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Caravan halted in Guatemala, for now

On Friday and Saturday (January 15 and 16) close to 6,000 people crossed into Guatemala near El Florido, Copán in Honduras as part of a massive migrant caravan. The caravan encountered resistance from Guatemalan security forces at the border but were able to get through. However, on Sunday, at Vado Hondo near Chiquimula, Guatemalan security forces turned out en masse to block the road in an effort to halt the caravan’s progress. 

On January 15, Guatemala’s migration office issued a statement reiterating that entry into Guatemala from other Central American countries requires evidence of a negative COVID-19 test, and a current passport. The national police and army have set up checkpoints throughout the seven departments that border Honduras and El Salvador under the provisions of a declaration of national emergency made by the government on January 13.

As the route along main roads is increasingly being policed, people are crossing into the countryside. The total number of people attempting to cross Guatemala on the way north is by some estimates now close to 9,000. The Guatemalan military’s efforts to block the road in Vado Hondo are unlikely to have stopped all of those moving north. 

It does seem that people will have a hard time crossing in large groups. Caravans became an alternate way for people to cross through Guatemala and Mexico in the 2010s, primarily as a means to provide safety from gangs that prey upon migrants. However, since 2018, caravans have increasingly become a target of official state forces, under pressure from Mexico and the United States to halt caravans and turn people back. For example, a smaller caravan was blocked from crossing Guatemala in October, with most people returned to Honduras.

For those who make it across Guatemala, the road through Mexico will prove even more difficult. The Mexican government has placed soldiers from the newly created National Guard along the border, starting in 2019, under pressure from the Trump administration. These detachments will be reinforced. Indeed, the government issued a statement earlier in January making clear that they would not allow a caravan to enter the country.

Should people enter in smaller groups anyway, the going is still tough. The routes heading north from Mexico’s border with Guatemala have limited options. La Bestia – the train line made famous for carrying migrants north – no longer runs. Buses are now required to check for identification and visas. Travel is thus slowed, with many essentially forced to walk. Finally, under the provisions of different state laws governing Mexico’s response to COVID, many migrant shelters were forced to close last year, with only a few now reopened. For those on foot, finding shelter and provisions on the month- to two-month-long journey through Mexico has become that much harder.

What all of this means, is that the efforts of governments in Guatemala and Mexico to crack down on migrants have not and will not stop people from attempting the crossing – but have made the journey more dangerous. The same is true of the U.S., where Border Patrol apprehensions are averaging well over 60,000 people a month since October 1 – despite Trump closing the border and turning everyone away with no chance to seek asylum or other relief. 

More to come….

While some participants in the caravan hold out hope that President Biden’s administration will be more open to migrants than Trump, an assertion that members of Biden’s team are somewhat pushing back against , the real driver here is desperation. Given the current context in Honduras, as well as Guatemala and El Salvador, it seems likely that many more people will continue to press north. 

The current situation in Honduras is particularly bleak. The people of the country entered into 2020 facing violent gangs, and an inept administration – many members of which, including the president himself, have ties to the very drug cartels they are supposed to be combatting. Then COVID-19 struck Honduras hard. The government’s use of a lock-down, enforced with increased state violence, proved largely ineffective in halting the spread of the disease. Along with much of the region, Honduras sunk into a deep recession. 

It is important to remember that Juan Orlando Hernandez’s presidency is in no small part the result of U.S. support for the consolidation of the coup d’etat against President Manuel Zelaya in 2009; support that has been extended under President Trump since Hernandez won re-election in 2017 in a process rife with irregularities and marred by violence. 

On top of all of this, Honduras was then slammed with two hurricanes, Eta and Iota, within two weeks of each other in November. The storms destroyed crops and flooded communities all along the northern zones of the country. With millions of people displaced in Honduras and Guatemala from these storms, and state capacity to provide assistance severely weakened by years of corruption and economic stagnation, a mass migration north is inevitable.

On the road….

Meanwhile, back in Vado Hondo, the Guatemalan military which had blocked the progress of the caravan the previous day, forcibly opened the road to traffic on Monday (January 18) – pushing the caravan to the side of the highway and forcing many people back toward the Honduran crossing near El Florido.

More news stories on caravan:

Sandra Cuffe, “‘I was so scared’: Guatemalan forces disperse migrant caravan” AL Jazeera, January 19, 2021

“Guatemalan troops forcibly clear migrant caravan from highway” Guardian, January 18, 2021

Luis Echeverria, “Guatemalan military clears U.S.-bound migrant caravan from road” Reuters, January 18, 2021

Jason Beaubien, “Migrant Caravan: Thousands Move Into Guatemala, Hoping To Reach U.S.” NPR, January 18, 2021

“Crisis Migratoria: Policía de Guatemala hace retroceder a caravana de hondureños con gas lacrimógeno” Prensa Libre, January 17, 2021

Tom Phillips, “Migrant caravan trekking north to US border clashes with Guatemalan troops” Guardian, January 17, 2021

Kirk Semple and Nic Wirtz, “Migrant Caravan, Now in Guatemala, Tests Regional Resolve to Control Migration” New York Times, January 17, 2021

Julia Ansley, “Incoming Biden administration to migrant caravan: Don’t come, you won’t get in immediately” NBC News, January 17, 2021i

Sandra Cuffe, “Fleeing the pandemic and two hurricanes, thousands of migrants walk toward the U.S.,” Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2021

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Stalemate over Haiti’s elections continues

Haiti’s president, Jovenal Moise, and his electoral council have proposed a timeline for elections that include a referendum on a new constitution. At the same time, there is disagreement about Moise’s tenure in office, with opposition leaders and some legal scholars saying Moise should step down on February 7 this year. Moise, disagrees. The timeline his electoral council has submitted assumes he stays in office another year. 

Overdue elections

Haiti has not had a sitting parliament since January 13, 2020. Parliamentary elections, supposed to be held in the fall of 2019, were not held in time. As a result there were not enough members of Parliament to achieve a quorum (and vote on a new election law). Later in the year terms for most local officials also expired without elections to fill posts. One estimate is that there are only 11 elected officials serving in the entire country at the moment. Since January 2020, Moise has ruled by decree. 

It is important to keep in mind that massive demonstrations in the summer of 2018 brought about the resignation of the government. A new prime minister was then forced out of office again amidst protests in February of 2019. During the fall of 2019 lasting through the beginning of 2020, the country was locked down as the result of protests calling for Moise to resign. 

With U.S. backing, Moise has prevailed through it all. Over the last year, with Moise ruling by decree, there has been an increase in violence by non-state actors (evidence suggests in many cases they are aligned with police), including political assassinations. Protests have been met with state violence as well. In December Moise issued an executive decree increasing penalties for protest and initiating new intelligence services.

Opposition voices, both in the streets and among a divided political class, are demanding Moise leave – before elections and constitutional reforms proceed. Moise’s election was itself problematic. He “won” in a highly contested election – one with two rounds of balloting as the first round was cancelled due to accusations of corruption. Because there was a delay in Moise taking office, he has argued his tenure should extend another year. The opposition says no! He must leave on February 7, 2021 as originally scheduled. Moise’s predecessor, Michel Martelly, left office on February 7, 2016.

With most eyes in the country on February 7 (which this year marks the 35th anniversary of Jean Claude Dulavier’s resignation and flight from the country amidst widespread protest), Moise is looking ahead.

Election timeline

What Moise is proposing is a referendum on changes to Haiti’s constitution in April of 2021, and then to hold national elections on September 19, 2021, for parliament and the presidency. On November 21, local elections will be held, alongside runoffs (as needed) for national posts. To approve and implement this timeline, Moise appointed a 9-member electoral commission, by decree, of course. Which is to say, the whole process is already illegal, at least under the existing constitution. 

As far as the new constitution goes, it has not been made public yet. However, some of the changes possibly in-store were leaked. From the Miami Herald:

Among the biggest changes, according to an interview with Louis Naud Pierre on Port-au-Prince-based Magik 9 radio station earlier this week, is the elimination of the post of prime minister and the Haitian Senate, and the introduction of governors for each region.

The United States and the Organization of American States, which split intervention duties in Haiti when it comes to elections, have given divided messages. Both are standing with Moise, and his authority to oversee elections, but the U.S. wants those elections held immediately. The OAS agrees with a quick timeline for elections, though has, in previous statements, accepted the extended tenure for Moise. Biden’s campaign has only said he would “work with the international community” to ensure elections happen soon. What the U.S. position will be concerning the election timeline once he takes office is not exactly clear.

Meanwhile, the opposition is arguing for Moise to step down on schedule (Feb 7, 2021), to be replaced by a transitional authority that would oversee new elections. Such an exercise in self-determination is not likely to be supported by the U.S. or the OAS, but we’ll see. Perhaps the Biden administration will be too busy dealing with fallout from our own electoral crisis to weigh in too heavily on Haiti’s.

So, we wait. The days leading up to February 7th and whatever follows, could well lead the country into another lock down, and/or much more violence. Moise seems determined to hold power – for now – and has decreed himself an enormous amount of authority to use force if he decides it is necessary. The opposition is still refusing to accept a process that involves him, which for now leaves them the bully pulpit of opposition media, and the streets. For the majority of Haitians this means a good chance that there will be more disruptions to their lives and work. Even if most are sympathetic to opposition demands, people are clearly weary of the conflict.  

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Franciscan Network News

The Quixote Center works with, and is the fiscal sponsor in the United States for the Franciscam Network on Migration. The network coordinates the activity of shelters in Central America, Mexico and the United States that serve migrant communities – principally, though not exclusively, from Central America. Our work with the Franciscan Network has also brought us into coalition work with Franciscans International and other groups that address multilateral issues concerning migration as well. Below we offer a few updates from this work.

Assistance for shelters in Honduras

Following hurricanes Eta and Iota, which both struck Honduras (and Nicaragua) within two weeks of each other, and followed nearly identical paths, Franciscan shelters in Tegucigalpa began offering services to people who were suffering from trauma. This led to a more formal program to mobilize therapists, and therapy students from universities in the country to provide therapy services to children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and related anxiety. 

In December, the Quixote Center facilitated delivery of $4,500 to support this effort. If you would like to offer support to the Network for this and projects like it, you can do that here. Having funds available to meet critical needs is one of the key ways we can support migrants and mitigate the conditions that often give rise to migration in the first place.

Volunteers needed

The Franciscan Network is looking for volunteers to help staff shelters and other sites in Mexico (Frontera Digna in Piedras Negras and La 72 in Tenosique), Honduras (Tegucigalpa) and the United States (Migrant Center in New York City). Since Spanish is necessary for nearly all of the sites, the application form and information are only available in Spanish. For several opportunities (including NYC), room and board is not provided, so one must either be local or have access to room and board in the area.

You can find out more information, and application details here.

Mexican Franciscans offer online course on migration

The Committee on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation of the Order of Friars Minor in Mexico is sponsoring a nine-part course on both theoretical and practical concerns related to the situation of migrants. The course will be offered entirely in Spanish on Wednesday nights from January 20-March 17, from 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET. If you are interested, more details are available here and you can register here.

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Grepen Center Update

Aneus (striped shirt) & Teligene (black shirt) discuss the weevil free sweet potato program in Atrell

The Quixote Center supports the work of the Jean Marie Vinent Formation Center located in Grepen, just outside of Gros Morne, Haiti. Most know of our work in relation to reforestation efforts which have led to 2 million trees planted in the area since 1999. Accompanying the tree planting, however, is work with local farmers. The agronomy team at the Grepen center, travels throughout the region, working side by side with the parish’s Karitas network, and grassroots organizations such as the Peasant Movement of Gros Morne to identify problems, and work with small farmers to find solutions. We periodically report on some of this activity.

Seed Bank

The Grepen center has organized and supports a seed bank for local farmers. The seed bank allows for bulk purchases of seeds, often “off-season” when seeds are cheaper. Farmers are able to purchase the seeds at a discounted rate and deposit them with the seed bank until needed. During the spring we launched an emergency appeal to raise funds for the seed bank to ensure that there were plenty of supplies available to farmers for the summer planting season. We also received additional funds in mid-summer from Alternative Gifts International to further support the seed bank. The following is a report from the agronomy team on use of the funds:

From August until December, local planters usually plant a lot of beans, especially black beans, and vegetables in their gardens. This year the situation facing the planters was complicated. The year began with the locked country political debacle, and then descended into the coronavirus crisis. Ongoing political instability has increased market prices, and a drought during the last spring planting season, which is the largest of the year, caused a lot of problems. The sun destroyed many gardens without the relief of periodic rain. 

All of these things put the farmers in a difficult economic situation. This created difficulties for them to be able to plant on time in the spring, and farming is their principal economic activity.  With the support of Quixote Center, our seed bank at Grepen was able to help the farmers respond to these difficulties and move forward with their gardens. We provided seeds and technical support for the farmers in order to save the spring planting season and change their lives for the better.  

For this planting campaign, we were able to support 61 farmers in the zones that were ready to plant. These farmers all have gardens near Twa Rivye, which we consider to be the boundary that separates our diverse agricultural zones. Of the seeds that we distributed to the farmers, they will have to return a certain quantity to the seed bank after they harvest their crop. This is how we are always going to have good quality seeds available after each harvest.

Goat Program and mobile veterinary clinic

Three years ago the agronomy team launched a program to distribute goats. The program involved first doing training with “cohorts” of roughly 10 families, who would then receive a female goat for each family and one billy goat for the cohort. If the female goat has a kid, the family agrees to pass the kid on to a new family. Maintaining the health of the goats is an important part of the program. Integrated into the program is a mobile vet clinic, run by Roseline. She visits the cohorts on a regular basis. Here the clinic is visiting Perou.

Yam harvest in Grepen

Food insecurity is obviously a huge issue for all of Haiti, and addressing this is the primary goal of the program at the Grepen center. Toward this end, the agronomy team works with local farmers on techniques for growing cassava, yams, and, in the past several years, planting sweet potatoes that are resistant to weevils (which have destroyed many harvests in recent years). Below Teligene and Songé  show off some healthy yams grown in gardens in the community of Grepen.

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On International Migrants Day: #FreeThemAll

Immigration and Customs Enforcement manages the largest immigration detention infrastructure in the world. Over the last year, however, the number of people being held in detention has plummeted, from 53,000 in October of 2019, to 16,075 at the beginning of December 2020. This collapse has been driven by two factors: The closure of the border under a public health order issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which has led to the summary expulsion of just over 330,000 people since March – some portion of these people would have been redirected to ICE custody under “normal” circumstances. The second factor is ongoing deportations, which, though slowed slightly from April to July, have never been suspended despite multiple calls from medical professionals, human rights groups and others for a moratorium on deportations until the pandemic has ended.

As a result, the number of people being held in immigrant detention right now is at the lowest level it has been since Bill Clinton was president. While ending immigrant detention is surely a complicated proposal politically speaking, logistically there may never be a better time to transition people to various alternatives to detention – programs that are already well documented to be effective and far less expensive. As COVID-19 is still ravaging detention facilities, there is also an immediate human rights imperative to get people out – one that the Trump administration has ignored. So, now is the time. Empty these facilities. Review, phase out and cancel these absurd contracts that allow private companies to profit from detention – even when the beds are empty.

If we do not change course soon, the unused capacity in the system represents a serious threat, presaging a quick return to record detention levels. The Biden team is considering ending the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Program and canceling Asylum Cooperation Agreements with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. He has not committed to ending Title 42 expulsions, but will certainly be under pressure to do so. Biden should do all of these things. However, this also means an increase in the number of people entering the country. Biden has suggested that he wants to reduce detention and rely on alternatives. However, given the political climate, the danger is that Biden’s administration will end up relying on the unused capacity in the detention system to warehouse people while his team figures out what to do with the increase in asylum seekers. Once he goes there, it will be hard to backtrack. Of course, at $3.8 million a day one could hire quite a few new asylum officers to process claims at the border, rather than lock people up. As things stand, Biden’s transition team is already looking for expanded detention capacity for unaccompanied children in the parallel, though distinct, detention program for minors run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement

In considering whether or not to end immigrant detention it is worth pointing out that it has been ended before. Eisenhower shuttered immigrant detention facilities in 1954 – largely due to cost, but in doing so he also highlighted how the practice had cast the U.S. in a negative light overseas. Between 1954 and 1980 immigrant detention was used in very limited circumstances; there was no permanent detention infrastructure. Rather the government utilized space in other federal or state facilities for the handful of beds needed on any given night. All of this began to change in the early 1980s in response to a spike in immigration from the Caribbean region, especially Haiti. Unwilling to let Haitian asylum seekers into the United States, the Reagan and Bush administrations dramatically expanded the use of immigrant detention, and employed a variety of extra-territorial measures to interdict Haitians at sea, giving them cursory asylum hearings on ship before sending them back. Thanks to immigration legislation passed under Clinton’s watch, detention rates nearly tripled in 1990s – and, in the process, was made profitable for private companies. It has continued to grow ever since. Until COVID-19.

It is time to stop. We know that detention is unnecessary. It is also demonstrably managed badly when done for a profit. Detention leads to well documented cruelty (not to mention the enormous waste of funds noted above). Public health officials have repeatedly demanded massive releases during the current pandemic because of the danger to people being detained and facility staff. Alternatives work. We can get everybody out. We just need a commitment to do so.

What better time than now?!

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Haiti: Human Rights News Briefs

Over the last few weeks there have been some key developments in the broader political context in Haiti.

For a good overview of those developments, see the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s summary report of human rights concerns through the end of October. From the introduction of that report:

Widespread insecurity has gripped Haiti since our February 2020 Human Rights and Rule of Law in Haiti update. Local human rights organizations investigating the rise in violence have documented the involvement of police officers and state officials in numerous attacks against marginalized communities and raised credible concerns that gang violence is being deployed as a tool of political repression. At minimum, the government has failed to control violence that affects some of Haiti’s most marginalized communities. In addition, there are numerous reported incidents of government violence against protesters and the press; impunity for these and other human rights violations, due at least in part to the politicization of the judiciary, is pervasive. Such impunity leaves victims without recourse and is emboldening perpetrators.

To emphasize the current state of affairs, police responded to widespread protests on November 18 with extraordinary violence. Jake Johnston and Kira Paulemon of the Center for Economic Policy Research write:

The police response to the November 18 protests “demonstrated a blatant lack of professionalism,” wrote the human rights organization Fondasyon Je Klere [FJKL]. Street demonstrations were dispersed with tear gas, and, in some cases, with live ammunition. On the Champ de Mars, a young man was shot in the head. Eight others were admitted to area hospitals with bullet wounds. Nearby, a police vehicle rammed into a group of individuals sending at least two to the hospital with serious injuries — one eventually died due to the injuries sustained.

Video of the police vehicle hitting the protestors has been widely shared on social media and sparked outrage from civil society and human right groups. Lyonel Trouillot, a prominent Haitian author, published an op-ed criticizing the authoritarian use of the National Police by successive governments. He also noted the lack of interest from civil society groups in the international community. “It is shameful that a national call is not sent to international civil societies in the face of such acts […] for them to hold their representatives who might want to lend their support to a murderous regime, accountable,” he wrote.

The result of the day was conclusive, according to FJKL. “The PNH no longer considers the right to demonstrate as a democratic right.” Rather, FJKL continued, the police have become politicized and “[do] not act as a professional body responsible for ensuring the exercise of democratic rights.”

Amidst this concern, the government issued an executive decree on November 26 creating a new Agency of National Intelligence and limiting the rights of protestors under the banner of “public security.” There is enormous concern about the creation of this intelligence agency given the current context of human rights violations as well as the history of intelligence services in Haiti, which have been responsible for widespread human rights violations in the past.

Capturing some of these dynamics, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission held a thematic hearing on Haiti yesterday, December 10, featuring the testimony of Mario Joseph, Managing Director of BAI, Sonel Jean-Francois, Director of Judicial Inspection for the Conseil Supérieur du Pouvoir Judiciaire, former Director of Unité Centrale de Renseignements Financiers (Central Financial Intelligence Unit), Lionel Constant Bourgoin, Former prosecutor and former Director General for Unité de Lutte Contre la Corruption (Haiti’s Anti-Corruption Unit) and Alexandra V. Filippova, Senior Staff Attorney for Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.  Video from the hearing is not yet available from the IACHR, but for those in the Twitterverse you can review the conversation at these hashtags: #IACHRhearings #CIDH #Haiti

Finally, also yesterday, the U.S Treasury Department announced sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act (which empowers the Treasury to sanction individuals by seizing assets held in the U.S.) against Jimmy Cherizier, Fednel Monchery, and Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan for their involvement in the LaSaline massacre in November of 2018. From the Treasury Department Press release:

While serving as an HNP officer, Jimmy Cherizier (Cherizier) planned and participated in the 2018 La Saline attack. Cherizier is now one of Haiti’s most influential gang leaders and leads an alliance of nine Haitian gangs known as the “G9 alliance.” Throughout 2018 and 2019, Cherizier led armed groups in coordinated, brutal attacks in Port-au-Prince neighborhoods. Most recently, in May 2020, Cherizier led armed gangs in a five-day attack in multiple Port-au-Prince neighborhoods in which civilians were killed and houses were set on fire.

Fednel Monchery (Monchery) was the Director General of the Ministry of the Interior and Local Authorities and, while serving in this role, participated in the planning of La Saline. Monchery supplied weapons and state vehicles to members of armed gangs who perpetrated the attack. Monchery also attended a meeting during which La Saline was planned and where weapons were distributed to the perpetrators of the attack.

Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan (Duplan), who was President Jovenel Moïse’s Departmental Delegate at the time of La Saline, is accused of being the “intellectual architect” and was seen discussing the attack with armed gang members in the La Saline neighborhood during the violence. Duplan provided firearms and HNP uniforms to armed gang members who participated in the killings. Duplan also attended a meeting during which La Saline was planned and where weapons were distributed to the perpetrators of the attack. 

This move is almost certainly the result of advocacy by members of congress, especially Maxine Waters, who has continued to raise the issue of impunity in Haiti, using the La Saline massacre as a talking point, for the last couple of years. Waters has visited Haiti with human rights delegations several times. 

What precise impact this will have on the individuals targeted is not clear, but the message, we hope, will be (and will remain) that there must be consequences for human rights violations in Haiti. 

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#FreeThemAll, Halt Deportations

Image: Wikimedia

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is currently holding 16,600 people in its network of detention facilities. This is the lowest number since Clinton was president. And yet, the reasons for this low number are not by and large good, nor has the reduced crowding in detention facilities translated into better conditions. 

How ICE got to 16.000… 

There were close to 53,000 people in ICE detention on October 1, 2019 – the first day of last fiscal year. That number was huge by historic standards. Indeed, the all time peak in detentions had occurred a few weeks earlier in August, when there were over 55,000 people in ICE detention facilities around the country. ICE was, at the time, over budget, and shuffling money around from other Department of Homeland Security Accounts, including FEMA and the Coast Guard, to cover the deficit – and doing so without congressional authorization, not that there were any serious consequences for doing so. At the time, more than a quarter of those in detention were people seeking asylum who had already passed credible fear interviews. Thus, the budget crunch was wholly of the administration’s making, in particular its decision to hold asylum seekers throughout much of their asylum process. However, when questioned, ICE and Customs and Border Protection would simply point to the “crisis at the border” as an explanation for being over budget, and with their hands out for FY2020, ask for more money for enforcement and detention.

In FY 2019, as in most years, the majority of people in detention were transferred from Custom and Border Protection. Which means, most people in detention are folks transferred from Border Patrol after being apprehended at or near the border with Mexico. During FY 2019 such apprehensions were at their highest point in over a decade. 

As FY 2020 began the number of people in detention were falling – as border apprehensions fell. By March of 2020 the number of people being held in ICE detention was down to 38,000 – though by historical standards still very high. There were a number of reasons for this decline, perhaps most importantly is the fact that there is a cyclical flow to annual migration and the numbers were, by last summer and fall, coming down as they always do. The Trump administration also launched the Migration Protection Protocols earlier in 2019. So, by the beginning of 2020 any decline in detention figures had to be juxtaposed against the 50,000 people redirected to “wait in Mexico” for asylum hearings.  

The decline in detentions witnessed during the first half of FY2020 was not, therefore, the result of Trump’s team doing anything right. But things were about to get far worse.


The COVID pandemic would set in motion a number of policies and processes that have accelerated the decline in detention numbers to its current twenty year low. It is important to underscore that this all-time low is the result of truly horrible policies – not a decision to treat migrants better. 

The most important factor in this decline is the imposition of an administrative order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March of 2020. This order invoked powers under Title 42 of the Public Health Services Act to halt immigration for public health reasons. It is important to underscore that the CDC did NOT want to issue this order. Trump’s chief immigation advisor, Steve Miller, had come up with the idea of invoking “Title 42” to shut the border down. The CDC initially said no, because there was no public health rationale for doing so. After being pressed by administration officials, the CDC relented, and issued the order on March 19, 2020.

Under the provisions of the order, Border Patrol is empowered to summarily expel people it apprehends at the border – with no processing and no due process. People are not able to ask for asylum, except under extremely limited circumstances. Border officials have happily noted that 90% of the people apprehended are expelled within two hours of being encountered. Others, particularly those not from Mexico or Central America, may be detained (in theory, not by ICE) briefly before being put on a plane. Title 42 expulsions reached well over 200,000 people from late-March to the end of September. These people were not, as a result, being redirected to ICE detention facilities.

While fewer people have been coming into the system, ICE has continued to deport people. ICE has deported thousands of people throughout the COVID-19 crisis, despite pleas from foreign governments, members of Congress, human rights groups, and public health officials all over the world. Just this week Senator Markey and other members of Congress once again demanded that the Trump administration halt “unnecessary” deportations. 

Rather than stop, or even slow down, however, deportations are increasing. Some low-lights:

Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua were slammed by Hurricane Eta on November 3, 2020. Thirteen days later, Hurricane Iota hit the region – coming to shore just 13 miles from Eta’s landing site. ICE has continued to deport people to Guatemala and Nicaragua anyway. Honduras’ airport is underwater, so, for now, flights to Honduras have been suspended. Nicaragua receives very few deportees normally, so the one flight to arrive in the last two weeks is not a huge burden. For Guatemala, the number of flights has been extraordinary: 15 flights between hurricanes, and two deportation flights the day after Iota struck.  Guatemala’s government has requested temporary protected status for people in the U.S. Nydia Valezquez has introduced legislation to grant TPS to people from Guatemala, while expanding it for people from Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador (all countries whose TPS designations post-Hurricane Mitch, Trump has refused to renew). 

As I am writing this update, ICE is trying to deport 28 children (part of 23 family units) from facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania. A coalition is working to gain their release:

Presently there are 28 children, who are part of 23 families, in indefinite detention – during a pandemic. They come from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru, Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Haiti.

In Dilley TX, there are 26 children, many who have been detained for nearly a year and a half, including toddlers and teenagers, at the South Texas Family Residential Center. In Berks, PA, there are two children who have been detained for more than eight months at the Berks County Residential Center. 

These #28children have no stay of removal. They are at imminent risk of deportation.

In all of this time, none of these families have been allowed to request asylum in the United States. They are Plaintiffs in more than five federal suits challenging their right to seek asylum, their right to be free from harm and the right to be free during a pandemic. In each case, a court has determined that the judicial system has no authority to help them. 

You may recall that over the summer a federal judge demanded that ICE release children from detention because of the COVID epidemic. The judge, however, claimed she had no authority to demand the release of the parents – and ICE refused to let the parents out. The order, if implemented under these circumstances meant the separation of families once again; so the judge vacated the order. The tragedy currently unfolding now is the result of ICE’s earlier intransigence. [Click here to get involved in the effort to halt these deportations]


So, we have the lowest number of people being held in immigrant detention in 20 years because our government seems intent on keeping all migrants out of the country, while continuing to deport as many of the people already here that it can. 

For those still in detention, conditions have not improved. If anything they are worse. In FY 2020, 21 people died in ICE custody – the highest number of deaths in fifteen years. At least one-third of those deaths were from COVID-19. 

Freedom for Immigrants’ most recent report on conditions in detention shows that FY2021 is not off to a great start. No one has died yet this year, but the COVID nightmare continues, contextualized by systemic deficiencies in the provision of health services that pre-date COVID by decades, and the utter failure of ICE to adapt its operating procedures to the reality of a highly infectious disease. From Freedom for Immigrants (FFI):

During this period [October 23 – November 23], FFI documented a general degradation in conditions in ICE detention and backsliding on COVID-19 preventive measures, mirroring “pandemic fatigue” outside of detention. People in detention reported backsliding even in facilities that had previously implemented minor reforms in access to personal protective equipment, soap, and sanitizer. At the same time, FFI documented continued failure on the part of ICE and its contract staff to observe basic COVID-19 prevention protocols. FFI also documented an apparent reversal in an early directive to provide limited, free access to phone communication in detention in a range of ICE facilities. FFI also received reports of a new brand of toxic chemical disinfectant at use in at least one facility. Medical neglect remained rampant, as did abuse and retaliation for internal organizing.

It is worth noting that the companies involved in detaining people are still getting paid. The private companies that receive contracts from ICE for detention have written into those contracts bed minimums – they get paid a base rate no matter how many people are being held in their facilities. Over the last year, as the number of people in detention has declined, I estimated that these companies received $500 million for empty beds. With the minimum payments set at a 30,000 daily average of people in detention, they are currently getting mostly paid for empty beds. Which is to say, they have the funds to treat the people in their facilities better. 


We stand by the demand to free everyone from immigrant detention facilities. The last six months have made apparent that detention is inhumane, and that neither ICE nor the companies they use to staff their detention machine, have any interests in caring for the people in custody; people who, we will repeat over and over and over, are not serving any kind of criminal penalty in detention, but simply waiting for the government to decide their status. These people could just as easily wait with family and community members, and if treated fairly, people do in fact show up for their hearings. 

Detention is unnecessary, and inhumane. #FreeThemAll

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Update on Hurricane Iota

Hurricane Iota makes landfall Image:NASA

On Monday, November 16, Hurricane Iota struck Nicaragua about 15 miles from where Hurricane Eta made landfall 13 days prior.   

As with Eta, the government mobilized the army and police forces to evacuate people from the coast prior to Iota – tens of thousands of people. This no doubt saved many lives. However, wind and rain took its toll, as rivers overflowed and hillsides collapsed.  Four people died in a mudslide in the Los Roques sector of the municipality of El Tuma-La Dalia. Another six people died in flooding in Carazo and Wiwili. Alliance for Global Justice’s NicaNotes has more detail here.  In total, the government reports 21 deaths from Hurricane Iota.

Among the clear immediate and longer term effects of the storms is food insecurity. Crop loss in areas around the country is enormous. For example, the Humboldt Center estimates

  • In the municipalities of Bilwi, Prinzapolka and the Mining Triangle, there were average losses of 90% in the crops of rice, beans, musaceae (bananas and plantains) and tubers, among others. 
  • In the departments of Matagalpa, Madriz, Nueva Segovia and Estelí: Major losses are reported for beans, rice, vegetables, citrus fruits, tobacco and coffee. In the production of basic grains, losses are estimated between 60% and 90%; a 20% loss in coffee production. 
  • In the municipality of San Juan del Sur in Rivas, the estimate is that 100% of corn, beans and rice crops were lost due to floods and strong gusts of winds. 

Preliminary estimates from Nicaragua’s government are that “the total cost of damages from Hurricanes Eta and Iota could amount to USD $400 million, approximately 3% to 4% of  national GDP. Assessments from Hurricane Eta alone indicated USD $178m worth of damage  to homes, public services, infrastructure, businesses, agriculture, fishing and more, and Iota had a greater radius and intensity. Treasury Minister, Iván Acosta, said that the  government’s priority now is protecting the lives and wellbeing of the citizens, but a full  evaluation will be carried out as soon as possible.”  

Current Responses 

Over the coming months we will be focused on providing support for emergency response and longer-term reconstruction assistance. We will also be asking people to speak out on areas of U.S. policy that can have an impact in Nicaragua and other countries in Central America. This is what we are focused on now: 

Funding: The Quixote Center will be coordinating emergency response with our long time partner, the Institute of John XXIII. Over the next few weeks our focus is on the purchase of food and hygiene kits and delivery of these items to the coast. 


  • Rice 5 KG
  • Beans 5 KG
  • Oil 2 Ltr.
  • Sugar 2.5 KG
  • Oats 4 Bag of 1 Lbr.
  • Maseca 2 Bags of 1 Lbr.
  • Maggi Soup 4 Bags
  • Spaghetti 4 Bags


  • Face masks
  • Liquid soap
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Gloves

Advocacy: The U.S. government must immediately halt all deportations to Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The only country where there has been a halt in deportations is Honduras, and only because the airport in San Pedro Sula is literally under water.  

Representative Nydia Valezquez (D-NY) has introduced legislation to extend Temporary Protected Status to Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The Hurricane Eta Relief Act of 2020 would suspend most deportations to these three countries – though clearly this faces an uphill battle with the current Senate and President. You can call the Congressional switchboard and ask your member of the House to support this legislation: 202- 224-3121. 

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Iota will strike Nicaragua as a category 5 hurricane

National Hurricane Center projected path as of 10:00 AM, Monday, November 16

Central America is still reeling from Hurricane Eta, which struck the Nicaraguan coast near Bilwi on Tuesday, November 3 as a Category 4 storm. Eta did extraordinary damage to homes from wind and flooding in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and in Chiapas, Mexico. The worst damage was in Honduras and Guatemala, which also had the largest number of people who died –  over 150 people perished, mostly from drowning and as the result of mudslides. Much of Honduras near the northern coast remains flooded, with roads near San Pedro Sula cut off. Emergency response efforts have been hampered by the damage to transportation routes, and so the prospect of another, even stronger storm, is daunting indeed.

In Nicaragua there were only two confirmed deaths, both men trapped in a goldmine about 80 miles west of Bilwi. Damage to homes and roads was still significant, and there was a great deal of flooding as well, especially in Rivas. See chart below (in Spanish – from Centro Humboldt).

Source: Centro Humboldt

Last week Nicaragua’s government began distribution of building supplies to provide shelter to people along the coast, and to begin the process of rebuilding homes. Those supplies may well now just be more debris in the the 160 MPH winds expected from this new storm. Nicaragua was clearly better prepared than either Honduras or Guatemala prior to Eta. The government in Nicaragua has placed a much higher priority on supporting rural communities than its neighbors and has devoted considerable resources to building a disaster response system in the years since Hurricane Mitch. That said, Nicaragua is still a country where resources are limited (and more so as it deals with sanctions from the U.S.). Another major storm will tax the limits of this system tremendously.

If you are on Twitter, photo-journalist Jeff Ernst’s feed is a good resource for info on impacts in Honduras, in Spanish and English

In Honduras, people are bracing for the worst. Still suffering from flooding and the government’s inability to get aid to people stranded by Eta, the country now faces mass evacuations. The U.S. Embassy reprinted an order from the Honduran government calling for evacuations in the following areas:

  • Gracias a Dios
  • Atlántida
  • Cortés
  • Colón
  • Yoro
  • Francisco Morazán
  • Olancho
  • El Paraíso
  • Choluteca
  • Valle
  • All areas previously impacted by Hurricane Eta

A friend whose family is evacuating said the road to Progreso looked like one huge caravan. Displacement is already a huge problem – nearly 3 million people impacted by Eta across Central America. The coming days are guaranteed to add tremendous pressure on people moving, and in receiving communities. We can only hope that the government of Honduras is better prepared – as much as possible, anyway, under the circumstances.

Plot comparing trajectories of storm centers for Eta and Iota. As you can see, Iota is heading straight for the area near Bilwi struck just 13 days ago.

We will have more information as it becomes available. It may be days before we know what the impact will be and what is most needed and where. The storm is expected to come ashore over night. Things we know will need to happen from the U.S. side, is to extend Temporary Protected Status to people from Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua again – TPS for Honduras and Nicaragua post-Mitch is in the process of being unraveled by the Trump administration. Minimally, Biden will need to extend those programs and add further protections beyond these original TPS designations for those here now.  Guatemala’s government has already made a formal request for this.

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Another Hurricane will hit Central America this weekend

Less than two weeks after Hurricane Eta struck Central America, leading to deaths from Panama to Guatemala, another Hurricane is expected to hit Central America, coming ashore just north of where Eta struck along the Nicaraguan coast.

A week after Eta, areas are still under water

Eta left extraordinary damage in its wake, especially along Honduras’ northern coast and inland, where rivers crested, entirely cutting off communities from assistance. In Guatemala, mudslides have killed scores off people.  In Guatemala and Honduras, the governments did little to prepare for the storm, and have been ineffectual in delivering emergency supplies to people in need. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees writes:

Honduras has been hit hardest by extensive rains and overflowing rivers, with an estimated 1.3 million people affected, 58 dead and 88,000 evacuated. Among these are 103 people who had been previously displaced by violence and persecution.

In Guatemala, over 640,000 people have been affected, including 46 dead and 96 missing nationwide. Some are buried under landslides or remain inaccessible to first responders. At least two families of asylum seekers have had to be evacuated from their homes due to flooding. UNHCR is coordinating the delivery of aid with authorities and partners and has made refugee housing units and essential supplies available, in response to the government-led appeal for support.

Video of damage in Honduras

Mulukukú, Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast

Nicaragua’s government managed to evacuate thousands of people prior to Eta’s landing. There were only two confirmed deaths in Nicaragua – both miners killed in a mudslide. Over the last week the government has delivered over 30,000 sheets of metal for roofing and other supplies to to begin reconstruction efforts. Nicaragua was better prepared than other countries in the region, as it had developed a national response network in the post-Mitch era. However, like everything else these days with Nicaragua, unless you are there, it is impossible to decipher the impact of government efforts from the media as every story of success has a counter-narrative these days. That said, like the rest of Central America, this hurricane hit at a time when economic growth has slowed due to the coronavirus outbreak and government resources are strained as a result. In Nicaragua, the struggle is further exacerbated by U.S. government sanctions aimed at pressuring the Sandinistas out of power.

Tropical Depression 31 heading toward Nicaragua and Honduras

As of now, another tropical system is heading toward Nicaragua, and is expected to strengthen into a hurricane. It is currently estimated to come to shore along the northern Nicaragua coast on Monday morning, and cut across Honduras, with impacts felt in Guatemala, El Salvador, Southern Mexico and Belize.

It goes without saying this is about the worst thing that can happen right now. We hope that conditions have changed enough to limit the strength of the storm. For example, this system is moving faster, and is not expected to reach the devastating Category 4 that Eta did. We will update as more is known.

Update: Friday 11:00 p.m.

The tropical depression has become Tropical Storm Iota. The latest from the National Hurricane Center now shows it potentially becoming a “major” hurricane by Monday morning – winds in excess of 110 MPH.

Update #2: Saturday 10:00 PM

Iota has slowed down, and is strengthening. The path has also shifted south some, currently on target to hit Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast very close to where Eta did. Honduras will get hit hard again on this path.

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Contact Us

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

Direction to office:

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

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

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