*I use Black and African American interchangeably.
This week the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) held its annual legislative conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The 2019 theme is “400 years: Our Legacy, Our Possibilities…” If you’re not familiar with the CBCF, it’s a “nonprofit nonpartisan public policy, research and educational institute that seeks to improve the socioeconomic circumstances of African Americans and other underserved communities.” There are many panel discussions on a variety of issues affecting African Americans including affordable housing, the 2020 Census and economic equality. It’s also a huge networking opportunity to meet Black legislators and other professionals who care about and are in a position to affect public policy.
This wasn’t my first time attending the CBCF. I’m a Maryland native, and CBCF week is a highly-anticipated event in the college-educated, middle class Black community. I say “college educated” because the event does target a specific demographic. Many, including myself, call their target audience the “Black Bourgeoisie.” The Root senior writer, Michael Harriot penned a hilarious description of CBCF week; however, I have to warn you – if you’re not Black, many of his references will go over your head. I laughed all throughout his piece because Harriot is accurate in his description of the stark class differences between most CBCF attendees and us regular Black folk. There is an air of elitism and privilege at CBCF.
However, I respect that the CBCF seeks to find solutions to systemic issues. There were many informative panels seeking to educate and raise awareness about pressing concerns in African American communities. They talked about the spread of misinformation through social media that disproportionately targets African Americans; apparently, over 50 percent of people of color get their news from Facebook. They talked about the 2020 Census, affordable housing, education and the condition of Black men and boys. The panelists and experts shared a great deal of information to wrestle with and consider when trying to build a world more justly loving. There was also a huge exhibiting hall with vendors sharing resources. Several government agencies had tables in the exhibit hall.
But despite the major networking opportunities and the chances to speak face-to-face with Black legislators and lobbyists, the most moving part of the CBCF for me was when I left the convention center to add more money to my meter. A Black man I assume is homeless asked me for money. I gave him a couple of dollars I had in my purse, fed the meter and went back to the conference, but couldn’t help thinking about the dichotomy of the homeless Black man and the conference attendees carrying Prada bags, wearing silk suits and Christian Louboutin shoes while exchanging business cards hoping for their next “come up.” Some Black people have seats at the proverbial table, but many of us are still scraping for the crumbs that fall from it. Many Black people view the CBCF as an opportunity for the Black Bourgeoisie to pat each other on the back, flaunt their wealth and titles, and party to put it simply. Despite their success, there still is a huge wealth gap in the Black community. Gentrification has forced many Black people out of the former “Chocolate City.” Police still target and violate the rights of Black people in Washington, D.C. at disproportionately higher rates than other demographics. Trump pulled Rep. Elijah Cummings card, when he challenged Cummings on his effectiveness in Baltimore and then had his people interview residents in Cummings’ district about their living conditions. I’m no fan of Trump, but you can’t ignore the testimonies shared online of the people Rep. Cummings serves. I’m sure there are many poor Black people like the man I encountered who want to know exactly how the CBCF affects them and if the CBCF cares about their experiences.
CBCF can be a good time, but I hope that “we” haven’t gotten so far removed from the people we claim to be trying to help. I know the homeless man outside of the conference reminded me of why I do the work I do. I’m there to speak for him. I represent him and many others who don’t have conference passes to make their voices heard. I hope others remember this as well while they’re rubbing elbows with their political idols.
In the area of Marsh Harbor on Abaco Island in the Bahamas was a small, impoverished community that was mostly home to Haitians. The Mudd, as it was known, was wiped out during Hurricane Dorian. We do not know how many people perished. Lack of communication and lack of options meant there was no coordinated evacuation of the area. There is little left now. Those who did survive have nothing but the clothes they are wearing. Some have been relocated to Nassau. Others are still in the ruins Marsh Harbor trying to decide what to do next. From AP:
Some dazed survivors of Hurricane Dorian made their way back to a shantytown where they used to live, hoping to gather up some of their soggy belongings.
The community was known as The Mudd — or “Da Mudd,” as it’s often pronounced — and it was built by thousands of Haitian migrants over decades. It was razed in a matter of hours by Dorian, which reduced it to piles of splintered plywood and two-by-fours 4 and 5 feet deep, spread over an area equal to several football fields.
A helicopter buzzed overhead as people picked through the debris, avoiding a body that lay tangled underneath a tree branch next to twisted sheets of corrugated metal, its hands stretched toward the sky. It was one of at least nine bodies that people said they had seen in the area.
“Ain’t nobody come to get them,” said Cardot Ked, a 43-year-old carpenter from Haiti who has lived 25 years in Abaco. “If we could get to the next island, that’s the best thing we can do.”
Migration from Haiti
Following the earthquake in 2010, and in the face of the slow, but continuous economic decline since, more and more people are leaving Haiti. They have gone to Brazil and Chile, and more recently walked thousands of miles to seek asylum at the U.S./Mexico border. Hundreds have relocated permanently in border towns like Tijuana, with little or no chance of ever getting into the United States. Many more people have boarded onto small boats and sought refuge in other countries of the Caribbean. In the Bahamas, and elsewhere, these more recent migrants from Haiti join with communities established during earlier periods of exodus – especially the period from the fall of Duvalier in the mid-1980s through the coup d’etat against Aristide’s first government in 1991 and the reinstatement of the elected government in 1995.
The Mudd was one of these communities. People fleeing the violence of the late 1980s and early 1990s, settled in the Bahamas, where Haitians had been engaged with the local economy for decades. From the 1980s forward, though, resentment against Haitian migrants began to grow more pronounced. As a result, communities like the Mudd were isolated socially, even as the labor of the people who lived there was utilized in the hotels of Marsh Harbor and other tourist businesses. There have been very few formal studies of the Haitian community in the Bahamas. Indeed, several different news stories in the last week all cite the same study (without mentioning it is 11 years old) from the College of the Bahamas Research Journal in reference to the historic marginalization Haitians have experienced in the Bahamas. As the research shows, Haitians that resettled in the Bahamas from the 1980s into the 1990s were working in the lowest paying jobs, were separated by language, and, as happens to migrant communities everywhere, were blamed for crime and poor health conditions. By the time of the 2000 census in the Bahamas, Haitians made up 7.1 percent of the population, though most lived on New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco or Eleuthera. Overall, Haitians accounted for 56 percent of foreign-born persons in the Bahamas.
Since the earthquake in 2010, migration from Haiti has increased, and has diversified. Nearly 100,000 Haitians moved to Chile, for example, which has more recently begun its own crack down on immigrants. In the Bahamas, the push back against Haitians living there has been severe, set against this history of marginalization. In 2014, for example, a new law required everyone to carry a passport with them – a law everyone knew was targeting Haitian migrants. Even Haitians born in the Bahamas faced deportation – as citizenship is not conferred upon birth, but must be applied for as an adult. As a result, the government:
stepped-up immigration raids in predominantly Haitian shantytowns, where people who lacked passports or work permits were apprehended. When illegal immigrants ran from officers, the agents knocked down doors and took their children, and the photos of toddlers being carried away circulated widely on social media.
Since the policy took effect Nov. 1, children born in the Bahamas have been deported with their parents, and others with Haitian-sounding names have been pulled from school classrooms, human rights observers said. The government acknowledges that even Bahamian citizens with French surnames are frequently arrested by mistake.
As we have come to see in the United States and elsewhere, enforcement measure even target children as a means to track down families.
The Bahamian government announced that the new policy would go a step further: By next fall, schools will be asked to ensure that every child has a student permit. The annual $125 permit and a passport with a residency stamp will be required even of children born in the Bahamas who do not hold Bahamian citizenship.
The tough new policy echoes similar stances around the region, where new citizenship policies and anti-immigration measures have overwhelmingly affected Haitians, who are fleeing the hemisphere’s poorest country and are the most likely group to migrate illegally in great numbers. The top court in the Dominican Republic ruled in 2013 that the children of illegal immigrants, even if they are born in the country, did not have the right to citizenship.
Since the hurricane struck the Bahamas, there have been quite a few articles about the situation of Haitians on the islands. In part, because the communities where they lived, like the Mudd, were among the hardest hit. This is no accident, or course. “Natural” disasters have a way of manifesting the grave inequities that humans create. The poorest die in the largest numbers, are the least likely to access services and find shelter after a storm, and are, for lack of resources, the least likely to be able to move on – though many may be forced to anyway.
There are thousands of people missing – many are from communities like the Mudd that were washed away. The final death toll will no doubt be much higher than we can imagine at the moment. In the wake of this storm, the struggle to rebuild lives is already generating conflict, as scarce resources highlight existing tensions. At least that is the story being told. The international media is well known for finding the most sensational stories of conflict and tension – ignoring the many, many acts of cooperation and mutual support. We can hope that such stories will emerge in the coming weeks as well.
In the United States, especially Florida, where many people are relocating from the Bahamas, there are also stories of support. Organizations have mobilized to provide shelter and offer other assistance to refugees from the storm. Emergency response and support are important and help build bonds of friendship and support. But we also have to get better at addressing the ongoing structural violence that makes these disasters so much worse.
Our president is still Trump. From Salon:
At first it appeared that citizens of the Bahamas, an archipelago nation just 110 miles from Florida, would be free to enter the United States, as has been the case in the past. Then an apparent decision by a private maritime operator to avoid trouble with U.S. Customs and Border Protection over the weekend was compounded by President Trump’s pronouncement that hurricane survivors included “some very bad people” who should be left stranded. Trump’s comments on Monday made clear that a policy change, initially sold as a miscommunication by his administration, was actually another capricious act of cruelty, a needlessly inhumane move to block natural disaster refugees.
“We have to be very careful. Everyone needs totally proper documentation,” Trump said in front of the White House after he returned from a weekend of golf on Monday. “I don’t want to allow people who weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.”
The president then suggested that these very bad people are likely to exploit humanitarian assistance. “The Bahamas has tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas who weren’t supposed to be there,” Trump said before adding that, “believe it or not,” some parts of the Bahamas were not hit hard by Hurricane Dorian.
According to Trump, the 70,000 people displaced by the hurricane should simply move to other parts of the Bahamas. If they want to come here, they must have proper documentation, because “bad people” may take advantage of the situation.
Yesterday the Supreme Court gave Trump a “huge,” “big” victory by allowing his new rule limiting the number of people who can seek asylum in the country to stand – at least for now. Trump’s proposed rule would deny migrants the ability to pursue asylum in the United States if they passed through a third country first and failed to pursue asylum there before coming to the United States. In effect, this would deny everyone seeking asylum at the U.S./Mexico border from applying, unless they are from Mexico. The rule shreds current asylum law and practices, and was immediately challenged in court. From the Associated Press:
The legal challenge to the new policy has a brief but somewhat convoluted history. U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco blocked the new policy from taking effect in late July. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals narrowed Tigar’s order so that it applied only in Arizona and California, states that are within the 9th Circuit.
That left the administration free to enforce the policy on asylum seekers arriving in New Mexico and Texas. Tigar issued a new order on Monday that reimposed a nationwide hold on asylum policy. The 9th Circuit again narrowed his order on Tuesday.
The high court action allows the Republican administration to impose the new policy everywhere while the court case against it continues.
It’s unclear how quickly the policy will be rolled out and how exactly it fits in with the other efforts by the administration to restrict border crossings and tighten asylum rules.
Importantly, the Supreme Court ruling only overturns a lower court injunction – it does NOT support of the merits of the policy directly. Legal challenges against the new rule will continue, and it is hard to see how it can survive as it is a clear violation of current law. Mexico is not legally identified as a “safe third country” under U.S. law, and the U.S. effort to get such an agreement with Mexico has not gone forward. The only country the U.S. has such an agreement with is Canada. A separate effort for an agreement with Guatemala has been slowed with legal challenges in Guatemala – and as the single largest group of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. right now are from Guatemala, it is clearly not a “safe” third country.
Noah Feldman, writing for Bloomberg, emphasizes that this was a ruling on process – not the legality of the rule:
But reversing the lower courts that blocked the regulation, pending litigation, isn’t the same thing as upholding it as lawful. The court of appeals still has to issue a final ruling on whether the rule violates federal immigration statutes and whether the government was authorized to issue it without first seeking notice and comment from the public.
Then, after final rulings from the appellate court, the Supreme Court will surely weigh in — and still might strike it down.
Meanwhile, immigration courts were set up in tents along the border to hear asylum claims from people ordered to “remain in Mexico” pending a court date.
At this point we have to pause and note the absurdity. Not only are people denied the right to seek asylum from within the United States – even those who present themselves at a port of entry have been told to stay in Mexico – but they can’t even get a real court hearing. Asylum seekers are patched through to a judge in San Antonio via teleconference while sitting in a tent in Laredo, TX, after sitting in a shelter or refugee camp for months to make their asylum claim.
There are currently 42,000 people awaiting hearing dates on asylum claims in Mexico. 42,000!!!
As the hearings began yesterday, no legal observers, media, or pro bono attorneys were allowed to view the proceedings. From Buzzfeed:
Ashley Huebner, associate director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center, was able to enter the tent facility briefly before being told to leave because she didn’t have a client appearing before the court. She said the lack of access to court observers and reporters was concerning.
“It’s particularly critical here because the entire process is taking place with such a lack of transparency,” Huebner told BuzzFeed News. “The entire setup confirmed how absurd it is to call this a courtroom and court proceedings.”
As of early September, more than 42,000 asylum-seekers have been forced to wait in Mexico while their immigration proceedings play out, according to acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan. Asylum-seekers in MPP [Migration Protection Protocols], also known as “Remain in Mexico,” have reported being assaulted, kidnapped, and extorted while being forced to wait in Mexico. With limited shelter space, some have to rent apartments or rooms, while others are homeless and relying on donations.
You may recall that the administration was under some heat for repurposing funds appropriated by Congress for other accounts in order to pay for enforcement measures. This court fiasco is paid for, in part, by funds appropriated originally for FEMA.
NPR reached out to Democrats running for the presidential nomination to find out where they stand on immigration policy. Though a pretty select filter in terms of questions (nothing difficult on detention, “Remain in Mexico,” asylum law, or the movement to abolish ICE). But still worth a look. From lead in to story:
Donald Trump’s immigration stances — family separation, a ban on immigrants from several majority-Muslim nations, the cancellation of the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program, to name a few — have given Democrats much to criticize as the 2020 presidential election approaches.
It means that the Democratic candidates are pretty uniform in coming out hard against the president on immigration. However, they differ on the particulars of what policies they would like to put into place instead and, in many cases, have not articulated what they would do specifically.
To get a sense of what exactly the candidates would like the immigration system to look like, we asked them some basic questions about legal immigration levels, border security and what kind of a crime crossing the border illegally ought to be.
Full article here.