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Title 42’s discriminatory impact on Haitian migrants

Haitian migrants were expelled at much higher rates than the nationals of other countries similarly situated during the twenty-seven months since Title 42 policies were first implemented. Haitians were at least 3X more likely to be expelled compared to nationals of almost all other countries, except for those who could, by agreement between the United States and Mexico, be expelled directly into Mexico. This pattern changed in June of this year, with a significant drop in the percentage of Haitians encountered being expelled, a trend that seems to be continuing into July. We are still demanding that all removals be halted immediately. 

Title 42 refers to a section of the US code that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claimed gave the Trump and Biden administrations the authority to summarily expel, “persons traveling from Canada or Mexico (regardless of their country of origin) who would otherwise be introduced into a congregate setting in a land or coastal Port of Entry (POE) or Border Patrol station at or near the United States borders with Canada or Mexico.” Title 42 was issued as a means to contain COVID-19, but was immediately denounced by public health officials as a backdoor means to end asylum. It has utterly failed as a public health measure.

For Haitians, Title 42 has been the principal means of their expulsion from the United States over the last 27 months. There have been at least 27,500 Haitians removed from the United States since March of 2020; almost all of whom have been expelled since Biden took office. Of these, 22,832, or 83% were removed under Title 42. 

To understand the discriminatory impact of Title 42 on Haitian immigrants we have to first look at how Title 42 has been implemented overall. There are two sets of countries whose citizens are treated quite differently. The first set of countries (Group A) are those for whom the Trump administration negotiated an agreement with Mexico to accept those expelled. This group includes Mexican nationals, and people from Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras. Expulsions from just these four countries made up 93% of all Title 42 expulsions between March of 2020 and the end of May 2022.  [All of the figures in this article were derived using Customs and Border Protection’s Database of Nationwide Encounters here]

The citizens of other countries (Group B) could not simply be expelled back to Mexico, though some clearly have been. The main exception is Ecuador. Ecuadorans made up over 50,000 Title 42 expulsions in 2021, with at most 10,000 returned to Ecuador by plane that year. The rest seem to have been expelled back to Mexico, or simply denied admission to the United States at a port of entry.

For other countries, because of the cost and logistical challenges associated with detaining and flying them to their home countries, Border Patrol/DHS processed them under Title 8 authority, or “regular” immigation processing.

The difference between Group A and Group B is stark. For all of the countries in Group A, 74% of those encountered have been expelled under Title 42. For Group B, only 9.2% of those encountered have been expelled under Title 42. The two exceptions are Ecuador, a unique situation discussed above, and Haiti.

The percentage of Haitians expelled in relation to encounters between March of 2020 and May 2022 is 26.6%, the highest in Group B aside from Ecuador. Haitians represent only 5.8% of all Border Patrol encounters in Group B, but they make up 16% of the Group B expulsions under Title 42. 

Table 1: Encounters and Title 42 Expulsions All Countries March 2020 to May 2022

Further, while the ratio of expulsions to total encounters has declined overall since Biden took office, during the last year, the ratio has actually gone up for Haitians. During FY 2021 just over 20% of those Haitians encountered by US border patrol were expelled under Title 42. In the current fiscal year (2022) the ratio of Title 42 expulsions to encounters has reached 34.3%. 

If we use the debacle in Del Rio as a dividing line, the ratio of encounters to expulsions has basically doubled for Haitians since September of 2021. This is a clear indication of the Biden administration’s deterrence strategy, intended to discourage more people from Haiti from trying to enter the United States.

It is important to note that the figures above are all derived from Border Patrol official statistics. What is not known is how many Haitains have been expelled by the US Border Patrol to Mexico. We know this has happened, and until Del Rio, as far as such expulsions could be tracked, it was as a small number. However, during the Del Rio crisis, Mayorkas claimed that “about” 8,000 Haitians “voluntarily” returned to Mexico. These Haitians were not processed, and are not included in official counts. Was it actually 8,000, or more? We don’t know. The point, however, is that the number of Haitians expelled is likely considerably higher than these official statistics represent.

Turning the corner in June?

The data above was compiled for a report on discrimination against Haitains in US boder policy before June 2022 numbers were publicly available. The June numbers have now been released, and the trends identified above do not apply. There were 4,198 encounters of Haitian nationals by the US Border Patrol in June. Only twenty-nine (or 0.69%) of them were processed under Title 42. As far as we can tell, there have been no Title 42 expulsion flights to Haiti since June 3, though smaller “regular” deportation flights have occurred in the weeks since.   

There has been no official policy announcement from the Biden administration on Title 42 and Haiti. However, a federal court ruling now requires baseline screening be made available to those who express fear their lives may be in danger if returned to their home country, or expelled to a third country. The ruling went into effect at the end of May, and the number of Title 42 expulsions for Haitians has dropped radically since. There were still 95,000 Title 42 expulsions overall in June; 91,000 (96%) of them to the Group A countries noted above.

The apparent pause in Title 42 expulsions to Haiti is welcome news. However, we remain concerned that Title 42 expulsions will increase again absent a public commitment to end them. Any removal to Haiti right now is placing lives at risk. Though the number of removals has declined dramatically with the current decline in Title 42 expulsions, it is no less wrong to remove any of those currently being deported. 

You can join our petition to end ALL removals to Haiti here.



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Biden and the deadly stalemate in Haiti

Acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry and his “September 11th” coalition met with representatives of the Montana Accord last week to discuss how to end the country’s political stalemate. The Montana Accord is a civil society-led transition proposal negotiated last year at the Montana Hotel that hundreds of national and local organizations have endorsed. A coalition of political parties referred to as the PEN joined the Montana group earlier this year. Close allies of Henry quickly assembled his September 11th coalition last year after the Montana proposal was announced. This latest meeting between the two coalitions ended without agreement.

The main sticking point is the composition of the executive that would oversee a new electoral process. The Montana/PEN accord calls for a presidential committee to work alongside a prime minister, to be elected out of a National Transition Council. This modified dual executive would organize new elections, and provide interim governance. Henry’s coalition says there is no constitutional provision for such a move, and no practical means for selecting a president prior to new elections. The “September 11” position therefore leaves Henry, as acting prime minister, in charge of a new electoral process. This is exactly what the Montana/PEN folks do not want.

Henry’s appeal to constitutionality is interesting. The constitution has long been inoperative, at least in terms of giving form to a functioning government. Moïse was ruling by decree his last 18 months in office after repeatedly blocking parliamentary elections. Henry is in power now largely at the behest of the United States. There was no confirmation process, and no functioning parliament to conduct one. In place of constitutional processes, the “Core Group” (a group of diplomats from the US, Canada, France, Brazil, others, alongside representatives of the UN and OAS) invited Henry to form a government after the assassination of Jovenel Moïse, in a letter announced via Tweet from the US State Department.  

Cité Soleil

Outside the Hotel Karibe where the discussions are happening, Port au Prince is on fire. The latest conflict is in Cite Soleil, home to 300,000 people.  From the Miami Herald

The National Human Rights Defense Network said its investigation shows that the clash was triggered by a 3 a.m. Thursday [July 7] attack against the Brooklyn area of Cité Soleil by the G-9 gang federation with the objective of dislodging leader Jean Pierre, also known as Ti Gabriel or Gabo, and putting the area under G-9’s control. To achieve this, other gang members agreed to combine forces with Chérizier, and use heavy machinery to destroy homes on behalf of his federation.

OCHA’s July 14th update confirmed 99 people killed, 135 injured, and a minimum of 2,500 people displaced as a result of the fighting in Cite Soleil. Port-au-Prince has seen repeated gang warfare over the last few years. Nearly 1,000 people have been murdered in Port-au-Prince since January, with thousands displaced and 650 documented kidnappings. As gangs fight to control commerce into and out of Port-au-Prince, the results are periodic disruptions of trade, creating further shortages of fuel and other necessities around the country. 

Last week the police seized cargo containers at the port in La Saline that contained automatic weapons and ammunition destined for the streets. The gun trade between the United States and Haiti is supposed to be highly restricted. Clearly this has been a failure of enforcement. The guns fueling the violence in Haiti all come from the United States, either directly or through the Dominican Republic. The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on July 15th that calls on all countries “to stop the transfer of small arms, light weapons and ammunition to any party in crisis-torn Haiti supporting gang violence and criminal activity.” The United States voted for the resolution. What steps will it take?  

Where is the United States? 

A political cartoon in La Nouvellist this week shows Henry sitting atop an ice cube while men with guns walk in the background and the streets are on fire. He says, “the country is not hot…the press, the church, the UN, [Doctors without Borders] all just give the bad news.” The ice cube (shielding Henry from the local heat) is stamped “Made in the USA.” 

With US patronage behind him, Henry has a virtual veto over any process that would marginalize him and his allies. At the same time, Henry does not seem to have a large enough political base inside Haiti to move forward on his own. The result is the ongoing stalemate, which is deadly for the majority of Haitians who are simply trying to survive.  

The Quixote Center has joined with other organizations in challenging the Biden administration to change course in Haiti. A current effort is an organizational sign on letter to the Biden administration in which, “We call on the US government to stop supporting de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the PHTK party and its political affiliates, so that a Haitian solution to the crisis can emerge.” You can read and sign the letter here

There is also a petition for individuals to sign here.

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Bolton: Symptom of a “far deeper malady”

The United States is still the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. Just ask John Bolton.

John Bolton was interviewed by Jack Tapper of CNN on Tuesday concerning the ongoing hearings and investigation into the January 6, 2021 attacks on the U.S. Capitol. The exchange, as summarized by the Washington Post: John Bolton, [said the] attack on the Capitol was not a “carefully planned coup d’etat” — and that he would know. “As somebody who has helped plan coups d’etat — not here but, you know, other places — it takes a lot of work, and that’s not what [President Donald Trump] did.” 

Predictably there is much discussion about which coups Bolton may have been involved in; he only admitted to trying to oust Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela in 2019 when he was Trump’s National Security Advisor. Jacob Rosenberg of Mother Jones put an ironic spin on the story while curating a tour of US sponsored regime changes since 1953. Most coverage, however, has simply restated the obvious, e.g., no one is surprised by any of this, except, maybe, the casual tone with which Bolton made the claim. 

The Washington Post did give space to people concerned that Bolton’s admission gives fuel to our “opponents” overseas: “It’s damaging to our efforts to advance and support democracy,” Stanford University-Hoover Institution scholar Larry Diamond said. “We have enough trouble already countering Russian and Chinese propaganda.” 

On the other hand, one former CIA analyst quipped on Twitter that Bolton “never touched a coup.” 

Bolton has always been a bit played in a larger ensemble of neo-conservative foreign policy hawks. Debating Bolton’s role in any of the regime changes the US helped orchestrate seems of marginal importance viewed against the full weight of what the United States government has wrought around the world with its casual disrespect for sovereignty and democratic practice.

In response to Larry Diamond, I’d say the damage to the United States’ reputation is self-inflicted by the actual practice of serial interventions our government has engaged in. The United States is not wounded by “propaganda.” We are, however, deeply wounded by the blowback from the many regime changes our government has supported.

In 2016 Lindsay O’Rourke summarized a study he had conducted into US involvement in coups d’etat around the world during the cold war. His topline: “Between 1947 and 1989, the United States tried to change other nations’ governments 72 times.” Many regime changes and attempted regime changes have ensued in the years since. 

Fifty-five years ago Dr. King called the United States the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. In what is probably the most prophetic speech anyone has ever made about US foreign policy, Dr. King said,

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. 

Dr. King argued that there must be a “radical revolution of values,” if we are to avoid this fate of never-ending crises.

we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.   . 

We should have listened.

The United States remains the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. Our government shows no regard for human rights in discerning where to engage. The US does not support democracy, unless one assumes a “market economy” is a reasonable stand in. Certainly the “market” is what the coups, interventions, and saccharine appeals to “US standing” in the world seem to ultimately be about. Racism, materialism and militarism indeed!

The latest Pentagon budget proposed by the Biden administration for FY 2023 was the largest Pentagon budget ever at $813 billion; Congress promptly bumped it to $839 billion. In reality total national security spending actually tops $1.4 trillion. The United States currently has forces deployed in 85 countries around the globe for the purpose of buttressing counter insurgency operations. Biden has just greenlighted US re-engagement with forces in Somalia, while in Europe, we remain on the brink of war with Russia; Ukraine being the site of one of the many US supported coups in the post-cold war era, though Bolton was not around for this one (2014). Blowback has most certainly followed

One day, maybe, the John Boltons of this world will face justice. Today is not that day. In the meantime, we can only hope he packs up the Yosemite Sam mustache and returns to a closet at the American Enterprise Institute. 

The rest of us must continue to work for peace. Which means cleaning up the messes that Bolton and so many others like him have created.

 

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Take Action: One year since Moïse assassination

One year ago today Haiti’s acting president, Jovenal Moïse, was assassinated in his own home. A group of two-dozen mercernaries, most apparently hired from Colombia, were arrested in the days following Moïse’s murder, but the story of who was ultimately behind the plot to kill Moïse continues to unfold. The acting prime-minister, Ariel Henry, anointed to this role by the US State Department and allied members of the so called “Core-Group,” is among the people implicated in the plot. 

The Biden Administration continues to stand by Henry. Efforts to form a new transition government led by a coalition of civil society organizations and political parties continue to move forward, but with no support from the United States government. With US patronage behind him, Henry is given an effective veto over any other process, including the “Montana Process” (so-named after the Hotel Montana where the original transition plan was negotiated, prior to Moïse’s death).

In the year since the assassination of Moïse the security situation for Haitians has deteriorated. Heavily armed criminal groups control transportation routes into and out of Port au Prince. They are also a force to be reckoned with on highways throughout the country. In the capital, the violence has been intense as groups fight over control of key neighborhoods, especially in Martissant, Croix-des-Bouquet, sections of Delmas, and Cite Soleil. 

Insecurity, and a state that feels largely absent, has also deepened a socio-economic crisis impacting access to food and fuel, and has made many livelihoods difficult to sustain. Mix in a COVID-19 recession and a massive earthquake on the Grand Sud peninsula last August, and things are increasingly desperate.

One result is an increase in people leaving Haiti. The US Coast Guard has interdicted and returned nearly 6,000 people this fiscal year. How many others have made it through to other states in the Caribbean, or who have perished in the waters, is not known. 

Haitians continue to arrive seeking relief at the US/Mexico border. The Biden Administration has instead expelled thousands of them back into the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Haiti. The Biden Administration has expelled over 26,500 Haitians during the 18 months he has been in office, more than the last three presidents combined. 24,5000 of those expulsions have occurred just since mid-September 2021.

Take Action!!

To mark this day, we lift up a number of efforts to confront the United States government’s contributions to the instability unfolding in Haiti.

First, as an individual, you can sign this petition calling on the United States government to back down on its unconditional support for Henry

If you are a member of an organization, please seek that organization’s signature on this letter to the Biden administration with the same message.

If you have questions/concerns about the messaging in these statements, you can review a detailed memo that explains the positions here.

Finally, please join us in demanding that the Biden administration halt ALL removals to Haiti. Sign on here.

 

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Does Haiti need more sweatshops?

Republican Senator Marco Rubio promoted his policy ideas for Haiti in a recent op-ed. He called out the Biden Administration for a failure to fully engage what Rubio calls a looming crisis of political collapse and unauthorized migration. Rubio’s arguments are similar to other recent opinion pieces in The Washington Post and elsewhere, calling on the administration to “do more!” 

What does doing more mean? It means more guns and more investment, the dual pillars of US foriegn policy everywhere in the world. The Rubio version goes like this: Biden should be…

…following the advice that US Senator Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, and I gave to the government to strengthen Haiti’s national police to fight criminal gangs. It means being open to another UN peacekeeping mission. It means expanding the Inter-American Development Bank’s investments in Haitian infrastructure. And it means building closer economic ties between our country and Haiti, as my Haitian Economic Development Program Extension Act would do by guaranteeing jobs and trade benefits for Haiti’s textile industry.

One of the most problematic components of what is becoming a bipartisan consensus on Haiti’s future is the idea to create a better investment environment for the companies that sew garments for US clothing brands in Haiti. Low taxes, no export fees, and cheap labor. 

This point is raised not to criticize Rubio, at least no more than anybody else who advances sweatshops as a critical element in the solution to a crisis. Remember that former President Clinton promoted a massive industrial park for sweatshops as the largest USAID project in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Farmers living in the zone were displaced, the housing created for workers was substandard, and environmental concerns have largely been set aside. But the park is now open, paying exploitation-level wages to struggling families and communities. As a result, Haiti’s stabilization is further from reality than ever.

If you go to your closet, or to your chest of drawers, there is probably something in there made in Haiti. Which is to say, in the US we all benefit from such “stabilization” plans for Haiti, as well as such plans for other countries of the Global South, which do not ultimately provide stability, but do provide less expensive garments.

What does this development strategy translate to in reality? Abuse.

The garment industry is rife with human rights violations that go beyond the miserable wages paid. The industry is structured to maximize productivity in a process that can not be mechanized. Sewing a tee-shirt still requires someone to actually do it. Fancy sewing machines only get you so far. Maximizing productivity frequently means putting considerable pressure on workers, such as limiting bathroom breaks, punishing striking workers, and raising the minimum number of garments needed to qualify for overtime. The more insecure the environment, the higher the level of abuse. 

For women, who make up the majority of sweatshop labor in Haiti, this also means sexual abuse at the hands of supervisors. From the Guardian,

Female garment factory workers the Guardian spoke to confirm that to get a job – which has become harder because so many people are looking for work – women are expected to have sex with a male manager.

“If you don’t accept to have sex with the manager, your application will be rejected,” one worker says, adding that she works on a line that produces 3,600 T-shirts a day. “You must oblige or you won’t have a job, and also if you want a promotion, you must have sex with your supervisor.”

Previous iterations of saving Haiti via the sweatshop, e.g., the HOPE Act, mandated that monitoring systems be put into place to ensure respect for the rights of workers. It is clear that the system does not work. Monitoring is done by Better Work Haiti and funded by the World Bank, and International Labor Rights Organization. This raises the contradiction of workers having to rely on external monitoring systems rather than their own empowered, worker organizations. Better Work Haiti does report on problems in the factories, but has also under-reported sexual harrassment, in part because women are afraid to report. 

Senator Rubio is likely correct that Haiti is on the brink of collapse. He is not correct that this is because Biden is doing too little, as the Administration seems content to support the current acting government no matter how bad things get, rather than risk stepping back to give space for a more progressive, Haitian-led democratic process. And more guns and more sweatshops will not help.

Of course, industrial growth in Haiti could be a tremendous benefit, but only if that process is undertaken to serve Haitians, and to ensure that workers are in control of their destiny. That is simply not going to happen when the entire orientation of the policy is appeasing US corporations and consumers, who usually simply want cheap. 

The workers must come first. Always. 

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Abuse in the Air: New report on ICE Air contractor abuse and sports teams that use same companies

Sports teams and entertainers frequently, if unwittingly, find themselves on the same planes that have been (or will become) the site of human rights violations. Should they care? We think so. 

A new report from the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights released this week documents human rights abuses that occur on removal flights carried out for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Using plane tail numbers, the authors of Abuses in the Air: Sports Travel and the Deportation Industry are able to show that the very same planes are used to shepherd college athletic programs, professional sports teams and entertainers around the country. 

Background

The University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights has become one of the leading investigative entities uncovering the contractual relationships that constitute the infrastructure of ICE Air Operations. Their 2019 report, Hidden in Plain Sight: ICE Air and the Machinery of Mass Deportation, is one of the clearest explanations of ICE Air Operations one might find. Available here. It is definitely worth your time.

The first thing to know is that ICE Air Operations does not own its own planes. ICE Air Operations does not even directly manage their own flight scheduling. A private company handles the whole operational side of managing ICE Air Operation’s flights. Currently Classic Air Charters holds the contract to manage ICE Air Operation’s flights, a contract worth $740 million plus over a 5-year period, with a ton of contingencies to bump that number up.

Classic Air Charters subcontracts with other private carriers to actually conduct the flights. Swift Air/iAero has received the bulk of subcontracted flights in recent years. Other carriers include World Atlantic Airlines, Global Crossing Airline and Omni Air. For example, of the 36 removal flights to Haiti that happened in May of this year, 21 were on Swift Air/iAero charters, 6 were on World Atlantic Airlines, 6 were on Global Crossing, and 3 were Omni.

Deporting migrants and/or flying them between cities within the United States is the product of US policy and appropriations. ICE Air Operations is a public entity spending tax dollars to implement its program. And yet, like the for-profit immigrant detention industry, ICE Air operates with minimal accountability, and seems to require little from the corporations that implement their program.

The entire operational side of ICE Air is shrouded in secrecy. ICE Air Operations shares the average cost “per flight hour” on their website, for example, but it is almost impossible to find out what was actually paid for an individual flight, or to view the contracts between Classic Air Charters and its subcontractors. This is a problem, since ICE operational standards do not automatically apply to corporate contractors, unless specified in the contract. 

The result is a system in which the violation of civil and human rights is commonplace.

Human rights violations and the charter business

Abuses in the Air: Sports Travel and the Deportation Industry identifies systemic violation of human rights that occur as a result of the way the United States government/ICE manages deporations. They include the denial of non-refoulement, torture, denial of due process, and double punishment. The companies that profit from deportation flights are thus implicated in the underlying systemic human rights violations that would not occur absent their complicity. In some cases, such as physical abuse and torture that occur during the flights, these companie are directly the agents of the violations.

The report makes clear that these companies, indeed using the very same planes, facilitate human rights violations, and then move the seats around in order to fly your daughter’s college volleyball team to a national tournament, or your favorite pro-team around the country. For example, consider this example of the violation of non-refoulement.

Image from Abuse in the Air report

Conclusions

All of our lives are implicated in the labyrinthine network of business relationships that make immigration enforcement profitable, and thus, so difficult to regulate. Who, at this point, has not ordered from Amazon, or watched a video on Prime? Amazon is part owner of the Air Transport Services Group, which manages Omni Air. Almost everybody has done business, as a consumer or partner, with a company financed by the Blackstone Group, which holds a majority stake in iAero, as well as dating apps, health service companies, and cyber security firms. 

All of these connections are mystified by secret deals, and layers of contractual relationships. Are you to blame for deportation violence because you watched the last season of Bosch on Freevee? No. But we can’t escape the fact that profits from these human rights violations are woven throughout our economy and we need to make ourselves more aware of this fact.  The authors write,

The secrecy that surrounds deportation flights have allowed too many of us to distance ourselves from the abuse funded with our tax dollars; understanding the connections between our government, air charter companies, and some of the most well known institutions in our midst may help us begin to unravel these knots, untangling our complicity in the practices that draw profit from migrants’ pain.

As the US government refuses to hold subcontractors responsible, and the carriers have no incentive to police themselves, it is up to all of us to speak out against this abuse. We think that sports teams, entertainers, and others who use private charters should also take a stand not to use the same companies that ICE contracts with, until there is an end to abuse on these planes. 

 

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Migration and Haiti News

IOM Figures, end of May 2022 report. The figure of 25,806 returned from the United States includes Coast Guard repatriations – in addition to flights.

There has been a brief, no doubt temporary, respite from the expulsion of people back to Haiti under Title 42 this week. There was one removal flight to Haiti on Tuesday, which seems to have been “regular” deportations (people removed under normal immigration processing authority, or Title 8). The temporary reprieve is possibly due to the Summit of the Americas taking place in Los Angeles, where a new regional compact on migration is supposed to be announced. Certainly there has been no public commitment from the Biden administration to slow or halt expulsions to Haiti (you can sign our petition demanding a moratorium on removals to Haiti here). In May, the Biden administration expelled over 4,000 Haitians on 36 flights.

The flight this Tuesday (June 7) was the Biden administration’s 268th expulsion flight to Haiti – 231 of which have taken place just since September 19, 2021 when the current wave of mass deportations began. Since September, over 24,000 Haitians have been expelled by air, including families . According to the International Organization on Migration’s office in Haiti, 20% of those expelled from the United States have been children. 

In addition to flights, however, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Haitians interdicted at sea. The US Coast Guard has captured and returned 5,300 Haitians since the beginning of the current fiscal year (October 1, 2021). As the Miami Herald notes, the actual numbers of Haitians leaving by boat is unknown, as the voyages are often deadly. Many of the people leaving by boat are not trying to come to the United States, but more often to neighboring Caribbean islands. One result is that expulsions from those destinations have increased as well. Cuba, for example, has returned 1,300 Haitians so far this year, the Bahamas, 1,600. 

At the US/Mexico border, confusion reigns. Title 42 is not ending soon. A federal court issued a temporary injunction against the Center for Disease Control and Prevention decision to end Title 42 two weeks ago. Title 42 will end eventually, of course, but it has become a political football, with state leaders using it to bludgeon Biden in courts, and Senate Republicans and some Democrats trying to force a vote on it as a precondition for passing COVID relief (though this strategy may now be on hold). The context here is the midterm elections, which also corresponds with gubernatorial races in many states – including Texas and Arizona.

New asylum processing rules were implemented by the Biden administration this week expanding the use of expedited removal. The new procedures are intended to speed up the process of making asylum decisions. There is deep concern that in doing so, the new rules will limit the ability of people to find representation and build their asylum cases. This means fewer approvals alongside an abbreviated appeals process. More than anything, however, the transition from Trump to Biden continues to be marred by mass confusion about what the rules actually are at the border. 

People from Haiti, and many other countries, are currently waiting in Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo, Juarez and other border cities confused about when or if to come into the United States. This week the dangers of this were magnified by the murder of a Haitian migrant in Tijuana and the death of another man who was unable to get medical treatment as he was having a heart attack.

Finally, as noted above, the Summit of the Americas is happening this week and there is to be a much anticipated announcement concerning new commitments toward collaboration on regional migration. The two pillars of this agreement seem to be 1.) searching for temporary working opportunities for migrants, and 2.) expanding enforcement throughout the region. As I am writing, the migration declaration has not been finalized, but is expected to include provisions to expand temporary work programs for Haitians in Canada.

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Food insecurity, debt and underdevelopment in Haiti

Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Snapshot | March – June 2022 (Projection update)

At least 4.5 million people in Haiti, or 45% of the population, are facing acute hunger. As the war in Ukraine drags on, the number is certain to go up. Prices for food are spiking everywhere, with the cost of fuel adding to the pain. The immediate crisis in Haiti is thus symptomatic of global stressors largely outside the control of the people of the country. From a longer term point of view, the food crisis in Haiti has deep roots in years of exploitation. 

For many US Americans, the New York Times recent series of articles on Haiti was their first encounter with this history of exploitation. The centerpiece of the Times’ analysis was a discussion of the so-called “independence debt” demanded by the French government, some twenty years after Haiti won its independence in 1804. In 1825, the French government demanded 150 million francs as an indemnity to recompense property owners, including those who previously “owned” enslaved Haitians, who lost their holdings as a result of the revolution. Under threat of a naval bombardment by French warships, Haiti’s president agreed to pay.

Haiti could only pay this ransom by borrowing from French banks at usurious interest rates, creating a “double debt.” The authors of the Times’ series argue that paying off this debt cost Haiti the equivalent $21 billion over the years, money that might have otherwise gone to infrastructure and the financing of local industry. Indeed, the independence debt was not paid off until 1947. The final installments were not to French banks, but to the National City Bank of New York, the predecessor to CitiGroup, which had assumed the remaining portion of Haiti’s “double debt.” It also assumed control of Haiti’s national bank, in a process that began in 1909 and culminated during the US occupation of Haiti (1915-1934).  

Global pillage

As the New York Times shows, Haiti’s current troubles have grown in the context of these fertile fields of exploitation. It is the uncomfortable truth that the wealth of European and US American financiers today derives in no small part from the historic impoverishment of Haiti, and the Caribbean more generally. Indeed, the entire edifice of 19th century imperialism still casts a long shadow over the poverty of countries throughout the global south. Haiti’s story is unique in the degree of exploitation; it has been the cost imposed on Haitians as the result of a successful social revolution led by enslaved peoples, the only such revolution in history. However, Haiti’s story is part of a global tale of ongoing theft.

To this day, countries of the global south transfer more wealth to the global north in the form of profit repatriations, tax evasion, unequal exchanges from labor exploitation, debt repayments and historic trade imbalances, than flows the other way in the form of direct investment, “aid” and new lending. It’s not even close. Studies have shown repeatedly the net resource transfers from “developing” to “developed” countries recently comes to $2 trillion a year. One study, published in New Political Economy last year, concluded that the “drain from the South remains a significant feature of the world economy in the post-colonial era; rich countries continue to rely on imperial forms of appropriation to sustain their high levels of income and consumption.” The scale of the plunder is extraordinary. From 1960 to 2018, they found, the “drain from the South totalled $62 trillion (constant 2011 dollars), or $152 trillion when accounting for lost growth.” 

Debt and the destruction of Haitian agriculture

What do these global and historic trends mean in concrete terms for Haiti today? People are hungry, the government can no longer govern, and gangs are profligate. 

Sandra Wisner’s recently published study, Starved for Justice: International Complicity in Systematic Violations of the Right to Food in Haiti outlines in detail the role of USAID, and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, in enforcing policy prescriptions on Haiti that devastated local food production. These policies are a continuation of the patterns of exploitation set in place in 1825, but with the United States, not France, as the primary perpetrator.

The story of rice is the best known example,  although not the only one. “[I]n 1985, Haiti produced 163,296 tons of rice and less than 5% (7,337 tons) of all rice consumed was imported from the United States. But in the last decade alone, Haiti’s rice imports have increased by nearly 150 million metric tons. In 2020, Haiti imported almost $245 million worth of United States produced rice, making the country the third largest market for North American rice after Japan and Mexico.” 

This change from consumption of Haitian rice to US imported rice was facilitated by a reduction in tariffs for rice, from 50% to 3% in 1994. The lowering of agricultural tariffs was part of a bundle of reforms that also included cuts to public sector spending, including slashing support credits for rural farmers, and adopting a floating exchange rate. All of these reforms were mandated by international financial institutions as part of structural adjustment programs, which were in turn imposed on Haiti to facilitate the payment of debts to international creditors.

Urbanization 

Between 1986 and today, Haiti’s economy and resulting social relations have been utterly transformed by the decline of agricultural production. In the waning years of the Duvalier dictatorship, Haiti’s population remained largely a rural one. Twenty-four percent of Haiti’s population, representing 1.56 million people, lived in cities in 1986. Today, the percentage is 57% of the population, or 6.55 million people, who live in cities. 

This quadrupling of the urban population in just 36 years has been wholly unsustainable. Indeed, the consequences of insecure housing, lack of services, and impoverishment became quite clear when Port au Prince was struck by an earthquake in 2010. Public health scholar, Jean Carmalt, wrote, “When the earthquake struck on January 12, 2010, there were approximately 2.7 million people living in the city, with an additional 75,000 new migrants arriving in the city every year. About 85% of those migrants moved into informal or illegal settlements.” An estimated 300,000 people died in the earthquake, an unprecedented toll clearly driven by overcrowding and insecure housing. Despite the evident stress on the city’s capacity to support the population then, there are nearly 700,000 more people living in the metro area today than in 2011. This overcrowding is in large part a result of the ongoing devastation of the rural economy. 

Formal employment in Haiti (jobs with set wages or a salary) was about 11.5% of the working age population (15 years +) in 2016, with total employment for the same age group at 68%. This means a third of the population over 15 years of age is without work, and the vast majority of the people with jobs are in highly insecure situations in the informal economy. A clear outgrowth of rapid urbanization coupled with such low employment opportunities has been the explosive formation of criminal gangs over the last 20 years and their alliances with competing political and economic elites. These gangs now control large swaths of the country, including major transportation routes in and out of Port au Prince.

Employment rates in rural areas are even lower. People with land are wholly dependent on what they can grow and get to market to survive. For others living in small rural communities, they either find what work they can on local farms, or migrate to cities. The opportunities are, in either case, slim. It is not surprising that gangs have now expanded into rural communities as well. In one case, a gang in the extended “family” of the notorious 400 Mawozo gang based in Croix des Bouquet, took over several small villages north of Pandou. Families displaced by the gang actually have to pay “tax” now in order to return and tend their farms during the day. 

None of this is the result of “natural” market forces. Rather, the crisis is the result of specific policies imposed on the country that maintain historic forms of pillage. The New York Times series helps us understand how much of this started; but we should all understand that it is ongoing.

Food security requires food sovereignty

Moving into summer this year, with gas prices soaring, and a devalued exchange rate eating away at people’s purchasing power, hunger is widespread in Haiti. Every section of the country is facing at least “crisis” levels of food insecurity, with several departments moving into emergency levels, including the West department (Port au Prince). The World Food Program is estimating 1.3 million people are in need of urgent food assistance. 

The playbook for such a crisis tends to have a short term view. Food is brought in from the United States, and either given away, or monetized at levels that undercut local food production. Food aid has long been a means for large US-based agricultural producers to offload surplus production at a profit; e.g. they sell it to the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation, which then transfers the food as “aid” to the World Food Program, or non-governmental organizations like Catholic Relief Services. 

A result is that a short-term solution to the looming food crisis in Haiti runs the risk of becoming part of the longer-term problem of declining food production, dependence on imported food and the ancillary effects of all of this on society. 

At this point it is tempting to point to “the solution.” That would be more than a bit presumptuous. Yet, any solution to the crisis of food insecurity clearly requires supporting the revitalization of agriculture, and in ways that augment food production. If Haiti is to become food secure, it must become food sovereign. 

Any expansion of production must be done with longer term sustainability in mind, employing a mix of reforestation, food produce, and animal husbandry such that soils can be replenished, and local rain patterns can return to a semblance of predictability. Tariffs would have to be reset at levels that offset dumping of agricultural products from the United States and elsewhere.

Before any of this can happen at a scale necessary to turn the crisis around, public policy in Haiti must be reoriented toward protecting Haiti’s long-term interests, not the interests of transnational banks, US corporations or non-governmental organizations. In the medium term, however, we can support programs that build up local capacity for food production in sustainable ways. 

This is the work of our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center, where the staff coordinate with small farmer associations to organize educational programs and provide direct material support for projects that boost local productive capacity. They work with farmers throughout the process of planting, tending, harvesting and marketing their produce in all eight communal sections of Gros Morne. Scaling up such programs is a priority for our work in Haiti. 

We must also continue to press the United States government to change its policies. The United States government exercises an oversized degree of control in Haiti, and does not do so with the interests of the majority of Haitians in mind. Haiti is still struggling for its independence, and we, in the United States, are part of the problem. We can do better. We must do better. 

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Migration from Nicaragua is up since October 2021

Between October 1, 2021 and April 30, 2022, the US Border Patrol encountered a number equivalent to 1 out of every 69 Nicaraguans trying to get into the United States – a higher portion relative to population than any other country in Central America this year.  “Encounter” refers to someone apprehended for attempting to enter the United States in an unauthorized manner, or deemed inadmissible at a port of entry, or anyone expelled under Title 42 authority.

Border Patrol Encounters Nicaragua

The number of Border Patrol encounters with people from Nicaragua stands at 92,037 this fiscal year (between Oct 1 and April 30). The total for all of FY 2021 was 50,722. There were only 3,164 encounters from Nicaragua in FY 2020. Adjusted relative to population, the number of people from Nicaragua the US Border Patrol has encountered so far this year represents the largest group from Central America. [Encounters as a percent of population in FY 2022 = 1.45% for Nicaragua, 1.124% for Honduras, 0.76% for Guatemala, and 0.90% for El Salvador.]* 

For anyone trying to get into the United States, Border Patrol processes them under either Title 8 or Title 42 authorities. Title 42 refers to an order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that permitted the Trump and Biden administrations to summarily expel anyone encountered by Border Patrol. This order effectively denies asylum to anyone crossing between ports of entry, and also denies asylum and other humanitarian relief at ports of entry.   

When Title 42 first went into effect in March of 2020, Mexico refused to accept people being expelled unless they were Mexican nationals, or from Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras. As a result most Nicaraguans were processed under Title 8. Title 8 simply means they are processed under “normal” (pre-Title 42) authority. 

Entering under Title 8 authority does not mean Nicaraguans will get to stay.  Most will be detained, or enrolled in an ankle monitoring program, while they await hearings, and most of them will eventually be deported. For example, of all Nicaraguan asylum claims processed from 2001 to 2021, an average of 29% were granted. In recent years the percentage of approvals is up, but the total number of cases is way down as immigration courts are seriously backlogged. In FY 2021, the US granted 43% of asylum claims from Nicaragua, but the total number of cases considered was 446. 

Many people seeking asylum from Nicaragua are also redirected to wait in Mexico. Nicaraguans make up 73% of enrollments in the revamped Migrant Protection Protocol (“Remain in Mexico”). Processing under Title 8 authority has never been easy, and this has certainly not changed for the better during COVID. Indeed, in preparation for the possible end of Title 42, the Biden administration is looking to expand expedited removal, and give “credible fear” screening authority to agents at the border, which does not bode well for people trying to stay in the country no matter where they are from. Finally, the Biden administration recently negotiated an agreement with Mexico to accept Nicaraguans expelled under Title 42. The current agreement is limited in scope; it totals about 60 people a day (which still adds up to 1,800 people a month). This could expand depending on what the courts ultimately decide about Title 42’s future.

Some reason why

So, for the first time in many, many years, an increase in migration from Nicaragua to the United States is outpacing other countries in Central America relative to population – in absolute terms, the number of people from Nicaragua has already surpassed El Salvador and is not far behind Honduras and Guatemala. There is no single reason, of course. And it is difficult to assign a weight to various causes. But we can discuss what some of the factors are, and what might be unique in the case of Nicaragua versus other countries in Central America.

Political instability in Nicaragua is the only reason ever given much weight in US media accounts of Nicaraguan migration. While this is certainly a part of the reason for the increase, it is very far from the whole story.  Indeed, political instability is hardly a factor unique to Nicaragua. Political repression and social violence is still far worse in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. If Nicaragua is outpacing its neighbors in migration right now, it is not due to more political instability. 

Economic stress from COVID-19 is no doubt part of the equation, as it is for much of Latin America. Indeed, Border Patrol encounters are up across the board, to the highest levels in 20 years. That said, while Nicaragua has been battered like the rest of the region, its economy is in recovery. So, economic retraction from COVID would not be worse for Nicaraguans than the rest of Central America – though sanctions complicate this picture.

The factors that are unique to Nicaragua viz other countries in Central America are: 1) US sanctions; 2) the decline in opportunities for seasonal migration to Costa Rica; 3) as noted above, the fact that until April of this year, Nicaraguans have mostly been de facto exempted from Title 42 at the US border. 

US sanctions against Nicaragua have taken two forms: individual sanctions against members of the government and their families; and generalized sanctions in the form of restrictions placed on multilateral loans. Forty-one people have been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in Nicaragua. It is difficult to know what impact this has on the economy, but certainly many of the people involved are in positions of authority in government, which would disqualify them from joint ventures with US based business interests. Generalized sanctions hit at the same time as COVID-19. The World Bank issued no new loans to Nicaragua between March of 2018 and November of 2020, and the IDB offered few new loans until a COVID support program of $43 million in the summer of 2020 – compare that to $1.8 billion in new lending to El Salvador during the first 7 months of 2020, including $300 million to address COVID.

The easing of some multilateral lending on humanitarian grounds after hurricanes struck Central America in November of 2020 led the United States to impose further monitoring on these loans, a provision included in a new round of sanctions called the Renacer Act passed in November last year. Renacer also directs the Biden administration to investigate the removal of Nicaragua from the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Whether or not the United States would impose trade sanctions at this level (or even if it can take such unilateral action) the discussion of such an outcome might chill investment. 

What all of this has meant for Nicaragua’s economy and employment is hard to disaggregate from the overall chilling effect of COVID-19. In recent months the country has seen growth in the economy. Would this recovery be more robust absent sanctions? Probably. Certainly sanctions have not helped. What we can say with some certainty, however, is that from the standpoint of US policy, sanctions have backfired, having likely contributed to an increase in immigration, and led to Nicaragua’s re-engagement with China, which was announced by Nicaragua shortly after the signing into law of the Renacer Act. Meanwhile, Ortega shows no signs of going anywhere. Calls for even more sanctions in response seem quite short-sighted.

When I wrote about migration from Nicaragua last October, an important dynamic in the increase in people heading north was the decline in people heading south – to Costa Rica. In 2020 and 2021 net migration of Nicaraguans to Costa Rica was negative. The reduction was stark, from 800,000+ border crossing annually pre-COVID, to just 270,000 in 2020, with 143,000 Nicaraguans returning to Nicaragua, vs 130,000 traveling to Costa Rica. From August 2020 to September of 2021 the number of crossing was down to 170,000, again with more Nicaraguans returning to Nicaragua than traveling to Costa Rica. In short, Costa Rica’s economic woes have largely closed off the economy to Nicaraguans migrating there for seasonal work, and the decline in opportunity in Costa Rica, has as its corollary, more migration toward the United States.

The impact of Nicaraguans being left out of Title 42 expulsions is harder to know. Anecdotally, I have heard from a number of people in Nicaragua that the word on the street is Nicaraguans are “getting in” to the United States. People migrating are also coming from all walks of life, and all political affiliations – it is not just the poor, and certainly not only people from opposition neighborhoods. There seems to be a general understanding that Nicaraguans will have an easier time at the border than other Central Americans, and that may be a factor in encouraging more people to try and migrate. As noted above, however, nothing is easy here. The Biden administration has already looked to increase expulsions of Nicaraguans to Mexico, and if Title 42 remains the policy, as it appears it will for the next few months, those numbers may increase.

It is difficult to draw firm conclusions about which factors weigh most heavily. Economic stress seems to be a major part of the big picture here (impacts of COVID-19, sanctions, employment issues) as they are for most of the region, even as a rough recovery is underway. Certainly some of the increase is people seeking asylum from ongoing political conflict. The United States government should reconsider its policy of sanctions – which has thus far only exacerbated tensions. Turning Nicaragua into a meso-American version of Venezuela by levying more and more sanctions, including trade restrictions as some have advocated, would be a disaster. Finally, US border policy remains an inchoate mess – leading to misinformation and much confusion. For Nicaraguans, and everybody else at our border, creating a humane, sensible process for screening and evaluation is what is needed.  

 

 


*Figures below

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Resources to help understand the gang violence in Port au Prince

[Warning: This post contains descriptions of extreme violence]

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a statement on March 17, that read, “Armed violence has reached unimaginable and intolerable levels in Haiti…It is crucial for urgent steps to be taken to restore the rule of law, to protect people from armed violence and to hold to account the political and economic sponsors of these gangs.”

The statement offered the following account of recent violence:

Between 24 April and 16 May, at least 92 people unaffiliated with gangs and some 96 alleged to be gang members were reportedly killed during coordinated armed attacks in Port-au-Prince. Another 113 were injured, 12 reported missing, and 49 kidnapped against ransom, according to figures corroborated by UN human rights officers. The actual number of people killed may be much higher.

Extreme violence has been reported, including beheadings, chopping and burning of bodies, and the killing of minors accused of being informants for a rival gang. Sexual violence, including gang rape of children as young as 10, has also been used by armed gang members to terrorize and punish people living in areas controlled by rival gangs. Sources also reported the presence of minors in the gangs.

How to make sense of this? International media accounts of Haiti often focus on the growing power and influence of gangs. The news is presented in shocking, sensational tidbits. Too often, the impression the stories leave is that Haiti is descending into chaos. To the contrary, it is important to remember that the gangs and the violence they employ is an expression of the distribution of power in Haiti, and the conflicts are about the future distribution of power. The violence is truly horrible, but the violence is also purposeful.

There are many resources about gang violence in Haiti. Below I share two recent items that will help contextualize the latest crisis in Coix-des-Bouquets, and point to another collection of essays that situate insecurity in a larger historical context.  

City of Gangs video and podcast series

Dr. Tram Jones of Haiti Health Network released three videos explaining the different gang formations in Port au Prince, their strategic position along trade routes in and out of the city, and the current alliances and points of conflict at root of the extensive violence that has occurred over the last year. The series covers Central Port-au-Prince, Martissant, and Croix-des-Bouquets. It is definitely worth the time. (Below is the first video in the series)

Dr. Jones also has a podcast called Overseas in which he discusses much of this history and overview of recent events in more detail. As he suggests, it helps to watch the videos first to get the geography fixed in your mind. You can find the podcasts here.

RNDDH’s most recent report

The context for this horror is war between the Chen Mechan and the 400 Mawozo gangs in the Plaine du Cul-de-sac communities of Tabarre and Croix-des-Bouquets. The National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) issued a report last week that detailed the history of the gangs and this most recent fight over territory and trade. The violence is shocking, intentionally so. Detailing events of April 24 to May 6 in Plaine du Cul-de-sac, RNDDH concludes:

From April 24 to May 6, 2022, two (2) armed gangs, benefiting from the support of state authorities and people around the ruling power, clash. Never have armed attacks been so virulent: people have been murdered by bullets, others beheaded, some others, thrown in latrines and water wells. Women and girls have been raped. Corpses were meticulously chopped and taken in photos that circulated on social networks, with the aim of maintaining an unspeakable terror among the population in general and the community of the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac in particular.

RNDDH documents a decade of interaction between gang leaders and government officials. The internecine conflicts in these circles are complex. It is not that the government “controls the gangs” in some uniform way, but it is clearly the case that people allied with the state lean on gangs to get things done. So, when there is political conflict, it plays out on the street in the most brutal of ways:

[RNDDH] will never stop repeating that for several years, successive state authorities have chosen the gangsterization of the state as a new form of governance. They supply arms and ammunition to armed gangs, and they practice and promote smuggling to facilitate the entry of illegal weapons into the national territory, 76% of which pass through the port of Port- au-Prince. And, in order not to have to justify, since 2012, under the presidency of Joseph Michel MARTELLY, the various anti-smuggling brigades that operated in the ports, airports, and border crossings of the country have all been dismantled.

RNDDH has been documenting gang violence in the country for many years now, and has a large repository of reports, many available in English.

New Series from Society for Cultural Anthropology

Finally, there is an amazing, collection of articles curated by Greg Beckett and Laura Wagner for the Society for Cultural Anthropology (free to access) that came out at the beginning of May, titled, Haiti Beyond Crisis, which seeks to contextualize a broad range of current and historical issues. The editors write:

“This series suggests new ways to understand the current situation in Haiti and poses questions about what is, and isn’t, happening in Haiti right now….The contributors to this series—scholars, activists, journalists, and others from inside and outside Haiti—draw on years of experience to write about themes including violence and ensekirite, migration and deportation, exploitation and industrialization, state corruption, international intervention, everyday life, and Haiti as a symbol of collective freedom.”

It is an important work, relevant and crucial for understanding what insecurity means for people’s daily lives. For example, Ritzamarum Zétrenne writes of the journey up into the mountains to avoid “the road to death” through Martissant, (which will be much clearer if you watch Tram Jones’ video above on the gangs in Martissant before reading). Chelsey Kivland writes in the “Semantics of the Gang today in Haiti” of how the language of the gang is adopted by people who have been forcibly repatriated from the United States as a survival strategy. Jennifer Greenburg centers the kreyol term ensekirite, “a term anthropologist Erica James describes as ‘the embodied uncertainty generated by political, criminal, economic, and also spiritual ruptures that many individuals and groups continue to experience in Haiti’” in “Instability or Ensekirite? The Securitization of Haiti as an Object of International Intervention.” 

These are just a few of the articles in this collection. You can view the entire collection here.

Halt the expulsions!

In the context of the ongoing violence discussed above, we continue to denounce the Biden administration’s decision to expel Haitian refugees back to Haiti. He has expelled nearly 23,000 Haitians since September of 2021. It is an indefensible policy. Please join us in keeping the pressure on him to stop!

 

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