Bees bring healing to Senegalese

It’s hard to imagine bees bringing people together, but that’s what’s happening in the Casamance region of Senegal, thanks to a Catholic Relief Services project.

The area had been wracked by violence, killing up to 6,000 civilians and displacing 60,000 more. And in the two years since the violence tapered off, conflicts between and within villages continued, with a CRS assessment showing that 81 percent of them are caused by poor management of scarce natural resources.

Enter SCOPE — Strengthening Community Opportunities for Peace and Equality — a project between CRS and the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation, which shows people how to resolve conflicts and also to better manage the natural resources that are usually at the heart of those conflicts.

SCOPE is using a beekeeping project to show how working together results in more honey — and money — for everyone.

Beekeeping is not new in Senegal, but with few resources, the traditional methods produced less honey and it was of lower quality.

. . . About two cups of honey used to sell for $2, but with the training and equipment provided by CRS, beekeepers can now sell the same amount for as much as $6.50.

The profits don't go only to the beekeepers, but to the entire community.

The first priority for the money is schools, since it is an inter-village project, and some is also reinvested in the project to keep it going.

“Five years ago in this area, everyone was displaced because of conflict. The area was insecure,” says Imam Aliou Badara Biaye. “Now, people have returned. We’re working towards a sense of peace, not conflict.”

Checking up on government detention

The Latin Post recently had a story about the National Immigrant Justice Center’s four-year effort to get government documents on detaining immigrants.

This is not the family detention that has been in the news lately or the detention of unaccompanied minors, but the detention of people who are found to be in the United States illegally and are detained — jailed, advocates say — while they await deportation proceedings.

On an average day, the federal government has more than 30,000 detainees in this system — a system that is mostly a network of local government and private jails contracted to provide beds for federal inmates.

But when NIJC wanted information on the system — the contracts, the minimum standards, etc. — it took four years, a federal lawsuit, depositions of immigration officials and a court order to get it. So much for the government transparency President Obama promised.

Now, the NIJC has begun issuing reports on what it found, as well as putting the documents online.

What it found wasn’t pretty.

NIJC says the documents show the government is running “a failed system” lacking in accountability while contractors make a profit off human misery.

How much money is at stake here? When I was a daily newspaper reporter in McHenry County, Illinois, the county was not only able to expand the size of its jail dramatically to house federal detainees and make a guaranteed profit whether the beds were used or not (they’re always full), but there wasn’t even any risk to do so: A federal grant paid for the expansion project, meaning all county officials had to do was sign a contract and start collecting federal payments.

The Latin Post story says the NIJC found a lack of uniformity in how the contracts were created and implemented, and that 45 of them are for “indefinite” periods and have outdated standards.

Job openings: Immigration judges

Detainees often languish for months or years in these jails because there is such a backlog of immigration cases. The system was already far overloaded because of a lack of immigration judges, and then was stressed even further by the tide of refugees seeking asylum from Central America.

The situation could get even worse, The Los Angeles Times reports: More than half of the nation’s 247 immigration judges are eligible to retire before Sept. 30.

The U.S. attorney general has already started “an aggressive hiring process,” officials say, hiring 18 judges, with five more starting this fiscal year, and plans to hire an additional 67, she said. Last fiscal year, about 100 judges were eligible to retire, but only 13 did, the story says.

But as working conditions get worse (more stressful), more retirements should be expected:

Though other kinds of judges usually handle 500 cases a year, immigration judges typically handle more than 1,400, and some juggle more than 3,000, according to the Immigration Policy Center.

Immigration judges face a backlog of more than 450,000 cases that has more than doubled during the last decade, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. During that time, the number of judges increased about 20% and the average wait time increased 65%. The longest average wait this year: Denver, 877 days.

So why do judges continue to serve when they could retire? One retiree says they find the work rewarding, and want to make the system work as well as they can.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]

Celebrating Award-Winning Content: GSR recently earned seven awards for editorial excellence from the Associated Church Press.