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16 May

A Foreign Perspective, News and Analyses

A Foreign Perspective, News and Analyses

English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.

Recommended:

Irish Examiner>>

France 24>>

Spiegel>>

The Age>>

The Observer>>

New research shows affected areas are losing ice five times faster than in the 1990s, with more than 100m of thickness gone in some places

Thwaites glacier

The Antarctic’s Thwaites glacier. More than 50% of the Pine Island and Thwaites glacier basins have been affected by thinning in the past 25 years. Photograph: PA

Ice losses are rapidly spreading deep into the interior of the Antarctic, new analysis of satellite data shows.

The warming of the Southern Ocean is resulting in glaciers sliding into the sea increasingly rapidly, with ice now being lost five times faster than in the 1990s. The West Antarctic ice sheet was stable in 1992 but up to a quarter of its expanse is now thinning. More than 100 metres of ice thickness has been lost in the worst-hit places.

A complete loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet would drive global sea levels up by about five metres, drowning coastal cities around the world. The current losses are doubling every decade, the scientists said, and sea level rise are now running at the extreme end of projections made just a few years ago.

The research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, compared 800m satellite measurements of ice sheet height from 1992 to 2017 with weather information. This distinguished short-term changes owing to varying snowfall from long-term changes owing to climate.

“From a standing start in the 1990s, thinning has spread inland progressively over the past 25 years – that is rapid in glaciological terms,” said Prof Andy Shepherd, of Leeds University in the UK, who led the study. “The speed of drawing down ice from an ice sheet used to be spoken of in geological timescales, but that has now been replaced by people’s lifetimes.”

He said the thinning of some ice streams had extended 300 miles inland along their 600-mile length. “More than 50% of the Pine Island and Thwaites glacier basins have been affected by thinning in the past 25 years. We are past halfway and that is a worry.”

Researchers already knew that ice was being lost from West Antarctica, but the new work pinpoints where it is happening and how rapidly. This will enable more accurate projections to be made of sea level rises and may aid preparations for these rises.

In the recent past, snow falling on to Antarctica’s glaciers balanced the ice lost as icebergs calved off into the ocean. But now the glaciers are flowing faster than snow can replenish them.

“In parts of Antarctica, the ice sheet has thinned by extraordinary amounts,” Shepherd said.

Separate research published in January found that ice loss from the entire Antarctic continent had increased six-fold since the 1980s, with the biggest losses in the west. The new study indicates West Antarctica has caused 5mm of sea level rise since 1992, consistent with the January study’s findings.

The expansion of the oceans as they warm and the vast melting in Greenland are the main current causes of the rising oceans, but Antarctica is the biggest store of ice. The East Antarctic ice sheet contains enough ice to raise sea levels by about 60 metres. It had been considered stable, but research in December found even this stronghold was showing signs of melting.

Without rapid cuts in the carbon emissions driving global warming, the melting and rising sea level will continue for thousands of years.

“Before we had useful satellite measurements from space, most glaciologists thought the polar ice sheets were pretty isolated from climate change and didn’t change rapidly at all,” Shepherd said. “Now we know that is not true.”

‘People are dying horrible deaths’: the Louisiana town where cancer haunts the streets – video

, , , and Daniel Hollis

Residents of the town on the banks of the Mississippi River have watched as family members and neighbors have been lost to cancer. Official figures show the risk of cancer from toxic air is 50 times higher in Reserve than the national average. Feeling neglected by politicians, they are fighting back against the chemical plant has been emitting chloroprene into the air for half a century

More On Cancer Town:

Cancer Town

A year-long series reporting from Reserve, Louisiana, where the risk of cancer from air toxicity is 50 times the national average for the United States. This series of reports, films and public meetings will ask what residents have to do to win the right to a safe environment for their children

More On The Environment:

Easy prey to the middleman: the immigrants toiling in US fields

‘There can be as many as 10 middlemen between the worker in his community in Mexico and the employer in the US,’ says Lidia Muñoz. Photograph: Milli Legrain/The Guardian

For Mexican farmworkers, seasonal employment in the US is an opportunity to earn more – but those who make the journey can be easily exploited by recruiters

The sun is rising and a line of workers dressed in jeans and hoodies is already snaking its way around the block. A few of them started gathering outside the US consulate building as early as 4am.

Monterrey, the third largest city in Mexico, is a little over 100 miles from the US border, and a hub for farmworkers applying for temporary work visas.

They travel to the US legally, without their families, to pick cucumbers, sweet potatoes, onions and berries. They work for a few months on farms from Michigan to Florida and from California to North Carolina.

Many stay for six to 10 months and then go back home to Mexico – before reapplying year after year.

But the process of getting a seasonal work visa is beset by pitfalls for the farmworkers.

For some, seasonal farm work is an opportunity to earn $11 an hour, more than they would back home. But H-2A visas – as they are known – come at a price. And those who make the journey, who are often desperate to do so, are easy prey to a network of so-called recruiters who are able to exploit them, seeking fees and kickbacks. Working conditions on arrival in the US aren’t always as promised either.

Near the consulate building in Monterrey as the line of workers moves forward, one bursts into song: “Cuando me fui para el norte, me fui para estar mejor. Iba en busca de trabajo. Pero ¡oh! desilusión.” (“When I went up north, I went so I’d be better. I went looking for work. But oh! What a disappointment.”)

‘Don’t mention the fee’

In a tiny office a few blocks from the line of workers waiting to have their picture and fingerprint taken, Melitón Hernández, a labor organizer at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (Floc), the only union that represents farmworkers on both sides of the border, says his “job is to ensure that Mexican workers don’t get charged a cent by recruiters”.

In 2007, Santiago Rafael Cruz, a young union organizer, was murdered at the office in Monterrey, some say, for speaking up against labor recruiters.

Officially union members cannot be charged a recruitment fee. But Hernández admits “there are many interests at stake” and his phone keeps ringing. “This morning I got three calls,” he says. They were all from non-union workers denouncing the fees that they had been charged back in their communities.

“In San Luis Potosí they are charging 17,000 pesos ($900), in Hidalgo 45,000 ($2,400).”

‘Their biggest fear is to lose that visa ... If they talk, they might never get back on the H-2A program again,’ says David Medina.

‘Their biggest fear is to lose that visa … If they talk, they might never get back on the H-2A program again,’ says David Medina. Photograph: Milli Legrain/The GuardianEven though recruitment fees are illegal in the US and Mexico, Hernández believes that about 60% of recruiters charge their workers.

Lack of economic opportunities and the ability to earn more by joining US guest worker programs are a huge incentive for workers to keep quiet. And recruiters make sure their workers are coached before the dreaded consulate interview so as not to mention the fee.

“They are told to be very careful. Their biggest fear is to lose that visa. By the time they get to Monterrey they have already accrued a lot of debt. If they talk, they might never get back on the H-2A program again,” says David Medina at Polaris, an NGO that combats human trafficking.

“If they mention the recruitment fee to the consulate, their visa will be denied,” says a representative from the Centro de Derechos del Migrante, a cross-border migrant rights organization.

Some workers themselves see nothing wrong with paying for a service that will give them the chance to work in the US.

But many take out high-interest loans or sell their possessions to pay for elevated recruitment fees. And labor advocates argue that the program is conducive to exploitation, particularly since fraud is so rampant. Arriving in debt makes workers susceptible to abuse or even forced labor.

Trafficking

Information gathered from 2015 to 2017 by the Polaris Human Trafficking hotline suggests that agriculture has by far the highest number of labor trafficking victims in the US.

“If they are $1,000 in debt on their first day and they are being forced to work in abusive conditions, they still have to pay off their loan,” explains Medina.

The H-2A program ties visa holders to a specific employer. If the pay is not what was promised or conditions are substandard, US law prevents them from finding another employer.

Often the conditions that seasonal workers endure in the US are not as advertised. Recently, a group of 13 migrant farmworkers settled for $75,000 in a labor trafficking case in North Carolina involving a contractor who used her daughter’s name as a front for her business. The workers allege that they were paid less than the $7.25-an-hour minimum wage to work in tobacco and sweet potato fields, failed to be reimbursed for their visa and travel expenses, were threatened with having their passports confiscated and received physical threats for asking for their wages.

‘For every thousand workers who come, there are many who have been defrauded and are invisible,’ says Lidia Muñoz.

For every thousand workers who come, there are many who have been defrauded and are invisible,’ says Lidia Muñoz. Photograph: Milli Legrain/The Guardian

Lidia Muñoz of the Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (Ciesas), who has studied the web of informal social networks that support the H-2A program in Monterrey, blames the system’s “many cracks”.

“For every thousand workers who come, there are many who have been defrauded and are invisible,” she says. “There can be as many as 10 middlemen between the worker in his community in Mexico and the employer in the US.”

And each wants a kickback.

The program, meanwhile, keeps on growing. It has expanded threefold since 2012. Faced with stricter immigration enforcement against undocumented workers who make up most of the labor force in US agriculture, growers are increasingly turning to guest worker programs as a legal way to recruit.

In just one week in March the US consulate in Monterrey handed out some 13,000 work visas. Advocates at the Centro de Derechos del Migrante, which supports Mexico-based migrant workers, are concerned. “If you expand a program without protections, you are expanding an exploitable workforce,” they say.

If they are $1,000 in debt and being forced to work in abusive conditions, they still have to pay off their loan.

David Medina

Fake jobs

Then there are the fees charged for fake jobs. From 2005 to 2018, the Centro de Derechos del Migrante received about 6,500 reports from people who paid an average recruitment fee of more than 9,000 pesos ($500) for a job that didn’t exist, the equivalent of more than three months of an average Mexican salary.

Fake job offers advertised by nonexistent contractors over Facebook are frequent. Adareli Ponce, a domestic worker who dreams of one day going to college to become a radio presenter, was duped three times into paying recruitment fees for jobs that never materialized. Now she volunteers for a local NGO to warn others of existing scams while she waits to hear back about a farm job in Georgia.

Hernández says a flow of victims of fraud constantly seek out his advice in Monterrey. “This week 27 workers from the state of Oaxaca paid a total of 60,000 Mexican pesos. They had been contacted over a year ago about a job in the US. But when they reached Monterrey they were told to return home, that there was nothing for them.” They live 900 miles away.

Experts warn that real contractors can also offer fake jobs. “A recruiter can advertise 500 jobs and really only have 100 vacancies. Some will get a job, others will pay a fee and get no job,” says Muñoz. Discerning between real and fake offers is almost impossible. The system works “like quicksand”, she says.

Lawsuits

And some of the big players in the system have faced legal actions, or are facing them.

CSI Visa Processing is a major player in the sector and has offices throughout Mexico, including Monterrey.

The company appears to be the current iteration of a business, which has operated under a succession of names, and whose origins have been linked to Stan Eury, a North Carolina businessman, a leading figure in the use of H-2A visa workers.

There can be as many as 10 middlemen between the worker in his community in Mexico and the employer in the US.

Lidia Muñoz

In 2015, Eury was among those named in a 67 count indictment for conspiracy, immigration fraud and money laundering issued by a grand jury in North Carolina. Eury later pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to defraud the US government.

Now helmed by Guillermo Mathus, CSI VP provides workers to two of the largest H-2A employers in the US: the North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA) and the Washington Farm Labor Association (WAFLA).

The company is currently being sued in the state of Washington for operating without a license required by state law.

Mathus denies the allegations. “The claims against CSI are baseless,” he wrote in an email to The Guardian. He also sought to disassociate his company, currently, from Eury. “CSI has nothing to do with Stan Eury,” he said.

The claims against CSI are part of a class action lawsuit against Sarbanand Farms, involving some 600 Mexican workers who alleged labour abuses at a blueberry farm.

Getting the visa stamp

The multiplicity of actors with overlapping roles adds to the confusion of an already complex bureaucratic process. “Often workers have no idea who their actual employer is,” says Medina.

“People are going by word of mouth, counting on these people to be who they say they are. That is where a lot of the fraud kicks in,” he says.

As the sun sets on Monterrey, hundreds more workers gather with duffle bags, backpacks and suitcases at a nearby square. They have spent a week in this industrial metropolis and are ready for their onward journey north. They have completed the DS-160 application form, had their picture and fingerprint taken and passed the in-person interview at the consulate. The final step is for their passport to be returned to them, hopefully with an H-2A visa stamp.

One worker chats with a friend as he leans on a statue of a man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Another takes a nap under a tree, while his friend munches on pieces of fruit peppered with chile powder from a paper cone.

Suddenly, an administrator appears carrying dozens of passports. He rallies a group of more than a hundred workers by calling out their names one by one: “Ricardo Martínez …” An arm shoots up to retrieve the passport from the crowd of people.

Ricardo makes his way to the front of the queue, as a bus awaits to take him to Georgia to pick onions.

World Politics

United States

What female state senators had to say about Alabama’s abortion bill – video

Alabama’s new law imposing the strictest restrictions on abortion in the United States was passed by 25 white male Republicans. Minority Democrats introduced a slew of amendments in an attempt to block it. ‘This bill is about control,’ the state senator Linda Coleman-Madison told the bill’s proponents. There are only four women in the Alabama senate

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