Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Lead us not into frustration

Compassion | Caravan activist group accused of adding to the misery of migrants
by Alyssa Jackson
Posted 1/09/19, 02:19 pm

As Christmas approached, Guatemala City resident Adelaida Gonzalez, 37, was one of 8,500 migrants waiting at the U.S. border in Tijuana, Mexico. Gonzalez and her 15-year-old son were part of the latest migrant caravan, but she now regrets not staying in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas and taking the work government authorities offered there: “We were never told along the way that it would be this hard.”

As the crisis at the U.S. border exhausts the humanitarian resources of Tijuana, the caravan escort group Pueblo Sin Fronteras (PSF) must respond to criticism that it has other motives than helping people escape poverty and violence.

In 2017, PSF formed the Via Crucis, a ritual march fashioned after the seven Stations of the Cross in Roman Catholic tradition, and helped several hundred migrants head north. “We wanted the governments of Mexico and the United States to acknowledge that there was a refugee crisis and they were turning a blind eye to it,” PSF founder Robert Corona said. Authorities and reporters largely ignored that caravan, but U.S. President Donald Trump drew attention to a larger caravan in 2018, and the media took notice.

For that group of migrants, PSF, with volunteers in the United States and Mexico, helped map out the route, arrange bus transportation, and negotiate with Mexican officials to provide protection. It also raised more than $46,000 online for emergency housing and food. As the caravan crossed Mexico, the organization held nightly assemblies and alerted upcoming towns to prepare for migrants who camped in their squares.

“Pueblo Sin Fronteras cheated the migrants; they told them lies that once they arrived at the border, everything would be very easy,” Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, a Catholic priest and one of Mexico’s most prominent migrant activists, told the Los Angeles Times.

PSF, though, claims migrants freely chose this path.

“They know the wall is very big, and they will not be very welcome in the U.S. by many people … but they still have hope of coming here, that at least their rights will be protected, and they will be able to make a living,” Corona said.

“Our commitment first and foremost was protecting the lives of migrants and giving them as much information as possible,” said Irineo Mujica, another leader of the group. “To blame the people who are helping is crazy.”

In October, Mexican officials arrested Mujica, who has dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship, and charged him with property damage and resisting arrest.

While PSF argues that poverty is driving Central Americans north, Helen Raleigh, a columnist for The Federalist, noted, “For people of these countries, poverty and violence are not something new.” About two-thirds of Hondurans lived in poverty in 2004, and by 2013 that had not changed.

PSF said recent criticism of its motives “put members of the Central American Exodus in grave danger.” About 5,500 members of the recent caravan joined the 3,000 already waiting at the border, where the United States processes 100 asylum applications per day.

Associated Press/Photo by Rich Pedroncelli Associated Press/Photo by Rich Pedroncelli A correctional officer at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Calif., in June

Juvenile justice

Perks of being a child: cheap entry to museums, McDonald’s Happy Meals, ball pits, and now, in the state of California, immunity from criminal charges, thanks to two new laws that went into effect Jan. 1.

One law establishes 12 as the minimum age for prosecuting children in juvenile court except in cases of murder and rape. Like many other states, California previously had no minimum age for prosecution. Other states have minimums ranging from 6 to 12 years old, but the California legislature took the age from standards set by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Under the new law, children under 12 who commit a crime will return to their parents, caregivers, or guardians. If further action is necessary, responsibility now falls to individual counties to direct the children toward school-, health-, or community-based programs with as little intervention as possible.

The other new law removes the possibility of charging children under the age of 16 as adults even in the case of violent offenses. Previously, children ages 14 and 15 could go to adult prison, but they will now serve time in secure juvenile facilities.

Proponents say the laws will promote rehabilitation and reduce incarceration’s negative effects, including abuse, maltreatment, and isolation. Those who opposed the laws fear they will thwart justice when children commit serious crimes.

Others say the bills are unnecessary: The Sacramento Bee reported that Sacramento County tried only three juveniles as adults in 2016. Of the 874 under-12 criminal cases in California a year earlier, only 69 resulted in the equivalent of a guilty verdict. Donny Youngblood, Kern County sheriff and California State Sheriffs’ Association president, told the Bee while the state legislature was considering the changes, “This bill to me seems to be fixing a problem that doesn’t exist.” —Victoria Johnson

Associated Press/Photo by Robert F. Bukaty Associated Press/Photo by Robert F. Bukaty A food stamp program sign at a Topsham, Maine, farmer’s market

The shutdown and SNAP

If the partially closed U.S. government does not resume services soon, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments could run out. SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps, is unusual among the government’s entitlement programs: It is renewed automatically, but Congress must approve funding each year. Last year, Congress approved a $3 billion reserve that could help fund SNAP in a government shutdown. But the program cost $4.7 billion in September alone. Almost 39 million Americans participate in SNAP each month.

A resolution that expired Dec. 21 is funding the program through January, and the reserve will cover a little more than 60 percent of the costs in February. Some experts estimate the United States Department of Agriculture has more funds available and could maintain the program beyond February, though not much longer. The USDA will not say specifically how soon SNAP benefits could run out.

“The best course of action would be for Congress to send a legitimate appropriations bill to the president to end the lapse in funding,” USDA spokesman Tim Murtaugh told Politico. —Charissa Crotts

Associated Press/Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais Associated Press/Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais The website in October

Obamacare: Low expectations, high costs

The Trump administration expected Obamacare enrollment rates to go down this year as low unemployment gave more people better access to job-based healthcare. But statistics emerging after the Dec. 15 deadline for enrollment in 39 states showed a decrease of only 5 percent.

Joshua Peck, former marketer for, celebrated the news. “Once again, demand for comprehensive health coverage wins the day and underscores the resiliency of the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

Costs, though, continue to soar. According to eHealth, the average monthly premium for individual health coverage in the United States increased by 16 percent between the 2017 and 2018 open enrollment periods, from $378 to $440 per month. The average premium for family coverage (two or more people) increased by 17 percent for 2018, from $997 to $1,168 per month. The Obamacare health insurance exchanges began in 2014, and from 2013 to 2018, average individual premiums increased by 123 percent and average family premiums by 174 percent.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., worked in the public hospital system for 25 years and remains critical of Obamacare. An effort he proposed to reduce medical costs under the program failed in the Senate. “Every time I’ve tried to find middle ground it’s been rejected,” he told WORLD’s J.C. Derrick. “States should be able to come up with a better solution for the people in their state.” —A.J.

Alyssa Jackson

Alyssa is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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  • momof 13
    Posted: Sat, 01/12/2019 03:55 pm

    Did I read that correctly...  $1,168!!!! PER MONTH!!! Yikes!! Retirement from the military has been such a blessing!! Our health insurance is less that $300 per year for our entire family of 13! I couldn't imagine how we could afford the higher premiums others are being forced to pay. That is almost as much as most people have to pay for a house payment!