Apprehensions At Southern Border Continue To Drop, CBP Says

U.S. Border Patrol boats move along the Rio Grande near an international crossing between the United States and Mexico on March 16. Customs and Border Protection have announced that apprehensions along the southwest border dropped in both February and March, when they usually rise.

John Moore/Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

John Moore/Getty Images

U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that the number of people apprehended along the Southwest border continued to fall in March, after showing a sharp decline in February as well.

The decrease comes at a time of year when apprehensions are usually on the rise.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testified before a Senate committee on Wednesday, and said that since the beginning of the year the CBP has seen a “sharp decline” in apprehensions in the Southwest.

In March, he said, there were fewer than 17,000 people stopped at the border. There were more than 58,000 such apprehensions in December, he says. (These numbers include people apprehended by border patrols, as well as people stopped at a port of entry.)

This is not the first month the Trump administration has reported a decline. Apprehensions dropped to less than 43,000 in January and less than 24,000 in February.

But the change this month is particularly noteworthy because of the timing. Border apprehensions generally show a decline in January, driven at least in part by the weather. However, according to CBP numbers, border arrests in the Southwest usually show a small rise in February, and a marked increase in March.

Customs and Border Patrol data shows apprehensions at the Southwest border dropping this spring, when they usually rise. These numbers include both apprehensions and people denied entry. More details available here.

CBP/Camila Domonoske/NPR

hide caption

toggle caption

CBP/Camila Domonoske/NPR

“This decrease in apprehensions is no accident,” Kelly told the Senate. He credited the efforts of DHS staff along the border and “the support of our leadership in the White House.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement the decrease demonstrated that President Trump’s anti-immigration policy stances are “already showing results.”

Last month, when the decrease in February was announced, NPR’s Wade Goodwyn noted that immigration trends are driven by factors on both sides of the border — and things like the improving economy in Mexico have influenced a recent trend toward fewer apprehensions.

But he also said it’s possible to credit the trend to the Trump administration, even without any widespread deportation or enforcement operations.

“The view is that this is a result of President Trump’s tough talk on illegal immigration and his executive orders beefing up border security and building a wall. And that’s led to a perception in this country and abroad that life for unauthorized immigrants in America could get a lot more unpleasant going forward,” Wade said. “The sources I’ve talked to explained that perception can be a big factor in driving illegal immigration numbers.

“There have been a series of well-publicized raids around the country,” he said, “and I don’t think that it takes a huge leap of faith to surmise that’s what’s driving this dramatic decline.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Civilian Deaths In Mosul Lead U.S. and Iraqi Forces To Change Tactics Against ISIS

A boy in West Mosul on Wednesday in a neighborhood taken by Iraqi forces from ISIS militants.

Felipe Dana/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Felipe Dana/AP

The U.S. and Iraq are changing tactics in the fierce battle against ISIS for the Iraqi city of Mosul, NPR News has learned.

The Iraqi commander coordinating the battle tells NPR the Iraqi military will slow an offensive pushing into the crowded old district of the city to try to minimize civilian casualties. The new tactics will mean fewer U.S. and Iraqi air strikes.

“We agreed among the commanders to not depend on the air strikes because that means we will maybe lose a lot of people,” says Maj. Gen. Najm Abdullah al-Jabouri, head of the Ninevah Operations Command.

More than 100 Iraqi civilians were killed in U.S. air strikes on March 17 in the Mosul Jadidah neighborhood. The Pentagon is investigating whether the air strikes also set off ISIS-laid explosives that contributed to houses collapsing. Jabouri says the military had not realized there were dozens of people sheltering in many of the houses.

Iraqis line up for food distribution on Wednesday in West Mosul.

Felipe Dana/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Felipe Dana/AP

“Because of the shortage of air strikes now we need to make some maneuvers to change our plans,” says Jabouri.

The new plan will also involve repositioning troops to reinforce areas surrounding West Mosul rather than pushing south into the old city. Iraqi forces have entirely surrounded the city leaving ISIS with no escape route. But that plan has also trapped an estimated 400,000 civilians being used by ISIS as human shields. Residents of Mosul say ISIS fighters routinely shoot at anyone trying to leave.

While U.S. and coalition air strikes paved the way for Iraqi forces to retake less densely populated East Mosul, the battle across the river in streets too narrow for armored vehicles requires house-to-house fighting.

“We moved very quickly on the east side of the city but our mission now is very difficult,” says Jabouri. “We have now liberated more than 50 percent of the city and we know very well the people still in the city are suffering a lot because of the shortage of food, water, electricity, everything.”

Along with several thousand civilians killed or injured in the battle for Mosul, the Iraqi military has also suffered heavy losses. US and Iraqi commanders say almost 800 Iraqi forces have been killed and more than 4,000 wounded. As they move further into West Mosul they have encountered more effective ISIS defensive lines.

Jabouri estimates between 700 and 800 ISIS fighters remain in Mosul.

“That’s not very much but the problem is the number of civilians still in the city,” he says. “What use is it to liberate Mosul if you have so many losses.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Trump Picks Strategy To Counter Russia Storyline: Blame Susan Rice

In former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Republicans have found a familiar foe. President Trump has tried to turn attention related to the investigation of Russian meddling in the U.S. election toward her.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Carolyn Kaster/AP

After false starts and odd twists in the White House’s counter-narrative about the potential connections between President Trump’s campaign and Russia’s electoral meddling, the storyline has settled into a familiar arc: It’s all Susan Rice’s fault.

The White House charges that it was Rice who may have abused her power as President Obama’s national security adviser and effectively snooped on Trump’s presidential transition. It was Rice who may have leaked classified details from that surveillance to the press, it alleges. And in doing so, Trump mused on Wednesday, she might have committed a crime.

Now it’s all there: The plot and the villain and the quest for a predicate to drive the story forward. Who will investigate? What’s to be done?

Rice is probably not in any legal trouble, and she denied any improper behavior or leaking any information while working in the White House. But she has been a favorite target for Republicans for years, and bringing her back into the headlines reprises a familiar antagonist they love to hate — a crowd-pleasing Darth Vader cameo in an untested Star Wars spinoff.

Rice, in the Trump construction, may have masterminded a Richard Nixon-like campaign of spying on Obama’s political opponents, one that stretched back years before the presidential transition in which she has been accused.

“I think it’s going to be the biggest story,” Trump told The New York Times on Wednesday, without offering any supporting evidence. “It’s such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time.”

The White House and its allies will try hard for that to be so. And making the story about Rice not only allows the White House to change the subject from what involvement Trump’s campaign aides may have had in the Russian intelligence services’ attempts to influence last year’s election. It also brings along sometime troublemakers who are only too glad to have an old foe back in the arena.

“Americans deserve to know if Pres Obamas National Security Adviser was involved in unmasking Trump transition figures for political purposes,” tweeted South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Rice enemy of many years. “In terms of political manipulation of national security information, Susan Rice — in my view — has done it in the past.”

Graham is the chairman of a Senate subcommittee that oversees the counterintelligence division of the FBI, which is investigating the potential ties between Trump’s camp and Russia. He has called for getting to the bottom of that story — but Rice being back in the mix is apparently too rich for him to pass up.

Graham and his colleagues pilloried Rice following the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, after she appeared on TV in Washington and said the deadly raid had been caused by protests over an incendiary anti-Muslim video. Republicans charged that Obama and his aides lied to protect his campaign-trail claims about having nearly defeated al-Qaida.

The hounding was so intense that Rice asked Obama to withdraw her nomination to become secretary of state following the departure of Hillary Clinton.

Instead, Obama made Rice national security adviser, a job within the executive office of the president and so without need for Senate confirmation. Rice remained a target, however, for conservatives and critics of Obama’s handling of the Syrian civil war — and she also made enemies within the government over what critics called her irresolution and micromanagement.

That may mean she enjoys few defenders from the Obama era or the current administration, although Rice was not reticent this week about firing back on her own.

“I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would,” she said on MSNBC. Rice called herself “shocked” when she saw Trump’s post on Twitter that said Obama had “wiretapped” him — “It wasn’t typical of the way presidents treat their predecessors,” she said.

Trump’s post set in motion a sometimes baffling chain of events as the White House and its allies in Congress tried to make the president’s charge be true. Strictly speaking, it isn’t: FBI Director Jim Comey and the chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee all say there was no “wiretap” of Trump.

But when the dust settled, Republicans did reach ground on which they feel comfortable standing: Trump and his aides apparently were swept up in legal U.S. surveillance of foreign targets during the transition. Some of the names of the Americans involved may have been “unmasked” — revealed within secret channels so senior leaders with the appropriate clearances could see them.

That’s not “wiretapping,” but it’s good enough for government work — and it has uncovered a rich vein for Republicans to mine as they respond to the Russia-meddling storyline.

Majority members on the House and Senate committees could call Rice, or other people from her era, to testify as Democrats seek Trump campaign aides. And Republicans can talk in open hearings, and to reporters, about the Rice-unmasking narrative — not Russian cyberattacks or potential collusion with Trump aides.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Feds Raid Suspected $50M Visa Fraud Ring Near Los Angeles

Federal authorities on Wednesday raided a San Gabriel, Calif., business they say fraudulently used a U.S. visa program to obtain green cards for wealthy Chinese investors.

Richard Vogel/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Richard Vogel/AP

Federal authorities raided a Los Angeles-area business on Wednesday that the FBI suspects of orchestrating a $50 million visa fraud scheme.

Filings in federal court allege that the California Investment Immigration Fund sought money from more than 100 Chinese investors, and in the process helped many of them to obtain U.S. green cards through a visa program called EB-5.

But, says FBI Special Agent Gary Chen in those filings, those projects were never built.

“As a result of the fraudulent scheme, many foreign nationals were able to improperly obtain U.S. green cards through the EB-5 visa program, even though those foreigners did not in fact truly invest in U.S. businesses, nor were new American jobs created,” wrote Chen, according to the Associated Press.

Chen also noted that three of the investors who had gotten green cards were fugitives wanted by the Chinese government.

Some of the money raised was refunded to the investors, while some of it was used to pay for houses for Victoria Chan, an attorney, and her father Tat Chan, who ran the fund, reports the AP.

The company’s website promises “an end-to-end solution for a successful EB-5 Visa process, concluding with a smooth transition into the United States,” and says it “focuses on financing as well as developing commercial or mixed-use real estate.”

The EB-5 program has been around since the 1990s, but its popularity took off in 2009, according to NPR’s Greg Allen. During the financial crisis, many U.S. developers ran out of sources for cash, and the EB-5 program helped meet that need by bringing in foreign investment, Greg reported in 2015:

“Under the EB-5 program, foreigners who invest at least a half-million dollars in a project approved by the federal government qualify for permanent U.S. residency. Each investment must create at least 10 jobs. The program was designed to encourage job creation in rural communities and targeted employment areas, neighborhoods where unemployment is 150 percent above average.”

During Wednesday’s raids, computers, banking records and other documents were targeted by authorities, reported the Los Angeles Times. Investigators “have yet to determine how many of the Chinese investors were complicit or victims in the alleged fraud, how much money ring leaders actually raised and what has happened to the money,” according to the Times.

An FBI spokeswoman said no charges were filed Wednesday and no arrests were expected.

The Government Accountability Office published a study on fraud in the EB-5 program last year, which found that progress had been made in fraud detection, but improvements were still needed.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

The View From Khan Shaykhun: A Syrian Describes The Attack's Aftermath

A survivor of the suspected chemical attack receives treatment at a hospital in Khan Shaykhun on Wednesday.

Cem Genco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Cem Genco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

For Syrian activist Samer al-Hussein, Tuesday morning started much like any other.

“We woke up,” he says, “as usual, to the sounds of warplanes that barely ever leave the skies of Idlib Province.”

He got word from fellow opposition activists that new strikes had targeted a nearby town, Khan Shaykhun. The 28-year-old prepared to leave his wife and sons — a toddler and a newborn — and head to the scene.

As they had many times before, he and other activists planned to document what happened, record the names of the victims and try to get the word out. Six years after they started protesting against President Bashar Assad’s rule, this is what much of their opposition activities have come down to.

Before reaching the town, just a few miles away, it became clear this was no ordinary strike.

Fellow activists in Khan Shaykhun, communicating via walkie-talkie, warned them that the bombs had released chemicals. They heard the word “sarin” — a toxic nerve gas — and pulled over.

“We were afraid of inhaling the smoke. We didn’t want to die, to be honest,” al-Hussein told NPR in a conversation over the WhatsApp messaging app. They waited for about 15 minutes, until they saw the flood of victims being evacuated past them. Then they decided to venture in.

“I saw something I’d never seen in my life,” Hussein said. “Dozens of children, women, men and elderly people lying on the ground, getting hosed down with water, out in the cold. Children trying to breath a gasp of air, with saliva and foam coming out of their mouths and nostrils.”

Hussein wept as he watched first responders succumb to the chemicals themselves. He frantically searched for a ventilator for one of the children, but in those moments when he was looking, he says, “was the difference between life and death.”

He says he saw entire families being pulled from their apartments, lifeless. The strikes came just at daybreak, he said, “before the children would be leaving for school or the parents for work.”

Dumbstruck and with little else to do, Hussein covered victims with blankets, to give them a measure of dignity. They showed no signs of outward wounds or blood.

Bodies are wrapped in blankets after a suspected chemical attack in the town of Khan Shaykhun on Tuesday.

Ammar Abdullah/Reuters

hide caption

toggle caption

Ammar Abdullah/Reuters

The World Health Organization says its partners on the ground counted at least 70 fatalities, people who died of apparent exposure to “highly toxic chemicals.”

Hussein shared a list of names compiled by activists, typed painstakingly in Arabic: 74 victims. Twenty-one were children.

Hundreds of others suffered from the effects of toxic chemicals in the aftermath of the attack. The WHO said area hospitals were unable to handle the flood of victims, and dozens were transported across the border to Turkey — more than 80 miles away — for treatment.

That in itself was an ordeal, activists said, with some of the wounded waiting hours to cross the border.

The WHO said that two area hospitals which should have been able to treat the victims had been “damaged” — one on Tuesday, the day of the attack, as it received victims, and the other on the previous Sunday.

A poison hazard danger sign is seen in the town of Khan Shaykun, Idlib, Syria. At least 70 civilians, including 20 children, were killed in a suspected chemical attack in the town.

Ogun Duru/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Ogun Duru/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Hussein said Russian warplanes were to blame for targeting Khan Shaykhun’s only hospital hours after the initial attack and returning to bomb the town’s civil defense center, from where first responders work.

He had been to the civil defense center just hours before, watching in horror as rescue workers stripped the wounded before they tried to hose off the toxic substance.

“Some of these people, their faces had turned yellow and they had stopped breathing,” said Hussein. “As I’m describing the incident to you now, my hands are shaking. No, my whole body is shaking. We were all shaken by what we saw.”

President Trump has blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces for the attack. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley threatened that the United States could act unilaterally if the Security Council wasn’t willing to take action.

Syria’s military has vehemently denied using chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun or in any previous attack.

For those on the ground, the harsh statements and the denials brought back memories of 2013, when a sarin attack against the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus nearly provoked a U.S. strike. Syria agreed then to give up its chemical weapons stockpile — which it had never admitted possessing — under a U.S.- and Russia-brokered deal.

In the years that followed, allegations of smaller-scale chemical attacks have persisted, mainly involving chlorine — which is not banned because of its hygienic uses. The U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have been tasked jointly to investigate those allegations.

They assessed Syrian government forces used toxic chemicals as weapons on three occasions between 2014 and 2015. (The Islamic State was also identified as using chemical weapons in its attacks, but is not active in Idlib Province).

The U.N.-OPCW mission says it is the process of investigating the new allegations.

Meanwhile, Syria’s conventional war grinds on. On the same day that residents of Khan Shaykhun were suffocating to death, the opposition-leaning Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported that 34 people, most of them women and children, were killed in airstrikes elsewhere in Idlib Province, while rebel factions, led by a former al-Qaida affiliate, pressed an offensive against government-held areas of neighboring Hama Province and shelled two isolated, pro-government villages in Idlib.

Syrian government forces are in a better position than they’ve been in years, seizing back territory with help from powerful allies, Iran and Russia. Rebels have been pushed into surrender deals from Aleppo to Homs, and opposition fighters have been evacuated with their families and peaceful dissidents to northern, rebel-held territory. But that territory, dominated by hard-line rebels, offers little freedom or security to civilians.

Hussein says Syria needs a durable accord between all parties.

“At the end of the day, as Syrian people, we have lost a lot,” he says. “We’ve lost our children, our women, our country as a whole. It’s something hard to put into words.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

PHOTOS: The Many Possible Shapes Of Trump's Border Wall

By the time bidding closed Tuesday, there was no lack of companies competing to build the wall President Trump has proposed for the border between the U.S. and Mexico. In fact, by The Associated Press’ count, upwards of 200 organizations had expressed interest in designing and building it for Customs and Border Protection.

Despite their common goal, the companies submitting bids have followed some radically different paths in their approach.

Among the submissions are walls with solar panels, wire mesh and sloped, slippery surfaces. There are even walls that are no walls at all — statements standing instead as protests of a policy that from the start has drawn a lot of resistance.

As NPR’s Richard Gonzales reports, the CBP plans to announce the finalists for the contract in June, at which point the companies still in the running would be expected to build a prototype roughly 30 feet long and anywhere from18 to 30 feet tall. The AP notes the prototypes are expected to cost about $200,000 to $500,000 each; estimates for the cost of the wall covering the 2,000-mile border, however, range up to $38 billion.

Here’s a glimpse of just a few of the designs vying to stand between the U.S. and Mexico, complete with renderings and explanations of how they could take shape.


The WireWall

The WireWall fence now in place in California on the border with Mexico. Riverdale Mills says the fence is produced using the same manufacturing process as its “marquee marine wire mesh” designed for lobster traps used in New England.


Courtesy of Riverdale Mills
hide caption

toggle caption


Courtesy of Riverdale Mills

The proposal from Riverdale Mills Corporation employs wire mesh, which is already used along the Mexican border with California and Arizona. Riverdale says the material can be manufactured up to 20 feet tall and installed up to 6 feet below ground, to prevent tunneling.

“The configurations of the wire mesh make it virtually impossible to climb or cut,” Jane Meehan Lanzillo, director of corporate communications for Riverdale, tells NPR in an email.


Solar Panels

This rendering depicts solar panels snaking along the border. Gleason Partners, the company behind the proposal, believes that the energy provided by the panels would offer the U.S. a financial boon.

Gleason Partners via AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Gleason Partners via AP

“I like the wall to be able to pay for itself,” Thomas Gleason, managing partner of Gleason Partners LLC, tells the AP.

The company’s proposal sets solar panels on sections of the wall, generating what it says would be approximately 2.0 megawatts of electricity per hour, according to the wire service.


Maximum-Security Wire Mesh

The Penna Group rendering, which displays two groups on either side watching each other through the mesh.

Courtesy of the Penna Group

hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of the Penna Group

Composed of high-density steel packed into double wire mesh, the Penna Group’s proposed wall takes its cue from maximum security prisons. “Nearly impossible to climb,” it would also be built to withstand pick axes, acetylene torches and other handheld weapons, with the first 12 feet of its 30-foot height packed more densely.

Michael Evangelista-Ysasaga, CEO of the Penna Group, speaks to the aesthetics of the U.S.-facing side of the wall, telling NPR “the wire mesh panels will be emblazoned with the Seal of the United States.”


The Security Curtain Wall

Between its sloped surface and the walkway near the top, the security curtain wall aims to make climbing an impossible task for those seeking to cross the border.


Courtesy of San Diego Project Management
hide caption

toggle caption


Courtesy of San Diego Project Management

With its face pitched at an angle, the proposed wall put forth by San Diego Project Management, PSC, borrows medieval concepts to give to give guards a better view of possible “villains” approaching the wall — and with its walkway toward the top, it gives those guards a place to patrol from a height.

“The surface finish on the south side of the wall is of the same quality as the finish on a smooth floor slab,” Patrick J. Balcazar, principal and managing partner at SDPM, writes in his proposal. “Smooth surface on the glacis [sloped] and [vertical] surfaces make climbing harder, and there are no handholds.”


Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian Construction Company’s wall, here modeled in miniature, would be paneled according to its Tridipanel system.


Courtesy of Hadrian Construction Company
hide caption

toggle caption


Courtesy of Hadrian Construction Company

It’s impossible to avoid: For a man bidding to build a massive wall, Rod Hadrian has a rather serendipitous name. Namesake of the Roman emperor who built the wall that once marked off the northernmost edge of the ancient empire — the wall that still stands in ruins in the U.K. today — Hadrian Construction Company has proposed a wall constructed in prefabricated panels.

Its Tridipanel design makes for something of a zig-zag shape, which he says would create a 30-foot wall that’s at once lightweight and strong.


Adorned With Decoration

This is a close-up rendering of the iCON Wall Solution by Concrete Contractors Interstate. Between the polish and the stones, the company behind this proposal wants to make it as easy on the eyes as it is hard to cross.

iCON Wall Solution by Single Eagle dba Concrete Contractors Interstate via AP

hide caption

toggle caption

iCON Wall Solution by Single Eagle dba Concrete Contractors Interstate via AP

The border wall should be “a piece of art,” Russ Baumgartner, CEO of Concrete Contractors Interstate of San Diego, tells the AP. The wire service says the company’s proposal calls for stones and artifacts set in polished concrete, reflecting the areas the wall wends through and rendering both sides “aesthetically pleasing” — unlike the CBP’s callout, which asks only that the U.S. side be pleasant to look at.

Above, you can see a detail of the kind of decorative stones Baumgartner has in mind.


The Wall To End All Walls

Quite unlike the other proposals on this list, the Otra Nation concept condemns barriers altogether. Rather than impede movement between regions, its hyperloop transit system would accelerate travel, effectively rendering the border moot.

Courtesy of Otra Nation

hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of Otra Nation

It is reasonable to conclude that this proposal is not exactly what Trump has in mind for his signature campaign promise.

“We propose a trans-national ‘New Deal’ to build an innovative shared co-nation based on local economic empowerment, energy independence and revolutionary infrastructure and transit,” says the MADE Collective, a cross-disciplinary team that argues for the creation of what it calls the Otra Nation — a “regenerative co-nation shared by citizens of both Mexico and the United Stated and co-maintained by respective governments.”

Far from a boundary between two states, the Otra Nation proposal envisions the construction of a hyperloop transit system and the rights to cross open borders of the three North American countries without impediment.


The Wall Of Sound

Imagine this.

A post shared by JENNifer meriDIAN (@jmeridian.studio) on Mar 28, 2017 at 5:01pm PDT

One of at least three protest proposals ginned up by J.M. Design Studio of Pittsburgh, this one calls for “a semi-continuous wall of nearly 10 million pipe organs.” The long line of 30-foot organs breaks in regular intervals, offering border-crossers the opportunity to walk straight through — but not before playing a ditty of their choosing.

Jennifer Meridian — an artist who says Trump’s actual border wall is “preposterous for so many reasons,” according to the Wall Street Journal — also proposes a wall of hammocks and a wall of refugees’ gravestones for passersby to “consider the danger, terror, and horror they must have faced in trying to cross.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Why Children Face The Greatest Danger From Chemical Weapons

A Syrian child is treated at a hospital in the town of Maaret al-Noman after a suspected chemical attack on April 4.

Mohamed Al-Bakour /AFP/Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Mohamed Al-Bakour /AFP/Getty Images

In a suspected chemical weapon attack like the one in Syria on Tuesday, children are the most vulnerable targets. They are more likely than adults to die from chemical agents and to suffer injures. If they survive, they also suffer from the physical and mental trauma of the attack for far more years than adults simply because they have more years left to live.

The effects of chemical weapons are more devastating for kids for a number of reasons. “Because kids are smaller, there’s a higher impact on a smaller body,” said Dr. Steven Hinrichs, director of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. A smaller dose of a chemical agent can do more damage to their organs. If the agent is sarin gas, as groups like Doctors Without Borders are reporting, a victim’s lungs and airways can fill up with fluid, causing suffocation. Children would die faster than adults because a child has smaller airways and a smaller chest.

“Children have fewer defenses,” says Dr. Sandro Galea, an emergency physician and epidemiologist at Boston University who has studied mass trauma and conflict globally. They can’t run away as quickly from the site of a chemical attack. And once the chemicals enter their system, their immune systems are less mature and not as good at fighting them off. “It makes them more vulnerable, immunologically and physically,” Galea said.

Twenty children were among the 72 civilian casualties from an air raid accompanied by the apparent chemical attack on the rebel-held city Khan Shaykhun in Idlib province in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Moreover, if children survive a chemical attack, they will live with the long-term effects far longer than, say, a 50-year-old. Survivors often have lifelong problems with fine motor skills like writing or cutting paper accurately with a pair of scissors. They often have gross motor disability as well, such as problems with their walking gait — trouble balancing or coordinating the movement of walking — and with the hand-eye coordination necessary to play sports or do many kinds of physical paid work.

The injuries from chemical attacks can be mental as well as physical, although it’s difficult to tease out the effects of nerve damage from post-traumatic stress disorder since symptoms sometimes overlap. Researchers believe that chemical attacks, like other violent attacks, can lead to PTSD and severe depression for survivors of all ages.

It’s also difficult to separate the impact of a single attack, chemical or conventional, from the larger trauma of living through a war.

“Toxic stress effects brain development, learning, and the social emotional ability to regulate one’s own behavior,” said Lindsay Stark of Columbia University, who studies childhood trauma in refugee and conflict settings.

But children are also incredibly resilient, Stark said. Child soldiers in war-ravaged African countries didn’t turn out to be a lost generation as mental health professionals feared, she said. Many learned to cope with their traumatic pasts and went on to have productive lives.

She cautions against pessimistic outlooks for Syria’s children. “We have to be careful in terms of how we talk about this generation,” she said. “All hope is not lost.”

But, she cautioned, the longer children remain in conflict settings, the more challenging it can be to counteract the trauma they live through. Parents need to be able to buffer children from the chronic stress of war by creating a sense of normalcy with routines like going to school every day.

“It’s the best thing parents can do,” Stark said. But in war-torn countries like Syria, she added, “it may be just not possible.”

Rina Shaikh-Lesko is a science journalist who writes about medicine, global health and the life sciences. She can be reached @rinawrites

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Alejandro Escovedo On World Cafe

Alejandro Escovedo’s latest album is Burn Something Beautiful.

Nancy Rankin Escovedo/Courtesy of the artist

hide caption

toggle caption

Nancy Rankin Escovedo/Courtesy of the artist

  • “Horizontal”
  • “Luna De Miel”
  • “Redemption Blues”

A couple years ago, rock veteran Alejandro Escovedo and his new wife, Nancy, were on their honeymoon on the coast of Mexico when disaster struck and they were sure they were going to die. It was so bad that they even called their family to say goodbye.

In this session, Escovedo tells the story of how they survived and the resulting PTSD, including what he calls “psychedelic seizures.” For a while it seemed like that trauma was the end of his career. We talk about how he came out on the other side, with the help of his wife and R.E.M.‘s Peter Buck, to make his latest album, Burn Something Beautiful. Hear that conversation and his performance in the player above.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Dog Saves Wedding Guests From Bomber In Nigeria

A dog is being credited for saving lives by intervening to stop a suicide bomber who was attempted to enter a wedding party near Maiduguri, Nigeria.

Army radio says that the dog grappled with the teen girl bomber until the explosives went off, killing them both, as NPR’s Ofeibea Quist Arcton reports.

“Most Belbelo villagers were reportedly at the wedding when the dog pounced on the would-be suicide bomber who was reportedly hovering on the outskirts of the ceremony on Sunday morning,” Ofeibea adds.

The local Vanguard newspaper states that the bomber, “whose original mission appeared to have been thwarted, detonated her explosives while battling to wriggle herself from the canine grip of the dog.”

Buba Ahmed, who lives in the area, told Associated Press that the “guests are grateful that the dog sacrificed itself to save their lives.” Police spokesman Victor Isuku also confirmed the incident to the wire service.

The Nigerian military has launched a major offensive against Boko Haram militants and rolled back their territory in the north of the country, though the militants continue to mount attacks.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)