Author Archive

“The blue earth won’t perish,” 75 years after the bomb

The cloud in this photo is from the fires caused by the bombing of Hiroshima.

Seventy-five years ago today bombardiers on an U.S. B-29 called the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The pilot, Paul Tibbets, call-sign Dimples 82, could only muster a “My God!” as the bomb detonated 1,600 feet above the ground, instantly killing 100,000 people, and condemning a generation of survivors to days, months or years of illness. Following the bombing of Hiroshima, President Truman said, “If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.” Three days later the U.S. dropped a second bomb, Fat Man, on the city of Nagasaki. 

Over a three day period, the United States government authorized the murder of 200,000 civilians with the dubious claim that doing so saved lives. And despite the horrors unfolding, the intent was to keep dropping the bombs – another raid was planned for August 18. Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945.


Hiroshima after the bomb

Nagasaki after the bomb

In Japan, the survivors of the atomic bombings are called hibakusha. For decades there was a real stigma in being hibakusha. People feared that radiation sickness might be contagious, or that the effects could be passed down through generations. Allied, mostly U.S. forces, which occupied Japan until 1952, helped generate the silence surrounding the bombings and their survivors. 

The Allied forces, led by the US Occupying force, General McArthur, had censored all information, including the scientific and literary publications about the bombings – for instance film reels were confiscated, along with scientific specimens and doctors’ records. These were then shipped off to the US. The hibakusha, who were examined medically, for the famous Life Span study (the longest study of radiation effects in existence) were, in general, not interviewed for their experiences, except for a very few psychological studies.

Instead, the hibakusha were the unwelcome reminder of an unknown, unclassifiable event, something so unimaginable society tried to ignore it.

In 1957, a law was passed so that those hibakusha who had illnesses that could be traced back to the bombing were able to receive medical stipends to pay for their care. (For some years, the government failed to recognize as hibakusha non-Japanese survivors, especially thousands of Koreans who had been brought to Japan as laborers during the war and then died in — or  survived — the bombings.) Even so, it has only been in the last decade or so that the stigma of being hibakusha has lifted. Of the 650,000 people who survived these bombings, 120,000 were still alive in 2016.   

A nijū hibakusha refers to someone who survived both bombings. While as many as 165 people have been identified as nijū hibakusha, the only person to be officially recognized as such by the government of Japan is Tsutomu Yamaguchi. From Nagasaki, Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip for Mitsibushi on the morning of August 6:

At around 8:15 am…Yamaguchi heard a plane circling above the city, and then saw something drop from it. Two small parachutes were visible in the distance, carrying a big object that was slowly making its way towards the ground in the center of the city. Yamaguchi was about 3 km away when suddenly a blinding flash of light went off. The explosion aggressively pushed Yamaguchi back and severely burnt the left side of his upper body. Confused and in pain, with ruptured eardrums and temporarily blind, he managed to crawl into an irrigation ditch before making his way into a shelter for the night. 

Yamaguchi returned to Nagasaki on August 8. With just bandages as treatment for his wounds, he was back at work at his office in Nagasaki the next morning. While explaining what he saw in Hiroshima to his boss, who was doubtful a single bomb could do such damage, the second bomb struck. Yamaguchi survived the second bombing – as did his wife and young son. 

In 2010, the year Yamaguchi died of stomach cancer, a book of his poetry was published in English for the first time. The book, titled, “And the River Flowed as a Raft of Corpses,” contains 65 poems translated by Chad Diehl. The poems are “tankas,” a poetry form, which like haiku, has a specific rhythmic structure (which constrains translation). On surviving:

Carbonized bodies face-down in the nuclear wasteland
all the Buddhas died,
and never heard what killed them.
Thinking of myself as a phoenix,
cling on until now.
But how painful they have been,
those twenty-four years past.
If there exists a GOD who protects
nuclear-free eternal peace
the blue earth won’t perish.


World War II was not a “great” war. It was a global travesty involving the slaughter of tens of millions of people in the name of “great powers” competing for global position. That such a war ended in tragedy is somehow fitting. The atomic bombings provided the segue between the old global order of European imperialism and the new, U.S. imperialism launched under the reign of terror that is the threat of nuclear annihilation. We still live under the shadow of the bomb. And so, we must remember the source, and all the brutality associated with those bright lights in the morning skies above Japan in August of 1945, and vow “never again.”

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Toto Constant is still in jail, pressure increases for his prosecution

Constant arrives in Haiti, June 23, 2020

Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, the notorious leader of the paramilitary Revolutionary Front for the Advancement and Progress in Haiti (FRAPH), which is estimated to have killed 3,000 people, and engaged in thousands of beatings, rapes and acts of torture from 1993 to 1994, was deported from the United States on June 23, 2020. Constant was one of 37 men convicted in absentia in 2000 for their responsibility for the Raboteau Massacre. At the time of the trial, Constant was allowed to live in the United States under an agreement with the Clinton administration. The massacre, which took place in April of 1994, was just one of the many crimes Constant committed, but the only one he has been tried for. Now back in Haiti, he is entitled to a new trial. The question is whether he will get one, or if his friends in the current government will find a way to dismiss the charges and let him go.

Over the last two weeks there have been some encouraging signs and also points of concern. On July 10, the presiding judge in the Gonaives court that has jurisdiction of Constant’s case indicated that he may have to release Constant because the court did not have a copy of the charging document from the 2000 trial. As this was perhaps the most famous human rights trial in Haiti’s history – indeed one of the most important in the western hemisphere – the charges were also published in the official state gazette, and exist on several websites. So, the judge’s comments were largely seen as disingenuous, and, perhaps more importantly, an indication that the court was looking for any reason to let Constant out.

In response, many mobilized to express their opposition to Constant’s release and to demand prosecution. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, former Chilean president, Michele Bachelet, said, “Impunity destroys the social fabric of societies and perpetuates mistrust among communities or towards the State. Accountability helps prevent feelings of frustration, bitterness and the possible desire for revenge which could lead to further violence and atrocities….It is essential for victims to obtain justice, truth and reparations, and for their dignity to be restored.”

This week the Association of Victims of the Raboteau Massacre also organized a press conference and demonstration in Gonaive, calling for Constant’s prosecution, as well as the prosecution of others convicted in the 2000 trial, including Jean Robert Gabriel, the current assistant chief of staff in Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s reconstituted army. Video below from the demonstration (in Haitian Creole).

Association of Victims of the Raboteau Massacre Demonstration in Gonaives

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti issued a briefing paper on the Raboteau massacre trail, which includes, “a historical overview of the de facto military regime that perpetrated, among other atrocities, the Raboteau Massacre; the resulting proceedings and Trial; and the subsequent dismantling of the tangible justice that the Trial had delivered to the people of Haiti. The briefing concludes by identifying actions that the government of Haiti should undertake to reverse that trajectory and return and rebuild Haiti’s demonstrated capacity to deliver accountability to its citizens.” You can read the full briefing paper here.

For more background on the Raboteau massacre trial, you can also watch the documentary Pote Mak Sonje (in English and with English subtitles)

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Rogue State: The U.S. and immigrant detention in the time of COVID


On July 22, a federal court in Canada declared that sending refugees back to the United States violates those refugees’ fundamental rights: “The Court found that sending refugee claimants back to the U.S. violates their Charter right to liberty and security of the person because many of them are arbitrarily detained in the US in immigration detention centres or county jails, often in atrocious conditions and in clear contravention of international standards.”

At stake in this ruling was a “safe third country” agreement between the United States and Canada, through which people entering Canada from the United States seeking asylum could be sent back to the United States as a “safe-third country.” The court declared that the United States was not, in fact, safe; and thus sending refugees back to the United States violated their rights. Canada’s government has 6-months to withdraw from the agreement with the United States. 

It is not really news that the United States has become a country unsafe for immigrants, particularly those who end up in immigration detention centers. But it is definitely newsworthy that a Canadian court has spoken out. Will it matter in the long run?

The problems with these facilities have been well documented for years. They include the abuse of solitary confinement, often employed as punishment, including for periods extending past the three-day limit, beyond which the tactic has been declared a form of torture. People in detention have insufficient access to medical services, including mental health services. Such services are almost uniformly supplied through private contractors who have been repeatedly shown to be more concerned with the bottom line than providing adequate care. Facilities are unsanitary, often overcrowded, and thus, at high risk for the rapid transmission of communicable diseases. Beyond these conditions, which are consistent with those found throughout the United States’ carceral network of jails and prisons, is the simple fact that detention is an unnecessary, and typically arbitrary response to people who have, in most cases, violated no law. Seeking asylum, for example, is legal no matter how one arrives within the country. 

The United States’ response to COVID-19 has only magnified these long-observed, structural deficiencies. Within Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s network of detention facilities, there has been little change in operations since the pandemic was declared. People are routinely transferred between facilities – a primary means of spreading the disease. Within facilities, overcrowding and inadequate sanitation remain a serious problem, and poor quality healthcare is an obvious hurdle to treatment. That ICE has simply continued with the same standards of “care” is not surprising, however, the result is a pandemic within ICE detention facilities. 

According to official numbers, as of July 28 (they change daily), 3,868 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since February. Of these, 963 people are still in custody. The number of people currently in detention facilities is 22,067. That is an infection rate of 4.4%. However, a majority of people currently in custody have not been tested. More than 68,000 have been “booked-in” to an ICE facility since February – and at the beginning of February there were nearly 40,000 people already in custody. So, of the 100,000 people that have cycled in and out of these facilities since February, only 19,092 have been tested. Which is to say, an overall 4.4% infection rate among current detainees is incredibly high, and yet, certainly a serious undercount.

Of course, the distribution of COVID-19 is not even. There are facilities that are at crisis levels of infection. The worst is Farmville in Virginia, where 80% of the people being held have tested positive for COVID-19. Four people currently being held have sued ICE and the detention facility itself, noting

“[H]arrowing conditions inside the detention center, with large numbers of people exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 yet not being provided the most basic medical care. The plaintiffs have also been served expired, uncooked, or undercooked food and food infested with bugs. They claim that ICE and ICA-Farmville’s actions not only violate the Consttution but also violate ICE’s own standards for providing medical treatment and food services to detained people.” 

To be clear, this is no act of nature beyond the control of authorities. “ICE transferred 74 people, 51 of whom had COVID-19, from facilities with known COVID-19 cases in Arizona and Florida into ICA-Farmville in June.” ICE’s carelessness is putting the lives of the people in Farmville at risk.

ICE’s lax standards have also impacted staff. At the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, 128 people, or 41% of the total staff at the facility, tested positive three weeks ago. ICE doesn’t even report staff’s infections anymore on their website (there is a number [45] but it has not changed in weeks) and when they report, it is only ICE in-house staff – not private contractors working for ICE such as the people at Eloy. 

Franciscan Father Jacek Orzechowski prays over 300,000 petition signatures during a rally July 27,2020, outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington. The petition demands the agency release children currently in detention, but the building’s security detail would not accept the signatures. (CNS/courtesy Franciscan Action Network)

Families and children held in ICE custody are also in crisis. COVID-19 is present in the two main ICE family detention facilities, Dilley and Karnes, both in Texas. A federal judge ordered ICE to release all of the children in its custody. However, the judge had no authority over the parents. ICE is refusing to release the parents and the parents have refused to be separated from the children. As a result, the judge was forced to declare the previous ruling unenforceable on Monday. The Trump administration is also engaged in summary expulsions at the U.S./Mexico border – over 69,000 people have been expelled since mid-March! This includes children and families, some of whom have been hidden away in hotels until they can be deported, and thus denied access to any due process. 

Let’s face it, as the ruling in Canada underscores, the United States is a rogue state. While many other countries are engaged in various abuses against migrants, the United States really does stand out as exceptional, with the largest detention infrastructure in the world and a series of policies that have decimated the asylum process and destroyed tens of thousands of lives in the process. What to do about this? Join with us and other members of the Detention Watch Network in creating a resounding call to free everyone in detention – for public health and humanitarian reasons. On the legislative side, join us in calling on members of Congress to vote for the Immigration Enforcement Moratorium Act. Together we can continue to organize a voice of moral opposition to violent detention practices and save lives in the process. 

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Mazatlán Franciscans still providing food to migrants

The Franciscan Network on Migration provides support to migrants traveling through Central America and Mexico. The network includes dozens of shelters and soup kitchens in the region. The shelters that we are working with most directly are the Frontera Digna in Piedras Negras, La 72 in Tenosique, and the Casa y Comedor San Francisco de Asís in Mazatlán, pictured below.

In Mazatlán, the house has been primarily a soup kitchen, or comedor. During periods of high traffic, however, people have been allowed to sleep in the corridors and courtyard at the church that is providing support. Thanks to the donation of a new facility, and support from donors helping to fund renovations, there will be a full service shelter in the coming months – though not likely to open until after the current health crisis has abated.

The photographs below show friars in Mazatlán providing meals this week – as they have for years. But, for now, they must offer bags “to go,” as sit-down meals are not possible because due to pandemic health considerations.

The Quixote Center is the fiscal sponsor for the Franciscan Network on Migration within the United States.

You can donate to support the work of the network here.

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“Toto” Constant is not just Haiti’s problem

Constant arrives in Haiti, June 23. Photo: Miami Herald

On June 23, the United States’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported Emmanuel “Toto” Constant to Haiti. Constant was arrested as he arrived in Port-au-Prince, based on a 2000 conviction for the massacre of political opponents at Raboteau, Haiti. In 1994, at the time of the massacre, Constant was head of a paramilitary organization called the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), which is known to have engaged in widespread human rights violations, including murder, rape, and torture. When U.S. forces reinstated president Aristide in October 1994, they allowed many leaders of the military government that had ousted him in 1991 to escape – including Constant, who eventually ended up in the United States. Constant has spent the last 12 years in a prison in New York – not for human rights violations, but for mortgage fraud. Now back in Haiti, he has the right to a new trial to challenge his in absentia conviction in 2000. 

Constant is currently being held at a prison in Saint-Marc. Whether he is re-tried or released on a technicality is now a question of great concern. Constant has many political allies in the current government. The state judiciary is effectively shuttered at the moment due to a national strike. So it is hard to know when he will be brought before a judge and the process, whatever form it takes, begins to unfold. That judicial process will take place in Haiti, as it should. The 2000 Raboteau massacre trial itself provides an example of how this can be done – ensuring due process for Constant and, hopefully, justice for his many victims. But Constant’s retrial is not just Haiti’s responsibility. 

Constant’s position in the coup government from 1991-1994 and the crimes for which he is responsible are hard to separate from decades of U.S. intervention in Haiti. The army itself was created by U.S. Marine commanders, for the specific purpose of quelling domestic dissent to the U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934. From that point until the army was disbanded in 1995 by President Aristide, it served to shield a small, United States-aligned elite and their business interests from popular mobilization. The United States trained Haiti’s military leadership throughout, including Raoul Cedras who directed the coup d’etat against President Aristide in 1991.

The United States also trained Haiti’s intelligence services, and it is known that Constant was on the C.I.A. payroll until spring of 1994 when he was dropped, according to a Clinton administration official, because, “He was beginning to get involved in things that could blow back quite badly.” The Raboteau massacre happened in April of 1994. A classified C.I.A. report, partially released and heavily redacted during a 1996 civil trial against FRAPH, also indicates that the agency knew of Constant and FRAPH’s involvement in the 1993 murder of Guy Malary, Haiti’s Minister of Justice.

More direct U.S. involvement in the formation of the FRAPH has been hinted at since this time. Allan Nairn, writing for The Nation in October of 1994 reported on extensive ties between FRAPH and U.S. agencies, beginning with Constant. For one, Constant was not merely an informant, but part of a team involved in training Haiti’s National intelligence Service (S.I.N.) in counterinsurgency. During this time he got to know Col. Patrick Collins, U.S. military attaché, and Donald Terry, the C.I.A. station chief who Nairn characterized as “running the S.I.N.”  According to Nairn, Constant claimed, “Collins began pushing him to organize a front ‘that could balance the Aristide movement’ and do ‘intelligence’ work against it. He said that their discussions had begun soon after Aristide fell in September 1991. They resulted in Constant forming what later evolved into the FRAPH, a group that was known initially as the Haitian Resistance League.” 

Given these ties, it is not surprising that when Aristide was reinstated, U.S. forces seized documents from FRAPH headquarters and took them out of the country. From 1995 until the trial in 2000, attorneys representing the victims of the Raboteau massacre were unable to get access to these documents. When the Clinton administration did finally release some documents at the last minute, they were heavily redacted. Haiti’s National Commission for Truth and Justice, whose report was issued in February of 1996, was likewise denied access. 

It is important that Constant be retried. As part of that process, however, it is equally important that the United States government fully cooperate and share documents in its possession about Constant, FRAPH, and the military leadership that oversaw the coup regime from 1991 to 1994. The United States government was, at a minimum, aware of Constant’s crimes, and continued to shield him. At worst, U.S. military and intelligence personnel facilitated those crimes. Either way, this makes Constant our problem as well. We owe the people of Haiti, who suffered under the coup regime and Constant’s paramilitary violence, a full accounting – wherever that leads. After 25 years, what better time than now?

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Take Action: Courts push back against the Trump administration

Dreamers

The Supreme Court ruling against the Trump administration’s effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) has been well covered in the news. DACA offered protection from removal for “dreamers,” or people who arrived in this country as children but who are unauthorized. The ruling allows DACA to stand as policy, though there may well be further efforts to halt the program. The future of the policy largely lies with the upcoming election.

In addition to this landmark ruling there have been three other recent decisions to note. 

I. Children in Custody

In the first case, a federal judge ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release all of the children in its custody due to concerns about exposure to COVID-19. A huge victory, at least on the surface. The judge did not specify that parents must also be released. If ICE insists on holding parents, this could set up another family separation crisis. 

Immigrant children are held by the U.S. government through several agencies. Customs and Border Protection may hold unaccompanied children and families with children, usually for 72 hours or less, before making a determination to deport, release or transfer them. Currently, almost everybody picked up by CBP, including unaccompanied minors, are being deported immediately with almost no processing and no opportunity to seek asylum. 

Unaccompanied children, at least prior to the border closure in March, were typically transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, where they would be detained until a family member or community sponsor could be located. There are just over 1,000 children in ORR custody right now, a very small number by recent standards – mostly because new arrivals are simply being deported.

Families with children, at least those that are able to remain together, are typically transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which detains families in one of three facilities (two in Texas, one in Pennsylvania). These children are the focus of the judge’s order: “Citing recently reported coronavirus cases among detained families, as well as allegedly lax masking and social distancing enforcement at two family detention facilities in Texas, U.S. Judge Dolly Gee ordered ICE to release all minors who have been held for more than 20 days.”

The catch is that Gee does not have the authority to mandate the release of parents – her authority is directly tied to oversight of the Flores Settlement agreement that provides guidance for the treatment of children in custody. The choice is that ICE must either release the parents as well, or separate the families by placing children with community sponsors or other family members. Unless pressed to do otherwise, ICE will almost certainly try to continue detaining the parents – which means separating children from parents yet again. 

Members of Congress issued a letter to the Department of Homeland Security and ICE leadership asking that families be released together.

“Family separation should never be this country’s policy. Medical organizations have long stated that the practice creates extraordinary harm to children,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Matthew Albence. “Detention of children for any amount of time, even with their parents, causes physical harm and irreparable trauma.”

ICE has until July 17 to release all of the children in custody.  Take a moment to sign our petition demanding that families be released together.

Sign the Petition!

II. Public Health Service Act

The next case involved a direct challenge to the administration’s authority to summarily expel children and asylum seekers under a Center of Disease Control policy that Trump has used to essentially shut the border down to everyone – including refugees and unaccompanied children. The ACLU, Oxfam and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies sued on behalf of a 16 year-old boy from Honduras and his father. From the ACLU’s release on the judges initial ruling in favor of the child:

A federal court has once again provisionally blocked the deportation of a Honduran boy in the first legal challenge to the Trump administration’s order restricting immigration at the border based on an unprecedented and unlawful invocation of the Public Health Service Act, located in Title 42 of the U.S. Code…

U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols issued a ruling from the bench today prohibiting the removal of the boy under Title 42 protocols as the lawsuit continues. The judge agreed with the plaintiff’s central argument that the CDC had likely exceeded its authority in ordering the expulsion of children and asylum seekers under the public health laws. (emphasis added).

This case may establish the necessary precedent to bring an end to Trump’s border expulsions policy, which has so far led to over 40,000 people removed at the border without any due process. Though the ruling this week does not by itself do that – it is an important first step toward bringing this tragedy to an end.

III. Transit Ban

Finally, a court ruling on Tuesday will end – for the time being – the Trump administration’s efforts to close off asylum to anyone who transits a third country prior to reaching the U.S. border. The so-called “transit ban” had effectively ended asylum for anyone arriving at the U.S./Mexico border who was not a Mexican national. The transit ban was clearly intended to target Central American refugees, but ultimately impacted refugees from all over the world who travel through several countries in Latin America before arriving at the U.S. border. 

The case was brought by the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, and was focused on the administration’s violation of rule-making procedures and public notification requirements related to the transit-ban. The merits of the policy itself are also under judicial review in a separate case. In a communication to coalition partners, CAIR’s litigation director, Claudia Cubas, wrote:

In CAIR Coalition v Trump, Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee sitting on the federal bench in D.C., just vacated the third-country transit rule (the Administration’s asylum ban II barring asylum seekers who passed through third countries en route to the US without seeking asylum in other countries) in its entirety, based on the government’s failure to follow APA notice-and-comment.  The court also declined to stay its decision, so it goes into effect right away.

TAKE ACTION

These rulings are part of larger efforts to restore asylum policies in the United States. Toward that end, we encourage everyone to take part in Virtual Asylum Advocacy Days on July 14-16. The Asylum Working Group and Interfaith Immigration Coalition are organizing virtual legislative visits with your members of Congress. There will be a virtual training session to help prepare in advance. You can sign up here.

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The United States’ uncomfortable relationship to torture

Today, June 26, is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. This year marks the 34th anniversary of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment coming into effect. 162 countries have ratified the Convention, including the United States. Nevertheless, the United States continues to engage in and justify torture.

The Convention defines torture:

“[T]he term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.” — Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984, art. 1, para.1) Emphasis added

Nils Melzer, who is the Special Rapporteur for this Convention, issued a report in 2018 which argued that states’ practices employed to deter migration constituted torture. As we noted then, Melzer’s description of the problem, though not directed at any one state, read like a synopsis of U.S. immigration policy:

In response to increasing numbers of…”irregular” migrants arriving at their borders, many States have initiated an escalating cycle of repression and deterrence designed to discourage new arrivals, and involving measures such as the criminalisation and detention of irregular migrants, the separation of family members, inadequate reception conditions and medical care, and the denial or excessive prolongation of status determination or habeas corpus proceedings, including expedited returns in the absence of such proceedings. Many States have even started to physically prevent irregular migrant arrivals, whether through border closures, fences, walls and other physical obstacles, through the externalisation of their borders and procedures, or through extra-territorial “pushback” and “pullback” operations, often in cooperation with other States or even non-State actors. (Melzer 2018, 4)

At the time we wrote about Melzer’s report, we emphasized detention as a method of torture. Detention is arbitrary in the sense that the vast majority of people are held under mandatory detention statutes that provide little space for individual assessment. Because detention is indefinite, people are under added stress, not knowing when they will get out. Conditions in immigrant detention facilities are horrible. Facilities still rely heavily on solitary confinement to manage behavior or punish non-compliance. They routinely neglect the health concerns of those detained, especially mental health concerns, with one result being that nearly half of the people who die in detention commit suicide. Facilities have been dragged into court for the use of forced labor. Above and beyond these factors, for many there is the added torture of separation from family members, including children.

In October of last year, Freedom for Immigrants issued a much more detailed report on detention:

This report focuses on the difficult-to-quantify qualities of immigration detention itself —the uncertainty, the fear, the isolation—and how they affect not only those detained, but also their families and community networks. We identify how systemic isolation plays out in the lived experiences of people impacted by this system and the ways in which people cope with it. The goal of this report is to strengthen community-based resources for resilience and resistance in the face of a purposefully cruel system.

Detention is a form of torture.  As a matter of policy and practice, the U.S. government intentionally makes people suffer while in formal custody in order to serve other objectives. This is torture. The maltreatment of people in detention cannot be dismissed as “incidental to lawful sanctions.” While one might argue that feelings of anxiety and depression are natural side effects of incarceration, one cannot seriously argue that prolonged use of solitary confinement, placing people in freezing rooms, denial of mental health services and other health services, poor food quality, and effective denial of contact with family, friends and even counsel, are incidental to lawful sanctions. Indeed, these practices contravene legal obligations for how people are to be treated.

Inside our borders, we torture every day. At the moment, in the context of a global pandemic, this torture takes on increased severity. People are literally fearing for their lives, as they watch others being held with them get sick. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has changed very little in terms of its practices, continuing to shift people around, deport them, and force them into hearings. In some cases, conditions have reached absurd levels of cruelty. At the Geo Group-managed ICE facility in Adelanto, California, for example, the company has been spraying harsh chemicals intended for outdoor use as the principal means of disinfecting the facility. They have continued this practice even after multiple reports have emerged that the chemical is making people sick – including coughing and sneezing blood. ICE has stood by the company.

All of this has been made worse over the last year and half as the Trump administration has shut down the border to asylum seekers. The administration has forced asylum seekers to wait for their asylum hearings in camps on the Mexico side of the border. The administration has denied people who transit a third country the ability to even seek asylum, unless they are denied in that country first. And, now the administration is sending people who do seek asylum back to Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras, to first seek asylum in one of the countries – even as the bulk of asylum seekers are fleeing conditions in one of those three countries.

Again, the administration’s response to COVID-19 has only made this situation worse. The United States is now summarily expelling everyone who crosses the border – over 40,000 people since mid-March, including children traveling alone – under an abusive CDC order intended to justify border controls. No one is being allowed a chance to even apply for asylum.

For too long, the United States has sought to legitimate a deterrence strategy that is, let’s be clear, a form of torture. We must call it what it is. As we commemorate the victims of torture, we would do well to consider all those who are incarcerated. We join in the call to #FreeThemAll and to #SaveAsylum. 

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“Toto” Constant back in Haiti and other updates, take action

Shada Demolition

On Monday, June 15 bulldozers razed the community of Shada II in Cap-Haitien, along Haiti’s northern coast. Close to 1,500 families lost their homes as a result. Apparently none were notified in advance of the destruction, nor were any compensated for the loss. This inexplicable act was officially carried out in retaliation for a gang assault that left a police officer and five other people dead days before – but this is either not at all true, or, at best, a very partial explanation. The largest gang in Shada is assumed to be politically aligned, and thus this may well have been in part retaliation. However, that hardly suffices as an explanation for putting 1,500 families out of their homes in the midst of a pandemic.

The organization SOIL has been working in Shada II since 2004 issued a statement about the demolition (full statement here):

At this critical moment in global history, when the world is grappling with the combined public health emergencies of COVID-19 and systemic racism, we feel it is critical that we call attention to human rights issues that impact the communities we serve. There are many unanswered questions about what happened in Shada II last week, and we urge human rights groups to investigate. At the same time, SOIL stands in solidarity with the thousands of innocent people who lost their homes and belongings, and we recommit our organization to sustained social change. True change demands that all stakeholders come to the table to shine a light on the injustices suffered by vulnerable communities caught in the crosshairs of larger political, economic, and social forces, particularly at a moment when the world is facing an unprecedented crisis that calls for compassionate ingenuity and proactive support to those most at risk. 

We will continue to report on this as more details unfold and the community regroups to decide what comes next.

Toto Constant is Back in Haiti

Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was deported from the United States to Haiti on Tuesday, June 23. Constant is the former leader of the FRAPH, a notorious paramilitary organization responsible for the deaths of thousands of people while the country was under military rule following the coup against Aristide in 1991.  Constant fled to the United States when Aristide was reinstated in 1995 where he remained until this week. Meanwhile, in Haiti, Constant was convicted in 2000 in absentia for his involvement in the massacre at Raboteau. Despite the conviction, Constant was allowed to remain in the United States. Early efforts to remove him stalled, and most assume he was being protected as a former CIA asset. However, he was later convicted of real estate fraud in New York and imprisoned. For many the hope was he would remain in prison. 

After serving 12 years of a 37 year sentence, Constant was released from prison and immediately taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Reports that Constant was to be deported emerged in early May. Over the course of several weeks ICE would put Constant on a flight manifest, to later remove him. Constant was finally deported this Tuesday. What does this mean?

Constant was arrested upon his arrival under the 2000 conviction which still stands. However, Constant is entitled to a new trial. Brian Concannon and Mario Joseph (both of whom were involved in landmark human rights trials in the late 1990s that led to the 2000 conviction of Constant and others) published an op-ed in the Miami Herald that explains what is at stake.

A credible prosecution of Constant must respect both his rights and those of the Raboteau Massacre’s victims, who have official status in the case under Haiti’s “civil party” system. The victims are entitled to a robust prosecution that presents all the available evidence, as well as the right to notice of hearings, to participate in some of them and to appeal rulings that infringe on their rights. The original Raboteau trial is a good benchmark: It included expert testimony from international forensic and military experts, documents from the military archives and extensive victim and witness testimony.

The passage of time since Constant’s crimes in Haiti does not prevent his prosecution. His death squad’s murder and torture of civilians were both widespread and systematic, placing them squarely within the definition of crimes against humanity, so the statute of limitations cannot apply. Constant was convicted under a command responsibility theory, and the evidence was mostly documents, which are as credible as ever.

For now, the hope is that Constant remains in custody. He has many former political allies in positions of power under the current government -and should he be released, could wreak havoc. The U.S. has a role here. In 2000 the Clinton administration stalled releasing documents related to FRAPH activity that had been taken by US forces from FRAPH headquarters in 1995 during the operation to reinstate Aristide. Once documents were released they were heavily redacted. The U.S. must support requests for evidence this time around. 

Deportation flights continue…for now

As indicated by Toto Constant’s arrival in Haiti, deportation flights are continuing. We encourage everyone to continue to reach out to members of Congress and press for an end to these flights.

If you have not done so yet, you can send a message to your member of the House and ask them to support legislation to end deportations to Haiti. The Haiti Deportation Relief Act was introduced by Frederica Wilson and has the support of committee and subcommittee chairs on the Foreign Relations committee – which means it could get a hearing, committee vote and make it to the floor of the House if people show enough support. It clearly will have a hard time moving in the Senate – but we must press when and where we can!

In addition, the Quixote Center’s Executive Director, John Marchese, was one of 360+ human rights activists and other notables to sign a letter that was sent to the Department of Homeland Security and State Department, including the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, last week. The letter was organized by the Haitian Bridge Alliance. You can read that here. You can also then print this letter, and send it with a message to your members of Congress to end deportation flights! Find their address here.

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Take Action to Halt Deportations to Haiti

One of the most obvious ways in which ICE continues to thumb its bureaucratic nose at decency and common sense is their policy of continuing deportations amidst a global pandemic. Based on information from public flight tracking websites, the Center for Economic and Policy Research has identified 330 likely deportation flights to Latin America and the Caribbean since February 3, 2020. There were three flights yesterday – two to Mexico, one to the Dominican Republic.

We know that these flights have sent people who tested positive for COVID-19 to Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador, Jamaica, India and Haiti. Likely, people with the virus have been deported to most other places these planes fly. At this point it would be nearly impossible to assemble a flight where no one had been exposed, as coronavirus is now present throughout the ICE detention network. The testing regime is insufficient. ICE does not test everyone before they board a deportation flight, and those who are tested are given a 15-minute, “rapid test” that has been demonstrated to have a high false negative rate.

The chorus of people who have asked these flights to be halted is significant: Editorial boards, members of Congress and nearly every non-governmental organization working on immigration policy or in a country impacted by these flights. For more background on these flights and the problems associated with them you can read our reporting on this blog, Jack Johnson’s research article on the CEPR blog, or Daniella Burgi-Palomino’s opinion piece on Truthout here.

The latest effort demanding a halt to these flights is a letter to State Department officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, organized by the Haitian Bridge Alliance. This letter is demanding that deportation flights to Haiti in particular be halted throughout the duration of the current health crisis. The letter was released today. From the Haitian Bridge Alliance press release:

Today Ibram X Kendi, Danny Glover, Edwidge Danticat, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Opal Tometi, Guerline Jozef, Dr. Barbara Ransby PhD, Randall Robinson, Jackson Browne, and Rainn Wilson, along with 359 other prominent human rights, humanitarian and racial justice leaders signed a letter urging the United States to immediately halt deportations to Haiti during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Michele Sison, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf states: “Deportations export COVID-19 throughout the region and put countless lives at risk….The capacity of Haiti’s health system to respond to COVID-19 cases is already at its limit,” and a spike of infections could “destroy an already weak economy and exacerbate political instability.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has sent six deportation flights to Haiti since March 18, despite the serious risk of infection to deportees and transmission upon arrival. At least eight deportees who had tested positive for COVID-19 by ICE were deported to Haiti on May 26. One of them complained of symptoms the night before he was deported. Given the severe limitations on the availability of COVID testing and the unreliability of test results, “there is simply no safe way to deport persons.”

ICE told the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 2, 2020, that it does not test all detainees before deporting them. The letter notes that of the 30 Haitians deported on May 26, 14 were not tested before deportation, and the other 16 were tested with the “15 minute test” which the Food and Drug Administration considers unreliable because it gives “false negatives.” The lack of reliable testing violates explicit promises given by the United States to Haiti that it would test all deportees within 72 hours of their departure.

What can you do….

Frederica Wilson has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to halt all deportations to Haiti until the health crisis in both countries is over. You can click on the button below send a message asking your member of Congress to co-sponsor this legislation.

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Keeping Count in Nicaragua During COVID-19

En Español

At the moment, there is a debate about numbers. Official statistics concerning COVID-19 in Nicaragua are 1,823 confirmed cases, with 64 deaths. Based on official statistics, this is the lowest number of confirmed cases in Central America, and the second lowest tally of deaths (Costa Rica has only reported 12 deaths).

It is not, however, that much of an outlier. El Salvador has 4,200 confirmed cases and 82 deaths with roughly the same number of people, but a population density nearly 6 times that of Nicaragua. As reported in the official data, Nicaragua’s ratio of those dying to confirmed cases is the second highest in the region, after Guatemala. This might simply reflect that people are less likely to get tested and into the health system until they are quite ill. However, the differences between Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala on this count are small. Across the region, access to testing is a huge issue, and in every country across the globe (including the United States), it seems safe to assume that infections are being grossly undercounted. The government’s reporting has been less frequent than that of its neighbors; in comparing the growth curves, for example, one can see that reporting is weekly, not daily. That said, the curve is nearly identical to other countries in the region: relatively flat until May and then taking off. Point is, while the numbers are almost certainly undercounts, as they are everywhere, they hardly stand out as indicators of massive fraud.

That is, until you read the reports of Observatorio Ciudadano COVID-19, an NGO launched in April to offer “independent” estimates of cases, and/or to delegitimize the public health ministry. According to the Observatorio, as of June 10, there are 4,971 suspected cases of COVID-19 and a whopping 1,398 suspected deaths, markedly higher than the official figures. It is, of course, possible, even likely, that the number of cases of people with COVID-19 is that high, or even higher.

Almost every observer of the virus in Latin America would say the undercounts across the region are huge, given the lack of access to testing and the high rate of people who are asymptomatic. For better or worse, we can only compare confirmed cases. If we adopted suspected cases as the framework, the numbers would sky rocket everywhere and would be even more subject to manipulation. The death toll, however, seems way out of proportion, and is put forward with tales of secret burials and massive government cover ups. Even if these breathless tales of conspiracy were true, it seems highly unlikely that Nicaragua has had more than three times the number of COVID deaths as Guatemala, for example, a country with a much larger population living in more crowded quarters. 

To be sure, there are several structural features to Nicaragua’s political economy that are in the country’s favor, at least in terms of the initial spread of COVID-19: Lowest population density in Central America, relatively low urbanization rates (over half the population is rural), a history of expansive vaccination campaigns and a parallel infrastructure of community clinics and health care workers, as well as a free healthcare system which has doubled the ratio of doctors to the population over the last 12 years. Alongside that, the country has faced a collapse in tourism and even business travel over the last two years, due to the political crisis, meaning that in the important first weeks of the pandemic, there were fewer international visitors to Nicaragua than elsewhere in the region. These factors, as Magda Lanuza wrote several weeks ago, help to explain the early lower numbers in Nicaragua better than shadowy conspiracies. But while these factors might help explain the slower introduction of COVID-19 to Nicaragua, they do not offer much protection once the virus is introduced and community spread takes root, as is now the case. The healthcare system is impressive, given the constraints the country has faced, but is still under-resourced, and thus ill prepared for a massive number of cases. 

So the government should lock everything down, right? Maybe not.

The government’s response is consistent with the fact that, as Quitzé Valenzuela-Stookey writes, Nicaragua is not well equipped for “non-pharmaceutical interventions,” or NPIs. Principally we are talking about social distancing. Nicaragua’s government has received much criticism for not locking-down the economy while keeping schools open. Yet, as Valenzuela-Stookey writes,

The structure of the Nicaraguan economy makes NPIs particularly costly in the short term. Working and learning remotely is impossible for most people in Nicaragua, which has only 2.98 fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 people, compared to 13.44 in Latin America overall. The governmental capacity for fiscal intervention is lower. Its ability to distribute aid directly to businesses and people is limited. This is especially true of workers in the informal sector, which accounts for an estimated 73 percent of non-agricultural employment in Nicaragua. For the 45.5 percent of households classified as food insecure, economic hardship is a critical health issue. The Ortega administration may be justifiably wary of following the example of countries such as Peru, where the growth of infections has been among the highest in the region, despite a strict lockdown implemented early in the early stages of the pandemic.     

Ultimately the government in Nicaragua is triangulating several factors – the economic and political costs of locking down the economy, the ability of the country’s health sector to manage cases, and timing. Timing is the critical, ultimately unknowable part. Locking down the economy does not stop the spread of the disease. Social distancing only slows the spread of the disease so that health systems are not overwhelmed. In countries with well-developed health care systems, this might mean that when all is said and done, the death toll will be lower as people buy time for the evolution of new treatments. There is no guarantee that locking down Nicaragua’s economy will have the same effect. Nicaragua’s health care system could be overwhelmed either way, and given the near impossibility of locking down the economy without causing massive unemployment and widespread hunger, this becomes a huge risk.

In that context, the government may well be de-emphasizing the health risks of the novel coronavirus for political reasons. Remember, the country was literally locked down for three months two years ago by opposition forces seeking Ortega’s departure. Those three months broke a record five years of growth and poverty reduction built on governmental policies. Nicaragua has yet to bounce back from that shut down. In light of ongoing U.S. sanctions against Nicaragua, the government would be taking an enormous risk to lock down the country again. This may be a “grim calculus” as Valenzuela-Stookey suggests, but it is also true that the formulation of the problem is taking place within a broader context of crisis brought on by international pressure. Concern for the people of Nicaragua might suggest easing that pressure during this pandemic. But that does not play into the opposition, or U.S. policy goals, very well. Better to discredit. 

In Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, where the governments have enforced lock downs and stringent curfews, the list of accompanying human rights abuses is long. Honduras’ government is using mass arrests for curfew violations as cover for rounding up political opponents. El Salvador’s president is using the crisis as a pretext to strengthen his hold on the country’s governing institutions. He has also promoted incarcerating violators of the lock-down in overcrowded detention facilities, where spread of the disease is assured. Nicaragua, on the other hand, released more than 2,800 people from prison as a preventive measure. While it has been reported that some officials and a baseball manager were dismissed from their jobs in reprisal for speaking out about the coronavirus and for demanding personal protective equipment, this sort of response hardly seems comparable to the counterproductive response of incarcerating people in violation of curfew in El Salvador. In any event, Nicaragua remains sanctioned, while the U.S. State Department just certified progress on human rights in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras sufficient to keep funding their militaries and police forces. Seriously.

Maybe one day, U.S. policy makers will end their cynical and often hypocritical practices around human rights and foreign policy. Until then, just remember, that while the government of Nicaragua is probably getting some stuff wrong in the management of this crisis (if you know of a government that got it right, please let me know!), Trump’s State Department is funding most of the “pro-democratic” sources on Nicaragua you read in the Times and the Post, when they bother to write about Nicaragua at all. These are folks whose primary interests lie not in public health, but rather in discrediting the government. Just something to keep in mind.

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Contact Us

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

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)