TIME Mexico

Mexico Says Mine Firm Lied About Chemical Spill

Buenavista del Cobre copper mine could face fines of up to $3 million for violations of safety and environmental standards

(MEXICO CITY) — Mexico’s top environmental official said Tuesday that a mining company lied about a spill of millions of gallons of acids and heavy metals that contaminated two rivers and a dam downstream.

Environment Secretary Juan Jose Guerra Abud said the mine falsely claimed the spill earlier this month was caused by unusually heavy rain. Officials say a construction defect at a holding pond allowed mining waste to flow out.

“At the start, they told us it was excessive rain” that caused the containment pond to overflow, Guerra Abud said. “That was totally false,” he said, saying there were no rains on that scale.

“They said there would be a series of aid programs for the populations, which also did not happen when they said they would,” he added at a news conference.

Guerra Abud said the Buenavista del Cobre copper mine could face fines of up to $3 million for violations of safety and environmental standards. The mine is owned by the Grupo Mexico consortium, which earlier said in a statement that “torrential and unusual rains” were to blame and that it responded immediately by trying to contain the Aug. 7 spill.

The spill sent about 10 million gallons (40,000 cubic meters) of mining acids into two rivers and on to a dam that supplies water to the capital of the northern state of Sonora.

Authorities have ordered a shut-off of water use from the dam until its safety can be ensured. The Environment Department office has also ordered an inspection of all Buenavista del Cobre’s properties to verify the company is complying with environmental laws.

National water commission head David Korenfeld said acids and pollutants like arsenic have been so diluted they are now within acceptable limits at the dam. A decision to renew use of the dam’s water could come as early as Friday, after multiple tests are carried out, he said.

But Korenfeld said the dam would have to raise intake levels for years to avoid stirring up possibly contaminated sediment. “The procedures for operating the dam are going to have to change for the next few years,” he said.

The mine piles up crushed rock and then leaches out metals using acid that collects in containment or transfer ponds until it is processed.

Arturo Rodriguez, the head of industrial inspection for the Attorney General for Environmental Protection, said lax supervision at the mine, along with some rain and construction defects, appeared to have caused the spill. Rodriguez said mine operators should have been able to detect the leak before such a large quantity got into the rivers.

TIME Mexico

Strong Quake Shakes Mexico’s Gulf Coast

(MEXICO CITY) — A strong earthquake shook much of eastern Mexico on Tuesday, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injury.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.3 quake was centered in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, about 260 miles (418 kilometers) east-southeast of Mexico City. The epicenter was relatively deep, 59 miles (95 kilometers) below the surface.

State Gov. Javier Duarte issued a Twitter post saying there were no reports of damage yet, though local news media said the 5:46 a.m. (6:46 a.m. EDT; 1046 GMT) quake was felt strongly.

It rocked buildings at least as far away as Mexico City.

TIME Immigration

Migrant Girls Share Haunting Stories About Why They Fled

Central American Female Immigrants
Central American immigrants await transportation to a U.S. Border Patrol processing center on July 24, 2014 near Mission, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

A recent UN report gives haunting accounts from some of the girls who fled

The number of young girls captured at the US-Mexico border has increased by 77 percent this year, according to Pew Research Center analysis released Friday.

The number of girls under the age of 18 apprehended at the border this fiscal year was 13,008 compared to last year’s 7,339, according to Pew. The number of boys under 18 apprehended is still much higher at 33,924, but that represents only an 8% increase from 2013.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released a report earlier this year that included haunting accounts from some of the young girls apprehended, in an analysis of 404 children from Mexico and Central America who had been detained at the border.

“The head of the gang that controlled her neighborhood wanted Josefina to be his girlfriend and threatened to kidnap her or to kill one of her family members if she didn’t comply,” the report writes, of one 16-year-old from El Salvador. “Josefina knew another girl from her community who had become the girlfriend of a gang member and had been forced to have sex with all the gang members.”

Two-thirds of the children from El Salvador, both male and female, reported threats of violence from organized crime as one reason for fleeing. “One of [the gang members] ‘liked’ me. Another gang member told my uncle that he should get me out of there because the guy who liked me was going to do me harm,” said 15-year-old Maritza. “In El Salvador they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags. My uncle told me it wasn’t safe for me to stay there.”

Other girls reported domestic violence as a reason for leaving. Lucia, a 16-year-old from Guatemala, escaped her abusive grandmother’s home only to move in with an abusive boyfriend. “He beat me almost every day,” Lucia said. “I stayed with him for four months. I left because he tried to kill me by strangling me. I left that same day.”

The increasing numbers of children from Mexico and Central America seeking refuge in the United States has prompted a legislative battle in Washington. It remains unresolved.

TIME Immigration

Obama Weighing Refugee Status for Honduran Child Migrants

U.S. Agents Take Undocumented Immigrants Into Custody Near Tex-Mex Border
Immigrant Melida Patricio Castro from Honduras shows a birth certificate for her daughter Maria Celeste, 2, to a U.S. Border Patrol agent near the U.S.-Mexico border near Mission, Texas on July 24, 2014. John Moore—Getty Images

Administration believes it could be done by executive order

The Obama administration is considering granting refugee status to young Hondurans as part of a plan stem the tide of unaccompanied Central American child migrants flooding illegally across the U.S.-Mexico border, White House officials reportedly said Thursday.

Under the plan youths would be interviewed in Honduras to determine if they qualify for refugee status in the United States, CBS News reports. Administration officials told the New York Times they believed the move could be done by executive action, and without going through Congress, if it did not increase the overall number of refugees to the U.S.

The proposal is reportedly one of a broader group of potential initiatives to address the crisis.

After Speaker John Boehner said that the GOP-controlled House would not allow a vote on comprehensive immigration reform this year, the President announced that he was prepared “to do what Congress refuses to do, and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.”

More than 16,000 unaccompanied Honduran children and 30,000 Hondurans traveling as families have been apprehended attempting to cross into the United States from Mexico illegally since October 1.

Juan Orlando Hernández, the President of Honduras, blames the crisis on a combination of factors, including lack of opportunity inside the country and drug cartels and street gangs enriched by narcotics trafficking who sow havoc through much of the country. Honduras has the highest murder rate of any country in the world.

President Obama was due to meet with Hernandez, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and El Salvadorean President Salvador Sanchez Ceren on Friday to discuss the high numbers of young immigrants crossing the border illegally.

TIME Immigration

Photographer Captures Birds-Eye View of Border Crisis

From a helicopter, photographer John Moore offers a glimpse of the U.S. border and those who work to patrol it

Flying above the southern tip of Texas in a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol chopper, photographer John Moore has witnessed the humanitarian crisis firsthand.

Since October, over 57,000 children have crossed America’s southern border illegally. Arrests have more than doubled in the Rio Grande Valley since 2011, according to a University of Texas at El Paso report published in March. Children 12 years of age and under are the fastest growing group of unaccompanied minors, according to Pew. And while the numbers have slowed recently—the White House said Monday that 150 children were apprehended per day in the first two weeks of July, compared to 355 per day in June—immigrants are streaming over in numbers that are rocking the Obama Administration and straining its resources.

Two departments in charge of arresting and removing immigrants who are in the country illegally—Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection—will go broke by mid-September, according to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which temporarily houses such children, doesn’t have enough beds. A few weeks ago, Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion to address the crisis; the Democratic-controlled Senate offered only $2.7 billion Wednesday and the House around $1.5 billion. But money isn’t the only problem. How to screen and process the children remains a major sticking point, and it’s looking like Congress will not pass a bill before members leave for the August recess.

Moore’s photographs—the shadows cast by the tall, rusty border fence; agents on the chase; one blue jean-clad immigrant handcuffed in a field of shrubs and sand; a gaggle of children walking before taken into custody; a patrol boat—focus on Ground Zero of the tragedy. They were taken on July 21 and 22 in McAllen and near a processing center in Falfurrias, Texas.

TIME Immigration

Immigration Activist Jose Vargas Released From Border Detention

Jose Antonio Vargas Arrest Immigration
Jose Antonio Vargas in handcuffs at the airport in McAllen, Texas, on July 15, 2014 United We Dream/Define American

The Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist turned activist lacks a U.S. visa

Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who became an immigration activist after openly admitting his undocumented status, has been released after he was detained by border-patrol agents at a Texas airport on Tuesday as he attempted to board a flight.

“I’ve been released by Border Patrol,” Vargas said in a statement. “I want to thank everyone who stands by me and the undocumented immigrants of south Texas and across the country. Our daily lives are filled with fear in simple acts such as getting on an airplane to go home to our family.”

A border-patrol spokesperson had earlier confirmed to the Associated Press that Vargas was held after being arrested at the airport in McAllen, Texas, but had no other details.

Vargas, who has a valid Philippine passport but not a U.S. employment visa, announced his undocumented status in a 2011 story in the New York Times Magazine and wrote a cover story for TIME a year later about his experience.

He now travels the country as an activist working to change U.S. immigration laws. On July 10 that work brought him to McAllen, which he visited with a camera crew from his advocacy organization, Define American, to document the shelters housing thousands of unaccompanied children who have fled the escalating violence in their Central American hometowns. Vargas was apparently unaware that the U.S. Border Patrol has a checkpoint set up about 45 minutes outside of the South Texas town.

“I feel stupid. I’ve been traveling around the country, visiting 43 states in like 3 years, and I’ve been flying using my Philippine passport,” Vargas reportedly wrote in a text message sent over the weekend to a Washington Post reporter. “But I’ve never been to the Texas border area. I just figured I could use the passport. But apparently I can’t because border-patrol agents check foreign passports.”

Shortly before his arrest Tuesday, Vargas tweeted that he was attempting to pass through security with a pocket-sized U.S. Constitution and his Philippine passport as his only documentation:

TIME Immigration

Pope Francis: Child Migrants to U.S. Must Be ‘Welcomed and Protected’

Pope Francis waves as he leads his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on July 13, 2014.
Pope Francis waves as he leads his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on July 13, 2014. Tony Gentile—Reuters

Immigrants "continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes" said the pontiff, as the U.S. struggles to deal with a wave of unaccompanied child migrants at its southern border

The Pope has called for tens of thousands of unaccompanied child migrants to be “welcomed and protected” as they attempt to enter the U.S. from Central America and Mexico.

In a letter read Monday at a Vatican conference in Mexico City on human migration and development, Pope Francis said migration “has now become a hallmark of our society and a challenge.”

The Vatican Radio translation continues with the Pope noting: “Many people forced to emigrate suffer, and often die, tragically; many of their rights are violated, they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes.”

The pontiff calls on nations to become more welcoming towards migrants, singling out the increasing numbers of children who migrate alone as deserving special care and attention.

“They are increasing day by day,” the Pope said, in a reference to the rising number of unaccompanied child migrants attempting to cross the U.S. border. “The humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.”

Pope Francis ended the letter by suggesting that the international community should inform migrants about the dangers of their journey and instead promote development in their home countries.

In an accompanying press statement, the Vatican noted since October, the U.S. has detained around 57,000 unaccompanied children, double the number from the same period last year.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 12: Sex Slavery and Objectification of Women

We are desperately in need of a cultural shift in how we think of women.

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

Recently, on my drive home I was listening to Public Radio when I came across a story that just boiled my blood and sunk my heart. It was the story of mostly young and vulnerable women who were kidnapped from Tenancingo, Mexico and forced into sex slavery right here in the United States. It is the single largest source of sex slaves in America according to this report.

The latest studies estimate that there are more than 20.9 million people – mostly girls and women – who are forced into sex slavery worldwide. And, sex trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world today. These statistics can just sound like numbers until we pause and think of the individuals who suffer through this evil. We may not know them by face or name, but they do have faces and they do have names and they really do matter.

The problem of sex trafficking can seem beyond our control, but there are some wonderful organizations out there fighting the good fight everyday that we can support in whatever ways we can to help end this evil. And, as citizens we can demand that our government do more domestically and internationally to further the cause of human freedom. As a nation, abolishment of slavery was and is an important milestone in our history. We now have to go the extra mile to end slavery in all of its illegal forms starting here at home.

I would like to argue that there is something else we can do too – something that requires moral courage, introspection, and ultimately a cultural shift. We can start a movement against the sexual objectification of women. If we are really honest, the shocking evil of sex trafficking is in, some ways, only an extension and the ugliest manifestation of treating women like commodities. From selling cars and clothes to beer and chips and everything in between, we have become quite comfortable with the sexual objectification of women in society. And, somehow as long as a woman consents and is over the random age of 18 or 21, it becomes completely legal to sexually and commercially exploit her.

Sadly, many women – young girls in particular – have internalized a lot of this objectification around them on highway billboards, television and movie screens, and Internet. For it nowadays to be common and culturally acceptable for a young girl to walk around in the mall, for example, with something like “juicy” written across her backside or across her chest is an indication of the serious problem that lies before us.

Needless to say, women are not objects – they are human beings who have souls and intellects and are endowed with God-given dignity that no man or corporation should ever be able to take away from them. Starting with the way we raise our boys and our girls, we are desperately in need of a cultural shift – locally and globally – on how we think of women.

A young man once came to the Prophet Muhammad asking permission to commit fornication with women. The Prophet drew the young man closer to himself, put his hand on his shoulders, and asked, “Would you like this for your sister or your mother or your daughter?” The man immediately replied that he would hate it. The Prophet said, “then, how can I permit you to do this with someone else’s sister, mother, or daughter?”

Ramadan is the month in which we learn to discipline our sexual appetites through the spiritual discipline of fasting. The idea is not sacrifice our appetites completely at the altar of monasticism, but rather to bring our inclinations into conformity with a higher and more ethical way. If people were not slaves to their sexual appetites there would be no industry for sex slavery. And, if people learned to control their sexual glances, there would be far less objectification of women. As with everything else that is good, it all begins with the self.

TIME Immigraiton

Obama’s Texas Trip Sets Stage for Immigration Alamo

Governor Perry, who has been sharply critical of the administration response to a wave of child migrants on the border, declined to meet the president on arrival

+ READ ARTICLE

President Barack Obama travels to Texas Wednesday to raise money for Democratic campaigns in Dallas and Austin, speak about the economy, and meet with community leaders for a discussion about the wave of migrants, many of them children, flooding the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months.

Texas Governor Rick Perry will meet with the President during his visit, but declined an offer to welcome Obama to Texas by meeting him at the airport.

“I appreciate the offer to greet you at Austin-Bergstrom Airport,” Perry wrote in a letter seen by the Austin-American Statesman, “but a quick handshake on the tarmac will not allow for a thoughtful discussion regarding the humanitarian and national security crises enveloping the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. I would instead offer to meet with you at any time during your visit to Texas for a substantive meeting to discuss this critical issue. With the appropriate notice, I am willing to change my schedule to facilitate this request.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday that the President will meet with border officials on his visit to Texas but not tour the border itself, something Governor Perry has repeatedly invited him to do.

TIME Immigration

The Family Fireworks Sellers of South Texas

Around the Fourth of July, a few families near the Mexican border devote their lives to selling sparklers

When it came time to name Nelson Zamora, his paternal Mexican grandmother had just one request: give him a name that sounds American, but is easy to pronounce in Spanish. Like many Americans with roots in Mexico, Nelson and his wife Cynthia Fuentes straddle two worlds, even if they mostly stay on one side of the border.

In Mission, Texas, a small city not far from the southern border where Nelson and Cynthia live, the demarcation between the U.S. and Mexico can seem fluid. Travelers pass back and forth, sometimes legally through a checkpoint and sometimes in the dark of night through the waters of the Rio Grande. Cynthia has seen new arrivals around town, mothers with babies looking dazed and others desperately in need of water. She helps when she can.

Every summer since 1998, Cynthia and Nelson, who were both born in Texas, have operated a stall selling fireworks for the Fourth of July. Fireworks are illegal in the state, except at this time of year and just before New Year’s Eve.

Working on 20 percent commission, the couple can earn as much as $3,000 a season. “We’ve made good money,” says Cynthia. “It’s kept us coming back.”

When they’re not selling fireworks, Cynthia runs a home-based business making and selling piñatas. Nelson drives a forklift for a citrus company, seasonal work that won’t begin again until August. To accommodate their daughter and two grandchildren who’ve come with them to the fireworks stall this year, Cynthia and Nelson built a makeshift camper in the bed of their pickup truck. They are required to stay on site 24 hours a day.

“We brought our AC from the house, the television and the DVD for the kids,” says Cynthia. “It’s fun. We’re all together and we’re talking.”

On July 4th, after the last customers have gone, Cynthia and Nelson will buy some fireworks for themselves, close up the stall and go celebrate American independence as a family.

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