A Denali Climber’s Experience Being Detained by ICE

15 Jul

A trip to Denali’s imposing 20,308-foot peak is a risky endeavor for any mountaineer. But for amateur climber Ibrahim Cetindemir, the scariest part of his expedition was coming home. 

On June 24, after successfully summiting both Denali and Mount Rainier, in Alaska and Washington, respectively, Cetindemir was pulled off his train and detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in Malta, Montana, while making his way back home to Williston, North Dakota, where he works as a server and part-time photographer. Cetindemir, 28, who with his family fled threats of violence in Guatemala to come to the United States 15 years ago, is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy that grants undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children temporary reprieve from deportation, along with work permits and the ability to apply for a Social Security number.

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Cetindemir on Mount Rainier (Ibrahim Cetindemir)

Centindemir says that two CBP agents boarded the train and asked each passenger for their citizenship status. He told them that he’s a DACA recipient and presented documentation, including his driver’s license and work permit. “I just don’t think that they were too sure of what DACA was to begin with,” he says. “And I just knew I was going to get stopped at the following station.” 

The agents disembarked, and Cetindemir continued on the train for an hour or so, but at the next stop, four to six CBP agents boarded his car and escorted him off, he says. “I really wasn’t worried at all, because I knew I had my DACA and that it was valid,” Cetindemir says. “I knew for a fact I didn’t have any criminal activity and my record was clean. So I just thought it was going to be an inconvenience. I assumed that they were going to take me to their office or their station, verify that my DACA is valid, and just let me go.” 

But instead, the agents looked through their databases and found a deportation order from 2014, issued after Cetindemir’s family members overstayed their visas and were twice denied requests for asylum. Cetindemir chose to remain in the country illegally, and was granted DACA status in 2016. “I said, ‘Well, if you actually do have that, my DACA should supersede the deportation order.’ And that’s when they said, ‘We’re 99 percent sure that DACA doesn’t work like that, and more than likely you will be deported.’ I thought that sounded a bit sketchy, and I that’s when I started to get worried.”

According to Helena, Montana, immigration attorney Shahid Haque, Cetindemir’s gut was right. The 2012 DACA memo issued by the Department of Homeland Security states that even individuals who have received a final order of deportation are eligible for DACA status. Haque says that in the wake of the illegal-immigration crackdown, however, people with final removal orders have become “easy pickings” for the CBP and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents looking to comply with stricter policies, and in Cetindemir’s case, they appeared confused by federal directives and the DACA process. “It seems like he got caught up in an issue where Border Patrol and ICE believed they could try to strip him of his DACA status for apparently no reason other than that he had a prior deportation,” Haque says. “That would seem an egregious overreach.” (A CBP spokesperson declined to comment on these specific accusations.) 

Questioning Cetindemir about his citizenship status, however, was well within CPB’s purview. A 1953 addendum to the Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes Border Patrol officers to conduct immigration checks on “any railcar, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle” within 100 air miles of the U.S. border, including oceans. According to the ACLU, about two-thirds of the nation’s population lives within this geographic zone, thanks to the concentration of large coastal cities. Such searches have been happening long before the recent immigration crackdown: a 2013 report from the legal-aid organization Families for Freedom—part of New York University’s law school—details hundreds of mistaken arrests of immigrants with legal status resulting from CBP checks, including 12 U.S. citizens. 

Additionally, the legality of stripping someone of their DACA status is murky. While Haque notes that DACA is “discretionary” and there is technically no law delineating the reason someone can have their DACA removed, he points to a 2018 ruling by a federal court in California that set a precedent; it says that any decision to revoke DACA needs to be governed by the standards with which it was issued in the first place—for example, that the recipient maintains a clean criminal record. Cetindemir claims he disclosed his final removal order on his DACA application, meaning that once his status was granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, his deportation order should no longer have been an issue. 

Around the time Cetindemir was told he would be deported, the CBP gave him access to his phone. He began calling friends and started a post on Reddit detailing his ordeal and asking for help. Soon a slew of people and organizations, from immigrants-rights groups to local journalists, rallied around him. “Everyone started making phone calls,” he says. “My cell was right by the front desk, and I could hear the phone ringing throughout the night. People were asking, ‘Where’s Ibra? Where is he going to go next?’ And I think that definitely helped.”

After spending the night at a CPB station in Malta, Cetindemir was transferred into ICE custody and brought to the Cascade County Jail in Great Falls, Montana, where he was put in an overcrowded cell. “I think that was one of the scariest parts of the experience,” he says. “I had never been to jail before, so I didn’t know what to expect. The moment I walked through the door, I heard someone in the back yelling, ‘Here comes some fresh ass.’ And I was like, Oh man, I don’t know what this is.” That night he slept on the floor about two feet from the toilets, but overall, he says, he didn’t mind the conditions. “It’s all relative, right? I was just coming off Denali, sleeping in a tent in temperatures in the negatives. For me, it wasn’t that bad, because I’m used to doing things that make me uncomfortable.”

His bigger concern was losing his gear. “I was traveling with four different bags full of climbing and photography gear. Border Patrol told me I was only allowed to take one 40-pound bag [when being transferred into ICE custody].That was honestly the most stressful thing. I worked really hard to buy all my climbing gear, I wasn’t going to lose it.” While Cetindemir did not have access to his bag while in custody, it would be all he’d be allowed to carry with him if deported. “If I actually did get deported, I knew I would still be climbing somewhere and was going to need it. So I packed my 8,000-meter boots, my tent, all the relevant and most essential items I would need for climbing again.” 

Finally, after about 40 hours in custody, Cetindemir—along with his gear—was released. “They told me, ‘You’ve got a clean record, and we’re going to set you loose. Sorry for the inconvenience.’”

Despite recent reports of misconduct by CPB and ICE agents, Centindemir notes that he was treated with kindness and respect by the individuals handling his case for the duration of his detention. “Both CBP and ICE agents treated me well,” he says. “They acted professionally and responded to my questions. They provided me with food and water, and I was allowed to sort out my gear and repack my bag.” 

Haque says there’s not a clear explanation as to why Cetindemir was held for as long as he was. “If [they were trying to check on his immigration status] I don’t see why it couldn’t have been confirmed quicker, or why they were even trying to engage in that exercise.” 

A CBP spokesperson sent Outside the following statement: “On Monday, June 24, 2019, Ibrahim Cetindemir was encountered during a transportation check on an Amtrak train and removed for processing. Records indicated that he was previously ordered to be removed from the country and that he was not eligible for DACA relief. He was processed and turned over to ICE/ERO (Enforcement and Removal Operations) for removal. ICE/ERO checked additional systems and determined that Cetindemir was eligible for DACA status and was released from their custody.”

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Cetindemir on Mount Rainier (Ibrahim Cetindemir)

Despite his ordeal, Cetindemir says he won’t be deterred from doing the two things he loves most: traveling and climbing. “I’m not going to be intimidated and don’t feel like I should be afraid. As long as my DACA is still valid, I should be able to travel freely within the country,” he says. “I’m still going to take the train again at some point. They won’t keep me from doing it.” Still, Cetindemir admits that his immigration status has kept him from achieving his biggest ambitions. His dream was always to become part of an elite Rangers unit in the U.S. Army, but DACA recipients are ineligible for military service. And he imagines leading expeditions up 8,000-meter Himalayan peaks, but if he travels outside the country, he won’t be allowed to reenter. 

“I’ve got a whole list of peaks I want to climb, but there really isn’t a way for us to change our status,” Cetindemir says. “We’re stuck in a legal limbo.” 

The Volunteers Cleaning Our Parks During the Shutdown

12 Jan

When the partial government shutdown took effect 22 days ago, Seth Zaharias walked into a Walmart and bought $100 worth of toilet paper to stock the bathrooms at Joshua Tree National Park, in anticipation of the flood of holiday tourists who would descend with only a skeleton staff left to manage them. That first purchase quickly grew into a grassroots effort to keep the beloved desertscape pristine in the face of the National Park Service furloughs. “It was the best hundred dollars I’ll ever spend on toilet paper,” Zaharias says.

Zaharias and his wife, Sabra Purdy, who together own the Joshua Tree climbing company Cliffhanger Guides, teamed up with nonprofit Friends of Joshua Tree National Park to spearhead a campaign to prevent destruction. Soon, they had recruited enough volunteers to clean all of the park’s 80-odd accessible toilets almost every day of the shutdown and haul out thousands of pounds of trash. The volunteers come from all over the state and country—one of Cliffhanger’s clients from New York spent his extra days of vacation taking in the scenery while sweeping out pit toilets and emptying dumpsters.

“I feel pretty good about what’s going on in the park and the state of it now,” Zaharias says. “They only have between five to seven regular maintenance staff. On a big day, we had just shy of a hundred people come out. Our park was ours again.”

What’s happening at Joshua Tree isn’t an anomaly. Across the country, a rag-tag group of volunteers have banded together to take the reins from furloughed NPS employees. Since the shutdown, there have been dozens of headlines (including ones on Outside) about damaged parks overflowing with human waste and trash, though some local volunteers insist the more apocalyptic stories are overblown. “There has been some resource damage, but nowhere near to the level that the media is reporting,” Zaharias says. “The ratio of good people to bad has been incredibly low.” (He notes that the overwhelming majority of the trash they cleared out was in dumpsters or bins.) Still, Zaharias and others saw the need to spring into action. “I’m not going to let D.C. wreck my spiritual connection to this place and my economic backbone,” he says.

While Zaharias rallied the Joshua Tree community, a group of local workers in Yosemite National Park, distressed by the overflowing trash bins and human waste left behind by holiday revelers, contacted the Yosemite Climbing Association (which organizes its own clean-up each September) to ask for supplies. Soon after publicizing their efforts on social media, the YCA was flooded with requests from other concerned visitors who wanted to help, so the group drove a red pickup and covered white trailer stocked with supplies to a pullout off Highway 140, near Yosemite’s entrance. Allyson Gunsallus, a YCA event coordinator, estimates that around 100 people have volunteered—a number that includes not only people who already had plans to visit the park, but also ones who came specifically to engage in the effort.

“It’s been amazing how many people have reached out,” Gunsallus says. “It’s been a silver lining on the dark cloud of the shutdown.” Thanks to the volunteers, Gunsallus says they were able to clear up all of the park’s excess litter that had accumulated over the holidays. She now says they plan to speak to NPS employees to find out where the most need is, and direct eager hands accordingly.

On January 5, the Department of the Interior released a plan to keep the parks open by diverting funds meant for long-term projects to everyday maintenance, meaning that all-volunteer forces like those with the YCA and at Joshua Tree can theoretically hand their duties back over. But with staffing at a minimum and visitors still pouring in, some organizations feel the need to continue with their efforts.   

On January 2, the same day the Yellowstone effort began, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association was alarmed by media reports about the state of the national parks. Within 48 hours, their local chapters had organized a weekend cleanup at five parks throughout the country. “Cleanliness and service to our country is a part of Islam,” says spokesperson Salaam Bhatti. “So we enmeshed those two teachings to clean up our nation as part of our service.”

Some 70 volunteers—Muslim and non-Muslim—hauled away truckloads of trash from the Everglades to the National Mall. They plan to hold more events this weekend, including one at Olympic National Park in Washington State.

Beyond organized groups, countless unnamed individuals have also gone out on their own clean ups, often posting their intentions under the hashtag #leavenotrace. In at least one case, in the temperate wilds of the Great Smoky Mountains, that effort led to an even larger one. Marc Newland was heading out for a day of hiking with his young daughter, Erica. When he mentioned how the shutdown was affecting the parks, the 10-year-old suggested that they spend their day cleaning up the area instead—unsurprising, given that Newland and his wife Wendy have spent the past 15 years involved in trail clean-ups and almost always carry garbage bags and grabbers with them. On a popular short hike to Laurel Falls, the pair hardly got past the parking lot. They spent hours filling bags with diapers, broken pieces of strollers, and beer bottles.

Newland posted photos of the pair on the Hike the Smokies Facebook group, hoping a few likes would encourage his daughter’s positive behavior. Instead, the post blew up. Spurred on by the media attention, he worked with the environmental group Keep Sevier Beautiful to organize a larger cleanup along the Spur—a major thruway—on Thursday. “To see 100 people show up at 8 a.m. in 20 degree weather and haul out 160 bags of trash was just incredible,” he says.

Since the school year started back up again this week, Erica was not among them—but plans to be out cleaning again with her parents this weekend. For his daughter, Newland says, the lesson learned from the experience boils down to a mantra that has defined the shutdown volunteer efforts: “If we all do a little bit now, we won’t have to do so much later.”

Missing American Hiker Found Dead in Mexico

20 Nov

More than three weeks after Patrick Braxton-Andrew was last seen alive, his body has been found in northern Mexico. On November 15, Javier Corral, the governor of Chihuahua, reported on his Facebook page that the 34-year-old Braxton-Andrew was killed by a drug dealer named José Noriel Portilo Gil, in the tiny city of Urique, in Chihuahua. Another Facebook page, set up by a family friend to help search for Braxton-Andrew, confirmed the news with a post on the same day: “Based on information provided by the Chihuahua State authorities, it is with great sadness that we announce that Patrick died on October 28 at the hands of a criminal organization that operates in the area where he was traveling.” On November 17, another post on the same page stated that his body had been recovered and would be brought back to the U.S.

Braxton-Andrew, a Spanish teacher at Woodlawn School in Mooresville, North Carolina, was an avid traveler who sought out hidden places, his father, Gary, told Outside last week. He was drawn to Urique for the opportunity to hike the empty trails of Copper Canyon National Park, a remote wilderness of deep, twisting ravines that draws only the occasional adventurer. Braxton-Andrew was last heard from on October 28, the same day he was reportedly killed, when he mentioned heading out on one last hike to his family. News outlets reported that he never returned, but evidence, such as his camera and most of his belongings left behind in his hotel room, seemed to suggest that he had finished his trek and headed back to Urique before he died.

The region surrounding Urique is one of the most dangerous in Mexico. Mexican news media reports that Portilo Gil, known also as “El Chueco,” or “the crooked one,” is a ranking member of the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, the group formerly headed by suspected drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

A post on the Facebook page dedicated to Braxton-Andrew’s search said they would work to find justice, and another said that he died doing what he loved—traveling and meeting people. “We will always remember Patrick and his joy for life,” the post read. “We love you PBA.”

Climate Change Is Destroying Our National Parks

27 Sep

What is Joshua Tree National Park without Joshua trees or Glacier National Park without glaciers? These are realities we might have to face within this century, according to a new study that shows how our national parks are disproportionately susceptible to climate change.

The paper, which analyzed data from 1895 to 2010, cites some startling statistics. The most disturbing: average annual temperatures in the national parks increased twice as fast as in the rest of the country. Additionally, despite the U.S. as a whole actually seeing a rise in precipitation, rain and snowfall have decreased substantially within national parks.

“The national parks conserve the most intact ecosystems in the country, and they also provide for human well being,” says Patrick Gonzalez, a climate scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of the study. “Our research confirms that reducing carbon pollution from cars, power plants, and other human sources can save our national parks from the worst results of heat.”

The study warns that if we don’t cut emissions, warming could increase up to six times faster in national parks by the end of the century. That amounts to temperatures as many as 16 degrees higher in certain areas by 2100—enough, the paper theorizes based on prior research, to wipe out 90 percent of trees in Joshua Tree National Park, increase burn areas by as much as tenfold in Yellowstone, and kill off all the pika in Lassen Volcanic National Park. That warming would likely also, as one study co-author notes, completely melt Glacier National Park’s signature features.

The reason the national parks are being hit hardest by climate change is a matter of location. Most of the area covered by the 417 park units sits at high latitudes and high elevations, where warming occurs more quickly, thanks to the thinner atmosphere and reflective snow cover that melts faster. A good portion of those protected places are also located in the arid Southwest, which has seen record low rainfall.

Despite the data, Gonzalez remains positive. He notes that cutting greenhouse emissions to match those laid out by the Paris Agreement could reduce warming by up to two-thirds, shielding the parks from the worst effects of the heat. These targets aren’t out of reach—a recent study suggested that the goals established in Paris are achievable. Case in point: Gonzalez cites the 16 states and Puerto Rico that make up the U.S. Climate Alliance and that have committed to keep to the Paris accords, despite the country’s withdrawal from the agreement. Together, these states have cut emissions by 15 percent since 2005 and are on track to meet their goals.  

“We don’t need exotic technology to make this happen, what’s lacking is the implementation,” Gonzalez says. “The key is to take action now. The later we head down that road, the less chance we have of saving the parks.”

Thousands Cheated at the Mexico City Marathon

6 Sep

Over 3,000 people were disqualified from the Mexico City Marathon last week for allegedly cutting the course. Unlike other major races, however, competitors weren’t tempted by better times, but Facebook likes and a commemorative medal.

Each year since 2013, marathon finishers have received a medal shaped like one of the letters in “Mexico.” The awards are part of a ploy to garner interest in the race so it can earn gold level status with the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), which would place it on the same status level as prestigious races such as the Boston and New York City Marathons. This year, the finisher’s medal was the coveted final “O,” meaning athletes who completed all six races had the chance to round out their collection. Apparently, the combination of the chance to spell out the host country’s name in hardware and snag finish lines selfies motivated many of the 3,090 people disqualified based on time inconsistencies—accounting for almost 10 percent of finishers.  

“From a marketing standpoint, it’s been a total success,” race director Javier Carvallo told ESPN. “But it has created some problems.”

Last year 5,806—nearly one in five—racers were disqualified for cheating. This year, Carvallo vowed to take steps to eradicate cheating, including selling replicas of all six medals to runners and non-participants alike. Initially, his efforts seemed to have been somewhat effective: the trend was down nearly 47 percent from last year, city sports director Horacio de la Vega said in a news conference. But, according to Derek Murphy of race watchdog site Marathon Investigation the number of disqualifications could actually be closer to 5,000

Ironically, many offenders were caught by their fellow social media users. Facebook watchdog group “¿Ya se cansaron?" (Have you tired yet?) posted photos of suspects, including bibbed “runners” standing on the side of the course waiting to hop on at the 20 kilometer mark. They told ESPN that most of their catches came from suspicious friends and followers of the course cutters.

Despite the high number of cheaters, the Mexico City Marathon still has a shot at bumping up its current IAAF Silver Label to Gold. While the IAAF cites parameters such as strict anti-doping methods and international broadcast capabilities as qualifications for earning the distinction, requirements for curbing course cutting are absent. In other big races, cheating is relatively rare—for example, only about 50 of the 50,530 finishers in the 2014 New York City Marathon were reportedly disqualified for cheating, and most of those were accidental.

While it’s impossible to know how many people have a complete MEXICO hanging on their walls, officials noted that 925 people managed to earn their set legitimately.

Climbers Have Finally Conquered Latok’s North Ridge

13 Aug

After four decades of attempts by some of the world’s top alpinists, Latok I’s North Ridge has finally been conquered. A team comprised of Slovenians Ales Cesen and Luka Strazar and Briton Tom Livingstone, completed their historic ascent with a safe return to base camp on August 11, according to a post on the Alpine Association of Slovenia’s website. If confirmed, they will have claimed what has been lauded as one of the holy grails of modern climbing.

The line up the 23,442-foot peak in Pakistan’s Karakoram range has eluded climbers since 1978, when an American expedition was forced to turn back just a few hundred feet from the summit after one of its members became too ill to press on. In the 40 years that followed, more than 30 teams have attempted the North Ridge, but none have come close to the original team’s high point.

That is, until July 25, when Russians Alexander Gukov and Sergey Glazunov reportedly came within 600 feet of the peak before being forced to descend due to weather conditions and insufficient food. The disappointment turned to tragedy when Glazunov fell to his death while rappelling, leaving his partner stranded at 20,000 feet for six days before being plucked from the mountain by Pakistani Army helicopters.

Now, less than three weeks later, it seems a group has finally finished those last unclimbed pitches. While details are scant as the team makes their way back to Slovenia, gear company CAMP—one of Strazar’s sponsors—backed up the team’s claim in a congratulatory Facebook post. “...The ‘impossible’ Latok I (7145m) was finally climbed from the north by our Luka Strazar together with Ales Cesen and Tom Livingstone!” They wrote on August 12. “We congratulate Luka and mates for this huge, astonishing achievement.”  

Strazar is best known for his 2012 Piolets d’Or for the first ascent of the northwest face of K7 West, while Cesen was awarded the prize in 2015 for the first ascent of the north face of Hagshu. In April, Livingstone forged a new route up the north face of the 20,310-foot Mount Jezebel in Alaska.

This Patch of Water Can Predict Southwest Drought

11 Jul

Researchers are starting to shy away from using the word “drought” to describe the miserable precipitation the American Southwest has seen in recent years. Instead, we should think of the dry conditions as the new normal. And in a future with less water, predicting just how little rain or snowfall to expect is increasingly important. That’s why scientists are so worked up about a patch of water off the coast of New Zealand.

A new study in the journal Nature Communications looked at 66 years of worldwide sea-surface temperature data and found an interhemispheric “bridge” that links warmer water in the southwestern Pacific Ocean with drier winters in parts of the Southwest. Researchers have named this connection the New Zealand Index (NZI), and it means scientists may have found the atmospheric equivalent of a crystal ball that will allow them to predict precipitation in the southwestern United States.

The connection between the two regions is made by air rising from the ocean nearby New Zealand and cycling north to waters around the Philippines, causing a change in sea temperatures there. As ocean waters heat up, they alter storm patterns, robbing some of the most already-parched regions in the United States—Southern California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada—of much-needed winter rain and snowfall.

What’s so exciting about this discovery is the NZI’s effectiveness. When the study’s lead author, Antonios Mamalakis, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Irvine, looked at data collected for the past 40 years, he found the connection to be about 85 percent consistent in predicting precipitation. “This is the most important practical finding of our work,” Mamalakis says.

That’s a major improvement over the current method. According to data from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, winter precipitation predictions in the West for the past 23 years had about a 40 to 50 percent accuracy rating in best-case scenarios. This is because their data comes from a variety of less-reliable worldwide oceanic and atmospheric conditions—including the often-cited El Niño, which nudges the north jet stream and brings moisture to the Southwest. In the past 40 years, this connection has been weakening, but the NZI is proving to be a much stronger correlation. It could also give the region critical lead time to predict precipitation; researchers say the temperature changes that cause dry seasons in the Southwest begin around July and take three or four months to reach the United States.

For example, earlier predictions could direct cities and states to either ration water in preparation for drought or drain some water to avoid flooding in the case of a big storm system. Water transfers, a common drought response in which water is moved from one region to another, could happen earlier in the season, rather than March or April, when there may not be any to spare. Longer-term forecasting is so important that the California Department of Water Resources has invested $40 million into researching how to predict precipitation, and Congress has directed the National Weather Service to put $26.5 million dollars toward improving forecasting.

There is, however, a caveat to the discovery. Just as El Niño’s relationship to precipitation in the Southwest has weakened, researchers aren’t sure if the same will happen with the NZI. The flip side is that the connection could be strengthening. Researchers just aren’t sure at this point. “People haven’t paid much attention to these connections,” Mamalakis says, “but I think now, with this study, they will become much more interested in identifying them.”