Monday, February 22, 2010

Jardin de Rosas

The Jardín de Rosas is in a quiet corner of the University of Central America’s (UCA) campus. In the back of a two- story office building turned educational center the garden itself is roped off.

The flowers bloom and sway on stems, reaching up and out as if ready to ask you a question.

It is hard to imagine such a tranquil place filled with the six bodies of Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. But the photo albums in the building bellow give witness to the horrors that occurred here 20 years ago.

On the last day of a 10-day trip I took to El Salvador with my school we visited the Jardin de Rosas. For several years Regis University has been sending a delegation of students and faculty to El Salvador to learn about the culture and the impact of the civil war. While we had visited massacre sites and heard the stories of guerrillas that had been detained and tortured by the government, this was by far the hardest and most graphic experience of the trip.

During the civil war in El Salvador (1980-1992) the Jesuits, especially those on the UCA campus, were thought to be safe from the violence of the conflict. The students who attended the school were from affluent families and much of the violence, so common everywhere else in the country, had yet to reach these halls.

But thoughts are a dangerous weapon, more so when you speak them aloud and they become down right lethal when you have an audience. The Jesuits who were killed here taught their students to think critically about the war and the role both sides were playing. Who had the power, who was committing war crimes, who was right and what should they, the people of El Salvador, do about it?

When the army came and killed the priests, they cut open their heads and scattered their brains next to their bodies.

The message was clear- don’t think. Don’t question the government. Don’t speak up.

Looking at these pictures was hard. Very hard. I had heard the story of the Jesuit martyrs before and had created pictures in my head, but nothing can compare to a five by seven color photograph of a man with his head beaten in.

My horror towards the event of that day, and the war itself, it compounded and magnified by the fact that many of the soldiers sent to kill these priests were trained in the United States. Our very own Fort Benning, Georgia is home to a training school for Latin American military where they are taught, among other things, how to use torture and intimidation to control the peoples of their home countries.

Last November I also participated in a school trip to protest this school. I have been there several years in a row now and the experience is always a reminder to be conscious and present to what our government is doing with our tax money. We do not support a school for assassins. When we protest the school, we are also protesting the murder of social activists in Latin American countries. At the school I see one half of a violent equation, that of the military. In El Salvador, I see the other half, the people and places where the combat training is used to wreck havoc.

Finding this connection between a school in the US and a school in El Salvador has got me thinking about our government and our role in the world. I start to ask the same questions that were so important 20 years ago to the 6 Jesuit martyrs, and find they are still relevant today. I ask: who has the power, who is committing war crimes, who is right and what should we, the people of the United States, do about it?

Rose Aspholm is a resident of the Romero House at Regis University. She has been interning for the AFSC since September.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thank you all for Sharing the LOVE!

We’ve received 75 more valentines from folks all over the state!
Ft. Collins, Boulder, Aurora, THANK YOU!
Last week over 100 hundred people gathered at the Aurora Detention Center to make our voices heard…
Love Knows NO Borders, NO Walls!
We sang Volver, Volver and the women & men unjustly detained inside sang back.
You can continue to share the love by making MORE Valentines..
This February CFIR will send each of the 400 immigrant detainees:
One special hand made by YOU Valentine AND a stamped postcard that can be sent to a loved one on Valentine’s day!
Thanks to the beautiful people who made the first 250!
We need 150 MORE thoughtfully crafted Valentines!
A great activity for youth groups, book clubs, etc. Let us know if you need crafting supplies, we can share ours!
Please make 5-10 Valentines & send them to the AFSC:
Valentine c/o Jordan T Garcia
901 W. 14th Ave, Suite #7 Denver, CO 80204
Questions? call 303-623-3464
Also, if you are able to contribute funds to help us buy stamps for detainees, that would be great!
You could write:
Dear Valentine, You are not alone. I hold you in my heart, thoughts and prayers. Love knows no borders or walls and together we can share each other’s strength and
courage. I am with you in spirit on this Valentine’s Day.
No estas sol@. Est@s presente en mi corazón, mis pensamientos y mis oraciones. El amor no reconoce fronteras ni muros. Juntos podemos compartir nuestr@ fuerza y valor. Mi espíritu está contigo en este Día de San Valentín.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Pregnant and Shackled: Hard Labor for Arizona's Immigrants

New America Media, News Feature, Valeria Fernández
PHOENIX, Ariz.— Miriam Mendiola-Martinez, an undocumented immigrant charged with using someone else’s identity to work, gave birth to a boy on Dec. 21 at Maricopa Medical Center. After her C-section, she was shackled for two days to her hospital bed. She was not allowed to nurse her baby. And when guards walked her out of the hospital in shackles, she had no idea what officials had done with her child.

Martinez family Like Mendiola-Martinez, pregnant inmates in Maricopa County Jail are routinely denied bond because they are undocumented immigrants. That means they can’t get out of jail for their childbirth, even if they are awaiting trial for a minor offense.

In some cases, undocumented immigrants are shackled as they are transported to the jail-contracted hospital, and shackled during and after childbirth.

Hospital authorities don't control this practice and medical personnel involved in these cases declined to be interviewed.

All hospitalized inmates are treated in the same manner as Mendiola-Martinez, according to Lt. Brain Lee, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. He said she had a “soft restraint” attached on one leg to her bed to prevent escape.

That soft restraint was a 12-foot-long chain.

“I could barely walk, I don’t think I could have escaped or even dared to run. I don’t think there was a need for them to do that,” said 34-year-old Mendiola-Martinez.

She says she was shackled during the two last months of her pregnancy too. Every time she had a pre-natal appointment, she waited in a small un-ventilated room with 20 other women. She had to sit in the floor. The chains were heavy and hurt her waist. Mendiola-Martinez often wept. She feared that her sadness could hurt the baby.

Unequal Justice

Mendiola’s story would have been different if she hadn’t been undocumented. She would have been released on bond before her baby was born because she had committed a non-violent crime, according to David Black, a criminal defense attorney who took her case pro-bono.

But in November 2006, Arizona voters approved a law that denies undocumented immigrants the right to post bail. Proposition 100 was authored by Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, as a way to keep undocumented immigrants who had been charged with “serious crimes” from being released.

The Arizona legislature included among those accusations minor offenses like possession of false documents, which undocumented immigrants frequently use to obtain employment.

The law, which is unique in the nation, is being challenged in the U.S. District Court of Arizona by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the basis that it violates the Constitution by unjustly denying a select group of people a fair hearing. The lawsuit, however, doesn’t include the cases of pregnant women.

“I think Prop. 100 puts migrant women at a disadvantage and treats them unfairly,” said Bob McWhirter, a senior attorney with the Maricopa Legal Defender’s office.

About 1,500 pregnant women come through the Maricopa County Estrella jail every year. In 2009, 35 of them gave birth while in custody, according to Maricopa Medical Center records. More than 70 percent of the women detained in Maricopa County jails are accused of non-violent crimes and haven’t been sentenced yet. About 11 percent of them are undocumented immigrants. Health and county authorities say they don’t keep records on the immigration status or ethnicity of the women who give birth.

In October 2008, a federal judge ruled that conditions at the Maricopa County Jail, overseen by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, were unconstitutional and jeopardized the health and safety of the prisoners. The judge ordered jail officials to ensure that detainees received proper medical care, medicine and food that complied with federal standards. That same year, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care said the county’s jails did not comply with federal standards due to their failure to submit reports on jail conditions.

More Shackling Cases

Although Mendiola-Martinez’s story is not unique, it is difficult to track how many other women have shared her experience because most of them have been deported. Yet other detainees attest to the poor treatment of pregnant immigrants inside the county jails.

In October 2008, Alma Chacón, an undocumented immigrant arrested during a traffic stop for having outstanding unpaid tickets, delivered her baby in a “forensic restraint,” according to hospital records. Chacón said detention officers shackled her hands and legs during childbirth. She couldn’t nurse or hold her baby until she was released from immigration custody almost 70 days later.

Chacón’s case caught the attention of the federal Department of Justice, which is currently conducting a civil rights investigation into Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office.

The sheriff’s office says it doesn’t have a policy regarding the shackling of pregnant women. Spokesperson Aaron Douglas said they had no intention of changing the practice. But when questioned directly by New America Media about these cases, Arpaio said that everything was done “legally.” Yet, he added, he may consider reviewing the practice.

Still, critics point out that pregnant inmates who have been sentenced to state prison are treated better than inmates who are awaiting their sentencing in Maricopa County jails.

The Arizona Department of Corrections, which oversees state prison inmates, initiated a policy in 2003 that states: “A pregnant women will not be restrained in any manner while in labor, while giving birth, or during the postpartum recovery period.”

In 2008, the Federal Bureau of Prisons barred the shackling of pregnant inmates in federal prisons except when it was necessary for security concerns. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) doesn’t have a specific policy prohibiting their use. But advocates at the Rebecca Project, which is part of a national anti-shackling coalition, said they are in conversation with ICE to put regulations in place.

The practice of shackling women during childbirth is frowned upon by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. They say that shackling women during labor, delivery and post-partum is dangerous to a woman’s health and that of her unborn child.

Maricopa County is not unique in the practice of shackling pregnant women. Only six states in the nation have laws regulating the use of restraints on pregnant inmates: California, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Texas and Vermont.

Advocates are hoping to include Arizona on the list.

Voces por la Vida, a pro-life group in Phoenix directed by Rosie Villegas-Smith, is leading the charge for anti-shackling legislation.

“Undocumented women are the most vulnerable here because they don’t have a right to be released on bond,” she said.

Villegas-Smith says Arizona lawmakers are endangering the health of women and children in the name of fighting illegal immigration.

“I think a distinction has to be made and some humanity brought into Maricopa County laws, to allow [undocumented] nursing mothers and pregnant women to have their children outside of detention,” said Delia Salvatierra, Mendiola’s immigration attorney.

When contacted by New America Media, Rep. Martha Garcia, D-Phoenix, said she would try to introduce a bill to ban the use of shackling.

“My main concern is that women are traumatized by being shackled and what this does to their babies, too,” said the legislator, who is involved in the public health outreach program Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies.

“It makes me really angry that this is happening in the state of Arizona, because I believe the treatment of immigrants is worse here than anywhere else,” Garcia added.

The issue will be hard to push in the Arizona state legislature. Over the last five years, conservative Republicans have supported a series of anti-immigrant laws, aimed at creating a hostile environment in the state to push migrants out.

The most recently enacted law, House Bill 2008, requires state employees to report immigrants who apply for public benefits to ICE. The law, sponsored by Republican leadership as part of a special session budget package, is causing pregnant immigrant women to be afraid of requesting free pre-natal services and health care.

Humanitarian Release

On Dec. 24, the date of her sentencing, Mendiola-Martinez was brought into the courtroom in a wheel chair, her hands and legs shackled.

“It was never my intention to hurt the victim. Please forgive me and let me go back to my children,” she told the judge. She was sentenced to time served and two years of probation. ICE didn’t take her into custody after her release from jail for “humanitarian reasons,” according to Vincent Piccard, a spokesperson for that agency.

Mendiola-Martinez was able to hold her baby again on Christmas Day. She takes joy in being with him and smiles when she watches him sleep. Secretly, though, she searches his face for any sign that her depression in jail might have had a negative effect on him while he was in her womb. Her children are U.S. citizens, but her future in the country where she’s lived for the past 15 years is still uncertain.

“I wish they would change things,” she said of current immigration laws. “Because when they do this to us, they do it to our children.”

Friday, February 5, 2010

Exploring the Root Causes of Migration in El Salvador

I recently participated in a Regis University delegation to El Salvador. We explored the life and legacy of Archbishop Romero, the reality of military rule and support of the U.S. in the devastation and the current reality of an FMLN (former guerrilla forces during the civil war) president and hope for a better future. Woven into all of this was the underlying current of immigration. My trip began with a brief visit with friend and former AFSC colleague Sarah Gill in Atlanta. We visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center and it felt appropriate to start my pilgrimage to El Salvador by paying respects to MLK, a man, like Romero who spoke truth to power and was killed for it.

Below are some musings I wrote while on the trip.

In peace,



From: Gabriela Flora

Sent: Thursday, January 07, 2010 5:10 PM

Subject: Greetings from Suchitoto, El Salvador

Greetings from Suchitoto, El Salvador.

We have been having an amazing trip, learning so much and enjoying the intense exploration of the history and reality of El Salvador and meeting incredible people. The group we are with is wonderful, 6 Romero House Regis students (including Rose who is an intern with us at AFSC) and 6 Regis University faculty/staff and guests (including Jim Walsh, my husband, and myself). Rosa Anaya is our constant accompanier, sharing her own history of her father's murder by the military for his human rights work and her family's carrying on his legacy through their work. Among other things, Rosa does work in the prisons with gang members.

Each day feels like a week, in the good sense that we are learning so much. It is actually hard to believe we have only been here 3 days (plus the day we arrived). We started out at Equipo Maiz, an amazing popular education group going over 500 years of Salvadorian history. We visited Divina Provincia where Romero lived and the church where he was assassinated. A beautiful little old nun showed us around and yesterday we visited his tomb and the church where the military gunned down people attending his funeral. We met with an amazing women's group, where Lucy shared about becoming a guerrilla when she was 15 after experiencing and escaping the massacre near Suchitoto where we now are. In the afternoon, a former FMLN guerrilla, Jonathan, took us to the site where he and 150 other former guerrillas are working to construct the first monument to the FMLN soldiers (there are monuments to civilians but nothing of this scale for FMLN members killed). Jonathan went to the mountains at the age of 12 to join the guerillas after his brother was disappeared. He shared how, after the peace accords he worked with all those who disarmed (FMLN and military) to obtain training and access to services. When I asked him if it was hard to work with the former rank and file military men, he said it was at first, but then he realized they were poor like him and in the same situation (although the former military were given prime land and easier access to credit than former FMLN). Jonathan is now a body guard for Rosa's, our guide, mother who is a supreme court judge.

Today we drove to Suchitoto. We met with the amazing Sister Peggy (she recently game to Regis where we got to meet her) and learned about all her work in creating the Centro de Arte Para la Paz (art center for peace) where young people create all kinds of art as part of a healing process from the war and harshness of life.

Every evening we have reflection where we share how what we are experiencing is impacting us and I need to run off for it now.

love and peace,


Jan. 10, 2010

Since I last wrote much has happened.

In Suchitoto we took a boat to the site of the Copayan massacre accompanied by two members previously from that community. Mercedes happened to be gone the day of the massacre and Rogelio was nine years old when the massacre (now he´s 36). We sat at the site of the former community and Rogelio shared the horrors he experienced and saw when military soldiers (who the U.S. was supporting with arms and training) killed 150 people including all his immediate family. His humble expression of the atrocities was beyond words. Our time at the site ended by holding hands in a circle and praying for peace.

That afternoon we headed to the rural community of Papaturo. There we all stayed with families. Jim and I were hosted by Angelica and her family. The now 80 families of Papaturo were originally from Cabañas were forced to flee to refugee camps in Honduras for 7 years in the 1980s. Life was very difficult in the camps, but the families organized themselves and those skills they learned are seen in the community today. There is an amazing youth leadership that is very rooted in its history. We attempted to go to a vigil with about 18 of the youth leaders from Papaturo in support of the community of Cabañas

that is resisting the gold mining that would destroy their community. Last week the third community organizer against the mines was murdered by death squad-esk murderers likely supported by Pacific Rim gold mining company. I say attempted to go to the vigil, because we drove over two hours and then ended up turning around once we realized we still had an hour and a half to go and we weren´t sure the roads were safe. The bus ride proved a great opportunity to chat with the young leaders. I was blown away by their knowledge and analysis and dedication to working for the good of their community and El Salvador. The end of our bus ride, over 30 of us packed to the gills in a mini bus, we shared songs, switching betwe

en the English and Spanish.

Jim and I woke to the warmth of our hosts and their stories of being refugees, strong organizing and how their hearts ache because they are separated from their daughter and son that are in Miami (two o

f the 2.5 million Salvadorian in the U.S.) helping support the family in a country that has an unemployment rate over 40%.

All for now.

In peace,


January 17, 2009

So we are home from an amazing trip to El Salvador. My memories swirl around the many people we met who graciously shared their story and spirit. Touching just below the surface of most everyone we met, is loss and pain from the civil war years (1980-1992) and yet a strong, determined spirit and so much grace and humility, yes so much grace. From Angelica, our host at the home we stayed at in Papaturo who told of why she and her community had to flee to refugee camps in Honduras. She told of the fear they lived in… how a military soldier chased her when she was 8 months pregnant, how that same soldier later came to her house and demanded to know if she was feeding the guerrillas. “Yes, I feed the guerrillas” she responded. Continuing she said, “and I feed the soldiers too, God said feed the hungry, cloth the naked, house the homeless, he did not say kill and slaughter your neighbor.

Grace…. Damien shared his story of involvement in the guerrilla movement, his capture and

torture. He is now an FMLN diputado (unicameral Legislator). When we asked him about the challenges of working with people who had been on the other side of the conflict, he told of how he is now negotiates on legislation with the man who directed his torture during his second capture. He has chosen to forgive him, while not forgetting what happened.

At the Wall of Remembrance the names of the 70,000 civilians who had been murdered and disappeared are listed on a wall that makes the Vietnam Memorial look small. The 300 massacres listed by the year they took place beginning with 1970 sent a chill down my spine. The Salvadorian people had to fight hard for this important place to name and remember all those kil

led (many who don’t have any other resting place because their bodies were never found), as the right wing ARENA party who was in power until last year did not wish to have a visual memory of the massacres that many party members were behind.

The reality of El Salvador’s colonial exploitation – inequality that led to the war and continues today- and the civil war itself are interwoven with the United States. U.S. business profited from the exploitative relationships and resource extraction and the military was trained at the School of the Americas and funded by the U.S. tax dollars. El Salvador’s contemporary reality continues to be connected to the United States. With an unemployment rate of over 40%, 2.5 million Salvadorians[1] reside in the U.S. and send money home. Remittances make up the largest import and people are the biggest export of a country that still has inequality at pre-war levels.

Nearly every person I spoke with has a relative in the U.S. The U.S. immigration system that c

riminalizes economic refugees painfully keeps family members across borders from seeing each other for countless years. The people I met spoke of how their often da

ily phone conversations keep them connected with their mother, sister, brother or father. Ana, who as a five year old spent months wandering the mountains with her family trying to escape the conflict zone spoke of how her sister who has been in the U.S. for years, asks her to go to their favorite spots in the city and tell her about the sounds and sights she experiences, a

s a

way to connect long distance to her homeland she isn’t able to visit because of her undocumented status in the U.S. .

Experts on migration in El Salvador that I spoke with highlighted that emigration is nothing new for El Salvador. In the 1960s women were the primary migrants. During the war many people fled as political refugees. Experts predicted that once there was no longer an armed conflict that emigration would decrease, but that was not the case as poverty and inequity persisted. Dollarization and a devastating earthquake both in January of 2001 led to an increase in number emigrating, now primarily men although women are also leaving in large numbers. As one expert told me, “Migration is not the problem, it has always been a part of Salvadorian survival strategies, what is a problem is U.S. policy of militarizing the border, criminalizing immigrants and keeping families from being able to see one another.”

Our last day we had dinner with Susana who studied and lived with Salvadorian migrants in Mexico. Her eyes teared up as she described the realities Salvadorians experience in Mexico as they try to get to the U.S. to work to feed their families. I was deeply moved that a woman who had experienced much suffering and struggle during her early life during the war, was still so deeply able to connect to the struggle of others (perhaps this made it even more possible). The war had not hardened her, but rather connected her to the humanity of life. Throughout my time in El Salvador I was inspired by the Salvadorian spirit and bring a piece of it home with me as I return to my work in the U.S. working for immigrant rights.

Gabriela Flora is Project Voice regional organizer for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Denver, Colorado.

[1] El Salvador has a population of 7 million.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Thank you all for Sharing the LOVE last night!

Over 100 hundred people gathered at the Aurora Detention Center last night to make our voices heard…
Love Knows NO Borders, NO Walls!
We sang Volver, Volver and the women & men unjustly detained inside sang back.
You can continue to share the love by making Valentines..

This February CFIR will send each of the 400 immigrant detainees:
One special hand made by YOU Valentine AND a stamped postcard that can be sent to a loved one on Valentine’s day!

Thanks to the beautiful people who made the first 100! We need 300 MORE thoughtfully crafted Valentines!
A great activity for youth groups, book clubs, etc. Let us know if you need crafting supplies, we can share ours!

Please make 5-10 Valentines & send them to the AFSC:
Valentine c/o Jordan T Garcia
901 W. 14th Ave, Suite #7 Denver, CO 80204
Questions? call 303-623-3464
Also, if you are able to contribute funds to help us buy stamps for detainees, that would be great!

You could write:
Dear Valentine, You are not alone. I hold you in my heart, thoughts and prayers. Love knows no borders or walls and together we can share each other’s strength and
courage. I am with you in spirit on this Valentine’s Day.
No estas sol@. Est@s presente en mi corazón, mis pensamientos y mis oraciones. El amor no reconoce fronteras ni muros. Juntos podemos compartir nuestr@ fuerza y valor. Mi espíritu está contigo en este Día de San Valentín.

You could join these groups TONIGHT!
Resist the War on Immigrants - Letter Writing Night for ICE Detainees and Immigrant Rights Political Prisoners
Wednesday February 3rd, 6:30pm-8:00pm
6th Ave. United Church of Christ (6th and Adams) Co-sponsored by El Comite en Defensor del Pueblo and the Denver Anarchist Black Cross
Denver ABC is excited to host its first themed monthly letter writing night side by side with El Comite en Defensor del Pueblo. We are living in a moment of an increasing militarized border, an expanding deportation apparatus of immigrant detention centers and police forces, and a large public segment of fomenting xenophobes. Yet immigrant people, indigenous people who have had the “immigrant” label imposed on them, and their allies are becoming better organized and more militant every day. We are excited to host a night of letter writing to those imprisoned by either being caught within the US’s war on immigration and those fighting back.
Envelopes, prisoner addresses and information, postage, childcare, educational information, and a FREE SPAGHETTI DINNER will all be provided!
Resiste La Guerra Contra Inmigrantes Presos Políticos - Noche de Escribir Correos Para el ICE Detenidos y Los Inmigrantes Presos Políticos
Miércoles 3 de febrero, 6:30 pm-8: 00pm
6 ª avenida. Iglesia Unida de Cristo (6 ª y Adams) Co-patrocinado por El Comite en Defensor del Pueblo y la Cruz Negra Anarquista de Denver
ABC de Denver está muy emocionado de ser anfitrión de su primer grupo temático de escritura de la carta mensual de “side by side” con El Comite en Defensor del Pueblo. Estamos viviendo, en un momento de una frontera militarizada en aumento, la expansión de la deportación aparatos de los centros de detención de inmigrantes y las fuerzas de policía, y un gran segmento de público de fomentar xenófobos. Sin embargo, las personas inmigrantes, indígenas, personas que han tenido los “inmigrantes” etiqueta que se les impone, y sus aliados son cada vez mejor organizada y más militante de todos los días. Estamos poder ser los anfitriones de una noche de la escritura de cartas a las personas encarceladas por cualquier causa que fueron capturados en la guerra de los Estados Unidos sobre la inmigración y los que luchan de nuevo.
Sobres, direcciones de prisioneros y de información, correos, guarderías, de información educativa, y una cena de espagueti GRATIS para todos!