What Just Happened? A Weekly Roundup of Politics

The US Attorney General Bill Barr ruled this week that asylum seekers who cross illegally into the US between ports of entry are ineligible for bond. This means that people who seek asylum in the US will be detained until their hearing. (The current average wait time for an asylum hearing is two years.) This is a reversal of a 2005 decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals which allows for bond. Bonds can range anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000. Under Barr’s new policy, asylum seekers may be released on parole, which ultimately takes power out of the judges’ hands and places it into the hands of ICE.

This is a continuation of the Trump Administration’s strong-arm approach to immigration in an attempt to dissuade thousands of Central Americans from pleading for asylum (though it has hardly worked). Since the media has shown a spotlight on the Administration’s family separation policies the US Border Patrol has documented a 370% increase of families presenting themselves at the border in the last year. Families and unaccompanied minors make up more than half of these people and are an exception to the new rule.

What this means is that detention centers will be even more crowded than they already are… with the main culprits being single males. It seems counterintuitive that the Trump Administration would want to use government funds to care for detainees. With an estimated cost of $49,000 to $73,000 per detainee per year it seems like a lot of taxpayers dollars will go to housing people who would’ve likely gone to live with a relative. When one thinks of how much money is already being spent on the proposed border wall (an estimated $15 to $20 billion), in addition to the amount it costs to detain someone, perhaps it’s important to reevaluate how taxpayer dollars are being spent. With a two-year waiting list just to see a judge, maybe we should be investing in employing more immigration judges to clear the backlog instead of spending $100,000 on each person while they wait to have their day in court in inhumane detention centers.

The story of Sol Pais is still unraveling for many of us, but the deeply disturbed woman was found dead in an apparent suicide at the base of Mount Evans in Colorado on Wednesday. She shot to national attention earlier this week when the Denver school system shut down hundreds of schools in response to her being infatuated with the Columbine shooting and posing as a credible threat to the community on the 20th anniversary of the horrific event. The young woman took a flight from her home in Florida to Denver and purchased a pump action shotgun (the same weapon used by the two students in the original massacre) and ammunition after passing a background test.

While the FBI carried out a massive manhunt to find Pais, the city of Denver came to a standstill, retraumatizing victims of the original massacre and terrifying students and their parents. Every April the Columbine community sees an uptick in threats against the school — a shocking 150 people last month attempted to get into the campus or take photos of it from the parking lot! Many of these people are trauma tourists and are likely harmless, but Pais’s blog offered several details into her intent to hurt herself and potentially others. While authorities are still piecing together her actions and motivations, what seems to be clear is that she went to the woods, hiked through snow, and shot herself far away from other people.

In a lesser-known corner of the world, a community mourns for and is demanding justice for Nusrat Jahan Rafi. Rafi was studying at a madrasa (an Islamic school) in the Feni district of Bangladesh when she reported she was sexually assaulted and harassed by the principal, Md Sirajuddaula. After filing a police report with her family on March 27th, she stayed away from school after protests organized by male classmates erupted, demanding the release of the accused. These protests were organized by two young men, Nuruddin and Shahadat Hossain Shamim, who were paid Tk10,000 (roughly $120) to initiate the demonstrations by the regional Municipality Councillor Maksud Alam.

Upon Rafi’s return to take exams she was tricked into going to the roof after a friend mentioned a classmate was being beaten up. She was then confronted by four students in burkas demanding that she withdraw her accusations of sexual assault against Sirajuddaula. When she refused, she was doused with kerosene and lit on fire. She somehow survived the attack long enough to identify her assailants and offered a recorded statement in the ambulance stating, “The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath.”

After the protests, Nuruddin met Sirajuddaula in prison and received instructions on how to murder Rafi. He was paid Tk500 ($60) by a teacher at the school to set her on fire. While both Nuruddin and Shahadat confessed to the murder in a nine-hour deposition, they implicated 11 others who were directly involved with the murder and cover-up of the principal’s actions. It was known in the region that Sirajuddaula was lecherous, but police and other officials never took action.

Rafi was stabilized at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital after it was declared that 80% of her body had been burned. She passed away on April 10th. Since her death, the nation of Bangladesh has seen powerful protests across the country. Thousands of people showed up to her funeral demanding justice. As with much of the rest of the world, sexual assault and rape go mostly unreported in Bangladesh.

“When a woman tries to get justice for sexual harassment, she has to face a lot of harassment again. The case lingers for years, there is shaming in society, and a lack of willingness from police to properly investigate the allegations,” said Salma Ali, the former director of the Women Lawyers’ Association. “It leads the victim to give up on seeking justice. Ultimately the criminals don’t get punished and they do the same crime again. Others don’t fear to do the same because of such examples.”

We can only hope the outrageous story of Nusrat Jahan Rafi will force the country of Bangladesh to reckon with its current inability to support victims of sexual violence in their quests for justice.

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.  

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