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17 Oct

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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‘Mi casa es su casa’: the American welcoming migrants into her home

At Casa de Paz, Sarah Jackson gives food, shelter, and support to people recently released from a nearby immigrant detention center. Photograph: Chet Strange for the Guardian

Sarah Jackson built a space for newly released detainees to get back on their feet after witnessing their struggles at the border

by in Denver, Colorado

Years ago, Sarah Jackson went on an all-expenses paid trip with her church to learn about immigration at the US-Mexico border. At the time, she knew nothing about why people migrate, and viewed it as an opportunity to indulge her wanderlust with a free vacation.

“I was just living my perfect little life,” said the 34-year-old. “I didn’t know immigrant detention centres existed. I didn’t know about families being separated. I didn’t think there were people who were fleeing danger coming to the United States. It was not even a blip on my radar.”

The people she met on that trip – including a man fleeing Mexico after his pregnant fiancee was killed by a gang and a father with no criminal history who was deported from the US after police pulled him over for driving too slowly in a school zone – had such a profound impact on her that she pledged to dedicate her life to helping migrants.

“Over and over the Bible talks about treating the sojourner or immigrant as one of your own,” she told the Guardian, recalling the desperation of those she met at the border. “That’s not how we treat our own.”

Two years later, Casa de Paz (Spanish for “House of Peace”) was born. The Denver-based not-for-profit helps newly released detainees and their families get their feet back on the ground after months of immigration detention – offering a place to stay as well as food, clothing and transportation. It is also Jackson’s home, and guests are treated like family.

Most of us have a bad impression of America and are not expecting any good from anybody

32-year-old asylum seeker

Every evening, volunteers make the 15-minute drive to the Aurora Ice detention centre to collect those who have been released, either on bond or because they have won their immigration case, and bring them to the Casa.

The two-storey house looks exactly like every other in the tree-lined suburb. At the front door is a mat that reads “home”, with a heart in place of the “o”. Inside, it’s cosy and welcoming, with huge bowls of granola bars and fruit left out on the kitchen counter.

“Everything is ‘mi casa es su casa’,” Jackson said. “If you are hungry, eat. If you are thirsty, drink.”

When the Guardian visited in mid-September, one of the guests, a 32-year-old asylum seeker from central Africa, described his impressions of the Casa after spending seven months in Ice detention.

A welcome mat at Casa de Paz.

A welcome mat at Casa de Paz. Photograph: Chet Strange for the Guardian

“Most of us who have passed through the border and the detention centre have a bad impression of America and are not expecting any good from anybody,” he said, over a bowl of chilli con carne that had been brought round by volunteers.

“You are released into this strange place with no money in a country that has treated you poorly. Then you have this home where there’s free food, clothes, everything,” he added. “It is really amazing.”

Downstairs there are two guest bedrooms – one for men and one for women – with brightly coloured quilts on top of bunk beds. Upstairs there’s a room for families. On each of the 12 beds is a handwritten welcome note from a Casa volunteer, as well as a bag of travel-sized toiletries, a backpack and a towel.

Since guests are released from the detention centre wearing the outfit they were arrested in, the Casa also has closets filled with donated clothes for them to choose from, as well as shoelaces to replace those confiscated at the detention centre as a suicide hazard.

So far, more than 1,400 people from 23 different countries have stayed at the Casa, the vast majority asylum seekers from Central America. They can stay for up to three days although most leave sooner, eager to meet up with family or friends elsewhere in the United States.

Sarah Jackson looks at a map showing where different Casa de Paz residents have come from.

Sarah Jackson looks at a map showing where different Casa de Paz residents have come from. Photograph: Chet Strange for the Guardian

Jackson, who has a day job selling software to churches, came up with an unusual funding model: volleyball. Each season, between 70 and 80 teams of six pay $250 each to participate in the “Volleyball Internacional” league that Jackson, a keen player herself, founded in Denver. All proceeds go towards the Casa’s rent and running expenses.

Zero tolerance, the subject of a major Guardian investigation this week, hit the Casa de Paz hard. Typically guests are happy to be released from detention, but over the summer they would arrive distraught and desperate to track down the children they’d been separated from within a system that wasn’t effectively keeping track of them.

I was just living my perfect little life. I didn’t know about families being separated

Sarah Jackson

“It was extremely difficult to sit with people who were having a nervous breakdown over their missing children,” she added.

She recalls one Salvadoran mother who was trying to find her detained son by giving a physical description to a not-for-profit.

“She was saying, ‘He’s tall, he’s thin. He has dark hair and dark skin. He’s a quiet boy and he’s funny.’ That’s how they were trying to locate these children,” said Jackson.

During those months, the volunteers went into overdrive, raising money to bail parents out, connecting them with attorneys who could help track down their children and buying plane tickets to get them home.

Jackson found the lack of empathy for detainees among some members of her community troubling.

“If your response to hearing that we were putting babies in jail – babies – is to question whether they are here legally, then it’s going to be hard to find any common ground,” she said. “The majority of these people are not criminals. They are coming here to ask for their human right to asylum. They weren’t breaking the law.”

That doesn’t stop anti-immigration trolls from targeting Jackson and the Casa online. She doesn’t have a sign on the outside of the house to avoid any harassment from passersby.

She tries to educate people where she can, inviting them for dinner to meet with the guests. Still, it’s an uphill battle – a member of her church recently told her that a “solution” to immigration would be for the government to put crocodiles in the rivers at the border.

For those not moved by her appeals to Christian values, Jackson also calls on American values.

“It’s important for citizens of this country to understand that our government has had a direct impact on the instability of these countries. In a sense we’ve created a lot of these conditions forcing people to flee,” she said.

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OECD says schemes selling either residency or citizenship threaten efforts to combat tax evasion

View of Monaco

Monaco is one of the countries flagged as operating high-risk schemes which sell either residency or citizenship in the OECD’s report. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

A blacklist of 21 countries whose so-called “golden passport” schemes threaten international efforts to combat tax evasion has been published by the west’s leading economic thinktank.

Three European countries – Malta, Monaco and Cyprus – are among those nations flagged as operating high-risk schemes that sell either residency or citizenship in a report released on Tuesday by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Paris-based body has raised the alarm about the fast-expanding $3bn (£2.3bn) citizenship by investment industry, which has turned nationality into a marketable commodity.

In exchange for donations to a sovereign trust fund, or investments in property or government bonds, foreign nationals can become citizens of countries in which they have never lived. Other schemes, such as that operated by the UK, offer residency in exchange for sizable investments.

The programme operated by Malta is particularly popular because as a European member state its nationals, including those who buy citizenship, can live and work anywhere in the EU. The country has, since 2014, sold citizenship to more than 700 people, most of them from Russia, the former Soviet bloc, China and the Middle East.

But concern is growing among political leaders, law enforcement and intelligence agencies that the schemes are open to abuse by criminals and sanctions-busting business people.

Transparency International and Global Witness, in a joint report published last week, described how the EU had gained nearly 100,000 new residents and 6,000 new citizens in the past decade through poorly managed arrangements that were “shrouded in secrecy”.

Also on the OECD blacklist are a handful of Caribbean nations that pioneered the modern-day methods for the marketing of citizenship. These include Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, and St Kitts and Nevis, which has sold 16,000 passports since relaunching its programme in 2006.

After analysing residence and citizenship schemes operated by 100 countries, the OECD says it is naming those jurisdictions that attract investors by offering low personal tax rates on income from foreign financial assets, while also not requiring an individual to spend a significant amount of time in the country.

Second passports can be misused by those wishing to “hide assets held abroad”, according to the thinktank. Its flagship initiative is a framework for countries to cooperate in the fight against tax evasion by sharing information. Known as the Common Reporting Standard, the framework allows for details of bank accounts an individual might hold abroad to be sent to their home tax office.

The OECD believes the ease with which the wealthiest individuals can obtain another nationality is undermining information sharing. If a UK national declares themselves as Cypriot, for example, information about their offshore bank accounts could be shared with Cyprus instead of Britain’s HM Revenue and Customs.

“Schemes can potentially be abused to misrepresent an individual’s jurisdiction of tax residence,” the OECD warned.
The final names on the list are Bahrain, Colombia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Montserrat, Panama, Qatar, Seychelles, Turks and Caicos Islands, United Arab Emirates and Vanuatu.

Together with the results of the analysis, the OECD is also publishing practical guidance that will enable financial institutions to identify and prevent cases of avoidance through the use of such schemes, by making sure that foreign income is reported to the actual jurisdiction of residence.

Political paintings in traditionally Latino neighborhood celebrate protests and urge justice for victims of police violence

Murals in Clarion Alley were vandalized with ‘Maga’ hats.

Murals in Clarion Alley were vandalized with ‘Maga’ hats. Photograph: Courtesy of Clarion Alley Mural Project

A walk down San Francisco’s Clarion Alley – a narrow passageway connecting the Mission district’s two main thoroughfares whose walls are festooned with dozens of vibrant and political murals – is to enter a time machine into the liberal oasis’s more bohemian past. The public art project, now in its 28th year, has become a staple of walking tours of the onetime Latino neighborhood, a glimpse of the receding progressive soul of a rapidly gentrifying city.

But a rash of political vandalism has left the artists who maintain the alley feeling under attack.

“It really feels like hate crimes,” said Megan Wilson, an artist and the president of the board of the Clarion Alley Mural Project (Camp). “Every time we go to the alley, we are braced for what is going to be next.”

On Friday evening, red-paint wielding vandals left their mark on a number of murals in the alley. “Make America Great Again” hats – icons of Trumpism that are rarely seen in San Francisco – were painted all over a black and white mural featuring protesters with picket signs bearing decidedly anti-Trump slogans: “Families belong together”, “Abolish Ice”, and “Vote him out”.

A mural that read “Justice for Sahleem Tindle”, who was shot and killed by transit police in January, was defaced to read “Justice for Kavanaugh”. A third mural, which depicts the names of a number of black and Latino men killed by police over an inverted American flag – was tagged with the slogan “#FakeNews”.

The “Maga”-themed vandalism on Friday was followed on Saturday by what Wilson said was only the latest in a series of “Zionist attacks” against a series of pro-Palestinian murals that were set to be unveiled on Sunday.

Sahleem Tindle was killed by transit police in January.

Sahleem Tindle was killed by transit police in January. Photograph: Courtesy of Clarion Alley Mural Project

The faces of Arab activists and leaders in one of the new murals, “Arab Liberation Mural”, were scribbled over with black paint. A mural by Wilson supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel (BDS) was also vandalized.

Clarion Alley has served as a community canvas since the 1990s. The murals have long reflected the culture and values of the neighborhood but have become even more pointedly political in the past decade, as rampant gentrification has transformed the Mission district from a largely working-class, Latino neighborhood into a trendy home for tech workers.

A mural with names of a number of black and Latino men killed by police was tagged ‘#FakeNews’.

A mural with names of a number of black and Latino men killed by police was tagged ‘#FakeNews’. Photograph: Courtesy of Clarion Alley Mural Project

“We’ve become committed to being a space that is a voice for marginalized, disenfranchised communities,” Wilson said. “That’s more of our purpose than anything else.”

After the most recent spate of vandalism, volunteers quickly turned out to the alley to clean up the mess in time for the unveiling of the new murals.

“They want to silence us, and they’re not going to,” Wilson said. “Because we are fierce and we don’t back down. If anything, we just get stronger through this.”

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