The United States Department of Justice is now on the record saying that South Dakota is violating the Indian Child Welfare Act in its removal of Indian children from their homes. On Friday, Judge Jeffrey Viken accepted the DOJ's motion to submit an amicus brief in support of the Indian plaintiffs in Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Van Hunnik.

The federal brief affirms the position laid out by the ACLU that South Dakota has denied Indian parents due process in Pennington County's 48-hour custody hearings and illegally separated Indian children from their families and tribes:

DOJ’s brief emphasizes that the federal government has a “special relationship” with Indian tribes and Indian people, and that ICWA was passed by Congress to promote and further that relationship. ICWA places substantial limits on the ability of state officials to remove Indian children from their homes in order to protect the integrity of Indian families and the survival of Indian tribes. DOJ expressly criticized positions taken by the Defendants, one of which contended that the protections guaranteed in ICWA did not apply to their 48-hour hearings. The DOJ brief explains that, contrary to the State’s arguments, ICWA “immediately imposes specific ongoing obligations on state officials” in these 48-hour hearings [ACLU press release, via Lakota Voice, 2014.08.18].

The 24-page brief, signed along with the motion to file it by U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, says to South Dakota, This is what ICWA says, and you're reading it wrong. It explicitly and vigorously rejects South Dakota's contention that we can ignore ICWA in emergency custody hearings.

South Dakota's violation of Indian family rights under ICWA must be remarkable: ACLU attorney Stephen Pevar, who is helping the Lakota plaintiffs argue their case in Rapid City, says this may be the first time since ICWA was enacted in 1978 that the federal government has intervened in a case like this at the District Court level.

The Department of Justice's intervention in Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Van Hunnik makes clear who really stands on the side of Indian families in South Dakota. It's not the co-opted South Dakota Libertarian Party and its cast of clowns who would dismantle government and abandon Indians to assimilation. It's not fake attorney general candidate Chad Haber, who squawks about abuse in the foster care system to exploit Indian children to fill his campaign bank account and blow smoke in front of his and his wife's own corruption.

The real defenders of South Dakota's Indian families are good people who recognize the need for strong laws and strong government to protect due process and tribal integrity from racism and corruption. The real defenders are good people like U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, who signed DOJ's amicus brief and the motion to file it, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which has the knowledge and resources to assist Indian families in this case.

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Senator Larry Tidemann chided Rep. Susan Wismer yesterday for only talking about the bad side of the EB-5 scandal. In that spirit, I am happy to point out that, contrary to the examples of Chairman Tidemann and Governor Daugaard, some Pierre pols keep their eyes, their ears, and their hearts open.

Rep. kathy Tyler (D-4/Big Stone City) writes that immigration is actually good for South Dakota business:

Dairies and other work intensive ag businesses rely heavily on foreign workers. I received a letter from a local farmer during the past year. I learned a lot from it and will quote directly from it:

“We began employing foreign workers through the H-2A visa program in 2011. We had experienced increased difficulty in hiring capable local employees. We made the decision to try the H-2A program as a last resort before being forced to liquidate…….due to lack of labor…The program has provided excellent employees…" [Rep. Kathy Tyler, "Immigration of Children," Kathy's Corner, 2014.07.27].

Rep. Tyler then turns to the Latin American children currently entering our country under a Bush Administration anti-trafficking policy and asks where our hearts and minds are:

These children are fleeing for their lives. I cannot imagine a situation where sending my child away would mean that he or she might live. Let’s be thankful that we don’t need to make that choice. The issue is not settled, and looking at the way things go in Washington, it probably won’t be for a while. I think it’s time to open our hearts and our minds a bit. Remember, they are children [Tyler, 2014.07.27].

We could use more voices of calm, practical decency like Kathy Tyler's in Pierre.

p.s.: If we invited more immigrant children to our fair state, maybe Stickney and Corsica wouldn't have to consolidate.

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Looking for the oldest moms in South Dakota? Odds are you'll find them in Eureka:

Average Age of Mother by SD County 2008-2012

Source: South Dakota Department of Health (click to embiggen!)

McPherson County has the highest average age of ladies making babies over the five-year period from 2008 to 2012. New McPherson moms are a ripe old 30.0 years on average. Also waiting the longest to put buns in the oven are women in Hanson, Faulk, and Campbell counties.

The youngest moms are in Indian Country. Shannon/Oglala Lakota County has the lowest average baby-making age in the state, 24.2. Nearby Mellette, Todd, and Bennett counties also have average mother ages under 25.

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We all fled here from somewhere.

According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal government placed 30,340 immigrant children who entered the United States without adult companions with sponsors around the country between January 1 and July 7 of this year. 21 of those children were placed with parents, relatives, or other legitimate sponsors in South Dakota. Governor Dennis Daugaard expresses concern—not for the children, but for the natives' health and welfare:

“It is disappointing that, despite assurances from federal officials, these children have been placed in South Dakota without notification to the state,” said the Governor. “Although federal officials indicate that these 21 children have been screened and vaccinated, we will be asking for more information so that the state can be sure that these children pose no risk to South Dakotans” [South Dakota state government, press release, 2014.07.25].

Governor Daugaard has touted South Dakota's relatively high vaccination rate, but between 1% and 2% of our kindergartners are still running exempt from shots. Governor Daugaard has raised no alarm about the ability of a parent to skip vaccinating her kids by signing a piece of paper saying Jesus told her not to get those shots (see SDCL 13-28-7.1). Let's see... 13,280 kindergartners, multiply by 1%... that's 133 kids running around without shots. And that's just one grade. If we're running a 1% vaccine-skipping rate through all of our 144,000-strong K-12 population, we can estimate about 1,440 South Dakota kids posing a risk to South Dakota's herd immunity.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement gives children shots and medical screenings, and it does not release children with contagious conditions. These new children boost South Dakota's herd immunity. They're probably so relieved to be safe with family and friends in a quiet, safe state like ours that they aren't thinking of posing a risk to anyone. South Dakota should be proud to provide these children safe haven and invite more of them and their families to make our great state their home.

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The United States kicked 17 women and 21 children out of the country on Monday. It flew these illegal Central American immigrants to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. In the first five months of this year, over 2,000 unaccompanied child immigrants fled San Pedro Sula for the United States, trying to flee the city's gang violence and the highest murder rate in the world.

On sending these women and children back to mortal danger, the Obama White House yesterday issued this discouraging statement:

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the return of the Hondurans should be a clear signal to those thinking about crossing the border illegally that "they're entitled to due process but they will not be welcome to this country with open arms" [Steve Holland and Gabriel Stargardter, "U.S. Says Deportation of Honduran Children a Warning to Illegal Migrants," Reuters, 2014.07.15].

Not welcoming women and children fleeing danger is one of the most un-American and un-Christian (and probably un-Jewish, un-Muslim... heck, how about simply inhumane?) policy positions we can formulate.

President Obama evidently needs another meeting with Pope Francis, who issued a letter from a church conference in Mexico City calling on the U.S. to welcome and protect the thousands of children fleeing the violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala:

In a Monday letter, Pope Francis urged "intervention" from the U.S. government to make sure "these children are welcomed and protected." He also called for sympathy, citing the children's desire to get to the United States "in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain." Francis also recalled the children's struggles as "they are forced to leave their families and unfortunately still subjected to racist and xenophobic attitudes."

...The pontiff also reiterated his sentiments from an August statement on the plight of immigrants and the role of immigration in the world, suggesting the need for a "change of attitude towards migrants and refugees by all." He also said more understanding toward immigrants is the "only way to build a more just world" [Ross Gianfortune, "Pope Urges Protection for Unaccompanied Minors Flooding the Border," Government Executive, 2014.07.15].

Los Angeles is listening to the Pope:

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Tuesday that the city would help shelter immigrant children who have been detained after crossing the border and has begun talks with a federal agency about doing so.

"Before you get partisan, before you tell me where you are on immigration--these are children," Garcetti said Tuesday at a forum hosted downtown by Politico magazine.

"As a father, who are we as Americans if we don't step forward first and say, these kids who are isolated, alone ... let's get them someplace safe and secure," the mayor told the crowd ["L.A. Welcomes Children Crossing the Border," McClatchy via Governing, 2014.07.16].

I understand that we should follow the law. But if the child next door is being beaten by her stepdad and runs to your yard to hide, do you call the cops to arrest her for trespassing?

I understand that if you're in a lifeboat, you can only fit so many people. There comes a point where picking up one more drowning child would capsize the boat and sink everybody.

But America is a big lifeboat. The wide open spaces from North Sioux City to Peever tell me we're not out of seats. The money we spend on drones and bombers at Ellsworth and the Sanford Sportsplex tell me we're not out of rations. The United States has never declared itself full. We've never seen fit to declare a one-child policy to limit population growth. Certainly there must be some ceiling to food production, water supply, and living space, but until we hit that ceiling, it seems immoral to turn away from our borders any person, child or adult, seeking safety.

Senator John McCain and Rep. Jeff Flake from Arizona want to speed deportation of the 55,000 unaccompanied minors who've immigrated illegally to the U.S. this year but also allot 5,000 more refugee visas each to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

How about we go one better... or 40,000 better? Let's revamp the EB-5 visa program. While we send frightened children who've hiked alone across Mexico back to violent Central American cities, we currently let rich foreigners buy their green cards by investing a half million to one million dollars in economic development projects, like a lot of those dairies that sprung up in the I-29 corridor over the last decade. Let's shift that EB-5 money to humanitarian assistance. Let rich foreigners keep jumping the queue with their money, but use their money to make the rest of the queue move faster. Use those millions in EB-5 money to place more visa application stations along the Mexican border, along with dedicated child advocates to handle these young, frightened refugees. use EB-5 money to provide those children and their caretakers with food and housing allowances. Let's require that EB-5 dollars go not to crony capitalist projects but to aid refugee assistance groups like the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (which agrees with the Pope that deportation of children fleeing violence is wrong).

And let's remove the cap on refugee visas and help all the kids we can.

That's what a humane country does. That's what a pro-life country does. That's what a rich country does. That's what America should do.

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U.S. News posts a list of the country's 50 healthiest counties for kids. On that map, the Northern Plains are a desert:

The closest we come to the healthiest places for kids are Olmsted (Rochester) and Washington (Stillwater, east side of the Cities) counties in Minnesota and Johnson County (Iowa City) in Iowa.

U.S. News scored counties on the following factors:

It highlights counties that feature, among other child-friendly data, fewer infant deaths, fewer low birth weight babies, fewer deaths from injuries, fewer teen births and fewer children in poverty. Besides the data displayed here, the percentage of children without health insurance, air quality (except for Alaska and Hawaii), rates of adult smoking and adult obesity, and access to physicians and exercise opportunities also were considered. All the variables were equally weighted [Angela Haupt, "America's 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids," U.S. News & World Report, 2014.06.16].

Among the factors Haupt's report cites that South Dakota could work on for healthier kids:

  1. Renewable energy (less air pollution means healthier kids)
  2. Access to healthier foods at public events and in vending machines
  3. More support for pre-natal care
  4. Smoking bans in parks
  5. Increased electronic access to library resources (although other research says technology is bad for kids—oh! what's a parent to do?)

I can't find Haupt's full dataset to see which South Dakota county comes closest and how close it comes to making the top 50, but I'll posit that you can also make any county in South Dakota a healthier place for your kids by taking them outside... right now!

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No good comes from this story: nine-year-old Freeman boy kills seven-year-old brother with handgun.

Hutchinson County State's Attorney Glenn Roth says the older boy told investigators he and his brother were playing with a handgun Tuesday when he pulled the trigger, thinking the gun was not loaded ["SD Boy Accidentally Shoots and Kills Brother," AP via KELOLand.com, 2014.03.26].

No law, blog post, or culture shift brings that boy back. No effort erases that horrible moment from the older brother's memory.

We can only lock up our guns, hold our little ones close and make sure they understand guns are designed to do harm and should never be carried casually for show or for play.

Strange: power tools are at least as prevalent in homes as pistols, but how often do we hear news stories about kids breaking into the tool cabinet and accidentally sawing each other in half?

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Last week Judge Jeffrey Viken ruled that the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux tribes and three individual Lakota plaintiffs may move forward with their lawsuit against state and local officials in South Dakota for alleged violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Lakota parents contend that South Dakota has systematically ripped apart Indian families and placed far too many Lakota children in non-Indian foster families.

Such abuses may not be limited to South Dakota. Yesterday the National Indian Child Welfare Association sent a letter to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division calling for an investigation of ICWA violations in private adoptions and public child welfare systems nationwide. The text of the letter, signed by directors of four leading Native American advocacy groups, does not mention South Dakota specifically, but the footnotes include well-known reports about ICWA violations in our sometimes unfair state.

The letter asserts the good ICWA has done and the ills states do to tribes when they ignore this federal law:

...ICWA halted what was for some communities the wholesale removal of Indian children from their family, culture, and community. There is no question that where ICWA is applied, it has been intergral to keeping countless Native American families together. ICWA is not just considered good practice for AI/AN [American Indian/Alaska Native] children by experts and practitioners alike, but the principles and processes it embodies were recently described as the "gold standard" for child welfare practice generally.

...Non-compliance with ICWA harms children. Attorneys, social workers, and judges cannot, and should not, ignore deferal law and the civil rights of AI/AN children, parents, and families. When ICWA is not followed, the cultural bias and prejudice present in the child welfare system goes unchecked. When ICWA is not followed, AI/AN children's connection to their families, their communities, and their culture is severed. When ICWA is not followed, AI/AN children are subject to familiar disruption, cultural discontinuity, and extreme post-traumatic stress that is unwarranted and avoidable. When ICWA is not followed, tribes lost citizens, and with them, the ability to keep their traditions, practices, and culture alive. Without federal oversight, patterns of non-compliance and poor implementation will continue [Terry L. Cross, National Indian Child Welfare Association, et al., letter to Jocelyn Samuels and Eve L. Hill, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 2014.02.03].

NICWA and its fellow organizations are speaking of the same community-destroying evils that Judge Viken cited in his ruling last week to recognize the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux tribes' standing to fight in court for their member-parents' rights. They speak of the same cultural forces that our ancestors used against the tribes as we seized this land and tore tribes apart by sending their children to far-off boarding schools.

South Dakota's leaders should diligently stamp out any such tribe-destroying practices in its foster care and adoption system. And if South Dakota's leaders will not do so, we must hope the Department of Justice will heed NICWA's call to investigate and support consisten enforcement of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

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