Archive for January, 2018

Tackling the Justice System

The U.S. criminal justice system can be quite overwhelming to say the least. From the complexities of the laws and policies in place to understanding the roles of the myriad agents involved in sentencing, getting a handle on the criminal justice system is daunting. The following diagram from the organization, Prison Fellowship, provides a simple yet detailed diagram of the system.

This graph helps map the formal system, but it doesn’t include social implications such as poverty, racism, and corrupt political agendas. The manner in which these social forces create inequities in the system, as well as the inhumane practices within the criminal justice system itself, has led to increasing calls for reform, and even rethinking what we mean by justice. We want justice that doesn’t profit off of the number of bodies in jails and prisons; justice that actually reduces crime; justice that looks beyond the criminal act and address the factors that are causing criminal activity (i.e. poverty, racism, limited access to education, increased access to drugs).

In order for justice to occur, local advocacy and reform need to take place. And of the different aspects of criminal justice system, prison reform itself needs to be reformed. At the Quixote Center, we don’t have all of the answers for reform, but we do have the necessary passion needed to see change come about. The primary focus of this blog series will be to explore prison reform on the local, state and federal level. We will look at reform through the lenses of government officials such as mayors and state delegates, from the perspective of formerly (and currently) incarcerated individuals, the presence of proactive (or harmful) legislation, as well as examine the different factors affecting recidivism such as lack of housing and discrimination in the work force.

At the federal level, the Department of Justice is led by known racist, former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. It is imperative that we keep an eye on the DoJ as well as legislation submitted to the House Judiciary Committee. Keep the following numbers close so when it’s time to advocate for or against certain bills, you will be able to reach out to your state representatives! To contact your house of representatives and state senators call 202-224-3121.

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Country Highlight: Nepal

Temporary Protected Status holders increasingly fear they will not be permitted to remain in the United States. Within the last year the Trump administration has terminated TPS for four out of the 10 designated countries.  This week TPS for El Salvador was terminated, impacting over 260,000 people who have lived in the U.S. for over 17 years. TPS holders and supporters continue to press for a permanent, legislative solution. In support of this effort we continue our series on TPS; this week with a profile of Nepal.

Nepal began receiving TPS in 2015, shortly after the massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the country. The earthquake left roughly 9,000 dead, 20,000 injured, over 10,000 displaced, and destroyed 824,000 homes. Though two years have passed since the earthquake, over 2.8 million Nepalese remain in need of humanitarian aid.

The government is seen as largely ineffective in implementing reconstructive efforts or distributing aid due to political instability and infighting. In late 2016, the government attempted to implement the new 2015 Constitution, which ensued in months of violent protests and opposition throughout the country, halting reconstruction efforts.

The political infighting led to delays in establishing or legitimizing an earthquake recovery authority. Without any government authority heading the reconstruction, the majority of victims of the earthquake were forced to spend two monsoons and two winters in makeshift shelters.

Finally, the Reconstruction Authority was created eight months after the earthquake. It estimates that USD$9 billion is needed to complete all the necessary reconstruction in the country. The international community raised USD$4.1 billion to aid Nepal; however, as of April 2017, only 12% of the aid money has been distributed, indicating the ineffectiveness of the agency.

Major criticisms from the international community of the Reconstruction Authority included that it lacks coordination between donors and the governments, possesses a limited understanding of local concerns, and has a dearth of civil engagement. This leaves many organizations attempting to directly give aid to local communities and avoid government involvement.

As with many natural disasters, the earthquake affected the disadvantaged and poor the most. Rural communities in particular have been hard to access and have thus far received little assistance for emergency housing and relief. Of those whom have received government compensation disbursements to rebuild their homes, they face shortages of water, raw materials, inspectors, and engineers needed to rebuild, consequently halting the already slow reconstruction.

The government faces complaints from Nepalese over a lack of transparency and information provided to the public about the time constraints to receive compensation disbursements, and knowledge regarding where and how to receive aid. Although, some believe that there is hope to enact positive governmental change in the elections scheduled for May 2018.

Currently, there are 8,950 Nepalese living in the United States under TPS. This is not an undue hardship to America, and it is clear that the Nepalese government is not capable of adequately handling the return of these citizens.

Please continue to call your legislators and urge them to support legislation that extends TPS and also creates a pathway to permanent residence. See more on legislative options here.

Part VIII of a series on TPS

Missed the last blog?

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The NICA Act and the never-ending hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy

The Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act of 2017 could see action in the U.S. Senate in the coming weeks. The “NICA” Act directs U.S. representatives at international financial institutions like the World Bank,International Monetary Fund and Inter-American Development Bank to block international assistance to Nicaragua until “the Department of State certifies that Nicaragua is taking effective steps to increase election integrity, promote democracy, strengthen the rule of law and respect freedom of association and expression.” The NICA Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives this fall. The version in  the Senate is slightly different than the House version, additionally calling for a report “on activities of certain regimes” in Nicaragua – specifically, Russia, and Venezuela. Senator Leahy’s co-sponsorship of the current effort with bill author Ted Cruz makes it very possible that this version could pass in the Senate.

At the same time, and going mostly unnoticed in the United States, Donald Trump signed an executive order on December 21 declaring a “state of emergency” as a result of rampant human rights violations and corruption around the world. In the order, Trump promises to use the weight of the U.S. government to crackdown on human rights abuse and corruption by freezing the assets of individuals involved in perpetrating such abuse. The Executive Order goes on to list 13 individuals from around the world that are presumptively immediate targets for action. Among those listed is the president of the Supreme Electoral Council in Nicaragua, Roberto José Rivas Reyes. Reyes seems to be guilty of living a luxurious lifestyle while having a modest official salary. Reyes’ inclusion on this list, and the resulting Department of Treasury investigation, is also referenced in the Senate version of the NICA Act.

The official concerns of U.S. policy-makers stem from actions taken by Nicaragua’s Supreme Court and Supreme Electoral Council in preparation for elections in 2011 and 2016. In 2011 the Supreme Court ruled that Ortega could run for re-election despite a constitutional ban on presidents serving consecutive terms. The Court ruled that such a ban violated another constitutional right, the right of an individual to run for office. However one views this decision, and the Court was and remains clearly in the Sandinista camp, the controversy surrounding the ruling was obviously well covered in Nicaragua’s media – which routinely lampoons Ortega and other political leaders in ways that would make Borowitz blush. Ortega still won 62% of the vote. In 2016 Ortega won again. Prior to the election the Supreme Electoral Council cancelled the legal status of leaders of the Independent Liberal Party, driving a wedge in the opposition Coalition for Democracy. Without an effective opposition Ortega would go on to win with 72% of the vote.

One need not be any kind of cheerleader for Ortega’s institutional maneuvering as head of the Sandinista party to acknowledge that his, and more importantly the party’s popularity is based on improving the lives of many people. Since 2006, the Sandinista government has provided free healthcare services, eliminated school fees (imposed by previous governments under the pressure of structural adjustment programs), invested in rural communities, and significantly reduced poverty. Nicaragua has also enjoyed a growth rate of nearly 5% in recent years. The NICA Act, if passed, would erode the government’s ability to sustain these programs. We must assume U.S. policy-makers are well aware of this; undercutting the popular basis of Sandinista rule is the goal.

As the U.S. government prepares to possibly sanction Nicaragua for what it deems electoral malfeasance, it is standing by the re-election of Juan Orlando Hernández in Honduras. The comparison is instructive. Hernandez ran for re-election despite a constitutional ban on consecutive terms for the president. He was allowed to do so by a questionable ruling of Honduras’ Supreme Court under the control of his party. This caused little concern for U.S. policy-makers. The election in Honduras was the third since a coup d’etat removed president Manuel Zelaya from office in June of 2009. Hernandez represents the coalition of forces that undertook that coup, and with U.S. support, that coalition has sought to consolidate its control over the country ever since. Despite widespread human rights abuses, the United States continues to provide tens of millions of dollars in assistance to security forces. Those security forces have been implicated in the assassination of dozens of social movement leaders. Honduras remains one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders, journalists, and environmental activists. In the wake of the coup, the murder rate sky-rocketed to the highest in the world; the murder rate for women doubled.

The election in Honduras took place on November 26, 2017. As the tallies were posted by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla was running ahead of Hernández. The tallies were quickly taken off-line, and no further public disclosures were made for several days. When preliminary results were then posted Hernández had pulled ahead, a near statistical impossibility given earlier results. Protests increased around the country demanding that there be a transparent recount, and then a new election (given that some ballots had “disappeared”). It took over two weeks for election authorities to make Hernandez the official winner. The Trump administration congratulated him the same day. The Organization of American States has called for a new election, as have the people of Honduras. The U.S. government has accepted the results. Amidst the violent crackdown against demonstrators by government forces that has resulted in at least 40 deaths, the U.S. certified Honduras’ progress in human rights in order to continue funding security forces.

The juxtaposition of U.S. policy toward Nicaragua and Honduras could not be more absurd if one actually believes the guiding issue for United States policy is democratic practice.  However, U.S. administrations have proven over and over that the U.S. government cares little about the integrity of elections in Central America. The U.S. concern is simply that the “right” people win: Those who support unencumbered corporate access to resources and labor.

What to do?

Contact your Senator and tell them to oppose NICA Act. You can call your Senators using the Capital Switchboard (202) 224-3121 Or, send a letter opposing the NICA Act directly to your Senators using our friends at the Alliance for Global Justice’s online platform here.

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)