguing that, are you?” Judge William A. Fletcher said to Fabian.

Following the arguments, the judges said the matter was “submitted for decision.”

Government rules call for children to be held by the Border Patrol in their short-term stations for no longer than 72 hours before they are transferred to the custody of Health and Human Services, which houses migrant young people in facilities around the country through its Office of Refugee Resettlement. Customs and Border Protection referred Associated Press questions Sunday to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which did not immediately respond.

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