The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is accepting public comments on how to prevent future administrations from separating families at the border until January 25th.
The Trump administration separated an estimated 5,500 children from their families during 2018 as the result of enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy at the border. While many have been reunited, the long-lasting psychological harm to young children has already been done. By the end of 2021, Biden’s Task Force on the Reunification had reunited 100 families, with an additional 345 children identified for reunification. However, at least a thousand children remain separated from their families.
In November 2021, President Biden dismissed a report to provide migrants impacted by family separation up to $1 million as “garbage.” He later walked back that statement and said that families of separated children should receive reparations. But in December, after ten months of negotiations, his administration withdrew from settlement talks with families affected by family separations. Whether these families will receive justice remains to be seen.
Click HERE for an auto-generated comment that you can edit. Remember: every comment must be unique in order to be effective.
Below is the comment that we’ve submitted to DHS as an example:
To prevent future human rights abuses, the Biden administration must adopt policy andlanguage that enshrine respect for the dignity and human rights of all migrants. To signal its commitment, the current administration must demonstrate such harm will never again be tolerated. Reparations are one such mechanism of transitional justice. Though no amount of money can undo the lifelong emotional and psychological harm caused by being forcibly separated from one’s family, reparations are vital to acknowledging the wrongdoing and addressing the harms suffered. The Biden administration must provide the families with pending cases with an equitable settlement.
Over a month ago, the Biden administration restarted Remain in Mexico, or MPP. Since then, DHS has returned 217 asylum seekers to Mexico under the program. The majority—62%—came from Nicaragua, with another 22% from Venezuela, 7% from Cuba, 6% from Ecuador, and 3% from Colombia.
At the end of last December, the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to review its case to end MPP. Earlier that month, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the administration’s appeal, upholding a lower court’s ruling that DHS improperly terminated the policy.
There are a few surface-level changes in an attempt to make the program more humane: officials have stated that migrants will now have access to transportation at ports of entry to take them directly to Mexican shelters, offering some level of protection against targeted crime. There are also protections for individuals with physical and mental conditions and members of the LGBTQ community.
However, the Biden Administration has already broken many of its own rules, leading to the abuses that immigration advocates have been warning about since the beginning. Immigration attorneys have identified at least 24 immigrants, such as those with serious medical conditions, who should never have been placed into the “Remain in Mexico” program according to its own guidelines. At least 9 were taken out of MPP after being flagged to CBP, but 1 was mistakenly returned to Mexico.
As Refugee International’s Yael Schacher observed in El Paso, among the 82 MPP enrollees who had hearings last Monday and Tuesday, only five had legal counsel. Asylum seekers with legal counsel are three times more likely to have their cases approved. It is notable that, according to their nationalities, the migrants currently enrolled in MPP would typically have had the strongest cases for asylum had they been allowed to enter the U.S. By being returned to Mexico, they face a much greater chance of being deported.
At its core, MPP cuts asylum seekers off from accessing legal representation in the U.S. and leaves them stranded in a country with little to no resources or protection from danger. Under the previous administration’s iteration of MPP, there were over 1,544 reported cases of violent attacks—including murder, assault, torture, and kidnapping—driving many to abandon their asylum claims. Biden’s MPP 2.0 only continues to place migrants back into the very dangers they are fleeing.
Unless the Biden administration takes real action to defend migrants, this cycle of violence—criminal and system—against migrants is only likely to continue. Join us in calling on the Biden administration to end MPP and Title 42 by signing our petition HERE.
This week, our partners in Mexico released a statement denouncing the inhumane conditions in which migrants, including pregnant women and children, have been overcrowded in a sports center in Puebla, Mexico. To read the original statement in Spanish, click HERE.
TO THE FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL AUTHORITIES
MUNICIPALITIES OF THE STATE OF PUEBLA
TO THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MIGRATION
TO THE MEXICAN COMMISSION FOR REFUGEE AID
TO THE STATE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
TO THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
TO ALL PERSONS IN GOOD FAITH
The Mexico Team of the Franciscan Network on Migration, the Jesuit Migration Network in Mexico, and the Ignacio Ellacuría Human Rights Institute, SJ strongly condemn the conditions reported by the Coordinator of the Borders, Migrations and Subjectivities Seminar at the Social Sciences and Humanities “Alfonso Vélez Pliego” Institute (ICSyH) on December 8, 2021. It is evident that, in accordance with the migration policies of the Mexican State, around 500 migrants, mostly Haitians, were transferred from Tapachula, Chiapas to the State of Puebla on December 4, with the promise of issuing them humanitarian visas. Today, they are crowded together in the Xonaca Sports Center in the city of Puebla.
During the Seminar coordinator’s visit to the facilities, she was able to verify that among the migrant population there are pregnant women, as well as about 80 children. Among them, some have experienced dehydration and respiratory discomfort as a result of the low temperatures, as well as the State government authorities’ failure to provide the minimum conditions necessary to guarantee the human right to protection of life, health, and dignity, mainly of the population of children, adolescents, and pregnant women.
On their part, news reports that have gathered testimonies about the shelter conditions mention that “they have faced a lack of attention…because the space lacks mattresses, water, and blankets to protect them from the cold.”
It should be noted that the case of the migrant population deprived of their liberty in the Xonaca Sports Center is a reflection of the violence experienced by migrants within Mexico. Likewise, the lack of policies that seek to safeguard the life and dignity of migrants claimed the lives of 53 Central American migrants on December 9th, on the Chiapa de Corzo highway. It is imperative that their human rights be fully respected and guaranteed by the authorities, in accordance with the provisions of Article 1 of the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States, as well as international standards and jurisprudence in the area of human rights.
We demand that the Mexican authorities at all three levels, especially the National Institute of Migration, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid, the State Human Rights Commission, the National Human Rights Commission, and the various agencies of the Puebla State Government and the City of Puebla:
Guarantee at all times immediate attention, special protection, and the best interests of migrant children in the Xonaca Sports Centre, Puebla.
Guarantee the human right to health of pregnant women.
Guarantee humanitarian assistance to all migrants in need of food, health, and safety, as well as other basic necessities.
Safeguard the integrity of migrants without resorting to the use of force, taking into account the principles of absolute necessity and proportionality.
Release the persons detained in the Polideportivo, Xonaca, Puebla in order to guarantee the human right to protection of life, dignity, and health.
Respect the human rights of all migrants regardless of their immigration status.
Create strategies with the authorities of the State of Puebla to ensure that migrant and asylum-seeking populations have access to social programs in order to guarantee respect for their human rights.
The immediate intervention of the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid.
Guarantee, to all who require it, psychological care and legal guidance on the procedures for receiving refugee status and regularizing one’s migration status.
Finally, in order to build unity, we make a call to stand in solidarity with migrants and to accompany them on their journey through Mexico.
Mexico Team of the Franciscan Network on Migration
This week, Nicaraguans celebrate La Purísima, a novena—or nine-day prayer—in honor of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, the country’s patron saint. The actual celebrations resemble a cross between Christmas, Halloween, and Carnival.
Today, December 7, is known as La Gritería, or “the shouting,” which is as raucous as it sounds. “¿Quién causa tanta alegría?” or “What causes so much joy?” people shout in the streets, with the refrain being “la Concepción de María” or “the Conception of Mary!” Between December 7th and 8th, firecrackers explode in the streets at all hours.
Alter to the Immaculate Conception in Managua
Traditions vary by city, but typically Nicaraguans construct an altar in their homes and host friends, family, and neighbors. Children go from altar to altar singing folk songs and asking, “¿Quién causa tanta alegría?” The homeowners repeat the refrain and hand out small gifts, usually food such as drinks and candy. The best treat of all—equivalent to receiving a king-size candy bar while trick-or-treating—is a nacatamal , a large tamale stuffed with an entire meal of pork, rice, potatoes, and more, that is wrapped and steamed in plantain leaves.
Leon celebrates with “La Gigantona,” a giant puppet that dances through the streets accompanied by drums and horns. Adapted from a Spanish tradition, La Gigantona pokes fun at the original Spanish colonizers. In Granada, locals place their altars on the street, instead of in their homes. La Purísima is also observed by the Nicaraguan diaspora, from Miami to Los Angeles, as a way to reconnect with their heritage.
At its heart, the celebration of La Purísima is about connecting with family, friends, and the wider community. It encourages immense generosity towards complete strangers in a way that has become difficult during the pandemic, but perseveres nonetheless.
Children in Managua stand in anticipation of treats
Due to the pandemic, carolers must gather by the gate instead of inside the home
Greenbelt, MD–On Friday, the CDC announced it would extend migrant expulsions under Title 42; and today, the Biden administration will return its first group under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) 2.0, or “Remain in Mexico.” The Quixote Center condemns the continuation of both Trump-era policies. Though Biden promised to “end Trump’s detrimental asylum policies” on the campaign trail, he has continued to systematically deny migrants their right to asylum.
In August, a district court ordered the Biden administration to reinstate MPP in “good faith.” However, expanding the program to include the entire Western Hemisphere goes far beyond the court order’s limits. The Biden administration has not only broken its promise to dismantle the Trump administration’s racist and xenophobic immigration policies, but has instead doubled down on denying asylum seekers their right to seek safety in the United States.
MPP remains unsafe for asylum seekers, as well as their legal representatives. During MPP’s last iteration, there were over 1,544 cases of violent attacks—including murder, assault, and kidnapping—reported against migrants in the program. Furthermore, non-native Spanish speakers from Haiti and other Caribbean nations face an even greater risk of racially-motivated violence and discrimination. There are some exceptions written into the law for groups deemed vulnerable; however, in practice these rules have been irregularly applied, even forcing individuals with serious mental and physical health conditions into the program.
The CDC’s decision to renew Title 42 is appalling, but not surprising. In total, over one million people were summarily expelled at the US/Mexico border under Title 42 during FY 2021. Former CDC officials have testified that the order was not based on public health concerns. Instead, it remains a discriminatory tool to summarily expel any migrant—including families and young children—back to the danger from which they are fleeing. There have been 7647 recorded attacks against migrants expelled under Title 42.
Since Biden’s inauguration, there have been around 123 ICE Air flights to Haiti, expelling an estimated 12,000 Haitian asylum seekers. A significant percentage of these flights were conducted under Title 42, but our concern is that MPP will become yet another anti-black mechanism to expel and mistreat Haitian migrants. We call on the Biden administration to follow through on the promise to reinstate asylum at the border, and respect international law in treating migrants with dignity.
To join us in calling on the Biden administration to end Title 42 & MPP, sign our petition HERE.
15 years ago, we launched “Homes of Home,” our campaign to provide affordable housing to impoverished Nicaraguans since reconstruction efforts following Hurricane Mitch. In 2015, we partnered with the Roncalli Association to make housing more accessible for middle to low-income families.
Juan Omar Quant Lee in front his family’s new home in Ticuantepe, Managua
Over the last five years, 144 homes have been built under the Homes of Hope initiative in the communities of Sebaco, San Marcos, San Dionisio, and Terrabona, as well as in Managua. We construct high-quality homes that can resist future natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. The Roncalli Association also installs soil and storm drainage improvements to prevent flooding, clean drinking water, and electricity.
There are two main components of this housing strategy: the Community Housing Program, and the Family Housing program. Quixote Center funds cover construction costs, families repay the loan at a concessional rate, and the money flows into a revolving loan fund that will cover the costs of future housing.
Ileana Amparo Mendoza, owner of a Zafiro model house
The Family Housing initiative provides loan guarantees for middle-income families through a special agreement with BANPRO. This serves those who are often excluded from the national financial system.
The Community Housing program works primarily with low-income families and involves families directly in the home-building process. Families within a housing cooperative contribute to the construction of homes under the supervision of Institute staff. This lowers the cost of construction and thus repayment rates. It also provides training for those participating.
Shirlen Ruiz Dávila’s Old Home vs New Home
Through the Community Housing Program, 75 low-income housing units have been built with Quixote Center funds. From these 75 households, 271 people have benefited directly (137 men and 134 women). This has also indirectly benefited at least 446 people, namely the 153 construction workers who were hired for an average of 3 months for each project.
To read more about Homes for Home and the families that have benefited, click HERE to visit our Story Map.
On Sunday, November 7, Nicaraguans will vote for the president and vice-president of the country, as well as for the National Assembly and for Nicaragua’s representatives to the Central American Parliament. There has been a great deal of controversy about these elections circulating in the US and European media. One result is that the United States Congress just passed a new sanctions bill against Nicaragua (the RENACER Act) on Wednesday, November 3 in response to some of this controversy. (See here for more detail). I’m not getting into the controversy in this post – just a simple explainer about who is running.
Who is running? How does it work?
Under the election reform law published in June of 2021 (see page 3876), the Nicaraguan president is elected by a simple plurality – the candidate with the highest number of valid votes becomes president. When Parties put forward their candidates for president and vice-president, they must conform to the principle of gender equity (one of the candidates must be a woman, one a man). As you can see, in this election cycle the presidential candidates are all men, and the vice-presidential candidates are women.
The parties and their candidates for president/vice president are:
Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC)
President; Walter Edén Espinoza Fernández.
Vice President; Mayra Consuelo Arguello Sandoval
Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) (United Nicaragua Triumphs Alliance)
President: Jose Daniel Ortega Saavedra
Vice President: Rosario Maria Murillo Zambrana
Christian Path Party (CCN)
President: Guillermo Antonio Osorno Molina
Vice President: Violeta Janette Martinez Zapata
Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance Party (ALN)
President: Marcelo de Jesus Montiel Fernández
Vice President: Jennyfer del Carmen Espinoza Blen
Alliance for the Republic Party (APRE)
President: Gerson Gutierrez Gasparin
Vice President: Claudia Maria Romero Cuadra
Independent Liberal Party (PLI)
President: Mauricio Orue Vasquez
Vice President: Zobeyda del Socorro Rodríguez Díaz
The National Assembly Election
There are 92 seats in the National Assembly. Like the president, the assembly is elected to 5 year terms. The seats are divided as follows:
20 seats are National Representatives elected through a system of proportional representations. Seats are assigned based on the percentage of votes cast for the party, e,g, if a party gets 50% of the vote, they get 10 of these seats. Each party submits a list of candidates; every other candidate on the list must be a woman. The seats won are then assigned by going down the list from top to bottom – if a party wins 10 seats, then the first 10 candidates on their list are given the seats.
There are 70 seats that are assigned to department and regional representation. They are assigned as follows:
Department of Boaco (2).
Department of Carazo (3).
Department of Chinandega (6).
Department of Chontales (3 ).
Department of Estelí(3).
Department of Granada (3 ).
Department of Jinotega (3 ).
Department of León (6).
Department of Madriz (2).
Department of Managua (19).
Department of Masaya (4).
Department of Matagalpa (6).
Department of Nueva Segovia (2).
Department of Río San Juan (1).
Department of Rivas (2).
Autonomous Region of the South Caribbean Coast (2).
Autonomous Region of the North Caribbean Coast (3).
These seats are assigned in a proportional fashion as well, corresponding to the percentage of the vote each party or party alliance wins in the department or region.
All of the parties with a presidential candidate have a slate of candidates for the National Assembly. Elections for the Autonomous Regions also include the party YATAMA.
The final two seats in the assembly are reserved for the presidential candidate that comes in second, and the outgoing president (or vice president – if the president is re-elected).As Ortega and Murrillo are both running again (and likely to win), I am not clear how this seat will be handled.
Elections for the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN)
Nicaragua’s representatives to the Central American Parliament are determined through a proportional representation system similar to the process for deciding the national level representatives for the National Assembly.
There are 20 deputies elected to the Central American Parliament from each member country for 5 year terms.
Results for the elections will be presented by the Supreme Electoral Council beginning Sunday night. Voting will take place in 13,459 polling stations, with votes then tallied in 3,106 voting centers. Just under 4.5 million people have been registered to vote in the election.
There will be an international presence during the election, including a delegation of people invited by the government to accompany the process, as well as official election monitors from the European Union.
On Friday, the Biden administration announced in a memo that it would be ending the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy. Ironically named the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), the program forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their cases to be heard.
“In reaching this conclusion, I recognize that MPP likely contributed to reduced migratory flows,” DHS Secretary Mayorkas declared in his memo. “But it did so by imposing substantial and unjustifiable human costs on the individuals who were exposed to harm while waiting in Mexico.”
This presents a new and powerful shift in the administration’s discourse around immigration: an admission that deterrence-based immigration policies are, by nature, unjustifiably cruel (although what they haven’t admitted yet is that deterrence doesn’t work).
As of now, the court’s injunction ordering the re-implementation of MPP still stands, meaning that the administration may still be moving forward with the program in mid-November until the injunction is lifted.
But, as legal experts have pointed out, the administration had two months to terminate the program in compliance with the court order, which simply prohibits the “en masse” release of all asylum seekers at the border into the U.S.
That the administration may be needlessly drawing out a cruel and unjust program is a choice. Already, Biden officials have signed over $14 million in contracts to reopen “tent courts” at border crossings in Laredo and Brownsville, Texas. Biden officials claimed to be undertaking efforts to make the program more humane, such as potentially moving to offer vaccines to asylum-seekers. But as Mayorkas himself admitted, the program is inherently inhumane.
More than 70,000 immigrants are estimated to have been placed into MPP before the administration ended the policy. During that time, there were over 1,544 cases of violent attacks—including murder, assault, torture, and kidnapping—reported against migrants in the program. That asylum seekers were subjected to the very dangers from which they were fleeing is not only unconscionable, but should be a violation of international law.
There were also significant abuses on the U.S.’s part. A leaked document from DHS revealed that border officials did not comply with their agency’s own guidelines on who could and couldn’t be placed into MPP. Despite the fact that migrants with medical conditions were supposed to be exempt from the program, that often wasn’t the case in the practice. There are reports of severely disabled children and adults in need of surgery or medical attention being forced to wait in Mexico.
Conditions under “Remain in Mexico” were not just dangerous for migrants in the program, but for their legal representatives as well, who were threatened with kidnapping and violence for aiding asylum-seekers.
Last week, over seventy legal service providers, such as Al Otro Lado and Human Rights First, issued a letter to the administration refusing to cooperate with the implementation of MPP.
“There is no way to make this program safe, humane, or lawful,” they wrote. “No measure of involvement from civil societies will mitigate the harms of this horrific, racist, and unlawful program.”
In his memo, Mayorkas echoed this sentiment: “I have concluded that there are inherent problems with the program that no amount of resources can sufficiently fix.”
Last Saturday, immigration advocates walked out of a virtual meeting with Biden officials in protest of the continuation of Trump-era policies. “There is no improved version of MPP. It is not possible to make the inhumane humane,” they read from a prepared statement. “We refuse to be complicit in deterrence-based border policies.”
“Remain in Mexico, like Title 42, causes needless suffering for those forced to flee who have come to our doorstep in need of protection. It is time to heal, to restore our commitment to asylum, and in the words of the Holy Father, move ‘towards an ever wider we.’”
In order to kickstart the program, Biden will need permission from the Mexican government. Whether they will grant it remains to be seen.
While it’s impossible to know why the administration chooses to do anything, it’s possible that this decision came after significant pressure from immigration advocates. Perhaps the silver lining to all of this is that pressure does work.
What we must demand now is for the administration to do everything in its power to make sure that the courts lift the order to re-implement MPP in “good faith”, to which Friday’s memo makes an excellent case is impossible.
It is also past time for Biden to revoke Title 42. If MPP had “unjustifiable human costs,” then what about the 7,647 kidnappings and other attacks on migrants who were expelled under Title 42 since Biden took office? The Biden administration must follow through on its promise for concrete immigration reform, and make an effort towards building a more humane asylum system.
Caravan of Mothers of Disappeared Migrants with Rep. Raúl Grijalva (AZ-3)
On a brisk Tuesday morning, across from the white dome of the U.S. Capitol, a group of five women from Central America gathered to bring awareness to the hundreds of migrants who disappear each year while attempting to cross into the United States. Dressed in shawls and cute jackets, hair impeccably styled, any one of them could have been one of my tías, or my abuelita. Despite the October cold, the mothers stood tall—heads lifted high—as they recounted their stories.
“We are dying while alive. We have no peace, day and night we hold them in our hearts, and our only desire is to find them,” said Arecely de Mejía, a member of the Committee for Family members of Deceased and Disappeared Migrants (COFAMIDE) whose son Edwin has been missing for over nine years.
“I am the mother of Carlos Osorio Parada,” said Bertila Parada from El Salvador. “I did find him, but I did not find him the way I wanted to. I was not able to hold him. My son left with the hope of coming to this country, and he was kidnapped in Mexico. His body was found in a clandestine grave in Tamaulipas in 2011. He was finally repatriated in 2015 to El Salvador.”
“We want to open borders so that you can see the suffering of mothers of disappeared people in our countries,” said Ángela Lacayo from Honduras. “Our youth are forced to migrate because of crime, because of lack of opportunity, because of unemployment, because of organized crime, because of M-18. We want to be heard and for our voices may make it to the halls of Congress so that laws can change and the militarization of migratory routes ceases.”
Photographs of Disappeared Family Members
According to Border Patrol, 7,209 migrants have died while crossing the U.S.-Mexico over the last 20 years. However, according to Border Angels, the real death toll could be anywhere between 25% to 300% higher, based on reports of human remains uncovered by other groups such as local law enforcement, humanitarian groups, ranchers, ect. This would mean that, over the past 20 years, there have been anywhere between 9,100 to just under 29,000 deaths. This does not even take into account that, in the harsh conditions of the desert, human remains can rapidly decompose without ever being recorded.
Since 2014, according to the IOM, another 3,400 migrants have gone missing while attempting the U.S.-Mexico border crossing; again, this is likely a vast underestimate of the true number. Collecting data on disappeared migrants is extremely difficult given that there is no singular entity tracking these numbers; the Missing Migrants Project pieced together reports from Mexican immigration authorities and US border county medical examiners, coroners, and sheriffs offices.
What is it that makes this journey so deadly? Migrants who cross the border through the desert risk fatal heat exposure, hypothermia (exposure to cold), hyperthermia (exposure to heat), and drowning. Those who become unable to keep up with the group are often abandoned by the very coyotes they hired—meaning that even a minor injury could result in death. Vehicle accidents—mostly tied to freight trains used as transit—are the first most common recorded cause of death, with violence being the second. Throughout Mexico and Central America, migrants risk becoming victims of robbery, kidnapping, rape, or human trafficking carried out by gangs and cartels.
Migratory routes were not always this dangerous. In 1994, under the Clinton Administration, Border Patrol launched Operation Gatekeeper, designed to keep out migrants by building up the border apparatus—such as increasing detention bed space and building new walls and infrastructure where they previously had not existed—thus intentionally pushing migrants to take more dangerous and irregular routes for crossing. This policy of “prevention through deterrence” led to the militarization of the border as we see it today.
But as the past twenty years have demonstrated, deterrence does not work. Instead, it merely leads to pointless tragedy, as evidenced by the mothers.
For 16 years, hundreds of mothers and family members of disappeared migrants have joined together to form caravans through Mexico in order to search for their missing loved ones and demand justice. They succeeded in locating over 350 migrants and reuniting some, such as victims of human trafficking, with their families.
Karen Morales, the youngest member, had come from Honduras. She had been searching for her brother Aarón Eleazar Carrasco Turcios for nine years. Her mother participated in a 2019 caravan to Mexico, but unable to find any answers, organized her own committee for mothers of disappeared migrants. Tears crept into Karen’s voice as she spoke, displaying a photograph of her brother that hung around her neck.
“Why do our brothers, our family members, flee from Africa, from Haiti, from Central America? Why? The answer is easy. Because there is a lot of poverty and crime. The government makes us believe that they’re coming for a dream, but that’s not true…[gangs] are killing our youth.
“We also came here to be heard, so that the U.S. government can stop sending money to our governments; that only worsens the situation because they are reinforcing the borders, and we believe the money should go to something better, such as education, so that we will never be forced to migrate.”
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (MN-5) was slated to appear, but could not attend due to a sudden conflict. As the mothers shared their stories, Congressman Raύl Grijalva (AZ-3) listened attentively. When they were done, he stepped forward to give his speech, once in Spanish, and once in English:
“The essential action that is needed on the part of Congress is to do something to assist these countries in a humanitarian manner, no longer in terms of military or security. Resources have to go to the most important interest, which is the people of these countries. And the people need education, food, nutrition, housing and opportunity in terms of employment.”
The caravan had two specific requests for Congress: to enact both the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act (HR 2716) and the Berta Cáceres Act (HR 1574), which both call for the suspension of U.S. assistance to Honduran security forces.
After the media was done taking pictures, I found myself standing next to Karen. When I thanked her for sharing her story, she smiled warmly.
“That’s what we’re here for,” she said. “To share their stories. And maybe, if someone somewhere hears it, they might know something that can help us find them.”
Karen poses for a picture with the photograph of her brother Aarón, who has been missing since 2012.
Translator’s Note:As the Biden administration continues to place pressure on the Mexican government to “contain” migration within its borders, migrant shelters are becoming the targets of acts of intimidation. The Quixote Center is also a member of the Franciscan Network on Migration and provides the Casa Betania Santa Martha Shelter with support. To support their work directly, click HERE. To read the letter in Spanish, click HERE.
Security Incident at the Casa Betania Santa Martha Shelter in Salto de Agua, Chiapas
Last Tuesday, on October 12, 2021 at approximately 7:30 p.m., a group of approximately eight men in civilian clothes with handguns and rifles arrived at the Casa Betania Santa Martha Shelter in Salto de Agua, Chiapas. The men arrived with a threatening and aggressive tone, demanding to enter the shelter on the grounds that they came from “the Prosecutor’s Office” and wanted to verify that an alleged missing minor was not inside the shelter. However, the men did not have uniforms, badges, or any type of identification as authorities. Nor did they have any document authorizing their entry to the shelter, or supporting the alleged search for the missing child. Faced with the refusal of the shelter staff to let them in, the men tried to break the door down with stones. [The men] threatened the staff with “taking them” with them and accusing them of kidnapping and illegal retention of minors while holding their weapons pointed at the staff, until the door was opened for them.
Four armed men entered the shelter, supposedly to verify that the alleged missing minor was not there. Two men guarding the door held the psychologist violently and ordered him in obscene words not to move while pointing a gun at him. While this was happening, a migrant was attacked for having his cell phone in his hand. They took it from him and checked its contents while ordering him to uncover his face and give over his information. The other two armed men wanted to check the shelter’s offices and intake records. In several instances, they used force, displayed their weapons as a threat, and verbally and psychologically attacked the staff and migrants while walking through the shelter’s spaces, demanding that some migrants remove their masks so they could see their faces. A volunteer tried to prevent one of the armed men from accessing the shelter’s offices. He was intimidated with a weapon and violently ordered to step aside. When they did not find the alleged missing minor, they took the detained psychologist to the registry offices, demanding access to the database. It was up until that moment that one of the aggressors finally identified himself as Commander Juvenal Vásquez of the prosecutor’s office.
Uniformed police officers and members of Civil Protection later arrived at the scene; however, they did not intervene in the situation.
This is the third time this year that [armed men] entered the shelter on the grounds of an alleged missing minor. In addition, it is not the first time that these kinds of aggression, threats, and raids have occurred in the Betania Santa Martha Shelter. In Salto de Agua, Chiapas, in June and July 2019, similar events also occurred, as documented in the report prepared by Frontline Defenders, the Migratory Affairs Program of the Universidad Iberoamericana Mexico City, and the Network of All Rights for Everyone, Defenders Without Walls. 
These events take place in a context in which other organizations defending migrants on the southern border of Mexico, particularly in Chiapas and Tabasco, have also been harassed and attacked for their work to defend human rights, given the increase in migratory flows in the region.
We demand an immediate halt to the attacks and threats against shelters that provide humanitarian assistance and defend the human rights of migrants. The intimidation of defenders should not be part of the authorities’ conduct, much less when they occur in the context of the search for a missing person.
We demand that the competent authorities implement the necessary protection measures in order to prevent the escalation of these attacks against human rights defenders of migrants, in particular, the staff of the Betania Santa Martha Shelter.
The signatory organizations urge the Mexican authorities to recognize and allow without obstruction the work of humanitarian assistance and accompaniment carried out by human rights defenders of migrants.
Shelter Name: Casa Betania – Santa Martha
Location: Salto de Agua, Chiapas
Brief description: Transit shelter that provides lodging, food, legal advice, and health services. It receives mostly people from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, some from Cuba, Venezuela, and Haitians who are starting the route north from the border points of El Ceibo, El Naranjo, and La Técnica.
The shelter is led by three Priests and a brother of the Divine Word (SVD) of three different nationalities and three other Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary (FMM), of three nationalities, in addition to staff and volunteers.