When Trump announced that his administration would begin deporting “millions” of immigrants earlier this month, he defended this as an action targeting criminals:
“We’re really looking for criminals as much as we can. Trying to find the criminal population, which has been coming into this country the last 10 years,” Trump told reporters as he prepared to depart Washington. He touted his administration’s removal of members of the violent gang MS-13, claiming he’d deported them “by the thousands.”
In doing so, Trump was elevating a theme he has focused on since the early days of his campaign. His administration would focus on the “bad hombres,” the “rapists and murderers” coming through Mexico to threaten U.S. American lives and livelihoods. His administration established a hotline for people to report if they had been victims of a crime involving a “nexus with immigration.” The hotline received mostly prank calls during its first year of operation and has been controversial from the start:
Douglas Rivlin, a spokesman for the immigrant advocacy group America’s Voice, said the hotline was set up because Trump “wanted to be able to say he was addressing the fictitious immigrant crime-wave he has conjured from his anti-immigrant fever dreams.”
The rhetorical focus on criminality is intended to both garner fear and legitimate expanded enforcement operations as his administration has set record highs in the number of people detained – though he still lags behind Obama’s administration in actual deportations. It also plays into the policy at the border where administration officials repeatedly claim asylum seekers are mostly just gaming the system.
In reality Trump’s administration has deemphasized criminal activity as the basis for removal proceedings in immigrant courts more than any administration. In the current fiscal year, DHS has only sought removal based on a criminal act in 2.8 percent of all immigration court filings. That is an extraordinary drop from the 25 percent of cases in 1999, or even the 16 percent of cases in 2009. In some courts, the numbers hover around 0.1 percent – or one in a thousand cases. In Houston, the second busiest immigration court in the country, the number of criminal removal cases was the lowest, five out of 15,063 cases heard, or 0.033 percent.
The decline in the rate is not simply a function of more arrests – the actual number of filings is also way down:
Despite the rising number of ICE interior arrests and individuals who are detained, fewer and fewer immigrants in the Immigration Court’s growing workload are being cited as deportable based upon criminal activity. During the first nine months of FY 2019 only 7,458 cases have been lodged by DHS citing criminal activity as a basis for seeking the removal order. If this same pace continues for the remaining three months of the year, the total is still unlikely to reach 10,000. A decade or more ago immigrants with criminal records or alleged criminal activity involved 30,000 to 40,000 court filings each year.
There is a tremendous amount of variability in the courts. Though, as explained by TRAC, even courts that are based in detention facilities, are at record lows of criminal removal proceedings:
Not surprisingly given standards for mandatory detention, Immigration Courts hearing cases at ICE detention facilities often have higher proportions of individuals where DHS cites alleged criminal activity as a basis for seeking removal. But even here immigrants make up a small minority of the court’s docket. For example in Tacoma, Washington which handles cases at the Northwest Detention Center only one in ten cases (10.3) this year cite criminal activity as a basis for seeking the immigrant’s removal. At Miami-Krome, the proportion rises to one out of eight (12.1%). Higher proportions, however, are observed at two Immigration Courts – York and Napanoch – which hear cases at prisons involving immigrants who have been convicted of crimes for which they are serving prison terms.
The focus on immigrant criminality as a means to justify expanded enforcement operations is not new with this administration. Obama also shifted his focus to criminal removals, and despite the relatively low numbers during his administration of criminal removal proceedings, he is perceived as having focused his deportation machine on people with criminal records. But Trump has elevated this rhetoric to a fever pitch despite numerous studies that show immigrants commit crime at a lower rate than native born citizens in the U.S. – this includes unauthorized immigrants. The tragedy here is that those who support this administration’s crackdown on immigrants believe the rhetoric of criminality, even though that is not even the real focus for removal proceedings. This administration is seeking to detain and remove anybody they can, breaking up families in the process and destroying thousands of lives. As with much else they do, the justification is a lie.
Yesterday, 70 Catholic leaders locked arms in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, in an effort to put pressure on Congress and the presidential administration to end the immoral and inhumane practice of detaining immigrant children. The action took place in the Russell Building Rotunda. Though open to everyone, the protest was the first in a series intended to mobilize Catholics in particular to stand up for the rights of immigrants. From the press release of organizers:
The Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children brought together more than 200 Catholic sisters, priests, brothers and lay Catholic advocates representing nearly 20 national organizations who sang, prayed, and chanted as they demanded an end to the immoral and inhumane practice of detaining immigrant children. This action is the beginning of a campaign in which Catholic leaders are increasing their willingness to take significant risks as an act of faithful resistance. Photos here. Video of civil disobedience here.
Earlier on the Capitol Lawn, Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious; Fr. Joe Nangle, former Co-Director of Franciscan Mission Service, and Sr. Gayle Lwanga Crumbley, RGS, were among the leaders who addressed the gathering before moving in to the Senate building. Excerpts from their remarks can be found here:
Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious:
“Catholic sisters have a long history with immigrant communities. We have seen the pain, suffering, fear, and trauma firsthand. In recent months, as the humanitarian crisis has escalated, we have joined the tens of thousands who are outraged at the horrific situation at our southern border. Over 1000 Catholic sisters have spent time ministering to those in need and have donated almost $1 million to help support the care of those seeking safety, freedom, security and a better life for their families. We are here today because of our faith. The Gospel commands, and the values of our homeland demand, that we act.”
Fr. Joe Nangle, former Co-Director of Franciscan Mission Service:
“Our country was born in the darkness of what we now call original sin. And we now, some 200 plus years later, had thought that we had begun to overcome these sins. However, in these days, Donald Trump is dragging us back to those evil times, with a combination of irrational fears, hatred of people not like him, and sheer cruelty. What is almost as evil, is so-called Christians support and applaud and enable this descent into a new dark age in America. We are speaking about the evidence for this and these actions today. We are particularly citing the dishumanity taking place, even as we speak, at our southern borders. This is why we call on our millions of fellow Catholic sisters and brothers, particularly our bishops, to join in the struggle for the soul of America.”
Sr. Gayle Lwanga Crumbley, RGS
“I stand in solidarity with all who seek to better their lives. Psalm 1:27 tells us that children are always a blessing. They are filled with joy and laughter. They are fragile from the very beginning. We have to protect them. The Catholic community has decried the treatment of children on our southern border, not only as a violation of human dignity and rights, but also contrary to religious teachings and the sacred call to care for people who are most at risk, especially children.”
Other participants issued the following statements:
Patrick Carolan, Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network:
“We are here today because of these 8 children who died either in custody or trying to seek asylum. They are children of God. They are your brothers and sisters, your neighbor.”
Eli McCarthy, PhD, Director of Justice and Peace at Conference of Major Superiors of Men:
“Today’s action was focused on increasing the visibility of Catholics willing to take more risks to significantly improve treatment of children and end child detention. We see the urgent inhumanity and injustice. We are challenged by our faith to enter more deeply into solidarity, inspire others to take on more risks, to increasingly non-cooperate with injustice, and to live the Eucharist — being one body, ready to be broken for others. This is only the first phase of a 3-part campaign to end child detention and thus create more political space to challenge family detention and beyond.”
Lawrence E. Couch, director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and a coordinator of the Catholic Day of Action:
“While I dreaded the loss of liberty that I risked with my act of civil disobedience, it is nothing compared to the experiences of our sisters and brothers on the border who live in fear and cruel, inhumane conditions. I was particularly moved this morning by the photographs of the innocent children who died in custody or on their journey to safety. I raise them up in prayer and say ‘no more.'”
Several bishops have sent statements of support for this gathering and civil disobedience action. For full details, click here.
The protest was also covered by ABC News.
Over the last year there has been a recurring cycle of protest sparked by ongoing anger at the current government. The underlying causes are complex, touching on a number of themes, but central to the frustration is the increasing cost of living that is driving people into more and more desperate conditions. Alongside of the daily struggle, corruption has emerged as a specific target of frustration as it manifests the insular world of Haiti’s wealthy class which continues to dominate political institutions. The PetroCaribe scandal, where dozens of politicians and well connected friends were found to have syphoned off billions in subsidized oil revenue for projects never completed, or, in some cases, never started has become a focal point for demonstrations demanding the resignation of president Jovenal Moise.
Below, Geri Lanham, who works with our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Gros Morne, discusses what the crisis has meant in Gros Morne and some of the hopeful ways the community has responded.
Gros Morne is known for being a calm place where people go about their daily business of trying to support their families without much fuss. This daily endeavor is not without hardship, and is made more difficult by the lack of transportation and electric infrastructure, but it is generally carried out in a manner of purposeful action where each person strives to manage his or her affairs to the extent that he or she is able. This all happens within the local network of the eight communal sections of Gros Morne, which are connected via local markets and businesses which try to keep up a trade to more or less enable those people who are engaged within the network to strive to make ends meet. Hunger still very much exists in the zone, but thanks to local efforts to support and expand agrarian activities and family connections abroad, there are genuine attempts to lessen this daily struggle to provide basic needs. Life is difficult here, without a doubt, but the people of Gros Morne are incredibly resilient in the face of hardship.
The recent recurring episodes of insecurity in the country have negatively impacted Gros Morne and the capacity and network that people here have worked hard to create in order to support their families. When the roads to the south toward Port-au-Prince are barricaded with roadblocks due to political frustrations, this means that the merchants of Gros Morne cannot resupply. Prices rise when everyday goods like eggs and flour become scarce, and when the roads open again, these prices do not fall back to the level where they were originally. The real difficulty is when local salaries for professionals who work in education and healthcare do not rise in response to these increased prices, and so the purchasing power of this professional class decreases. The merchants then lose some of their regular clients who can no longer afford to buy at the same level at which they had before the scarcity, and their network shrinks.
When gas is not resupplied regularly to the four gas stations in town, transportation costs rise. This impacts virtually everyone in town who use the moto taxis to get where they need to go on a daily basis. Profit margins fall for small merchants who need to transport items farther out into the countryside, as well as for moto drivers, who realize that they cannot raise their taxi prices more than what people are willing to reasonably pay even when gas purchased on the black market is more expensive. People who were able to “make it” previously now find themselves in a difficult situation of needing some other activity or connection to fill the gap caused by the price increases which are the result of these roadblocks.
With the transportation disrupted, people in Gros Morne felt the impact of these national strikes. This led to the desire from some in town to join in the protest activities to show their own frustrations and commiserate with their country people who are all very frustrated by the current situation of the unsustainable high cost of living. This disgruntled feeling manifested itself in a day of general protests in Gros Morne, which involved a group of people marching down the main roads, erecting rock barricades along the national highway that passes through town, and generally voicing their discontent with the status quo. Then the next day, all was back to business as usual, as people went about the daily struggle to provide for their families, which is only becoming more difficult.
One positive ongoing change to emerge from these national protests and the disruptions that they have caused is a local desire for people to become more self sufficient in their food sources. The local agronomy team in Gros Morne, along with various community organizations, is striving to teach people techniques for increasing their garden yields and introducing them to new crops in order to fortify the local capacity to supply the nutritional needs of the population. Local women’s groups are supporting one another in efforts to create small front yard gardens of vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and okra, while community organizations are creating communal gardens to plant crops like corn, okra and sweet potatoes. Local farmers are receiving formation to plant a new variety of yams and are using land preparation techniques like double dug gardens to respond to the lack of rainfall in the zone. As families begin to identify the assets such as land, which they already have, they are then able to use what they learn from agronomy formations to put the land into use in an attempt to respond to the hardships facing their families. Coordination between leaders out in the communal sections means that different zones are planting different crops, so that they do not drive prices down when they bring their harvest to the central market in the town of Gros Morne. These small efforts are beginning to show results as everyone strives to go about living by finding creative ways to deal with the new normal.