Sanctions and Sanctimony: The RENACER Act and the futility of US policy in Nicaragua

Two weeks ago, the US House of Representatives passed the RENACER Act by a large margin with the hope, one assumes, of putting pressure on the people of Nicaragua to rethink voting for Daniel Ortega. That election took place on November 15, and Ortega won anyway – though, predictably, with opposition figures decrying the numbers. 

The entire election process in Nicaragua has been under scrutiny by the United States, European Union and multilateral bodies for over a year now. As far as the United States goes, it has routinely called for “free and fair” elections, all while the US State Department puts the whole foot of the US government on the scale in an effort to tip the outcome of the same election. Meanwhile, the United States’ firm commitment to achieving a stable non-Sandinista electoral coalition in Nicaragua is now celebrating 30 years of failure*. In typical US style, it is marking the occasion not with reflection, but by doubling down on that failure with more sanctions.

To be clear, US hypocrisy is not a reason why anyone in Nicaragua should accept the violation of human rights. So, It is certainly worth pointing out that 15 candidates for next week’s national and local elections in Honduras have been murdered since October, while an opposition presidential candidate was just arrested for money laundering. Also worth noting that President Bukele in El Salvador has jailed many of his foes, is in the process of pushing through a new law to scrutinize non-governmental organizations, and is even engineering a path to re-election, despite a constitutional limit of one term. All these moves have been met with silence (Honduras) or muted critique (El Salvador) by US policy makers – certainly no talk of wide-spread sanction. Of course, for people in Nicaragua who are critical of Ortega and see opportunities to voice those criticisms narrowing, the fact that folk in Honduras and El Salvador may be worse off is not much consolation. 

Nevertheless, as evidenced by this divergent treatment, we know, everyone knows, that the United States government is not really promoting democracy in Nicaragua. I’m not sure the State Department actually knows what it is doing – but nothing it has done has helped opponents of Ortega one bit. The opposition is more fragmented today than it was before April of 2018, and that is at least in part the result of US ham-handed “civil society” engagement, conducted alongside a very public commitment to remove the FSLN from power – ostensibly through elections, but who knows what the next step will be now that the electoral route is closed. 

Publicly, at least, the next step is enhanced sanctions. On Tuesday, November 9, Biden signed the RENACER Act into law as an official response to the elections in Nicaragua (to which point it is important to note, the RENACER Act was introduced in March of 2021, and was thus NOT constructed as a response to the elections, but as an effort to sway them).

So, what is in the RENACER Act?

The RENACER Act:

Presents the “sense of the Congress” that Nicaragua’s status under the Central American Free Trade Agreement shall be reviewed by the Biden administration. Threatening the removal of Nicaragua from CAFTA has been discussed by a handful of members of Congress – this bill pushes the initiative further. 

Amends the NICA Act to require extensive reporting and oversight on the part of the Treasury for any loans given under the humanitarian exception written into the NICA Act’s mandate to oppose new loans from the World Bank and Interamerican Development Bank. This is a response to new lending in the wake of the hurricanes that struck NIcaragua last November;

Expands targeted sanctions, e.g. sanctions against individuals which can involve freezing assets held in the United States, blocking travel and/or even invalidating international contracts. This section largely reiterates what is in the NICA Act already, but it goes further in actually providing specific suggestions for sanctions (I quote directly from the act as it is instructive): 

“officials in the government of President Daniel Ortega;

“family members of President Daniel Ortega;

“members of the National Nicaraguan Police;

“members of the Nicaraguan Armed Forces;

“members of the Supreme Electoral Council of Nicaragua;

“party members and elected officials from the Sandinista National Liberation Front and their family members;

“individuals or entities affiliated with businesses engaged in corrupt financial transactions with officials in the government of President Daniel Ortega, his party, or his family; and

“individuals identified in the report required by section 8 as involved in significant acts of public corruption in Nicaragua” [referenced below]; 

 

Adds Nicaragua to a list of countries subject to sanctions over corruption;

Mandates a “classified” report on corruption involving Ortega, his family, and members of the government. (Why classified?);

Mandates another classified report on the activities of the Russian Federation in Nicaragua;

Mandates a report on Nicaragua’s purchases of military equipment and foriegn support for intelligence services.

And, another report on human rights violations in rural areas;

And yet, another report concerning restrictions on press freedom.

 

Sanctioning the families of Sandinista party members is particularly revealing. Sanctioning members of the Sandinista party, for simply being party members, and their families, has nothing at all to do with promoting democracy. Presumably people will have to also demonstrably engage in corruption to be sanctioned. But if that is the case, why identify categories of people based solely on political affiliation for investigation?  Are Constitutional Liberal Party legislative representatives immune to such sanction? It is hard to read this as anything other than an attempt to intimidate Sandinista party members.

Further, the RENACER Act extends multilateral sanctions by doubling down on the NICA Act’s proposed limits on the World Bank and IDB funding. Though William Robinson and others have tried to minimize this impact, the NICA Act did lead to a suspension of assistance from the World Bank, which did not extend any new lending to Nicaragua in 2019 and most of 2020. It also led to a serious reduction in lending from the Interamerican Development Bank, even during the worst months of the COVID-19 crisis last summer – with only one program funded in August of 2020. Lending was haltingly renewed following the hurricanes in November of 2020, but multilateral program funding in Nicaragua still lags behind other Central American governments. The RENACER Act won’t immediately change any of this. Nevertheless, the US government is determined to make new, if limited humanitarian spending harder to deliver.

The one feature of the RENACER Act that could have a huge impact is the threat to Nicaragua’s participation in CAFTA. Nicaragua has done better than other countries under CAFTA’s rules. The much feared impact on rural communities from agricultural dumping from the US was moderated by Nicaraguan government support to rural communities, which was extended through opening credit access, housing and infrastructure expansion.  Nicaragua now imports less food than it did in 2006. Meanwhile, the Sandinista government encouraged foreign investment in multiple sectors and expanded free trade zone operations. The result was that Nicaragua led Central America in economic growth for many years prior to 2018, but also became more dependent on the United States as a trade partner – more so since Venezuela’s economic collapse (thanks to US sanctions) has effectively closed off that market. 

 

It is not clear that the US has the legal standing to unilaterally expel Nicaragua from CAFTA. Certainly doing so will set up a fight in the shadowy trade dispute courts that govern the world’s economy, where investor rights supersede sovereign considerations. The mandated review is thus probably more of a bluff than a serious policy proposal. That said, threatening to expel Nicaragua could scare investors away, and given the fragility of the economy in recovery, that could do damage. Time will tell. 

 

In the end, while the “international left” debates what Nicaraguans should be doing, we remain focused on what US Americans should be doing about the very real democracy deficit in the United States – the one that leads the US government to act with impunity all around the globe as it seeks to pick winners and losers in elections from Haiti to the Ukraine – and, yes in Nicaragua. The US government does not always get the outcome it wants – but it never stops trying.   

 

*Just to note that while it is true that US pressure and financing did lead to the formation and eventual electoral victories of non-Sandinista coalitions in 1990, 1996 and 2001, all of those coalitions collapsed shortly after taking office. They governed little, but oversaw the deconstruction of most public institutions and the impoverishment of the majority of Nicaraguans. Seems that opposition to the FSLN is not really sufficient as a governing strategy. A lesson lost on US policy makers, as well as most of the opposition organizations they fund.

 

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Nicaragua: Updates on Homes for Hope

15 years ago, we launched “Homes of Home,” our campaign to provide affordable housing to impoverished Nicaraguans since reconstruction efforts following Hurricane Mitch. In 2015, we partnered with the Roncalli Association to make housing more accessible for middle to low-income families. 

Juan Omar Quant Lee in front his family’s new home in Ticuantepe, Managua

Over the last five years, 144 homes have been built under the Homes of Hope initiative in the communities of Sebaco, San Marcos, San Dionisio, and Terrabona, as well as in Managua. We construct high-quality homes that can resist future natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. The Roncalli Association also installs soil and storm drainage improvements to prevent flooding, clean drinking water, and electricity. 

There are two main components of this housing strategy: the Community Housing Program, and the Family Housing program. Quixote Center funds cover construction costs, families repay the loan at a concessional rate, and the money flows into a revolving loan fund that will cover the costs of future housing.

Ileana Amparo Mendoza, owner of a Zafiro model house

The Family Housing initiative provides loan guarantees for middle-income families through a special agreement with BANPRO. This serves those who are often excluded from the national financial system.

The Community Housing program works primarily with low-income families and involves families directly in the home-building process. Families within a housing cooperative contribute to the construction of homes under the supervision of Institute staff. This lowers the cost of construction and thus repayment rates. It also provides training for those participating.

Shirlen Ruiz Dávila’s Old Home vs New Home

Through the Community Housing Program, 75 low-income housing units have been built with Quixote Center funds. From these 75 households, 271 people have benefited directly (137 men and 134 women). This has also indirectly benefited at least 446 people, namely the 153 construction workers who were hired for an average of 3 months for each project.

To read more about Homes for Home and the families that have benefited, click HERE to visit our Story Map

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Kim Lamberty: Racism, Colonialism and Haiti

Below is the text version of a presentation by Quixote Center Executive Director Kim Lamberty, DMin upon receiving Pax Christi’s 14th Annual Peacemaker Award, November 7, 2021. A video of the presentation is below.

Thank you. I have worked with many of you for a long time and it is special to be recognized by one’s peers and communities.  Thanks also to each of you present this evening –I am feeling the love. 

Tonight I will look briefly at a history of racism and colonialism through the lens of Haiti and Haiti’s history.  The idea is in part to refocus on Haiti, given the current situation of extreme violence, food insecurity, vulnerability. In talking about Haiti I am also going to talk about the ways in which a racist, colonial economic system is still at play, and offer some thoughts about what we can be doing differently.

Brief narrative of Haiti’s history 

In 1492, Columbus landed on the island known as Haiti by the indigenous Taino population, and promptly renamed it Hispaniola.  He established the first Spanish settlement there, and after successive Spanish settlements, within 100 years the indigenous population had been destroyed. By the late 1600s, the half of the island that is known as Haiti had been ceded to the French, who turned it into a giant coffee and sugar plantation. At its peak, half of the Atlantic slave trade went to Haiti. This plantation economy depended on the deforestation of high-value trees, extreme violence toward the people who they had enslaved, and forced conversion to Catholicism. By the time of the Haitian revolution, the French side of the island was the world’s top producer of coffee and sugar and France’s most profitable colony. One out of every 8 people in France derived their living from this trade, which was entirely dependent on the enslavement of Africans.

Analogous stories happened in other European colonies. Haiti was one of the most profitable, but the other European countries also earned extraordinary profits through colonizing, pilfering, and enslaving Africans and indigenous. This is where European wealth came from, the same wealth that, for example, provided funding for religious orders and missionary work. 

The Haitian revolution began as a slave rebellion that ultimately defeated Napoleon’s army to form the first Black republic in the Western Hemisphere in 1804.  Thomas Jefferson responded by imposing a trade embargo, and the United States refused to recognize Haiti until 1862. France cut off all trade until the Haitian government agreed to pay them reparations for lost  “human and territorial” property. Haitian went from one of the most profitable territories in the world to a situation of destitution from which it has not recovered. There is much more to the story, such as US occupation, US support for dictators, US interference in democratic elections, US treatment of migrants fleeing an untenable situation, that continued to oppress the people of Haiti over the ensuing decades and centuries.  This is not unlike our history in other Latin American countries, many of whom also have not recovered from what was done to them during the colonial period.

The Poverty-Industrial Complex

European colonialism was based in an ideology of white supremacy and an economic system that enriched some people at the expense of vast forced labor—because if they had to pay people, they would not have gotten nearly so rich. One can draw parallels to today…because paying substandard wages, or paying low prices for natural resources from vulnerable countries, still makes some people very rich and others very poor. So now let’s jump ahead to today, a situation where Haitians frequently refer to their own country as the Republic of NGOs. I call it the poverty-industrial complex.

Economically vulnerable countries, such as Haiti, are also home to many of the natural resources required to sustain the lifestyles of wealthier countries. Coffee is one of them, and hopefully by the end of this conversation, you will see why I got into the coffee business. Obviously there are many other commodities that one could focus on. 

The economic system that we are all functioning in is focused on maximizing shareholder wealth. Companies buy natural resources, or the labor it takes to produce their product, at the lowest possible amount they possibly can, and sell the finished product for the highest possible amount they can, keeping the profits from those sales for themselves, and their shareholders, which are often one and the same. They get cheap labor and resources from vulnerable communities and countries who are kept in a permanent state of need because they are never paid enough to live on. Consumers—that is you and me—are complicit in this system because we are conditioned to pay the lowest amount we possibly can for the goods that we consume, often without doing the work to understand the impact on labor, as well as on producers, in vulnerable countries. It also takes an environmental toll because resources are extracted in the cheapest manner possible without regard to impact on the planet.

Obviously there are exceptions, both on the industry side and on the consumption side. But by and large this is what we are dealing with in terms of how wealth is generated. From profits.

The NGOs come in to mop up the mess in poor countries and communities, trying to bridge the gap between what people are getting paid for goods and services, and what they actually need to live on. NGOs raise money from the exact same people—the wealthy—in other words, from many of the same people who are profiting off of poverty. There is a lot of money to be made off of poverty, which is why we still have it.

Let’s take the coffee industry. Coffee is a top export from economically vulnerable countries, so it is worth looking at. It impacts 25 million small scale growers, or around 100 million people total, although most coffee is grown on large plantations owned by wealthy landholders. The current international price for coffee is between 2 and 3 bucks per pound, which is actually quite high by historical standards. In most cases, that money goes to a plantation owner, who pays very low wages (or none at all) to hired labor for what is very difficult work. We also know that there is slave labor in the coffee supply chain, in particular in Brazil, which is the top global exporter of coffee. In some cases, when small farmers have formed cooperatives, they get a larger portion of that money, but a chunk of it still goes to the coop to pay for its own expenses and salaries. And how much do you pay for a pound of coffee? Studies have shown that the bulk of the income from coffee sales goes to large roasters, who are the ones making the profits.

The people making the profits give from their excess to NGOs, who then use a substantial amount of that money to pay their own salaries, and to create the infrastructure needed to deliver aid. This means paying for offices, trucks, warehouses, computers—etc., in addition to their own salaries, which are often very substantial.  It is really hard to find information about how much actual cash gets into the hands of people in need, because organizations include their own salaries and infrastructure in their reported “program costs.” What would happen if we just took all that money and gave it to people in need? People know what to do with it. Instead, we have developed a jobs-creation program for people such as myself. It is an industry that depends on poverty to survive, and a whole lot of jobs are at stake. Many of them are connected to churches.

I have heard numerous Haitians point this out: Money that gets raised for Haiti does not go to Haiti—it goes to aid workers. My question is, how is the poverty industrial complex that I am describing not still colonialism? 

The Cost of Colonialism

People kept in a permanent state of need will take action to support and protect themselves and their families. If they have the opportunity, they will migrate to a place where they think they have a better chance of making a living—and so we are seeing the huge cost of the poverty-industrial complex at our borders, and at borders around the globe. What’s happening at the US-Mexico border is minuscule compared to what is happening in Africa, home to the largest refugee camps in the world. 

Economically vulnerable people also join armed groups as a way to resolve their lives. In Colombia, I had conversations with people who simply said that young people are joining armed groups because they have no other economic opportunity. Studies have been done that confirm that this dynamic exists elsewhere: young people in particular will join armed groups if they think they do not have other options for making a living. This is just as true in the US as it is in Haiti, Colombia, Palestine, and Guatemala.

Many of our interventions into this dynamic take place in order to alleviate the damage done without addressing the root cause of the damage. We have the best of intentions when we work to change US immigration policy, or when we provide support for migrant camps, or we oppose the sale of weapons, or we do gang intervention work. And obviously, we have to do those things, and it’s not likely that these symptoms of a much larger problem are going away any time soon. 

According to the Gospel, “The poor you will always have with you.” (Matthew 26:11) The poor we will always have with us because there will always be natural disasters, or pandemics, or other catastrophes that befall us—it is the human condition. We live in a state of insecurity, and there will always be a need for a selfless response to those in need. So I’m not saying that all aid is bad, and during my time at CRS I saw some great examples of aid at work. But the conditions we see right now—extreme endemic poverty in places like Haiti, widespread food insecurity, violence, and a global migration crisis—these things do not always have to be with us. 

In order for those things to not always be with us, we need to get beyond addressing the symptoms, and get to the actual causes. If you want peace, work for justice! Paul VI was right—he just didn’t come up with the right or complete remedy. At the end of Populorum Progressio he advised everyone to contribute to the aid organizations!

Frequently, when we say we are addressing the root cause what we are actually doing is shoring up the poverty-industrial complex, rather than focusing on dismantling the systems and structures that will lead to significantly increased income generation for vulnerable families and communities. In other words, it’s not good enough to develop an industrial campus in northern Haiti—what the Clintons did—if the jobs don’t pay well enough to live on and local farmers are displaced. It’s not enough to develop a coffee program in a vulnerable community if all the growers get is a dollar or two dollars a pound—because that helps the roasters in the US but does not bring producers out of poverty. I don’t even like using the term “root cause” anymore, because it has been co-opted.

People are poor because they don’t have enough money, or assets to generate money. This is not rocket science. If society wanted to fix this, it would. The problem is that really fixing it would require economic sacrifice on the part of the wealthy. 

What Justice Looks Like

We started Just Haiti to address these economic justice issues. The organization is run by an all-volunteer team of 9 people. Each of us has another job, and each of us plays a significant role in Just Haiti operations.  We pay the highest price for green coffee in the industry, and all profits from sales go to the growers—because as we noted earlier, wealth is generated from profits. Our producers tell us that they use the profits to pay school fees for their kids, to cover unexpected medical expenses, to plant food crops, or to grow their coffee business. Our work is another level of ethics than what is practiced by most NGOs, even the most progressive ones.

People tell me it is unsustainable, and I say really? What is it actually and concretely going to take for us to reverse and dismantle a racist, colonial economic system? What we are doing at Just Haiti is at least part of what it is going to take, because what we are doing is actually dismantling it. What would happen if everyone did it? And a shout out to the Just Haiti board, a wonderful community of volunteers that it is my privilege to work with. They are making many personal sacrifices –it is a lot of work to run the organization and we do it together. Community is what makes this work fun as well as sustainable, and we have developed a fabulous community over the years. And by the way, you can buy our coffee at justhaiti.org.

The Quixote Center, where I just took over as executive director, is engaging in some similar cutting edge work in another part of Haiti which does not involve coffee or exports but does involve agricultural development. I just started as part of the Quixote Center community, but my expectation is that it will be just as much fun and sustaining.

I’m sure that many of you already buy fair trade products. Unfortunately, not all fair trade is alike. If your favorite fair trade company advertises that it is using its profits to install a water system in its producer communities, then they are also part of the poverty-industrial complex. Why aren’t they paying their growers enough so that the community can purchase and maintain its own water system? So buy fair trade—it is a huge step in the right direction—but buy it with a discerning eye and ask questions about how the proceeds are used. 

There are other things we can do that most of you already know about: support local farmers, purchase from black and brown-owned businesses, do business with registered B Corps. I invite each one of us has to be very intentional about this as an act of anti-racism, as violence prevention, and as a means to dismantle an unjust economic system. 

It’s not enough, unfortunately. The vast majority of CEOs are never going to give up their lucrative salaries for the sake of a better standard of living for workers and producers, whether in the US or elsewhere. It can, however, be addressed through the tax code. Right now, we have a tax system that favors the wealthy because of the low rates levied against high income and against capital gains, which come from stock sales. The incentive is to collect greater and greater income, especially through stock, because it isn’t taxed all that much. De-incentivize it through the tax code by increasing tax rates on the wealthy. Getting involved in advocacy on tax as well as wage issues is also a part of the solution. 

 There are lots of other ideas and suggestions that I am sure many of you could add. The point I want to leave you with is that I think the cutting-edge work right now is the economic system. While many folks in wealthy countries are doing well, the gap between rich and poor has gotten astronomical in the last few decades. And the point of talking about Just Haiti is to say that there are concrete things we can do to dismantle this system. 

Luann Mostello told me she hoped my presentation would spark interest in engagement with Haiti, and I hope that, too. And at the same time, as already noted, Haiti has way too many NGO actors from the United States already. My perspective on this is that instead of establishing more siloed projects, we do a better job in Haiti working in partnership, pooling our resources, to support cutting-edge work that dismantles an unjust, oppressive economic system. Through partnerships, Just Haiti has worked to replicate our model, with some great successes and some failures as well. We learn from our failures and do better the next time. I would really like to replicate the Quixote Center’s work in other communities as well. I have been the long-term consultant for a sisters of Notre Dame deNamur project in Les Cayes that established a local bakery—I would like to see that project replicated. Given the violence, insecurity, and vulnerability to natural disasters, Haiti remains a challenging place to work. And at the same time, given the history of racism, colonialism, and exploitation on the part of the US, it seems to me that Haiti is exactly where we belong.

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Nicaragua election explainer

Nicaragua election explainer

On Sunday, November 7, Nicaraguans will vote for the president and vice-president of the country, as well as for the National Assembly and for Nicaragua’s representatives to the Central American Parliament. There has been a great deal of controversy about these elections circulating in the US and European media. One result is that the United States Congress just passed a new sanctions bill against Nicaragua (the RENACER Act) on Wednesday, November 3 in response to some of this controversy. (See here for more detail). I’m not getting into the controversy in this post – just a simple explainer about who is running.

Who is running? How does it work?

Under the election reform law published in June of 2021 (see page 3876), the Nicaraguan president is elected by a simple plurality – the candidate with the highest number of valid votes becomes president. When Parties put forward their candidates for president and vice-president, they must conform to the principle of gender equity (one of the candidates must be a woman, one a man). As you can see, in this election cycle the presidential candidates are all men, and the vice-presidential candidates are women.

The parties and their candidates for president/vice president are:

Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC)

President; Walter Edén Espinoza Fernández.

Vice President; Mayra Consuelo Arguello Sandoval

Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) (United Nicaragua Triumphs Alliance)

President: Jose Daniel Ortega Saavedra

Vice President: Rosario Maria Murillo Zambrana

Christian Path Party (CCN)

President: Guillermo Antonio Osorno Molina

Vice President: Violeta Janette Martinez Zapata

Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance Party (ALN)

President: Marcelo de Jesus Montiel Fernández

Vice President: Jennyfer del Carmen Espinoza Blen

Alliance for the Republic Party (APRE)

President: Gerson Gutierrez Gasparin

Vice President: Claudia Maria Romero Cuadra

Independent Liberal Party (PLI)

President: Mauricio Orue Vasquez

Vice President: Zobeyda del Socorro Rodríguez Díaz

The National Assembly Election

There are 92 seats in the National Assembly. Like the president, the assembly is elected to 5 year terms. The seats are divided as follows:

20 seats are National Representatives elected through a system of proportional representations. Seats are assigned based on the percentage of votes cast for the party, e,g, if a party gets 50% of the vote, they get 10 of these seats. Each party submits a list of candidates; every other candidate on the list must be a woman. The seats won are then assigned by going down the list from top to bottom – if a party wins 10 seats, then the first 10 candidates on their list are given the seats.

There are 70 seats that are assigned to department and regional representation. They are assigned as follows:

Department of Boaco (2). 

Department of Carazo (3). 

Department of Chinandega (6). 

Department of Chontales (3 ). 

Department of Estelí  (3).

Department of Granada (3 ).

Department of Jinotega (3 ).

Department of León (6).

Department of Madriz (2).

Department of Managua (19). 

Department of Masaya (4).

Department of Matagalpa (6).

Department of Nueva Segovia (2). 

Department of Río San Juan (1).

Department of Rivas (2).

Autonomous Region of the South Caribbean Coast (2). 

Autonomous Region of the North Caribbean Coast (3).

These seats are assigned in a proportional fashion as well, corresponding to the percentage of the vote each party or party alliance wins in the department or region. 

All of the parties with a presidential candidate have a slate of candidates for the National Assembly. Elections for the Autonomous Regions also include the party YATAMA.

The final two seats in the assembly are reserved for the presidential candidate that comes in second, and the outgoing president (or vice president – if the president is re-elected).  As Ortega and Murrillo are both running again (and likely to win), I am not clear how this seat will be handled. 

Elections for the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN)

Nicaragua’s representatives to the Central American Parliament are determined through a proportional representation system similar to the process for deciding the national level representatives for the National Assembly. 

There are 20 deputies elected to the Central American Parliament from each member country for 5 year terms.

The Central American Parliament is part of the System for the Integration of Central America, and is thus one of a number of institutions that have been built to enhance coordination among countries of Central America. The Parliament itself grew out of regional peace talks during the 1980s, and was launched in 1991.

The Process

Results for the elections will be presented by the Supreme Electoral Council beginning Sunday night. Voting will take place in 13,459 polling stations, with votes then tallied in 3,106 voting centers. Just under 4.5 million people have been registered to vote in the election. 

There will be an international presence during the election, including a delegation of people invited by the government to accompany the process, as well as official election monitors from the European Union.

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Biden to End “Remain in Mexico”

On Friday, the Biden administration announced in a memo that it would be ending the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy. Ironically named the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), the program forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their cases to be heard.

“In reaching this conclusion, I recognize that MPP likely contributed to reduced migratory flows,” DHS Secretary Mayorkas declared in his memo. “But it did so by imposing substantial and unjustifiable human costs on the individuals who were exposed to harm while waiting in Mexico.”

This presents a new and powerful shift in the administration’s discourse around immigration: an admission that deterrence-based immigration policies are, by nature, unjustifiably cruel (although what they haven’t admitted yet is that deterrence doesn’t work). 

During his presidential campaign, Biden promised to end MPP. He did halt it temporarily, but was ordered to reinstate the program after a district court ruled that Biden had terminated it improperly. The administration appealed the ruling, but the Supreme Court upheld it. 

As of now, the court’s injunction ordering the re-implementation of MPP still stands, meaning that the administration may still be moving forward with the program in mid-November until the injunction is lifted. 

But, as legal experts have pointed out, the administration had two months to terminate the program in compliance with the court order, which simply prohibits the “en masse” release of all asylum seekers at the border into the U.S. 

That the administration may be needlessly drawing out a cruel and unjust program is a choice. Already, Biden officials have signed over $14 million in contracts to reopen “tent courts” at border crossings in Laredo and Brownsville, Texas. Biden officials claimed to be undertaking efforts to make the program more humane, such as potentially moving to offer vaccines to asylum-seekers. But as Mayorkas himself admitted, the program is inherently inhumane. 

More than 70,000 immigrants are estimated to have been placed into MPP before the administration ended the policy. During that time, there were over 1,544 cases of violent attacks—including murder, assault, torture, and kidnapping—reported against migrants in the program. That asylum seekers were subjected to the very dangers from which they were fleeing is not only unconscionable, but should be a violation of international law.   

There were also significant abuses on the U.S.’s part. A leaked document from DHS revealed that border officials did not comply with their agency’s own guidelines on who could and couldn’t be placed into MPP. Despite the fact that migrants with medical conditions were supposed to be exempt from the program, that often wasn’t the case in the practice. There are reports of severely disabled children and adults in need of surgery or medical attention being forced to wait in Mexico.  

Conditions under “Remain in Mexico” were not just dangerous for migrants in the program, but for their legal representatives as well, who were threatened with kidnapping and violence for aiding asylum-seekers. 

Last week, over seventy legal service providers, such as Al Otro Lado and Human Rights First, issued a letter to the administration refusing to cooperate with the implementation of MPP.

“There is no way to make this program safe, humane, or lawful,” they wrote. “No measure of involvement from civil societies will mitigate the harms of this horrific, racist, and unlawful program.” 

In his memo, Mayorkas echoed this sentiment: “I have concluded that there are inherent problems with the program that no amount of resources can sufficiently fix.”

Last Saturday, immigration advocates walked out of a virtual meeting with Biden officials in protest of the continuation of Trump-era policies. “There is no improved version of MPP. It is not possible to make the inhumane humane,” they read from a prepared statement. “We refuse to be complicit in deterrence-based border policies.”

And on Monday, Bishop Seitz of El Paso called on the administration to end MPP, saying:

“Remain in Mexico, like Title 42, causes needless suffering for those forced to flee who have come to our doorstep in need of protection. It is time to heal, to restore our commitment to asylum, and in the words of the Holy Father, move ‘towards an ever wider we.’”

In order to kickstart the program, Biden will need permission from the Mexican government. Whether they will grant it remains to be seen. 

While it’s impossible to know why the administration chooses to do anything, it’s possible that this decision came after significant pressure from immigration advocates. Perhaps the silver lining to all of this is that pressure does work. 

What we must demand now is for the administration to do everything in its power to make sure that the courts lift the order to re-implement MPP in “good faith”, to which Friday’s memo makes an excellent case is impossible. 

It is also past time for Biden to revoke Title 42. If MPP had “unjustifiable human costs,” then what about the 7,647 kidnappings and other attacks on migrants who were expelled under Title 42 since Biden took office? The Biden administration must follow through on its promise for concrete immigration reform, and make an effort towards building a more humane asylum system.

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Haiti: Celebrating the Jean Marie Vincent Center in Gros Morne

We have been writing a great deal about the multiple crises in Haiti as well as the treatment of migrants from Haiti in Mexico and at the United States border. Sometimes it feels as though keeping up with these very important issues takes time away from celebrating the wonderful work that is also happening in Haiti, in particular with our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Gros Morne. So, today we want to update on the activity of the JMV Center and also discuss a little bit how the program is fairing in light of the political and economic challenges the country is facing.

As a quick overview, our work with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center began in 1999. At the time, we were called upon to support a community initiative to reforest a mountain slope on the edge of town. Erosion from the mountain was causing the river to silt up and led to mudslides during the rainy season. That mountain, Tet Mon, is now home to 200,000+ trees. It was an effort that launched the Center onto its current multifaceted programs to assist smallholder farmers and other families in the area. The programs all emerge in response to locally identified needs and strategies, though expertise on things like planting techniques to isolate pests infesting sweet potato harvests, or determining the optimal percentage of soy to put in chicken feed, is welcome from anywhere.

There are three broad areas of work, and multiple projects within each: Reforestation, material support and formations to small farmers throughout the communal sections of Gros Morne, and the gardens and facilities at the JMV Center itself. Despite the crisis impacting the country, which has been felt by everyone in Gros Morne in different ways, the program keeps going.

Reforestation

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Every year, the tree nursery at the JMV Center and related satellite nurseries distribute 50,000 to 60,000 trees. The number of seedlings that make it from the Center and into the ground varies due to weather conditions. Having young trees prepped and ready to get into the ground when the rains come is always the goal. Drought or flooding, however, can ruin the best-laid plans.

Yet, over the last 5 years, the team has given out nearly 260,000 trees. The trees are distributed through community organizations and schools, and the delivery of trees is always accompanied with training about how to take care of the trees. In addition to reforestation trees, there is an emphasis on the delivery of fruit-bearing trees that provide both food for families and a potential source of income.

A particularly innovative project the agronomy team from the JMV Center is engaged in is Project Lorax. This project provides trees to families for the purpose of sustainable charcoal harvesting. Cutting trees for charcoal is often listed as one of the chief causes of deforestation in Haiti. Yet, the practice is necessary for many families to earn an income. Project Lorax is an effort to engage that reality but in a sustainable way. Trees are planted in three year cycles.  Families that participate are offered incentives to care for the trees. At the end of the third year, the trees are ready for harvest. 40,000 sapling trees have been delivered over the past 3 years in Perou as a testing site.

Formations

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The team from the JMV Center engages in training on a variety of themes. In recent years, the topics that have led to the greatest number of workshops are planting techniques to minimize weevil infestation in local harvests, planting yard and patio gardens (alongside participation with JMV Center’s seed bank), and water preservation (workshops on drip irrigation as well as maintenance and use of water cisterns).

Several years ago, a weevil infestation was destroying sweet potato crops throughout the communal sections of Gros Morne. Sweet potatoes are a staple crop for families in the area, and losing 40-50% of the plants was devastating to small farmers. The agronomy team at the JMV Center immediately went into action, using the JMV garden as a test site to develop planting techniques using special “weevil traps.” Over the last several years 2,000 families have benefited from agronomy team workshops on these planting techniques. Not only has the weevil infestation been contained, but bringing farmers into the program, the team has been able to also share additional knowledge about soil and water preservation, crop rotation, double digging garden plots, and so on. The result is that yields have increased.

The agronomy team has also worked with 2,200 families participating in the seed bank program. The seed bank purchases vegetable seeds at bulk prices, often in the “off-season” when prices are lower. It is also used for bean and corn deposits, cuttings for sweet potatoes and yams, and other tubers. In preparation for the planting seasons, the agronomy team organizes workshops to help families prepare yard and patio gardens, as well as prepare fields for planting. The seed bank provides the service of storage, and encourages, through the resulting lower cost for seed purchases, participation in formations through which sustainable techniques are given to farmers.

Sustainable water use is probably the biggest challenge facing small farmers. Rainfall is unpredictable, and extended periods of drought conditions are not uncommon. Over the last year, the agronomy team from the JMV Center has been doing trainings on drip irrigation that are accompanied by the installation of water cisterns (the water cisterns were the result of a donation from the Sisters of Mercy Haiti program).

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The Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center

Father Jean Marie Vincent. Image: Haiti Information Project

The bulk of Quixote Center resources that go to support the work of the JMV Center is actually expended keeping the infrastructure in place. This means purchasing fuel, purchasing project inputs like seed bags and root trainers, and covering the salaries of agronomy team members. At the heart of this work is the Center itself. The JMV Center is hosted on land donated by the Monfortan Brothers in honor of the last Father Jean Marie Vincent, a staunch advocate for peasant farmers who was gunned down in Port au Prince in 1994 during the last months of the Cedras’ coup regime.

Father Vincent’s vision for Haiti’s smallholder farmers was tied to education and liberation. Father Vincent eschewed a charity model of church engagement. He wanted to see Haiti’s farmers have access to the tools they needed to sustain their livelihoods, and he was willing to challenge the country’s elite to create the space for this to happen.

This is a vision that still animates the work of the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center, and that of the Quixote Center.

If you like the work we are doing in Haiti, you can donate to support it here.

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Mothers of Disappeared Migrants Travel to D.C. for Justice

Caravan of Mothers of Disappeared Migrants with Rep. Raúl Grijalva (AZ-3)

On a brisk Tuesday morning, across from the white dome of the U.S. Capitol, a group of five women from Central America gathered to bring awareness to the hundreds of migrants who disappear each year while attempting to cross into the United States. Dressed in shawls and cute jackets, hair impeccably styled, any one of them could have been one of my tías, or my abuelita. Despite the October cold, the mothers stood tall—heads lifted high—as they recounted their stories. 

“We are dying while alive. We have no peace, day and night we hold them in our hearts, and our only desire is to find them,” said Arecely de Mejía, a member of the Committee for Family members of Deceased and Disappeared Migrants (COFAMIDE) whose son Edwin has been missing for over nine years.

“I am the mother of Carlos Osorio Parada,” said Bertila Parada from El Salvador. “I did find him, but I did not find him the way I wanted to. I was not able to hold him. My son left with the hope of coming to this country, and he was kidnapped in Mexico. His body was found in a clandestine grave in Tamaulipas in 2011. He was finally repatriated in 2015 to El Salvador.”

“We want to open borders so that you can see the suffering of mothers of disappeared people in our countries,” said Ángela Lacayo from Honduras. “Our youth are forced to migrate because of crime, because of lack of opportunity, because of unemployment, because of organized crime, because of M-18. We want to be heard and for our voices may make it to the halls of Congress so that laws can change and the militarization of migratory routes ceases.” 

Photographs of Disappeared Family Members

According to Border Patrol, 7,209 migrants have died while crossing the U.S.-Mexico over the last 20 years. However, according to Border Angels, the real death toll could be anywhere between 25% to 300% higher, based on reports of human remains uncovered by other groups such as local law enforcement, humanitarian groups, ranchers, ect. This would mean that, over the past 20 years, there have been anywhere between 9,100 to just under 29,000 deaths. This does not even take into account that, in the harsh conditions of the desert, human remains can rapidly decompose without ever being recorded. 

Since 2014, according to the IOM, another 3,400 migrants have gone missing while attempting the U.S.-Mexico border crossing; again, this is likely a vast underestimate of the true number. Collecting data on disappeared migrants is extremely difficult given that there is no singular entity tracking these numbers; the Missing Migrants Project pieced together reports from Mexican immigration authorities and US border county medical examiners, coroners, and sheriffs offices. 

What is it that makes this journey so deadly? Migrants who cross the border through the desert risk fatal heat exposurehypothermia (exposure to cold), hyperthermia (exposure to heat), and drowning. Those who become unable to keep up with the group are often abandoned by the very coyotes they hired—meaning that even a minor injury could result in death. Vehicle accidents—mostly tied to freight trains used as transit—are the first most common recorded cause of death, with violence being the second. Throughout Mexico and Central America, migrants risk becoming victims of robbery, kidnapping, rape, or human trafficking carried out by gangs and cartels.

Migratory routes were not always this dangerous. In 1994, under the Clinton Administration, Border Patrol launched Operation Gatekeeper, designed to keep out migrants by building up the border apparatus—such as increasing detention bed space and building new walls and infrastructure where they previously had not existed—thus intentionally pushing migrants to take more dangerous and irregular routes for crossing. This policy of “prevention through deterrence” led to the militarization of the border as we see it today.

But as the past twenty years have demonstrated, deterrence does not work. Instead, it merely leads to pointless tragedy, as evidenced by the mothers. 

For 16 years, hundreds of mothers and family members of disappeared migrants have joined together to form caravans through Mexico in order to search for their missing loved ones and demand justice. They succeeded in locating over 350 migrants and reuniting some, such as victims of human trafficking, with their families. 

Most of the mothers in D.C. had already participated in caravans, though this marked their first time traveling to the US. Migrant Roots Media, Pax Christi USA and Proyecto Puentes de Esperanza co-sponsored and organized their journey in coordination with the Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano.

Karen Morales, the youngest member, had come from Honduras. She had been searching for her brother Aarón Eleazar Carrasco Turcios for nine years. Her mother participated in a 2019 caravan to Mexico, but unable to find any answers, organized her own committee for mothers of disappeared migrants. Tears crept into Karen’s voice as she spoke, displaying a photograph of her brother that hung around her neck. 

“Why do our brothers, our family members, flee from Africa, from Haiti, from Central America? Why? The answer is easy. Because there is a lot of poverty and crime. The government makes us believe that they’re coming for a dream, but that’s not true…[gangs] are killing our youth.

“We also came here to be heard, so that the U.S. government can stop sending money to our governments; that only worsens the situation because they are reinforcing the borders, and we believe the money should go to something better, such as education, so that we will never be forced to migrate.”

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (MN-5) was slated to appear, but could not attend due to a sudden conflict. As the mothers shared their stories, Congressman Raύl Grijalva (AZ-3) listened attentively. When they were done, he stepped forward to give his speech, once in Spanish, and once in English:

“The essential action that is needed on the part of Congress is to do something to assist these countries in a humanitarian manner, no longer in terms of military or security. Resources have to go to the most important interest, which is the people of these countries. And the people need education, food, nutrition, housing and opportunity in terms of employment.”

The caravan had two specific requests for Congress: to enact both the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act (HR 2716) and the Berta Cáceres Act (HR 1574), which both call for the suspension of U.S. assistance to Honduran security forces.

After the media was done taking pictures, I found myself standing next to Karen. When I thanked her for sharing her story, she smiled warmly. 

“That’s what we’re here for,” she said. “To share their stories. And maybe, if someone somewhere hears it, they might know something that can help us find them.”

Karen poses for a picture with the photograph of her brother Aarón, who has been missing since 2012.

Click HERE to watch a recording of the event. 

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Armed Raid on Migrant Shelter in Chiapas, Mexico

Translator’s Note: As the Biden administration continues to place pressure on the Mexican government to “contain” migration within its borders, migrant shelters are becoming the targets of acts of intimidation. The Quixote Center is also a member of the Franciscan Network on Migration and provides the Casa Betania Santa Martha Shelter with support. To support their work directly, click HERE. To read the letter in Spanish, click HERE

Security Incident at the Casa Betania Santa Martha Shelter in Salto de Agua, Chiapas

Last Tuesday, on October 12, 2021 at approximately 7:30 p.m., a group of approximately eight men in civilian clothes with handguns and rifles arrived at the Casa Betania Santa Martha Shelter in Salto de Agua, Chiapas. The men arrived with a threatening and aggressive tone, demanding to enter the shelter on the grounds that they came from “the Prosecutor’s Office” and wanted to verify that an alleged missing minor was not inside the shelter. However, the men did not have uniforms, badges, or any type of identification as authorities. Nor did they have any document authorizing their entry to the shelter, or supporting the alleged search for the missing child. Faced with the refusal of the shelter staff to let them in, the men tried to break the door down with stones. [The men] threatened the staff with “taking them” with them and accusing them of kidnapping and illegal retention of minors while holding their weapons pointed at the staff, until the door was opened for them.

Four armed men entered the shelter, supposedly to verify that the alleged missing minor was not there. Two men guarding the door held the psychologist violently and ordered him in obscene words not to move while pointing a gun at him. While this was happening, a migrant was attacked for having his cell phone in his hand. They took it from him and checked its contents while ordering him to uncover his face and give over his information. The other two armed men wanted to check the shelter’s offices and intake records. In several instances, they used force, displayed their weapons as a threat, and verbally and psychologically attacked the staff and migrants while walking through the shelter’s spaces, demanding that some migrants remove their masks so they could see their faces. A volunteer tried to prevent one of the armed men from accessing the shelter’s offices. He was intimidated with a weapon and violently ordered to step aside. When they did not find the alleged missing minor, they took the detained psychologist to the registry offices, demanding access to the database. It was up until that moment that one of the aggressors finally identified himself as Commander Juvenal Vásquez of the prosecutor’s office.

Uniformed police officers and members of Civil Protection later arrived at the scene; however, they did not intervene in the situation.

This is the third time this year that [armed men] entered the shelter on the grounds of an alleged missing minor. In addition, it is not the first time that these kinds of aggression, threats, and raids have occurred in the Betania Santa Martha Shelter. In Salto de Agua, Chiapas, in June and July 2019, similar events also occurred, as documented in the report prepared by Frontline Defenders, the Migratory Affairs Program of the Universidad Iberoamericana Mexico City, and the Network of All Rights for Everyone, Defenders Without Walls. [1]

These events take place in a context in which other organizations defending migrants on the southern border of Mexico, particularly in Chiapas and Tabasco, have also been harassed and attacked for their work to defend human rights, given the increase in migratory flows in the region.

  • We demand an immediate halt to the attacks and threats against shelters that provide humanitarian assistance and defend the human rights of migrants. The intimidation of defenders should not be part of the authorities’ conduct, much less when they occur in the context of the search for a missing person.
  • We demand that the competent authorities implement the necessary protection measures in order to prevent the escalation of these attacks against human rights defenders of migrants, in particular, the staff of the Betania Santa Martha Shelter.
  • The signatory organizations urge the Mexican authorities to recognize and allow without obstruction the work of humanitarian assistance and accompaniment carried out by human rights defenders of migrants.

 SHELTER PROFILE

  • Shelter Name: Casa Betania – Santa Martha
  • Location: Salto de Agua, Chiapas
  • Brief description: Transit shelter that provides lodging, food, legal advice, and health services. It receives mostly people from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, some from Cuba, Venezuela, and Haitians who are starting the route north from the border points of El Ceibo, El Naranjo, and La Técnica.
  • The shelter is led by three Priests and a brother of the Divine Word (SVD) of three different nationalities and three other Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary (FMM), of three nationalities, in addition to staff and volunteers.
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Removal flights continue, Title 42 is the reason

This week the number of deportation flights to Haiti fell to a total of 4 flights. That brings the total number of flights to 74, and the total number of people expelled to Haiti by the Biden administration to 7,800 since September 19, 2021. According to the International Organization on Migration, another 2,200 + Haitians have been deported back to Haiti from other countries during this same time period – over half of them from Cuba. The other countries that have expelled Haitians are the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and Mexico. This brings the total number of people sent back to Haiti to just over 10,000 in less than one month.  The graphic above includes removals from the United States as of Monday, October 9 (there have been three flights since).

It is just over a year since we wrote about expulsions flights to Haiti in October of 2020. At that point we were talking about 12 flights over the course of the month, totalling about 1,100 people. Then, again in February and March of this year, there was another round of expulsion flights, leading to 2,000 people expelled over a 5 week period. This latest episode is thus the latest in a cycle of crossings, detention and removal that has focused on Haiti. For each of previous peaks in this cycle, outrage was mobilized, members of Congress spoke out, and editorial boards condemned. The practice of mass removal, however, continues. And if the response to the crossings in Del Rio is any indication, it is getting worse. And it is not just Haiti.

Prior to the debacle at Del Rio, we were writing about expulsion flights filled with people from Central America who were being removed to southern Mexico. Those flights have continued throughout the last four weeks as well. A flight every weekday to Villahermosa and Tapachula from McAllen air force base. During August there were 36 flights, and 42 in September. Witness at the Border tracks these flights with monthly reports. The latest numbers are here.

 In addition, the Biden administration has added direct Title 42 expulsion flights to Guatemala over the last month – on top of the regular deportation flights that have been ongoing throughout the pandemic. The direct Title 42 expulsions flights to Guatemala began on September 2. The total number of flights to Guatemala jumped from 10 in August to 34 in September. 

The explosion of flights over the past month are almost all removals under Title 42. As a reminder, Title 42 references an order issued by the CDC that claims authority under Title 42 of the US Code to deny access to regular asylum processing and expel people immediately. The use of removal flights to expel people under Title 42 began with Haitians early on during the pandemic. At the time we argued, and others have raised, that such flights undermine whatever public health justification there is for Title 42. The CDC order (and its updates since) is premised on the supposed need to avoid holding migrants in a congregant setting during the time fo COVID-19, as this poses a risk to Border Patrol agents, and presumably the migrants as well (though their health is not a high priority). For the sake of “public health,” people are denied the right to asylum and expelled immediately. 

However, flights are a whole different thing. To fly people out means detaining them for some amount of time – in  a congregate setting, while they await flights. This will be days or weeks. The Biden administration is thus maintaining the absurdist position that it is obligated to deny people access to asylum because of the dangers to Border Patrol and others of holding them in congregate settings during a pandemic, all while holding them in congregate settings! 

This absurd position had been applied to Haitians ever since the order was first implemented in march of 2020 as Mexico refused to take them back. Now it is being applied to Central Americans and Mexicans as well, who are being detained under Title 42 while awaiting flights designed to get them as far away from the border as possible. It makes absolutely no sense at all. The UNited States government is simply denying people access to asylum because they fear the political fallout from Trumpistas if they return to a semblance of humanity at the border.

There will be more people coming – from Haiti, from Cuba, from Venezuela, and from throughout Central America. These people will not come in steady numbers, but in cycles of larger groups as travel restrictions and the long arm of US border enforcement (which reaches all the way to Panama) means people are held up for periods throughout the Mesoamerican region. They are detained, released, detained and released. It is an absurd system that will continue to generate periodic crises. 

It is time to end this monstrosity. It is a system that has failed, even on its own terms, through a reliance on deterrent strategies that demonstrably do not work – as they do not address the underlying reasons people are on the move to begin with. People will keep coming. We desperately need a new system that is first prefaced on respecting the right of human mobility, and that actually seeks to address public health concerns through screening. 

Title 42 is not that policy. It is a dehumanizing mess, and illegal under international law. Time to end it.

Here is what you can do now to demand an end to Title 42:

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Week of Action Against Deportation

This week, we are joining the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), the Haitian Bridge Alliance, and other local and national organizations on a week of action in defense of Black immigrants. With waning media coverage of the administration’s horrible treatment of Haitian migrants in Texas since mid-September, the Biden administration believes that it can now sweep ongoing mistreatment of Haitians and other Black migrants under the rug.

Now is the time to mobilize and to show the administration that we are watching—and that we’ve had enough.

Yesterday, our community partners in New Orleans at Unión Migrante organized a march to City Hall for immigrant justice. Later this week, there are actions planned in Washington D.C., California, Louisiana, New York, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Arizona, and North Carolina. Visit the No More Deportations website, or click the link HERE, to find an action in your area.

And if you don’t see an action near you? Get together a few friends and community members, use the Haitian Bridge Alliance toolkit to organize your own, and add click “Host an Event” on the No More Deportations website. An action could be as simple as a small vigil in honor of the families and children deported under Title 42, or a rally in front of a local or federal government building.

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    P.O. Box 1950
    Greenbelt, MD 20768
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Directions to office:

6305 Ivy Lane, Suite 255. Greenbelt, MD 20770

For public transportation: We are located near the Green Belt metro station (green line)